A graduate of the Naval Academy, Rankin earned his wings at Pensacola, Florida, in 1941. Two years later, he became commanding officer of a squadron of Consolidated PBY Catalina patrol aircraft in the Pacific, known as the Black Cat Squadron, and earned the Legion of Merit. The highlight of Rankin's career was his role as co-pilot on the flight of the Truculent Turtle, a stripped-down Lockheed P2V Neptune fixed with auxiliary fuel tanks and an extended nose that, on 1 October 1946, made the longest non-stop flight in history. Piloted by Commander T.D. Davis and assisted by then-Commander Rankin, the aircraft completed 11,236 miles from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio, in 55 hours, 17 minutes. The record stood for sixteen years.
Rankin rose to the rank of Captain and, in July 1962, he took command of the Kearsarge, one of the designated recovery ships for NASA's first man-in-space program, Project Mercury. In October 1962, Sigma 7, with astronaut Wally Schirra aboard, landed 275 miles off Midway Island where Kearsarge successfully retrieved both astronaut and spacecraft. Six months later, Rankin's Kearsarge repeated her earlier recovery by hoisting aboard astronaut Gordon Cooper and his spacecraft, Faith 7.
Rankin retired from the Navy in 1967 and passed away on 27 August 2000.
The collection was donated by his daughter Betty Marshall. The collection consists of photographs, reports, articles, correspondence, press releases, and manuals relating to the historic flight of the Truculent Turtle and Rankin's later assignment as commanding officer of the carrier USS Kearsarge (CV-33).
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