Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Alexander James Heyworth DFC* FRAeS 1922-2010

After pilot training, Jim Heyworth was posted to Bomber Command where he saw two tours of Operations with No 12 Squadron flying Wellingtons and Lancasters from Binbrook and Wickenby. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1942, was Mentioned in Despatches in 1943, and was awarded a Bar to his DFC in 1944.
He was seconded from the RAF to Rolls-Royce at Hucknall in 1944 in order to "develop a new type of power unit" which was, of course, the Whittle Unit; however, whilst detached, he remained in the RAF until de-mobbed in 1946. His first aircraft flown at Rolls-Royce was the Fairey Battle modified as a testbed for the Exe engine and his first experience of flying a jet-engined aircraft was the Wellington testbed aircraft modified to carry the Whittle W2B jet engine; he also undertook flight-testing of the Whittle engine, by now named Welland, in the prototype Meteor.
Over a period of 18 years as a test pilot with Rolls-Royce, he was involved in testing all Rolls-Royce turbo-jets, turbo-props, and fan engines and flew 82 different aircraft types. Notable amongst these were the Merlin-engined Mustang; the Lancastrian testbed fitted with Nene engines and later with Avons; the Nene-engined Vampire; the Avon-powered Meteor; the world's first propeller-turbine aircraft, the Trent-engined Meteor; the Meteor fitted with RB108 vertical lift engines; two years development of vertical take-off on the Nene-powered Flying Bedstead - precursor to the design of future vertical take-off aircraft e.g. the Harrier; the prototype Canberra fitted with Nene engines and the Canberra fitted with RA29 engines for the Comet 4 aircraft and also the re-heated Avon; the Nene-powered Avro Ashton testbed aircraft including that fitted with the Conway; the Lincoln testbed with a nose-mounted Tyne engine; the reverse-thrust Hunter; the Conway-engined Vulcan; the Dart Dakota; plus many more including Lancaster 111, Mosquito, Hurricane, the Griffon-engined Spitfire, Hornet, Clyde Turboprop Wyvern, Shackleton, Attacker, Sea Hawk, Swift, Valiant, Avro 707, Ambassador, Lansen, Javelin and Lightning.
Jim Heyworth was appointed Rolls-Royce Chief Test Pilot in 1955. In 1962 he ceased test flying and undertook various management jobs with Rolls-Royce, retiring in 1981 as Executive-Management Development. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1962 and in the same year was awarded the Thulin Medal by the Swedish Aeronautical Society.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lt-Cdr James B.Verdin 1919 -1955

Douglas F-4D Skyray
Douglas Test Pilots L-R, George Jansen, Bob Rahn,William Bridgeman and James Verdin

On October 3, 1953, Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray BuNo 124587 flown by Navy Test Pilot Lt-Cdr James B. Verdin set a new world's air speed record of 752.944 mph over a three-kilometer course above the Salton Sea in California. This was the first time in history that the world air speed record had been captured by a carrier-based aircraft. On October 16 of that year, Douglas test pilot Bob Rahn used the same aircraft to set a 100-km closed course speed record of 728.11 mph over Muroc Dry Lake.
James B.Verdin was a WWII winner of the Navy Cross and D.F.C. He was killed in the crash of A4D-1 BuNo 137815 on January 21,1955

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chris Roberts FRAes 1945-

Chris Roberts's flying experiences have been in the RAF, with BAe and in civil aviation during which he flew 5,000 fast jet hours in 30 years, with only a 3 month break, followed by 9 years on airliners.

Brought up in Rhodesia, Chris, aged 16, unsuccessfully tried to join the Rhodesian Air Force in 1961 but, through the British Defence Liaison Staff in Salisbury eventually succeeded in joining the RAF after an initial rejection for "no aptitude". He now has 10,000 flying hours in his log book! Arriving in England by cruise ship, with a desire to fly Vulcans, he arrived at South Cerney for Cadet training. With the minimum education requirement he found the course a bit of a struggle but compensated by being very fit so shone in those physical exercises designed to stress the cadets. At flying school in 1964 he trained on Jet Provosts (JPs), where one of the instructors was Jim Hawkins, and decided he wanted to move onto Gnats, not the Varsity which would have led to 'V' bombers.
It was a big course and he finished second from bottom but his unbounded enthusiasm got him through to Gnats ahead of others who had passed higher. The lesson here was to work hard.
So at Valley he learned everything there was to know about the Gnat, made his first flight in November 1965 and fell in love with the aircraft; no 'V' force for him now. The downside was the fatality rate on the course which had a big impact on Chris. It was essential to learn the drills. This time he came second from top and received a posting to 20 Squadron to fly Hunters from Tengah, but on arrival at Chivenor he found he had been put on the pre- Lightning course. Chris complained to OC Flying whose attitude was that he decided who went where, whereupon Chris lost his cool and was thrown out. After 6 months he was reinstated and was told by a veteran Flt Lt Instructor that he was a "marked man", but "keep your head down and we'll look after you."
In 1966 he arrived in Tengah and flew Hunters at low level (200 ft) over the undulating jungle, a regime requiring great care in avoiding well camouflaged trees. When his time came to move on there were too many Hunter pilots and the Harrier, which Chris wanted to fly, was some time away so he had to find somewhere to 'lodge' meanwhile. He chose to volunteer for the Central Flying School Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) course, not a popular posting with most pilots, but being a volunteer he could choose his posting; Chipmunk, JP or Gnat. Of course he chose Gnat but found himself in the Hunter flight at Valley where he trained many foreign pilots, experience to be valuable in his later career at Dunsfold.

In 1971 Chris got his Gnats with the Red Arrows at Kemble. Here he learnt self preservation. You have to put your trust in the leader but if he lets you down you have to do something about it. Chris illustrated the role of a good leader in aerobatics in that he will fly at such a power setting that those in the most disadvantageous positions will have power in hand to maintain position. It was, said Chris, while he was there, "a hooligan period" of very low flying. At Athens International on Arrow cut cables between Air Traffic and the neighbouring single story building surrounded by trees...with his fin tip! There were several fatalities and near disasters due to hurried preparation or breaking agreed operating rules. The lesson was: don't mess around with the rules; stop and renegotiate them.
After two years Chris had had enough and took the option to leave the Arrows and move to the Harrier Operational Conversion Unit (OCU). Here, already a QFI, he became a Qualified Weapons Instructor (QWI) and spent most of his time as an OCU instructor. He noted that there was a high accident rate because the Instructors were not well managed. Chris remembered Exercise Big 'T' where with one squadron they flew 100 sorties in 3 days by doing 5 flights per pilot with cockpit turn-rounds.
Next came the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) where he won the Hawker Hunter Trophy presented by the Dunsfold Chief Test Pilot (CTP), little thinking that the roles would be reversed in the future. He, with a partner student, did well at the ETPS,surprising the A&AEE by uncovering a problem with the Buccaneer and proposing an accepted solution. Now a qualified Test Pilot, Chris moved to 'A' Squadron at the A&AEE where he was recruited for Harrier work but for complex internal political reasons he was sidelined. However, whilst there he converted a number of RAF pilots to Harrier using BAe's demonstrator, G-VTOL, cleared a Red Arrow formation manoeuvre (a new requirement following another accident), and flew a couple of Sea Harrier night sorties on HMS Hermes. He was offered a posting as an ETPS instructor but instead enthusiastically accepted an offer from John Farley to be a TP at Dunsfold. His last task with the A&AEE, on a Friday afternoon, was to fly a Red Arrow Hawk in the exhaust stream, very close to the tail of Andy Jones's Hawk, to check for engine surges. Jim Hawkins was gripping the sides in the rear seat.
The next Monday he was at Dunsfold starting a very happy association with Hawk, of which he flew 17 versions. Chris highlighted the difficulties and pleasures of delivery flights which require self reliance and proper preparation. Only once after dozens of ferries was there a problem with the vital diplomatic clearances; and that was to Saudi...organised by Warton. There were too many fascinating anecdotes to quote them all. In Zimbabwe, after the sabotage attack on the Hawks and Hunters, Chris took a great risk to visit his wrongly imprisoned white ZAF officer friends, disguised as one himself. Due to a navigational mistake by his Iraqi co-pilot he found himself approaching Baghdad from the direction of Iran in a camouflaged G-HAWK loaded with bombs expecting to be shot down any minute. Again in G-HAWK, on the US tour, he suffered a massive fuel out of balance when one 190 gal drop tank failed to transfer because his US co-pilot was unfamiliar with the fuel gauging idiosyncrasies, leading to a fast, flat approach to Meridian.
Chris made the first flight in the second single-seat Hawk; and its last. It was being operated from Warton when Chris was asked to carry out some rolling pushover tests which were part of a progressive programme of which the build-up points had been flown, he was told. In the manoeuvre the fin stalled and the aircraft departed into an inverted spin at low altitude. After recovering to Warton Chris learned that the build-up test points had not been achieved and that the programme was trying to clear the aircraft to a two seater envelope that had been abandoned and never cleared. The aircraft was 120% overstressed and the wing had moved so much relative to the fuselage that instrumentation wiring was severed. It never flew again.
As a result Chris swore never to work there, and he didn't. He left BAe as CTP Dunsfold in 1984 and joined Airtours to fly MD 83s and Airbuses. He was a Captain on A330s so he was at last flying Big Jets (if not the Vulcan)! As General Manager for Airtours at Gatwick he made his last flight in May 2003 before leaving the company after disagreeing with their aircrew management method.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Signed Aviation Dinner Menu's,Cards and Posters

1950's Aircraft Poster which I had signed in person by the following test pilots at the last test pilot reunion at Popham Airfield:-
Eric Brown, Tony Blackman, Mike Oliver, Clive Rustin, John Farley, Geoff Worrall, JO Lancaster, David Lockspeiser, Don Knight,Reg Stock, George Aird, Dave Eagles, Roger Topp

Royal Aero Club 50th Anniversary Britannia Trophy Dinner Menu signed by the following past winners:-

1914 - Squadron Commander J.W. Seddon RNAS 
1925 - Alan Cobham
1927 - Lieutenant Richard.R. Bentley
1937 - Flying Officer A.E. Clouston

1938 - Harry A.V.Hogan, Brian K.Burnett, Maurice Larwood Gaine
1939 - Alex Henshaw - for his record flight from London to Cape Town and back
1945 - Group Captain H.J. Wilson
1946 - Group Captain E.M. Donaldson
1947 - Squadron Leader Harold.B 'Micky' Martin and Squadron Leader E.B. Sismore
1950 - Phillip.A. Wills

1952 - W/Cdr Roland.P. Beaumont, F/lt Peter Hillwood and S/Ldr Dennis.A. Watson
1956 - L.Peter Twiss
1957 - Mike Randrup and Walter Shirley
1958 - John Cunningham and Per Bugge
1959 - Peter Latham - 111 Squadron RAF
1960 - T.W. Brooke-Smith
1961 - Anne Burns and Dennis Burns

Fairy Aviation Signed Menu from 1929. It features the signatures of
C.R.McMullin and Maurice E.A. Wright

Westland Helicopters Signed Card
Ted Ciastula, Chief designer Saunders-Roe at the time of the Westland takeover. Responsible for designing P531, Scout, Wasp as senior designer at Hayes played an important part in the initial design of the WG-13, which was to become Lynx
Jazz Young, in charge of the stress office at Hayes.
Desmond Liegh, senior  Stressman at Hayes and later at Yeovil.
Sid Smith,

John Wilson,

Bill Spinks,   
Graham Cole, Sales and Marketing at Yeovil, resident in Brazil for many years.  Became Chairman of Westland.  Awarded CBE
Gilbert Hatton, Production at Hayes
Syd Williams, Inspection at Hayes
Tony Underwood, Structural department Hayes
Ted Roadnight, vibration specialist, moved to Yeovil 1970, Subsequently joined Marketing 
A Boardman, MOD Resident Technical Officer (RTO)
John Firmin Electrical, Radio, Avionics Development, From 1969 Retired 1993 in charge Avionics
Reg Maltby, Senior design; I think Wessex, Sea king etc 
Arthur Baker; senior development Test Engineer.
Reg Swinfield: Chief Stressman Hayes, later at Yeovil
Stan Thear: Electrical design Hayes
Cyril Scott: i/c Radio section White Waltham
Jimmy Wildhaber; Stress Hayes and later I think White Waltham
Betty Tillyer: Central registry Hayes
Mike Breward; Projects Yeovil

Eric Stanmore  ; Radio Installations 
George Isaacs: Chief Electrical designer Hayes and later Yeovil 
Stan Griggs; senior design, Electrical or Mechanical 
Bill Pemberton: Hydraulics Designer Hayes and later Yeovil 
Roy Cowdrey; Structural design Hayes later Yeovil 
Bill Reading; 
Les Fitzgerald: Hydraulics 
Mike Kelly ; Superintendent  White Waltham South, Fairey managed RAF site
Dr Winney: Very Senior Hayes, Head of Technical office
David Balmford; Dynamics Hayes, Chief Dynamics Yeovil became Chief Scientist 
Alan Vincent  Dynamics Hayes and Yeovil 
Mostyn-Davis; Projects Hayes and Yeovil 
Steve Templar: Engineering Management Hayes later Yeovil 
Jim Schofield; Propulsion Rotodyne, Armament design Yeovil 
George Garaghty: Aerodynamics 
Vic Adams: computing in 1957? 
Keiron Mackenzie: Chief aerodynamicist Hayes later Yeovil 
George Smith-Pert : Transmission design Yeovil 
Alan Smith; Lynx Programme Manager
David Gibbings;  

R D Trumper; Chief Development Engineer Hayes and Yeovil 

Vic Rogers, Head Stress Hayes, Chief designer Yeovil became Director 

John Morton Test Pilot  

Ron Cure: rotor design Hayes 

Keith Chadbourn ; Test Pilot 

Archie Pitt ; White Waltham North site superintendent 

Jack Packett; costing

Dr George Hislop; Chief designer Rotodyne became MD at Yeovil 

Bill Denyer; Mechanical designer 

Roger Strange ; Programme Management


Sir Francis Chichester signed menu in recognition of his solo yacht crossing

Dinner in honour of French Air Rally hosts 1963

Signed by Claude Grahame-White, Brabazon of Tara and Alan Lennox-Boyd

Royal Aero Club menu signed by following early aviators:-
Lord Barbazon of Tara 1884-1964

Edward Keith Davies 1885-1968

James George Weir 1887-1973

Sir Thomas Sopwith 1888-1989

Andrew George Board 1878-1973

Medal awarded to G/Capt E.N Ryder for competing in the race.

Menu signed by the following, plus 1 un-identified.

G/C Edgar Norman Ryder DFC* (1914-1995)
W/Cdr Charles Maughan (1923-2009)
Colonel Charles Frederick Howard Gough MC (1901-1977)
Eric Rylands
Arthur Wareham (1909-1985) Editor of Daily Mail
Maj Jacques Allez (President of French Aero Club)
Maj Jack Stewart OBE (Aviation Consultant)

A very nice multi-signed Dinner menu commerating the first flights of deHavilland Comet on the 27th July 1949 and the Bristol Brabazon on the September 4th 1949.This dinner was held at the Dorchester Hotel,Park Lane W London on Wednesday December 20th 1950. It has been signed by several of those involved in the Brabazon and Comet programs.

John Cunningham (1917-2002) - de Havilland Chief Test Pilot - maiden flight of the de Havilland Comet

A.J. 'Bill' Pegg (1906-1978) - Bristol Aeroplane Co. Chief Test Pilot - maiden flight of the Bristol Brabazon

Cyril Uwins (1896-1972)- Former Bristol Aeroplane Co. Chief Test Pilot

Archilbald Russell (1904-1995) - Chief Designer of the Bristol Brabazon

Kennelm Bartlett (1892-1960) - Bristol Aeroplane Co. Sales Director

Clarence (Clary) S. Thom (1900-1960)- de Havilland Sales Director

Sir Aubrey F.Burke (1904-1989) - de Havilland Engine Co. Managing Director

F.E.N.St.Barbe (1892-1975) - de Havilland Business Director

If anyone can identify the remaining two signatures, please email me and let me know

Cartoon from the 1954 Aeroplane magazine depicting the Awards Dinner.
Listed below are some of the signatories of the Dinner menu. It reads like a who's who of British Aviation History,with outstanding Test Pilots,Designers and Engineers.

Michael J. 'Mike' Lithgow (1920-1963)
- Supermarine Test Pilot
World Speed Record
Sqn Ldr Neville F.Duke (1921-2007) - Hawker Test Pilot
World Speed Record
Sir Sydney Camm (1893-1966)
- Aircraft Designer
Designed the Hurricane, Seahawk,Hunter and Harrier
Albert. G.Elliot (1889-1978) - Rolls Royce Chief engineer
Designed the Rolls Royce Merlin and Avon Engines.
W.E.W 'Teddy' Petter (1908-1968) - Aircraft Designer

Designed the Lysander,Whirlwind,Welkin,Canberra,Lightning,Midge and Gnat.

Joseph 'Joe' Smith (1897-1956) - Aircraft Designer

Who took over as Chief Designer for Supermarine's upon the death of R.J.Mitchell and led the team responsible for the subsequent development of the Spitfire and other Supermarine aircraft such as the Swift.

John Cunningham (1917-2002) DeHavilland Test Pilot
Lord Brabazon of Tara (1884-1964) - Pioneer Aviator and holder of British Aviation Licence No 1

Captain Kennelm Bartlett (1892-1960)- Former Bristol Aeroplane Company Sales Director and President F.A.I.
Col Rupert L. 'Mossy' Preston (1902-1982) - Sec-General RAe.C

 Sopwith Apprentices 8th Re-union Dinner 1962 signed by the following:

Neville Duke 
Maurice Smith
E.A 'Chris' Wren
R.J. Ashfield
R.H. Shaw
George Anderson
Herbert Parsons
James Stuart

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mgen Harold E. 'Tom' Collins 1924-

General Collins was born in 1924 in Port Arthur, Texas, where he graduated from Saint James High School, in 1941, and then attended Lamar Institute of Technology, Beaumont, Texas, studying engineering. He entered the U.S. Army in February 1943 and after basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was sent to Fort Sill, Okla., where he trained as a gunner in a 105 mm howitzer field artillery battery. In July 1943 he entered aviation cadet pilot training and received his pilot wings and commission as second lieutenant in September 1944 at La Junta Army Air Field, Colo. He next went to Will Rogers Field, Okla., for photo reconnaissance pilot training in P-38 aircraft. After combat training, he went to the European Theater of Operations in February 1945 and joined the 155th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron. After World War II ended in Europe, he remained as part of the occupation forces in Germany and served with several tactical fighter groups.

He returned to the United States in June 1947 and was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, where he served as an experimental test pilot until November 1954. He played a key role as a test pilot in the development of the F-80, F-84, F-86, and F-100 aircraft. During that assignment, in 1951, he headed a special project in Japan and Korea to equip RF-80 and F-84 aircraft for in-flight refueling from a converted B-29 tanker using the probe and drogue hose system. He supervised the modifications, trained the crews, and flew on the first known combat mission to use aerial refueling. He is credited with 11 aerial combat missions. In September 1953 General Collins established a new world speed record of 707.889 miles per hour for the 15-25 kilometer course in an F-86D Sabre and was awarded the General Electric Trophy. Also in late 1953 he became the first American to fly a Russian-built Mig-15 fighter during tests of the aircraft on Okinawa following its delivery to South Korea by a defector.

In July 1954 he moved to Youngstown, Ohio, as operations officer of the 86th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the Air Defense Command, and in June 1955 he became commander of that squadron. In August 1956 he entered the Air Command and Staff College, and after graduation in July 1957, he returned to test pilot and command duties as assistant chief, then chief of the Fighter Test Division, Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he participated in the development of the F-101, F-102, F-104, F-105 and F-106 and flight-evaluated numerous foreign aircraft. In July 1962 he moved to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to become the director of Flight Test Operations, Air Force Flight Test Center, with responsibility for all flight test operations including a key supervisory role in the operation of the rocket-powered X-15 research aircraft.

He entered the National War College, Washington, D.C., in July 1964 and after graduation in July 1965 was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Research and Development, as the deputy chief, Aeronautical Systems Division, Directorate of Development, and in July 1967 he was named chief, Aeronautical Systems Division. During 1966 he attended the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, Cambridge, Mass. In October 1967 the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the international society of professional test pilots, elevated him to the grade of fellow. This is the highest grade in the society, and it is reserved for those test pilots who have made significant contribution to aviation. From November 1969 to November 1970, General Collins was assigned to the U.S. Strike Command as the U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan. His office was located in the American Embassy, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. From December 1970 to March 1972, General Collins was the inspector general, Air Force Systems Command, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. In April 1972 he was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force as director of development and acquisition in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development. In August 1973 General Collins became the assistant deputy chief research and development. General Collins returned to Headquarters Air Force Systems Command, in August 1974, as chief of staff.

His military decorations and awards include the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, and the Distinguished Unit Citation Emblem. He is a command pilot with more then 5,500 flying hours and has flown more than 100 types of United States and foreign aircraft.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier 1913-1998

Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. Few can equal his active role in the advancement of aviation during a flying career that spanned over 50 years. He began flying in 1928, at 15, and by 1932 had his commercial license. He began barnstorming, flying charters, instructing, and air racing where he first made a name for himself winning the 1938 Greve Trophy Race at Cleveland and the 1938 Pacific International Air Race at Oakland.

World War II interrupted his racing career but brought new flying opportunities. After jobs with Douglas Aircraft, Midcontinent Airlines, and General Motors, LeVier began a career with Lockheed Aircraft in April 1941. At first, he ferried Lockheed Hudson bombers built for the Royal Air Force, but he soon worked his way into the Engineering Flight Test Department and remained there for 32 years. He conducted the most extensive compressibility dive program that had been done and not only improved the P-38 Lightning, but also helped to pave the way for future high speed and supersonic flight. His skill in the P-38 led to an assignment as a special research test pilot in the Eighth and Ninth Fighter Command in England. To improve the combat effectiveness of the P-38, he conducted lectures, flight tests, and demonstration flights at all Eighth Air Force P-38 fighter bases. He then returned to Lockheed and helped America enter the jet age.

On 10 June 1944, LeVier took off from Muroc Field in the XP-80A, "Gray Ghost," the predecessor to America’s first production jet aircraft. He went on to make "first flights" in 19 other aircraft including the T-33, F-94, XF-104, and U-2. During his flying career, he flew more than 250 different aircraft, but his contributions to aviation were not limited to test flying. As an inventor, LeVier made many significant improvements in aircraft systems. He designed the master caution warning light system, the automatic wing stores release, the first practical afterburner ignition system, the "hot microphone" intercom system, and the placement of the trim switch on top of the control stick. After 10 years as Lockheed’s chief engineering test pilot, he became Lockheed’s Director of Flying Operations--a position he held until shortly before his retirement in 1974. He was a founding member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Arthur 'Kit' Murray 1918-2011

Arthur “Kit” Murray was born and raised in the small town of Cresson nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. With WWII already underway in Europe, he joined the Army in 1939, and served in the Cavalry. Kit volunteered for pilot training the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and by 1943 was flying the P-40 as a fighter pilot in Africa. His unit worked its way across the continent from Casablanca to Tunisia, escorting B-25, B-26 and A-20 bombers as well as performing dive bombing and strafing missions. His unit was proud to never have lost a bomber to enemy fighters while under their escort.
After a year tour in Africa, Kit returned to the U.S. as a P-47 instructor at Bradley Field near Hartford, Connecticut. He was then assigned as a maintenance flight test pilot and sent to Maintenance Engineering School at Chanute AFB. After completion of that school his commander found out about the Flight Test School at Wright Field and decided to send him there. Here was where Kit got his big break as he quickly found out this school was not for functional test flights, but for experimental test programs. He kept his mouth shut and stuck with the program, and soon was offered the opportunity to be the first permanent test pilot to be assigned to Muroc Airfield (later Edwards AFB) in the California desert. Until then, pilots were based at the Wright Field Test Center and assigned TDY as needed to Muroc. Chuck Yeager was making such trips out there from the Test Center while he was flying the X-1 on the first supersonic test flights. In early tests Kit was able to fly some of America’s earliest jet aircraft including the Bell XP-59 and the P-80. He also flew the P-51, P-82 (twin Mustang), F-84, B-25, B-43, B-45 and many other fighter and bomber aircraft. The most exciting flights, I would think, must have been the X-planes he flew. They were certainly the most exotic. Kit flight tested the X-1A & B, the X-4 and the X-5. In the X-1A, Kit set altitude records of over 90,000 feet and was considered at the time, 1954, America’s first space pilot. He was the first to see the curvature of the earth and the sky dark at mid-day. The X-1A was powered by four rocket motors using liquid oxygen and alcohol as fuel. Looking rather exotic even in photos today, the X-1 used nitrogen tanks to pressurize many of the systems including the fuel tanks, cockpit and the landing gear system. However, the flight controls were completely conventional with strictly mechanical linkage and no hydraulic boost.
The X-1A was launched from the belly of a B-29 and later a B-50, and the flight profile had him using a 45 degree pitch attitude with airspeeds reaching about Mach 2. On his first couple of high altitude flights, Kit said his plane would snap into a spin when the motors burned out while approaching his peak altitude. He finally figured that the rocket motors were installed very slightly offset which, to keep it going straight, was causing him to have to cross control the plane increasingly as it accelerated. When the engines shut off, the cross-control condition, which was keeping the airplane from yawing, now became the perfect spin entry input.
After two exciting flights involving supersonic spin recovery, Kit was quick to neutralize the controls immediately upon motor shutdown in later flights. He had taped a string in front of the windshield to determine his rudder trim input! Kit was the first pilot to fly the X1-B aircraft in powered flight, and he said it was a much straighter flying rocket ship than the X-1A. The X-4 he flew was basically a flying wing type aircraft (no horizontal tail) and the X-5 was a variable sweep test platform.
Kit was a test pilot at Muroc/Edwards from 1949 to 1955, an unusually long time for that assignment. Kit’s next Air Force assignment was in Paris, France. He was in charge of technology integration for the U.S. Regional Organization there and was privileged to fly some of Europe’s top airplanes at the time, including the Italian Fiat G-91, the French Mystere, and the English Javelin. After that one year assignment he went to Wright-Patterson AFB as head of new developments at the Systems Project Office.
During his time there, 1958-1960, he was Air Force manager for the X-15 program, which attained record altitudes of 354,000 feet and a speed record of 4,534 m.p.h. (Mach 6.7). The X-15 program contributed enormously to the space program and high speed aircraft research, and was acclaimed as the most successful test program of its type. Kit held the rank of Major at the time, but this was considered a Colonel’s job, so the Air Force was definitely getting their money’s worth out of him. He was approached by Boeing in 1960, with an offer he could not refuse, so he retired with over 20 years of military service and became their “company astronaut” managing crew integration for the space program. In that capacity he massaged the gap between engineers and scientists who just wanted astronauts to ride in a sealed capsule, and pilots who wanted to be able to see what was going on and do something about it! Kit worked for Boeing on many space programs from 1960 to 1969, from the X-20 (a single place space shuttle) to the Apollo program. He was Technical Integration Manager for Boeing at Cape Canaveral.
In 1969 Kit moved to the Ft. Worth area to become Air Force Requirements Engineer for Bell Helicopter in the tilt rotor program. He worked for them until 1971, then gradually slowed down in retirement, but still doing many things interesting to him. He managed a hunting club, flew some charter work for Mustang Aviation in Dallas, then did some courtroom reporting for the Bosque County newspaper. Kit also was project manager for the restoration of the Bosque County Courthouse, taking it back to its 1886 splendor.