Saturday, April 09, 2011
Robert Drew was born in southern California, and like many other draft-age Americans during the early days of World War II, decided he preferred to fly rather than spend the next few years in the infantry or at sea. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943, and earned his commission and silver wings at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona. Beginning on May 13, 1943, he graduated in 13 months plus 13 days. He completed transition training and was assigned to the 13th Air Force in the South Pacific. After 13 months overseas, he returned to the United States.
Drew's assignment in the South Pacific Theater in 1945 was as a fighter pilot in P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang aircraft. He became a flight commander and squadron operations officer by the time he was discharged in 1946.Drew joined the California National Guard in 1946 as a flight commander, and during his CNG service joined the Douglas Aircraft Company as flight test engineer, in 1952.
His work on various test programs led to transitioning to production test pilot status at Douglas Aircraft on the Navy AD Skyraiders, and later to engineering flight test on the F4D Skyray at Edwards AFB.The Douglas F4D Skyray was no doubt named for its resemblance from above or below to a giant manta ray. It was designed during the Cold War as a high-altitude interceptor for defense of the U.S. fleet against possible Soviet air attack. The XF4D-1 prototype first flew on Jan. 23, 1951; only 419 were built during its service life from 1956 to 1962. It was primarily known for its fantastic climb rate, providing outstanding capability to scramble against high-flying bombers. This airplane holds the unofficial world record from brakes-off to 10,000 feet altitude, at 56 seconds. The F4D was also the first delta-wing aircraft to attain supersonic flight and it held the world speed record for both three-kilometer and 100-kilometer courses, as well as five Time-To-Climb records in the early 1950s. It was the first Navy airplane to hold world speed records since a Navy seaplane set the record in 1934. For his design and development of the record-setting Skyray, long-time chief engineer at Douglas Aircraft, Ed Heinemann, was awarded the Collier Trophy.
Bob Drew served as the project test pilot for the Skyray and, after the preliminary tests at Edwards, completed the formal structural and aerodynamic demonstration tests required at the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1956. Some of his chase pilots at both NATC and Edwards were future astronauts Deke Slayton and Al Shepard, pilots Ivan Kincheloe and Mel Apt of the altitude and speed record holder X-2, and Captains Bob White and Bob Rushworth, pilots of the hypersonic X-15.
He made the maiden flight of the A-4C Skyhawk on the 21st August 1958. He continued flight test work for Douglas Aircraft until 1962, flying everything from subsonic and supersonic fighters to four-engine, commercial airliners and military cargo craft. He also flight tested and competed in Formula One Pylon Racers across the country for 40 years, between 1953 and 1993.In total, this combat, test and racing pilot accumulated nearly 10,000 hours of flight time in more than 75 aircraft types over the past 50 years.