Beginning in 1963 and
for 40 years now, I continue to receive (in surprising
numbers) a steady stream of requests for photos, autographs, etc. from all
over the world. Some are the result of my graduation from the Air Force
astronaut training, but the majority are a result of my being the primary
test pilot of a space plane. I am amazed at how many successfully searched
me out, long before the Internet search aids.
The story of the unique NF-104, AeroSpace
Trainer, is unusual in many ways and the true events have remained
unreported for over 40 years. I have often been urged to do just that,
especially by a few close friends who know some of the story, but I avoided
doing it for a number of reasons.
A major consideration was that I tried to
put my flying career behind me when I left it in 1969 to begin a life as a
working engineering manager in the aerospace business, which lasted for 23
years. My attachment to flying was so strong that I feared dwelling on it
and divorced myself from those thoughts, as much as possible, by dedicating
myself to new interests. As time passed, and my second career ended, I was
free to renew interest in flying and found that time had heightened the urge
to tell the story of my two decades as a member of the USAF.
Another consideration was it might be taken
by some readers as an effort to denigrate some of my fellow flyers. That is
not my intention.
But, as I sit here on my 75th
birthday, I decided to set the record straight and document my exciting
twenty years as a pilot in the United States Air Force.
So I begin with one of my more interesting
jobs; testing the NF-104. Although the premier events in the history of the
NF-104 occurred in less than 3 months (more than halfway through my two
decades of flying) public interest in a real space plane causes me to lead
in with that brief but exciting test program (and this website’s namesake).
As more chapters of my flying history become
available, they will be posted on this website.
Robert W. Smith