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Chapter 3 - Flight Test  click on the links below for more of the story...
i. It's Academic - ii. New Horizons  - iii. Sun n' Fun: Weapon Systems Test - iv. Clipped Wings

Clipped Wings
Missile Test Wing, AFSC, Vandenberg AFB, CA, Jan 1960- May’62

I enjoyed serving under B/Gen. Joseph J. Cody, Commander Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) Missile Test Wing for whom I would work again, later at Systems Command Headquarters.  The most gratifying part of this tour was that I found a kindred spirit and very special friend in, Col. Charles A. Allen, who was Cody’s deputy.  Vandenberg was a Strategic Air Command Base, under a two-star general, with their Strategic Missile Wing and we were tenants.  Chuck was a great guy and often my flying partner in the T-33’s, available to us from the Strategic Air Command base operations group, but only to the extent of fulfilling annual minimums.  My friendship with Chuck Allen, who was the only other fighter pilot on base, grew out of mutual respect and with competition that continues to this day, now with semantics only, in our Christmas notes and infrequent responses thereto. I remember so well a flight to Colorado Springs to take his son, an Air Force Academy Cadet, out for dinner just after he transcended the Plebe stage.  That fine young man ate a steak big enough to feed a family, with nothing left but the fork, and I suspect it was damaged.   

Chuck had built a dune buggy and Martha and I went for the ride of our lives on the beach one night after a party, with Chuck at the wheel.  He was a wild and fun-loving guy, impossible not to admire and respect.  Other than that, there was little I enjoyed about my tour at the Air Force Western Missile Test Range. I happened by sheer chance to meet famous test pilot, Chuck Yeager, for the first time, when I was assigned to escort him around base.  He was there to tout a new concept called “Quality Circles” to the employees on base, including the large Martin Marietta staff, in whose compound I had an office and direct contact with the Major General’s staff at the missile headquarters in Los Angeles. Later the idea of Q.C. invaded other industry and the Air Force, another of those fads that promise to do great things by changing human perceptions, when their only greatness is the income it provides the psychology guru, the guys who graduated college taking the course most took for a breather.  The Titan II missiles and silo tests were our primary task. Years later, when I would get to know the real Chuck Yeager, I was bemused by the thought of him peddling a cult-like concept of standardized and disciplined rules for everybody.  As kids we heard it was just the opposite attitude that made Americans effective in peace and war, but the politics government and big business embrace those gimmicks, for the masses, not the executives.

I despised that entire tour, from a professional point of view, but it was great for family life.  Left with no other choice, we started by buying a house in Lompoc and were lucky to find one we could afford.  No base housing openings, with an extended waiting list, and no civilian rentals available.  That backward little town was becoming a thriving beehive of activity with so many civilian missile employees vying for housing, on supplemented salaries by their companies, and a general feeling of distain from the populace, who didn’t like the growth.  We were responsible, in their eyes.  After a year, we got into base housing and it was wonderful, without the long drive to base and with the kids moved into base school.  One thing outstanding about that SAC base, was the demand that every officer and non-com pull a minimum of one season in some capacity, from facility maintenance to coaching, on the children’s sports programs, and they had facilities and teams for most every sport.  It was great for the adults and family rapport.  Martha, Lane and Bobby, and I truly enjoyed that aspect of our lives.

Other than the pleasure of it with Chuck once in a while, my flying was limited in quantity and quality.  For example, I went for over two hours in a T-33 jet trainer with a SAC pilot with very little experience, obviously.  He was in back and wanted to practice instrument flying under the hood, so I acquiesced and sat bored for most of the flight watching for traffic.  He was lousy, in fact he stunk it up with his ineptitude at flying instruments and the airplane.  I spent the entire flight trying to show him how to do it, based on the excellent training I had gotten in the A. F. all-weather school some seven years before.  He didn’t even know which instruments were best for which purposes and I wondered how such guys could stay on flying status.  When we had only a little fuel remaining I took over and told him to get out from under the hood, I would do some acrobatics.  I wondered when he had last been on his back in an airplane.  I did some routine maneuvers, some not so routine, like a point roll, with inverted flight, then dived to the deck and did a double Immelman:  Two half loops, non-stop, with a roll out at the top, gaining about 10,000 feet, I suppose.  Then I put it into a spin to lose the altitude and returned to the base for landing.  Shortly after I arrived at the office, I got a call from the Base Operations Officer that my GIG (get in back), whom I thought might have appreciated my help, had reported me for illegal acrobatics and I was “Up for a No Notice Check Ride from the SAC Standard Evaluation Pilot.”  My reply was, “Good, I need some extra flying hours!”  Luckily I wasn’t in SAC and I never heard about it again, or got any extra flying time, either. My days of interesting flying appeared to have come to a premature and permanent end, because of the priority that missile assignments enjoyed in AFSC at the time.  My growing missile test experience exceeded two years, making me a veteran and expert, pinned with a missile badge, which I quickly retired to oblivion.  But then Lady Luck doubled up for me, this time. 

Jimmie and I talk during filming

NBC began a TV Special Series called “The World Of  …..” filming it’s premier episode with Bob Hope.  Next came, the “World of Jimmie Doolittle”, which included the live filming at Vandenberg.  I suppose it was made there in order to include a missile launch, and its proximity to home and business.  Jimmie Doolittle was the Chairman of the Board for Aerospace Corporation, Los Angeles, the leading space and technology consulting company for the Air Force.  Whatever the reasons it was fortuitous for me, when I was assigned as General Doolittle’s escort, because of my flying background.  I was excited and delighted to spend a full day with him.  

No man in history held a candle to him in the broadest sense of aeronautics: Leading; combat; racing; inventing and testing.  He held unique records and will remain at the top in the history of manned flight.  Not the least of his feats was planning, training and personally leading the first attack on the Japanese mainland with take-off of Army Air Corps B-25’s from the Navy’s Aircraft Carrier, Hornet, an amazing feat in itself!  His decision to proceed with a premature take-off, when the carrier was spotted by a Japanese fishing boat assure success, at the risk of life to him and his crews, since it denied them enough fuel to reach safety after the attack.    He knew what it meant to the morale of the adversaries, not the impact of the bombs on the enemy but the impact on the psyche of America and Japan that was so important. That single mission gave a lift to all Americans and dramatically degraded the Japanese conduct of the war, thereafter, for which he received the Congressional Medal of Honor and accepted on behalf of his men, some of whom lost their lives to ritual executions in Japan.

And let’s not overlook his technical expertise. That great gentleman had a Doctorate in Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He developed blind flying instruments and flew the first successful blind flight, in actual weather with them.  He repeatedly set world records for many years and he held major Air Commands of bombers in Europe during WW II, leading missions for his men.  As for flying skill, he whipped the world’s best professional closed course race pilots in an airplane so unstable that few others dared fly it, the ‘Gee Bee’.  Four other notable racing pilots crashed and died in the Gee Bee in those years of his victory over Roscoe Turner, the leading racer of that period. It was little more than a flying engine, appearing to not have enough rudder area to be flyable in level flight, much less tight turns around pylons, yet he won the closed-course race with it, setting a world speed record.  I’d lay odds that Jimmie set more records in aerial flight than any individual before or after him.

How lucky I was to spend an entire day with the world’s greatest aviation pioneer and one of the kindest and most thoughtful gentlemen I’ve ever met!  Among my most treasured memorabilia is a collection of personal letters from him, which I began receiving regularly soon after our day together.  I felt it presumptuous to even respond at first until I received another letter from him.  Jimmie Doolittle transcends even Billy Mitchell as greatest of Air Force pilot-leaders, in my mind.

Aerospace management was an excellent career field, was interesting and required skills and talent, but was not what I had dedicated myself to and not what I enjoyed.  I attempted occasionally to get transferred to Tactical Air Command but was denied at Systems Command each time with statements that the future of the Air Force and for me were in missiles.  Then sweet Lady Luck found me once again! 

Doolittle & Chairman of Kodak

I heard about a course of training for future Air Force astronauts that had been formed at the Air Force Flight Test Center, where I had gone to test pilot school and checked it out. The first class was in process for the “Aerospace Research Pilots School” and I made application for the second. I called on Jimmie Doolittle and he sent them a commendation for me.  But to put it bluntly, I had little faith that I could break away from this new life, which I seemed to be destined to live with, even though ARPS was under Systems Command, and I had Jimmie Doolittle’s endorsement.

A wonderful directive arrived in our headquarters, that I was one of eight accepted for that training.  It changed my life and we had the shortest move of our lives, from Vandenberg AFB cross state a bit to Edwards AFB.  I would have hand-carried our household, if necessary.

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