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The Mission click on the links below for more of the story...
1 Birth of a Spaceplane - 2 The Test Pilots - 3 Joint Test Program - 4 Theory to Reality - 5 World Record - 6 Surprise, Surprise - 7 Strike Two! - 8 Enduring World Record - 9 A Big Surprise - 10 Going for Broke - 11 Unwanted Record for Chuck Yeager - 12 Spin, Crash & Rescue - 13 Accident Board (Strike Three for Me!) - 14 Three Up & Three Down - 15 The End...Finis...QED - 16 Yeager's View in Review - 17 What's in the Future? - 18 Farewell, but Didn't Fare Well!-

18  Farewell, but Didn’t Fare Well!

Letter of Recommendation

During the early part of the AST testing, I was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award for that years top contribution to flight testing, an award held by some of the greatest test pilots in our history, so the fact that I was submitted by one of our nations top test centers was pleasing.  Even in this situation the burned bridges were apparent. B/G “Twig” Branch, AFFTC Commander had endorsed the recommendation, dated 23 December 1964.  Interestingly, the signature over the signature block of Guy M. Townsend, Colonel, Deputy for Systems Test, was that of his Assistant, Col. Clarence E, “Bud” Anderson.  Bud a great guy and a leading fighter Ace is one of Chuck Yeager’s dearest friends beginning in the fighter squadron in Europe where they both became Aces.

The Aeronautics Systems Division submitted Jim Knight for flying a test program with the F-106 in thunderstorms, a stimulating experience.  As it turned out there was no recipient for that year so I presume we didn’t meet the threshold of national interest.

Colonel Peterson had departed and Colonel Townsend had been promoted and the two projects for which I was primarily responsible, F-5 and AST were ended.  My end at Edwards, was quick and predictable.

I left Edwards for the last time ever after a memorable final month of flying.  I completed my 126th test flight on the NF-104 AST exactly 30 days before my last flight at the base.  I flew my final test flight of the F-5 with 15 days to go.  Thanks to XB-70 test pilot Fitz Fulton,  I flew my first flight and got to make 4 landings in the B-58, our Mach 2 supersonic bomber the day before my final flight from Edwards.   A nice way to end a tour, in a place that is special for any test pilot and so many great memories of family, friends and flying for me. 

In order of personal satisfaction of flying accomplishments in my 20-year military career this tour came in a distant second, but at the time, I never expected anything later could possibly surpass it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, it had to be an 11... or more, which puts it right up there with about four of my other Air Force tours of duty!  The greatest part of it is that Martha, Lane and Bob each remembered it as great chapters of their lives.  Martha and I missed the Air Force service life a great deal when I decided it was time to leave a brief four years after Edwards, but with one more great tour flying the F-105D in Vietnam to top the excitement and satisfaction of the AeroSpace Trainer testing many fold, and even above all my other wonderful experiences.  I could never have found a more satisfying 20 years, with a fabulous career and a wonderful family.

In order of benefits to me as a career officer that tour at Edwards had been as bad as it gets, and for the first time ever, I stopped thinking as a “Lifer”.  My two Officer Efficiency Reports, annual evaluations that are prime for promotions, were very damaging.  I requested review from the Pentagon, encouraged by written testimony from Col. Pete, who being 4 levels above me had never been aware of the treatment I received at Edwards.  As a matter of pride or principle, I would never tell him before he left. That letter was the only favor I ever curried from Pete, except his friendship, the greatest thing he ever gave me and one I will always treasure.  I also received a favorable recommendation from Russ Rogers, who had transferred.  He was one of the most direct and honest folks I ever knew and I guess I needed him to confirm my attitude was justified.  The board, after reviewing my career records, directed those reports be expunged without prejudice.

Although better than having a promotion board read disparaging words, the lack of ratings for 2 years was too questionable and damaging in such severe competition to ever achieve significant rank.  I realized that, and made my career change decision before I petitioned, but gaining recognition of the pettiness was a matter of personal satisfaction to me.  Guy Townsend, the approving authority’s attitude certainly influenced the report, by my rating officer, Fighter Operations Chief, whose buddy missed out on selection for both the NF and the X-15, but would end up as Commander of the Flight Test Center in years to come. 

The board’s decision proved it was unacceptable to unbiased judges.  Col. Townsend’s decisions and actions seemed to be the result of his perception of the best thing to advance his career, not the Air Force, as proven by his willingness to avoid testing to disprove a costly modification to all F-104s, then to avoid the opportunity to possibly eliminate the risk of F-104 spin crashes throughout the fleets, and to allow the continuing expense and added risks of operating the AST as a play toy, rather than stand for principle and either recommend cancellation or useful training.

He shirked his duty and responsibility as President of Col. Chuck Yeager’s accident board.  That was patently clear in his failure to call to witness the most knowledgeable people concerning operation of the airplane, Jack and me.  I would have reported that the airplane was flyable for carefully selected test pilots, educated in the technology it was intended for.  The risks were no higher than expected. 

I would have concluded that without the full zoom, the AST provided no significant training over standard NF-104 but retained a much higher risk factor and entailed unreasonable added costs.

He won the battle to cover his butt, at a disservice to the Air Force.  But, in the end Guy Townsend did me a great service in life, with a second career equally challenging, although in different ways, and much more financially rewarding.  And in the process, I headed toward my most satisfying Air Force and lifetime accomplishment and rewards, in my second and final combat tour, only two years after he banished me.

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