FLYING, and flying Projects
a career history (with pictures for my pilot buddies)
Thank you, United States of America, for one heck of a first career. These two photos are bookmarks, taken in 1971 and 1981, to what was an incredible time in the cockpit. I owe a lot to the example of my father, who flew the P-47 out of Duxford, England, winning a Purple Heart, and later Army L-5s in Korea, winning the Silver Star. He even joined up with me in Vietnam, getting in a third combat tour in a 33-year career.

On the left I'm in my party flight suit sitting on the wing of an A-37 in a revetment at Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam. On the right I'm in a T-38, inverted over the top of the F-117 with Hap Roshan in the back seat, taking one of the first-ever aerial photos of an F-117 (we know we took it because of the distinctive broken "bricks" on the exhaust and, yes, they were gray until Gen Creech pointedly told me "I like black." One of our tests showed they should have been an 18% gray-blue for best daytime stealth.).

The Air Force Academy and Pilot training were the springboards that got me going. Four of us cadets (Howie Towt, Jim Bettcher, Tom Jones, and me) had graduated and gone directly to graduate school, winding up in the same pilot training class at Moody and finishing 1-2-3-4. Howie was just a little smarter (maybe a lot smarter) and was the top dog, taking an F-105. I got the second choice, an F-100, and that's where my real flying story begins.


The "Hun"--what a great way to start out. This historic aircraft was the first production fighter able to achieve supersonic speed in level flight. I remembered being in West Germany in the '50s when the first brand new F-100s showed up and I marveled, in 1969, at my luck in getting to fly it. It was a handful and underpowered, especially in the heat at Luke AFB. We lost more than one pilot a month in training. But it was a no-kidding fighter. In it I learned to bomb, to strafe, to shoot air-to-air against the dart, fly "real" formation (where you break the rules a little and do rolls and loops in fingertip), and to aerial refuel. What a great six months! We finished the training only to find out that all F-100 assignments had been cancelled--the F-100 was being retired from the Air Force! Dang.
What luck! Dick Covey, who was in the Hun class with me, and I got orders to the A-37. It dropped bombs and no one else in the last Hun classes at Luke got anything that dropped bombs. Off we went to England AFB for a 3-month upgrade and then to Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam. I couldn't have asked for a better mission--we fought mostly in Cambodia against the truly evil Khmer Rouge. The A-37 was derived from the T-37, but it bore almost no resemblence to the trainer except in appearance--it was three times heavier with lots of thrust. The best thing about it was its "slow" speed and accuracy--we made the best possible use of every piece of ordnance we carried.

After 345 combat missions and a purple heart, I was headed home to England AFB to teach Vietnamese pilots how to be fighter pilots in the A-37. I was positive that this was a career-ending assignment. One thing for sure, it was more dangerous than combat. In the end, I finished this tour when I was selected for a special duty assignment in the Pentagon, which led directly to Test Pilot School, although I couldn't appreciate that at the time.

I wound up with more than 1100 hours in the A-37. Years later as an instructor at the Test Pilot School I was one of two spin and departure instructor pilots, so I got to spin the A-37 many times. I also got to routinely black out students--in those days not many airplanes could maintain high G's and this one could do 6 G's until it ran out of gas. That doesn't sound like much these days, but even now continuous G's at that level are very difficult for pilots to withstand. I loved this airplane for it's performance, interesting flying qualities, and for its suitability to the counter insurgency role. I've been unhappy with the Air Force for 30 years for failing to adequately address the COIN mission--the AF is too focused on "high, fast, and expensive" and has ignored one of its primary duties--support to the forces on the ground.

The T-39 was my steed as I suffered through my year in the Pentagon. It was a decent airplane for its mission, with range enough to go coast to coast in two hops. The one thing it lacked, however, was an autopilot, which made a straight and level three-hour leg a real misery. The good side was discovering that the best fried chicken box lunches were at Tinker AFB, right in the middle of the country. I never made it above copilot in this bird, which was just as well.
A word here about Test Pilot School--no, I did not fly the F-104, but I did get to fly a handful of other aircraft. Besides the three curriculum aircraft you got checked out to fly, you also got to fly a random selection of "new to you" aircraft on "qual rides." For me, this included the F-101 (like the F-4, a very powerful and fast to climb jet that had the highest roll rate of anything I ever flew--it could bounce your head off the canopy), the F-106 (what a cadillac, so smooth), the F-100 and A-37 (it was a special treat to be able to get back in these two jets and evaluate them with my new skills), KC-135 (big airplanes have their own challenges), and the Huey helicopter (this machine has no trouble putting you in your place). Later, as part of the F-117 program, I got several rides in the F-16 (this airplane has some continuing issues with closed loop tasks, like landing). For a real humbling experience, I flew the DeHavilland Beaver at the Navy school--no problem until slowing down on landing. Something else was deciding where that airplane was heading, not me! Whoa, tail draggers!

As an instructor at the school, I got the cush job teaching spins and departures. In my student days spins were taught in the T-33 and there was no departure training. Things had moved along in two years and spins were now taught in the A-37 and we did departures in the A-7. Every ride was a wild ride--you often had extensive bruises from the seat belt and shoulder harness. I loved it.

As an instructor at the school, I was able to visit four European test centers (France, Italy, Sweden, and Great Britain) and spin an airplane at each one--the CAP10, MB-339, Draken, and Provost. My hat is off to all their test pilots, especially the Italians.

I was re-introduced to the T-38 at Test Pilot School. What a sports car of an airplane. It had crisp and responsive handling qualities, good performance, and was just an all-around pleasure to fly. But it's resonsiveness made it a handful when it came to doing precise and stable test points. I was very glad to get away from it when it was my classroom, but later on it was a joy when it was one of my chase airplanes in the F-117 program. I managed to get it above 50,000' several times, even flaming out both engines up there and going supersonic in an engineless dive soon afterwards. For all of us in the F-117 program, this was the airplane of choice for dogfight practice. The best mission I ever flew was the weekend I snuck to Denver and stole Paul Tackabury's airplane from Buckly and took it to Houston. I didn't quite get grounded for that stunt.
I was also introduced to the "T-Bird" at Test Pilot School. This was a another "historical" aircraft that was underpowered but interesting to fly. It was famous for not having nose wheel steering and for inexperienced pilots to get a cocked nose wheel and be stuck on the ramp. The ancient jet engine had a very unusual starting sequence and many of the other systems were unusual, as well. But it had reasonable performance as a result of its straight, subsonic wing and was fun to fly. I got my first ever experience flying with another crew member in this airplane. Unlucky Mike Mullane got the job of being my back seater. Too bad for him it wouldn't be the last time--he eventually flew in the back seat of my F-4 on test missions out of Eglin AFB. On the other hand, maybe not too bad for him. I gave him enough experience in the F-4 that he was picked to be a Shuttle Astronaut in 1978.
The A-7 SLUF (short little ugly ...) was a Navy design that the AF adopted for ground attack. This was the perfect airplane for a geeky test pilot. It had an INS, autopilot, heads up display, computed weapons delivery, moving map, and a mission computer that could be coupled with the autopilot. Not only that, but it had legs better than Greta Garbo--you could fly from Edwards to Eglin and still have gas left over. In it, I flew weapons tests at Eglin, taught departures to Test Pilot students, and finally wound up using it while chasing the F-117. Although I loved the A-37, this really was the airplane that suited me best. It was a real fighter, which means single seat, single engine, just like the Hun. But just like the Hun, it had an engine problem--very slow to accelerate. I can't say how many times I was praying for more RPM as I landed short in the Edwards overrun after attempting a pattern that was just a little bit too "hot dog." I heard it could go supersonic under the right conditions and I tried it, once, out over the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe if I had started just a bit higher...
They tell you at Test Pilot School that it takes 500 hours before a pilot begins to think a bad flying machine isn't so bad after all--it's something called "compensation." They were sure right about the F-4. It might have been OK as an ait-to-air fighter, but to me it was an inaccurate fat boy who got where it was going because you can get anything to fly with 40,000 horse power. And it had some pretty bad handling qualities, too. On the other hand, you could puke off a lot of bombs and, in a straight line, it was a real screamer. It was even fun in the pattern when the E model had BLC, unless you were the IP in the back seat, which meant you couldn't see squat. Mike Mullane and I spent a lot of time together in this bird, shooting the longest range Maverick ever, experiencing a couple of explosive decompressions, freezing at 36,000', losing complete pitch axis control feel (which is as close to jumping out without pulling the handles as you can be), and making the only real instrument takeoff I've ever heard of. As I recall, as we taxied out at Peterson AFB, Mike's comment was "we may die in this blizzard, but if you don't get me home for my promotion party, Donna will kill you." I guess we didn't have a choice.
The Blanik L13--can any bad thing be said about this end of the flying spectrum? No! The joy of pure flight in a glider is hard to describe. It was such a perfect counterpoint to the systems, checklists, and power of the jets. Each flight was a challenge--find the thermals, ride the mountain wave, and take that one shot at making the landing back at home plate. I wouldn't give up flying the big iron for gliders, but almost. As it turns out (for all of us as we gray), the glider thrill would have lasted much longer. I remember quite vividly dog fighting Tackabury above 15,000' in wave so strong we could hardly get down and on another day out-climbing Dave Edmondson in the Pawnee tow plane--the lift was that strong. Thank you, Test Pilot School, for getting me into this and for allowing me to continue flying gliders during the F-117 program.
The Kingair was a different breed of cat. For starters, it was a non-centerline thrust airplane, requiring an additional certification on our pilot's license that we didn't need for the jets, something we couldn't even qualify for with fighter time. And it had props, a de-icing system, temperature limits on the engines, and passengers. You actually had to pay attention and sometimes, instead of just hopping over the weather in your jet, you had to fly into it. Ice would bang against the cockpit and crack off the wings--this was dangerous! But it was fun. When you had to go to Burbank to discuss some issue with the Skunk Works, or medevac an employee, you could jump in this beautiful aircraft in your blue jeans and fly into any airport. It made one appreciate the allure of being rich.

One other thing I have to mention at this point. Every military test pilot looks back with envy at the '50s when the Century Series fighters and new jet bombers were being developed. That time was never supposed to come again. Happily, that turned out to be wrong. At this point I was flying the T-38, A-7, Kingair, Gliders (courtesy of the AF) and was about to get back in the F-4 and also get my hands on the F-117. I'm sure it was totally against regs to be current in that many aircraft. I have to admit that occasionally it was a challenge, but not one I was going to shrink from.

This airplane has a distinction unique among all the military aircraft I had the honor to fly--in it I had my last flight. I had stayed over a Friday night to get some last minute work finished before I left the F-117 program. On Saturday I packed up a few things, cranked up the Kingair, and flew solo to Las Vegas. No one was at the ops trailer, so I pushed the keys through the mail slot and walked away from military flying forever.

Books have been written about the F-117 program. It broke many technical barriers, as well as managment barriers. I was fortunate to be on the program early, a little over a year before first flight. Like everyone else in the "white" world, I had no idea such a program even existed. It was coincidental that I had made a disparaging speech at Edwards about systems flight test, it was coincidental that my time as an instructor at TPS was just about up, and it was coincidental that Roy Bridges had been selected as a NASA astronaut and was leaving the program. I got a mysterious call from a Major Russ Easter to meet in a vacant lot in Lancaster to discuss "my future." I was hooked. I can't say I enjoyed every second of the program, but I wouldn't trade those four years for anything.

The development program was composed of a very few members, decisions were made quickly, support from on high was total, right up to the President. It couldn't have been better. Once the aircraft were delivered, most of the engineering was left to the test force and the contractor--the SPO did a yeoman job managing the money and contract and left the fun stuff for us.

I liked the airplane. I only got 110.4 hours in it in the 23 months I flew it (my first flight was on my birthday, 1981), but they were all quality flying time and quality testing time. To me, it flew a lot like the A-7--it had pretty good legs, magnificent systems, and it handled much better than the "wobblin' goblin" moniker someone stuck on it. Tom Morgenfeld and I were the main systems test pilots and there was a lot of work to do. Every flight required hours and hours of preparation. Fortunately, our excellent flight test engineers did a lot of it. I got the first night flight, the first use of the emergency gear lowering system (in an actual emergency), and the first stealth test flight. I wonder who got the first aerial refueling? Compared to the four other airplanes I had refueled, the F-117 was a dream. You could actually take your hands off the stick for a second or two, in contrast to working yourself into a sweat in the F-4 and A-37.

The flag on the underside of the aircraft was courtesy of Paul Tackabury and a few of our sergeants. I was the second commander of the test unit and was leaving, Paul was assuming command. I have to say this was the most georgeous paint job I had seen on any airplane. Thank you, Paul. A couple of days later it almost became a courts martial offense, but Paul was saved by the Marine Corps Commandant (there actually is a significant difference in rank between four-stars!). It's just one of those fun little stories from the "black" world, like the night I was supervising bringing #3 up from Burbank in a C-5 and it got away from us and went rolling across the airport. There's probably a hundred more stories just like that.

As a SPO Director at Hanscom AFB, I had to take many trips to the Pentagon. Hanscom had an excellent aero club, and I liked the performance of the Piper Arrow. It's retractable landing gear made it even more appealing. I used this airplane on several occasions to fly into Washington's National Airport (it will always be National to me) and the controllers there treated this small private airplane with courtesy. I also took the airplane to Montreal to visit one of my contractors, and then to Buffalo to see Russ Easter and fly the variable stability Lear Jet that I had contracted for at the Test Pilot School but never flew. These normally irritating business trips were made enjoyable in this fully IFR capable aircraft. I even took the family to Cocoa Beach for a Shuttle launch crewed by classmate Brewster Shaw.

I've managed to remain close to airplanes, even when I'm not flying them. My stealth experience got me on the B-2 program when it was still on the drawing boards. It was satisfying to be in a position to influence the systems and operational concept, even though I knew I'd never fly it. My stint there culminated in directing the construction of the South Base flight test facility at Edwards, another unexpected learning experience.

After retiring I eventually wound up at the "new" Skunk Works in Palmdale working on the X-33 and JSF. Even though the X-33 never flew, getting the launch facility built and the test range data systems wrung out was a challenge in of itself.

Since 2005 I've worked on two unnamable X planes. Perhaps one day I can post a photo of them here...


What's on the horizon? We'd love to get a Pipestrel Sinus, but the euro exchange rate is prohibitive these days. Maybe a Van's RV-7 will fill the bill, one of the quick-build kits. The RV-7 isn't as good for aerial photography, nor is it able to fill the glider role, but it's a heck of a nice airplane for cross-country and aerobatics. Hmm....

Maybe we can dive into this project when the Airstreams are mostly finished and the dual kayak is ready to go. Like my aunt Phyllis used to say, don't run out of projects or you'll croak. I'm doing my best to follow her advice.

Roger

Happy Flying, One and All