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Test Pilots

Max R. Stanley









Max R. Stanley logged more than 8,000 flight hours to become known as the "Dean of Northrop Test Pilots." He flew the first flights of all models of the Northrop P-61 Black Widow except the initial XP-61. Stanley flew for Lockheed Aircraft, Pan American Airways and United Airlines before joining Northrop Aircraft as an Experimental Test Pilot in 1943. During his 28 years with Northrop, he pioneered as pilot on the first flights of the Northrop F-15, the Tri-Motor C-125 Raider, and participated as pilot in the F-89 Scorpion and T-38 Talon flight test programs. He served as a Project Pilot on the Northrop N-9M one-third scale model of the large XB-35 Flying Wing Bomber. Stanley was selected as Chief Pilot on the entire XB-35 contractor flight test program including the first flight. He also served as Chief Pilot on the first flight of the eight-jet YB-49 flying wing. He was later assigned as Chief Pilot and Director, Flight Operations in the development of the SM-62 SNARK Intercontinental Cruise missile. He flew a number of manned aircraft, which were used in the design phase of the full scale, operational missile: P-61, F-89, C-47, P-80, B-45 and B-29. Stanley is a Founding Member and Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and long-time Chairman of its Scholarship Foundation. He also helped found and served as President of the Aviation Country Club of California. Max Stanley passed away in 1999 at age 89.



Colonel Emil "Ted" Sturmthal(USAF ret)








Air Force Col. Emil "Ted" Sturmthal co-piloted the first B-1 bomber flight in 1974, continuing at the controls for the initial six flights, taking it to supersonic speeds for the first time. Prior to that, he flew 196 combat missions in the B-26 in Korea before graduating from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1959. Sturmthal was one of seven pilots of the Mach 3 XB-70 flight research program and made the first flight of the then-secret RB-57F reconnaissance aircraft. He also served as project pilot on a number of programs, including the B-58 flight control modification program, T-37B, Navy C-130BL, B-52H. Like many celebrated pilots, Sturmthal's interest in flying began at an early age. However, he wore thick glasses, usually an insurmountable obstacle for military pilots. Determined to become a test pilot, he flew his own airplane to the capital and convinced Gen. Hoyt Vandenburg, Air Force Chief of Staff, for a waiver. With that, he became the first pilot to go through Air Force pilot training with eyeglasses. By 1976 Sturmthal logged almost 8,000 hours of flying time in more than 50 kinds of military aircraft and 4,000 hours in civilian aircraft. Colonlel Sturmthal passed away in 1982.



Milton O. "Milt" Thompson









Milton 0. Thompson was a research pilot, Chief Engineer and Director of Research Projects during a long career at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. Thompson was hired as an engineer at the flight research facility on March 19, 1956, when it was still under the auspices of the NACA. He became a research pilot in January 1958. On August 16, 1963 Thompson became the first person to fly a lifting body, the lightweight M2-F1. The plywood and steel-tubing prototype was flown as a glider after releasing from an R4D tow plane. He flew it a total of 47 times, and also made the first five flights of the all-metal M2-F2 lifting body, beginning July 12, 1966. Lifting bodies were wingless vehicles designed to generate lift and aerodynamic stability from the shape of their bodies. They were flown at Dryden to study and validate the concept of safely maneuvering and landing a low lift-over-drag vehicle designed for reentry from space. Data from the program helped in the development of the Space Shuttles. Thompson was also one of the 12 NASA, Air Force, and Navy pilots to fly the X-15 rocket-powered research aircraft between 1959 and 1968. He began flying X-15s on October 29, 1963, only a couple months after his first Lifting Body flight. He flew the aircraft 14 times during the following two years, reaching a maximum speed of 3712 mph (Mach 5.48) and a peak altitude of 214,100 feet on separate flights. The X-15 program provided a wealth of data on aerodynamics, thermodynamics, propulsion, flight controls, and the physiological aspects of high-speed, high-altitude flight. In 1962, Thompson was selected by the Air Force to be the only civilian test pilot to fly in the X-20 Dyna-Soar program that was intended to launch a human into Earth orbit and recover with a horizontal ground landing. The program was canceled before construction of the vehicle began. Thompson concluded his active flying career in 1967, becoming Chief of Research Projects two years later. In 1975 he was appointed Chief Engineer and retained the position until his death on August 6, 1993. Thompson was also a member of NASA's Space Transportation System Technology Steering Committee during the 1970s. In this role he was successful in leading the effort to design the Orbiters for power-off landings rather than increase weight with air-breathing engines for airliner-type landings. His committee work earned him NASA's highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. Born in Crookston, Minn., on May 4, 1926, Thompson began flying with the U.S. Navy as a pilot trainee at the age of 19. He subsequently served during World War II with duty in China and Japan. Following six years of active naval service, Thompson entered the University of Washington, in Seattle, Wash. He graduated in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering. He remained in the Naval Reserves during college, and continued flying--not only naval aircraft but crop dusters and forest-spraying aircraft. After college graduation, Thompson became a flight test engineer for the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle. During his two years at Boeing, he flew on the sister aircraft of Dryden's B-52B air-launch vehicle. Thompson was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and received the organization's Iven C. Kincheloe trophy as the Outstanding Experimental Test Pilot of 1966 for his research flights in the M2 lifting bodies. He also received the 1967 Octave Chanute award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for his lifting-body research. In 1990, the National Aeronautics Association selected Thompson as one of the year's recipients of its Elder Statesman of Aviation awards. The awards have been presented each year since 1955 to individuals for contributions "of significant value over a period of years" in the field of aeronautics. Thompson wrote several technical papers, was a member of NASA's Senior Executive Service, and received several NASA awards.



Brigadier General Robert F. "Bob" Titus(USAF ret)









General Titus is a combat veteran of both the Korean war and Vietnam war flying 101 combat missions in the former. General Titus spent 6 years at Edwards AFB as a test pilot and flew amongs other aircraft the F-100ZEL or Zero Length Launch program making one flight (which Titus confirmed was more than enough!!). The F-100ZEL was propelled from rest to flying speed by a rocket powered launch module providing some 300,000 Ibs of thrust! General Titus also tested and flew the U-2, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 while stationed at Edwards AFB. Read General Titus Air Force biography and also his biography from the 1998 "Gathering of Eagles". General Titus was honored by the Flight Test Historical Foundation in October 2003.



Joseph A. "Joe" Walker









Walker was born February 20, 1921, in Washington, Pa. He lived there until graduating from Washington and Jefferson College in 1942, with a B.A. degree in Physics. During World War II he flew P-38 fighters for the Air Force, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Seven Oak Clusters.


Joseph A. Walker was a Chief Research Pilot at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center during the mid-1960s. He joined the NACA in March 1945, and served as project pilot at the Edwards flight research facility on such pioneering research projects as the D-558-1, D-558-2, X-1, X-3, X-4, X-5, and the X-15. He also flew programs involving the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, and the B-47.


Walker made the first NASA X-15 flight on March 25, 1960. He flew the research aircraft 24 times and achieved its fastest speed and highest altitude. He attained a speed of 4,104 mph (Mach 5.92) during a flight on June 27, 1962, and reached an altitude of 354,300 feet on August 22, 1963 (his last X-15 flight). He was the first man to pilot the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) that was used to develop piloting and operational techniques for lunar landings.


Walker was the recipient of many awards during his 21 years as a research pilot. These include the 1961 Robert J. Collier Trophy, 1961 Harmon International Trophy for Aviators, the 1961 Kincheloe Award and 1961 Octave Chanute Award. He received an honorary Doctor of Aeronautical Sciences degree from his alma mater in June of 1962. Walker was named Pilot of the Year in 1963 by the National Pilots Association.


He was a charter member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and one of the first to be designated a Fellow. He was fatally injured on June 8, 1966, in a mid-air collision between an F-104 he was piloting and the XB-70.



Alvin S. "Al" White








Al White was a combat fighter pilot in WWII, flying P-51's with the 355th FG in the European Theatre of Operations. He served as Assistant Project Engineer at the Parachute Research Unit at Wright-Patterson AFB and later at El Centro.Following his graduation from the Experimental Test Pilot School in Class 52a, then Captain White was assigned to Flight Test Operations at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB. White was project pilot on the F-89D and the E-6 Fire Control System development. In his final year of active duty, he served as the Assistant Chief of Fighter Test Operations at the AFFC. White joined North American Aviation in 1954 as an engineering test pilot and was the Assistant Project Pilot for the contractor phase of flight testing the X-15. In 1961 was appointed chief test pilot and flew the first flights of the prototype F-100C and F-100F aircraft. White conducted the Mach 2 stores drop demonstration and zoom climb program in the F-107. As North American's Chief Project Pilot for the XB-70, White flew the first flights of both XB-70 aircraft, the first 2,000 mph flight and subsequent Mach 3 exploratory flights. White was severely injured after ejecting from the XB-70 when Jow Walker's F-104 collided with the tail of the Valkyrie on June 6th, 1966. For more information on the XB-70 click here and also visit . A further biography of Al White can be found here. Al White sadly passed away on April 29th, 2006.



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