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Test pilots

Vice Admiral Forrest S. Petersen(USN ret.)








Vice Admiral Petersen Forrest S. Petersen, was born in Holdrege, Nebraska on 16 May 1922. He was commissioned an Ensign upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy in June of 1944 and reported to the destroyer USS CAPERTON (DD 650). While serving aboard CAPERTON he participated in campaigns in the Philippines, Formosa and Okinawa. After graduation from flight training in 1947, he was assigned to Fighting Squadron Twenty Able which was later redesignated Fighter Squadron ONE NINETY TWO. He was selected for Post Graduate training in Aeronautical Engineering in July 1950 and upon completion of two years of study at the Naval Post Graduate School was awarded a Bachelors Degree (AE). He continued studies for one year at Princeton University and received a Masters Degree in Engineering. From 1953 to 1956 he served with Fighter Squadron FIFTY ONE. In 1956 he was selected to attend the Naval Test Pilot School and remained as an instructor following graduation. in August 1958 he was assigned duties as Research Pilot in the X-15 Program and served with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Flight Research Center at Edwards, California until January 1962. During that time he made five free flights in the X-15 and achieved a speed of 3,600 MPH (Mach No. 5.3) and an altitude of 101,800 feet. Petersen was the only Navy pilot to fly the X-15. In July 1962 he was a joint recipient of the Collier Trophy which was presented by President John F. Kennedy and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal which was presented by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Petersen served as Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron ONE FIFTY FOUR prior to being assigned to the office of Director, Division of Naval Reactors, AEC for Nuclear Power Training. He reported to USS ENTERPRISE in January 1964 and served therein as Executive Officer until April 1966. He was awarded the Bronze Star for duty during ENTERPRISE's first combat tour in Vietnam. He was then assigned duties as an Assistant to the Director of Naval Program Planning in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In November 1967 he assumed command of USS BEXAR (APA 237) in the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Forces. Following an eight month deployment with the Seventh Fleet Amphibious Forces in the Western Pacific he was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V. Admiral Petersen was awarded the following awards for service in World War II, Korean War and the Vietnam War: Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, American Defense, Pacific Theatre, American Theatre, Asiatic Theatre, China Service, Japanese Occupation, Philippine Liberation, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory, Korean Service, United Nations Korean Service, Vietnam Service, Vietnamese Campaign. Admiral Petersen sadly passed away on December 8, 1990.



Bruce Peterson









Bruce Peterson was a NASA Dryden research pilot from the early 1960s until 1967. A former US Marine Corps pilot, he joined NASA in 1960 as an aeronautical engineer. He was one of the project pilots on the Rogallo paraglider research vehicle (Parasev) program. The Parasev 1-A and 1-B evaluated the use of an inflatable, flexible wing for the recovery of manned space vehicles, with over 100 research flights made between 1962 and 1964. On December 3, 1963 he flew the M2-F1 Lifting Body, his first of 15 flights in these wingless research vehicles. He flew the M2-F1 ten times, and made the first flight of the HL-10 on December 22, 1966. Peterson retired from research flying after his fourth flight in the M2-F2. He lost his sight in one eye as a result of a landing accident in the aircraft on May 10, 1967. Peterson continued at NASA Dryden as the Research Project Engineer on the Digital Fly-By-Wire program of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and later assumed responsibility for Safety and Quality Assurance for Dryden. A native of Washburn, North Dakota, Peterson was born on May 23, 1933. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles, and California State Polytechnic College at San Luis Obispo. Peterson received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the latter in 1960. Click here to read Bruce Peterson's NASA Dryden biography.



MAJ. GEN. Cecil W. Powell (USAF ret.)









General Powell was born in 1935, in Port Arthur, Texas. He earned a bachelor of science degree in military science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1959 and a master's degree from Auburn University in 1975. He completed the Air War College in 1975. Upon graduation from the academy he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. General Powell completed pilot training at Spence Air Base, Ga., and Vance Air Force Base, Okla., and received his pilot wings in July 1960. He then received advanced fighter training in F-100s, and from June 1961 to January 1964 flew F-104s at George Air Force Base, Calif. He was subsequently assigned to the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan. During this assignment General Powell flew 104 combat missions over Southeast Asia in F-105s. The general completed the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 1968, and remained there as a test pilot involved in a variety of test programs, including the F-4E (slats), F-15 and made 3 flights each in the Martin Marietta X-24A and Northrop M2-F3 "lifting body" research vehicles. In August 1973 General Powell became executive officer to the commander of 7th Air Force and the U.S. Support Activity at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. After graduating from the Air War College in July 1975, he transferred to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where he served initially as the ACEVAL-AIMVAL test planner, then as commander of the 422nd Fighter Weapons Squadron (operational test). From August 1977 to January 1980 the general served as director of fighter and reconnaissance requirements at Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va. He then became commander of the 363rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. From January 1982 to May 1983 General Powell served as assistant director for operational initiatives and joint matters in the Directorate of Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. In June 1983 he transferred to Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe as inspector general and later served as assistant deputy chief of staff for operations. In June 1985 he became the first commander of the 316th Air Division and commander of the Kaiserslautern Military Community. The general was assigned as deputy commander for research, development and acquisition, Armament Division, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in July 1986. He assumed his present duties in June 1987. The general is a command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal and Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. General Powell retired from the USAF on February 1st, 1990.



Colonel Jack Ridley







Colonel Jack Ridley was born on June 16th, 1915 in Garvin, Oklahoma. In school, the young Oklahoman had a natural taste for mathematics and even in early life he showed an unmistakable aptitude for studying and analyzing the way that machines worked. Following high school, he entered the ROTC. program at the University of Oklahoma where he received his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1939. The world into which he graduated was uncertain, at best. Europe was a field of battle once again; Hitler’s blitzkrieg on Poland was about to teach the world a new concept of war, and England and France were to declare war on Germany before the end of the year. By the summer of 1941, the Battle of Britain had been fought and the United States was desperately building up its long-neglected armed forces to prepare for the world conflict which many thought was inevitable. In July of that year, the young engineer received a commission in the U.S. Army field artillery and began a military career which would continue for the rest of his life. The science of flight soon attracted him, however, and it was not long before he transferred to the Army Air Forces. Lieutenant Ridley was sent to the Flying Training School at Kelly Army Air Base in Texas, where he earned his pilot wings in May 1942.


The Air Corps had great need for engineering-trained pilots and, instead of being sent into an operational combat unit, Ridley was ordered to the Consolidated Vultee plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where his initial assignment was to conduct acceptance tests on four-engined B-24 Liberator bombers. Soon thereafter, he was named as engineering liaison officer on both the B-24 and B-32 programs. Even at that early date, the Air Corps was developing the mighty six-engined B-36 intercontinental bomber, later to become the mainstay of the postwar Strategic Air Command, and Ridley found himself assigned to that program as well.


Two years later, after the tide of battle had turned to the Allies favor, Ridley was sent off to add education to his experience. The technological revolution spawned by the war had demonstrated that the postwar Air Forces success would be dependent upon having a corps of officers with first-rate technical training. After attending the Army Air Forces School of Engineering at Wright Field (later renamed the Air Force Institute of Technology), Ridley was sent to the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California where he received his Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in July 1945.


With the war virtually over, the young officer was sent to Wright Field, Ohio, and assigned to the Air Materiel Command’s Flight Test Division. The conflict just ending had seen the greatest advances in the history of aeronautics: the piston engine reached its peak of development, jet propulsion was overturning all previous concepts of airplane design, and planes were flying higher and faster than ever before. The scientific and engineering staff at Wright Field had played a pivotal role in all of these developments and, clearly, this was the supreme location for an ambitious young would-be engineering test pilot. The science of training test pilots had been advancing as well, however, and before he could be put to work Ridley had to go through the Air Materiel Command Flight Performance School. In the spring of 1946, he graduated with Class 46A.


The long years of preparation would soon pay off handsomely. Even as Ridley was attending the Flight Performance School, the revolutionary X-1 rocket research airplane was making its initial unpowered check flights and, within a year, the AAF (soon to achieve independence as the United States Air Force) would assume control of the supersonic research program. Col. Albert Boyd, the legendary chief of the Flight Test Division and his deputy Colonel Fred J. Ascani had the critical responsibility for selecting the project team that would attempt the world’s first supersonic flight. In the spring of 1947, Boyd & Ascani appraised the roster of 125 test pilots and finally selected three volunteers who were considered very junior in terms of their flight test experience: Capt. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, 1st Lt. Robert A. "Bob" Hoover, and Ridley. He named Yeager and Hoover as primary and backup pilot respectively, and Ridley as project engineer. Boyd realized that Ridley';s laid back demeanor and Oklahoma drawl masked a highly disciplined, razor sharp mind and he believed that, with his test piloting experience and his unique ability to translate esoteric concepts into everyday terms, he would be able to provide Yeager and Hoover with all of the engineering expertise they would need.


Ridley's task was to analyze all of the technical data that was generated during the X-1 flights as it proceeded toward the unexplored region of supersonic flight. Studying the phenomena which the research plane encountered as it passed through the transonic region, he translated all of the information into pilot terminology for Yeager so that the flight program could be carried forward expeditiously, yet with safety.


For all of his technical accomplishments during the high speed research program, however, the youthful-appearing engineer is most fondly remembered by the team for improvising a vital piece of equipment at the last minute. Two days before taking the X-1 on its first supersonic flight, Chuck Yeager broke two ribs in a horseback riding accident. With the aid of an understanding civilian doctor, he was able to conceal his condition from everyone but Ridley. Without the full use of his right arm, however, it would be impossible to seal himself into the tiny X-1 cockpit. With great common sense, Ridley quietly provided a length of broom handle which saved the day. Using the leverage provided by the broom handle, Yeager closed the hatch without difficulty. The rest, they say is history!


Still youthful, Ridley was promoted to full colonel in 1956 and became a member of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group. Then, flying as a passenger in a C-47 over Japan on March 12, 1957, Col. Ridley died at the age of 42 when the transport crashed into a snow-covered mountainside northwest of Tokyo.


In 1980, the Ridley Mission Control Center at Edwards Air Force Base was dedicated in Jack Ridley’s honor.


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