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September 22, 2009

The following was sent to me by Robert Stoner of Thanks Bob!:

 When I was growing up, I had my heroes.  Those heroes were they guys in the U.S. armed forces.  They were, for the most part, guys just like me that did brave and heroic things.  Some accomplished those things in combat and others not.

 GEN Chuck Yeager is one of them.  He was a hell-raiser that reached the top of the test pilot pyramid and lived to tell about it.  He was the first man to break Mach 1.


Another was COL John P. Stapp, USAF who did high speed windblast tests using a rocket sled.  Stapp was a flight surgeon that studied acceleration and deceleration effects on pilots using himself as a guinea pig.  COL Stapp died in 1999.  


COL Joseph Kittinger, USAF, continued Stapp’s research as part of Projects MAN-HIGH and EXCELSIOR.  On August 16, 1960, Kittinger made a record parachute jump from 102,800 feet. 


CAPT Iven C. Kincheloe, USAF flew the X-2 rocket plane to the edge of space on September 7, 1956.  He was later killed at Edwards AFB when his F-104 suffered engine failure on takeoff on July 26, 1958.  Kincheloe AFB was named in his honor.

The thing about these guys and folks we know was they were not bombastic or boasting kinds of guys.  They were quiet, unassuming, competent guys that did brave and heroic things.  They are role models for boys growing up.  There are damn few good role models for kids growing up in today’s world.

When I think of heroes, I think of Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff.”  Most Americans don’t know that the development of modern jet aircraft was paid in blood by a lot of test pilots.  During the 1940s and throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, the attrition on the test pilots — Navy, AF, civilian — at Edwards AFB was tremendous. 
Most of the early jets were dangerously underpowered and did not have zero-zero (zero altitude, zero speed) ejection seats.  To successfully abandon a crippled aircraft, the pilot had a minimum-maximum speed envelope AND a minimum altitude.  If either condition could not be met, the ejection was unsuccessful and the pilot was killed or severely injured.  There were also a lot of bad designs mixed in with the good ones.  Even the early planes that became “good” aircraft had teething problems that killed pilots.
If you remember the movie version of “The Right Stuff”, Trudy Cooper, Gordon Cooper’s wife, hears an explosion, sees a plume of smoke, hears the crash sirens.  The next scene is the cadaverous chaplain going up to the door of one of the test pilot’s wives’ quarters to break the bad news to her that her husband is dead. 
Trudy later tells her other friends at a party, while the husbands are out playing with the barbeque grill, that she went to a school reunion.  The other members of her class were talking about their husband’s “dog eat dog” corporate culture and the nonsense that goes on in the corporate world. 
Trudy says, “They talked about how terrible their husband’s jobs were.  What would they say if they had a 1 in 4 chance that they’d see their husband off to work in the morning, and they’d be told he was dead before he was due to come home?”
Statistic: During the early flight test period for these jets, test pilots were attending memorial services when they weren’t flying or preparing for a flight.  Edwards was averaging between one to three pilot deaths every two weeks.  There were lots of closed casket memorial services in those days.
Those guys were the kind of heroes I grew up with.  Those were and remain men among men.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2009 2:23 pm

    Naval heroes of mine,

    Vice Admiral Louis Le Bailly
    Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Louis Vian
    Captain Frederic John Walker

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