The United States Air Force Test Pilot School honored the memory of Capt. Carmen A. Lucci, the first female flight test engineer to lose her life either as a student or graduate of the four formal test pilot schools, during a dedication ceremony March 16 when they unveiled the Carmen A. Lucci Control Room.
Lucci and two other crew members were killed during a test mission March 3, 1981 when their A-26 Invader crashed near Three Sisters Dry Lake, northeast of Edwards.
“This dedication is extremely important to us. TPS never forgets their people. We learn from what happens and never forget the sacrifices made,” said Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Halverstadt, USAF TPS superintendent. “The control room dedication is about celebrating Captain Lucci’s memory, as well as honoring her contributions and sacrifice.”
Lucci attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, N.Y. where she graduated as an ROTC Distinguished Graduate in 1975, with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering. At the time, she was one of five women in the United States to join the Air Force ROTC and has the distinguished honor being the first female cadet at Rensselaer.
“Women contribute so heavily to today’s military,” said Halverstadt. “It is a rich history that stems from pioneers like Captain Lucci.”
After receiving her Master of Science in 1977 from the University of Tennessee Space Institute, Lucci became an active duty officer in the USAF. Her first duty assignment was with the Space and Missile Systems Organization located near Los Angeles, Calif., where she worked on Navstar Global Positioning System satellites.
Although her military career was brief, it was marked with excellence. Lucci distinguished herself among peers, when she was nominated as a mission specialist astronaut candidate for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.
In 1979, Lucci was selected for pilot training. She turned the offer down however, deciding instead to attend the Test Pilot School as a flight test engineer in Class 80B.
“Her decision to turn down pilot training so that she could attend the United States Air Force Test Pilot School as an engineer is a testament to how special the school is, as well as the individuals who come through its doors,” said Col. Noel Zamot, USAF TPS commandant. “The military makes it a point to remember those who lost their life and this is particularly true for us at the Test Pilot School. Every loss is personal because they are part of the family.”
For the USAF TPS, dedicating the control room in memory of Lucci helps keep her memory alive and reminds students of the inherent dangers associated with flight test.
“I heard a quote once that said a person dies three times -the death of your mind, of your body, and when your name is spoken for the last time,” said Zamot. “Thirty-one years later, we are still talking about Captain Lucci and remembering the sacrifice she made. We look to the past as we look to the future. It is our responsibility to continue what began 31 years ago, and long before that – being the leading edge of test and development for the United States Air Force. We must never forget those who sacrificed their lives along the way.”
All current USAF TPS students were in attendance for the control room dedication ceremony.
“I think it was sobering for the students. I think each one of those students recognized Captain Lucci in themselves,” said Zamot. “Tenacity, character, discipline, integrity, confidence, and intellectual curiosity are timeless values and they are what make you successful at the United States Air Force Test Pilot School and in life. Captain Lucci exemplified those values.”
Members of Class 80B traveled to Edwards so that they could attend the ceremony. Ted Wierzbanowski was one of the members of Class 80B in attendance. He spent a significant amount of time with Lucci, as they often flew together on test missions.
“The dedication shows how the flight test community never forgets and also reminds folks that what this community does is risky, but also that those risks are worth the capability we bring to the warfighter,” said Wierzbanowski. “The dedication brought back a lot of good memories and a lot of sadness. It should remind us all that every day is a blessing.”