Aerospace legends were honored when the Flight Test Historical Foundation hosted its annual Gathering of Eagles Oct. 12 at the University of the Antelope Valley Grand Ballroom in Lancaster, Calif.
Comprising of engineers and test pilot, new Eagles are: James G. Rider, Robert C Ettinger, Philip F. Oestricher, Michael J. Clarke, Dean Stickell, Richard R. Hilderbrand, Charles Van Norman, James Papa, James H. Doolittle III, John W. Hicks, Richard A Wood and Frank N. Lucero.
The celebration commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Lightweight Fighter competition.
The fly-off produced two of the most successful jet fighters of the modern era: the F-16 and the F/A-18. Also, award winning aviation artist Douglas Castleman displayed his work various aircraft.
“It was a time when contractors and the Air Force worked together seamlessly. We had a job to do and we did it, without interference from the Pentagon or folks in D.C.” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Michael J. Clarke, a YF-17 Test Pilot. “As time went on programs got longer and longer and reports got bigger and bigger.”
Master of ceremonies and original host of Good Morning America, David Hartman asked the panel of new Eagles what was some of their surprises in flight test. Several gentlemen stated that the fact that they landed and walked away was quite a surprise on many missions.
It was a time when pilots, engineers and maintenance did whatever they could to test, stress and produce top fighters, even if it meant putting 2×4 boards on a cockpit floor for comfort.
A film was shown of an F-16 that was piloted by Oestricher, Chief Test pilot for General Dynamics. The simple taxi test didn’t go as planned and in order to save the plane, the young pilot pulled back and became the first to fly an F-16.
Unfortunately the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, closed the Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base to the general public. For 30 years the FTHF has supported the museum with the Gathering of Eagles.
“As you can see, we have tremendous aviation history that needs to be preserved and grown for future generations,” said Lisa Gray, host and chairwoman of the FTHF board of directors. Money is being raised to move the museum out of Edwards’ restricted area. A hands on learning center will be a part of the museum where guest can fly simulators and don flight suits.
The Hilton Foundation has given a grant of $300,000 contingent that FTHF raise $690,000 by July 1, 2014, for a total of $990,000. They have approximately eight months to raise the remaining 300,000.
Membership to the foundation is $50 per year and for a $1,000 donation members will have their name permanently displayed on a plaque at the museum. “What a great way to be a part of history,” said Gray.
For more information, visit WWW.flighttest.org or call (661) 258-1658.