The 2019 Gathering of Eagle Honorees

Courtesy graphic

Frank T. Birk (Posthumous)
Col. Frank T. Birk’s career as a combat and test pilot began with two tours as a Raven Forward Air Controller in Southeast Asia, where he flew more than 800 combat missions in the O-1, O-2, OV-10, UT-17 and T-28.

He served as a C-141 instructor pilot before graduating from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 1976.

He later served as a test pilot for the 6512th Test Squadron at Edwards, B-1A Test Program director of flight operations, B-1B Combed Test Force director of flight test/chief test pilot for three different joint NASA/U.S. Air Force F-11 experimental programs, chief of the B-1B Divisions at Strategic Command Headquarters, commander of the 412th Test Group, and director of the B-2 Combined Test Force at Edwards.

Birk assumed command of the B-2 CTF in early 1990, and first flew the bomber in May of that year. He went on to fly many key developmental sorties in the high-risk early days of Engineering and Manufacturing Development. He also flew the first transcontinental flight of the B-2 for congressional inspection during Stealth Week in June 1991. On April 23, 1993, he was traditionally “wetted down” after his final test flights in the B-2 and F-16. At the time of his retirement, Birk was the most highly decorated Air Force member on active duty.

After retirement from the Air Force, he joined Rockwell International as a senior test pilot and immediately began work testing a prototype jet trainer under development for the Air Force and the Navy. In late July 1993, during a high-speed, low-level stability test north of Munich, Germany, he was forced to eject and died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.

Birk graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1968. Over the course of his career, he earned master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, systems management, and national security and strategic studies. In his 25 years as a pilot, he logged more than 7,200 hours in 65 aircraft, including more than 1,100 hours of experimental flight test. He is a recipient of the Gen. Robert M. Bond Memorial Aviation Award, and was honored by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots with their Ray E. Tenhoff Ward in 1986. His decorations include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Aerial Achievement Medals, 27 Air Medals, two Silver Stars and the Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Laotian Order of Elephants by the King of Laos, that country’s highest honor.

Birk is survived by his wife, Connie, their three children, John, Margaret and Catherine, and four grandchildren.

Bill “Flaps” Flanagan
Bill Flanagan was employed by the Northrop Grumman Corporation as a flight test Weapon Systems Operator on the B-2 bomber.

A retired U.S. Air Force navigator, he is a 1976 graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards. He has more than 4,000 flying hours with almost 500 hours in the B-2, and has been mission qualified in the F-4, F-11, SR-71, T-38 and C-135 aircraft as well. He flew 169 combat missions in the RF-4C Phantom in Southeast Asia. He has a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Virginia, and a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering (air armament) form the Air Force Institute of Technology.

While working for Northrop Grumman, Flanagan served as an airborne test conductor, planner and navigator on the Avionics Flying Test Bed, a converted C-135 serving as an aircraft platform for development of the B-2 bomber navigation system and radar. He flew as a navigator on the flight deck of the AFTB serving also as a link to the engineers providing key inputs to the development of those systems as well as important preparation for later test in the B-2.

Flanagan first flew the B-2 in 1990 becoming Spirit 14, the 14th aircrew to fly the aircraft, as well as the first non-pilot to fly a Northrop Flying Wing. Ship 3 was the first B-2 with all-up functional systems including radar, navigation and bombing systems.

Flanagan went on to serve as a test crew member on B-2 missions developing the numerous radar modes of the B-2 radar as well as numerous bomb deliveries. He performed the initial weapons release on nuclear weapons shapes, as well as conventional weapons including the initial B-2 release of the 5,000-plun d GPS-guided weapon. He demonstrated that using the aircraft radar for self-initiated, high-altitude weapons release of unguided stores the B-2 could meet required delivery accuracy specifications, scoring a direct hit on a bus target from stratospheric altitudes.

“Flaps” also performed as test director insuring mission flow of tankers and chase aircraft as well as range assets for the six-hour test missions. In addition, he supported laboratory test mission simulations used to train the crews and engineers prior to flight. He developed an informal training syllabus to ensure that new test crews were rapidly brought up to speed on recent modifications, increasing test efficiency on flight missions.

Flaps’ work developing improvements to the human-machine interface of the two-person flight deck left indelible impressions that remain today in B-2 systems and effectiveness. During one period of intense dedicated focus, he was responsible for taking one system from “the worst system ever from a pilot standpoint” to “the best system ever.”

He worked with test pilots as well as operational B-2 pilots on integrating Link 16 data link terminal and a new Center Instrument Display into the B-2 avionics systems, enhancing the offensive and defensive capabilities of the aircraft without flooding the cockpit with confusing data. Flanagan retired from Northrop Grumman in 2007 after 20 years as a flight test WSO on the B-2, with more than nine years and almost 500 flight hours flying the B-2.

Flanagan lives, with his wife Toni, in Littlerock, Calif., from where he continues to support the Air Force Flight Test Museum and the aerospace community as a volunteer in museum and local STEM activities.

Anthony A. “Tony” Imondi
Anthony A. “Tony” Imondi is originally from Providence, R.I., and was raised in New York City – he attended aviation high school, receiving an A&P mechanics license at age 18.

He worked himself through college as an aircraft mechanic, while learning to fly as well. Imondi entered the U.S. Air Force in 1976, being commissioned as second lieutenant through Officer Training School in San Antonio, Texas. He went on to pilot training at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., flew B-52s at Barksdale AFB, La., then FB-111s at Plattsburgh AFB, N.Y., and Pease AFB, N.H.

In 1987, he was hand-picked to join the B-2 Operational Test and Evaluation Team at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. As the Strategic Air Command and non-test pilot member of the team, he became the voice of the warfighter. Imondi made significant contributions to the test effort leading to improvements in many operational areas, including: Cockpit design, Autopilot integration, Weapons delivery, Flight Control development, as well as Controls and Displays.

Imondi was part of the B-2 rollout ceremony in 1988, and the historic first flight in July 1989. In September 1991, he became the 13th pilot, first SAC pilot, and first non-TPS graduate to fly the B-2 Spirit. Lieutenant Colonel Imondi went on to lead the operational test team in completing all of the critical Block 10 OT&E test sorties, before taking the “Spirit of Missouri” to operational status with the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., in December 1993.

As SAC’s first instructor pilot, Imondi trained and evaluated all the initial cadre of pilots at Whiteman, and was instrumental in the successful integration of the B-2 into the U.S. Air Force bomber fleet. He spent numerous hours showcasing the B-2s awesome capabilities to many high-level officials including Congress, and the Secretary of Defense.

After attending War College and a tour at the Pentagon, Imondi, by then a colonel, returned to Whiteman as the Operations Group commander in 1998. By this time, Whiteman had a fleet of eight Block 30 aircraft, and 50 combat pilots. When the “Call to War” came in March 1999, the wing was more than ready. The B-2s combat debut in Operation Allied Force – in the skies over Kosovo – was a huge success.

B-2 Spirit bombers flew long-duration sorties from the Continental United States, delivering more than 650 precision weapons with greater than 90 percent accuracy, over a 78-day constant war effort. The B-2 became the star of the war effort due to its robust design, inherent survivability and proven lethality. An ambitious and comprehensive flight test program directly resulted in combat effectiveness.

In all, Imondi spent 13 years on the B-2 program in positions of various involvement and responsibility. It’s a rare occurrence that one person could influence the design, take a new aircraft operational, and then be in the driver’s seat to lead the team into its first combat venture, and during that journey, Imondi left indelible impressions on the airplane’s crew interfaces, her effectiveness and the war fighting team that took her to war that still resonates today.

Imondi retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2006 as a colonel, after 30 years of service, and has been working at Northrop Grumman ever since. He is currently applying his expertise supporting a critical restricted Air Force program.

Thomas J. LeBeau
Second Lt. Thomas J. LeBeau entered the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the Illinois Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s of science degree. He later received a master’s of science degree from Stanford University.

LeBeau, by then a major, was a 1976B graduate from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Following TPS, he joined test operations as a B-52 test pilot, supporting air-launched cruise missile and KC-10 testing, as well as other flight test activities.

In 1984, and now a lieutenant colonel, LeBeau was assigned to the 4200th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards as the initial B-2 Operational Test and Evaluation test director, when he was briefed to the nascent Advanced Technology Bomber. He had experience in operation B-52 and B-52 flight test and was selected by Strategic Air Command to form the OT&E team part of the Combined Test Force. As a TPS graduate team member, he was able to take part in the preliminary flight development of the B-2, including CALSPAN Total In-Flight Simulation aircraft approach and landing tests, aircraft flying quality and display, and workload evaluations in the simulator and B-2 operational potential assessments as well as NC-135A Avionic Flying Test Bed activity.

LeBeau supported initial, as well as later, flight test as an F-16 chase pilot. He became Spirit 5, the fifth test pilot to fly the ATB with his first flight in the B-2 on May 3, 1990, which was the 10th flight of Air Vehicle-1, and the first in the program with an all-Air Force crew.

This flight test work included flight control and flutter envelope expansion sorties (notable as he was the only TPS graduate member of the OT&E group in the test force), and signature verification sorties, as well as the checkout of additional test pilots.

He returned AV-1 back from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., after the June 1991 Stealth Week event. Before retiring from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1992, LeBeau flew 26 B-2 sorties.

In 1993, he was hired by Northrop Grumman in B-2 production activity, and by 1995 was back on the B-2 test team as a Northrop Grumman test pilot. His work included all aspects of the remaining Engineering Manufacturing Development and, after June 1997, when EMD ended, on to B-2 follow-on flight test of aircraft new system and software upgrades. During EMD and after, he supported all manner of flight test work including weapon, terrain following and signature tests, as well as continued chase support in F-16 and T-38 aircraft.

In 2001, LeBeau took on primary responsibility for the Production Flight Activity with the Depot and Modification Center at Site 4, Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., as well as continuing to support CTF developmental flight test. From his office at Plant 42, he was in a unique position to work closely with the Northrop Grumman engineering team, an effective arrangement that greatly facilitated many aircraft upgrades.

One notable example was his role as sole pilot member of the 2006 design team that upgraded the B-2 to use 40,000-pounds of independently targeted GPS guided JDAM-82s. His work with this system established an operating legacy that remains essentially unchanged today. The system saw action in January 2017 when two B-2s delivered 103 JDAM-82s against terrorist training camps in Libya.

LeBeau carried the additional role of Flight Manual maintenance, establishing the flight test role as a member of the flight manual review and update team based at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., another critical activity that continues today.

LeBeau retired from Northrop Grumman in 2013, with more than 1,600 hours in the B-2, to his home in Quartz Hill, Calif., where he lives with his wife Chris.

Robert G. Myers
Robert G. Myers is from Santa Fe, N.M., and attended Albuquerque High School. He received his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from New Mexico A&M (now New Mexico State University) in 1958, and was awarded the honor of New Mexico State University Distinguished Alumnus in 2009.

During college, Myers transferred from the U.S. Naval Reserve to the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and upon graduating and commissioning served at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., and other locations as an air base civil engineer. During this period, he received his master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Golden State University in Sacramento, Calif. After completing active duty, he continued to serve with Air Defense Command at Colorado Springs, Colo., in a reserve officer civil engineering capacity. During that period, he also became a U.S. Air Force Academy Liaison Officer, representing and recruiting for the Air Force Academy.

After receiving his degree, he worked for Boeing on several projects including the Bomarc Missile, M-X Missile, Reentry Systems Vehicle, B-1B bomber, Advanced Cruise Missile, Advanced Launch Cruise Missile and the Short Range Attack Missile I/II. Many of his later Northrop Grumman flight test coworkers were acquaintances during this period.

Later, he managed all projects at the Boeing Mojave Test Center.

In 1990, Myers moved to Northrop as the vice president for the Northrop Military B-2 Stealth Bomber Flight Test Program, then as vice president for Northrop Military Aircraft Systems Division Test and Evaluation. He led the Northrop Grumman team during the B-2 Engineering Manufacturing Development during which the Air Force/Northrop team won the prestigious 1991 Robert J. Collier Trophy for “contributing significantly to America’s enduring leadership in aerospace and the country’s future national security.” His leadership during EMD saw the development of six test aircraft, and management of a 2,000 plus man test force, through myriad technical and programmatic challenges, not least of which was congressional pressure that ultimately reduced the program from 132 to 20 and then back to 21 aircraft. Despite this program setback, Myers efforts produced an airplane that played key roles in many subsequent U.S. military operations, starting with Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, and continuing to this day in a 2018 “show of force” over South Korea. In 1998, after the 1997 completion of EMD he, and site manager Larry McCLain, accepted the 1997 Aviation Week Laurate Ward on behalf of their team for “an aggressive eight-year flight test program with no major accidents and no major incidents,” and having “worked closely with a succession of B-2 program managers and Combined Test Force directors to effectively manage risks, while still meeting demanding goals and schedules.”

Myers later retired from Northrop Grumman and continued for several years to support B-2 and other programs as called upon as a consultant.

He is a retired Air Force Reserve officer, and a member of many professional groups, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Air Force Association, Reserve Officers Association and the New Mexico State University Mechanical Engineering Academy. He has received the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Academy Distinguished Unit Medal.

Myers, and his wife Sherry, live in Tehachapi, Calif., from where they travel often to visit family and friends.

Otto J. Waniczek
Otto J. Waniczek was born in Vienna, Austria, and came to the United States in 1960. He grew up in Seattle, Wash., graduating from the University of Washington in 1979 with a bachelor’s of science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force in 1976, and assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where he initially worked as a systems test engineer on the B-1A test program, and later as a flight test engineer for the 6513th Test Squadron.

Waniczek graduated from California State University with a master’s of science degree in mechanical engineering, and from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards, class of 82A. After graduating from TPS, he was reassigned to the B-1B test program as a flight test engineer, where he flew as a flight test engineer on B-1A number two which had been modified with the proposed B-1B flight control system.

As the senior Air Force flight test engineer on the B-1 test program, Waniczek was selected to fly as the flight test engineer for the first flight of B-1B number one but was temporarily medically disqualified after ejecting with the crew during the loss of B-1A number two on Aug. 29, 1984. Before returning to flight status, he served as test conductor for the first flight of B-1B number one.

In August 1985, he was assigned to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, for follow-on B-1B flight testing where he continued flying as a flight test engineer, processing data and writing reports until December 1986.

After 10 years in the Air Force, Waniczek left the active duty world and began working for Northrop in January 1987 on the B-2 bomber (then known as the Advanced Technology Bomber). He planned and wrote the Envelope Expansion Flight Test Work Order and generated the initial test cards for all the early tests flights of the B-2 program. As first flight of the B-2 approached, he was selected to be the test conductor for first flight that took place July 17, 1989.

Following the first few test flights on B-2 number one, Waniczek was selected to be the air vehicle manager for B-2 number two, the Spirit of Arizona. He was responsible for all testing and modifications on that aircraft during the flight test program. B-2 number two made its first flight in October 1990, and was used for flying qualities, flutter and loads testing. It was the only aircraft without low observable coatings and became the workhorse for the flight test fleet.

Under his oversight, B-2 number two successfully completed all of its required testing in July 1995. He continued working with the B-2 flight test program and later, at the end of Engineering Manufacturing Development, took over from vice president B-2 flight test to become Northrop Grumman Site Manager for Follow-on Flight Testing at Edwards AFB, a position he served in until November 2003.

Waniczek was a central force in accomplishing the transition to FOFT to EMD, establishing the relationships that guided the test force since.

In December 2003, Waniczek matrixed to Lockheed Martin for the F-35 test program, and served as the Lockheed Martin Test Site manager for Edwards during the initial setup of the F-35 test program until June 2006. During that time, he worked with the Edwards Integrated Test Force leadership to design building layouts and ramp space for future test personnel and F-35 aircraft. After his F-35 experience, he went back to Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Technology Development Center as the deputy Flight test IPT lead and test site manager doing classified work from June 2006 until his retirement from the company in September 2013.

Upon retiring, he relocated to Las Vegas, Nev., and now enjoys private flying, restoring cars, snow skiing, camping, and just kicking back and relaxing. Otto and Tammy Waniczek have two children; Otto J. Waniczek III, and Tiffany Waniczek-Nowicki. Both are now married and living in the greater Los Angeles area.