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Saluting a gathering of Test Pilot Schools

Short Flights


September 29, 2018

Photo provided

Group photo at Hansen Hangar – Navy TPS Class #154; USAF TPS Class #18 and National Test Pilot School, Classes 18A and 18B.

The United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) Class #154 from Patuxent River, MD; The U.S. Air Force TPS Class #18 from Edwards AFB and the National Test Pilot School Classes 18A and 18B recently came to the Hansen Hangar at Mojave Air & Spaceport for a barbeque. Vietnam combat pilots, Dick Rutan and Ralph Wise, shared aviation stories with the pilots.

The U.S. Navy students come to Edwards Air Force Base for a field trip to exchange flights, or what is called "qualification flights," in Air Force aircraft. While in California, they visit China Lake NAWS, Tehachapi Glider Port and Mojave Air & Spaceport.

Dustin Mosher taxied his 1942 Stearman down to the hangar for display and everyone enjoyed seeing this beautiful airplane from the past.

USAF TPS Commandant, Col. Ryan Blake; VX-31 Chief Test Pilot, CDR Andrew 'Lurch' Gephart, from China Lake; LCDR David "LD" Hafeman, USNTPS and Congressman Steve Knight enjoyed mingling with the crowd, too.

Steve Knight's father, Pete Knight, often attended these barbecues in the past. He truly enjoyed being with the test pilots. I don't know if they realized they were in the company of an aviation legend or not. He was totally unassuming and wanted to hear the stories of the young test pilots.

In 1967, Pete flew Mach 6.7, 5,140.7 miles per hour, nearly three times the speed of a 30.06 bullet, in NASA's X-15 rocket-powered airplane, earning the title of "fastest man alive." The record still stands for fixed-wing aircraft.

I do remember one time when Knight and Rutan sat and talked about flying sorties in Vietnam in the F-100. It was special just to be quiet and hear them reminisce.

The tradition of honoring the test pilot school graduates began in March 1997 when our friend and motion picture aerial coordinator Mike Patlin set up a program for the Navy pilots to fly with civilian pilots in aircraft such as the T-28, PT-17 and Pitts bi-plane. The original plan was to fly at Camarillo, but that airport was fogged in, so they came to Mojave.

At the time, I was president of the Bakersfield Council Navy League and thought it would be only right to feed these great young people serving our nation. I invited all of the Navy pilots and flight test engineers and the owners of the aircraft to the hangar and asked my sons to do the cooking.

"1800 at the Hansen Hangar at the west end of the field," I told them. I invited Burt and Rutan, their wives Tonya and Kris, to meet some Navy test pilots and flight test engineers.

I rushed to the store for steak, chicken, chili makings, salad, rolls, etc. Had Al pull some airplanes out of his hangar and had my oldest son do the cooking.

We met the owner of the Stearman, Hartley Folstad and his soon to be wife, wing-walker Margi Stivers. Hartley casually asked Al what time the tower closed. He told him, "Five o'clock." At 5:03, here comes the Steaman, low, smoke on, passing the hangar with Margi Stivers on the top of the wing! We were all jumping up and down yelling.

Photo provided

Dustin Mosher's 1942 Stearman.

Later that year, I received a phone call from Pax River and asked if we might host the Navy TPS again in Sept. I was totally surprised and of course, said, "Yes!" In a couple of years, we invited the USAF TPS to the barbecue. One thing led to another and tours were set up for the test pilots at Scaled Composites, since Rutan usually attended the barbecues. It became a tradition that has connected the Navy TPS and USAF TPS to Mojave and the National TPS that is based here.

We met wonderful young men and women from all over the world. There are many foreign exchange students from Italy, Australia, France, UK, Israel and Canada.

There are seven test pilots schools in the world and all but one are run by military. The National Test Pilot School at Mojave is the only civilian test pilot school in the world.

This year, Jim 'JB' Brown, National Test Pilot School, Vice President and COO, gave a briefing on two Soviet fighters, the MiG-21 and MiG-23 that he had the opportunity to fly and evaluate in 2016.

See you on our next flight!


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