Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Bill Scott – more than a flight test engineer

Short Flights

We at Mojave Air & Space Port have the wonderful opportunity of knowing so many unique individuals who make a big impression in the aerospace community. Our friend William "Bill" Scott is one of those people. He is currently a full-time author and consultant but has a long history in this area.

He served in the U.S. Air Force and is a Flight Test Engineer graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. He also served as aircrew on classified airborne-sampling missions, collecting nuclear debris by flying through radioactive clouds; an electronics engineering officer at the National Security Agency, developing space communications security systems for satellites; and an instrumentation and flight test engineer on U.S. Air Force fighter and transport aircraft development programs during his service in the military.

After the military he was a civilian FTE/program manager for three aerospace companies: General Dynamics (F-16 Full Scale Development), Falcon Jet Corp. (Coast Guard HU-25A development and certification), and Tracor Flight Systems Inc. in Mojave.

He worked as a FTE on the Canadair Challenger Business Jet certification program at Mojave Airport in the 1980's and was involved in a deadly deep stall test flight on April 3, 1980. Challenger prototype, Ship One departed Mojave in the morning and climbed to cruising altitude and began some stall tests. The aircraft went into a deep stall and control was lost. The aircraft went into a dive and the pilot couldn't recover control. All three crew members, including Bill Scott, bailed out and the aircraft crashed in the desert near California City.

Dick Rutan happened to be flying in his Long EZ that day and radioed for rescue crews, giving coordinates and circling the downed crew members. Unfortunately, the pilot, Norm Ronason, was last to bail out and he was too low for his parachute to open. Co-pilot, Dave Gollings and Flight Test Engineer, Bill Scott, survived.

Bill gave a presentation at Plane Crazy Saturday in December 2022 about the Canadair Challenger test program and the April 3 incident. Because there are winds that occasionally blow at Mojave and the aircraft had been sitting outside, they determined that sand had blown into the pitot tube giving faulty readings in the cockpit instruments. There were other problems as well, including the emergency spin chute jettison system malfunctioned.

Scott is the former Rocky Mountain Bureau Chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, author of Combat Contrails: Vietnam and numerous other books. He wrote for the international magazine for twenty-two years and also served as Senior National Editor in Washington, and in Avionics and Senior Engineering Editor in Los Angeles. He covered advanced aerospace and weapons technology, business, flight testing and military operations, wrote more than 2,500 stories for the magazine, and received 17 editorial awards.

Scott told me that he had flown with Skip Holm in a BD-10 here at Mojave for a story he was doing for Aviation Week magazine. The flight went well while he was on board, even though the aircraft suffered many problems during other flights.

Designed by Jim Bede as the first home built supersonic jet aircraft. First flight was July 8, 1992. Only five were built, three crashed and the last two are not flyable.

Scott is a licensed commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings. In 12 years of military and civilian flight testing, plus evaluating aircraft for Aviation Week over 22 years, he logged approximately 2,000 hours of flight time on 81 aircraft types. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from California State University-Sacramento.

Recently, the Mojave Transportation Museum invited Scott back to Plane Crazy Saturday to give a presentation on his book Combat Contrails Vietnam. This is a book that he was moved to write after hearing so many of his friends tell their stories of flying in the Vietnam war. Scott served during the Vietnam era, but didn't fly in country.

Stories are recalled by many of our flying friends, including: Roy Martin, Joe Guthrie, Skip Holm and Ad Thompson.

Some of the stories are funny, some are sad and some are just terrifing! One that got my attention was by Tom Menza flying a C-123 K transport. He described this aircraft this way, " Our lumbering 1950s vintage C-123K transport wasn't sexy, but the old girl was a vital link to the troops depending on us to bring them beans, bullets, bombs and priceless letters from home."

One day they had a 'bizarre' mission. He notices the ground crew speeding hay and straw on the cargo bay's floor. A large truck backed up to the lowered rear ramp and delivered a 2,000 water buffalo to be delivered to a Vietnamese village as a gift from the U.S. State Dept.

It took a dozen handlers to get the beast up the ramp and then wrap nylon straps around him and anchor the straps to the floor.

The hay was supposed to absorb all of the buffalo droppings during the 40-minute flight. When the aircraft was at their cruising altitude, the animal broke loose and started charging the loadmaster. As he ran back and forth in the airplane, it was difficult for the pilot to maintain control. It was a hair raising flight for everyone involved.

I'll let you purchase the book to see how this story ends. After five attempts at landing with this 2,000 pound upset animal running back and forth, they were headed for disaster.

You can buy this book at Plane Crazy Saturday, third Saturday each month at Mojave Air & Spaceport at Rutan Field, Amazon, Good Reads or go to Combat Contrails: Vietnam – William B. Scott (www.williambscott.com).

Almost five decades after American troops left Vietnam, thousands of that war's veterans are dying. Many are taking untold stories of combat to their graves, believing nobody wants to hear what they had experienced. Others, who see their horizon approaching, are now sharing memories with families, friends and other veterans.

Combat Contrails: Vietnam captures 18 of these stories, most of which have never appeared in print. 

Finally, warriors who fought in Southeast Asia are being heard-and honored.

Thank you William 'Bill' Scott for writing this great book! And he donates all of his proceeds from this book to helping Vietnam Veterans.