3 April 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton takes his first flight—a one hour familiarization—in the company’s prototype of a new fighter for the Royal Air Force, the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field. (Mines would later become Los Angeles International Airport, LAX.)
The airplane’s had first been flown by free-lance test pilot Vance Breese, 26 October 1940, and he had flown it several times. North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, on his first flight in NX19998, ran out of fuel and crash landed in a plowed field 150 yards (137 meters) west of the airfield, 20 November 1940. The prototype had flown just 3 hours, 20 minutes.
The NA-73X was repaired and Bob Chilton was assigned to complete the testing program. The airplane would become the legendary P-51 Mustang, and Chilton would continue to conduct the majority of flight testing on its improvements and modifications.
Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.
At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.
In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.
Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.
On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Repulic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.
From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.
Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.
In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.
Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.
10–11 February 1929: At Mines Field, Los Angeles, California (now, Los Angeles International Airport—better known simply as LAX), Evelyn (“Bobbie”) Trout set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration with an overnight endurance record of 17 hours, 5 minutes, while flying the prototype R.O. Bone Co. Golden Eagle monoplane.¹
This was Bobbie Trout’s second duration record. Her first, set at Metropolitan Field, Van Nuys, California, 2 January 1929, had been broken by Elinor Smith, four weeks later.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
Evelyn Trout – a wisp of a woman in a wisp of an airplane – landed at Mines Field yesterday after having flown alone more hours and more miles continuously than any other woman in the world ever did before. Also, she is the first woman ever to fly through an entire night. She may have taken up the heaviest loaded sixty-horse-power plane that ever left the ground.
Miss Trout, Bobbie, as she is more generally known, took off at Mines Field Sunday at 5:10:15 p.m. She landed at the same place yesterday at 10:16:22 a.m. She was in the air 17 hours, 5 minutes and 37 seconds, Joe Nikrent, chief timekeeper, announced.
The flight, Dudley Steele, contest chairman of the National Aeronautical Association, said, was three hours and forty-eight minutes longer than the previous woman’s endurance record.
She flew, he said, approximately 860 miles. This, he pointed out, is not far under the world record hung up in Europe some time ago by a man who flew a plane in that class 932 miles over a charted course. Steele said her average speed was 50.292 miles per hours…
Miss Trout got out of the plane with but little more evidence of fatigue than if she had been up only a few hours.
“Hello mother,” she cried to Mrs. George E. Trout, who ran to embrace her.
“We’re awfully proud of you,” Mrs. Trout said.
“Thanks mother, dear,” Bobbie replied.
The young woman, who is 23 years of age, stretched herself and danced on first one foot and then the other.
“I need exercise,” she said, straightening out her cramped limbs.
She posed patiently for newspaper photographers and laughingly talked with any of the crowd of several hundred that was on the field to see her land. . . .
—Los Angeles Times, 12 February 1929
Having saved $2,500.00 for training, at the age of 22 Bobbie Trout began her flight lessons at the Burdett Air Lines School of Aviation at Los Angeles. She soloed four weeks later. On 21 January 1929, trout was awarded a pilot certificate by the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.A, on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Her license was carried by space shuttle pilot Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins aboard Discovery (STS-63) in February 1995.
Evelyn Trout later wrote about her record flight:
Shortly after my First Solo Endurance Record on January 2, 1929 of 12 Hours–11 Minutes, it was bettered by 1 hour. My Boss, Mr. Bone had promised me that any time my record was broken he would help me better it.
His factory went to work making a larger gasoline tank. On February 9th the plane was standing on the south side of Mines Field (now LAX) while last preparations were in progress and Joe Nikrent (official timer) was standing on his head in my Golden Eagle putting the barograph in the fuselage. Of course plenty of mechanics, pilots, press writers, photographers, my family and public were there to watch Mr. Bone and me prepare for my 2nd Solo Endurance Flight Take-Off. This was about 4PM when I crawled up into the cockpit wearing my beautiful red sheep-wool lined coat with a huge Golden Eagle on the front, and my woolen breeches and boots to keep me warm. After I was in the seat, good luck items, food, and liquid were given to me to place where ever I could find room and get to them, which took some figuring. All seemed ready for the night.
Switch on and the prop was turned, after a few kisses from family and Mr. Bone I turned into position for take-off which soon saw me lift-off for a long grueling flight. The first half of the night was simple flying around the field and watching the cars disappear. As night grew longer and all below was quiet except for the Klieg lights that shone brightly and I would fly through the beams, then I became very sleepy “as I later learned that my system was lacking in protein,” I would sing, rub my neck, wiggle in the seat, rub around my helmet, pat my cheeks, peel tangerines and eat them, this continues on and on, sometimes I would find myself drifting off to sleep only to be awakened by the engine revving faster from a downward flying position which would frighten me enough to stay awake for a longer time. These actions were repeated over and over until the sun finally started to climb up and over the horizon. This seemed to give me a good lift to continue on my route which was around and around the field and sometimes over Inglewood, where I later found out that I had been keeping the residents awake. I would gain altitude when I wandered away from the field too far as to make a Record, the plane must return to the take-off field. After several hours planes were coming up with congratulations and all sorts of expressions because I had made a new record. I landed about 10AM. Little did I know or the press, or the factory and Mr. Bone, at this point, that I had made 6 records. We did know that I was the first Woman to fly all night and stay up 17 hours and 5 Minutes which did set a record for miles flown too, but it took time for the engineers to check that I with the 60 HP LeBlound [sic] engine had lifted off with a greater load for that 60 HP engine and later the sq. Feet of the wing, and another technicality.
A bed & home was all that I wanted now! — Evelyn Trout
Evelyn Trout’s airplane, the prototype of the Bone Golden Eagle, serial number C-801, was designed by R.O. Bone and Mark Mitchell Campbell. It was a single-place, single-engine strut-braced high-wing (“parasol”) monoplane with fixed landing gear.
The Golden Eagle was 21 feet, 10 inches (6.655 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters). Its empty weight was 800 pounds (363 kilograms) and gross weight was 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).
The airplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally aspirated 250.576-cubic-inch-displacement (4.106 liter), LeBlond Aircraft Engine Corporation 60-5D five-cylinder radial engine, which had a compression ratio of 5.42:1. It was rated at 65 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., at Sea Level. The 60-5D was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed propeller. The engine weighed 228 pounds (103 kilograms).
The Golden Eagle had a cruise speed of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 95 miles per hour (153 kilometers per hour). The standard production model had a fuel capacity of 25 gallons (95 liters).
The prototype was assigned Experimental registration NX522, 3 May 1929. While being flown by Eddie Martin, NX522 was damaged beyond repair in an accident, 8 July 1929, at Los Angeles, California. The registration was cancelled 25 July 1929.
The production Golden Eagle was advertised as a very stable, “hands off” airplane. The asking price for the basic model was $2,790.00.
The R.O. Bone Company reorganized as the Golden Eagle Corporation but The Great Depression doomed the company. Only one Golden Eagle is believed to exist.
Evelyn Trout set several other flight records. Along with Amelia Earhart and several others she co-founded The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women aviators. At the age of 97 years, she died at San Diego, California, 27 January 2003.
20 November 1940: North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, made his first flight in the NA-73X, NX19998, prototype for a Royal Air Force fighter, the Mustang Mk.I.
Vance Breese was the free-lance test pilot who made the first seven flights in the new airplane. Breese claimed to have made a bet with North American executives that Balfour would crash the prototype on his first flight.
This flight was scheduled to be a high speed test. Edgar Schmued, the designer, offered to show Balfour around the airplane. “Before this flight, I asked Balfour to get into the airplane and go through the routine of a takeoff and flight. He responded that one airplane is like another and he would not need the routine checkout.”
The ground crew started the NA-73X’s 1,150 horsepower Allison V-1710-39 liquid-cooled V-12 engine at 5:40 a.m. and let it warm up to normal operating temperature. When it was restarted just prior to Paul Balfour’s flight, “it was a little hard to start,” according to Olaf Anderson, the airplane’s mechanic.
Balfour took off from Mines Field at about 7:10 a.m. After about twelve minutes of flight, the Allison stopped running. Balfour was too far from Mines Field to make it back to the runway. He landed in a plowed field west of Lincoln Boulevard. When the tires hit the soft surface, the prototype flipped over. Balfour was not hurt and was able to crawl out of the upside-down wreck.
The Civil Aeronautics Board report described the damage as “engine housing broken, both wingtips damaged, tail surfaces damaged, top of fuselage damaged, and other miscellaneous damage.” The NA-73X had accumulated just 3 hours, 20 minutes of flight.
Vance Breese won his bet.
According to the C.A.B. investigation, the engine had stopped due to fuel starvation when Balfour neglected to select another tank.
The prototype was taken back to the factory and rebuilt. It would become the famous Mustang, one of the most significant aircraft of World War II.
Robert C. Chilton was hired as the new Chief Test Pilot. He would continue testing the Mustang developments throughout the war. Chilton made his first flight in NA-73X on 3 April 1941.
Paul Balfour continued to work for North American Aviation, testing the NA-40 and NA-40B prototypes and the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. He later served in the United States Air Force.
Paul Baird Balfour was born 5 July 1908 in Washington State. He was the son of Fred Patrick Balfour and Edna May Baird Balfour. Balfour attended two years of college.
Paul Balfour entered the U.S. Army Air Corps (prior to 1930). He was stationed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California.
Balfour married Martha Lillette Cushman of Coronado, California, at Yuma, Arizona, 6 June 1930.
Balfour began working as a test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., 1 March 1936.
On 2 July 1938, he married Lois Tresa Watchman at Kingman, Arizona. They would have two children.
On 9 November 1951, Major Paul B. Balfour, U.S. Air Force, attached to the 1002nd Inspector General Group at Norton Air Force Base, California, was flying a North American VB-25J, 44-30955, a transport conversion of a B-25J-30-NC Mitchell medium bomber.
Shortly after takeoff, at about 10:00 a.m., the airplane developed engine trouble. Unable to return to Norton, Balfour attempted a belly landing at a small private airfield. Witness saw that the airplane’s left engine was idling, and its propeller was feathered. As he approached, the airplane was blocked by a windbreak of eucalyptus trees bordering U.S. Route 66. Balfour banked away from the trees but the B-25 crashed in an orange grove along Bloomington Avenue in Rialto, approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Norton.
Balfour, still buckled in his seat, was thrown clear of the burning wreck and landed in the street. One man on board was killed and two others seriously injured. Balfour died in a hospital three hours later. He was 41 years old. Major Balfour was buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.
26 October 1944: At approximately 4:00 p.m., Civilian Pilot Gertrude V. Tompkins took off from Mines Field, California (now Los Angeles International Airport, or simply, LAX) in a newly-manufactured North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang, serial number 44-15669, on a flight to deliver it to New Jersey where it would be prepared for shipment to England.
“Tommy” Tompkins was scheduled to make an overnight stop at Palm Springs, California. She never arrived.
Due to a series of errors, it was four days before the military recognized that Tompkins was missing. An extensive search was undertaken but was unsuccessful.
Gertrude Tompkins (Mrs. Harry M. Silver) was listed as Missing, Presumed Dead. She was one of 38 WASP pilots who died in service during World War II. She remains the only Women Airforce Service Pilots member still missing.
The WASPs were not combat pilots. They ferried aircraft across oceans, tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, flew transport missions, and trained military pilots.
The WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts. Some went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.
All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.
Gertrude Vreeland Tompkins was born at Jersey City, New Jersey, 16 October 1911. She was the youngest of three daughters of Vreeland Tompkins, founder of Smooth-On, Inc., and Laura Towar Tompkins.
Gertude V. Tompkins had joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (commonly called the “WASPs”) 12 November 1943 and trained at Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas, as a member of Class 43-W-7. She was assigned to the 601st Squadron, 555th Air Transport Command, as a Civilian Pilot.
On 25 September 1944, Miss Tompkins married Technical Sergeant Henry Mann Silver, U.S. Army, at Bridgewater, New York.
By 26 October 1944, she had flown a total of 753.40 hours.
North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang 44-15669 had been flown just 3.0 hours since leaving the assembly line at Inglewood, California.
The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).
The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.
The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).
The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).
With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).
The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.
A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.
The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.
26 October 1940: At Mines Field, Los Angeles, California (now, Los Angeles International Airport), free lance test pilot Vance Breese took the prototype North American Aviation NA-73X, civil registration NX19998, on a five-minute first flight. Later in the day, Breese flew the NA-73X another ten minutes. He would make six more test flights between 26 October and 13 November, totaling approximately 3 hours, 30 minutes of flight time.
With Great Britain at war with Nazi Germany, the Royal Air Force was the primary defender of the island nation. Airplane manufacturers were turning out Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires as rapidly as possible, but they were barely keeping up with combat losses. England needed more fighters. They had taken over an order for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A1 fighters which had been built for France, but which had not been shipped by the time France surrendered. The RAF called these fighters the Tomahawk Mark I (P-40 Warhawk in U.S. service).
The British Purchasing Commission asked North American Aviation in Los Angeles, California, to build additional Tomahawks under license from Curtiss-Wright. North American countered with a proposal to design a completely new and superior fighter around the P-40’s Allison V-12 engine, and begin production in no more time than it would take to get a P-40 production line up and running. The Purchasing Commission agreed, and with a letter of understanding, North American began work on the NA-73X on 1 May 1940. They were to produce 320 fighters before 30 September 1941, approximately 50 per month, at a total price of $14,746,964.35.
In a contract amendment dated 9 December 1940, the British Purchasing Commission directed that the NA-73 would be identified by the name, “Mustang.”
The prototype NA-73X, North American serial number 73-3097, was a single-seat, single-engine, low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the flight control surfaces were fabric covered. The airplane was designed for the maximum reduction in aerodynamic drag. The fuselage panels were precisely designed and very smooth. Flush riveting was used. The Mustang was the first airplane to use a laminar-flow wing. The coolant radiator with its intake and exhaust ducts was located behind and below the cockpit. As cooling air passed through the radiator, it was heated and expanded, so that as it exited, it actually produced some thrust.
The prototype was 32 feet, 2–5/8 inches (9.820 meters) long, with a wing span of 37 feet, 5/16 inch (11.286 meters). Empty weight of the NA-73X was 6,278 pounds (2,848 kilograms) and normal takeoff weight was 7,965 pounds (3,613 kilograms).
The NA-73X was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam 60° V-12 engine, with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and a single-stage, single-speed supercharger. This was a right-hand tractor engine (the V-1710 was built in both right-hand and left-hand configurations) which drove a 10 foot, 6 inch (3.200 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction.
The V-1710-39 had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level; Take Off Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with 44.5 inches of manifold pressure (1.51 Bar), 5 minute limit; and a War Emergency Power rating of 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., with 56 inches of manifold pressure (1.90 Bar). The V-1710-F3R was 3 feet, ¾ inches (0.934 meters) high, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long. It had a dry weight of 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).
The NA-73X had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters). The service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters). The fuel capacity was 180 gallons (681.37 liters), giving the airplane a range of 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).
NX19998 was substantially damaged on 20 November 1940 when North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul B. Balfour, unable to make it back to Mines Field after the Allison engine failed, made a forced landing in a plowed field just west of Lincoln Boulevard. The prototype flipped over and landed upside down. Sources differ as to the cause of the engine failure, with some citing carburetor icing and others suggesting that Balfour failed to switch fuel tanks and the engine stopped running due to fuel starvation. Balfour was replaced by Robert C. Chilton and NA-73X was rebuilt.
Bob Chilton said that “. . . NA-73X was a clean-flying aircraft with no bad vices. It was quite pleasant in the air and handled very similar to later production articles.”
There was only one NA-73X prototype. Its status is not known. Chilton recalled, “. . . NA-73X was just pushed aside after it had been retired from its last flight. It probably ended up on the company’s junk pile, but I do not recall seeing it there.” The prototype may have been given to a local industrial trade school.
Vance Breese was born 20 April 1904 at Keystone, Washington, He was the first of five children of Lee Humbert Breese, a machinist, and Anna E. Dixon Breese.
Breese founded the Breese Aircraft Company in 1926, based at San Francisco, California, and then, as the Breese-Wilde Corporation, moved to Oregon. The company produced the Breese-Wilde Model 5, a single-engine light airplane. Two of these, Aloha and Pabco Flyer, flew in the notorious 1927 Dole Air Race from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. Pabco Flyer crashed on takeoff when its landing gear collapsed. Aloha finished in second place.
Breese formed a partnership with Gerard Vultee in 1932, with the Airplane Development Corporation at Detroit Michigan. They produced the Vultee V-1A, an 8 passenger light transport. He was also involved in an express mail company, Air Express Corporation.
Vance Breese was well known as a test pilot, making a number of first flights and conducting flight tests for various airplane manufacturers. As a test pilot, Breese pioneered the use of recording equipment during flight testing. He used a Dictaphone to record his notes, and a cine camera to film the instruments during the flight.
Breese was married three times. He first married Miss Kathryn (“Kitty”) M. McConnell in 1922. They divorced. Later, Breese married Eleanor Louise Buckles at Los Angeles, California, 18 November 1946. They had a son, Vance Breese, Jr., who became a well-known motorcycle racer and land speed record holder. They divorced in 1967. Breese then married Mireille E. Demartelley (AKA Mireille E. Hunt), 13 July 1967, at Santa Barbara, California.
He died at Santa Monica, California, 26 June 1973, at the age of 69 years. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.