Fitz Fulton-Test Pilot
Written on January 28, 2010. I just had to tell someone.----- This week I received the picture below, from Fitz Fulton, a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and, in my opinion, one of the WORLD'S GREATEST TEST PILOTS. I could fill up the page with planes Fitz tested, but for those of you that do not know of Fitz, one of his noteworthy achievements is that he was the chief test pilot on the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing test at Edwards AFB, flying the first flight in 1976 of the Carrier 747 with the Shuttle attached and all of the tests of them at Edwards, thereafter.
Fitz was my boss when I was a test pilot at Edwards AFB in the 1960 period and I also worked very closely with him when he was testing the mated pair of the 747 and Shuttle during the Approach and landing tests, mentioned above. This picture below shows him flying the XB- 43 at Edwards, circa 1950 (this plane was made by the Douglas Aircraft Co and not much of a success), but the thing that makes it so special to me is what Fitz wrote on the picture. It pertains to a flight he and I made in a B-47 50 years ago. Some of you have read the story of this flight from my book ( I have sent it out before), but I have attached it again so you can imagine how I felt to think he would still remember that event and go to the trouble to mention it to me: 50 YEARS LATER. PRICELESS.--- No comments expected, just wanted to pass on my happy feelings.
Get Home Itus
Fitz Fulton, one of the world's best test pilots, is a mild mannered man, doesn't drink, or curse; goes to church and is a perfect gentleman at all times. With this persona you would never guess that deep down inside is a fearless tiger. Maybe too fearless, but he has always come out on top.
One late summer afternoon in 1961 he and I were at Carswell AFB in Ft Worth, Texas and were going back to Edwards AFB, Calif. that night in an old B-47, six engine jet bomber, we used there at the Flight Test Center. At that time, that particular plane had had it's bomb bay doors removed which gave it the appearance that there was only half of an airplane thru the midsection of the plane. We were using it, at the Test Center, to drop the prototypes of the B-70 bomber ejection seats to see how the parachutes on the seats performed prior to the seats actually being installed in the B-70. The seats wouldn't quite fit in the B-47 bombay with the doors closed but they would fit with the doors removed so that is what they had done, i.e., they had removed the bombay doors. With the doors removed the plane rumbled and buffeted when it flew and they had limited it's airspeed to 250 knots indicated but when you got it up to around 37,000 feet you had a true airspeed of close to 400 knots so it was OK to use for a cross country flight if you needed it. It just grumbled about it.
I have no recollection of what Fitz and I were doing at Ft. Worth but when we were getting ready to come back to Edwards that evening, we checked the weather and it was an awful forecast; terrible thunderstorms, severe turbulence, and up to one inch hail on the route of flight. I said, "Fitz, let's just wait and go in the morning because with the 2 hour time difference we can leave at 7 AM in the morning and be home by 8 AM Edwards time and no one will ever know the difference". He said, "No, we are going and we can contact"Star Gazer" for radar vectors around the thunderstorms". Star Gazer was some kind of military (I think) rinky dink radar system they had in operation around the country at that time that was supposed to help in situations like this but my experience with Star Gazer had always been bad.
Now, it was only Fitz and I aboard that six engine jet bomber. The plane had a good radar set in it, but it was controlled from the Navigator/Bombardier position up in the nose but we had no Navigator/Bombardier up there to operate it.
So, off we go. The B-47 had a fighter type cockpit and canopy. He was in command of the plane but I was in the front seat and he was in the back seat. I guess he had flown it out to Texas and I was flying it back. We were about 30 minutes out and we got into just what had been forecast. We called Star Gazer and, just like the other times I had needed them, there was no reply (when you really needed them, the atmospheric conditions were always so bad that you couldn't make contact).
We were all over the sky. Sitting out there in a fighter type canopy, I wasn't missing a thing; lightning, hail and EXTREME turbulence. I had my seat belt cinched down as tight as I could get it and it took both hands to control the wheel. Even then I had my right elbow stuffed up under the side of the canopy ledge to keep my arms from flopping. It was so rough that I could not take my hands off of the control column. So, it was left to Fitz who was in the back seat, to work the 6 throttles. We were easily anywhere between 4000 feet above our assigned altitude to 4000 below it. Once that slick B-47 started down hill it would go through altitude like you wouldn't believe, but just as bad or worse was that it would get up near the stall point just as fast going uphill because we were trying to hold 250 knots and thus you did not have to lose very much airspeed on those uphill excursions before stall became a concern. But, like I said, going down hill, 250 knots was just a number we passed thru. I don't remember what speed we may have hit but I became concerned as to what those downhill runs were doing to the fuselage. They had limited the indicated airspeed on that thing to 250 knots for some reason. So, besides wondering if we were even going to maintain control of the old girl, I was wondering if that thing might not just break into two parts. It was under these conditions that Fitz, worrying about a midair collision, since we were not maintaining our assigned altitude, said, "I think we should let someone know where we are". Now Fitz was my boss but my answer was, "Hell Fitz I wouldn't worry about that, there are no other damn fools up here but you and I" and I sincerely meant it.
Obviously we made it. In later years I read this account of the adventure to Fitz and he conceded that he remembered it well ---just the way I told it. He did not go so far, however, as to say it was an error in judgment on our part. He didn't have to.
Robert L. Mosley
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