- Robert W. Smith, The Space Telescope
Robert W. Smith covers his 20 years of flying as a pilot in the U. S. Air Force.
His check-out flight in the P-51 Mustang of War II fame closed out his training with a dreaded flat spin, from which recovery could not be expected, necessitating bail out if unsuccessful, he fell out of control for nearly 20,000 feet in that unusual learning experience shared by few living pilots.
Bob shipped to the 4th Fighter Wing in Korea, where he flew air-to-air combat in opposition to the Mig-15 jets flown by Russian and Chinese pilots. Bob’s first aerial combat encounter made him the wingman of the world’s third Jet Ace, but then pitted him against four Migs with their cannon working effectively in an all-out effort to destroy his wounded airplane, alone and over 200 miles from home base.
His subsequent fights in the span of 100 missions resulted in successes and failures, before returning home to a squadron in the Air Defense Command, where he joined a team in a competition of aerial gunnery for the national title.
He began to add to the more than 50 different types of military airplanes he would fly. That tour of duty included some unusual flying events and close calls during some of the greatest air demonstrations ever presented to the public.
He details his challenges, his successes and his goofs, some of which were in the extreme. Among them was his opportunity to fly solo in the formation of the Air Force Thunderbird Team and be invited to join them as one of the team members. That honor was squelched when a powerful officer, decided that Smith’s education and experience would lend more in developing the growing ballistic missile force of the U.S.
Being part of a national TV show on NBC, ‘The Life of Jimmie Doolittle’, with the great man, himself.
Smith climbing into AST for record zoom.
That introduction, and a personal recommendation by General Jimmie led to Smith’s assignment to the new Aerospace Research Pilots School for astronaut training and his selection by the Air Force as one of nine candidates for the Gemini/Apollo astronauts.
Air Force test pilot for the NF-104A, AeroSpace Trainer, an effort to train future astronauts in actual space flight in a reusable Jet-Rocket craft, with normal take-off and landing. It was during that testing that he flew higher than anyone ever had under those conditions and set an altitude record for flight with ground takeoff that would hold to this day, had it been officially sanctioned in Paris.
As the result of an accident in one of the three aircraft, when Col. Chuck Yeager lost control and crashed, seriously injured.
That event led to Bob’s conflicts with the President of Yeager’s Accident Board and to reassignment and ultimately to Lt. Colonel Smith’s choice for early retirement from the Air Force, ASAP.
Having flown chase for the first flight of the experimental XB-70 bomber that flew three times the speed of sound, he found himself on the collateral board of inquiry and punishment resulting from a midair collision between that bomber and a fighter flown by Joe Walker the NASA pilot who stills holds the altitude record above 350,000 feet for air-launched flight in the X-15.
He considers that job as a commander the epitome of his Air Force career and his stories show the courage of many young aviators who risked their lives daily even though the Vietnam War was fought under political rules that immensely increased the losses of his pilots yet reduced the effectiveness of their efforts.
Many experts believe the defenses around Hanoi were the most severe ever and the continual and immense losses of airplanes and pilots lend credibility to their opinions. The loss of over 375 Thuds put that airplane out of service.
The stories covering the entire 20 years are actual and very candid, many of which he is very proud and some of which he wishes had never occurred, but all should keep the reader interested, often on edge or sometimes amused. They go from great successes in the air to miserable screw-ups, in his words.
He has only one significant personal disappointment in that career plus the deep sorrow for the loss of so many comrades and friends, and that one has to do with combat against the Migs in Korea, a personal shortcoming that many pilots would proudly claim, but he feels stuck with for life.