Fulton, Fitzhugh “Fitz”
Test PilotEnshrined 1999 1925-2014
On April 13th, 1960, Edwards Air Force Base, “Fitz” Fulton was conducting three-engine heavyweight takeoff tests on the B-58 Hustler. The complex wheel arrangement, designed specifically for the B-58 thin delta wing, consisted of 16 small tires which could only handle a small overload capacity. Following the flight plan, Fulton shut down the Number Four engine on takeoff, exploding one of the main tires. This led to a chain reaction where six other tires exploded, damaging the hydraulic system and landing gear. After burning fuel for three hours, Fulton finally landed on a heavily foamed runway. Later Fulton would shrug off the incident as “just another day at Edwards.”
- He was transferred in 1946 to C-54s and flew support for the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests and subsequently completed 225 missions during the Berlin Airlift.
- Flew 55 combat missions during the Korean Conflict in the Douglas B-26 Invader.
- Completed the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1952 and flew the B-29 and B-50 which launched the X-1 and X-2 rocket plane.
- Was the only Air Force pilot to fly a Boeing NB-36H with an atomic reactor on board and one of two pilots to fly XB-60 test aircraft.
- He was project pilot on the B-58 supersonic bomber program and set an international altitude record of 85,360 feet with the aircraft carrying a payload of 11,023 pounds (5000 kilograms) in 1962.
- Flew the Mach 3 XB-70 Valkarie prototype.
- In 1966 Fulton became chief test pilot at NASA; Dryden Flight Research Facility where he tested the X-15, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and SR-71 Blackbird prototypes.
Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr. was born on June 6th, 1925, in Blakely, Georgia. He attended Auburn University and the University of Oklahoma, and he graduated from Golden Gate University. He entered the Air Force in 1943.
Just out of flight school, his first operational aircraft flown was the Consolidated B-24, which he flew from January to May 1945. In 1946, Fitz flew with a C-54 crew on the island of Kwajalien in support of atomic bomb tests. December of that same year found Fitz and the crew flying a C-54 of the First Air Transport Unit, in support of the first landing of an Air Transport Unit B-29 in Germany. In 1948 and 1949, he flew 225 humanitarian missions to Berlin in C-54s during the Berlin Airlift. In 1951 and 52, during the Korean War, he flew 55 combat missions in the Douglas B-26 Invader. Fulton completed the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1952. He flew the B-29 and B-50 bombers to launch the X-1 and X-2 rocket planes.
During the following years, Fulton flew many planes, dropped new types of munitions, and did much performance and stability testing. He was the only Air Force pilot to ever fly a NB-38H carrying an atomic reactor. Fitz also flew co-pilot on the YB-60 and was one of only two Air Force pilots to fly this airplane.
The first Mach II bomber was flown by Fulton in the Air Force’s first test program on the B-58 Hustler in 1957. Fulton was project pilot on eight separate B-58 supersonic bomber test programs and set an international altitude record with a B-58 carrying a 5000 kilogram payload in 1962. As tradition dictates, one of the B-58s was named for a beautiful lady, his daughter Ginger.
Fulton received the 1962 Harmon International Aviation Trophy from President Lyndon B. Johnson as the “world’s outstanding aviator.” Fulton was also the Air Force pilot on the B-52 launch aircraft for the X-15 research aircraft and other air-launched vehicles flown by the likes of Neil Armstrong. He received four Distinguished Flying Crosses for his combat and flight test work. Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966 as a lieutenant colonel after serving twenty-three years. He then joined the NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility as a civilian.
During his career at Dryden, Fulton was project pilot on NASA’s B-52 launch aircraft used to air launch a variety of piloted and unpiloted research aircraft, including the X-15 and four types of lifting body rocket planes. Fulton flew the XB-70 prototype supersonic bomber on both NASA-USAF tests and the NASA research flights during the late 1960s, attaining speeds exceeding Mach 3. He flew 63 of the 129 flights.
He was also project pilot for the YF-12 research program from 1969 to 1978. Fitz flew the lead YF-12 (part of the SR-71 family of airplanes) as the ceramic shell was blown off at Mach 3.0 for the hot wall experiment. Fitz flew 100 missions with this plane. In addition, he flew a B-57 in and around thunderstorms and microbursts for weather research near Denver. He retired as NASA Dryden chief test pilot.
He was the project pilot on all early tests of the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft used to air launch the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise in the approach and landing tests in 1977. During these flights, the SCA carried the unpowered Enterprise to an altitude of about 25,000 feet, where it separated from the 747 and flew to a landing by the Shuttle test crew. Fitz was also in a remote ground cockpit during a controlled impact demonstration to test special fuel and safety features.
For his work in the Shuttle approach and landing tests, Fulton received NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots’ Iven C. Kincheloe Award as Test Pilot of the Year in 1977. He also received another NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1983 for flying the 747 Shuttle Carrier Airplane during the European tour of the Space Shuttle Enterprise.
While at NASA, Fitz continued to fly numerous aircraft for a variety of tests. During the 1980s, he flew the F-104 and another test support airplane, the twin engine AD-1 skew wing research plane. He was a project pilot on a specially modified C-140 Jetstar doing Laminar Flow Control Leading Edge research program using eight and ten blades propellers. He also flew evaluation flights of the Concorde.
Fulton then became the flight operations director and chief research pilot for fellow enshrinee Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites Company. While there he was responsible for developmental test flying of the Triumph business jet (powered by the FJ-44 engine), and the Advanced Technology Tactical Transport. The now successful FJ-44 engine, built by past enshrinee Sam Williams’ company, was flown for the first time on the Triumph. Fulton again retired in 1989.
Fulton is currently a flight test consultant. In his spare time, he flies his personal planes, a Cessna 172 and a Meyers “Little Toot.” He and his wife Erma live in Lancaster, California.
To many Fitz is an inspiration, a leader, and a friend. To us he is a great man, who gives of himself for all those who follow. For the courage and valor he demonstrated, Fitzhugh Fulton is enshrined with highest honor into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
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