Kincheloe, Iven Carl, Jr.
Test PilotEnshrined 2011 1928-1958
- Acclaimed as the first man into space reaching 126,200 feet, and nicknamed “America’s No. 1 Spaceman”.
- Selected to fly the Bell X-2, the successor to his idol, Chuck Yeager, and the Bell X-1.
Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was born in Detroit, Michigan, on July 2, 1928, the only child of Iven Kincheloe, Sr., and Frances Wilder Kincheloe. He received his first airplane ride at the age of four when a barnstormer stopped by the family farm in Cassopolis, Michigan. With flying in his blood and the support of his parents, by age 14 Iven graduated from flying model airplanes to flying the real thing. By the time he received his license at age 16, Iven was an accomplished pilot and proficient at acrobatics.
Following high school Iven entered Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering. He participated in the Air Force ROTC program and formed a flying club with the World War II veterans on campus. At a summer ROTC encampment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1948, he met his idol, Chuck Yeager, and sat the Bell X-1. He wrote to his parents – “I think I have found what I really want to do now.”
After graduation in 1949, Iven entered the Air Force and began pilot training at Perrin Air Base, Texas. While flying TF-80 jet trainers at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, the Korean War began. Soon after was assignment to the 62nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Chicago, for training in the F-86A Sabre. Next up were orders to test a new Sabre, the F-86E, at Edwards Air Force Base. Though not the expected combat assignment, Iven was ecstatic to be a test pilot, even if for a few weeks, figuring this experience would help when applied for test-pilot school.
Iven arrived in Korea in September 1951, assigned to the 325th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. In January 1952, he was transferred to the 25th Fighter Squadron, equipped with the F-86E. By the time he left Korea five months later, he had flown 30 sorties in the F-80, 101 in the F-86, and was credited with knocking 10 enemy planes from the sky and damaging 11 more. Back in the States, a coveted test pilot assignment still eluded Iven. Instead, he was assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as a gunnery instructor.
He applied to test pilot school and flew every aircraft type at Nellis as often as possible. Impatient, discouraged, Iven pondered resigning from the Air Force when he learned they were looking for pilots for a Royal Air Force exchange program. Iven jumped at the chance and, in February 1954, began a 10-month course at the Empire Test Pilots’ School in Farnborough, England. That fall Iven met Dorothy Heining, who was visiting from San Francisco. Before she returned to the States Iven proposed. When Iven returned stateside early in 1955, he finally received his dream assignment – Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. And on August 20th, 1955, he and Dorothy were married.
At Edwards he tested the new Century series fighters and often flew as “chase plane” alongside the
experienced pilots in the experimental aircraft. Soon Iven was selected to fly the Bell X-2 and on May 25, 1956, he made his first flight in the rocket plane. He flew it again on August 3rd, climbing to 87,750 feet at a speed of 1,700 miles per hour. The next step? – 100,000 feet, considered the fringe of space. Iven reached this milestone in the X-2 on September 7th, reaching 126,200 feet. Hailed by the press as “the first man in space,” the feat earned him the MacKay Trophy… and celebrity status. In Fall of 1957, Iven was selected as the primary Air Force pilot for the new X-15 rocket plane project, set to begin flying the following year. Intense training was soon underway. Iven was clearly at the forefront of the space race.
On July 26th, 1958, Iven had just taken off on a chase mission when the engine of his F-104A Starfighter suddenly quit. Ejecting at low altitude, Iven perished in the crash. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, survived by wife, Dorothy, their young son, Iven, III, and a daughter who would be born two months later, Jeannine. Many memorials to the record-setting jet ace would follow, but his pioneering flights to the fringes of space remain test-pilot Iven Kincheloe’s most enduring legacy.
It is the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s turn to honor Iven C. Kincheloe Jr. with enshrinement, in recognition of his service, courage, and achievements that paved the way for our nation’s exploration of space.