NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Beach, Florida –
6 August 2007
Wright: Today is August 6th, 2007. This oral history interview is
being conducted with Albert Crews, Jr., at Satellite Beach, Florida,
for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. The interviewer
is Rebecca Wright, assisted by Sandra Johnson.
Thanks for letting us come into your home today and talk to you about
this project. We’d like to begin today by asking you about the
years that led up to your work with the space agency. Tell us, if
you would, about being part of the Air Force and then becoming part
of the Test Pilot School and why you chose to take that career path.
A. Crews: Well, a little bit farther back, if there hadn’t of been
a Korean War, I probably wouldn’t have been in the service.
I graduated from college in 1950, and most all my friends took ROTC
[Reserve Officer Training Corp] when they went to school. I thought
that was silly, because we’d just had a war. Three months after
I graduated, I got a draft notice. The Army wanted me.
I had lived close to an Air Force base during World War II, and so
I had always wanted to go and learn to fly, but I never had. So I
joined the Air Force so the Army wouldn’t get me, and went to
aviation cadet training, and then got wings and commissioned. Then
my buddies that went to ROTC when I was with them in college, they
all outranked me a couple of years, but that didn’t bother me.
Anyway, after some squandering around, I became a fighter pilot and
got into a fighter squadron and went to Tripoli, Libya; spent two
and a half years there. Came back, and it was the preliminary fighters
to what was called the all-weather fighter interceptors, and that
was my last squadron, which was out at Travis Air Force Base [Fairfield,
California], an F-86L airplane. Then about that time, I had been in—well,
let’s start out with when I went in the Air Force, I was going
to learn how to fly and then get out, but I fell in love with the
Air Force and I wanted to stay.
After I’d been in five years, it was obvious to me that things
weren’t going to change much. When I first came in and all the
hot pilots that told me what to do and everyone had 3 or 400 flying
hours, or maybe they had 1,000 hours, and I had 3 or 400. But
then about this time I was up to about 1,000, and they were up to
about 2,000, and we were all in the same relative position. It appeared
to me we’d be the same place ten years from then.
So I applied to go back to school, and Wright-Patterson [Air Force
Base, Ohio] had the Air Force Institute of Technology, which they
ran the program from there. A lot of people went to civilian schools,
but I went to Wright-Pat, and wound up after two years I got a master’s
degree in aeronautical engineering. So while I was studying for that,
they had made the selection for Mercury astronauts. That turned me
on pretty big, and I applied for the Test Pilot School and got accepted,
and then went to Edwards [Air Force Base, California] when I graduated.
I went through the Test Pilot School; that took a year. Then I was
high enough in the class that I got accepted to stay at Edwards. After
I’d been there about two years, at that time the X-15 Program
was flying. It had started in ’59, and it was pretty well
going along, and they started another X-20 Program, which was called
the Dyna-Soar, and it had four Air Force pilots and two NASA pilots.
Then at the time the second NASA selection came along one of the NASA
pilots was Neil [A.] Armstrong, and he decided he wanted to go to
So then the Air Force decided they were going to take more responsibility,
and so they were going to have five pilots and NASA would have one.
So they selected me as the fifth Air Force pilot. So then I worked
with—all of us were stationed at Edwards in Fighter Ops [Operations],
and we would take turns going to Boeing [Airplane Company] while they
were flying the simulator and designing the airplane and whatnot.
There was always a lot of politics involved. Mr. [Robert S.] McNamara
was Secretary of Defense, and he thought the X-20 should be canceled,
but President [John F.] Kennedy kept telling him, “No, it’s
a good airplane. It’ll be very good.” So then President
Kennedy got killed, and his successor was very interested in big things
going to Texas, and he went along with Mr. McNamara, and the program
lived two weeks after President Kennedy got killed.
So I went back and became a fighter and test ops pilot, fighter tests,
and flew the F-5. Before, I had been on the T-38 Program and the German
F-104 Program, which were both very interesting. Then I also did the
F-5 performance testing, which was a very similar airplane to the
Air Force people were still wanting an Air Force presence in space,
and so they sort of dreamed up Manned Orbiting Laboratory [MOL] Program,
and in 1965 they picked eight people to be on it, and I was one of
them. So I had been almost the youngest guy on the Dyna-Soar Program,
so when we went on MOL, I was the oldest guy. So I was sort of the
leader for a few years. ’65, we were picked, and ’66,
the program was announced, and in ’69, it was canceled.
About that time I became very angry at the Air Force because they
hadn’t bought any new airplanes since I had become a test pilot,
which was nine years previous to that, and they let all the space
programs die. So when our program canceled, somebody very nicely said,
“Anybody that’s thirty-five or less can go to NASA, and
the rest of you, if you want to go to NASA, probably you can find
a job there.” So since I was mad at the Air Force, I went as
the non-astronaut type to JSC.
I’m very happy that I made this decision to go to NASA, if for
no other reason, that’s when I met Jeanne [L. Crews].
Yes, that worked out well. [Laughs]
A. Crews: I wouldn’t have this house if I didn’t have Jeanne.
She designed the house.
Can you tell us about that first trip? Did you know when you were
going to Houston with the other pilots that there wasn’t going
to be an opportunity for you, or did you think at that time there—as
far as being an astronaut?
A. Crews: They told us that you had to be less than thirty-five, because
they had a number of people, and the flights that were planned, I
would be too old. So I was hoping that things would change and I’d
fit in, but I didn’t have a lot of hope.
What were some of the first jobs that you had? Did you have an idea
of what they were going to assign you to?
A. Crews: Well, I went there. I was told that I was going to be, since
I had worked with the Dyna-Soar and been on the other programs fairly
close to space hardware, that I was going to be in [Donald K. “Deke”]
Slayton’s office, and I don’t remember the title. But
anyway, about a couple of months after I got there, and then until
that job came up, I would be working in Flight Crew Support. And then
that was where I met Jeanne, because I was assigned to the same office
she was in.
So Skylab was starting up then, and that was the thing they had most
all the new astronauts working on and all the guys that came from
MOL, and then I was working with them from the FCOD [Flight Crew Operation
Division] group. So then when the job came up, and I guess it had
to do with Shuttle, but I’m not real positive. Anyway, [L.]
Gordon Cooper [Jr.] had been kicked out or told to get another job
from the Astronaut Office, so they gave the job to him.
Then I went over to the Engineering Directorate and worked in the
Shuttle Program Office when they were making the selection for the
Shuttle. I was assigned to work the Grumman [Aerospace Corporation]
proposal, and so we wound up with three main proposals, Grumman’s,
McDonnell Douglas’ [Corporation], and North American’s
[Rockwell Corporation]. Lockheed [Aircraft Corporation] was in the
running for a while, but then they gave up.
So anyway, my opinion was that the Grumman proposal was much better
than the other two, but when they selected the contractor, they selected
North American, and then essentially, North American built the Grumman
proposal. So I don’t know what all went into those kind of things,
but obviously, hardware design wasn’t what they picked a contractor
on, because North American didn’t even have a vehicle, hardly.
When you were looking at those proposals, was there a lot of similarities
between the Dyna-Soar Program and the Shuttle?
A. Crews: No, they were significantly different. The North American proposal
had a vehicle with two engines and didn’t even look like anything
that came close to being built. Douglas, theirs was—well, I
can’t remember any particular details, but the Grumman proposal
looked very much like the one that was finally built.
When that was over, then I sort of got mad again, because it appeared
to me that we did all that work, and nobody used the work to select
the vehicle. Or maybe Dr. [Maxime A.] Faget told Grumman how to build
it and so that was why they picked it; I don’t know. But anyway,
I got mad at those people and decided that I didn’t want to
work in the offices again.
At this time I was still in the Air Force, assigned to NASA, so I
went out to Aircraft Operations, and then I still had a year to go
on my three-year assignment. Then when the year was up I looked at
going back to the Air Force, and I found a job that I wanted, liked.
People said they wanted me. I was ready to go, and the Air Force said,
“Oh, you can’t go there. You haven’t been to Southeast
Asia.” But when I was on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, and
it was canceled, they wouldn’t let us go to Southeast Asia,
because we had a big security clearance deal. Now three years later
they wouldn’t let me go anywhere else till I did that.
So I extended at NASA for a year; kept the same job. Then a year later
they told me I had to go, so again I went to the Air Force looking
for a job, and I couldn’t find any. In the meantime I’d
gotten promoted. So they said, “Well, we’ll put you in
the colonels pool at the Pentagon [Washington, D.C.], and they’ll
find something for you to do.”
So that’s when I talked to people at NASA about getting a job
there, so they said they would hire me in the same job I’d been
working in. So I retired from the Air Force. That was in 1973. A month
after I retired, Jeanne and I got married, and I stayed in Aircraft
Ops until 2000, and I retired again.
Saw a few planes while you were there, didn’t you.
A. Crews: Yes. Enjoyed it very much. Some of the things that I did there
that I—well, flying a T-38 was very beautiful, because that’s
the best airplane that pilots could fly. When an airplane was built
and you design it to do something, and whatever work you’ve
given it to do, whether it’s haul a payload or something else,
you’re taking away from its capability of flying by whatever
else you’re causing it to do. If you make it heavy, it won’t
Anyway, the T-38, you can’t screw it up. They designed it so
you can’t hang anything on it, and it’s just a perfect
airplane. Can’t make it heavier or anything. It’s beautiful.
Then I got to fly with most all the astronauts through the selection.
Now, did you teach the mission specialists [MSs] that came through?
Were you an instructor in the T-38 as well?
A. Crews: I flew with some of the mission specialists, and I did all
that until 1989. I had a stroke, and it took me a year to get through
that with the medical routine and whatnot, and after that they wouldn’t
let me fly without another pilot. So I still flew with the astronaut
pilots, but I didn’t fly with MSs after 1990.
But up until that time I flew with all of them, and I was also flying
the Gulfstreams Transport, and I flew the long-winged B-57. We did
a lot of missions, going up to Alaska and down to Panama. Then also
flew on a zero-G [gravity] airplane [KC-135].
Did you fly as a passenger and a pilot on the zero-G?
A. Crews: I just flew as the pilot.
Just as pilot.
A. Crews: Then after that—I guess this is during the time I was
grounded, they asked me to come down and fly a Shuttle simulator,
the one over in Building 6, Engineering Building, where they verified
the software and then for each mission I’d go up to it and make
all the runs. Over the years they made the astronauts do that, and
after they did it a hundred times, then it wasn’t fun for them
anymore, but it had to be done by somebody. So anyway, that was good.
I enjoyed that.
Then that got me close enough to the operation of the Shuttle and
whatnot. Then later on when they opened the TAL [Transoceanic Abort
Landing] sites—they did that after the first accident—and
then they’d send an astronaut to get three possible places of
landing. They kind of got short on people, so they’d send me
in one of them’s place to some of the landings. So I did that
a few times. I enjoyed that.
I guess that was about the last worthwhile thing I did. The last year
or two when I was there, I didn’t do that, but I was still just
doing the normal stuff at Ellington [Air Force Base, Houston, Texas].
Did you help support the Approach and Landing Test on the first Shuttle
A. Crews: Not really.
At some point the Earth Resource Program, I believe, was turned over.
The Air Force had had it at one time and then turned it over to NASA.
Were you part of that program as well, the Project Airstream?
A. Crews: That was what I was doing, flying the B-57 on, mainly. That
went on for five or six years, I guess, and most of that was a lot
of photography. In fact, with all of the NASA airplanes involved,
even up in Alaska, we flew a lot up there, photography.
Then another time they had the program going, and they were interested
in thunderstorm development and trying to fly that. So they would
guess where thunderstorms were going to spring up, and usually around
Colorado and New Mexico, between Denver [Colorado] and Albuquerque
[New Mexico], that big area. So they’d send us out to places
close to it, and then when it looked like it was fixing to build,
they tried to have a helicopter flying underneath or down low, and
then I think it was a T-39. I don’t know anymore. It belonged
to the weather people, I guess.
But anyway, it was flying at the middle altitudes, and they had the
C-130 flying at the middle altitudes, and then the [T-]39 up around
35,000. Then we had the B-57 up around 60,000. You tried to have all
those flying at the same place at the same time, and they would do
that with the thunderstorm development.
They also did that with—I don’t remember the name of the
program, but it was an Earth Resources satellite. It was collecting
data from space, and certain places where they would try to be looking
at objects on the ground from the kind of sensors that each had, and
see if somebody could use information from all of them to tell they
were looking at the same thing, and develop the capability of observing
that kind of stuff. That went from crops to all kinds of things. That
went on for quite a while. Then they all ran out of money, or, well,
solved the problem, I guess.
How long were these durations that you might be gone? You mentioned
going to Alaska. Were you there for a while?
A. Crews: Well, the airplane went up there and stayed most of the summer,
and then we’d change crews every once in a while. At the same
time we learned how to operate B-57s during the Earth Resources Program.
Then the group that had been flying B-57s for high-altitude sampling
out in Albuquerque was disbanded, and then they gave us one of their
airplanes that they’d used to do part of the stuff they’d
So we wound up, three times a year we would fly four altitudes, 50,
55, 60, and 63. About 63 was as high as we could
get. Then we’d fly those four altitudes from the equator to
72 degrees north latitude, which is just north of the Alaskan coast.
We could fly about—well, five hours was generally what it took,
and so that was about 2,000 miles.
So what it was, we would go along, and the airplane, when it first
took off, then you couldn’t get it above about 55,000, but if
we were going to Panama, we would start off and fly, going 55,000
halfway there and then climb up and fly another one. Then we’d
land at Panama and go south one altitude and climb up and come back
another altitude and then fly—well, we’d do that twice
going south, and then we’d fly another one, local hop and back,
and then fly it home. So we’d get to four altitudes of those
places that way.
We did the same thing from home to McCord Air Force Base in Washington
and then to Anchorage, Alaska. So it would take—let’s
see; it would take six flights out of Houston and then four out of
Panama and four out of Anchorage, and we’d have the four altitudes.
One time they decided they were having war in Panama, so they sent
us to Alaska and then had us go from there to Hawaii, and then we
operated south out of Hawaii to Christmas Island and back. So that
was the same latitude coverage. It was from just south of the equator
to 72 degrees north.
Anyway, the idea of that was if anyone had done nuclear testing anywhere
into the atmosphere, then it would go up and be in the whatever they
call that level just below the stratosphere. Anyway, that’s
why we did the four altitudes, because some of it was heavier than
Then when I had the stroke, they made me quit flying that airplane.
They wouldn’t let me fly an airplane unless there was two pilots
When you were flying a lot, how often did you fly? Did you fly every
day when you were at Ellington?
A. Crews: Well, sometimes. I flew, and I had office jobs some fair amount
of time. We were current in about four or five airplanes most of the
time, so the [T-]38, we’d have so if you weren’t doing
something else, then you were available for 38, and then the B-57
was kind of sporadic. When you were on it, you were on it for a couple
of weeks and didn’t do anything else. We’d go on the Gulfstream
trips, which would be two or three days if we were hauling somebody
to a meeting somewhere and bringing them back. Then the zero-G airplane,
and those were the four that I flew.
I averaged about 450 hours a year. Some pilots didn’t fly that
much, and others who were eager to fly every time they got a chance,
they would be up around 500 or a little more. But 450 a year is like
probably between thirty-five and forty hours a month. If you flew
nothing but a T-38, say, during the month, if you made—unless
you were on a trip, we’d never fly more than two flights in
a day. There would be one in the morning and one in the afternoon,
so that would be about three hours. So if you flew five days a week,
then you’d have fifteen hours; a month, it would be fifty or
So I probably have flown as many as forty hours in one month in a
T-38, but then other months I might not fly but five, or if it was
one when I went to Alaska, I didn’t fly any for a month. So
I don’t know. Every day you were available to fly if needed,
but it was no particular amount of flying to be done.
You said that you had office assignments as well. Were you in charge
of specific projects?
A. Crews: Well, I had titles. On the B-57 stuff we had a project pilot,
but then I was the older guy, probably with more experience, and I
was kind of the lead guy. When we had something new come along, I’d
be telling people what to look at or that kind of stuff, so for the
airplanes. And then I was an instructor in the T-38, so might be—I
can’t remember anything particular.
Okay. Was there a specific airplane you liked flying more than the
A. Crews: Well, definitely T-38. I got checked out—the only four-engine
airplane I was ever an aircraft commander on was a Super Guppy, because
I was always a fighter pilot. I had never flown in airplanes with
a lot of engines before I went to NASA.
That’s quite a unique plane, isn’t it?
A. Crews: Yes.
How was it for you to go from a T-38 to a Super Guppy?
A. Crews: It’s a different world or a different attitude. It’s
just like going from a car to an airplane or from a bicycle to a car
or something. Each time I was going somewhere, I knew how long it
was going to take me to get there, and then I probably was always
trying to get there a little bit quicker in that time, or I knew when
it was, so it wasn’t much different, really.
You were at NASA when the [Space Shuttle] Challenger [STS 51-L] accident
occurred. Was there anything that the Air Ops crew did or you were
involved in with part of the investigation afterwards?
A. Crews: No. I was down here at Kennedy [Space Center, Florida]. I flew
the Gulfstream down here to haul people, and I was geared up to fly
it back after the flight. I don’t remember if we left that day
or not, but—no, that’s not true; I guess I was down here
The Challenger accident, I was flying the simulator at Barksdale Air
Force Base in Shreveport [Louisiana], the zero-G airplane simulator,
with an astronaut that was new to Houston. He now works for [United
Space Alliance, USA]. He’s their boss.
Is it [Michael J.] McCulley?
A. Crews: Yes, McCulley. So anyway, we were in the simulator and flying,
and they came over to call for Mr. McCulley to, “Come out, please.
You have a phone call.” So they told him and then I don’t
know if they told him for us to go home or what, but we shut down
and left, and got in the T-38 and went home.
Then I guess it was after that that I came—we were hauling people
back and forth a lot from Houston to here, because I can remember
being in Base Ops here at Patrick [Air Force Base, Florida], and a
big discussion about, an astronaut that was very close to Judy [Judith
A.] Resnik was going somewhere in a T-38, and somebody else was wondering
since he and Resnik were very close, if he ought to be flying or not.
Someone finally decided it was okay for him to go fly.
Did anything form the Challenger investigation and from the Rogers
Commission [Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger
Accident] affect how Air Ops did its business?
A. Crews: I don’t think so. My personal opinion, and I think everyone
else, we were convinced that from an operational point of view, nothing
was done wrong. We don’t think that the Shuttle should have
launched that day with hindsight, but there were no operational problems
that I was aware of.
You worked closely with a lot of the astronauts because they were
checked out or had to do their training. Before you came to NASA,
you were part of a training program as an Air Force astronaut. What
types of similarities were part of that training, and did you work
with some of NASA’s trainers when you were part of the Air Force
as part of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory?
A. Crews: Well, we used a lot of things that NASA had done to make us
smarter, but NASA had a program with Chance Vought in Dallas on boosters.
It was during the development of the Apollo Program, so people could
determine when they should abort and that kind of thing. I think that’s
where all the procedures were developed for on the Apollo Program,
and maybe the Gemini II, also. I’m not sure if those—for
we on the MOL, we were going to be in a Gemini, and so the abort situation
would have been about the same.
So anyway, we flew that program, and I don’t remember any other
than that, the programs that we were involved with. General Electric
was our payload contractor, and so they had sort of used information
to develop things. We had an underwater facility down off—or
General Electric put it together—down off of the Virgin Islands,
and we had a cockpit there and then the capability of operating in
pressure suits. We did that as they were building an underwater facility
up at General Electric. But then we never did use it. About the time
it got ready to be operational was when they canceled the program.
While you were part of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, what did the
pilots or the Air Force share with you about the Soviet Almaz Space
Station Program? Were you aware that they were developing one like
your orbiting laboratory?
A. Crews: No, I wasn’t. I don’t remember at the time being
made aware of it at all. Of course, the big thing on Manned Orbiting
Laboratory, when we were picked to go on it, we were told it was experiments,
but in reality all it was was the Air Force had satellites with cameras,
and someone thought they couldn’t get good enough resolution
from control of the vehicle like when you get off to the side, then
you have a thrust to come on to bring it back. Somebody was convinced
that that would ruin the resolution of the pictures, and so we were
to be up there to fly it to give better resolution.
Of course, the five years that we were on the program or whatnot,
they were improving the system all the time, so it wound up, they
had a unmanned system that did the job good enough they didn’t
need us. That’s why they canceled the program.
You had worked as part of that security program with the Air Force.
Were you involved at all with the Department of Defense projects when
you were in the Air Ops part of working with NASA? Nothing that involved
A. Crews: No, [the Air Force] just divorced me completely when I went
to Houston, I was assigned to Houston. I was still in the Air Force,
but I had no Air Force contacts at all, or any directions from the
Was it a totally different type of operation when you went to work
with NASA, or was it similar?
A. Crews: No, very similar.
Was your office most of the time at Ellington? Did you get space there?
A. Crews: Yes.
And did you work under Mr. [Joseph S.] Algranti? That was your boss
part of that time? The history of the Air Ops Program while you were
there is quite extensive, developing all the different types of unique
aircraft for NASA. Were you involved with the planning of the Shuttle
Training Aircraft, the STA?
A. Crews: Yes, that was one of my jobs. I was selected. Warren [J.] North
was on Slayton’s staff at the time, and he was assigned to pick
the airplanes which would be just fine to make a Shuttle out of. Anyway,
I was picked, and I went in and flew three different airplanes to
decide which one would be a good Shuttle training airplane. I evaluated
each one of them, wrote up a report, and then suggested that they
pick the Grumman airplane, and they did.
Then when they came around to fly the airplane, I was supposed to
be the project pilot on the STA. Then when it got around to the last
part, they took me off and put some other guys on it, so I never did
fly it. I never did fly the STA.
How about the carrier aircraft? Did you fly the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft?
A. Crews: No.
That’s a mighty big plane, isn’t it.
A. Crews: Yes.
When did you decide that you were ready to leave NASA?
A. Crews: Oh, about the time I left. Several people I had noticed when
they got old they sort of didn’t fit with other people anymore,
and then that appeared to me that I had gotten to be one of those.
It was kind of hard for me to push myself to be one of the group or
whatever. Anyway, I came to the conclusion that I should be leaving.
I don’t think Jeanne wanted me to retire at the time I did,
but I think I was passing seventy, and I knew that I should.
Are you still flying now?
A. Crews: Yes. It’s a little airplane. I don’t fly it enough,
but I got spoiled all those years that somebody else paid for everything.
J. Crews: I’m going to interrupt. Did you tell them that you fly
for Angel Flight?
A. Crews: Say again?
J. Crews: Angel Flight?
A. Crews: Yes.
Tell us about Angel Flight.
A. Crews: When I was in Houston—well, a long time ago, prior to
me having the stroke, two of us went together and bought a Bonanza,
Steve [Stephen J.] Feaster and I. Then about three or four years later
he decided to get married, and so he sold his half of the airplane,
but I kept mine. Then a contractor bought his half. I started flying
it, and somewhere along the line—I don’t remember exactly
when—we heard about Angel Flight. In fact, they just started
up about that time.
So what they would do is they operated with all the hospitals around
the country, and turns out there are a lot of people that come to
a doctor’s attention, and they need specific medical care that
may be on the other side of the country, but they can’t afford
to go. So they set up these Angel Flight areas. Anyway, there’s
one in Florida in Leesburg, and they had one in Houston, and there’s
some out on the West Coast.
So as they got them to going and developing, then they’re all
tied together and communicate with each other, and like if someone
in this area needs work in Houston, well, they talk back and forth,
and they set up a flight like to go from here to Panama City [Florida],
and Panama City to Slidell, Louisiana, and then to Houston. I’ve
made one of those trips from Houston back to here, and I fly quite
a few around here. But they set them up, they send out
e-mails to everybody with the schedule, and then pilots look at them,
and if something fits with one they can do, they call up and volunteer
for it. Or if they get short, then they’ll call up somebody
and ask them if they can take one.
But I’ve frequently taken flights from the Miami [Florida] area
to—now, where did I go? Miami to Leesburg, or maybe most of
them I picked up at Orlando [Florida]. But anyway, somewhere in the
neighborhood of between here and Miami, and I’d take that person
to Tallahassee [Florida] or to Panama City, and then another airplane
would come from—oh, Louisiana is typical, and they’d pick
the person up and take them off to Houston. Usually it would take
three flights, but they could get where they were going. There would
be three different people.
So the only thing you get out of it is a deduction on your income
J. Crews: It’s for people that can’t afford to go for medical
Yes, and what a great reward for you to be able to help those.
A. Crews: Well, what it really amounts to, if you’re going to fly
an airplane, to be safe you need to fly at least eight hours a month,
and that turns out to be almost a hundred hours a year. But most people,
when they’re having to pay their own, they can’t afford
to fly more than about fifty hours a year. It’s hard to push
yourself to go just fly to get the flying time. If you’re going
to do something, that’s an incentive, and it doesn’t make
sense for me to go out and fly an airplane for an hour to stay current
when I could be flying this person that needed transportation for
Great purpose. That’s very nice of you to do that. Were there
other aspects of your career or anything else you’d like to
add before we close today?
A. Crews: I don’t think so.
Jeanne, is there anything else you can think of he didn’t add?
J. Crews: I don’t know. Did he talk about the B-57 a lot and the
J. Crews: He did something helicopter flying. He didn’t talk about
that, but George [W. S. Abbey] comes in on that one.
Do you want to talk about the helicopter flying? Was that different
for you to fly?
J. Crews: I will tell you one thing, and then I’m going to get
out of here, is the T-38, he’s one of the few people or the
only one that dead-stick landed the T-38. I don’t know if that’s—the
pilots talk about that. That’s a pilot thing.
Where was the landing for the T-38 dead stick? Was that there at Ellington?
A. Crews: No, it’s when I was in the Air Force. We were on a lake
bed out close to Edwards. I was flying the T-38, and it was an interesting
program. I guess it was in between Dyna-Soar and MOL times. But the
Air Force B-58, I don’t know if you remember it, but it was
built by General Dynamics up in Fort Worth [Texas]. It had four engines.
It was a supersonic bomber.
Anyway, about 1964 they decided to put ejections, supersonic ejection
seats in them. They had ejection seats before that, but you had to
be subsonic to use it, I guess. Anyway, this B-58 would get out around
Las Vegas [Nevada] and then come in supersonic over the Edwards bombing
range. The plan was to make the ejection of a bear in the bombing
range right there close to Edwards, and they wanted pictures of that
when it happened.
So the mission was all set up. I would circle in the neighborhood
of Daggett, California, and the B-58 would come, and as he would get
in, and I would join up with him and then fly across the range with
him. He was going to make three runs, and the third run he was going
to eject the bear. So anyway, they came through, and I joined up.
Anyway, made the third run, and they didn’t eject the bear.
So then they said, “Well, we can do one more.”
So I looked around at my fuel gauges and figured it all out and decided
I could. Anyway, it was kind of a little bit screwed up, because once
I got in formation with him, then I could fly with one engine in afterburner,
and one out, so I did a little bit of that, so then my fuel wasn’t
even. I was using more on one side than the other one, and then my
fuel gauges, one of them read 700 and the other one read 300, which
was enough fuel for me to do this.
So he came in, and I lit the afterburners, and about the time I got
even with him, both engines quit. What I had done, I’d selected
the tank that had the most fuel in it, and when they quit, then I
just started falling out of the sky. So I tried to start it, and I
went over and went to the other tank. Anyway, I couldn’t get
it started, so circled down and landed on that lake bed. I had flown
the airplane enough and learned enough that I was pretty convinced
that as long as the engines were windmilling, that I’d have
plenty of hydraulic fluid for the flight controls, so it all worked
I had this boss of the Photography Office was taking the pictures.
I don’t think he’d ever flown in a T-38 before. Anyway,
I asked him if he wanted to bail out.
No, not if I wasn’t.
So we made the landing, and then I said, “Make sure you get
pictures of this cockpit.”
“Oh yeah, I got the pictures.”
So anyway, they came and loaded the airplane up on a truck and hauled
it back to Edwards and took it off. When they took it off, the fuel
tank that had 700 pounds in it had zero. Anyway, the jostling around,
the gauges came back. So then I said, “Where’s the film?”
Anyway, the film didn’t turn out.
A. Crews: Then it was my word, and the bosses believed me, so I didn’t
get in trouble.
That’s the good news. You flew a few more T-38s?
A. Crews: Yes.
Well, thanks so much for spending time with us today and telling us
about your aircraft career.
A. Crews: Well, I enjoyed it.