Joe Lynch was one of many pilots who figured large in the "golden era" of aviation testing and development in the Antelope Valley. These two first-person stories came to our attention and complement each other:
JOE LYNCH'S LAST FLIGHT
First, I want to talk about Joe and some impressions of him. I had not known Joe before I came to work at North American Aviation. From the time I first met him and throughout my entire relationship with him, I always thought of Joe as a big, brawny man. His physical size was only a part of that. After Joe's death, when I looked at pictures of him with the rest of the test pilots at NAA, particularly the pictures standing in front of Patmars (our favorite watering hole), Joe was actually shorter than I. In fact, he was little if any taller than George Welch. Welch often referred to Joe somewhat derogatorily as "Pearshape" in much the same manner as Welch was called "Wheaties". Yet Joe's size was, I suppose, not measured by his height as much as by his character. He seemed like a gruff but very friendly bear. Joe had a particular drive to him that added immensely to his stature. He was a great family man with five children and a beautiful, devoted wife, Sirene, whom he called SIGH-REEN.
I remember one time Joe said to me, "J.O., you and I have an opportunity here at North American to really put these aircraft through their paces by testing them to the outer limits of the envelope to ensure that pilots who follow us flying them don't get into trouble because of something we have overlooked." That was typical of Joe and his attitude toward the job and something I never forgot.
Joe also had a great sense of humor. I can recall a couple of incidents to illustrate that. One in particular I'll always remember. The experimental test pilots were more or less put on a pedestal by most at the company. Whenever we flew in a Navion or other light aircraft the company owned, going to Edwards or some other test site, the test pilot would automatically climb into the left seat. The liaison or utility pilot who normally flew the aircraft, would have to get out of the pilot's seat and into the co-pilot's seat. One of the utility pilots was a gentlemanly old character named MountainBear Lane (he was of American Indian heritage - thus the name). MountainBear babied his Navion so much that he would never rapidly advance the throttle or use any more power than was absolutely necessary for the situation. He acted as if it would break if he overused it. One day Joe and I were headed up to Edwards and Joe got into the left seat of MountainBear's airplane. He rapidly started the engine, immediately began taxiing out to the runway and received permission from the tower for an expedited rolling takeoff. Joe ran the throttle to full power and began the takeoff run as he finished his turn to lineup with the runway. You could see Mt.Bear cringing at the rough treatment Joe was giving his airplane. Joe looked at him, leaned over and said, "Bear, it don't hurt 'em none to run 'em that way!" Of course, Joe was just needling Mt.Bear a little regarding his overly conservative babying of the airplane.
I can remember a similar incident when Joe went with me to inspect and test the Jaguar XKE automobile I was thinking of buying. There were several used ones on the market in L.A We found one that looked pretty good and Joe got behind the wheel with me in the right seat. We took it on the only freeway at that time (now the Pasadena). Joe ran that thing up well beyond the redline on the tachometer and ran it through the gears, full RPM all the way. Joe turned to me and said, "We want this thing to fail if it's going to while it's still his and before it's yours." Again this was Joe's approach to test flying. If we don't run them to their limits, we're not going to know what they'll do and they may break for someone else. And, of course, he'd be cackling in his shrill sort of way as he said that.
Joe was considered more or less the automotive expert among the North American test pilots. He was particularly a buff on Indy racers and all the lore of the Indy 500. He found an old two-seated Indy race car 1930's vintage for sale in the L.A. area. Joe wanted that machine more than he would admit but he knew his wife wouldn't let him have it (impractical for a family man). So he did the next best thing - he showed it to Bob Hoover (no kids at that time), also an Indy buff. Joe proceeded to hype Bob into buying it. The racer needed a lot of modification to make it "street" licensable, but it was finally finished, complete with bicycle type mud fenders, headlights, taillight, and a small windscreen. Hoover proudly drove it over to my house one Sunday. Pulling into my driveway, Bob sat there wearing his old WWII leather pilot's helmet with goggles and beamed at my oldest son as he appeared at his side seemingly awestruck. When Bob left, my seven year old turned to me and pronounced, "He sure has a big nose, doesn't he Daddy?" So much for impressing the kids!
Joe, in speaking of Bob Hoover's propensity for performing at air shows, once stated that "If Bob had an audience of two or more he would climb to the roof of Hangar 7 (the engineering test hangar at LAX), stick a gasoline soaked broom up his butt, light it on fire and dive off." (More cackling and laughing ala Joe)
Another aspect of Joe's character is illustrated by how he disliked the civilian test pilots having to demonstrate the capability of a designated aircraft when setting new speed records. After the civilian test pilots achieved the new speed record, the military assigned one of their own to "officially" do the same.
I remember Joe was required to take the F-86D at very low altitude and prove it could set a new closed-course speed record around pylons set up in the desert. As he did this, Joe got madder and madder about the fact that the Association Internationale Aeronautique would later bring in their official timers and a military pilot would then take the F-86D around the course to officially set the record and gain the resultant publicity. After demonstrating the F-86D could to the job, Joe taxied in to the North American ramp at Edwards North Base. He abruptly turned the aircraft which "dusted off' some of the ramp personnel, inadvertently, in his pique. One of our finest flight test engineers, Neil Scott, climbed up the ladder to the cockpit and was sourly greeted by the unhappy Joe. After Joe had departed the scene for the pilot's lounge, Neil turned to me and muttered something about "These damned prima donna test pilots", but of course that really wasn't Joe's character, he was just upset at having to be someone else's guinea pig.
Joe was picked along with Bob Hoover to go on a national tour of Air Force and Navy training bases to demonstrate the company funded two-place TF-86 and the T28B/C as potential military training airplanes. The company, in trying to sell these versions, arranged a tour to 65 military bases to put on air shows with the two airplanes, individually, (one at a time). Joe was to do the TF-86 and Hoover the T-28B/C demonstrations. Hoover, of course, had a reputation dating back to WWII of performing spectacularly in many different types of aircraft. Joe was reputed to have put on a show in the F-86D at Wright-Patterson field that awed the spectators and had never been equaled.
The T-28B/C was a version of the T-28 with a larger, more powerful engine which allowed it to perform quite a bit better than the original T-28's. So, the combination of the two airplanes would make a striking demonstration pair. For some reason, Hoover could not make the tour. At this time, I do not recall the exact reason, but it had something to do with Bob having to do a carrier suitability demonstration at China Lake on an FJ or it was possible the company had decided to send Hoover back to the Navy test pilots school. Whatever the reason, Bob couldn't make the tour so Welch selected me to go with Joe and fly the T-28B/C on this great tour.
One of the beauties of it was that by this time, the company had recognized doing demonstrations of aircraft was somewhat hazardous and therefore they were paying a bonus of $350.00 per show to each demonstration pilot. This was my first opportunity to make some real money. I was definitely looking forward to making that $22,750.00 for the full 65 shows. It was a great amount of money for both Joe and me. We went into a heavy period of practice and rehearsal. Hoover graciously worked with both of us to smooth and perfect our routines.
A little about my background. I had been doing aerial demonstrations when in the U.S. Air Force. I started with the P-51 Mustangs in the Philippine Islands in 1946. 1 was looked upon as the "spin expert" in the Mustang. I took various pilots from the 18th Fighter Group to show them what a spin looked like in a Mustang. How to properly recover from it, to walk and talk them through learning how to spin it. These instructions were given also to the former Group Commander, Lt. Colonel "Red" Grumbles. Later, in flying the first P-80's (later F-80's) overseas, I began putting on air shows both in the Philippines and in Okinawa with what later became the 51st Fighter Group when we moved our P-80's to Okinawa. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1948, 1 became very active in the 4' Fighter Group acrobatic teams putting on many demonstrations. This included the opening of Idlewild Airfield (later JFK) in New York and a big Air Progress Show for President Truman in Washington, D.C. In 1949, 1 performed at the Cleveland Air Races in an F-86.
That is some of the background that led Welch to pick me to replace Hoover and accompany Joe on the big tour. We all did pretty much the same routine. By "we all", I mean Hoover, Lynch and myself. Keeping in mind that it was necessary for you to keep your show close to the crowd yet not fly over them or directly at them. We practiced doing everything vertically over the runway or parallel to it, but away from the audience. Our shows usually consisted of a slow-roll on takeoff as the landing gear was retracting, pull-up to a split-S followed by an 8-point roll going in the opposite direction and centered in front of the crowd, then a perfectly formed loop, a snap-roll during pull up to another split-S, a 16-point roll, an Immelman, Cuban-8, lowspeed-handling (Hoover's "Waltzing Matilda") with gear and flaps down, and finally a short-field landing with minimum rollout stopping directly in front of the crowd. We tried to keep these routines short, crisp, precise and never took more than ten to fifteen minutes at most. Joe, during his practices, always rolled the aircraft earlier than any of us thought was possible. Hoover and I commented on this, but attributed it to Joe's amazing touch and feel for the aircraft and his one-upmanship.
Some words about the aircraft. The TF-86 was a two-place version of the standard F-86 in which the designers had extended the fuselage and the canopy to make room for the second seat and controls/panels in the cockpit. This added length to the fuselage and resultant side area forward of the center of pressure of the aircraft resulted in a condition of directional instability at low speed (dCn/d beta with rudder free was unstable at about 1.10 Vstall). In testing the aircraft, the pilots found that at low speeds, if yawed with the rudder out to about 4 degrees, the restoring force of the vertical tail was insufficient to overcome the force of the extended fuselage forward and therefore the aircraft would stay in the yawed condition until the pilot applied rudder force in the opposite direction to return the aircraft to un-yawed flight. It was here that I believe some flawed thinking entered into the design equation. Instead of increasing the size (flat plate area) of the vertical tail, a temporary and expeditious "fix" was devised involving limiting the pilot's ability to yaw the aircraft intentionally to this unstable area of flight. This ignored the possibility that the aircraft could reach the unstable regime by extrinsic factors, such as adverse yaw due to roll/aileron deflection. Once having reached the unstable condition, of course, limiting the pilot's rudder power available would defeat or seriously restrict his remedy to the situation. The temporary "fix" involved installing rudder stops at the rudder yoke. In order to make these stops adjustable over a considerable range, two AN bolts, with appropriate lock nuts were installed HEAD TO HEAD at each side of the rudder yoke. Other than the extended fuselage, canopy and the extra cockpit, the TF-86 was a standard F-86 in all respects.
The T-28B/C was a fairly standard T-28 with the exception of a much more powerful engine/propellor combination, a P&W R-1820-86, 1425HP engine with a Hamilton Standard 3 bladed propeller as opposed to the 800HP R-1300-1, 2 bladed Aeroproducts prop of the T-28A's. This additional power made the aircraft an excellent choice for aerobatics and as a demonstration platform.
Now a little bit about Nellis Air Force Base, which was chosen as the first scene for our demonstration tour. Nellis is located north of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert and the main runway is oriented more or less north and south with a range of mountains to the east and a gap in them referred to as a saddleback. The main buildings and hangars are located in the southwest quadrant of the intersection of a shorter east-west runway and main runway.
We ferried our respective aircraft with our crew chiefs in the rear seat to Nellis on the afternoon of the 16th of March 1954, the day before the scheduled air shows. After spending the night in a Las Vegas hotel/casino, we returned to Nellis. The next morning, we gave several of the Nellis personnel rides at a safe altitude in the back seat of our aircraft. We demonstrated the maneuvers we planned to perform in the show that afternoon. I took each person up to my preselected safe altitude above the terrain, tell them I was establishing that level as the "ground". I started my routine from the stall speed, accelerating with gear down as if starting a takeoff. I performed the roll while retracting the gear so that the gear was into the wheel wells by the time I was inverted and climbing. Then, still using that base altitude as "ground zero", go through the entire routine for the show to demonstrate it to the person in the rear seat.
After several of the demonstration flights, we proceeded to the Officers Club for lunch with the base commander Brigadier General James Roberts (coincidence and no relation). After lunch, we were scheduled for the shows that afternoon at approximately 1:30 p.m. When we arrived at the flight line, there was a good crowd of base personnel, both pilots and ground crew were assembled to watch the demonstrations. As I taxied out, I checked the weather conditions, found it rather warm with a gusty wind fluctuating from northwest to east, crosswind from our runway of utilization which was primarily north/south oriented. I waved to Joe as I taxied by his aircraft which he was just preparing to get into. Reaching the end of the runway, I announced to the tower and the crowd that I was ready to start my show.
Accelerating rapidly at full power I eased the aircraft off the ground just above stall speed, moved the gear handle to "retract" and began a nose up slow-roll simultaneously while maintaining a steep climb angle. The gear was fully retracted as I reached the inverted position and upon continuing the roll to the upright attitude, I began having to correct with right rudder as the wind was blowing me off alignment with the runway. I continued in a steep climb to an altitude of 900 feet where I did a half roll to inverted and split-essed back to just above runway level fighting the crosswind all the way. The whole point of an airshow such as this, is to try to keep as close to the observers as possible and not to get any higher above the ground than you need to in order to have proper clearance for the maneuvers.
As I approached the crowd, I performed an eight point roll at 50 feet above the runway with the nose always slightly elevated so that a very small amount of altitude was gained as the roll was completed. One never wants to give the impression of "dishing out" of this maneuver. Due to the crosswind and the difficulty I was having with it as to keeping symmetrical maneuvers in close proximity of the audience, I altered my routine which was previously described.
I then pulled up as I extended out to the end of the runway, performed a roll going straight up, pulled over on my back and began a Cuban Eight with rolls on each descending and ascending leg of the eight. As I passed in front of the crowd on completion of the Cuban Eight, I did a 16 point roll, again 50 feet above the runway, followed by an Immelmann (extending the top to position myself correctly) with a final split S as I lowered the gear and flaps for a short field landing, stopping directly in front of the crowd.
I want to emphasize that throughout this demonstration, I was continually having to fight the crosswind to stay aligned with the runway, and several times I encountered abrupt drops in indicated airspeed as I crossed the intersection of the cross-runway and its associated hangar line.
As I taxied in, I waved to Joe who was just taxiing out in the TF-86. He returned my wave with a big "thumbs up" for my performance. I was instructed to park directly in front of the reviewing stand where General Roberts was situated. Upon alighting from the T-28B/C, I took a position beside the General who warmly praised me on a fine show, saying that it was the best he had seen. I remarked, "If you thought that was good, wait 'til you see this" pointing to Joe's aircraft just as he started his takeoff roll.
Joe lifted the aircraft from the runway just above stall speed and, as always. began his slow roll almost immediately while simultaneously retracting the gear. He was rolling to the left, nose well up and the aircraft accelerating properly. It all looked like a normal Joe Lynch roll on takeoff to me. As he approached the wings perpendicular to the ground position, it appeared that the aircraft's nose was slightly higher than normal, which was probably due to adverse yaw due to aileron deflection coupled with the directional instability at low speed.
As he got to the inverted position, the nose was now skewed to the west. I believe Joe had by this time applied maximum left rudder force in excess of 200 pounds with the rudder yoke hard against the stops, and yet he was still not able to overcome the adverse yaw due to aileron deflection combined with directional instability.
Going beyond the inverted position now meant the yawed nose was dropping below the horizon producing an unacceptable downward trajectory for the aircraft and causing Joe to realize he must abort the maneuver. He seemed to hesitate momentarily, stopping his roll and trying to roll back to the right to get the wings back to level and upright. At about this time, I believe Joe encountered the wind shear I had experienced at the hangar line-cross runway intersection so that his airspeed dropped suddenly which combined with his violent sideslip caused the aircraft to stall and start to rapidly lose altitude.
Joe succeeded in getting the wings back to level but the aircraft was now sideslipping badly with the nose high and, unable to accelerate, the TF-86 struck the ground with the left wing and tail first and exploded in a fireball.
My opinion is that the accident was due to several factors:
Of course, all of us who were on the reviewing stand and in the crowd were horrified by what we saw and could not really believe it. But there it was. It happened and Joe was gone! General Roberts turned to me and said, "I think you should notify Dutch Kindelberger personally of what has happened." Then he added, "You may come to my office and call." Telling that great old man what I had to say was the hardest thing I can remember doing that day, but he took it very well my knowing how very fond he was of Joe. He asked me to stay on the line and give most of the details to his assistant Lee Taylor, which I did.
Several days later back in Los Angeles after the funeral, I was walking with George Welch from Hangar 7 back toward engineering. After hearing my recounting of the accident George turned to me and said, "Poor ol' Pearshape," which is about as close as I believe he could come to an expression of sympathy.
During this conversation, I informed George that I would like to make use of my free time, due to cancellation of the airshow tour, by attending the Air Force Experimental Test Pilots School at Edwards. He denigrated the value of the school and was quite vociferously opposed (I think this was an example of the fact that he did not want to surround himself with strong competition for the bigger jobs ahead). I was able to go over his head, however, and convinced George Mellinger, Manager of Flight Test, of the value to the company of this so I was enrolled in the Spring-Summer class of 1954 which I enjoyed immensely and the school greatly improved my skills as an experimental test pilot. George Welsh always said that he would see to it that I would rue the day I went, but he didn't survive long enough to carry out that threat.
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Early in 1954 while I was going through F-86 gunnery school at Nellis Air Force Base, a group of us stood down one afternoon to watch George Welch and Joe Lynch, both respected test pilots from North American Aviation, put on a couple of flight demonstrations for all us young jocks. Most of us had flown a mission that morning, and we were still in our flight suits as we stood on the ramp to watch these two famous flyers.
George Welch flew first. He showed us what we could get out of a T-28B trainer with its Pratt & Whitney engine and a three-bladed prop. His flight was very impressive, but most of us felt that props were a thing of the past. We were instead looki ng forward to Joe Lynch's flight in the dual-seat TF-86F Sabre.
Prior to Joe's arrival at his TF-86F, I was leaning against its wing and watching George do his stuff. When Joe arrived, if he had asked me if I wanted to go with him, I would have climbed nght in. As he approached the bird, however, his mechanic said, "Joe, they topped off your tanks before I could stop them". Joe replied, "That's okay, but I don't want you to go with me today. Would you just secure the backseat straps and stuff?" in the meantime, George was ending his show with a perfect double lmmelmann off the deck.
Joe taxied his TF-86F out while George parked his bird. George and the Airdrome Officer next headed off toward Base Ops in the AO's Jeep. Joe was out of our sight as he started his takeoff roll. There was a slight tail wind, but using this particular runway would put his first aileron roll after takeoff right in front of the crowd which consisted of maybe 150 young pilots like myself. We spotted Joe on his takeoff roll when he cleared several buildings that had been obstructing our view of the first few hundred feet of the runway.
After rotating, Joe pulled the nose up. He quickly began a roll to the left. While in an inverted position, the roll stopped momentarily. Joe then started to roll back in the opposite direction, as if in a half roll and reverse. The TF-86F, however, remained in a steep left wing-down bank, and the nose started to the left. My first thought was, "Is he going to try to come back over the ramp?" I had only eleven hours in the F-86F at that moment, and I was not sure if the Sabre could do that. A moment later the nose started down, and the flight ended with the nose and left wing tip hitting the ground at about the same time. We next heard the whoomp sound of the impact. The TF-86F's fuel ignited and black smoke billowed up.
The ramp went completely silent. We could have heard a pin drop as our GI pilots stood there in stunned disbelief. There was nothing to say and nothing we could do. We slowly turned and quietly walked away, knowing we had just witnessed the last flight of a great pilot. As I walked, I wondered what business did I have in the super hot F-86F. For the next few days, we noticed the roped off crash site out of the corners of our eyes as we took off, and most of the guys loosened their traffic patterns a little.
During a recent conversation I had with Dan Darnell, a North American test pilot who knew Joe Lynch well, Dan told me that the TF-86F had a rudder travel restriction installed and that a 300 pound rudder pressure was required to break this restriction. The accident investigation revealed that the restriction in the TF-866's rudder travel had been broken indicating that Joe Lynch desperately wanted more rudder for that last maneuver. Dan also confirmed that Joe had a full fuel load.
Over the years I have often wondered why Joe was so explicit in securing the TF-86Fs back seat rather taking someone along...
Neil Fossum died in February of 1994