|Chapter 59 has a number of aviation enthusiasts and former aviators
who are not active pilots. That’s o.k., enthusiasm is the key word
here. On the other hand there are professional pilots who care only
about golf, and really wouldn’t fit in with the EAA. The truth is,
there’s a remarkable story behind each of us in Chapter 59, which the membership
is eager to hear. But occasionally there is an extraordinary story
we can only touch upon in this brief newsletter. This is one such
story about Chapter 59 member Kit Murray, former USAF Test Pilot.
Arthur “Kit” Murray was born and raised in the small town of Cresson
nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. With WWII already
underway in Europe, he joined the Army in 1939, and served in the Cavalry.
Kit volunteered for pilot training the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,
and by 1943 was flying the P-40 as a fighter pilot in Africa. His
unit worked its way across the continent from Casablanca to Tunisia, escorting
B-25, B-26 and A-20 bombers as well as performing dive bombing and strafing
missions. His unit was proud to never have lost a bomber to enemy fighters
while under their escort.
After a year tour in Africa, Kit returned to the U.S. as a P-47 instructor
at Bradley Field near Hartford, Connecticut. He was then assigned
as a maintenance flight test pilot and sent to Maintenance Engineering
School at Chanute AFB. After completion of that school his commander
found out about the Flight Test School at Wright Field and decided to send
him there. Here was where Kit got his big break as he quickly found
out this school was not for functional test flights, but for experimental
test programs. He kept his mouth shut and stuck with the program,
and soon was offered the opportunity to be the first permanent test pilot
to be assigned to Muroc Airfield (later Edwards AFB) in the California
desert. Until then, pilots were based at the Wright Field Test Center
and assigned TDY as needed to Muroc. Chuck Yeager was making such
trips out there from the Test Center while he was flying the X-1 on the
first supersonic test flights. In early tests Kit was able to fly
some of America’s earliest jet aircraft including the Bell XP-59 and the
P-80. He also flew the P-51, P-82 (twin Mustang), F-84, B-25, B-43,
B-45 and many other fighter and bomber aircraft.
The most exciting flights, I would think, must have been the X-planes
he flew. They were certainly the most exotic. Kit flight tested
the X-1A & B, the X-4 and the X-5. In the X-1A, Kit set altitude
records of over 90,000 feet and was considered at the time, 1954, America’s
first space pilot. He was the first to see the curvature of the earth
and the sky dark at mid-day. The X-1A was powered by four rocket motors
using liquid oxygen and alcohol as fuel. Looking rather exotic even
in photos today, the X-1 used nitrogen tanks to pressurize many of
the systems including the fuel tanks, cockpit and the landing gear system.
However, the flight controls were completely conventional with strictly
mechanical linkage and no hydraulic boost.
The X-1A was launched from the belly of a B-29 and later a B-50,
and the flight profile had him using a 45 degree pitch attitude with airspeeds
reaching about Mach 2. On his first couple of high altitude flights,
Kit said his plane would snap into a spin when the motors burned out while
approaching his peak altitude. He finally figured that the rocket
motors were installed very slightly offset which, to keep it going straight,
was causing him to have to cross control the plane increasingly as it accelerated.
When the engines shut off, the cross-control condition, which was keeping
the airplane from yawing, now became the perfect spin entry input.
After two exciting flights involving supersonic spin recovery, Kit was
quick to neutralize the controls immediately upon motor shutdown in later
flights. He had taped a string in front of the windshield to determine
his rudder trim input! Kit was the first pilot to fly the X1-B aircraft
in powered flight, and he said it was a much straighter flying rocket ship
than the X-1A. The X-4 he flew was basically a flying wing type aircraft
(no horizontal tail) and the X-5 was a variable sweep test platform.
Kit was a test pilot at Muroc/Edwards from 1949 to 1955, an
unusually long time for that assignment.
Kit’s next Air Force assignment was in Paris, France. He was in charge
of technology integration for the U.S. Regional Organization there and
was privileged to fly some of Europe’s top airplanes at the time, including
the Italian Fiat G-91, the French Mystere, and the English Javelin.
After that one year assignment he went to Wright-Patterson AFB as head
of new developments at the Systems Project Office.
During his time there, 1958-1960, he was Air Force manager for the X-15
program, which attained record altitudes of 354,000 feet and a speed
record of 4,534 m.p.h. (Mach 6.7). The X-15 program contributed enormously
to the space program and high speed aircraft research, and was acclaimed
as the most successful test program of its type. Kit held the rank
of Major at the time, but this was considered a Colonel’s job, so the Air
Force was definitely getting their money’s worth out of him. He was
approached by Boeing in 1960, with an offer he could not refuse, so he
retired with over 20 years of military service and became their “company
astronaut” managing crew integration for the space program. In that
capacity he massaged the gap between engineers and scientists who just
wanted astronauts to ride in a sealed capsule, and pilots who wanted to
be able to see what was going on and do something about it! Kit worked
for Boeing on many space programs from 1960 to 1969, from the X-20 (a single
place space shuttle) to the Apollo program. He was Technical Integration
Manager for Boeing at Cape Canaveral.
In 1969 Kit moved to the Ft. Worth area to become Air Force Requirements
Engineer for Bell Helicopter in the tilt rotor program. He worked
for them until 1971, then gradually slowed down in retirement, but still
doing many things interesting to him. He managed a hunting club,
flew some charter work for Mustang Aviation in Dallas, then did some courtroom
reporting for the Bosque County newspaper. Kit also was project manager
for the restoration of the Bosque County Courthouse, taking it back to
its 1886 splendor.
Kit has always felt a close relationship between flying and music, and
this connection led to his being a co-founder of the Canaveral Area Opera
Association and a board member of the Ft. Worth Opera Association.
He and his wife, Annie Jo have lived in Bosque County since 1969, and have
a 30 acre horse ranch in the Smiths Bend area south of Laguna Park.
Here is a guy who started in the horse cavalry as a Private, received a
battlefield commission in WW II, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
and seven Air Medals, had a very impressive military and civilian career
with over 5,500 hours testing over 100 types of propeller, jet, and rocket
powered aircraft, and now he’s back on a horse again! I guess we’d
have to ask Annie Jo what rank he holds in his capacity on the horse ranch.
It’s great to have such a distinguished person associated with
EAA Chapter 59. We hope he will find time to join often
in our activities and share with us his knowledge and fascinating
experiences. Thank you, Kit Murray!