Author Archives: Tom Demerly

The U.S. Air Force Turns 70 Years Old Today: A Look Back, A Look Ahead.

USAF Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary With Reverence for History and Hunger for Innovation.

The United States Air Force turns 70 years old today. The newest branch of the U.S. military was born with the passing of the National Security Act in 1947, a restructuring of U.S. military assets in the wake of WWII. During the Second World War air combat operations were conducted by the Marines, Navy and the Army Air Corps.

The U.S. Air Force is arguably the strongest air force in the world, fielding over 5,500 aircraft across different roles. By comparison, intelligence sources cite the Russian Air Force as fielding approximately 3,794 aircraft, the Chinese Air Force claims to operate approximately 3,000 aircraft. All other countries lag significantly behind in numbers and in technology. The USAF is also the only air force in the world to have operational experience with a fifth-generation combat aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The F-22 began flying combat missions in Syria in 2014 and has performed the precision strike, air superiority and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles operationally.

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors are providing “kinetic situational awareness” over Syria: the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then they share the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

In recent years, the Air Force has received criticism from the general public over pilot shortages and costly acquisition programs like the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, the Air Force variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. It has also rushed to field an effective ballistic missile defense system for the United States mainland, an effort made more important by concerns over recent advances in North Korean missile capabilities.

The realities of the U.S. Air Force suggest that it is efficient in fielding new programs and cost-effective with assessing developmental programs while simultaneously conducting combat and support operations in several locations around the world. One recent example of the Air Force’s highly adaptive evaluation doctrine is the Light Attack Experiment, a program to evaluate the use of low-cost, already available tactical attack aircraft.

Perhaps one of the most significant advancements has been the establishment of the 24th Air Force as “AFCYBER” or the Air Forces Cyber unit. This operational unit fielded in 2010 provides security, surveillance and combat capability on the rapidly evolving cyber battlefield. The unit is fully operational and regularly performs real-world cyber combat operations in defense of the United States and its allies.

Immediately following the formation of the U.S. Air Force 70 years ago today in 1947 the force began a period of remarkable development programs. The Cold War, a conflict that lasted from 1947 until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, was the primary motive for much of the development. This period of remarkable development included advancements like breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 and later achieving the fastest powered atmospheric flight in the X-15.

The Douglas X-3 Stiletto typified the rapid development of experimental aircraft of the USAF in the 1950s. (Photo: USAF)

Later the U.S. Air Force fielded the first operational low-observable or “stealth” combat aircraft with the Lockheed F-117 Night Hawk. The advanced program, that remained classified for years, was also one of the fastest and most cost-effective major acquisition programs in U.S. military history. In fact, there are so many noteworthy Air Force development programs that have set records or created new aviation capabilities they are too numerous to list in a single article.

Even as some superpowers continue to try to achieve technical parity with the U.S. Air Force the USAF continues to innovate with planning for the replacement of the F-22 Raptor, the Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter or “NGAD” and many other new systems.

This is Northrop Grumman‘s concept of the sixth-generation aircraft, known as Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter or “NGAD” fighter jet. (Northrop Grumman)

Considering the U.S. Air Force is the youngest of the armed forces in the United States it is easy to suggest they are the most innovative and have experienced the most change in the last 70 years. Looking ahead to the next century of the U.S. Air Force it’s difficult to envision what it will look like and what its capabilities may be.

We Fly In The Douglas C-47 Skytrain and Learn Why The Dakota Remains Eternal

Airlifter, Gunship, Spy Plane, VIP Transport and More: It’s Important to Understand the C-47.

It is a bit bumpy despite calm weather. She skids back and forth on her tail in light crosswinds and level flight. The crew in front of me is waltzing the big rudder pedals in the rising morning warmth. But when they heel over the big, round control yoke she listens with attentiveness. She likes the gathering G’s of increasing bank angle. The flight smoothes out as she enters the turn.

I am over half century old, and this airplane is a quarter century older than me, but there is safe comfort in flying on her. Propellers, airfoils, rivets and aluminum. It’s basic, dependable stuff. I understand her cockpit, her controls, her instruments. I could fly her, no problem. She is an obedient beast of burden with elegant swept wings and tame characteristics contrasting a strong back for carrying heavy loads. She is like a beet farmer’s golden-haired daughter dressed in silver coveralls.

We fly a C-47 of the Yankee Air Museum over southeastern Michigan.

Our white and silver C-47 Dakota chortles through the sky with a deep, throaty hum accompanied by a chorus of little vibrations quietly rattling through her three-quarter century old airframe. But she is safe, sturdy and strong. Her eagerness to drift through the sky belies her age. Her thick airfoils love the wind and grip the sky like reigns.

WWII Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Most vital to our success in Africa and Europe has been the jeep, the 2½-ton truck and the C-47 Dakota.”

The Douglas C-47 Dakota is perhaps the most mundane, least exciting but quietly elegant and ruggedly stalwart aircraft of the last century. Simple and utilitarian, the aircraft was quickly designed in 1935, even more quickly manufactured in numbers exceeding 10,000 planes across a staggering 72 different versions. She flew roles as varied as attack aircraft, electronic warfare, intelligence gathering, transport, VIP flight and nearly every other mission an airplane can perform short of breaking the sound barrier.

We’re in a Douglas C-47 Dakota built in 1945, owned first by the U.S. Army, and later by the University of Michigan. Today she flies from Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti as a living artifact of the Yankee Air Museum.

Most of the C-47’s that flew in WWII wore a flat olive drab cloak of paint hastily applied at an assembly plant that churned out Dakotas as quickly as they could. They were airborne pick-up trucks. In late May and early June of 1944 almost all of them in Europe sprouted wide, garish black and white stripes on their wings and fuselage; invasion stripes in anticipation of D-Day. But today our ride gleams, resplendent in white paint applied over natural aluminum rubbed to a high polish by the reverent men who love, maintain and fly her.

Capt. Dave Saunders is our flight engineer for this flight in the C-47 Dakota. He owns a staggering 25,000 hours of flying time. That is nearly three years of continuous time in a cockpit. Capt. Saunders has flown the Boeing 727, 737, 757, 767 and, for the last decade, the giant Boeing 777.

“We purchased her in 1982. Eighteen months to two years to recondition her to the condition she is in today.”

Capt. Dave Saunders owns a staggering 25,000 flight hours in many aircraft but loves the C-47.

Capt. Saunders started flying when he was only 10 years old. His dad flew back and forth to work. He was hooked. Today Saunders is as much of a classic in the sky as the C-47 we’re riding in, so the two are a perfect match. As we hum along over the University of Michigan stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan the other reporters on their aircraft type on their smartphones. Capt. Dave Saunders looks straight ahead, simply contemplating the way true flying was meant to be.

Our media flight takes us in a wide arc to the north and west of Willow Run Airport. Climbing out we look back toward the runway and see the Blue Angels lined up on the tarmac below. A giant Airbus Defense A400M Atlas, the most recent heir to the throne of the C-47 as the consummate transport, sits on static display.

The new Airbus A400M Atlas and the C-47 Dakota probably have more in common than they do apart. Both are considered medium to heavy airlifters. Both use propellers, there was no choice when the C-47 was designed, the A400M could have been a jet, but advantages of modern turboprops including fuel economy and simplicity nodded back toward the propulsion family of the C-47 on the new Atlas. Finally, both aircraft are incredibly significant to the militaries that operate them. In an irony of history, the C-47 played a massive role in the post WWII Berlin Air Lift along with the newer C-54. The largest operator of the new Airbus Defense A400M is Germany.

When I try to make an analogy between the C-47 Dakota we are flying in and an aircraft of today, the Boeing 737, Capt. Dave Saunders corrects me.

“The C-47 is more like the Boeing 727 of today.” Saunders shows his age and obvious reverence for the prolific three-engine airliner that was last flown in U.S. passenger service in early 2002 by American Airlines. But the Boeing 727 was never used in the regular military transport role. The venerable Boeing 737 airframe is a twin-engine aircraft that is used by several militaries, including by Australia in the surveillance, anti-submarine and mid-air refueling role and by the U.S. Navy in the same capacities.

I’m in the cockpit now. Capt. Tony Budacavolli and First Officer on this flight Vaughn Bateman are flying. There are only round instruments here. No retrofitting to touch screens, no side sticks, no flight computers except Capt. Budacavolli’s iPhone, an app-driven flight instrument he shares with many Russian pilots.

“It’s a blessing and a wonderful thing.” Capt. Buttacavolli tells us. Buttacavolli started flying DC-3’s as a commercial pilot, unusual for a modern pilot but testament to the staying power of the venerable Douglas airframe across all its versions civilian and military. “I started flying these for cargo back in the late 1980’s. I caught the last wave of them.”

Capt. Tony Budacavolli began flying DC-3s in the 1980s

Capt. Vaughn Bateman flew Boeing 747’s before retiring from the airlines and the Navy where he flew the P-3 Orion anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft. Bateman sits right seat in our C-47 today. The cockpit is his home and after flying “nearly everything” he seems to take a comfortable solice among the simple, basic flight controls of the C-47.

Our wide arc through the southeastern Michigan sky brings us back toward Willow Run airport and runway 23-Lima, “23L” or two-three left. It’s a bit bumpy on approach through rising air. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for latter.

I expect the landing may be a bit bouncy on two wheels before the tailwheel sets down on the runway, but I underestimate the design of the C-47’s elegant wings and the skill of thousands of hours in our cockpit. Our two main wheels touch the runway with barely a nudge and we hardly sense the tailwheel settling. I somehow thought, because this is an old airplane, it would be somehow rougher. I’ve flown in a lot of older prop planes from B-17s to C-7s and C-130s. None of them were as smooth and elegant as this C-47.

Back on the ground a group of men just barely older than our aircraft stroll out of the Yankee Air Museum’s hanger to wipe the C-47’s landing gear struts down after her landing. She is massaged like an aging boxer who just sat on a stool in the corner of the ring, yearning to get back up for one more round.

The jump at Thunder Over Michigan Airshow was billed as one of the largest reenactments of a WWII airborne operation anywhere. C-47’s from around the world took part. (All images: Author / TheAviationist.com)

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New Details on Mysterious Crash of Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz Near Area 51 Emerge

Unnamed Sources in Published Report Suggest Pilot May Have Been Flying Russian Aircraft.

In a story published late Monday, September 11, 2017 on AviationWeek.com, new information has been revealed about the type of aircraft that USAF Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, call sign “Doc”, may have been flying at the time of his mysterious crash 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

Speculation about the crash was fueled by Air Force media releases that did not indicate the type of aircraft that was being flown by Lt. Col. Schultz on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 when the accident occurred. There was also a delay in the story reaching news media that raised further questions since the accident was reported after another, unrelated accident involving two A-10s, was reported sooner.

File photo of Lt. Col Eric “Doc” Schultz. (USAF Photo)

AviationWeek.com correspondent Guy Norris wrote late Monday, September 11, that, “Sources indicate Schultz was the Red Hats squadron commander at the time of his death. The Red Hats became an unnumbered unit within the Detachment 3, AFTC test wing after the 413th flight test squadron (formerly 6513th test squadron) was deactivated in 2004. Over recent years the unit has operated a variety of Russian-developed combat types, including the MiG-29 and several Sukhoi-developed models such as the Su-27P, one of which was recently observed flying in the vicinity.”

The photos of the SU-27P referred to by Guy Norris on AviationWeek.com first appeared on TheAviationist.com on January 6, 2017 when we published the shots taken by Phil Drake from Tikaboo Peak outside Groom Lake, Nevada, on November 8, 2016 between 3:00 and 3:25 PM local time.

Photographer Phil Drake told TheAviationist.com, “I took my camera out and photographed the ensuing dogfight between the Flanker and a F-16.  The sortie seemed to consist of a head-on intercept, conducted at descending altitudes from 30 down to 20 thousand feet, and after each intercept a turning dogfight ensued after they had flashed past each other.

The highly maneuverable Flanker was a single seat version, a Su-27P, and it pulled out all of its best moves to get behind the F-16. I watched in awe as the pair fought it out for 25 minutes before they both climbed to altitude and flew back into Groom Lake restricted airspace. My scanner remained silent throughout the whole encounter.”

[Read also: Russian Video Of Captured U.S. F-5 Tiger Jet Dogfighting Against MiG-21 in Tests Raises Question: Do They Still Operate American Jets?]

Guy Norris’ story on AviationWeek.com also reports that, “Given the approximate location provided by the Air Force, it appears the accident occurred midway between Groom Lake and Tonopah Test Range airfield, both of which are operated by Detachment 3, Air Force Test Center (AFTC). The site is responsible for test and evaluation of classified “black” aircraft as well as foreign types which are flown by the Red Hats for tactics assessment and dissimilar training against front line Air Force units.”

Pilots of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, a unit tasked with testing opposing forces aircraft and tactics, pose for a photo published in the public domain. The unit was known to fly in the region where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz likely crashed. (Photo: USAF)

The Air Force has not provided any additional information on the specifics of the Lt. Col. Eric Schultz crash except for the famous tweet quoting USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who, on Saturday morning, September 9, told Military.com, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35.”

A map of the test ranges where the Phil Drake photos were taken. (Map: DailyMail.com)

Whether the U.S. Air Force will follow-up with additional information in the crash of Lt. Col. Eric Schultz is unknown. If Lt. Col. Schultz was involved in testing, evaluation and training with opposing forces aircraft in a classified program that remains ongoing the information may never be released. Additionally, the accident, if it did involve non-U.S. opposing forces aircraft, may compel the Air Force to change its opposing forces training program as seen in the now famous Phil Drake photos of the Su-27 outside Groom Lake.

Top image credit: Phil Drake

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New Photos of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 Stealth Jet Show Some Progress of Russian Advanced Fighter Program

New Ninth Example of Russian 5th Generation Sukhoi Su57 (PAK FA) With Its Enormous Fuel Tanks Spotted at Zhukovsky.

Vladimir Zinenko, admin for the Facebook group page “ВВС России”, a page for fans of the Russian Air Forces, has shared new photos of the ninth example of Sukhoi’s 5th generation fighter, the recently designated Su-57. The aircraft has been referred to in development as the T-50 and is the outcome of Russia’s PAK-FA advanced fighter development program. The program is intended to field an advanced 5th gen air superiority aircraft to offer capabilities similar to the U.S. F-22 Raptor.

One noteworthy distinction between the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor and the T-50/Su-57 is advanced, precision air-to-ground capability engineered into the aircraft from its origin, whereas the F-22 Raptor acquired this capability following its “increment 2” upgrade program in 2005 and has since demonstrated its precision strike capability in Syria.

The new aircraft flew through Zhukovsky International Airport two days ago when a number of spotters photographed it. The photos quickly appeared on the Russian aircraft spotter and photographer forum RussianPlanes.net.

The T-50 prototypes have worn several paint schemes so far and this latest example is wearing the pixelated two-tone camouflage livery seen on at least one other T-50/Su-57.

For the long ferry flight made from where the aircraft apparently first flew on Aug. 6, 2017 at Komsomolsk-on-Amur it transited approximately 3,273 miles (6,066 kilometers) to Zhukovsky where the photos were taken two days ago. The aircraft carried a large pair of underwing tanks during the flight.

The long ferry flight from its likely production facility to the Moscow area for testing spanned most of Russia.

This new aircraft, wearing tail number “511”, has been characterized as a production test aircraft using the final version of the Su-57’s airframe. It is said to have tested production capabilities for follow-on examples likely to be built in a low-initial-rate setting.

Questions continue to surround the Su-57 program. Criticism has surfaced in western media of the aircraft’s actual stealth capability, but many of these criticisms in popular media mirror those seen in the western non-defense press about the U.S. F-35 program, a largely successful program that has nonetheless drawn intense scrutiny and criticism in media outside the defense industry.

The majority of concerns about the Su-57 are focused on its engine program. The aircraft have used the NPO Saturn/Izdeliye 117, or AL-41F1 engine with vectored thrust capability. An engine fire in June 2014 seriously damaged the fifth PAK-FA/T-50 prototype during testing. That aircraft has since been repaired following engine replacement that took over a year. There have been reports of a program to re-engine the aircraft by 2025 with an entirely new powerplant intended specifically for the Su-57.

Image credit: Andrey Neyman via RussianPlanes.net

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No, it wasn’t an F-35. So, What Did Crash Near Nellis? Here Are Some Theories.

Who Was F-35 Test Pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz and What He Was Flying When He Died?

The tragic loss and impressive career of U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz in a reported crash on Tuesday night has been overshadowed in Internet forums by speculation about what type of aircraft he was flying when the accident occurred. The type of aircraft remains classified according to Air Force sources.

Amid increasing speculation that the aircraft involved in the crash may have been an F-35, USAF Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was quoted on Saturday morning, September 9, as telling Military.com, “I can definitely say it was not an F-35.”

The comment by Gen. Goldfein to Military.com confirming that Col. Schultz was not flying an F-35 raises the question; what was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz flying when he was fatally injured in the crash this Tuesday?

The U.S. Air Force said the aircraft was operated by the Air Force Materiel Command and that it crashed around 6 PM, 100 miles Northwest of Nellis AFB in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

 

What was Lt. Col. Eric Schultz working on when he died from a crash earlier this week?

It is important to understand any examination of his activities are strictly conjecture as all official sources have declined to comment on the specifics of Lt. Col. Schultz’s assignment when he died.

With a practical background in tactical air combat from flying F-15E Strike Eagles and an academic and career background including powerplant engineering, Lt. Col Schultz could have been working on any number of classified projects.

There are several projects known to be operational or under development in the classified Nellis, Nevada and California area test ranges where Lt. Col. Schultz is reported to have had his now fatal accident.

The test and development programs include opposing forces threat simulation and testing using Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 (NATO codename “Flanker”) aircraft. These aircraft were photographed on November 8, 2016 by Phil Drake from the Tikaboo Valley near the Groom Lake, Nevada test range. Drake captured long range photos of an SU-27P Flanker-B engaging in dissimilar air combat maneuvers (ACM) with an F-16, possibly an F-16D, four of which are thought to operate from Groom Lake. It is possible that, with Lt. Col. Schultz’s involvement in the F-15E Strike Eagle community and his advanced academic background, he could have been involved in an advanced opposing forces capabilities benchmarking research project or in a familiarization program with opposing forces aircraft like the Sukhoi(s) photographed at Groom Lake.

Russian built Sukhoi SU-27 aircraft were photographed last year over the test ranges near where Lt. Col. Eric Schultz’s accident may have occurred. (Credit: Phil Drake)

Another classified project in the area is continued flight operations of the “retired” Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk presumably for radar cross section testing and analysis. The famous “stealth fighter” was photographed by our reader, “Sammamishman,” in late July, 2016. The photos showed two F-117 aircraft in the air and on the ground at the Groom Lake test facility 8 years after retirement.

Two F-117s at TTR in July 2016.

Another test program that may be underway in the area, and that Lt. Col. Schultz may have been contributing to at the time of his fatal accident, is the classified Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB). The B-21 program is likely a replacement or augmentation to the currently operational B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Artists’ depictions of the B-21 Raider suggest it is similar in configuration to the B-2 Spirit, but may be smaller. It likely still retains a crew of more than one person however, although an accident involving any potential prototype may not necessarily be fatal for an entire crew, however many that number may be. Recall the crash of the XB-70 Valkyrie on June 8, 1966. That large strategic bomber prototype had a two-person crew on board when it crashed due to a midair collision. The crash only resulted in one fatality, with the other aircrew member safely ejecting. There is, however, no public information on the potential flight status of the B-21 Raider program.

B-21 raider concept (NG)

There is also the possibility aircraft was the same boomerang shaped trailing edge jet photographed on Mar. 10, 2014 by Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett at Amarillo International Airport or the triangular one seen over Wichita in the same period, or something else, never seen before.

However, whilst both the Su-27s (operated by the AFMC according to the Combat Aircraft’s editor Jamie Hunter), the F-117s and the two mysterious aircraft of 2014, were spotted flying in daylight, there is someone who believes a highly-classified prototype would hardly fly before sunset.

The reality of Lt. Col. Schultz’s tragic loss is that, while we know he was an accomplished aviator, test pilot and academic we likely will not know the actual circumstances of his accident or the aircraft he was operating until the Air Force chooses to make the information officially available. Until then, a survey of the known projects in the area where Lt. Col. Schultz’s accident unfortunately occurred is all we have.

The more relevant story however, is the noteworthy career of USAF Lt. Col. Eric “Doc” Schultz.

Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, call sign “Doc” because he owned a PhD in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology in 2000, was an academic and award-winning pilot. At one point he was also an aspiring astronaut, having made application to astronaut training.

In one accounting of Lt. Col Schultz’s early academic career it is reported that after earning his undergraduate degree from Penn State in 1995, the Department of Defense paid for Schultz to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. His master’s work included research on the ram accelerator, a powerful gun-like device that shoots payloads into exo-atmospheric orbital flight in space. If perfected, the accelerator could be used in place of reusable spacecraft missions, like the X-47B, to transport equipment into orbit or to space stations.

Schultz graduated with his master’s degree in aeronautics in 1997 from the University of Washington.

According to a report published on October 4, 2006 in the Baltimore Sun by writer Susan Gvozdas, Col. Schultz “Received a National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship to support his research on advanced propulsion systems and safety at nuclear waste storage facilities”.

Also according to news report archives, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was rejected from the Air Force on five occasions for not meeting eyesight standards for pilots. After his early attempts at entering Air Force ROTC were rejected due to his eyesight, Schultz worked in a civilian capacity with the Navy as a flight engineer while continuing his graduate education.

Schultz’s prior work as a graduate assistant won the attention of jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney based in Connecticut. According to a report, Erik Christofferson, a deputy general manager at Pratt’s Washington office, persuaded the company to hire Schultz. “He had the right combination of technical background and communication skills,” Christofferson said. “He was engaging and sharp.” According to the report Schultz worked on the development of detonation engines at Pratt & Whitney’s Seattle Aerosciences Center,.

He was finally awarded a commission after earning his PhD in aeronautics and undergoing corrective vision surgery.

Lt. Col. Schultz went on to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle for the 391st Fighter Squadron, the “Bold Tigers” out of Mountain Home AFB in Elmore County, southwestern Idaho. He may have been deployed to the Middle East with the unit in January of 2007 according to an excerpt in an article about Schultz that said he was, “preparing for overseas combat missions in an F-15 fighter jet and training other pilots”. We were not able to find any mention in the media about a combat record for Lt. Col. Schultz or even confirmation that he did deploy to the Middle East, only that he was scheduled to deploy.

There are acknowledgements of Lt. Col. Schultz’s academic and military achievements through awards he received and brief quotes in official Air Force releases. His former commanding officer, then Lt. Col. Brian Kirkwood, said in an article on Mountain Home AFB’s official website that, “He’s a great role model.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood went on to tell the official Air Force media outlet that Lt. Col. Schultz’s “educational background is unprecedented for an [then] Air Force captain.” Lt. Col. Kirkwood made the statements when acknowledging Lt. Col. Schultz for being awarded the Outstanding Young American award.

Based on the information available in the public domain so far, Lt. Col. Eric Schultz had amassed a noteworthy academic background and career that spanned several aspects of military and experimental aviation and aerospace. It may be the combination of these experiences in tactical aircraft operations and experimental powerplants along with space operations that is particularly noteworthy.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this story.

Top image: composite made using Northrop Grumman, Dean Muskett, Phil Drake and Sammamishman

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