Friday, March 23, 2012

2012 Silver Wings Speakers Luncheon Serie: Col. Ken O. Chilstrom, USAF (Ret.), March 23, 2012

We are delighted to announce Col. Kenneth O. Chilstrom, USAF (Ret.) will be our distinguished speaker at our Speakers Luncheon, Friday, March 23, 2012.

Col.Kenneth O. Chilstrom, USAF (ret.)
Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Ken is a retired United States Air Force officer, combat veteran, test pilotand author. He was the first USAF pilot to fly the XP-86 Sabre chief of fighter test at Wright Field commandant of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and program manager for the XF-108 Rapier. Chilstrom was a pilot in the first jet air race and delivered the first air mail by jet. He flew over eighty combat missions in the Italian Campaign of World War II and tested over twenty foreign models of German and Japanese fighters and bombers to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Among the test pilots under his command were Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager.

Flight test
Chilstrom strongly desired a position in flight test at Dayton, Ohio's Wright Field—the dream job of many fighter pilots. Although no flight test positions were open at the time, he was able to secure a position as maintenance officer for Major Chris Petrie, Chief of Fighter Test. Flight test at Wright Field expanded rapidly and provided Chilstrom with the opportunity to realize his dream. He tested a number of P-47 Thunderbolt variants including the XP-47E with a pressurized cockpit and the XP-47J—one of the fastest piston engine fighters ever built.

Captured Fw 190

During his seven years in flight test, Chilstrom flew 147 different aircraft including X, Y, and production models from the United States, Germany, and Japan. Many German and Japanese aircraft captured during World War II were sent to Wright Field, and Chilstrom had the opportunity to fly and evaluate over twenty different models including the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the Messerschmitt Me 262, the A6M Zero, and the Kawasaki Ki-45.

He flew the Fw 190 extensively and during his tenth flight on February 24, 1945, a malfunctioning trim switch nearly killed him. Chilstrom was landing at Wright Field when the elevator trim switch malfunctioned causing the nose to pitch up while the Fw 190 was dangerously close to the ground. After regaining control and climbing to a safe altitude, he identified the problem and determined the trim could also be driven to a full nose-down position. With full nose-down trim, Chilstrom had just enough control to successfully land the aircraft. Other Fw 190 pilots were not as fortunate as electrical problems in the
trim switch caused or were suspected to have caused a number of crashes.
     X P-86 in flight over the Mojave Desert in 1947

Chilstrom was graduated in the first group, class 45, of the recently formed Flight Performance School (now known as the United States Air Force Test Pilot School) with his friend and roommate Glen Edwards, who would later become the namesake of Edwards Air Force Base.
Chilstrom was highly regarded by his superiors and in September 1946 succeeded Gabby Gabreski as chief of the Fighter Test section. He was in charge of a very select group of pilots including Richard BongJohn GodfreyBob HooverDon GentileSteve Pisanos, and Chuck Yeager. In 1947, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Ascani, deputy of the Flight Test Division, recommended Chilstrom fly the Bell X-1 on the historic mission to break the sound barrier,but division commander Colonel Al Boyd wanted Chilstrom as project officer for the XP-86 Sabre.

Chilstrom was the first Air Force officer to test the XP-86, and by December 1947 had completed the XP-86 Phase II performance, stability and control tests pushing the aircraft to 45,000 feet (14,000 m) and Mach number 0.9.
Between 1949 and 1950, Chilstrom was assigned as the commandant of the USAF Test Pilot School and commanded the last classes held at Wright Field. Following classes, 51A and later, were held at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In the summer of 1949 he took his wife to Hollywood and at Warner Bros. Studios he was the technical advisor on the movie Chain Lightning starring Humphrey BogartRaymond Massey, and Eleanor Parker. In 1950, Chilstrom was selected for a test pilot exchange tour with the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force. While at Farnborough Airfield and Boscombe Down, he flew twenty five different British aircraft in two months.

Aviation firsts

In addition to being the first USAF pilot to test the XP-86, Chilstrom was involved in a number of aviation "firsts" including:

First jet air mail
To demonstrate the capabilities of the Army Air Corps, Chilstrom and fellow pilot Captain Robert Baird carried out the first transport of air mail by jet aircraft on June 22, 1946.
Carrying a collection of mail that included a letter for Orville Wright, Chilstrom flew a P-80 Shooting Star fromSchenectady County Airport in Schenectady, New York, to Dayton, Ohio. After stopping at Wright Field, he flew on to Chicago, Illinois to complete the air mail delivery. 

First jet air race
Ken participated in the first "closed course" jet air race at the 1946 Cleveland National Air Races in Ohio. In this race, three P-80 Shooting Stars from Wright Field competed against three P-80s from the 1st Fighter Group at March Field, California. Chilstrom was forced out of the race due to mechanical problems when his aircraft's aileron boost failed.

The Thompson trophy (Jet Division) was won by Major Gustav E. Lundquist of Wright Field.  Major Robin Olds of March Field took second place.

First USAF/USN pilot exchange program
In 1948, Chilstrom requested assignment in the first USAF exchange tour with the United States Navy. He trained atNaval Air Station Pensacola and checked out in the SNJ with six carrier landings on the USS Wright. Chilstrom was then assigned to Carrier Air Group Seven based at Naval Air Station Quonset PointRhode Island. After eighty Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) touchdowns on shore, he completed fifty carrier landings in the F8F Bearcat aboard the USS Leyte.

During his combat tour in World War II, Chilstrom earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with eightoak leaf clusters. In 2008, he was recognized in Air Force Magazine as a famous flyer of the F-86 Sabre.”