Robert Apgar Champine


By Gloria Rhoads Champine

Bob Champine was born Robert Harmon Claus on March 6, 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Robert Claus, a furrier, and Helen Minerva Apgar Claus, a beautiful young lady and professional ice skater. During her ice skating career, Helen was selected as Miss 1926 in the St. Paul, Minneapolis Winter Festival. Mr. Claus was a furrier that trapped his own furs and sometimes made his own fur coats.   In fact he made a fur coat for Helen, but that is another story.  When Helen’s father, William Apgar, died, Helen Claus inherited enough from her father to purchase a small home for her family. It was up to Mr. Claus to make the monthly mortgage payments. He missed making these payments and Helen lost her home. She was left with two small children and no home. Being a very resourceful and strong woman, she went back to school to learn  to make a living. During this time, Bob and his sister Bernice were placed in an orphanage until Helen acquired the skills to be a bookkeeper/secretary.  She got a job with  The Ball Company, a small company that made ball bearings which provided her with enough income to support her family.  She removed Bob and Bernice from the orphanage and made a home for them in Minneapolis.

Since his parents divorced somewhere around 1926 when Bob and his sister Bernice were very young, Bob went through grade school and high school as Robert Apgar. Helen Apgar Claus remarried in 1936 to Clifford Champine, a local attorney. Shortly after Bob’s natural father died in a hunting accident in 1941, he decided to change his name to Robert Apgar Champine because of his high regard for his step father. He went on to make this name famous and Mr. Champine extremely proud of his stepson.

As a young man (and already an expert model airplane builder and competitor) he expressed a desire to fly. His mother said if he wanted to fly, he needed to know everything about airplanes; therefore, he had to go to college. Since he hadn’t been the greatest of students, it took quite a few meetings between his mother, his high school principal, and the administration of the University of Minnesota to convince them that he really could buckle down, study, and become an aeronautical engineer. Finally convinced he was sincere, he was admitted to the University and this serious, truly focused young man devoted his energies to becoming a good student.

Bob graduated from the University of Minnesota, in 1943 with a B.S. degree in Aeronautical Engineering, where he earned his spending money as a student working with Professor J. D. Akerman, Head of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering, on the development of airplane oxygen systems and an early pressure suit. While in college, World War II started and he began primary flight training under the Naval Civilian Pilot Training Program and upon graduation was commissioned an Ensign in the U. S. Navy. Since he wanted to be a naval aviator, he had to give up his commission and enroll in the Naval Cadet Program at Pensacola, Florida. At the end of his training, he was commissioned a naval aviator and his mother had the honor of pinning the wings on Ensign Robert Apgar Champine. During his years in the Navy, he had the opportunity to fly numerous World War II fighter aircraft such as the F6F Grumman Hellcat, the F4U Vought Corsair, and the F8F-2 Grumman Bearcat.

Near the completion of his Navy tour, he flew his Navy Corsair over the James River from the Naval Air Station, NAS, in Norfolk, VA to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), landed at Langley Field, in Hampton, VA, taxied up to the NACA hangar, swung the tail around smartly, folded up the Corsair’s wings, climbed out and asked the startled crowd that came out to watch him, “Take me to the boss please.”

After much negotiation with the NACA, who wanted him to come aboard as a scientist because of his Aeronautical Engineering degree, Bob said “no” emphatically, “if you can’t hire me as a test pilot, I’m going to use my GI Bill and go up to Sikorsky and learn to fly helicopters.” Head of the test pilots, Melvin Gough, and Herbert H. Hoover, Chief Test Pilot, said “aw —-, come on, we’ll hire you as a test pilot and teach you to fly helicopters here at Langley.” He entered on duty at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in December of 1947.

His flying career, with both the Navy, NACA and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), covered 36 years, 1943-1979,(private pilot for 56 years 1939-1995) during a time of the most dramatic advances in aircraft research. The career he loved was full of highly technical research exploration, both with airplanes, rockets, and simulators for flight on this Earth and for the exploration of space. His early research activities, covered some of the most exciting years of aircraft/rocket development.

This included testing the most exotic supersonic aircraft, the Bell XS-1 (NACA tail #6063), the Douglas D-558 I and D-558 II above the California desert at the NACA Muroc High Speed Unit. To get the complete story of these air/rocket craft, read Dr. Richard Hallion’s historical document “SUPERSONIC FLIGHT, THE STORY OF THE BELL XS-1 AND DOUGLAS D-558-I AND D-558-II” Other documents by Dr. Hallion covering these flights include: “TEST PILOTS” and “ON THE FRONTIER – FLIGHT RESEARCH AT DRYDEN 1946 – 1981”

After receiving his discharge from the Navy, Bob remained with the Naval Reserve and served for 22 years. He found a room in a home in Hampton, VA and started working at NACA in December of 1947. Langley had many airplanes and helicopters and Bob was just thrilled and itching to get his hands on the controls. Shortly after being hired, Herb Hoover, his boss, best friend, and mentor, gave him a manual and told him to take it home; they were flying the B-29 in the morning. This was the way a lot of his training went: read the manual, and then we go out flying. He thought he had just the best job in the world and didn’t realize that his salary was only peanuts, about $50 a week.

In the Pilot’s Office at Langley, everyone knew about the super-secret hush-hush project that was going on in the California desert at the same time. Captain Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier in the Air Corps XS-1 #6062 on October 14, 1947 and NACA’s Herb Hoover, the second man, broke the sound barrier on March 10, 1948 in the NACA XS-1 #6063. Howard Lilly from the NACA Cleveland Laboratory and Hoover continued with the NACA research program, and on March 31, 1948, Lilly exceeded Mach 1 on his third XS-1 flight. In May 1948, he was killed on his nineteenth flight of the Douglas D-558-I #2 which crashed after takeoff due to compressor disintegration.

Hoover needed another pilot at Muroc and quietly approached Bob about going out there to replace Lilly. At the time he didn’t know other pilots had been requested and turned the assignment down for various reasons, he was just thrilled to be asked and quickly said “yes” but, with two conditions: (1) Let him fly all the planes Langley had, and (2) that he would return to his job at Langley when he thought his assignment in California was completed.

He had a ball flying everything Langley had in their hangar and being under the wing of Herbert Hoover, who, behind closed doors, gave him critical instruction on the flying qualities of the XS-1 #2 and on NACA’s aerodynamic research program. When Herb decided Bob was ready, Bob left Langley in October 1948 driving his old Ford out to California. Hoover remained at Muroc to train him and on November 1, 1948, he turned the XS-1 (X-1) over to Bob. He made his first flight on November 23, l948 for pilot familiarization, checking handling qualities and pressure distribution. The X-1 was a rocket-powered research aircraft (originally designated XS-1 for Experimental Supersonic) bullet-shaped and was built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, for the US Army Air Forces and the NACA, whose mission was to investigate the transonic speed range (speeds from just below to just above the speed of sound) and, if possible, to break the sound barrier.

On December 2, 1948, Bob became the 6th man and 3rd civilian to break this mysterious sound barrier in the X-1. He exceeded Mach 1 on NACA flight 23 checking handling qualities and pressure distribution on the X-1, after having been dropped from the B-29 mother ship, (piloted most likely by Gust Askounis) high above the Rogers Dry Lake in California. On August 4, 1949, NACA flight 32, he again exceeded Mach 1 performing rolls, pullups, sideslips, and check of stabilizer effectiveness. This was his 13th and last flight in the X-1.

There were a number of interesting experiences or more explicitly, challenges, during his flights in the X-1. One was during his July 11, 1949 flight performing rolls, pull-ups, check of stabilizer effectiveness,reaching Mach .91, the number 2 cylinder had failed to fire and in addition, the cockpit camera, which took pictures of the instrument panel, came loose and was banging around in the cockpit. The canopy had double plexiglass to keep it from frosting over and the camera broke the inside windshield. He grabbed the camera and tore it loose from the wires, then tucked it under his leg. With the inner windshield broken as he approached the dry lake for landing it frosted over and he lost his visibility. He always had chase planes flying nearby looking out for him, so he took his thumb, pressed it against the glass and melted a small thumbprint size spot. Putting his eye against the small spot and with the guidance of the chase planes, he was able to land beautifully. He didn’t want to break the nose wheel. He always was proud of the fact he, and later Scott Crossfield, were the only pilots to not break the nose wheel of the X-1.

Bob flew the first NACA research flights of the D-558-I #3(Skystreak) beginning on April 22, 1949, and the first NACA research flights of the D-558-II #2 (Skyrocket) beginning on May 24, 1949, initiating the supersonic research program for these aircraft on June l, 1949.

Following the loss of Howard Lilly and the D-558-I #2, ship #3 had been returned to Douglas for instrumentation upgrades so Bob could continue #2’s testing program. The aircraft was painted white at that time to conform to a NACA directive (which covered the X-1 and D-558-II also) because the Skystreak’s original red color provided a poor contrast for optical tracking. At that time the NACA logo on the tail was a small red, white, and blue shield and the aircraft received the NACA 142 call sign. The yellow NACA wings emblem was painted on at a later date.

Bob began research flying of the Skystreak with high-speed dives verifying the loss in lateral stability experienced on earlier flights by Douglas contractor pilot Gene May. According to Scott Libis in his “NAVAL FIGHTERS NUMBER FIFTY SIX. DOUGLAS D-558-I, SKYSTREAK,” the recording instruments onboard thoroughly documented this condition. wing pressure distribution studies were flown with extensive data being collected by the pressure orifices in the right wing.

The Skystreak’s canopy was extremely small and Bob found it extremely difficult to move his head from side to side and found his helmet’s paint was rubbing off and marking the Plexiglas. Bob solved this problem by covering his helmet with chamois cloth.

The D-558 design included a jettisonable nose cone for pilot ejection. As Bob described the system in his talk to the AIAA student group at the University of Tennessee, Cookeville, TN . . . . . . . there was no way to get out, it was really impossible, he was told to “just land the —- thing.”

The NACA D-558-II Skyrocket was delivered to NACA as a brand new airplane that had never been flown, Bob had the privilege of making the first flight. It had a Westinghouse J-34 engine that didn’t have much thrust and was not supersonic. Years later after Bob had returned to Langley, a rocket engine was installed, they dropped it from a Navy B-29. Eventually Scott Crossfield (who was hired by NACA to take Bob’s place when he returned to Langley) took it to Mach 2 in November 1953 and now it is on prominent display hanging in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. above the escalator. But on Bob’s first flight in the Skyrocket, which featured thirty-five degree swept-back wings and a forty-nine degree swept-back tail in addition to being seven feet longer than the D-558-I Skystreak, he believed it might be his last.

(Quote from EXPANDING THE ENVELOPE; FLIGHT RESEARCH AT NACA AND NASA by Michael Gorn) it states “Robert Champine…thought his first landing might be his last. He experienced “a terrible Dutch roll” in which the aircraft swung fifteen to twenty degrees in two-second intervals. Using the ailerons at the end of each oscillation seemed to worsen the problem, so he “punched it back a couple of times with the ailerons” while the plane rocked back and forth. This cured the malady. “I briefed every guy who flew after me and said, ‘you’re not going to crash. You’ll control it…in the end…right before landing. But you’ll have serious doubts until that point.’ We got used to it, but it was never very comfortable.”

“The Skyrocket also offered ample opportunity to evaluate the handling qualities of swept-wing vehicles flying at high speed. The big surprise occurred at high altitudes and at high angles of attack. As shock waves traveled over the wings, the tips stalled before the roots. When this phenomenon happened aft of the center of gravity, the aircraft pitched up. Before the High Speed Flight Research Center at Muroc undertook a series of experiments with wing “fences,” slats, and chord extensions, pilots like Robert Champine faced sudden, catastrophic encounters over Rogers Lake Bed.” end of quote.

(Quote from SUPERSONIC FLIGHT by Dr. Richard Hallion) “By early August 1949, NACA had completed a total of six flights in the D-558-II and Champine had reached Mach 0.87 in a dive, the fastest flight yet. During the plane’s seventh flight on August 8, l949, Champine banked into a 4g turn at Mach 0.6. Suddenly, and without warning, the nose of the plane pitched upwards violently, attaining a positive acceleration of 6g. Shaken, Champine applied full down elevator and the Skyrocket responded rapidly. Not taking any chances however, the NACA pilot landed immediately. Though model tests had indicated that swept-wing airplanes might experience longitudinal instability resulting in a “pitch up” phenomenon, this seventh NACA flight provided aerodynamicists with the first indications of the severity and seriousness of the problem, particularly those that had their horizontal tail located high on the vertical fin.” Bob said he thought he was going to be fired over this unexpected violent pitchup when his Muroc boss told him he should have been a good enough test pilot to not get into this situation.

(From Supersonic Flight) “Champine’s flight gave NACA aerodynamicists the first opportunity to study data taken during an actual pitch up excursion, as well as a new appreciation of the seriousness of the problem. For example, during takeoff and landing, pitch-up might stall a sweptwing airplane and plunge it into the ground before a pilot had a chance to recover. At high speeds, the danger of pitch up might restrict the maneuvering performance of swept-wing jet fighters.”

Bob flew the X-1 on 13 flights during the two years he was at Muroc. In addition, there were 8 flights with the D-558-I and 12 flights with the D-558-II. There was a great deal of time between flights, which could last only a few minutes each, and to keep proficient in flying many aircraft, he continued with his Naval Reserve activities at the Alameda Naval Air Station. Since the supersonic flight research program he was involved with at Muroc was highly classified, no one knew him by any name other than Ensign Champine. In order to keep up this farce, he would take the NACA C-47 (called the gooney bird, normally flown with a 2-or 3-man crew) and fly it over to the Naval Base, park it a great distance away from the hangar, then walk down the flight line and show up as Ensign Champine reporting for duty. No one was aware of his real activities as he lived it up flying every plane the Naval Reserve had available.

Life out in the desert of California wasn’t the glamorous place you might have read about in books or seen in the movies, and because of the secrecy of the flight research, there weren’t many activities the pilots and other members assigned to the Muroc staff could engage in. Bob’s test pilot boss, Herb Hoover, asked if there was anything he would like brought from home at Langley in Hampton, Virginia during one of the back and forth flights of the Langley C-47. Frequently traveling from Langley to Muroc and return to Langley, if there was space available, personal belongings of the staff could be added to the cargo. Bob said, “Oh, yes, I would love to have some of my model airplanes out here if there was room to carry some of them.” Hoover said, “O.K., I’ll see what I can do.” He returned to Langley and mentioned to John Worth, an expert modeler himself, that Bob sure missed having model airplanes to build and fly during off times when his experimental aircraft were under modification for the next research flights. John said, “Hmmm.”

The next time the Langley C-47 had space on its return to Muroc, Bob was called over to the flight line after it had landed. John Worth had carefully hung about 50 models from every conceivable notch within the fuselage of the C-47, and with his careful packaging, they all arrived in perfect condition. Bob couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked inside the aircraft. Little planes and big planes were hanging everywhere. Talk about a “Kodak Moment,” his expression was sure one that was missed.

Outside of model airplane building and flying, there was little for Bob to do in his off-duty hours, so one evening he decided to visit a local hangout and while there he tried to catch the eye of one of the young beauties, when she looked over at him and said, “go home country boy” – little did she know that this good-looking serious young man was no “country boy.”

In 1950, after two years in the supersonic flight research program, flying the hottest planes in the world, Bob returned to resume his career at Langley. His reason, boredom, Langley had about 40 to 50 planes in active flight research while at Muroc the research flights were sparse with a great deal of time between flights due to modifications to the research aircraft and necessary data reduction and analysis. Flights in the Naval Reserve aircraft kept him current and when Langley beckoned, he returned. At that time, the Flight Research Division at Langley was heavily involved in the study of flying qualities of airplanes. Arrangements had been made with the Air Force and Navy to send the third airplane off the production line (later the fifth) of each new design to Langley for studies to improve its performance, stability, and handling qualities. Champine flew many of these airplanes to perform specified maneuvers and to discuss his options with the flight engineers for correlation with the characteristics measured in flight by recording instruments. A typical example of such tests are those made on the Vought F8U-1 Crusader (reference l). This new supersonic flighter had experienced crashes due to flaws in the design of a variable incidence wing and due to instability under high g conditions caused by interaction between fuselage bending and control linkages. The NACA tests discovered the causes of both problems and led to solutions allowing the airplane to be flown safely.

Don Mallick, another NACA/NASA test pilot recently recalled a situation concerning the F8U Crusader. Langley had an instrumented F8U flying test around 1957-1958 and Bob was the project pilot. The Navy also had the F8Us flying in fleet service and they had a big problem. They had pulled the wing off at least one airplane and had lost the Navy pilot. At the time, the Navy did not have an instrumented F8U at Pax River and they asked NACA to fly some high g turn test maneuvers. NACA had installed a camera on one side of the airplane, pointed at the joint of the wing and fuselage. Bob had flown some test flights with 4g turns and the camera showed about a 1/2-inch separation between the wing and fuselage. There was a lot of pressure on NACA to provide quick information to the Navy and Don’s boss decided it would be good experience for him to sit in and listen to the review of the flight data gathered and the plans for future test flights since he was the “new kid on the block” in the pilot’s office.

A discussion went on about installing another camera on the opposite side of the fuselage and wing. The project engineer was pressing to fly again without the second camera to gather more data quickly. There seemed to be different opinions concerning the importance of the second camera. At that time, the “new kid on the block” announced in a definite and strong voice, “I would not fly that aircraft without the second camera!” All eyes in the room turned to him with a “Who is this guy?” look. However, once he made the input, there was a short discussion and the decision was made to install the second camera, which took about a day and a half, before the next flight.

After Bob made the next test flight and the camera data was reviewed, the 4g turns still resulted in the 1/2-inch deflection on one side, BUT, there was almost 2-inches of deflection on the other side (side of the second camera), which indicated a high twisting load that no one, including the manufacturer nor the Navy, had anticipated. A limit of 4gs was placed on the aircraft and a modification was made to all of the F8Us. That modification was to install an additional wing down lock on the side that moved 2 inches. Originally there was only one lock down and that was on the side of the wing actuator. (What a story, thanks Don.)

Later, Champine became heavily involved with man’s venture into the unknown hazards of space flight, the development of helicopter handling qualities and capabilities, and extensive research into V/TOL aircraft (including the XC-142A, another fascinating story).

During the mid-to-late ’50’s NACA seriously began the quest for flight into space and Bob traveled to the Naval Air Development Center’s Johnsville, Penn. centrifuge in order to determine pilot tolerance to unknown “g” forces and for performance studies of orbital re-entry acceleration. He “flew” many flights in the centrifuge’s gondola strapped into his own form-fitting couch. Each of the NASA astronauts later had their own form-fitting couches. Earlier, Langley scientist Max Faget decided there should be some type of force-absorbing seat so the astronauts would not be injured by the g forces they would be exposed to with the thrust of the rockets taking them into orbit and back through earth reentry. Max got a large roll of brown wrapping paper and rolled it out on the floor and had Bob lie down on it. He then got down on his hands and knees and using a pencil, drew the outline of Bob’s body onto the brown paper. Later Bob was asked to strip to his skivvies and to put on his helmet. He then was asked to lie in what looked like a sand box in a comfortable seated position. This “sand” included particles of a type of silicon which was heated to form a mold of his body. Bob stepped out of the sand box blistered from stem to stern, but, the body mold for the initial form-fitting couch to be used to fly into space had been made.

Bob, using his newly-made couch, flew in the centrifuge gondola, faster and faster, by degrees, up to 18g’s. Each day he had to call back to NACA Langley to get permission (from Mother Gough) to go a little faster. During one of the research tests in the centrifuge gondola, it all of a sudden went “ape”–totally out of control. The gondola was turning in all directions with Bob in it. It took some doing to get it back under control and to stop the gondola from turning on all axes. Quickly, everyone started looking into what might have caused this problem.

After a lot of head scratching and testing of the various systems, it was determined that a janitor had plugged the cord of his vacuum to clean the carpets into a wall socket in an area nearby, which, in turn, had caused interference with the controls of the centrifuge. There was a swift change in procedures and no vacuuming was allowed during the centrifuge tests.

After Bob had reached the level of 18g’s in the centrifuge, he was called away to participate in a conference for the early development stages of the X-15 experimental aircraft research program.

During Bob’s absence, Naval Lt. Carter Collins rode the centrifuge gondola using Bob’s couch. Since he was a slightly smaller man than Bob’s 6-foot frame, the couch was filled with foam rubber to make it more form fitting to Carter’s own body shape. He was able to reach 20g’s using Bob’s couch. Bob lost out on his claim to fame. (Bibliography No. 10.)

On October 1, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower directed that the NACA be changed to the NASA to more clearly define it’s space-oriented thrust and the space program emerged.

NASA’s Langley Space Task Group believed that the most important prerequisite for astronaut status was to be a test pilot. Bob, and Langley enginer, Charles Donlan, played important roles in the astronaut screening and selection process. The seven criteria developed for final selection were as follows:

l. Less than 40 years old.

2. Less than 5 foot 11 inches tall.

3. Excellent physical condition.

4. Bachelor’s degree in engineering, or equivalent.

5. Test pilot school graduate.

6. Minimum of 1,500 hours flying time, and

7. Qualified jet pilot.

The process of choosing the first astronauts was rigorous and elaborate. Bob, at 37, in excellent physical condition, aeronautical engineering degree, 5,680 hours flying time, certainly qualified as a jet pilot, plus his X-1 and D-558 test flight experience, was too tall. He would not fit, at 6 foot, into the small Mercury capsule. Bob is classified as a NASA Test Pilot-Astronaut and through his continuing research activities contributed to paving the way for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts into space flight and for the others that were to follow.

The original seven astronauts selected for the space program Bob trained with at Langley were Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Donald “Deke” Slayton, Gordon Cooper, Alan Shepherd, Walter Shirra, and John Glenn.

Early in the 60’s, Bob performed many flights with the Rendezvous Docking Simulator suspended high above the hangar floor at Langley to perfect the docking and rendezvous maneuvers of spacecraft that we see being performed flawlessly by today’s astronauts. Training in the Rendezvous Docking Simulator improved significantly the chances of mission success by giving astronauts the opportunity to pilot dynamically controlled scale-model vehicles in a safe and controlled three-dimensional environment, very similar to the conditions of space.

One of the concepts studied in the early 1960s to return spacecraft to earth was the Rogallo Wing or better known as the Parasev (Paraglider Rescue Vehicle) which was a delta wing design patented by Frances Rogallo, a NASA engineer, (and his wife Gertrude). They used to fly various designs of kites near their home in Hampton, VA until they came up with their final design.

The Parasev was used to gain in-flight experience and was an open framework fabricated of welded steel tubing into a space frame resembling a tricycle on three wheels with a rudimentary tripod mast and perched on top of the mast was a Rogallo-type parawing. Bob flew the unpowered Parasev 1-A and sat on the open frame strapped in the seat with no enclosure. He controlled the descent rate by tilting the wing from side to side with a control stick that came from overhead.

Before testing the Parasev he was sent to California to learn to fly conventional gliders. Most of his training was in the mountains of Tehachapi at the Holiday Soaring School flying Schweizer gliders. His first flight in the NASA Parasev was November 7, 1962 at Edwards AFB, CA and he was first towed by auto for taxi run, nose wheel lift off and some free flight. Later he was towed by aircraft. His first airborne flight was on November 15 and he was towed to 2,000 feet by Fred Harris flying a Stearman before being cut loose. On later flights he was towed to 4,500 feet and turned loose to free fly unpowered back to the runway. Bob had a total of 15 flights in the Parasev 1-A and he, along with other Parasev pilots, decided it was too physically demanding to expect the astronauts to be able to return to earth in this manner after having been in a weightless state for a period of time. For many years after, each time he would meet Francis Rogallo, Frank would say “Remember Bob, I flew it first.”

Bob retired from NASA Langley in January 1979 having spent many years during the mid-60’s working with the space program to develop the concepts of space flight, flight simulation, and the vehicles to achieve a successful lunar landing, which included making the first flights at Langley’s Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF) simulating landing on the moon’s surface. He dangled 250 feet above the ground and flew the experimental Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) simulator to help prepare the astronauts for the final 150 feet of their lunar landing mission by simulating the lunar gravity environment with a full-scale LEM vehicle using an overhead partial-suspension system that provided a lifting force by means of cables acting through the LEM’s center of gravity, flying it down to the surface which was modeled with fill dirt to resemble the landscape of the moon. Before beginning his flights, he said he was not comfortable with the set up until he could go to the top of the gantry and walk around to get a feel for the research facility before starting the flights (he always has to kick the tires first). Once he had investigated every nook and cranny of the LLRF, he began his flight experiments. As with all space missions, the successful completion of Apollo 11, and those missions following the landing of the first two men on the moon depended heavily on the development of and continual flight testing of exotic equipment like Langley’s Rendezvous Docking Simulator and the Lunar Landing Research Facility which later were used for training the astronauts for their succcessful missions.

Even after retirement, he was asked, as a favor, to return to Langley to “fly” the shuttle simulator to furnish Langley scientists data in preparing for the launch of the Space Shuttle. He flew it smoothly and flawlessly. A local television reporter was there and filmed this simulation flight. Bob was so at ease he was smoking his pipe during all of the filming without giving it a thought. We looked forward to his 15-minutes of fame on the 6 P.M. TV news and were anxiously watching at home when they showed his segment. There was this excellent pilot effortlessly flying the space shuttle controls, then the camera went to his face and centered on his pipe. Bob was making small smoke rings and the camera panned upward following the smoke rings. It was quite effective, but we knew the Langley Director, if he was watching, had a white knuckle grip on his easy chair.

Bob said that at no time during his 56-year flying career and his 32 years of flight testing had he ever been forced to bail out, nor did he have a mishap more serious than nosing over a Stinson. As Bob tells the story, “Just after getting out of the Navy, my boss, Mr. Hoover, wanted me to fly some light planes. I got an opportunity to fly a SR8E Stinson Gullwing in early 1948, a beautiful airplane. I had been used to flying Corsairs and landing on aircraft carriers where you go BAM, catch a wire that jerks you to a stop, and slam on the brakes. This day he wanted me to fly the Stinson and checked me out on it — he said ‘you are safe for solo.’ So a few days later, I took it out to fly. It was January and had snowed, but the weather had cleared and there were still patches of snow on the runway. I came in and made the most beautiful landing you ever saw. I put on the brakes and got on some snow and the plane started slipping sideways. I have to admit that I was a little concerned. The Stinson had heel brakes. You put your heels on the floor on little pedals and it puts on the brakes. On the Corsairs that I had been flying, you had toe brakes. You can imagine what happened. I put on the brakes as the airplane came through the snow and hit a dry patch of concrete. The Stinson went up on its nose and came to a stop that way.” With a bent propeller and extreme embarrassment, he climbed out and viewed the scene. “We had to get a new prop and repair the cowling, then run the engine out and go through all that had to be done to get it flying again.” Dismayed, he vowed never to do that again, and he didn’t. “I did have a little excitement though, like cockpit fires a few times and things like that, but I did what had to be done to put the fires out right away. I went through an entire career having fun, both with the NACA, NASA, and the Naval Reserve, flying all the planes, helicopters, VTOLs, and rockets I was able to and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

Add stories:

CH47 flight to Raleigh/Durham with large group of passengers on ride quality. Rotor vibration – Lewis exec plane came down – had oil leak – Langley had to send another plane with mechanic to fix helicopter and they loaded up, waved goodby at Cliff Crabb, pilot of Lewis exec aircraft, and flew home to Langley.

Flying Corsair to AMA NATS in New England – AF did not know what to do with a Navy plane.

Flying chase on Marion Carl’s record flight.

Secure the drop – don’t let me gooooo

Wing Vortex research

More centrifuge research

This is just a small snapshot in the career of this quiet and modest man who continued his last research flights on the VALT (V/TOL Approach and Landing Technique) Program with the CH-47C Chinook helicopter right up to the time he needed to check out on his day of retirement.

For his distinguished contributions to national aviation progress, Bob was elected to the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979.He served on the Board of Directors for the Virginia Aviation Historical Society from the beginning in 1978 through 2003.

Bob was selected to receive the National Aeronautic Association (NAA)’s Elder Statesman of Aviation Award for 2001. Citation: Pioneer NACA pilot of the Nation’s supersonic flight research program. Flight tested the Bell XS-1 taking it to Mach 1, then initiated the next program phase with the Douglas D-558-I and D-558-II aircraft.

Bob is also on the Wall of Honor at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC and some of his materials; i.e., flight suit, helmet, pilot’s logs, and research files will be preserved by the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

Reference l: NASA Flight Research on the Vought F8U-1. Compiled by William H. Phillips.





J3 PIPER CUB ……………………….77.0
(his first flight June 24, 1939)


N2S-3 BOEING STEARMAN…………………..102.0
SNB-2 BEECH NAVIGATOR…………………..324.7
F6F GRUMMAN HELLCAT…………………..283.5
F4U VOUGHT CORSAIR……………………369.1
PV-2 LOCKHEED HARPOON…………………. 19.4
F8F-2 GRUMMAN BEARCAT(42 dif. tail nos)…..255.9
F9F-6 GRUMMAN COUGAR)………………….. 22.0
F2H-2 BANSHEE………………………….102.6


T-29B CONVAIR………………………….5l7.4
G-159 GRUMMAN GULFSTREAM……………….1132.4
C-54 DOUGLAS SKYMASTER…………………..1.0
C-47 DOUGLAS SKYTRAIN)……………….1374.1
C-45 BEECHCRAFT………………………..56.8
LOCKHEED 12…………………………….320.6
JRF-5 GRUMMAN GOOSE Bu No 34088…………314.7
ROBERTSON SKY LARK………………………..1.1
BEECH KING AIR……………………………2.9
CESSNA 150……………………………….8.5
CESSNA 190……………………………..329.2
CESSNA 310 (U-3A)……………………….120.2
CESSNA 172………………………………21.2
SR8E STINSON……………………………2.5
108 STINSON STAWAGON…………………..70.2
MK21 MOONEY…………………………….1.0
TURBO PORTER……………………………..1.0
B-26 MARTIN MARAUDER…………………….4.0
F8F-1 GRUMMAN BEARCAT……………………49.7
XF-88B McDONNELL………………………….1.1
.. AF 44-84958
.. AF 44-84864
.. AF 44-84953
.. AF 44-84944
.. AF 44-84900
.. NACA 102
.. NACA 108
.. NACA 126
.. NACA 127 (Bill Allmon restored-Taco Bell P-51)
.. NACA 129
.. AF 44-64415
COMMONWEALTH……………………………. 2.6
CHEROKEE 180)……………………………68.6
A-36 BEECHCRAFT…………………………5.3
C-23 BEECH SUNDOWNER……………………13.2
PA-34 PIPER SENECA GAW-1 WING …………..105.2
HOWARD DGA 15P……………………………1.5
.. LANDING GEAR………………………..123.9
P-24 PIPER COMANCHE 250…………………53.3
P-24 PIPER COMANCHE 260………………..489.4
A-35 BONANZA……………………………8.9
7FG TRI CHAMP………………………….9.7
BEECH QUEEN AIR 65………………………..1.5
V-77 STINSON…………………………..29.7
OV-1B GRUMMAN(MOHAWK)AF64-14244……………0.9
HELIO COURIER N4153D OR F………………….6.1
7KCA8 CHAMPION(TOW)……………………..26.1
PT-19 FAIRCHILD (LAST FLIGHT 1995)*………..1.0


XS-1 BELL (13 FLIGHTS)…………………..4.0
F3D-2 DOUGLAS SKYNIGHT…………………..53.9
F7U-1 VOUGHT CUTLASS……………………..2.8
F9F-2 GRUMMAN PANTHER……………………33.3
F9F-7) GRUMMAN COUGAR…………………….71.5
F-101A MCDONNELL VOODOO…………………. 0.6
F11F-1 GRUMMAN TIGER……………………. 4.1
T-38 NORTHRUP TALON……………………152.3
P-1127 BRITISH HAWKER (V/STOL)………….. 1.7
B-57A MARTIN CANBERRA………………….. 50.2
T-37 CESSNA TWEET…………………….. 4.0
B-80 BENSON GYRO-COPTER……………….. 47.7
CV-880M CONVAIR………………………… 4.0
CV-990 CONVAIR………………………… 7.1
707/720 BOEING…………………………. 11.8
707/320 BOEING…………………………. 3.0


BR941………………………… 5.0 (?)(1963)
2-22 SCHWEITZER………………………… 1.2
2-22C SCHWEITZER)………………………. 1.2
I-26 SCHWEITZER………………………… 13.6
2-32 SCHWEITZER………………………… 2.0
TG-3 SCHWEITZER………………………… 1.0
ICA IS-28b2 LARK**……………………… 0.5
NASA PARASEV 1-A……………………….. 0.7


HTE-1 HILLER…………………………. 8.0
H-13G BELL SIOUX………………………171.5
H25-A VERTOL…………………………. 8.9
H-32 HILLER HORNET…………………… 9.1
H34)………………………………….. 19.1
CH-46C BOEING-VERTOL)…………………..209.0
H-37 SIKORSKY MOHAVE……………………. 8.2
HNS-1(HELICOPTER SOLO 12-2-52)…………… 19.5
XH51N…………………………………. 36.0
OH4A BELL AF62-4204……………………. 34.5
206A (OH-58)BELL JET RANGER……………… 75.0
CH-54 (FLYING CRANE)…………………… 15.0
SH-3 SIKORSKY SEA KING ………………. 13.6
CH-47C VERTOL CHINOOK…………………..114.4


J-1 AUTOGIRO…………………………… 1.1

VZ-2 VERTOL(DA)?…………………….. 8.8
VZ-4 DOAK 16………………………… 4.7
XC-142A LING-TEMPO-VOUGHT (NASA 522)65-5924.. 73.6
X-22 BELL DUCTED FAN…………………. 2.4

TOTALS @155+ ……………@11,300 HOURS
(Hours correct – checking pilot logs – missing 292.5 hours and some aircraft)
Until 1990, he carried ratings in airplane, airline transport, rotorcraft, single-engine land, multi-engine land, multi-engine sea, instrument, glider, and helicopter.

*Bob’s last flight in 1995, was in a Fairchild PT-19 owned by Ray Bottom. A friend (Frank Garnett) asked him to fly it one day at the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport. As Bob taxied out, he was asked by a traffic controller to hold his position for an airliner leaving the terminal. A voice broke in identifying himself as the Captain of the airliner and “requested permission to hold the flight so he, the crew, and the passengers could watch the PT-19 take off”.

Bob was sorry he left his white scarf at home as he taxied out ahead of the airliner and took off.

** In the summer of 1998, Wolfe and Frauke Elber, both glider pilots, asked Bob to go with them for a glider-flying afternoon. Wolf said Bob took control and flew the glider beautifully as soon as they were off tow. They had a wonderful afternoon and Bob, at age 77, was all smiles when he returned home.


My first flight as a student was taken June 24, 1939 at age nineteen. This time was given as a model airplane contest prize which I was lucky enough to win with my gas model at Minneapolis, Minn.

July 9, 1940. Got into the C.A.A. Program and have Mr. R. A. Le Mon for an instructor at the Hinck Flying Field.

July 19, 1940. Soloed under Mr. Le Mon, but now have Mr. Sam Brickford as an instructor, also in Hinck’s school.

Finished the Ground School August 10, 1940 and received my final mark from U of M, “B” on August 20, 1940.

August 21, 1940 – Sam Brickford got sick and Bob Clark is my instructor now.

September 7, 1940, just flew my first flight for Privates – did O.K. G. Holey said.

September 6, 1941 have worked for E. M. Hinck and earned 15 hours solo flight to keep license.

13 May 44 Navy Flight Prep School Cal. Poly (San Louis Obispo, Calif.)

(An interesting insight into the life of a young man winning a model airplane contest to get into the Student Pilot Program, going to college and from there into the Navy. At an early age he was determined to be a test pilot. He fulfilled that desire when he was hired by NACA in Hampton, VA, on December 1947. His career far exceeded the dreams of a young boy.)

Bob continued his Navy service by remaining in the Naval Reserve. He retired from the USNR in 1963 as a Commander after serving 22 years.

Began flying model aircraft competitively as a young boy.

Model activity consumed his spare time throughout his youth, through college, and he built an aircraft carrier model to launch his model planes from as an Ensign in the Navy at Pensacola. He continued his hobby during his career with NACA/NASA and into retirement where he now enjoys loading his Dodge Van with models and equipment, towing a 28-foot trailer, to compete in model competition throughout the United States and Canada. Even on a recent trip to the Hawaiian Islands, he had to visit all the model airplane flying sites

Even at age 79, he was in Johnson City, Tenn. at the University of Tenn. mini dome flying indoor models and having a wonderful time.

In 1996 Bob was elected to the Academy of Model Aviation (AMA)’s Hall of Fame for his over 50 years of contributions to model aviation, as a contestant, contest director, and hobbiest. He is an expert in Free Flight, Power, and Glider flying.

On December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers First Flight, I lost my loved one. Bob took his last flight through the clouds straight up to heaven to share his skill and knowledge with those that came before him. I thank the Good Lord every day that this great man chose me to share his life. Goodby sweetheart, I miss you.



1. Champine, Robert A.; and Sjoberg, Sigurd A.: Preliminary Flight Measurements of the Status Longitudinal Stability and Stalling Characteristics of the Douglas D-558-II Research Airplane (BuAero No. 37974). NACA RM L9H3la, October 18, 1949. CONFIDENTIAL

2. Stillwell, W. H.; Wilmerding, J. V.; and Champine, R. A.: Flight Measurements with the Douglas D-558-II (BuAero No. 37974) Research Airplane. Low Speed Stalling and Lift Characteristics. NACA RM L50G10, September 5, 1950. CONFIDENTIAL

3. Beckhardt, Arnold R.; Kuehnel, Helmut A.; and Champine, Robert A.: A Flight Investigation of the Effects of Varied Lateral Damping on the Effectiveness of a Fighter Airplane as a Gun Platform. NACA RM L53F08a, August 6, 1953.

4. Farber, Stanley,; Cheatham, Donald C.; and Champine, Robert A.: Flight Investigation of Factors Affecting Pilot’s Ability to Utilize a Radarscope Display of Steering Information. NACA RM L56E21, November 23, 1956. CONFIDENTIAL.

5. Bressenden, Roy F.; Chatham, Donald C.; and Champine, Robert A.: Tolerable Limits of Oscillatory Accelerations Due to Rolling Motions Experienced by One Pilot During Automatic-Interceptor Flight Tests. NACA RM L56K20,January 25, 1957.

6. Lina, Lindsay J.; Morris, Garland J.; and Champine, Robert A.: Flight Investigation of Factors Affecting the Choice of Minimum Approach Speed for Carrier-Type Landing of a Swept-Wing Jet Fighter Airplane. NACA RM L57F13, September 30, 1957. CONFIDENTIAL.

7. Kuehnel, Helmut A.; Beckhardt, Arnold R.; and Champine, Robert A.: A Flight Investigation of the Effects of Varied Lateral Damping on the Effectiveness of a Fighter Airplane as a Gun Platform. NACA TN-4199, January 1958 (Supersedes RM L53F08a).

8. Andrews, R. E.; Champine, R. A.; Whitten, J. B.; Woodling, C. H.: Simulation Study of a High-Performance Aircraft Including the Effect on Pilot Control of Large Accelerations During Exit and Reentry Flight. Journal Report, NACA Conference on High-Speed Aerodynamics, January l, 1958.

9. Woodling, Carroll H.; Whitten, James B.; Champine, Robert A.; and Andrews, Robert E.: Simulation Study of a High-Performance Aircraft Including the Effect on Pilot Control of Large Acccelerations During Exit and Reentry Flight (U) NACA RM L58E08e, July 17, 1958.

10. Collins, Carter A.; Crosbie, Richard J.; Gray, R. F.; Heberlog, John; and Champine, Robert A.: Pilot performance and Tolerance Studies of Orbital Re-entry Acceleration. Letter Report concerning N-68901, September 19, 1958, Naval Air Development Center, Johnsville, PA. TED ADC AE-1412.

11. Lina, Lindsay J.; Champine, Robert A.; and Morris, Garland J.: Flight Investigation of an Automatic Throttle Control in Landing Approaches. A Compilation of Papers Presented LRC, Langley Field, VA, Nov. 5-6, 1958, p. 11-18.

12. Kraft, Christopher C.; McLaughlin, Milton D.; White, Jack A.; and Champine, Robert A.: Flight Measurements of Some of the Flying Qualities and Stability Derivatives of a Supersonic Fighter Airplane (U) NASA Memo 10-7-58L., December 1958. CONFIDENTIAL.

13. Lina, Lindsay J.; Champine, Robert A.; and Morris, Garland J.: Flight Investigations of an Automatic Throttle Control in Landing Approaches. NASA Memo 2-19-59L., March 1959.

14. Brissenden, Roy F.; Cheatham, Donald C.; and Champine, Robert A.: Tolerable Limits of Oscillatory Accelerations Due to Rolling Motions Experienced by One Pilot During Automatic Throttle-Interceptor Flight Tests. NASA CC-L-1537, NASA RM L56K20, NASA TN D-810, April 1961.

15. Kelley, Henry L.; and Champine, Robert A.: Flight Operating Problems and Aerodynamic and Performance Characteristics of a Fixed-Wing, Tilt-Duct, VTOL Research Aircraft. NASA TN D-1802, July 1963.

16. Boisseau, Peter C.; Schade, Robert O.; Champine, Robert A.; and Elksnin, Henry C.: Preliminary Investigation of the Handling Qualities of a Vehicle in a Simulated Lunar Gravitational Field. NASA CC L-4024, NASA TN D-2636, December 1964.

17. Hall, Albert W.; Champine, Robert A.; and McGinley, Donald J. Jr: Preliminary Study of Steep Instrument Approach of Three Conventional Aircraft. NASA Conference on Aircraft Operating Problems. A Compilation of Papers Presented at NASA Langley Research Center, May 10-12, 1965, p. 29-36.

18. Kelley, Henry L.; Champine, Robert A.; and Pegg, Robert J.: An Investigation of the Helicopter Height-Velocity Diagram Showing Effects of Density, Attitude, and Gross Weight. NASA TN D-4536, May 1968.

19. Kelley, Henry L.; Pegg, Robert J.; and Champine, Robert A.: Flying Quality Factors Currently Limiting Helicopter Nap-of-the-Earth Maneuverability as Identified by Flight Investigation. NASA CC L-6300, October 1968.

20. Champine, R. A.; Kelley, H. L.; Pegg, R. J.: Flying Quality Factors Currently Limiting Helicopter Nap-of-the-Earth Maneuverability as Identified by Fliht Investigation. NASA TN-D-4931, December 1968.

21. Kelley, Henry L.; Reeder, John P.; and Champine, Robert A.: Summary of a Flight-Test Evaluation of the CL-84 Tilt-Wing V/STOL Aircraft. NASA CC L-6570, TM X-1914, October 1969.

22. Champine, Robert A.; Kelley, H. L.; Thibodeaux, J. J.; and Tosti, Louis: A Flight Test Investigation of Terminal-Area Operations and Ground-Recirculation Effects Uilizing the XC-142 Tilt-Wing V/STOL Aircraft, LWP-927, January 1971.

23. Kelley, Henry L.; and Champine, Robert A.: Flight Investigation of a Tilt-Wing VTOL Aircraft in the Terminal Area Under Simulated Instrument Conditions. AIAA Ninth Aerospace Sciences Meeting, New York, AIAA Paper 71-7, January 25-27, 1971.

24. Grantham, William D.; Nguyen, Luat; Patton, James M. Jr.; Deal, Perry L.; Champine, Robert A.; NASA LRC, and Carter, C. Robert, Langley Directorate, Army Air Mobility R&D Lab. Fixed-Base Simulation Study of an Externally Blown Flap STOL Transport Airplane During Approach and Landing. NASA TN D-6898, October 1972.

25. Miller, C. Kimball, Jr.; Deal, Perry L.; and Champine, Robert A.: Fixed-Base Simulation Study of Decoupled Controls During Approach and Landing of a STOL Transport Airplane. NASA TN D-7363, February 1974.

26. Hastings, E. C.; and Champine, Robert A.: Results of Full-Scale Vortex Attenuation Flight Experiments, presented at the 5th Annual Symposium of Society of Flight Test Engineers, Anaheim, California, August 8-10, 1974.

27. Hastings, E. C.; Shanks, E. C.; Champine, R. A.; Copeland, W. L.; and Young, D. C.: Preliminary Results of Flight Tests of Vortex Attenuating Splines. NASA TM X-71928, March l, 1974.

28. Champine, Robert A.; and Tapscott, Robert J. Consultants to NASA 424/UH1B Helicopter Accident Investigation Report, May 1974.

29. Miller, G. K.; Deal, Perry L.; and Champine, Robert A.: Fixed-Base Simulation Study of Decoupled Controls During Approach and Landing of a STOL Transport Airplane. NASA Tech Brief, February 1974 ($50 award)

30. Hall, A. W.; Fisher, G. D.; Champine, R. A.; Stickle, J. W.; and Sawyer, R. H.: Technical Briefing to FAA, N.Y. Port Authority, and Kennedy Airport personnel. Twin Otter Crosswind Landing Techniques as Related to STOL Airports. November 13, 1974.

31. Heyson, Harry; Tapscott, Robert; and Champine, Robert: Technical Briefing to Wallops Island Personnel – Training Program on Pecularities of Helicopters and Safe Operation of Aircraft. September 20, 1974.

32. Champine, Robert A.; and Meissner, Charles W. Jr.; Technical Brief (LAR-11833) New Aircraft Instrument Indicates Turbulence Intensity. May 1975. ($50 award)

33. Middleton, D. B.; Hurt, G. J.; Bergeron, H. P.; Patton, J. M. Jr.; Deal, P. L.; and Champine, Robert A.: Motion-Base Simulation Study of Control of an Externally-Blown-Flap STOL Transport Aircraft After Failure of an Outboard Engine During Landing Approach. TN D-8026, October 1975.

34. Champine, Robert A.: Technical Brief (LAR-11941) Crosswind Landing Gear Position Indicator, November 1975.

35. Crane, Harold L.; and Champine, Robert A.: NASA/FAA Safety Seminar, ATLIT, Advanced Technology Light Twin for General Aviation, November 12, 1975.

36. Hastings, Earl C. Jr.; Patterson, J. C. Jr.; Shanks, Robert E.; Champine, Robert A.; Copeland, W. Latham; and Young, Douglas, C.: Development and Flight Tests of Vortex Attenuating Splines. NASA TN D-8083, December 1975.

37. Snyder, W. J.; and Champine, Robert A.: Short-Haul Helicopter Mission Analysis. l976 Conference on Powered-Lift Aerodynamics and Noise Technology.

38. Champine, Robert A.: Experiences of a Test Pilot. Career Explorer Scout Meeting, January 14, 1976. (Example of Community activity.)

39. Barber, Marvin R., Dryden Flight Research Center; Hastings, Earl C. Jr.; and Champine, Robert A., Langley Research Center, and Tymczyszyn, Joseph J., FAA, Western Region: Vortex Minimization Flight Experiments. Presented at NASA Wake Vortex Minimization Symposium, Washington, D.C., February 25-26, 1976.

40. Champine, Robert A.: ATLIT Program Review.
Presented to Joint Meeting of the Icarian Flyers and the Experimental Aircraft Assn. at Patrick Henry Airport, Newport News, VA, March 4, 1976.

41. Champine, Robert A.: Research Pilot’s Experiences During Vortex Penetration Flight Experiments. Paper for l0th ICAS Congress, Ottawa, Canada, October 3-9, 1976.

42. Barber, M. R.; Hastings, Jr., E. C.; Champine, R. A.; and Tymczyszyn, J. J.: Vortex Generation Flight Experiment. Dryden Report # H-929, January 1977.

43. Fisher, B. D.; Deal, P. L.; Champine, R. A.; and Patton, J. M. Jr.: Flight Investigation of Piloting Techniques and Crosswind Limitations Using a Research Type Crosswind Landing Gear. NASA TP-1423, May 1979.

44. Davis, R. E.; Champine, Robert A.; and Ehernberger, L. J.: Meteorological and Operational Aspects of 46 Clear Air Turbulence Sampling Missions With An Instrumented B-57B Aircraft. NASA TMX-80044, May 1979.

45. Fisher, B. D.; Deal, P. L.; Champine, R. A.; and Patton, J. M.: Flight Investigation on Piloting Techniques and Crosswind Limitations Using Crosswind Landing Gear. Report Summaries, May 1979.

46. Williams, William: Testing the First Supersonic Aircraft: Memoirs of NACA Pilot Bob Champine, Flight Magazine, February 19__. Published as NASA Fact Publication by NASA Langley Research Center, 19–.

47. Champine, Robert A.: Men of Mach II. Presentation at the 50th Anniversary Conference at Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, February 1998.

48 Edited by Hunley, J. D.; Featuring Comments by Butchard, Stanley P.; Champine, Robert A.; Crossfield, A. Scott; Griffith, John; Hallion, Richard P.; and Schneider, Edward T.: Toward Mach 2: The Douglas D-558 Program, NASA SP-4222, The NASA History Series, 1999.

49. Other technical presentations since retirement include talks presented at the University of Tennessee at Cooksville, TN, and at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.


GRChampine 7-24-04


  1. Katie said

    This site is wonderful! I am also a pilot and lover of aviation, I love finding websites like this that are full of history! Do you recommend any others?
    Thank you for all your time and effort to get this out there for others to see! It is amazing!

  2. Hi Katie – thanks so much for your kind words. Bob was a man of few words and was very modest. I told him after we were married “stick with me honey and I will make you famous” so I began writing about him and with his flight logs I was able to put the stories together. I am happy to see a lady pilot, I know you are good.
    You can get other aviation greats on the Internet and would suggest Scott Crossfield and Neil Armstrong as starters. They were/are great fellows.

    Good luck to you,

    Gloria Champine

  3. John C. Delagrange said

    Dear Gloria, God has blessed you “abundantly indeed” God also blessed my life by meeting and getting to know your amazing husband, Robert Champine. Back in the mid 90’s I directed a commemorative model aircraft fly-in “Old Birds over Pennsylvania” to commeorate the first young men to build a workable model airplane engine “Bill Brown” and ” Maxwell Bassett” his childhood friend who built the first gasoline engine powered model to be flown in America in 1932 the year I was born! Bob came to PA, entered and flew his model and won a first prize if I can remember correctly. He told me just a few of his NASA accomplishments as a test pilot and that he knew Chuck Yeager and also flew the Bell-X-1. Bob was a modest man! After reading this entire story of his life and his amazing accomplishments, I sat here and cried “with joy” for having had the privilege of shaking the hand of one of our Nations Great Aviators, a man made of the “right stuff”. I am planning on copying your wonderfully presented web-site documentation of Bob’s life as a modeler and a proffessional and gifted Test pilot” and making it available for all the modelers who will be attending this big commemorative Fly-in on June 13/14. Bob was also on our mailing list as an honorary member of The Lancaster area “Second Chance Squadron” “SAM 100” (Society of Antique Modelers of which I was president and newsletter editor from 1987 to 1999. Bob is in the large panoramic photo that was taken at the “Old Birds Over PA” Commemorative Fly-in. (Which will be on display).
    If you could spare a photo of Bob in his Naval unform or test pilots suit, I will post it on a large display board (along with his story) in his memory! Thank you Gloria for the tribute you have made to a Truly honorable man! May God continue to Bless you in all the days He has planned for you!
    Your friend in Christ , John C. Delagrange
    1822 Longview Dr. Lancaster, PA 17601 (717) 569-7243

    • Hi John,

      How well I remember the day he won the “Old Birds Over Pennsylvania” contest with his remarkable red model called “Miss Philly” – He had a large one and a smaller green one that were beautifully designed and flown. Also I remember his being in a video from that contest.

      I just looked at some of his photos and selected an 8 x 10 of him in his early days in a flight suit and helmet, a profile picture that shows the little tilt in his nose that I just loved. I will send it to you.

      Thanks so much for honoring my loved one and I would love to attend your June 13 fly-in, but I am scheduled for a birthday cruise to Bermuda. I am looking forward to having a wonderful time, and will be thinking of all the modellers and their planes.

      For another good story on Bob, see the web site put out by NASA entitled “Testing the First Supersonic Aircraft.” It has wonderful pictures and one of my favorites is the one with him exiting the X-1 (with his Navy shoes on).

      Best to you and yours,

      Gloria Champine

      • John C. Delagrange said

        Dear Gloria, Have fun on your B’day in Bermuda…You deserve it. Thanks for NASA web -site info on Bob, Will take a look and forward info to all my pilot modeling friends , God Bless you, Your friend in PA, John

  4. Amanda Champine Shaver said

    I knew Grandpa Champine liked his model airplanes and that he flew. In fact, he used to fly down to New Smyrna and fly us around in his plane. We would look down from the sky and try to find our house. Though I had heard stories of his success, seeing it all together is really impressive. He was always a patient and kind man. Thank you for the great stories, I will share them with Cayden!

    • Hi Amanda, Yes, your Grandpa Champine was a great man. He loved what he did for a career and also his hobbies. I am glad that his story is on the Internet for everyone to see and to be passed down to the next generations is wonderful. To share his genes is to share a part of an exciting phase in our aviation history. Cayden should be proud. Grandma Gloria

  5. byron said

    I am not interested in aviation…space..nasa at all but I found your husbands life extremely intesting. Im just a 24y/o Australian bloke but this really spiked my intrest in this stuff congrats… I did some googleing… hope everything with Aol turned out ok :). Keep the history alive.

    • Hi Byron,

      I am thankful that a 24y/o Australian Bloke found the story of Bob’s life and career interesting. He was a quiet, modest, wonderful man and I just couldn’t keep from writing about him to let the world know just what one test pilot did to advance aviation. He was a great man.

      Gloria Champine

  6. Don Mallick said

    Hi Gloria:

    You did a fantastic job on putting together Bob’s life and history. I thought that I knew a lot about him, after flying with him for six years (1957-1963). However, on reading your write up, I found that I did not. Now, I “know the rest of the story”

    Bob was a fine avaitor and friend, also a great guy to fly with. One of the things that I missed most, when I left Langley for Edwards in 1963, was the friends and fellow pilots, especially Bob.

    Short story on the Navy Centrifuge. I worked on a program with Bob around the time you mentioned. He had a lot of centrifuge experience and when he checked me out and helped get me suited up, I would tease. him. He had me so bundled up and tight in my partial pressure suit; that I told him I was already pulling 4 G’s before the machine (centrifuge) started.

    Bob was a great man and you have created a great site for him. I know his spirit looks down and smiles, when he sees what you have generated for him.

    Don Mallick
    NACA-NASA Research Pilot 1957-1987

  7. Hi Don,

    Thanks for your kind words and the story about the centrifuge. I am so thankful that I was able to write this history of his life and career. I have also written a lot about our life together showing what a great husband he was. I want to keep his history alive and with the help of many people, particularly a young man at Northwestern University, who has helped me immensely in getting his web page saved and back on line, it is there for anyone to read.


  8. John Worth said

    Hi, Goria. I just read your great story about Bob– found it on the internet accidentally when researching the life of Frank Rogallo. Although I knew Bob fairly well (I was the the NACA employee who met him on the flight line at Langley Field when Bob flew in to see about a job there) and we shared a lot of modeling experiences, I didn’t know about of lot of his flying during the California years.

    Your incredible job of biography is really appreciated. I’m proud to have known both of you.

    I’m 85, still married after 59 years, very busy with my own modeling website: I still build and fly models as does my son, Mark.

  9. Hi John, Glad to hear from you. I look forward to your Christmas letter each year, but did not have your e-mail to answer it. I have just finished writing a story about Bob “Living with Aphasis” after he had his stroke. I will try to get it published in a neurological magazine to see if my coping techniques will help someone else. Thanks so much for writing, your opinion is worth a lot to me. Tell Lil I said hello and I am doing great, getting younger each year – I subtract, not add.


  10. Steve Sears said

    Thank you for referring me to your site. I truly enjoyed your biography of Bob. It is amazing he was able to pack all that living into one life. May God continue to bless you.

    • Hi Steve, Thanks a lot for your comments. I appreciate them. Currently, I am incorporating the web site into a book “On The Edge Of Space: Bob Champine – He Had The Right Stuff”
      I have researched his geneology and have written the final chapter”Living With Aphasia” and with all the information I have, I think it will be a good book.

      Thanks again,

      Gloria Rhoads Champine

  11. Jim Fierek said

    Im miss Bob! His whole being was infectious! This is a wonderful page for histories sake. To Bob I was known as Minnesota Jim, we flew RC Gliders together back in 85/86/87 when I was in the shipyards with my submarine. Bob came to visit my submarine after the yards and we were in Norfolk. They “piped” him aboard and my CO went running, they they called me topside to give Bob a tour. Our Submarine (USS Tecumseh SSBN 628) was built in 1960 from many spare parts. I took Bob to the Control Room where the sub was operated and He said “Those Controls are out B-29’s” and they were! Bob was like a father to me, he shaped, molded and guided me. He often talked about his son at VMI, I felt sort of in the wrong spot. One time I showed Bob a copy of Book entitled “Yeager” it was an advance copy with misspelled words, a month or two later, Bob asked if I still had that book? I said yes, and he said that I had better bring to dinner that night. Chuck had called up and invited himself to dinner.

  12. Jim Fierek said

    I used to spend time in Bobs garage (upstairs) and would let me read his flight records… The day he broke the speed of sound, his journal read like this. “Experienced buffeting, shut down engines”. That was it! Bob had actually gone higher and faster than Yeager, but he wasn’t the First to Break the Speed of Sound. Bob is/was a Great man in my eyes!

    • Hi Jim, Yes I remember you well when you were on your submarine here in Newport News and the many hours you spent with Bob in the garage building model airplanes and talking. Those were the wonderful years. I am glad you feel that Bob has molded and guided you in your young years to make you the man that you are today. He was a great husband and I dearly miss him. Bob was the sixth man to break the sound barrier in the X-1 when he was in California and returned to Langley to help with the development of the space program and train the astronauts, etc.

      It’s is nice to hear from you and take care of yourself,

      Gloria Champine

  13. John Ankeny said

    It was wonderful to read about Bob Champine to my son,Robert,a freshman at the University of Minnesota. My Grandfather was Clifford Champine. I believe Bob Champine visited my parents Margaret Champine Ankeny and William Adams Ankeny in Ormond Beach near Daytona Beach, Florida. In my family, to hear of Bob Champine’s heroism was inspirational as I was growing up in Minneapolis. John Ankeny

  14. Dennis Everett said

    Such a incredible man , Bob was a good friend of my Dads , Dick Everett , i was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with Bob flying RC models with him in the early 80’s , and hearing about a million airplane storys , thanks so much for putting this out about Bob.. Dennis Everett

    • Gloria Champine said

      Hi Dennis,

      Yes, I remember your father, Dick Everett. I also remember that Bob went out to the mountains in California and I believe he stayed at your house. He was looking to get his LSF-V for the second time, being one of the few that had attained that rating. He said he and your father went flying to get an 8-hour flight and he just had a delightful time.

      I am so glad you enjoyed reading about him. I feel his life was one worth remembering and I have just finished a draft of a book on him and our life together, along with coping with the after effects of his stroke. We had a great life together and I was privileged to share the life of this great man.

      Thanks for writing.

      Gloria Champine

  15. John Haren said

    I am a fellow Aeromdeller who wanted to be an Aero Engineer but never quite arrived there. I knew of Bob champine only from his modelling activities never releasing the extent of his talent. What a man – truly a life to be proud of. Thank you for presenting his story – we all need little inspiration in life.
    John Haren

  16. Gloria Champine said

    Hi John,

    Thanks for writing, I am so glad that his story has inspired you. It is never too late to do the things we want in life – we only pass through once. Bob was a great man and I was privileged.

    As I told Dennis in the comment above, I am writing a book based on this web site, and I hope to finish it this year.

    Thanks again, I appreciated hearing from you.

    Gloria Champine

  17. Dennis Everett said

    Gloria , if you will write down my email address and when the book comes out let me know , id like to buy a copy , I showed this to my wife as she also got to spend some time with Bob , by the time she finished reading it , she had tears in hey eyes (as i did) take care…Dennis

  18. Dick Everett, Jr. said

    Gloria, I knew your husband Bob mostly through my dad, Dick Everett, Sr. I read my step-brothers message to you about Bob visiting my Dad at his home in California. I believe I was at the house that night as I was on business in California and staying with my dad when I was their. I remember Helen, my dads wife, telling me I might as well go to bed, because dad and Bob might be talking aircraft all night long.
    When my dad came to visit me in Hampton one fall we built a RC model glider. We went out to fly it at Copeland park and Bob happen to be their that dad. My dad asked Bob to take our glider up for its first flight. What a memory for me. To consider one of the best test pilots that’s ever been giving my plane its first flight. Bob was truly one of the finest aeronautists in the world.
    I worked at NASA Langley for over 30 years and myself love aeronautics. I loved what you’ve put on the web in Bob’s honor. I will certainly pass this on to my other aero buddies.
    My best to you,
    Dick Everett, Jr.

    • Gloria Champine said

      Hi Dick, So nice to hear from you and your memories of Bob with your Dad. I remember when you flew with your Dad and Bob and I am glad that Bob was the first to fly your RC glider. He loved designing, building, and flying his model airplanes and RC gliders were the last he flew. After his stroke he lost some abilities but still retained his skill to fly RC gliders with assistance.

      I retired from NASA with 30 years and 30 days. They were the good years, I consider it a privilege to have worked there.

      I have finished the draft of my book on Bob and work on editing it. I hope to have it published in 2011.

      With all good wishes for happiness at Christmas and throughout the New Year.

      Gloria Champine

  19. John Worth said

    The Champines and I were good friends, from working with them at NASA.

    If my information is correct, Bob died on Dec 17, 2003.

    I think Gloria was with us as of last year. But here previous phone number is no longer valid. I would appreciate knowing if she is still with us.

    John Worth

  20. Ban Smoking in All Public Places said

    What a story. My family also has connections to NASA, and this really struck a cord with me.

  21. Tony King said


  22. Gloria Champine said

    Looks like my last couple of responses is not listed. I am extremely well and my e-mail is

  23. a said

    Asking questions are genuinely good thing if you are
    not understanding anything entirely, but this article
    gives fastidious understanding yet.

  24. Very interesting read, thank you for sharing this story! I’ve had a photo of Bob and Herb (my grandfather) sitting on my desk for years.

    • Glad you enjoyed the story Caite, one of these days I will finish my book. Do you have the picture of Bob, Herb and Chuck standing by the X-1? I believe I have some small copies of the picture. Say hello to your Grandmother for me.

      Gloria Champine

  25. pat west said


  26. Thanks Pat.

  27. John M. Sperath, Sr. said

    Dear Gloria,
    What a wonderful tribute to a truly great man, who has clearly made an exceptional contribution to our country and its defense…very eloquently written by you, the great woman behind the great man. As a baby boomer, I have always admired the quiet, unsung courage and conviction of “the greatest generation.” I am looking forward to the publication of your book…this history should never be forgotten!
    John M. Sperath, Sr.

    • Thank you John,I appreciate all your inspiring words and it was great meeting you Good luck with your book, I look forward to reading it. Gloria

  28. Thanks Julie, Gloria

  29. John Bergsmith said

    Mrs Champine, I consider myself very lucky that I had the opportunity to know Bob through r/c gliders. The first time I met Bob was up in Cumberland, MD for the CASA fun fly in the early 80’s. I was a young teenager at the time,and he was always the nicest man I’ve ever met. I hung around him as much as possible and enjoyed every minute. I remember riding up the mountain in that big car he used to drive. I don’t recall a single moment that Bob didn’t have a big smile on his face. Like many others, I miss him but consider myself very lucky to call him a friend.

    PS, he was an excellent glider flyer which comes as no surprise! 🙂

    John Bergsmith

  30. John Bergsmith

    Hi John, so very nice to hear from you. I remember the trips to Cumberland, MD to fly gliders off the top of the mountain and the hazardous ride to the top – upon reaching, you felt like you were on the top of the world (along with the cows). Bob had a big, long Lincoln that would handle that road. He asked me to go along with him one or two times (I had not retired from NASA yet), but he had an ulterior motive. He wanted to drive my Chevy El Camino. I loved being up there and felt bad when someone’s plane flew off the mountain towards the forest of trees below.

    Thanks for giving me some good memories. I was very blessed to have Bob chose me to share his life. Thanks again

    Gloria Champine

  31. Dear Gloria,
    Terrific site, he was lucky to have you as a partner! Does Bob get mentioned in Bill Bridgeman and Jacquline Hazard’s book, “The Lonely Sky”? Bridgeman was a Douglas test pilot on the DS-588-2 project. I guess I should re-read my copy, then I could tell you… As a model airplane builder and flier, I treasure the Bob Hoover and the DC-3 full of models story!
    Bill Abbott

    • Thanks so much for the kind remarks Bill. I love to write about Bob, his career and life. To share his life was a gift that I cherish. I have just finished writing his book “OnThe Edge of Space” and am trying to put the pictures together and get a professional editor (I’ve edited it to death and just have to stop.) After my retirement with NASA, I thoroughly enjoyed traveling with hin to compete in model meets.
      Take care,
      Gloria Champine

  32. Hi Bill, I got a copy of Bill Bridgeman’s “The Lonely Sky” – it was written in his words day-by-day. Just amazing. I had to check out the Mach 2 comment on the Douglas D-558-II. His book indicates he reached Mach 1.88. What I found was he did reach Mach 1.88 on Douglas flight #6, Aug. 7,1951 and reached altitude of 79,494 ft-world altitude record on Aug 15. 1951. NACA Scott Crossfield reached Mach 2 on NACA flight 34, on Nov.20, 1953. Thanks Gloria Champine

  33. Gene A Dees said

    Gloria, I had no idea all this existed. Found it by accident when I Googled my flying wing R/C glider … and found it ! I still have a VHS tape that shows Bob flying my Icarosaur flying wing glider ! I have very special memories of both Bob and you.

  34. Dave Gorjup said

    I had the opportunity of being one of the 2 assigned crew chiefs on the CH-47 and CH-53 projects Bob flew at NASA Langley. I’ll never forget him from flying the projects and from some of the crew dinners up at Wallops Island and at the FAA Research Center at Ocean City, NJ.

    All in all those were very special times in my aviation career. Bob was one of the most memorable people from my time at NASA and I cherish a picture I have of the entire CH-53 crew which includes Bob.

    I’m looking forward to adding your book to my library.
    God Bless,
    Dave Gorjup
    NASA Langley 1966-1978

    • Hi Gene, So nice to hear from you after all these years. Yes, I have fond mrmories of our flying times together. Glad you found the web page. It was written a long time ago and I used it as a portion of my book “On The Edge of Space” – Are you still flying gliders up in the Sandia mountains?


  35. Hi Dave, Glad to hear from you. It was quite a while ago that Bob flew the CH-47 and the Ch-53 projects. He enjoyed his career at NACA/NASA (with theNaval Reserves thrown in) and I was indeed fortunate that he chose me to share his life. I was blessed. One of these days I will finish his book “Ön The Edge Of Space”.


    Gloria Cham[ine

    • Dave Gorjup said

      Hi Gloria,
      I have dug out and scanned a CH-53 team picture taken in 1977. It shows 8 of us, including Bob, standing at the main entrance door of the CH-53. We had just returned from a flight on a very stormy day and I and my co-crew chief Cliff Gentry look like drowned rats after pulling the aircraft into the hangar. 🙂

      If you don’t have a copy and would like a pdf version please drop me an email at and I’ll be glad to forward it to you.
      Dave Gorjup

  36. Robbie Champine said

    Gloria, It has been such a long time since reading this biography of Grandpa, I was actually looking for a different article about grandpa. It was an interview about how different the navy and air force were with terminology. In this case the words “all clear”. In short, in the navy, it meant at the time to stop everything and start over, the air force, was basically good to go. Grandpa was having instrument panel issues in the X-1 I believe (definitely a plane being dropped though) but instead of a Navy crew, the air force was flying him. He says “all clear” because the panel was giving problems but the air force thought “good to go” and dropped him. I still haven’t found the article. But reading this makes me really miss the man I’m named after.

    • I have the article Robbie, it is “From Supersonic Flight to Mach 0.0026: The Story of NASA’s Bob Champine” which I wrote in 1977, It was published in the July-Sept. 1977 issue of Virginia Aviation. The term was”Secure the Drop.” I found a printed copy of the article and will see if I can copy it for you.

      Thanks for the interest in the life and career of yournamesake.


  37. Gene A dees said

    Gloria … I heard the “Secure the Drop” story 1st-hand from Bob. I also have a VHS video of him piloting my Flying Wing in the mid-to-late 70’s. The tape shows him launching my Icarosaur glider and flying it … I was shooting the video ! The video has some other “Greats” on it … like Woody Blanchard, and other members of the Tidewater Model Aviation Society (or whatever the name it went by … I am homebound now and on meds so I forget where my own backside is from time to … what was I saying?) Hope you are well.

    • Hi Gene, I found the article in Virginia Aviation forRobbie (his grandson) and will try to get itcopied for him.
      Nice to hear from you, I am doing well and am blessed. Gloria

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s