Pilot Fitzhugh “Fitz” Fulton Jr., known as the “Dean of Flight Test” for his involvement in pioneering programs including the space shuttle piggyback flights, has died. He was 89.
Fulton died Wednesday at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks from complications of Parkinson’s disease, his daughter, Ginger Terry, told the Los Angeles Times.
His four-decade career included flying for the military, NASA and Scaled Composites, headed by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan.
In 1977, Fulton was at the controls of the specially modified Boeing 747 that flew the first piggyback tests of the shuttle out of Edwards Air Force Base. In further tests, he piloted the 747 when it carried the space shuttle Enterprise to 25,000 feet, then nosed into a dive to allow the shuttle to launch. The Enterprise was then flown and landed by its own crew.
Fulton, born in Blakely, Georgia, took his first solo flight at 16, before he had his driver’s license. As a teenager, he persuaded pilots at an airport near his hometown to give him flying lessons. In exchange, he swept hangars and washed planes.
In 1943, he joined the Army Air Corps, predecessor of the Air Force. His 23-year military career included flying 200 missions during the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and 1949, delivering food and fuel to the residents of West Berlin during the Soviet siege.
He was also involved in the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests in 1946. He later served as a combat pilot during the Korean War, where he flew 55 sorties in a Douglas B-26.
In 1952, he graduated from the Air Force’s Test Pilot School at Edwards and began flying a myriad of experimental planes.
On April 13, 1960, he landed a B-58 supersonic bomber with seven of its eight tires blown out at Edwards. Two years later, he flew the B-58 to a record-setting altitude of 85,360 feet.
Fulton joined NASA in 1966, where he worked for two decades, flying 60 different types of aircraft from sailplanes to fighter jets. He piloted some of the world’s fastest jet planes including the XB-70 and YF-12, each capable of speeds in excess of 2,000 mph and altitudes above 70,000 feet.
In July 1986, he retired from NASA and joined Scaled, where he worked for three years, serving as the company’s flight operations director and chief research pilot.
Fulton received numerous awards, including four Air Force Distinguished Flying Crosses. In 1999, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense