In Memoriam: Richard "Dick" Thomas

Message posted by Peter Merlin on June 20, 2006 at 20:19:28 PST:

Richard G. "Dick" Thomas, best known for test flying TACIT BLUE at Area 51 in the 1980s has died. He passed away last night following a long illness.

Thomas earned his Air Force wings in an open cockpit Stearman biplane in 1952. After transitioning to jets in the T-33 he flew the F-80C, F-86 and F-100D for six years before leaving the military for a flight-test career with Beech Aircraft and later Boeing. He tested the ERB-47 and B-52 for Boeing and in 1962, the company sent him to U.S. Navy Test Pilot School.

He joined Northrop in 1963 and served as test pilot for the T-38 and all models of the F-5. His hazardous high-angle-of-attack and spin testing in the F-5 established procedures now followed by fighter pilots around the world. He also flew the X-21 laminar flow control testbed aircraft.

Thomas spent time in Madrid, Spain, helping the Spanish Air Force flight test the CASA 101 trainer aircraft.

As Northrop chief test pilot, Thomas led the flight testing of TACIT BLUE, a one-of-a-kind demonstrator. He flew the first flight of TACIT BLUE at Groom Lake, Nevada, on 5 February 1982 and piloted 70 of the airplane's 135 flights. According to the U.S. Air Force, TACIT BLUE was one of the most successful high-technology demonstrator programs ever conducted and had a direct influence on the design of the B-2 stealth bomber.

A Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and recipient of their Iven C. Kincheloe Award, Thomas retired in 2000. He was named an Eagle by the Flight Test Historical Foundation in 2004 and inducted into the Lancaster Aerospace Walk of Honor in 2005. During his career he logged 8,000 hours flying more than 116 different aircraft.


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