Richard A. Schmidt

Bachelor Aeronautical Engineering
University of Minnesota, 1946
Associate, AIAA






This story is a tribute to the many engineers that contributed to the successful manned orbital and moon flights by the 270 (or more) astronauts credited for successful flights. There is too much for newsmen to summarize the many important efforts of the engineers and others.

Dick Schmidt was a Flight Test Engineer for the 1st man to fly supersonic.

Foreword by Chuck Yeager.

When I flight-tested the X-92 in 1949, my flight test engineer (FTE) was Dick Schmidt, a graduate Aero Engineer only a few weeks younger than myself. It was the first U.S. Delta Wing design, and as such, required special quality control assessment.

As was routine, Dick Schmidt specified and arranged calibration of the instruments to be recorded. He reduced the data to standard day - no wind conditions and wrote the report. I incorporated my assessment of the handling characteristics in the final report.

When we had completed the tests and submitted the report, it took me over a year to convince the Air Force to design and procure a delta wing fighter that provided such unique handling characteristics and dog-fighting superiority.

On another occasion, Dick was the FTE in my flight tests assessing the handling characteristics of an F-80 with machine guns protruding out the nose. The guns created radical instability.

On still another occasion, Dick asked me to fly an airspeed calibration of our pacer airplane. It required flying an extremely constant speed - upwind and downwind at specific altitudes and recording the time on a photo panel to transmit the exactly measured 10 miles between the ground-transmitted radio beams. He told me that the data was so accurate that he wondered if I had worked the data backwards!!

Dick Schmidt Officially Approved the Flight Trajectory for John Glenn, the 1st man to orbit the Earth.

Foreword by John Glenn.

In preparation for launch of my MA-6 MISSION, which utilized the Atlas missile as a launch vehicle, Dick Schmidt of Hq. NASA was part of the team assessing the risk of that launch and by his signature on the official NASA document, took accountability for that risk. As such, in the event of a failure, he would have had to report to Congress regarding that failure. The study was directed by Dr. Dryden, Deputy Administrator of NASA. That careful study contributed to my successful flight!!

Signed: John Glenn

Dick Schmidt appeared before a Congressional Committee to request the 1st funding for the Kennedy Space Center. KSC became the launch complex for Neil Armstrong's 1st landing On The MOON. The testimony required a description of the overall launch complex and the additional 80,000 acre safety zone.

Foreword by Neil Armstrong.

It is remarkable that four years after I met Dick at the dry lake bed at Edwards AFB, our jobs would cross paths. In 1962, Dick appeared before a Congressional Appropriations to request the initial funding for what became the Kennedy Space Center!! It became the Apollo launch facility and would send me to be the 1st man to step on the MOON!!

Dick worked for Paul Bikle from the time he received his Bachelor's of Aeronautical Engineering degree from the U. of Minnesota in 1946 until Bikle transferred to NASA as the Director of the Dryden Flight Research Center in 1958. I worked as a test pilot for Paul when I was chosen to start training as an Astronaut in 1962.

At the time that Paul introduced us in 1958, Dick was a GA-15 in charge of Test Engineering at the USAF Rocket Lab at Edwards AFB. In 1960, he transferred to Launch Operations in Hq. NASA as a GS-16.

Signed: Neil Armstrong


A fellow civilian Air Force Flight Test Engineer, Jack Wesesky, wrote up a Flight Test Report with all the quantitative data he recorded corrected to no-wind, standard day conditions as specified in the Contract for the airplane. He then submitted it to the Test Pilot for his approval and any qualitative assessments.

To Jack's dismay, the Test Pilot was not pleased with his report and so informed Jack!! All we Flight Test Engineers had a Bachelors or Master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

Jack reviewed the report and wondered why the pilot objected!! Jack discussed the situation with his boss, Paul Bikle. Paul said that he could find no problem with Jack's report as submitted to the pilot!! But, he told Jack that he had written it in "Engineer's Spoke"!! Paul said to Jack: "Write it, using the language that a pilot would use!!"

Jack rewrote it as Paul recommended. The pilot accepted the revised version!!

But being an engineer, I've written this book in "Engineer's Spoke"!!



I was a Pioneer in the history of Jets '46 to '51; Rockets '51 '60; to Manned Space Operations '60 to '64; to Hi-tech COMINT '64 to '79. Remarkably, as a Civil Servant, I played a major engineering role in the history of World Class jet aircraft, large liquid rocket engines, ICBM's and IRBM's, manned space operations and the establishment of space related communications intercept systems. It was an extraordinary career. I was continually in the vanguard, advancing aerospace engineering technology throughout 1940 to 1979.

I attended an Institute of Aeronautical Sciences meeting in 1947 that was also attended by Orville Wright! What a way to start a career in aviation! At Wright Field, and Edwards AFB, I was actively involved in flight testing world class jet aircraft, establishing test and launch facilities or directly contributing to many historical events of evolving aerospace technology. I flew tests of the first USAF production jet bombers with Capt. Edwards, of Edwards AFB fame, and engineered tests of fighter aircraft for Capt. Chuck Yeager.

The crash of the NORTHROP YB-49 "FLYING WING" on 5 June, 1948 killed two of my roommates and two test pilot close friends. It was an aircraft that should never have been built. I explain why!!

I witnessed Yeager's first supersonic flight on 17 Oct. 1947 and two years later on 20 Apr. 1950, I was in charge of flight tests during which the SONIC BOOM was discovered. At this time, this discovery was an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of evolving theories of supersonic flight. I flew flight tests of numerous jet fighters, bombers, cargo and other aircraft. I chaired technical committees in both the IAS and ARS and assisted in their merger, becoming the AIAA.

While in charge of Test Engineering at the USAF Experimental Rocket Engine Test Station (ERETS) - ('51 to '60), I was involved in static testing the Navaho and Bomarc rocket booster engines ('52), large liquid rocket engines and captive flight tests of the ICBM - ATLAS ('51!). Eleven years later, in 1962, I participated in preparations for the Atlas flight that launched John Glenn into orbit! I was also involved in testing the THOR IRBM ('56) and the MINUTEMAN ICBM ('57). By 1960, the ERETS had grown to 700 personnel.

While in Hq. NASA, as a Supergrade (GS-16), from '60 to '64, I officially approved John Glenn's flight trajectory aboard an Atlas! Had anything gone wrong on the flight, I would have been accountable to Congress to explain the failure!!

I was involved in launch operations for MANNED SPACECRAFT and participated with Von Braun and his team in the development of the Saturn launch vehicle for the Apollo program. In 1962, I was the first to testify before a Congressional Committee for the initial funds for the construction of the Kennedy Space Center. As such, I was the first person to present and describe to Congress, the overall KSC launch complex and the additional 72,000 acres required for the launch of APOLLO. I was also involved in preparations for the launch of the first active communications satellite.

At NSA ('64 to '79) I established a worldwide state-of-the-art space related communication intercept and processing system. In 1965 I was detailed to CIA for six months to coordinate on a space collection system that pushed electronic technology to the ultimate.


My autobiography presents engineering participation in the exciting and advancing development of jet aircraft, large liquid rocket engines, ICBM's, IRBM's, Air Defense missiles, silo launch research, world class manned and unmanned space launches and the planning, design, funding, and construction of the Kennedy Space Center. It provides the background with occasional setbacks that I overcame and that put me on or ahead of the leading edge of those technologies.

Each career is discussed in detail later. I include the names of personalities - some famous. I explain how and why each change occurred, be it serendipity, war related happenstance, luck, vertigo, politics or a guardian angel. I will outline these six careers to set the stage for the many stories that occurred along the way and the contacts and working relationships that I had with many people whose names are commonplace even today.


Having graduated from a military high school a year before Pearl Harbor was bombed, the first of my many careers was military. By the end of WWII, I had worn an Army uniform for seven years and had my college education interrupted. More importantly, the war disrupted a normal social life and an early chance for marriage. My military career was both the shortest full time and the longest part time of all my experiences. Even each of the six different careers required a different discipline and none lasted less than four years.

I transferred to Cretin High School as a Junior in 1938 and I wore an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) uniform to all classes. All 800 of us boys in the school were required to wear the uniform for training in infantry tactics and for marching drills. My ROTC program at the University of Minnesota was in Seacoast Artillery. We had to attend summer quarter classes in 1942. By April 1943, we were called to Active Duty and not allowed to finish the four-year college curriculum we had been promised when we enrolled in Advanced ROTC. I've had many career changes that impacted on my personal and social life, but the effect of WWII was by far the greatest and most invasive because I was 18 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and was 22 when I was discharged from Active Duty as a First Lieutenant from the Army Air Corps in November 1945. I then returned to the University to obtain my Bachelor of Aeronautical Engineering degree.

By August 1946, I had my degree, was still single, and started my civilian career. I am most proud of having been a career Federal Civil Servant throughout my life and look upon my military Reserve time as extracurricular patriotic duty. I must note that it was during my service as a civilian that I was deeply involved in advancing technology but during which I suffered some traumatic setbacks. I take my eligibility for burial in Arlington National Cemetery with great pride.

Except for voluntary entry into military service, none of my career changes were the result of my military or Reserve career. The new engineering field I entered was a free choice on my part. The departure from a prior one, however, was usually not my choice. Despite the injustice and my demonstrated capability, I was "Shown the door" several times. Among other things, I have written this autobiography in defense of my reputation. But don't be misled! Baring my soul would not make good reading. I present it, though defensively, only to tell why the changes occurred. I have many interesting tales worth reading - and which merit my time to write.

The two and one-half years of Active Duty during WWII was supplemented by another 23 years as an Air Force Reserve Officer in Research and Development that included serving a year and half on Active Duty during the Korean War in 1951 and 1952. My Mobilization Assignment in the Reserves at that time called for me to continue on as Chief of Test Engineering at the Rocket Branch at Edwards AFB. Even later in my Reserve activity, my two week active duty tours were in Research and Development and involved solid rocket technology, a military manned space station proposal in 1963 and other technical assignments.

Though I served in uniform in those two wars, I felt a greater participation as a civilian during the Viet Nam conflict because I attended the daily 30 to 40 minute early morning Intelligence briefings for the Director of NSA who was always a three star General or Admiral.

In spite of my High School ROTC training in Infantry Tactics and my University ROTC training in Seacoast Artillery, my active duty as an officer was in maintaining AT-10 twin engine training planes in Indiana for six months followed by a year as a B-29 Flight Engineer Instructor in Alabama. At war's end, I returned to finish my college education. Upon graduation from the University of Minnesota, the pursuit of my interest in Aeronautical Engineering dictated that I leave Minnesota again. I was torn between continuing my education to a Ph. D or the adventure of taking to the air once again as a civilian Flight Test Engineer for the Air Corps. With three years of eligibility left on my G.I. Bill and the good grades I had earned on return to the University after the war, attaining a Ph. D was a greased path - but was a path to being a teacher or Professor - not my cup of tea. I was still unattached and had no one to restrain me to Minnesota. I accepted a job in Civil Service at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio in September 1946.


to be continued...