An experimental test pilot, by definition, takes calculated risks. On very rare occasions, those risks can turn tragic and result in the loss of life.
Fourteen years ago, a memorial to honor fallen test pilots was first dedicated at Cairns Army Airfield at Fort Rucker, the then home to the Army’s experimental test pilot community. The large granite monument serves as a symbolic gesture to the family and friends of the fallen heroes. Twenty-eight names, etched in the stone, forever remembered for their sacrifice conducted during flight test.
Today, that same monument now stands near the front door of the main hangar at the Redstone Test Center’s Aviation Flight Test Directorate.
On Oct. 3, family and friends of four of those 28 fallen heroes gathered with members of RTC and the local flight test community to rededicate that monument at its new home on Redstone Arsenal.
“This monument will serve as a reminder to those who are going to walk through those doors into this hangar; a reminder not only of these great fallen heroes, but also that what we do in experimental flight test is inherently dangerous,” Col. Steven Braddom, RTC commander, said. “What we do every day has risks. We have processes and procedures, we train thoroughly for our task, but still, some risk remains. But the mission is worth the risk, and the important thing to remember is that the risk borne by the test pilot is a risk that does not have to be borne by the Soldier in the field.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Jim Myles was on hand at the first dedication of the monument in 2005. At that time, Myles was the commander of Test and Evaluation Command, of which RTC is a subordinate organization. He served as the guest speaker at the most recent event.
“Hosting events like this is important in reminding the family members and friends of our fallen that their loved ones were important to all of us. They made a significant impact on Army aviation and the Soldiers fighting today, and we will simply never forget,” Myles said.
He stressed the importance of always remembering the sacrifice of those whose names are etched in the monument. Becoming an experimental test pilot, known as an XP, distinguished them from the rest.
“XPs are a special breed. They are different by choice. They chose to take the road less traveled in our Army. And when they had a chance to make that decision, they were already successful, because when you’re selected to be an XP, you’re automatically at the top of the food chain when it comes to being able to demonstrate excellence in operating an aircraft and supporting Soldiers on the ground,” Myles explained to the crowd. “All XPs have a common bond: they love to fly, to make a difference, and they love Soldiers.”
Family and friends from across the country attended to represent the following fallen testers at the ceremony: Lt. Col. William Horton who died in 1976; Capt. Donald Monk, who died in 1979; and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Hugh Lammons and Army civilian John Ottomeyer who both died on the same flight in 1982.
Those names and the remaining 24 were read to the crowd as a memorial wreath was placed at the monument by Myles and Col. John Jones, former commander of RTC and the senior active duty experimental test pilot in the Army.
In his closing remarks Myles said, “Quite simply, without XPs, risking their lives to drive down risk and maximize the capabilities of every aircraft on the battlefield today, thousands of Soldiers don’t come home.”