Driving Forces
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Bobby McElwain Bobby McElwain
NASA Photo
Bobby McElwain

Dryden's life sup-port chief Bobby McElwain has literally made a career out of saving people's lives.

Nominators said McElwain is "intelligent" and "genuinely concerned about every aviator who walks into his training room."

McElwain was hired as a life-support technician at Dryden in December 1991 and he soon put together a training program devoted to ejecting from aircraft, parachuting and survival techniques. His responsibilities included teaching fliers what to do from the moment they have to eject until they are rescued. To accomplish that task, he acquisitioned and put to use the appropriate training gear in which flight crews could gain hands-on experience in all aspects of their training. Another training method he established at Dryden is a yearly review of each aircraft-survival-kit component. He ensures that everyone who flies is aware of what is in the kit and how to properly use each component. McElwain gives training on all Dryden aircraft, including the F-15, F-16, F-18, T-34, C-12, C-20, DC-8 and the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy.

McElwain learned his trade through a 26-year career in the Air Force. He attended and worked at survival schools, worked in and managed life-support shops for several fighter and cargo aircraft at numerous U.S. bases and in Thailand, Guam, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. His favorite assignment was at Langley Air Force Base, Va., at the Tactical Air Command Headquarters. In that post, he helped oversee and manage the life-support programs for all U.S. Air Force bases in that command. He assisted upper management in estab-lishing policies and procedures for all units and was responsible for distribution of newly developed equipment technical-data changes and overseeing the command's suggestion program.

He retired from the Air Force in 1991 with an associate degree in survival and rescue operations from the Community College of the Air Force.

John B. McKay John B. McKay
NASA Photo
John B. McKay

John B. McKay was a "steel-nerved" test pilot, nominators said. He specialized in high-speed research programs when he came to Dryden in 1952 (then the High-Speed Flight Research Center) after interning at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., in 1951.

McKay flew such experimental aircraft as the D-558-1, D-558-2, X-1B and X-1E. He finished his career as one of the most accomplished and experienced rocket plane pilots of all but also flew a variety of other aircraft, including the F-100, F-102, F-104 and F-107.

McKay was second only to Scott Crossfield in the number of rocket-powered aircraft he flew.

It didn't always go well. McKay suffered crushed vertebrae on the second-worst crash of the X-15 program on Nov. 9, 1962. He lost power shortly after takeoff and was forced to land at Mud Lake, Nev., at 300 mph. The left skid collapsed on landing and the aircraft tumbled violently with McKay trapped inside. As a testament to his grit and determination, he later returned to the X-15 program and logged another 22 flights.

"McKay was one of the smoothest pilots. I remember a landing that was so smooth I don't remember when the landing gear hit," said John McTigue, an operations manager for the X-15.

McKay also was responsible for coining a Dryden phrase on a day when the weather was not good. His droll assessment, which has lived on in center lore was, "Any improvement will be for the better."

He was one of the first civilians chosen to fly the X-15 and made 29 flights in the aircraft between 1960 and 1966 - the second-highest number of flights in the program. His peak altitude was 295,600 feet and fastest speed was 3,863 mph, or Mach 5.64.

In 2005, he was awarded astronaut wings posthumously in a ceremony at Dryden where his accomplishments were celebrated.

Thomas C. McMurtry Thomas C. McMurtry
NASA Photo
Thomas C. McMurtry

Thomas C. McMurtry retired in 1999, concluding a 32-year career at Dryden as a pilot and administrator.

His nominators called him "humble" and "a true team player who worked well with others to make the projects and programs that he was associated with successful ones."

"It's always the team that produces success," McMurtry is noted for saying.

Since joining Dryden as a research pilot in 1967 and advancing to chief pilot, he also was associate director for operations. As operations director, he managed the Avionics, Operations Engineering, Flight Crew, Quality Inspection, Aircraft Maintenance and Modification, and the Shuttle and Flight Operations Support branches.

McMurtry was project pilot for the AD-1 Oblique Wing program, the F-15 Digital Electronic Engine Control project, the KC-135 Winglets project and the F-8 Supercritical Wing program. It was for the F-8 SCW project that he received NASA's Exceptional Service Medal.

In 1998 he was named as one of the honorees of the Lancaster, Calif., ninth Aerospace Walk of Honor ceremonies. In 1999 he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

In 1982, McMurtry received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots for his contributions as project pilot on the AD-1 Oblique Wing program.

McMurtry was also co-project pilot on the F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire program, and on several remotely piloted research vehicle programs such as the joint Federal Aviation Administration/NASA 720 Controlled Impact Demonstration and the subscale F-15 spin research project. On Nov. 26, 1975, the X-24B lifting body dropped from the sky for the last time, piloted on this 36th flight by McMurtry. He also co-piloted the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as it transported the prototype shuttle Enterprise on its first launch on Aug. 12, 1977.