ROBERT J. "BOB" GILLILAND
Robert J. "Bob" Gilliland
Robert J. "Bob" Gilliland was born in Memphis, TN. During WWII, at the age of 17, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy and was training to go into submarines when he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy at the war's end. As a midshipman he served on various warships, including a heavy cruiser, destroyer, carrier, and the battleship USS North Carolina in which his GQ station was the 16 inch gun turret.
He graduated from Annapolis in 1949 with a degree in engineering. Just prior to graduation he volunteered to enter the USAF in the first class to be offered this opportunity. He did his flight training at Randolph Field, TX, and soloed in the T-6.
He did advance training at Chandler, AZ, flying the F-8O Shooting Star. His next assignment was to an operational fighter group flying the P-47 Thunderbolt and the F-84 Thunderjet.
In 1952 Bob volunteered for a combat tour in Korea flying the F-84 in a fighter-bomber unit at K-2 Airport, Taegu, Korea. In 1953 he returned to Ramstein AFB, Germany flying the F-86F Sabre Jet. Later that year he was assigned to Eglin AFB, FL, as a test pilot in fighter test and the U. S. Armament Center.
While at Eglin he had the opportunity to fly most of the aircraft in the USAF inventory. He left active service the following year and returned to his hometown, Memphis, where he joined the Tennessee Air National Guard. There he flew the P-51, B-26, RF-80, RF-84 and the F-104A, until 1960 at which time he joined Lockheed as a civilian test pilot flying all models of the F- 104 Starfighter. He also checked out some of the world?s leading pilots such as the Luftwaffe's Gunther Rall and Johannes Steinhoff, Canada's Wing Commander Kenneth Lett, and USAF General John Dunning.
Bob worked closely with the Air Forces of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Canada, Japan, Germany, and Italy, both in this country and abroad. Gilliland made the first flight of the Fiat-Aeritalia F-104S produced in Italy under license from Lockheed. Lou Schalk, whom Bob had known in Munich, Germany, was then Kelly Johnson's Chief Test Pilot (Johnson was Founder of the Lockheed Skunk Works.) and introduced Bob to Kelly who then invited Bob to join his organization.
In 1962 Bob went on to test the fastest and highest flying airplanes ever built, including the A-Il, A-12, YF-12A, and the SR-71. Bob was the first man to fly the SR-71A, the SR-71B, and YF-12A #936, which was later modified into the SR-71C. In the process of doing the principal testing of these planes,
He made the first flight of the SR-71 on December 22, 1964, taking the aircraft to mach 1.5 and 50,000 feet altitude. He was the first and principal test pilot for the SR-71 Aircraft Series and the first pilot to achieve full envelope expansion of the speed and altitude in the SR-71.
On 22 December 1964, Lockheed Test Pilot Bob Gilliland flew the first flight of SR-71 #950 at Palmdale, Calf, flying for 1 hour and over 1000 mph. As the SR-71 program continued to grow, Gilliland continued to be the first pilot to fly each Blackbird as it became operational, logging more experimental supersonic flight test-time above Mach 2 and Mach 3 than any other pilot.
Bob logged more flying time at Mach 3 then any other man. This flying time would only be exceeded by a few operational pilots and only over the long operating career of the Blackbird.
The Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded the Kincheloe Award to Bob in 1964 for his work on these super secret planes. This is an award that is given annually for the Test Pilot of the Year.
Bob was also involved with fellow Lockheed pilot Darryl Greenamyer in breaking the FAI world restricted altitude speed record of 988.26 mph in a highly modified F-lO4RB on 24 October 1978.
Gilliland logged over 6,500 hours in many different aircraft, including the F-104, F-84, F-86, T-6, P-47, FY-12A, and SR-71.
Bob, now retired from Lockheed, is involved in various financial ventures, including serving as General Manager of DeSoto Oil and Gas Trust of Memphis, TN. He also serves as a trustee of ANA (the Association of Naval Aviation), the mother organization of naval carrier Tailhookers, Marine Corps pilots, training pilots, etc. Bob remains in demand as an aviation speaker.
A fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Gilliland was awarded the Iven C. Kincheloe Award in 1964 for his work on the Blackbird program. He was named an Eagle by the Air Force Flight Test Historical Foundation in 1998 and received the Godfred L. Cabot Award established by the Lancaster City Council. Gilliland was awarded the Aerospace Walk of honor for his distinguished aviation career marked by significant and obvious achievements beyond one specific accomplishment.
Photo signed by Kelly Johnson commending Gilliland's first flight in the SR-71 Blackbird
Lt. Bob Gilliland posing with his 69th FBS Thunderjet at Taegu AB, South Korea
Painted poster of Gilliland used for fund raising by the Air Museum at RAF Hendon near London