CMSGT, USAF Ret
Specialty: USAF - Gas Turbine Engine
P&W - Contract Field Service Representative/Engineer/Site Supervisor
Summary: o Born in Elyria, Ohio - 29 March 1936
o Enlisted in U.S. Air Force - 1 July 1954
o Selected for Blackbird Program ? Stationed at Edwards AFB in J-58 Propulsion Maintenance ? 1963 to 1968
o Reassigned to Edwards AFB Blackbird Program ? January 1970 to July 1973
o Retired from U.S. Air Force 31 March 1977
o Hired by Pratt & Whitney/United Technologies ? 11 April 1977
o Assigned Edwards AFB, CA ? Site Manager for F-22/F-23 Fly-Off and NASA Blackbird Program and U-2 Program at Palmdale, CA ? 1988 to 1993
o Retired from Pratt and Whitney 31 March 1999
I was born in Elyria, Ohio, twenty-six miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio. I gained an early interest in aviation from the Cleveland Air Shows/Air Races that occurred regularly during that time period. I still recall the aircraft flying over our home on their way to the Cleveland airport, especially the drone of the B-36?s.
I married my sweetheart, Jennie Ruth Prida in 1953 (we were both very young to be married) but our love persisted as we?ll soon celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary. A success story wouldn?t you say?
I graduated from Elyria High School in June, 1954 and entered the U. S. Air Force on 1 July 1954. The second best decision I have made in my life.
I went through basic training at Sampson AFB, Geneva, New York, followed by Jet Engine Technical Training at Sheppard AFB, Texas. I was retained there as a Technical Instructor in the same field on J-33, J-47 and J-48 engines. I was then selected for advanced training on the J-57 engine at Amarillo AFB, Texas in preparation for reassignment to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing (Statue of Liberty Wing), Chaumont AB, France, which at that time had F-86 F aircraft with the J-47 engine. The 48th TFW was scheduled to transition to the F-100 D&F aircraft with the J-57 engine. It was a few months before we started to receive the F-100 aircraft. It was here at Chaumont that I really began to wet my whistle in jet propulsion maintenance, test and troubleshooting. Chaumont was also the place where I met an individual who would play an important role in my future ? MSgt Allen T. Hudson.
Following my assignment (3 years and 6 months) at Chaumont I returned to the states in 1959 to Amarillo AFB, Texas, to resume a role as Technical Instructor and specifically identified to develop the first military Jet Engine Accident Investigation Training Course. This course was attended by United States and foreign country military and civilian personnel. I remained there until early 1963 when I was contacted and asked if I would like to participate in a classified program which I immediately said ?yes? to.
This choice required reassignment to Edwards AFB, CA and support of the blackbird program which was an airman?s dream come true. On arrival I initially worked in the main propulsion branch until my security clearance was processed and found then that my old acquaintance, SMSgt Allen T Hudson, had requested my participation based on his knowledge of my prior performance. Once my security clearance was completed I immediately began making weekly trips to Area 51 in Nevada and familiarization and training on the blackbird and the J-75 and J-58 engines.
I continued this schedule, leaving on Monday morning early and returning home Friday afternoon late for a year. And of course no one knew of my involvement ? I became a professional liar. Then one day, the announcement by President Johnson of the SR-71 occurred and the blackbird rolled out of the hanger at Edwards. For the next five years I worked on the YF-12 and SR-71 aircraft at Edwards, progressing from a small secured jet propulsion shop in the main maintenance hanger to the dedicated new J-58 jet propulsion shop (our own facility).
By this time I had progressed from A1C at Sheppard AFB to SMSgt at Edwards, in eleven years. During the period with the blackbird I had been pretty much protected from reassignment because of my special experience identifier and expertise, however, in 1968 I was alerted that it was my time to serve in Southeast Asia. I spent the next year assigned to the 355 Tactical Fighter Wing at Tahkli AB, Thailand supporting the F-105 and B-66 aircraft.
Following that assignment I was surprised but not surprised that I was reassigned to Edwards AFB, again to the blackbird program. It was almost like I had not been gone. For the next three and a half years I supported the USAF and NASA and I loved every minute that I was around this very special aircraft, and I wasn?t even flying it. I can?t imagine how these guys that flew this aircraft must have felt ? you talk about slipping the surly bounds of earth - they did it and smiled every minute of it I hope. I would have given almost anything to have done that.
I had been in charge of the Propulsion Shop and in 1971 was promoted to CMSgt. In 1973 operations had slowed down some and I received an assignment to RAF Lakenheath, England. Before I left I was honored when Fitz Fulton ask me to fly with him on the next YF-12 flight in a chase T-38. What a day. We took off, went around and picked up the blackbird on the take-off roll. We followed it as long as we could and then he said good-bye, see you in a while and off he went. We flew around for a while, and then picked the blackbird up again when he came back for refueling. Once refueled he again kicked in the burners and left us in the dust. We then landed. This was anticlimactic to my years on the blackbird and what an honor to fly with Fitz Fulton. Again, what a day!
My assignment to RAF Lakenheath was once again to the 48th
Tactical Fighter Wing (Statue of Liberty Wing), and the F-4 Phantom aircraft
with the J-79 engine. I left RAF Lakenheath in 1976 and was assigned to the Air
Force Inspection and Safety Center at Norton AFB, CA (San Bernardino, CA). I
retired from the U S. Air Force on 31 March, 1977. My son Don Jr enlisted in the
air force in that same ceremony, that same day, and began his long career in the
U. S. Air Force, first enlisted, then commissioned, which ended in his achieving
the rank of Lt Col and having been assigned to the Space Command for 21 years.
On 11 April 1977, I was employed as a civilian by Pratt and Whitney, United Technologies. I then embarked on my new career still at the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, CA (San Bernardino, CA) supporting the Safety Division and MGen Merkling. In 1980 I was transferred to the Pratt and Whitney plant in West Palm Beach, Florida, where I was charged with creating the Jet Engine Technical Institute, a new training school for P&W engine maintenance and troubleshooting, with courses designed to provide F100 engine training to military and civilian (domestic and foreign) customers of P&W engines.
In 1986 I was ask to reopen the P&W office at PACAF Headquarters on Oahu, Hawaii. I departed PACAF in 1988 for Edwards AFB, CA as Site Manager to head up the Propulsion Shop for the YF-22/YF-23 Fly-Off. I remained there for five years. During that period I was also assigned the responsibility for supporting the NASA SR-71 activity and the U-2 activity in Palmdale, CA.
I left Edwards in 1993 to again support the activity at PACAF
Headquarters, Hawaii. In 1995 I left PACAF for a two year assignment to support
the Royal Saudi Air Force in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on F-15?s. In 1997 I
returned to the P&W West Palm Beach facility assigned to the F-22 Raptor
program. This lasted for two years until my retirement in 1999. Since then we
have lived in Orem, Utah.
During these forty-five years (1954 ? 1999) I have been blessed with a very special and wonderful wife, Jennie, and mother to our five children, Don Jr, Mike, Jeff, Tim and Jennifer, who were all involved and very patient with me during the periods of blackbird support as well as other assignments of my career. It is much easier for one to perform well when there is support from their family and I had that every inch of the way.
A few experiences and memories:
? My family?s first visit to the blackbird in the hanger, walking up and touching it, climbing up the stand ladder, looking in the cockpit, sitting in the vacancy left after the seat had been removed, how very thrilled they were?
? The sound of the Buick engines revving up during engine start..
? My first exposure to triethylborane (TEB), seeing it ignite in the engine, and working on the system both on the engine and with the cart?
? Engine removals and installations and how easy it became?
? Throttle rigging and the need to make sure it was just as the pilots wanted them to be?
? Squeezing down the inlet to inspect for any blade damage?
? The first exposure to on the ground fuel leakage?
? My first trim pad run and watching the engines perform?
? Standing next to the landing strip with my family as the blackbird took off; the engine noise; the afterburner shock pattern; the ground rumbling under our feet?
? Taking my Mom and Sister out past the end of the runway so they could be close when the blackbird took off?
? How proud our boys and daughter were knowing their family was involved with such a special aircraft?
? Jeff relates how his brother Tim told him that at school recess he (Tim) would go out in to the sand and scratch with a stick the outline of the blackbird and then sit where he thought the cockpit would be and fly it till the recess whistle blew. Jeff states that soon the both of them were doing this knowing they were flying the blackbird around the world.
? How proud my wife Jen was when she finally found out what I was doing?
? Our family idolized the blackbird and still does?
? Flying chase to the blackbird in a T-38 piloted by Fitz Fulton prior to my departure for England?
Some of the people I have known as a result of my involvement with the blackbird (these will be added to):
Col Robert L Stevens
Col Daniel Andre
LtCol Walter F Daniel
Col Ronald J Layton
Maj James P Cooney
Maj Noel T Warner
CMSgt Allen T Hudson
CMSgt J Sherman
CMSgt Charles O Morgan
CMSgt Raymond Allen
CMSgt William Castle
NASA YF-12 PROGRAM
CMSgt Jenkins/Ray Young/Larry Barnett/Fitz Fulton
JENNIE R. AND DONALD L. JENKINS SR.