United States Army and United States Air Force:  1942 - 1953

Civilian Test Pilot:  1953 - 1977

Richard L. (Dick) Johnson was born near Cooperstown, North Dakota on September 21, 1917.  He started flying in that area in 1935 in a Travel Air 2000, a Pietenpol Skyscout that he built, and others. 

Dick joined the U. S. Air Force in 1942 and flew 180 combat missions during WWII in P-47 Thunderbolts.   Dick was awarded the Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and fourteen Air Medals for his bravery and superior airmanship in combat.  He also flew six combat missions in the F-86 during the Korean War.

Assigned to the Fighter Flight Test Group at Wright Patterson AFB upon return from WWII combat, he participated in many firsts:

·         Flew the F-86A to a World Speed Record of 680.981 MPH in 1948, a record which stood for several years. 

·         Flew the first series of prone position flights in a converted F-80 to demonstrate high “G” capabilities of positions other than upright.

·         Flew the first Aeromedical Research flights of sustained negative “G” by doing outside loops in F-84 and F-86 aircraft.

·         Flew the first supersonic flights in a military aircraft; an F-86A, resulting in the first supersonic booms in the Dayton, Ohio area. 

·         Led in the flight testing of aircraft with fully powered flight control systems until the systems were perfected and accepted by the military pilots in lieu of cable and pulley control systems.

·         Flew the first military flights in an F-86 having a fully powered flight control system.

·         Flew the first military flights of the XF-91, XF-93, XF-94, XF-95, and XF-96.

·         In addition to making the first supersonic flights in the F-86, Dick made the first supersonic flights in the F-84C, F-91, F-93, F-100, among others.

·         Flew the first supersonic flight in a French built aircraft, Mystere IV.

During his experimental flying in the Air Force, he flew every fighter, bomber and cargo aircraft in the Air Force inventory, as well as the X-1.  In addition, he flew all the RAF aircraft of the period and the French Ouragon, Mystere-II, IV and IVB.

Dick, by then a Lieutenant Colonel, resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become a test pilot for General Dynamics/Convair Division in San Diego and Edwards Air Force Base, California.  Initially, he was the Chief Engineering Test Pilot on the F-102 program. He piloted this aircraft on its first flight in October of 1953.  His technical and piloting expertise, and leadership of the flight test program of that aircraft, allowed Convair to deliver a highly effective weapon system to the Air Force.  Later, as Chief Engineering Test Pilot on the F-106 program, he made the first flight in that aircraft on December 26, 1956.  As with the F-102, Dick’s contribution to the F-106 program resulted in the F-106 becoming one of the finest flying aircraft for the next twenty years.

In 1960, Dick transferred to General Dynamics/Fort Worth.  There, he took over the flight test program of the supersonic bomber, the B-58 Hustler.   In December 1964, as the Chief Engineering Test Pilot of the F-111 program, he flew the first flight in that variable sweep wing aircraft, and, during the next several months, flew this radical aircraft throughout its flight envelope, including pulling over eight “Gs” at 900 knots indicated airspeed.  He also contributed to the design and development of the F-16.  At the time of his retirement from General Dynamics/Fort Worth in 1977, he was Director of Flight and Quality Assurance.

Dick was one of six civilian test pilots who founded the internationally known Society of Experimental Test Pilots.  He is recognized as an extremely skilled, brave and meticulously thorough test pilot and pilot in both his military and civilian careers.  His frank and honest evaluation won him the respect and confidence of both military and civilian managers and engineers.

When then Major Johnson broke the world speed record in 1948, his home state, North Dakota, and home town, Cooperstown, were inspired to honor and thank Mr. Johnson for his outstanding accomplishment and service to his state and country.  October 21, 1948 was designated Dick Johnson Day.  At ceremonies in Cooperstown attended by Governor Fred Aandahl, Senators Milton Young and William Langer, Representatives William Lemke and Charles Robertson, Lt. Gov. C. P. Dahl, Cooperstown Mayor L. A. Sayer and many others, Governor Aandahl lauded Dick for his achievement and service.

Several generations of Griggs County, North Dakota youth and citizenry have followed Dick’s life and career from the early days of flying Model T powered aircraft around the Cooperstown and Hannaford areas to his considerable contributions to military aviation world wide.  They have been inspired by the example of his bravery, leadership and unsurpassed airmanship.

In addition to the Silver Star Medal and other awards previously cited, Dick was the recipient of the following awards: 

·         Society of Experimental Test Pilots’ Iven C. Kincheloe Award.


·         Air Force Meritorious Service Medal


·         Legion of Merit


·         Henri de la Vaulx Award


·         Thompson Trophy

·         MacKay Trophy

·         Flying Tiger Trophy

·         Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal

·         Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement

·         Aerospace Walk of Honor.