Vernon P. Saxon, Jr.

COL Vernon Parker Saxon, Jr., seemed to be a natural test pilot, born to fly. His fa­ther was a Berlin Airlift pilot and, as a youth, Vern flew Strategic Air Command aero club planes. Edwards Air Force Base eventually became home for 17 of Vern’s 30 years in the Air Force. Vernon, in fact, was believed to be the only person to have defended Edwards in a fully armed F-15, ordered to track and shoot down NASA’s Boeing 720 remotely piloted test aircraft if it broke formation and headed for populated areas on or off base.

Vern’s career in the Air Force almost did not happen, however. A severe injury threatened to end his West Point “experience” before it began, but, as his sister Martha Jean re­calls, he seemed to will himself well in record time. She said his determination to achieve his goals was a big part of his character.

Vern arrived at West Point in 1963, ea­ger to serve his country and quick to make friends with his steady demeanor, sense of teamwork, and quiet confidence. He ex­celled academically and developed lifelong leadership traits. Classmates said Vern always seemed the most mature person in the group, giving birth to the story he had been born an adult.

A gray hog in the most positive sense, during the cold and windswept days in Company K-2’s barracks in the Lost Fifties, classmates recalled that Vern seemed to welcome publi­cation of the Plebe duty roster—another opportunity to serve. Even on leave in civilian clothes, he unfailingly and proudly stood at attention for the National Anthem.

Cow and Firstie years in C-2, he was a role model: firm but fair, and he spoke up when something was unfair or not right. A perennial star man, he was always available to help others. Mike Kush, a C-2 classmate, stated, “If Vern hadn’t been around Cow and Firstie years, I don’t know how I would have survived Mechanics, Juice and Ordnance. He was always there to help, and I know that Vern had his own work to do.”

Another classmate, Carroll Howard, re­members Vern as a true team player: “During our last year, we decided we wanted a com­pany Firstie Day Room and got approval. The catch was six firsties had to go into two rooms versus three to free up a room. Vern was first to volunteer to ‘triple up.’ Although that does not sound like much now, it was a big deal then.” Other memories abound of Vern’s selfless spirit.

A leader in the company, Firstie year Vern coached the C-2 intramural volley­ball team to the regimental champion­ship. He also had a keen sense of humor. Brian Hayes recalls Vern’s often making a seemingly innocuous comment that, upon reflection, brought belated smiles, relaxed tensions, and caused his companymates to appreciate Vern’s character.

Following commissioning into the U.S. Air Force, Vern flew the A1-E in the Special Operations Wing, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base. He later became an O-2 Forward Air Controller at Bien Hoa Air Base in Viet Nam.

Back stateside in 1970, Vern was select­ed as the Outstanding Flight Instructor at Sheppard AFB. Throughout North Texas, he spoke on POW/MIA issues, also meet­ing and marrying USAF 1LT Claire Lyn Newton, creator and co-speaker of the three-officer speaking team. Their daugh­ter Jennie was born at Sheppard. Their son Jeff was born in 1974, while Vern was earning his astronautical engineering master’s degree at the Air Force Institute of Technology School of Engineering, which honored him as the school’s Outstanding Student. During these years, he published plans in Sky & Telescope magazine for the “Saxon Drive,” an inexpensive telescope drive, that helped amateur astronomers track objects during night photography.

He then joined the Navstar-Global Positioning System Joint Project Office in Los Angeles during the establishment of the GPS program. Vern was Outstanding Graduate of his USAF Test Pilot School class at Edwards. He also excelled as a student at the Air Command and Staff College (1981), the Air War College (1985), and at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (1988).

At the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards, he served as Director, F-15 CTF; Director, Center Safety; and Commander, 6510th Test Wing. He was also Director, Programs and Resources, Deputy Chief of Staff for Test and Evaluation, Headquarters AFSC at Andrews AFB, MD.

Off duty Vern was active in choirs and musicals. He was the headliner in the High Desert Players productions at Edwards. He recorded John Denver’s musical rendition of John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s famous poem “High Flight” for the Flight Test Historical Foundation’s “Legacy of Pancho Barnes” video soundtrack.

A member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Vern was active on the Board and charter member of Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) 1000. The granddaddy of all of his projects was his work with fellow craftsmen and EAA members to rede­sign and construct his own full-size aircraft: a two-seat Sonerai II, nearly complete at the time of his death.

By August 1996, when he was medically retired from his position as AFFTC Center Vice Commander, Vern’s record included more than 4,000 hours as a command pilot, including 789 combat hours and service in 34 different aircraft. His decorations includ­ed the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Meritorious Service Medals, fifteen Air Medals, the Joint Services Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

Classmate Karl Sakas provided this won­derful reminiscence: “Vern was one of the most dependable, reliable and honorable per­sons I have ever known. I think he believed in and tried to live by the principles of West Point every day of his life. Vern was something of a character with real Character. He was always a loyal and true friend. You could not ask for anyone better.”

Vern’s family invites everyone to visit the Colonel Vernon P. Saxon, Jr., Aerospace Museum in Boron, CA, near Edwards Air Force Base.