Edwards engineer rockets to 'golden'
Staff Sgt. Mark
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Johnny Armstrong, 412th Test Wing Hypersonic Flight Test Team chief engineer , arrived at Edwards as a second lieutenant in 1956. (Courtesy photo)
Johnny Armstrong, 412th Test Wing Hypersonic Flight Test Team chief engineer, has seen history made over and over again during his 50 years of civil service — 49 of them having taken place here. Being able to see, and be a part of, Edwards’ history did not happen by chance, however. It was something he masterminded from the very beginning of his career.
“I was fascinated with the rocket-powered aircraft that were being tested at Edwards at the time,” Mr. Armstrong said. “So, when I received my first set of orders to Kirtland Air Force Base (N.M.) out of ROTC, I was a bit disappointed.”
Taking fate into his own hands, Mr. Armstrong said he doesn’t remember how he was able to make it work, but after talking to some “key individuals” his wish of getting an assignment to Edwards was made a reality.
He then started his Edwards trip by packing his 1949 Plymouth and heading west on historic Route 66. After arriving here in October of 1956, Mr. Armstrong performed flight test engineer duties on a variety of test programs as an assistant flight engineer on the F11F-1F, SA-16B and YB-58A. He also flew test support in more than 25 different test support aircraft.
Bob Hoey, also a young engineer officer who served with Mr. Armstrong during this time, said they both had to learn a lot of information together quickly on stuff they didn’t necessarily talk about in college classes. Both he and Mr. Armstrong made sure to help each other through those early times.
After leaving Edwards for one year for an assignment to Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala., in 1961, Mr. Armstrong returned back to Edwards after an opportunity to work on the X-15 program became available. He has worked here continually since.
The opportunity to work on the project was a dream come true for Mr. Armstrong.
“Nothing equals my experience of working on the X-15,” Mr. Armstrong said. “It was very apparent to me we were pushing the envelope on that project everyday.”
He said the project allowed him to work with his idol, Scott Crossfield — the first pilot to reach Mach 2 — and help create an aviation icon in Col. Pete Knight with his manned Mach 6.7 flight. The project also allowed him the opportunity to meet past aviation greats, like Gen. James H. Doolittle and Jacqueline Cochran, who wanted to experience for themselves the flight simulator made for the project.
Mr. Armstrong has continued to work with X-plane projects that tested hypersonic flight all the way up to his current assignment where he is responsible for supporting the testing needs of the X-33, X-34, X-37, X-38, X-40 and X-43.
In looking back at his 50-year career, Mr. Armstrong says passion for the job has made all the difference in the world.
“Make your passion your job,” he said. “If you do this your job never feels like work.” Mr. Armstrong has gotten his retirement papers out from time-to-time, but they never seem to get filled out for some reason.
“I told myself when it stops being fun I would retire,” Mr. Armstrong said. “I guess those papers never get filled out because I am still having fun.”