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"Just the Other Year" Chronicles by Elayne Bendel


George R. Jansen was an American Icon and Legendary DAC Test Pilot

     It's been about a year since the passing of the legendary Neil Armstrong, and while best known for his work as an astronaut, he also had been a combat pilot during the Korean War and spent several years in flight test programs at Edwards Air Force Base prior to joining the astronaut corps.  While at Edwards during the 1950s Armstrong also was founder of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.  A number of retired DAC production and experimental test pilots share similar backgrounds and this issue of the RoundUp will feature George R. Jansen, Douglas former Director of Flight Operations.

     Like many youngsters in the 1920s, George developed a love of flying at a very young age. According to his 8th Air Force bio, when George was about 5, a school teacher lived at his Willows, California home and was dating a local mechanic who had acquired a Jenny (JN-4 biplane). On weekends, he would come by and pick up the teacher, and they would let George tag along to the airport.  While the owner drummed up rides, George played with the controls in the rear cockpit.  Later, George worked after school and on weekends for the Willows Flying Service.  The 35 cents and hour he earned was used to pay for flying lessons.  Jansen soloed when he was 16 and earned his pilot's license a year later.

     During World War II Jansen became a young B-24 Liberator pilot.  In a May 1943 mission over Kiel, Sweden to bomb Nazi submarine pens, Jansen's aircraft, the "Margaret Ann", was attacked by both enemy fighters and flak artillery after unloading its bombs over the target.  In the deepest unescorted daylight penetration to that date against the Germans, George returned to England with his ship suffering 750 bullet and flak holes in it.  One crewman was dead and another wounded.

     Jansen spent 18 months flying combat missions deep into Europe with the 68th Bombardment Squadron of the 44th Bombardment Group.  Twice his unit would be transferred from England to North Africa.  Jansen and his fellow crewmen would take part in the attacks on the oil refineries at Ploesti, and would support the allied landing in Sicily.  Ploesti was one of the most famous raids of the war.  Along with George, my friend Bob Parker, a fellow B-24 pilot and instructor, who later owned the flying school where I first started taking lessons in a cessna 150, also was involved in this mission.

     By November 1943, Jansen was promoted to major and commander of the 68th, and had earned two DFCs - Distinguished Flying Cross - for his combat missions, and was still only 22 years old.  In 1944, Jansen had completed 27 combat missions and had earned a third DFC as well five Air Medals.  He returned to the U.S. and was assigned to the 202nd Instructors Indoctrination Unit as a combat returnee instructor in B-17s and B24s.  With the end of the war imminent, and many squadron buddies leaving for the airlines, he decided to look into the possibilities of test flying.  In 1945 he joined DAC as an engineering test pilot and was assigned to the B-17 ROC test.  At war's end, the program was canceled and he transferred to performance and stability control testing on the BT2D (A1) and the DC-4.

     Jansen took part in other tests including the B-42A, C-74, and C-124.  He checked out the P-80 in 1946 before test work on the XB-43, the first jet bomber, and then the XF-3D.  He graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot's School at Edwards Air Force Base, and from 1954 to 1961 he was Flight Operations Manager at Douglas Aircraft's Edwards location.  At one time during this period, Douglas was testing 24 aircraft of seven different types at Edwards, making its test force the second largest Air Force in the United States.

     A founder and past president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Jansen won its Octave Chanute Award in 1986 for his contributions to the science of flight testing and the development of flight safety, though he twice had to bail out of aircraft with both incidents occurring on the same date - August 5.  The first time involved a C-74 in 1946 that had had a structural failure.  The second time was in 1954, when the engine failed on the skyshark he was flying.  Thereafter, George reserved August 5 for flying a desk.

     Between 1945 and 1982 George rose from Chief Test Pilot to Director of Flight Operations.  He conducted first flight tests in the XA-2D, SZ-3D, the RB-66 Skywarrior, the DC-9 Series 10 and the DC-10 Series 20.  Jansen flew the DC-9 twin-engine jetliner on its premier flight from Long Beach to Edwards Air Force Base in 1965.  Jansen also made first flights on the XA2D skyshark, the XA-3D Skywarrior, and A3D with J57 engines, the RB-66, and the first DC-9, all at Edwards.  He piloted the first flight in the stretched DC-9-30 and the DC-10-40.  He flew many research and operational aircraft, including the AD-1 Skyraider, F3D Skynight, D-558-1 Skystreak, B-29, DC-8, Cloudster II, XB42A, XB-43, Caravelle, C-54, C-74, C-133, YC-15, EC-135N, DC-6, DC-8, F3D, and F4D.

     With this distinguished history George was already the Director of Flight Operations when I joined DAC in 1977.  In my role as the External Relations delegate to the DAC Accident Board I interacted with him often.  The most memorable time was in 1979 after the DC-10 Chicago accident, when the left engine and pylon detached from the aircraft on takeoff.  The DC-10 rolled left and ultimately crashed killing all 271 onboard and 2 people on the ground.  Both DAC and the DC-10 were taking a beating in the media, so when we were approached by the Washington Post to have their reporter visit us in Long Beach, we jumped at the chance to work directly with this major publication and its influential news service.

     We were conducting numerous post-accident tests and decided to take the reporter to our Building 41 to meet with George in the Motion Base Simulator. Within a few minutes it became clear the reporter did not know a rudder pedal from a wing tip and we feared another media hatchet job.  As a combat and test pilot, George was as tough and resolute as they come and I thought he would skin me alive for bringing him this novice.  But instead, his gentler side emerged.  With infinite patience he explained not only how and why airplanes fly, but also what we were investigating in the simulator.  After being so well briefed, when he gave her a chance at the controls I knew she was hooked.  George had turned a potential disaster into one of the best interview experiences ever.  And we got an accurate and fair story in the Post.

     Not long thereafter we took the MD-80 on its first sales tour throughout the U.S.  George was past age 60 and no longer flying for DAC.  I found this ironic given his experience and skill, but those were the rules at the time.  Nevertheless, he was onboard throughout the tour looking after detail and pacing the aisle like a doting dad.  On his retirement a few years later he could look back on two great careers - one with the Air Force and another with the Douglas Aircraft Company - as a true American hero.  He left us all too soon at around 70, but his legacy still shines.

                              - Elayne Bendel