Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Robert L. "Silver Fox" Stephens 1921-1984

Colonel Robert L. "Silver Fox" Stephens distinguished himself in flight test, flying nearly all of the jet fighter aircraft from the F-80 Shooting Star to the F-106 Delta Dart. He graduated from the Air Materiel Command Experimental Test Pilot School at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in 1949.

Called the "Silver Fox" because of his prematurely gray hair, he was the first military pilot to fly the YF-12A, the Air Force's secret titanium-skinned interceptor, and the SR-71 advanced reconaissance aircraft. From 1963 to 1968, he served as test director of the SR-71 and YF-12A test force.

On May 1, 1965, at Edwards Air Force Base, Stephens established four world speed and altitude records in the YF-12A. He averaged 2,070 miles per hour over a 17-kilometer straight away course, then held 80,257 feet to establish a world record for sustained horizontal flight. Those records stood until 1977, when they were surpassed by the SR-71. He was Chief of Fighter Operations at Edwards Air Force Base from 1952 to 1955. He flight-tested the YF-100A, YF-102, XF-104, X-5, X-1B, Navy F2H3, F4D, the F-94 series, F-86, F-89D, F-89H, and YF-101.

A member of the International Order of Characters, Stephens was a Fellow and past president of the society of Experimental Test Pilots. He was a P-47 fighter pilot during World War II and has been honored with the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Thompson Trophy, MacKay Trophy, Flying Tiger Trophy, Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal, Henri De La Vaulx Medal, Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement and Aerospace Walk of Honor.