A Tribute to:

Lt. Colonel Tom Smith

Lt Col Tom Smith; Chief Test Pilot and Commander of the SR-71 “Blackbird” Test Force from 1972 to 1975

Smith, Thomas H.  (May 3, 1934-Dec. 31, 2006)

Retired Air Force Test Pilot


Thomas H. Smith, a decorated, retired test pilot, politician, and businessman, died on Dec. 31, 2006, in Lancaster, California. Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 3, 1934, to Harold and Mildred Smith. He is survived by his wife Darlene and her two daughters, Anna and Sarah, his three children, Karen Schaefer of Hope, Mich., Carol Cushman of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., Tom of Irvine, Calif., step-son Ryan of Eugene, Oregon, nine grandchildren, six brothers, Dick and Eileen of York, Neb., Jim and Ellen of Waterloo, Iowa, Paul of Waterloo, Iowa, Robert of Refugio, Texas, Peter and Jane of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Kevin of Surfside Beach, S.C. Also surviving are a sister-in-law Wanda Smith of Ankeny, Iowa, brother- in-law Ralph Russell of Council Bluffs, Iowa and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers Dave and Phillip and his sister Joanne. Tom attended St. Francis and Abraham Lincoln High Schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa where he graduated in 1952. After a brief tour in the Navy, he joined the Air Force in 1953, in order to fulfill his lifetime dream of becoming a Test Pilot. He attended Squadron Officers School at San Angelo, Texas, and married Julane E. Dugger from San Antonio in 1955. After an assignment as a reconnaissance pilot at Johnson AFB, Japan he attended the Air Command and Staff College and then Oklahoma State University where he graduated with a B.S. Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1965. He fulfilled his dream when he was accepted into the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, class of 1965-C. From 1967 to 1969, Smith was the Commander of the U-2 Flight Test Program at Edwards. He was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for his service to the Flight Test Center in 1969, and then served a tour in Vietnam as an F-4 Fighter Pilot, flying over 100 combat missions. His awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with first and second oak leaf clusters, and the Bronze Star for meritorious service as Flight Commander, Mission Launch Officer, Directorate of Combat Operations, and Deputy Chief of Staff. After returning from Vietnam, Smith worked as the Commander, Fighter Test at Edwards AFB. He managed the flight test programs of several V/STOL experimental aircraft and then as the Chief Test Pilot and Commander of the SR-71 “Blackbird” Test Force from 1972 to 1975. He received an M.S. in Business Administration and then attended the USAF Air War College in 1976. After retiring from the Air Force with the rank of Lt. Colonel, Smith worked briefly as the Executive Director of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots but then returned to his love of flying and testing airplanes as a Test Pilot with Fairchild Corporation in San Antonio, Texas. He later served as the Marketing Manager, Military Flight Control Systems, of Lear Siegler Astronics from 1981-1983, before returning to the Test Pilot Society as Executive Director until 1997. During this time, he also served his community as Planning Commissioner for the City of Palmdale, City Councilman and Vice Mayor of Palmdale (1988-1989), Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Palmdale Hospital and Administrative Assistance to the State Legislator. His last work before retirement was as President of Aviatrek International, which involved a close working relationship with nine sponsoring Russian Corporations. Tom and his wife enjoyed their retirement on their farm near Woodbine, Iowa before returning to Rosamond, California just a few miles outside Edwards AFB where he spent much of his career, learning, teaching and testing many of the Air Force experimental high performance aircraft. “He was devoted to his profession of testing aircraft and his sense of public duty” said his son Tom, a business executive from Irvine, Calif. “He was amusing, witty, very intelligent, and just a wonderful person to be around.” 

Services will be held at 1 p.m., Saturday, January 6, 2006, at Halley Olsen Murphy, Lancaster, California. In lieu of flowers memorials may be sent to the SETP Scholarship Foundation in Lancaster, California. After cremation, ashes will be interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Donald Smith

Email: djarforc@mis.net

Editor's Note:  Lt Colonel Tom Smith (AFLC) qualified on the SR-71 as Pilot on 23 January 1974; Qualification #277. Also on that date two VIP's flew Mach 3: Hal Rupard (D-21 Tagboard Director) and Jackie G. Reed.

Colonel Patrick Halloran Presents a Mach 3 pin to Tom Smith-1974

General Patrick Halloran  Writes (April 24, 2008): When I was commander of the 9th Wing at Beale AFB, 

we were plagued by DV's who wanted a ride in the SR so they could wear a 

Mach 3 pin and display a model on their desk.  

What a pleasure it was to have Tom come to us for a checkout because 

he was a great jock who would be using his skills as a test pilot 

to help our operators get a refined Blackbird.  He was a number one friend of ours.

Patrick  Halloran, Major General , USAF (Ret.)

Lt. Colonel Tom Pugh congratulates Tom Smith on his Mach 3 qualification-1974

 

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Credits: All images on this web page are the copyrighted property of the Smith family. 

Tom's brother, Paul submitted these photos for compilation of the web page. 

Use of the photos may be obtained by contacting Paul at: paul.2dennis@yahoo.com

 


 

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