Test Pilot
 

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USNS Wally Schirra


 

In 1942, Schirra was appointed to the United States Naval Academy and received a Bachelor of Science degree on June 6, 1945. Upon graduation he was commissioned in the Navy as an ensign and assigned to the armored battle cruiser Alaska, which was bound for Japan, but the war had ended by the time he arrived. On February 23, 1946, he was married and later that year he was assigned to the staff of the 7th Fleet in the Pacific in China, and in 1948, after completing pilot's training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, he was designated a naval aviator and assigned to Fighter Squadron 71. As an exchange pilot with the 154th Fighter Bomber Squadron during the Korean War, he flew 90 combat missions in F-84E jets—mainly low-level bombing and ground-strafing operations. He was credited with downing at least one MiG fighter and possibly a second one.
 

From 1952 to 1954, Schirra served as a test pilot at the Naval Ordnance Training Station at China Lake, California, where he took part in the development of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile. During one test flight, after he had launched the Sidewinder from his jet, the missile doubled back in the direction of his plane and Schirra had to use great skill to evade it. From 1954 to 1956, he was a project pilot for the F7U-3 Cutlass jet fighter and instructor pilot on the Cutlass and the FJ-3 Fury. In 1956 and 1957, he flew F3H-2N Demons as Operations Officer of Fighter Squadron 124 onboard the aircraft carrier Lexington in the Pacific. In 1957 he attended the Naval Air Safety Officer School at the University of Southern California, and in 1958 and 1959 he completed test pilot's training at the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, and was assigned to suitability development work on the F-4H jet fighter there.

Schirra was working at Patuxent River when he first heard about the Mercury Project. He stated that at first he was not keenly interested in being an astronaut, but the more he heard about the idea, the more interested he got. As the doctors at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were testing him for a position as an astronaut in the Mercury Project they discovered a polyp on his larynx. The doctors at the Clinic offered to remove it for him then, however the treatment included absolute silence for four days. This was impossible at the time because he was due in Dayton, Ohio, to take some psychological tests which would require Schirra to speak. He was also still in the Navy, which meant that he had to consult with his commanding officers before anything like that could be done. Later on the medics put him on a week's silent treatment. He broke it only once when a NASA official called from Langley to ask how his polyp was coming along. At the end of the week the doctors decided to go ahead and operate immediately. They arranged to give him what was normally a two or three month treatment in two to three days in order to get it over with.

This was Schirra's first clue that he was on the way to becoming one of NASA's first seven astronauts.

Wally's Favorite Flight Milestones:

  • My favorite test flight was in the Skyray (F4D) thus the handle of the mispronunciation of my last name.
  • I was doing a test report one evening and went outside to see the Sputnik booster go by at Mach # 25. I was less excited about my first Mach One test flight.
  • Lovell and Conrad were class 20 classmates. Lovell studied while Pete and I waterskied. Lovell finished first, Pete and I tied for second. Pete did not have a boat, but would stand on the end of a dock with his skis and a can of gas.


 


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