C. Gordon Fullerton
Widely known as a test pilot extraordinaire, C. Gordon Fullerton fulfilled three distinguished careers centered on aeronautics and spaceflight. He spent 30 years in the U.S. Air Force (1958–1988), retiring with the rank of colonel after serving as a bomber pilot, fighter pilot, and test pilot. During 20 of those years, he was an astronaut in the Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs (1966–1986). Then, for more than 20 years, he was a flight research pilot and chief pilot at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (1986–2007).
He was a master of the exacting and dangerous field of experimental flight research. Few people have accumulated as much time in experimental flight as Fullerton: more than 380 hours in space and 16,000 hours in 135 different aircraft. Having earned two engineering degrees from the California Institute of Technology, Fullerton applied his knowledge and love of flying to improve flight safety and airworthiness.
Fullerton was one of four pilots to fly the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise for the 1977 approach and landing test series. He went on to pilot Columbia’s third mission in 1982, the only shuttle mission to land at White Sands, New Mexico, and to command the Spacelab 2 mission on Challenger in 1985, expertly reaching orbit after an engine failure during ascent.
Fullerton’s many honors include induction into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame, awards of several Department of Defense and NASA service medals, and being elected a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. In 2009 this museum honored him with the National Air and Space Museum Trophy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum.