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AFTC loses one of its own as hypersonics pioneer Johnny G. Armstrong dies

Lt. Johnny Armstrong (left) stands with his B-58 crewmates Maj. Fitz Fulton, Maj. Cliff Garrington and Everett Dunlap in front of the aircraft in 1957. Armstrong flew in this test and support aircraft making him the first non-rated U.S. Air Force officer to fly at Mach 2. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Johnny Armstrong (left) stands with his B-58 crewmates Maj. Fitz Fulton, Maj. Cliff Garrington and Everett Dunlap in front of the aircraft in 1957. Armstrong flew in this test and support aircraft making him the first non-rated U.S. Air Force officer to fly at Mach 2. (Courtesy photo)

Johnny G. Armstrong retires as Chief Engineer of the Hypersonic Combined Test Force, February 6, 2012.
(Photo courtesy of AFTC History Office)

Johnny G. Armstrong retires as Chief Engineer of the Hypersonic Combined Test Force, February 6, 2012. (Photo courtesy of AFTC History Office)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Johnny G. Armstrong, a hypersonics pioneer and retired flight test engineer at what was then known as the Air Force Flight Test Center here, died in Lancaster, California. He was 86.

Armstrong spent most of his nearly 55-year career at Edwards expanding the envelope of speed. His first assignment as a civilian in 1962 was as a flight planner on the joint U.S. Navy/NASA/U.S. Air Force X-15 flight test program. He also worked on the F-104, lifting bodies such as HL-10, M2-F3, X-24A and X-24B.

Armstrong’s career included work on space and hypersonic vehicles such as the X-33, X-34, X-37, X-38/X-40A Future-X, X-43 Hyper-X, and X-51 Waverider. He became the Hypersonics Combined Test Force Chief Engineer in 2004 and retired from the position on February 6, 2012.

Armstrong was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 12, 1933, but grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He became aware of Edwards AFB in high school while reading about NACA research pilot Scott Crossfield’s speed and altitude records in the NACA D-558-II; working at Edwards became his goal. Upon his graduation in 1953 Armstrong began his career as a Summer Aide at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama on the first Redstone launch. He graduated from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

Armstrong arrived at the Air Force Flight Test Center as an Air Force first lieutenant in in 1957, and would spent the majority of his career there. He worked on the YB-58A test team with Air Force Major Fitzhugh “Fitz” Fulton, Major Cliff Garrington, and Mr. Everett Dunlap, and became the first non-rated Air Force officer to fly at Mach 2 in the aircraft. Following another assignment in Huntsville, “Lieutenant Johnny,” as he would ever after refer to himself, left active duty in 1961 in order to return to Edwards and flight test.