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A Sky Full of Challenges

A Sky Full of Challenges

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A Sky Full of Challenges

5/5 (1 évaluation)
373 pages
5 heures
Mar 15, 2012


Nearly everyone is curious about what makes airplanes fly with confidence-giving predictability. Joe Dobronski has risen to the challenge with this master work that will satisfy many aspects of your curiosity. His prose is in a fun-to-read storyteller style, while introducing you to an impressive array of technical considerations that determine the difference between controllable flying and the uncontrollable that are the consequence of design flaws. Working at the leading edge of knowledge, some design flaws elude the designers, and must be deduced by exceptional pilots who have skill, experience, and superlative alertness to detail. Overcoming obstacles to jet flight, supersonic flight, high altude flight, and fly-by-wire are beautifully described as a progression that includes nearly all successful jet designs by Joe in first-person style that makes for riveting reading. A Sky Full of Challenges reveals what this master test pilot was thinking in several critical phases of helping to develop the famous and dominant F4, F101, AV8 F15, and F18 fighters.

Reading this book is really a feast for everyone curious about what it is like to perform as a test pilot in the development of the world's most sophisticated airplanes. Some of the chapters are especially notable in providing the feeling of being one of those elite pilots. In the two chapters, "Getting a Foot in the Door", and "The Making of a Test Pilot", Joe presents the exemplary narrative of what was involved in developing jets to surpass the "speed of sound barrier", defining the limits of flight (safety margins), and to improvise pilot skill development concurrently, as these complex, interacting tasks had to be done. Necessity was the mother of invention during many development flights for an experimental test pilot. Recounting more-surprising-than-fiction fables of what went wrong and how it was solved (or not) makes these chapters fascinating inside stories for everyone, test pilot or not. After reading these chapters and experiencing the thought stream, who can fail to regard these test pilots as extraordinary men and true aeronautical heroes?

This book is thus not only a fascinating insight into how to test jet aircraft for success and reliability, but also an inspiring inside account of human achievement at the highest ethical levels. Read a few paragraphs of this book, and you can enter a world that is important, but unknown, to most of the population. Joe's life has indeed been, and continues to be an exciting adventure.

Mar 15, 2012

À propos de l'auteur

J.F. “JOE” DOBRONSKI graduated from high school in western Pennsylvania and entered the NavyV-5 Program in 1945. He attended Worchester Polytechnic Institute and Cornell Univ. prior to preflight. He was designated a Naval Aviator 1947. Joe flew in VA-1L and VX-3 prior to discharge in 1949 and then the Naval Reserve until 1954. After graduation from Northrop Aeronautical Institute in 1951, he worked as a Flight Test Engineer at McDonnell Aircraft in St Louis; became a production test pilot in 1953 flying the F2H Banshee, and was promoted to experimental pilot after graduation from the USAF Test Pilot’s School in 1954. As an experimental test pilot, and later Chief Test Pilot in 1966, he helped develop the Demon, Voodoo, Phantom II, Eagle, Harrier, Hornet and other experimental aircraft and a three jet helicopter. Joe became Director of Test Operations in 1972 and Director of Flight Test and Operations in 1976. Following retirement in 1984, he became Chief Pilot for Wings of Hope, a humanitarian organization where he worked for fifteen years. He flew medical missions in Central America, and also delivered aircraft for missions in Belize, Botswana South Africas, and the Galapagos Islands. With over 1700 hours instructing, he was awarded the FAA Central Region Flight Instructor of the Year 2000 Award. He is a Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and was granted an Honorary Doctorate Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is actively instructing aerobatics and sailplanes in which he holds the Diamond C award. In 1998, he self-published the book titled “A Sky Full of Challenges” (web page www.omnishops.com/TestPilot). Joe married Virginia Hausmann in 1957 and lives at 1008 Cla-Ter-Ri Drive; Ballwin, MO 63011. Joe and Ginny have four children, nine grand-children and five great grand-children.

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A Sky Full of Challenges - Joseph Dobronski SR.



By Joe Dobronski

Copyright 1998 Joseph F. Dobronski, Revised April 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means without the permission of the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in review.

Ebook published by Joe Dobronski at Smashwords

Copyright 2012 Joe Dobronski

Smashwords Licensing Note

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




2.That Burning Desire To Fly

3.Navy Wings of Gold

4.The Decision To Go For It

5.Getting A Foot In The Door

6.The Making of a Pilot

7.Afterburners & Supersonic Flight

8.Taming The Unruly F-101 Voodoo

9.From Swept Wings To Rotary Wings

10.The Fabulous F-4H Phantom II

11.Our Flight Test Area Spans The Oceans

12.The Breguet 941 French Connection

13.Rising Up On Eagles Wings

14.The AV-8 Harrier Jump-Jet

15.The F/A-18 Hornet and Flying A Desk

16.The Retirement Of A Test Pilot

17.General Aviation Aircraft & The Silent Challenge Of Sailplanes


Note of explanation: This table of Contents consists of hot links which are computer-code to allow readers to instantly move to a specified point in the book by a simple control-click (or double-click) of the mouse or touchpad. There are no page numbers listed because the paging will be a variable function of the display device (e.g., desktop, laptop, let, phone) and the font size and even the orientation, whether portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) orientation of mobile devices. Page numbers have no use in this scenario, and thus the Bookmarks and Hyperlinks in this eBook file are provided for convenient orientation.

The name Ref_TOC was chosen as the name of the hot link for this page to comply with computer syntax rules, and you can always return to this page by displaying the list of Bookmarks (the F5 key on PC computers) and then choosing TOC from the list.


This book is dedicated to my wife Ginny, whose loving support has been the wind beneath my wings for so many years.

It has been her unqualified support that has allowed me to continue to pursue and accomplish my dreams. With her unselfish assistance, we raised four wonderful children who all became winners in their own right, and all have found perfect spouses to pursue their own dreams.

It is my hope that our nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren will come to believe what I have found to be true: It doesn't matter so much what we would like to do with our life but rather what we decide we are going to do, and then do it in spite of the many obstacles and challenges. We determine our own destinies.

Joe Dobronski, Sr.


Front L to R: neighbor friend, Betty and Joseph

Back L to R: Rosemary and neighbor friend

One of my earliest recollections of airplanes was when I was about five or six years old in a small mining town in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. While playing in our back yard, I heard a strange new sound from above and looked up to see four biplanes flying in formation. I vividly remember this sight which completely enthralled me. This was during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Never did I realize then, that someday I would become an experimental test pilot of the 1950s Golden Age of flight testing, and be regularly flying aircraft over twice the speed of the sound that these biplanes were making. At that time, my parent’s friends were children of immigrants who had fled the miseries of their native countries seeking food, elbow room, and opportunity in a free America. William Penn had created a colony like none other of the original thirteen. This was a colony of social, religious and political tolerance. Therefore, Pennsylvania attracted a greater variety of ethnic groups seeking to preserve their beliefs, which included more different religions, than any other colony.

At first, of necessity, agriculture and hunting became the major industries. With all the forests around and the need for lumber for building dwellings and other structures, it was not long before sawmills sprang up and the lumber industry made its appearance. By the end of 1885, twenty-three coal mines were operating in Cambria County with a total production of 1,107,963 tons of coal. Iron and steel making was centered largely in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, although pioneers started foundries, forges and furnaces in other areas.

The expanding economy, promising jobs and a better way of life attracted immigrants. They came to Cambria County from England, Wales, Germany, and later from countries in the eastern part of Europe and Italy. Many were singles, who came from the old country alone. Others left wives and children behind, sending for them later when money had been saved for their passage. In the second half of the nineteenth century, both my paternal and maternal grandparents came as children. They were accompanied with their parents in steerage.

My paternal grandparents were from the Slovak domains of the Bohemian-Moravian areas that were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1848, the contagious revolutionary fever was sweeping Europe including mild rebellions in both Czech and Slovakia. It was not until 1918 however, that these areas were to form Czechoslovakia. This country was then a free, democratic republic until its allies betrayed it in 1938 when the Sudetenland was given to Nazi Germany.

With our dad in Ebensburg, PA

Grandfather Michael Dubransky and Grandmother Helen (Sable) settled on a farm near Carrolltown in the rugged hills of western Pennsylvania. Some years later they moved to a house, built by granddad, in the small coal-mining town of Patton, Pennsylvania. My grandfather died when dad was still young and he was forced to quit school at an early age. Because of language problems among the immigrants, the spelling of names also seemed to be changed frequently. Dad later changed the spelling to Dobronski. To help support the family, he went to work in a brick-producing factory. Later he obtained a better paying job working in the locomotive roundhouse in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The occupation he pursued was to be a locomotive engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad. His hopes were dashed when his brother Mike was kicked by a mule and was badly injured. He had to return back home to the farm where he was urgently needed. He married my mother and they lived in Patton where I was born in 1927. He started a truck company there; but like many during the Great Depression of 1929, he was forced out of business.

Dad was a big strong man who was six feet four inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. After his business failed, he decided to spend the remainder of his life working for others and operated all sorts of heavy earth moving equipment. He worked for the State Highway Department and many private contractors building roads and airports. He helped build Friendship Airport near Baltimore and helped level a mountaintop near Johnstown to build their municipal airport. He always took great pride in the work that he did. I think that one of the most important lessons I ever learned from him was that a person should use all the talents God granted and he should strive to be the best at whatever occupation he or she pursued. I have not known many people in this world with his patience, honesty, strong work ethic and even stronger faith in God.

Mom with her grandparents

In 1889, twelve years before my father was born, his mother who was returning from a trip to Pittsburgh, just missed a coal driven railway train on which she planned to return to Johnstown. It was fortunate that she missed the train that arrived in Johnstown just as a reservoir in the mountains burst. The great flood of water destroyed the city and everything in it, including a total of 2,209 people.

In November 1976, when I returned to St. Louis from an F-15 sales tour in Australia, I learned that my father was in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Johnstown, supposedly now flood-free. I flew there to spend a couple of days with him. When I had to return to St. Louis, I told him I would bring my wife Ginny and our four children to visit him at Christmas. We arrived on Christmas Eve day and soon after everyone got to make a short visit, he peacefully closed his eyes and went on to his reward while I was holding his hand. It was typical of him to patiently hold off death until after we had arrived. I will always be grateful for the example set by my father who never complained about anything, including sickness. Though he had very little of the material life, he never stopped thanking God for the blessings he had been given.

My mother's name was Rose Batulis and she came from very proud Lithuanian people. Her paternal grandfather, Mateyis Batulis, became an orphan in 1840 after his mother died of starvation. Since his father had been killed some years before, he fortunately was taken in and raised by a wealthy man named Krausza. He and his childless wife Kathryna lived on a large estate which Mateyis helped manage in later years. Mateyis married Dorothea Zuchowska, daughter of one of Krausza’s servants who lived in the nearby village of Keybartai, Lithuania. A generous portion of Pan Krausza’s estate and a nearby Inn, were given to Mateyis and Dorothea, my great grandparents, as a wedding present.

Before Mateyis fled to America with his wife and seven children, (including my grandfather Frank), he became involved in guerrilla type warfare against Russian Cossacks. Cossacks were wild, warlike tribes of the USSR, who in czarist times lived in frontier regions of Russia. Cossacks served as czarist irregular cavalry and though unruly, they spearheaded many Russian conquests. Mateyis' oldest son, Anthony, was a member of a gang of smugglers who made occasional trips to Germany to obtain weapons. When efforts to overthrow the Russians seemed hopeless and after several narrow escapes of being caught by the Cossacks, Anthony fled to America and later convinced his father to bring the whole family. By this time, the Inn that had become their home had been destroyed during the uprising. Mateyis rebuilt it only to have it burned down by the marauding Cossacks who had become suspicious of his underground activities. When I was a young man, I heard these and many other stories about the evils of the Cossacks and Bolsheviks long before I heard about Communism in the media or from teachers in school. I later found it very hard to listen to some of my socialist professors in college.

The Batulis family settled in Western Pennsylvania and my grandfather, Frank, found work in a coal-mine near Windber. My mother was born in a neighboring coal-mining town of Scalp Level and later they moved to the town of Patton, which is situated in a beautiful valley. My grandmother's birth name was Veronica Good. Her father's name was actually Strelchunis, but the name was mistakenly recorded as Good during immigration when he thought the agent asked him how he felt when asked his name. He did not figure this one out for some years later when he learned to speak English. Her parents were Nichodemus Strelchunis and Petronella Penavich. When she was a teenager, they had emigrated from Vilnius, the historic capital of Lithuania. Many people had fled for their freedom during this period. Lithuania had become a Russian province in 1795 and although revolts occurred in 1830 and again in 1863, they were both unsuccessful.

Grandmother Batulis had ten children and, although her schooling was limited, she spoke five languages. Several Batulis boys had to enter the coal-mine at an early age to help my grandfather. This was a period when miners were paid by the number of coal cars they filled each day. Eventually, unions and child labor laws stopped this terrible practice. Money a miner earned then was only between $1.25 and $5.00 per day. Few complaints were expressed by these miners since this amount was so much better than the average 10 rubles per year they had earned in Lithuania. More important, this was in addition to the priceless gift of freedom. Stanley, one of my mother’s brothers, refused to go into the mines. He had an adventurous spirit and, wanting to see the world, became a merchant seaman. On 18 April 1906, his ship was anchored in San Francisco when a major earthquake destroyed the city and killed 500 people. He survived this catastrophe but lost his adventurous life in 1942, when his ship was torpedoed off the Virginia coast and sank. Later it was discovered the survivors had been machine-gunned in their lifeboats by the German U-boat gunners. Besides the many lives lost that year, German subs sank a total of 7.79 million tons of allied shipping.

Like dad, my mother also had to quit school to help support their large family. Initially she worked in the Ernest and Levy Company Silk Mill, which operated in Patton from 1907 to 1949. She later worked in silk mills in Philadelphia for seven years. For a time when those mills were idle, she cooked for the family of a prominent physician. She was a wonderful mother to my two sisters and me. With a great role model represented by our dad, she taught us some of the most important values of life that could not be learned from the average school textbook. She instilled the character traits in us that included responsibility, respect, honesty, caring and cooperation. It seemed to me later in life that when I fell short in any of these areas, I also fell short in the accomplishment of my goals.

When I was five years old, my parents moved to the town of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, the county seat of Cambria County. This delightful little mountain town is found on the Allegheny high plateau just North of the city of Johnstown. It was here that I received my first schooling from the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Holy Name Catholic grade school.

After the great depression of the early thirties, it was not at all easy for my parents to give us that parochial education and I will forever be grateful to them for their sacrifices. They were not content to just watch us grow up, but made sure that we grew up with a solid foundation based on faith and Judeo-Christian values. When I finally graduated from grade school in the spring of 1941, I was the proud recipient of a medal from the local post of The American Legion. They annually presented an award to the outstanding eighth grader in the local primary schools. Although my mother had very limited academic training, the fact that each of her three children received this award was a fitting tribute to her patient and helpful guidance.

In 1960, the area where I grew up was identified as the eastern part of Appalachia. This newly coined term was applied to those poverty-stricken mountainous areas where health, housing, education and roads were substandard and unemployment was high. Things have not changed much through the years, especially with steel mills and coal mines shutting down. What I remember most about the earlier times was the fact that most immigrants and their children never resented being poor, nor did they feel that the Government should provide them something for nothing. No job was considered menial. Everyone planted gardens and canned the food they grew and berries they picked for the winter months. For various reasons, some less fortunate could not do this and did accept temporary relief but they were all too proud to become career welfare recipients. Everyone considered freedom a privilege and they did not think that a government should take from the haves and give to the have-nots; a practice we have seen so prevalently in recent years.

Having to struggle to attain one’s goals was a motivator for many of these people and this characteristic continues to be the driving force for many less fortunate immigrants to this country today.


Like so many youth of my day, I had developed a longing to fly at a very early age and spent many hours building model airplanes. I built solid balsa-wood plus free-flight models powered with rubber bands and had airplane models hanging from every available space on the ceiling of my bedroom. In 1937 when I was 10 years old, my father took me to visit Mundy Nuss, a friend of his who owned a small two-place Taylorcraft. This was a high wing tail-dragger (an airplane with a tail wheel instead of a nose wheel) with side-by-side seating. Mundy gave me a ride in this little T-craft, taking off from a sod field on his farm near the town of Ashville, PA. To this day I remember the beauty of the rolling hills covered with forests and the small mining towns nestled in the valleys below. The pilot, knowing that I had been born in the neighboring town of Patton, flew over it so that he could point out all the churches and other landmarks I would recognize. This short flight had proved to me that flying in an airplane was everything I had dreamed and I decided right then to make this my goal in life. Although I did not fly again for several years, those embers of ambition formulated early in life were growing. They had turned into a deep burning desire or acute longing, a yearning that went with me everywhere. Later in life, I realized this passion could never be stilled.

When I completed grade school, the winds of war had started to blow in Europe and I remember that most people did not want to get involved before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. These people felt the war was strictly a European problem and the United States was preoccupied extricating itself from the effects of the Great Depression. My parents and relatives, on the other hand, had been deeply concerned from the spring of 1939 when German troops had invaded Moravia, Bohemia and Slovakia and then went on to take the seaport of Memel from Lithuania. It was clear to them that Adolph Hitler had territorial ambitions beyond that of the German-inhabited Sudetenland. Then Hitler's blitzkrieg of Poland was launched with the most terrifying air and ground attack the world had ever seen. The Poles were taken completely by surprise as German fighter planes and Stuka dive-bombers wiped out the Polish Air Force within 48 hours. German troops poured into Poland from the north, west and south and the Soviet forces invaded from the east to claim their share of the bounty as promised in the secret Nazi-Soviet pact. The U.S. soon found it necessary to support our allies when it became obvious Germany, Japan, and Italy had set out to create a new global order. With the Japanese sneak attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. went to war with a vengeance. Never before or since has this country been so united. Everyone wanted to serve their country in any way they could. After Pearl Harbor, some 31 million men registered with almost 10 million eventually inducted. Interestingly, the rejects were because of poor health, malnutrition or mental instability rather than conscientious objections so prevalent with youth in the 1960s. The Army Air Corps grew from less than 300,000 men to two point three million by 1945. As a result, I found that I wanted to be a part of that great effort. In 1942, I put away my boy scouts’ uniform and joined a new organization at our local airport called the Civil Air Patrol. Initially, I did not do any flying but the C.A.P. gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about aviation. I was also asked to put some of my talents to work building models of the enemy plus U.S. Military aircraft for recognition classes. My older sister, Rosemary, also joined and soon we were ready to spot any enemy aircraft that might come overhead. We also collected all the scrap iron we could find in the local junkyards, which was collected and melted at the nearby Bethlehem Steel Mills to support the war effort. We were extremely proud to be helping in the fight against the Axis Powers.

Except during football camp that started in mid-August, I spent the summers working as a caddie at the local Ebensburg country club. Because of the war, jobs were plentiful but still did not pay much. During the summer of 1943, I worked ten hours a day on a farm. My pay was one dollar per day plus room and board. The following year, I became a green’s keeper at the local golf course and happily received $4.50 per day for my efforts. Then, this was considered quite good pay for a sixteen-year-old.

It was this better job that enabled me to begin taking flying lessons without my mother’s endorsement in June of 1944. Lessons cost $9.00 per hour, but at times I would only have enough for a half-hour. My first flight lessons were in a side by side Taylorcraft with the identification number NC36206. The golf course was two miles east of our home and the airport three miles in the other direction. Since I did not have a driver’s license, let alone an auto, it gave me plenty of exercise if I could not get a ride hitchhiking. At that time, we had no concern for safety when thumbing for a ride. This fact was especially true for military personnel on leave in those days of gas rationing.

My flight instructor was Larry Scanlan, a wonderful man and excellent pilot who learned to fly during the barnstorming era. He had a Waco UPF-7 biplane and performed beautiful aerobatics that, for the time being, I could only dream about. Because of the costs involved, I was satisfied learning the basics in the smaller 80-horsepower Taylorcraft. This aircraft was similar to the one in which I had my first ride several years earlier. The Ebensburg Keystone Airport was a grass-surfaced field hemmed in with trees and wires. Larry taught me short field takeoffs and landings as normal procedure. By 1 August 1944, I had accumulated eight hours of dual instruction. Larry turned me loose to solo that day and after I took off, I think my shouts of joy could be heard at the golf course six miles away.

Never dreaming that I would ever have the opportunity to go to college, I had enrolled in the Industrial Arts Course in high school. My short-term goal was to become a machinist in one of the local coalmines or in the steel mills of Johnstown, PA. One thing was certain and that was I did not want to become a coal miner. I became convinced of this fact during the summer of 1940 when 63 men were killed by a mine explosion in the neighboring town of Portage. My parents visited the home of a woman who had lost a husband and two sons in that disaster. When an Army Air Corps recruiter visited our school the beginning of my senior year, I realized this was my big opportunity toward a flying career. He explained a program called the Army Specialized Reserve Program. This program was designed to enlist young men who could qualify to become Aviation Cadets after receiving some college provided by the Army. I convinced my parents this was the opportunity of a lifetime and, with their hesitant approval, I enlisted in September of 1944 at the age of seventeen. Many of my senior class, which consisted of 116 members, also enlisted at this time. We did not have anybody who was a conscientious objector or youth fleeing the country to evade the draft. Inspired by the courage displayed by older friends and relatives, who were bravely fighting and dying for our country, we were only too eager to join the military. By March of 1945, a total of 22 graduates of our little high school had given their lives for the principles of democracy from a total of 122 men and women who had served in the military until that time.

Although I left high school for military service in January of my senior year, I received my diploma by mail later that spring. The caption next to my photo in the 1945 high school year book read: A master machinist of Ebensburg Cambria High School's famed Industrial Arts Corps . . . spends his spare time at the airport . . . or swooping down on some nearby farmer's chickens . . . his motto? . . . . I too can have wings . . . future? . . . Army Air Corps is tops.

It was with great delight and excitement that I read my first official military orders, especially the part that read: for future Air Combat Crew Training with the U.S. Army Air Force. Bill Jones, another senior who enlisted at this time, and I were assigned to the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program (ASTRP) at the Pennsylvania Military College (PMC) in Chester, PA. The civilian cadets at PMC wore a West Point looking uniform and we wore the uniform of the US Army buck private. Our academic courses were standard basic engineering subjects and our instructors for the military training were all Army Ranger combat veterans. The standards and discipline were extremely tough, patterned after those at West Point. These Rangers had just recently returned from combat in the Battle of the Bulge and took great delight in having us do forced marches while carrying full backpacks.

One of the more interesting academic professors who taught physics at PMC happened to be the son of Sigmund Freud,

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