McChord Air Museum Dedication
Biography on McChord Air Museum
Obituary on
West High Alumni Hall of Fame



Record-breaking Famed Aviator Dies At Age 81

by Michael Taylor, San Fransico Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 12, 2005

HEALDSBURG, Calif. - Joseph Rogers, the legendary Air Force colonel who was a combat veteran of Korea and Vietnam and set the still-unbroken world's record for the fastest flight in a single-engine jet plane, died Saturday Aug 6, 2005 at his ranch in Healdsburg.

Col. Rogers, who was 81, died of congestive heart failure after a life that saw him turn his boyhood fascination with airplanes into a career in aviation studded with enough hair-raising and heroic feats that would make movies like "Top Gun" look tame.

He set the single-engine jet world's record on Dec. 15, 1959, in an F-106 Delta Dart over Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California: 1,525 miles per hour. The speed record was later broken by two-engine jets, but never by a jet with only one engine.

He also once had to bail out of an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane at 65,000 feet above Earth when the then-super secret plane, traveling around 700 mph, started to disintegrate around him.

Col. Rogers was born and raised in Chillicothe, Ohio. His daughter, Georgia Carver, said her father "went to a county fair when he was about 14 and they had a barnstorming plane there. That was it. He completely fell in love with flying."

In May 1943, at age 19, the budding pilot joined the Army Air Forces and told his superiors he wanted to fly night missions in the Pacific, but Carver said the top brass thought "he was such a great pilot that they made him an instructor." He spent the rest of World War II teaching others to fly. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, then-Capt. Rogers saw battle.

That summer, he was awarded the Silver Star after he saved a regiment of British troops who were stranded on a hilltop, surrounded by enemy forces. Col. Rogers, whose assignment was close air support for ground forces, flew his fighter plane in toward the hill, strafed the enemy troops and used his machine gun to cut an escape path down the hill for the British soldiers.

On November 8, 1950, the then Capt. Rogers achieved a rare MiG-15 jet kill while flying in his piston-engine F-51D Mustang named Buckeye Blitz VI. "This was unusual because of the speed differences between the two planes, " said Jim Cook, master crew chief at the Pacific Coast Air Museum in Santa Rosa and an old friend of Col. Rogers. "He was doing around 350 mph, and the jet was doing 450. There were four MiGs, and they were so much faster. They came over the top of Joe, and he took a lucky shot at them."

In Korea, Col. Rogers was known as Whistlin' Joe because of a device he put on his plane that made a whistling noise "when he came in low and fast," his son, Joe Rogers Jr., said.

After the war, Col. Rogers flew the famed F-86 Sabre jet and in the mid- 1950s enrolled in the Air Force test pilot school. By the end of the decade, when the Air Force decided to go after what was called the "absolute speed record, there was no question who would pilot the aircraft in this joint USAF/Convair (the aircraft builder) project, Maj. Joe Rogers,"

In December 1959, Col. Rogers made his historic flight.

Four years later, Col. Rogers won the "William Tell" competition, an Air Force-wide competition similar to the Navy's "Top Gun" exercise. After commanding a fighter squadron for several years, he went back to Edwards to command the force of SR-71 Blackbird spy planes.

In December 1969, while flying one of the Blackbirds over the California desert at 65,000 feet, suddenly one of its two engines stalled and the plane started to yaw violently. "They had an 'Oh, s -- ' moment," Cook said, "and Joe had just enough time to say, 'Let's go,' to his rear (seat) officer and they punched out of the airplane and did a free fall, in their space suits, down to 17,000 feet, and that's when the parachutes opened. They had a long time to think from 65, 000 feet. They landed in Death Valley and walked away."

A year later, Col. Rogers was in Vietnam, where he flew 100 missions. He retired from the Air Force in 1975, then went to work for Northrop Aerospace, selling the F-5 Tiger and F-20 Tigershark fighter jets in the Asian market.

He retired from Northrop in 1989 and became a familiar sight at the aircraft museum in Santa Rosa, where an F-106 Delta Dart like the one in which he set the speed record is on display.

In 2004, Col. Rogers was named to the Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster, the Los Angeles County city about 30 miles from Edwards Air Force Base. The accolade is designed, the city's Web site says, to "pay tribute to distinguished Edwards AFB test pilots whose history of achievement in the field has been continuously outstanding."

Col. Rogers' wife, Charis, died in 2002. He is survived by his sons, Joe Rogers Jr. of Healdsburg and Garrett Rogers of Oakland; daughter, Georgia Carver of Rancho Cordova (Sacramento County), two grandchildren and two great- grandchildren. A memorial service is pending.



28 May 1924 - 6 Aug 2005
1959 World Speed Record Holder
Combat Pilot
YF-12A/SR-71 Test Pilot

Born on May 28, 1924 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Joseph W. Rogers began his historic aviation career when he joined the Army Air Corps on May 23, 1943. After graduating Aviation Cadet Training Class 44H at Williams Army Air Field, AZ in 1944, Rogers served as an instructor pilot  flying AT-6 Texan and BT-13 Valiant training aircraft at Minter and Merced AAF’s.
In 1946, Rogers received orders to join the 431st FBS of the 475th FBW based at Kempo, Korea  to participate in United State’s effort to reinforce U.N. forces in that nation. On November 8, 1950, the then Capt. Rogers achieved a rare MiG-15 jet kill while flying in his piston-engine F-51D Mustang named Buckeye Blitz VI. After four years of combat in the  F-51, Joe transitioned into the F-80 Shooting Star with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadron of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing. By the end of his involvement in the War, Rogers logged almost 200 missions in the Korean Theater.  [In a message received from David Menard, MSgt USAF 1955-1957 (Ret), who spoke with Col Rogers many times, Dave said that "unconfirmed personal accounts by friends, fellow pilots and some researchers appears to be no official confirmed F-51D Mustang MIG-15 kills during the Korean War."  So it is quite possible this kill was not recorded.  David talked with Col Rogers several times who said he was going to "get round to" a story about it for a book on the F-102/F-106, but it never came to be.  Also, the "4 years of combat" in Mustangs may not be completely accurate as the Mustangs went into combat in 1950 and came out by early 1953 when the 45th TRS turned in their RF's.  And the FBW's got rid of them much sooner, so the duration might be less than officially reported"]

Back on US soil, the newly appointed Major continued his flying career with the famous 71st Fighter Squadron flying F-86A Sabre. In 1954, Rogers entered F-86D Maintenance School and later USAF’s Test Pilots School, among the students in his class were future astronauts L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. and Virgil “Gus” Grissom. After graduation, Rogers joined the F-86D Test Program, and later the F-102A/B / F-106A/B Interceptor Development Programs. During his next assignment as Project Officer for F-106 integration at Air Defense Command Headquarters, Joe was chosen for a project that changed his life.

After the Air Forces selection of the F-106 Delta Dart to make the Services latest attempt at the Absolute Speed Record, there was no question who would pilot the aircraft in this joint USAF / Convair project, Maj. Joe Rogers. On  December 15, 1959, the Major became the fastest Jet Pilot in the World after flying F-106A # 56-0467 to an average speed of 1525.95 mph. F-106 # -0467 flew the record flight after F-106A # 56-0459 experienced technical problems throughout the project. On its last flight in Firewall # -0459 became uncontrollable, fortunately Rogers was able to “settle her down” and land the aircraft.

In honor of his skillful airmanship demonstrated during the "Firewall Project" Rogers received worldwide recognition and was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross, The DeLavaulx Medal, and the 25th recipient of the Thompson Trophy, an award that can be traced back to the National Air Races in 1929.

In 1960,  Lt. Col. Rogers  took command of the Air Force's largest Fighter Squadron, the 317th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron formerly based at McChord AFB, now headquartered at Elmendorf AFB, AK. Joe proved to be one of the Squadrons best Pilots flying in the F-102 Delta Dagger, this fact confirmed after winning the USAF’s Air to Air Weapons Meet, "Top Gun" award in 1963. The Fighter meet named  William Tell is a competition that pits the best Fighter-Interceptor aircrews from around the Air Force.

After a four year command of the 317th FIS, Joe was lured back to flight testing when he took command of the SR-71A / F-12A Test Force. On December 18, 1969, Joe cheated death once again. While flying a test mission with SR-71A # 64-17953, Col. Rogers and his RSO, Lt. Col. Gary Heidelbaugh experienced an in-flight explosion causing a very dangerous high-speed pitch up. Unable to regain control of the aircraft, both men were forced to eject from the aircraft.

In 1973, Joe was thrust back into combat in the skies of Asia as the Vice Commander of the 3rd Fighter Wing in  South Vietnam. He flew more than 40 missions, most of them in the A-37 Dragonfly and the F-4 Phantom II. Later, Rogers  served as Asst. Deputy Commander of the 7th and the 13th Air Forces in Vietnam.

In February 1975, during his final assignment as Chief of Staff for Operations at Aerospace Defense Headquarters, Joe Rogers retired from the Air Force after a 29 year career. After retirement Joe signed on with Northrop Aerospace, where he worked in the companies Fighter Division, Asian-Pacific Region, marketing F-5 Tiger & F-20 Tigershark fighter aircraft. Rogers retired after 13 years, but is still providing his valuable aviation knowledge to the company as a consultant.

Col Joe Rogers died peacefully in his home on 6 Aug 2005.

United States Air Force Biography


28 May 1924 - 6 Aug 2005

Colonel Joseph W. Rogers, USAF set a new official world absolute speed record at Edwards AFB in 1959 when he piloted a Convair F-106A Delta Dart to a speed of 1,525 mph. After 45 years, this was still the record for single engine airplanes.

Flying over Korea and Viet Nam, Rogers flew 300 combat missions in P-51 Mustangs, P-80 Shooting Stars and F-4 Phantoms. He attended the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School in 1956 and the Air War College in 1964.

He flew early development test flights of the F-86D Sabre and performed early testing on the F-102/F-106 weapons systems before joining the SR-71/YF-12 Test Force, where he flew the first Blackbird mission of the USAF/NASA YF-12/SR-71 USAF research program. He eventually became Test Director of the world’s highest and fastest airplane, the SR-71 at Edwards Air Force Base. In 1971, Rogers was already evaluating advanced fighter design concepts that wouldn’t appear until the 1990s.

Colonel Rogers was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Air Medal with 16 Oak Leaf Clusters. A Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Rogers received the Thompson Trophy and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale De La Vaulx medal. During his career as a test pilot, Rogers logged 13,000 hours in more than 50 aircraft, including the F-86D, F-102, F-104, F-106, YF-12, SR-71 and F-4.

Established in 1990 by the Lancaster City Council, the Aerospace Walk of Honor celebrates test pilots who were associated with Edwards Air Force Base. Recognition is awarded for distinguished aviation careers marked by significant and obvious achievements beyond one specific accomplishment.

F-106A 56-0459’s and her "assigned" Pilot & Crew Chief Col Joe Rogers and Ernie White. Col Joe Rogers and Ernie White holding framed portraits of -459 presented to the Colonel in a small ceremony during his September 2000 visit to the Museum.


At the McChord AFB Museum with Ernie White, Sep 2000

During the morning of the 20th of September (2000), McChord Museum was the stage for a pair of long awaited reunions. One gathering was for a group of men who served their proudly during the war in Korea, the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing. The other was between a pilot and his former mount, Colonel Joseph Rogers and the museums F-106 Delta Dart S/N 56-0459.

In the first weeks of December of 1959, the then Maj. Rogers and –0459 leapt into the skies of Edwards AFB CA. during “ Project Firewall “, The Project was a joint Convair - USAF’s attempt to break the World’s Absolute Speed Record of 1483.84 mph set in the Soviet Ye-152-1, a modified MiG-21.

In two weeks of flying, Rogers piloted the F-106 to her limits. Unfortunately each flight was troubled by uncontrollable compressor stalls, causing violent yawing oscillations that nearly cost the Colonel his life.

On the 14 of December, after engine changes and adjustments to the aircraft proved to be unsuccessful in correcting the stalls, -0459 was pulled from the program leaving Col. Rogers attempt for the record in question.

In the early morning hours of the following day, another F-106A from the flight test fleet, S/N 56-0467 joined “ Project Firewall “ as a replacement for –0459 . Later that afternoon on his first flight in the aircraft, Rogers easily flew the F-106 to a record breaking speed of 1525.95 . In fact –0467, flying with a stock engine, was still accelerating when exiting the official course boundaries !

For his record flight Col. Rogers was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross, the DeLavaulx Metal, and was the 25th recipient of the Thompson Trophy. Col. Rogers credits his record flight for his inclusion in many of the top USAF aircraft test programs and for he being selected to command the Air Force’s largest squadron, the 317 FIS based in Alaska.

A exhibit depicting the story of the “ Firewall Project “ and Col. Rogers very interesting Air Force career is currently planned for the Museum Gallery. The McChord Air Museum Foundation would again like to thank Col. Joe Rogers for his continued support to the project.