Bill Fox Story from M/C Press

Former Osagian will be inducted into Aviation Hall of Fame

Osage native Bill Fox was the engineering and programming manager for the Lockheed/NASA/Air Force YF-12 Blackbird Research Program. Here, Fox holds a scaled-down replica of the spy plane he helped to develop.

by David Namanny, Press-News Editor

A former Osage man will be inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame at its annual banquet Sept. 27, in Greenfield.

Bill Fox of Charles City, Iowa (and formerly of Osage), and Col. Kim Olson will join other noted Iowa aviators, including Glenn Martin, the Wright Brothers, Eugene Ely, and the Iowan Tuskegee Airmen, in receiving this honor.

Fox, who was born in Osage and attended Orchard High School many decades ago, was the engineering and programming manager for the Lockheed/NASA/Air Force YF-12 Blackbird Research Program. When he entered the program in 1960, he wasn't told what he'd be working on or where he'd be working, but it would be patriotic. "I asked, 'Who is it with?'" said Fox, the 75 year-old former Osagian. "We can't tell you," was the answer. He then asked, "Where is it at?" Once again, the answer was, "We can't tell you." But Fox said he decided to join the project because he thought "it's a very patriotic thing to do." The project turned out to be designing the fastest airplane in the world.

Fox played a key role in the development of the Blackbird spy plane, which flew at three times the speed of sound and could go as high as 95,000 feet.

During the Cold War, the Blackbird aircraft was the plane of the future. Designed to fly fast and high so that it could cruise undetected over Russia, it was heralded as the perfect spy plane and the greatest aviation achievement of the Twentieth Century.

Bill Fox was born in Osage and grew up on a farm near Orchard, along the Big Cedar River. He graduated from Orchard Consolidated Schools in 1951 and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he was trained in the Naval Aviation Branch and spent a year off the coast of Korea on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany.

After his service, he attended Iowa State University studying engineering, and later, the University of Minnesota. He began working for Honeywell in the Engineering Flight Test Division, where he developed requirements and testing programs for autopilots and control systems. Soon he was in California, assigned to the highly classified Blackbird program, still in its concept phase.

Originally charged with developing the flight control simulator, it wasn't long before he was responsible for the autopilot and stability augmentation system. As the project progressed, he became involved with nearly every system on the aircraft, including the inlet control system, instrumentation, fuel quantity and CG system, and pilot survival equipment.

He then became Engineering and Program Manager for the Lockheed/NASA/Air Force YF-12 Blackbird Research Program. His work continued as stealth programs began in the late 1970s. Eventually, working for Lockheed in Texas, he became the Engineering Flight Test Manager for the Aquila, an unmanned aircraft used as a battlefield overhead target designator for the U.S. Army. The first official Blackbird flight took place in April 1962 at Area 51.

Fox still attends reunions of Roadrunners Internationale, an organization for those who worked on aviation projects at Area 51 such as the U-2 and the Blackbird.

Despite all the time he spent all those years ago at Area 51, which is famous for its connection with UFO folklore, "I never saw any aliens," he said.

Some of the programs he worked on are still classified, said Fox, but most of the information on the Blackbird project, except portions of a few missions the planes were used for, have been declassified.

One mission a Blackbird was involved in was flying over North Korea to observe the USS Pueblo, which had been seized by the North Koreans in January 1968.

Fox retired to Osage in 1988, then moved to Charles City in 1999, where he continues to be involved with the Blackbird, giving presentations to schools and community organizations. More than 10,000 people have heard Fox speak on the subject.

In 2002, Fox was honored as one of 20 charter members of the Blackbird Laurels Society, organized to distinguish those most responsible for the success of the Blackbird. In 2005, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Osage Educational Foundation.

Fox currently resides in Charles City, where in addition to his speaking schedule, he is an active member of his community, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Blackbird Association, and Roadrunners Internationale.

Mitchell County Press-News online -- (story created) Sep. 09, 2008 -- www.mcpress.com


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