Thursday, March 01, 2007

Arthur 'Kit' Murray 1918-2011

Arthur “Kit” Murray was born and raised in the small town of Cresson nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. With WWII already underway in Europe, he joined the Army in 1939, and served in the Cavalry. Kit volunteered for pilot training the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and by 1943 was flying the P-40 as a fighter pilot in Africa. His unit worked its way across the continent from Casablanca to Tunisia, escorting B-25, B-26 and A-20 bombers as well as performing dive bombing and strafing missions. His unit was proud to never have lost a bomber to enemy fighters while under their escort.
After a year tour in Africa, Kit returned to the U.S. as a P-47 instructor at Bradley Field near Hartford, Connecticut. He was then assigned as a maintenance flight test pilot and sent to Maintenance Engineering School at Chanute AFB. After completion of that school his commander found out about the Flight Test School at Wright Field and decided to send him there. Here was where Kit got his big break as he quickly found out this school was not for functional test flights, but for experimental test programs. He kept his mouth shut and stuck with the program, and soon was offered the opportunity to be the first permanent test pilot to be assigned to Muroc Airfield (later Edwards AFB) in the California desert. Until then, pilots were based at the Wright Field Test Center and assigned TDY as needed to Muroc. Chuck Yeager was making such trips out there from the Test Center while he was flying the X-1 on the first supersonic test flights. In early tests Kit was able to fly some of America’s earliest jet aircraft including the Bell XP-59 and the P-80. He also flew the P-51, P-82 (twin Mustang), F-84, B-25, B-43, B-45 and many other fighter and bomber aircraft. The most exciting flights, I would think, must have been the X-planes he flew. They were certainly the most exotic. Kit flight tested the X-1A & B, the X-4 and the X-5. In the X-1A, Kit set altitude records of over 90,000 feet and was considered at the time, 1954, America’s first space pilot. He was the first to see the curvature of the earth and the sky dark at mid-day. The X-1A was powered by four rocket motors using liquid oxygen and alcohol as fuel. Looking rather exotic even in photos today, the X-1 used nitrogen tanks to pressurize many of the systems including the fuel tanks, cockpit and the landing gear system. However, the flight controls were completely conventional with strictly mechanical linkage and no hydraulic boost.
The X-1A was launched from the belly of a B-29 and later a B-50, and the flight profile had him using a 45 degree pitch attitude with airspeeds reaching about Mach 2. On his first couple of high altitude flights, Kit said his plane would snap into a spin when the motors burned out while approaching his peak altitude. He finally figured that the rocket motors were installed very slightly offset which, to keep it going straight, was causing him to have to cross control the plane increasingly as it accelerated. When the engines shut off, the cross-control condition, which was keeping the airplane from yawing, now became the perfect spin entry input.
After two exciting flights involving supersonic spin recovery, Kit was quick to neutralize the controls immediately upon motor shutdown in later flights. He had taped a string in front of the windshield to determine his rudder trim input! Kit was the first pilot to fly the X1-B aircraft in powered flight, and he said it was a much straighter flying rocket ship than the X-1A. The X-4 he flew was basically a flying wing type aircraft (no horizontal tail) and the X-5 was a variable sweep test platform.
Kit was a test pilot at Muroc/Edwards from 1949 to 1955, an unusually long time for that assignment. Kit’s next Air Force assignment was in Paris, France. He was in charge of technology integration for the U.S. Regional Organization there and was privileged to fly some of Europe’s top airplanes at the time, including the Italian Fiat G-91, the French Mystere, and the English Javelin. After that one year assignment he went to Wright-Patterson AFB as head of new developments at the Systems Project Office.
During his time there, 1958-1960, he was Air Force manager for the X-15 program, which attained record altitudes of 354,000 feet and a speed record of 4,534 m.p.h. (Mach 6.7). The X-15 program contributed enormously to the space program and high speed aircraft research, and was acclaimed as the most successful test program of its type. Kit held the rank of Major at the time, but this was considered a Colonel’s job, so the Air Force was definitely getting their money’s worth out of him. He was approached by Boeing in 1960, with an offer he could not refuse, so he retired with over 20 years of military service and became their “company astronaut” managing crew integration for the space program. In that capacity he massaged the gap between engineers and scientists who just wanted astronauts to ride in a sealed capsule, and pilots who wanted to be able to see what was going on and do something about it! Kit worked for Boeing on many space programs from 1960 to 1969, from the X-20 (a single place space shuttle) to the Apollo program. He was Technical Integration Manager for Boeing at Cape Canaveral.
In 1969 Kit moved to the Ft. Worth area to become Air Force Requirements Engineer for Bell Helicopter in the tilt rotor program. He worked for them until 1971, then gradually slowed down in retirement, but still doing many things interesting to him. He managed a hunting club, flew some charter work for Mustang Aviation in Dallas, then did some courtroom reporting for the Bosque County newspaper. Kit also was project manager for the restoration of the Bosque County Courthouse, taking it back to its 1886 splendor.