Lewis (Lew) A Nelson 1920-2015
Lewis A. Nelson was an experimental test pilot with Northrop from 1950-1972. He was associated with all phases of experimental testing of the F-89, N-156, F-5 and T-38 aircraft. He performed structural demonstrations, spins, flutter tests, landing tests and stability and control tests.
In 1939, while attending junior college, he was selected to participate in the U.S. Government’s Civilian Pilot Training program and continued participating in Civilian Pilot Training at San Jose State College. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. He left the service in 1947 after flying many successful missions and graduated with a BA in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1949. The same year, he joined NACA (NASA’s predecessor) as an Aeronautical Engineer, and in 1950 became a test pilot for Northrop.
Nelson became Northrop’s Chief Experimental Test Pilot in 1952, responsible for the supervision of Northrop engineering test pilots. While at Edwards, he piloted numerous Northrop tests from the 1950s through the early 1970s, and earned an MA in Engineering from UCLA in 1960. He completed the first flight and was responsible for preliminary safety-of-flight demonstration testing on the N -156F Freedom Fighter, F-5 and T-38, exceeding Mach 1 in each. In addition, he made the first flight of YA-9A on May 30, 1972. Nelson held a number of senior positions with Northrop, including Director of the Flight Test Engineering Section, until his retirement in 1986 as Program Manager of the T-38/F-5 Programs.
A native of California, Nelson has been interested in aerospace since childhood, beginning with flying models at a young age. His first experience as a pilot came in high school, when he had the opportunity to fly a Piper J-3 Cub. After that, Nelson knew that he wanted to become a pilot.
A recipient of two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the IAS Student Awards and four Air Medals, Nelson is a founding member and Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Throughout his career, Nelson logged over 5,000 hours on a variety of aircraft.