Between 1954 and 1967, John Carlson tested the flight capabilities and the limits of medium to heavy bombers. He began his career in bombers as aircraft commander of a B-29 based in Japan and made the move to flight test asa 1954 graduate from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB.
For the next five years,Carlson flew bomber tests of the B-29,variants of the B-66 and the RB-47H,culminating in flight testing of the B-52B and his role as primary test pilot on the B-52G Phase IV tests at Edwards AFB.
In 1959,he was assigned as project officer on the XB-70 at Air Force Systems Command Headquarters. After that, the Air Force assigned him for studies in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas. Carlson then returned to flight test in 1964 at Wright-Patterson AFB and flew the KC-135 and other aircraft as Chief of the Cargo Branch. The war in Southeast Asia then took Carlson to Vietnam as a Sandy Pilot. Flying a single piston-engine Douglas A-1 Skyraider,he took part in the rescue of downed aircrew members during two Vietnam tours.
He was then assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB as Chief of Standardization and Evaluation. In 1970 he returned to Southeast Asia as Chief of Operations and Training in F-4 Phantoms. He retired from the Air Force in 1974.