Thursday, January 05, 2012

Phillip W. Houghton 1919-2007

Phillip W. Houghton was born in Texas, the son of an Army Air Corps General. He was a P 51 pilot in Okinawa very late in the war, escorting B-29’s and attacking ground targets. He noted that the only time he was ever shot at was a soldier shooting a pistol at him as he was straffing a dockyard!

After the war he moved to St Louis and flew the P51 for the Missouri National Guard and was part of a two man demonstration team that competed against other pilots after the war. He flew out of Lambert field in St Louis which is also the home of McDonnell aircraft. He graduated with an aeronautical engineering degree from the University Of Minnesota. He was hired by McDonnell Douglas in 1946 as an assistant aerodynamicist and thereafter as a test pilot.

He was one of many test pilots for McDonnell on the Phantom 1, Banshee, Demon, and F101 Voodoo. He was responsible for developing the photo reconnaissance version of the F101, the RF 101, and did several trans-american flights testing the photo equipped aircraft, as was the policy for manufactures, McDonnell allowed an Air Force pilot to set the record for the reconnaissance flight. When the F4 Phantom 2 was developed, he moved from being an experimental test pilot to being a production test pilot in order to stay closer to home instead of travelling a lot to Edwards and other airbases. He made final check out test flights before delivery of the F4, and was responsible for delivering F4's to the RAF, Israeli Air Force, Japan, and Germany.

He sued McDonnell in a age discrimination case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. McDonnell had a mandatory retirement from flying at about the age of 53. And although he could continue to work for McDonnell, pay was substantially reduced, forcing most pilots to quit. Phil argued successfully that it was a way for McDonnell to avoid retirement costs, and retirement based on age was arbitrary, and not a true indicator of pilots performance. In fact Chuck Yeager testified in his defence at his trial. Unfortunately, it was a Pyrrhic victory. He won the case after about 7 years. A bit naive, he thought if he won he would be back in a cockpit. He never flew or worked again.

He suffered 2 crashes in his career, once a midair collision in his Mo Air guard P51 with a Grumman Bearcat over Southern Illinois flying out of Lambert Field. Neither pilot apparently saw the other as they were practicing aerobatics and had no radio communication. Unfortunately the Navy reservist pilot was killed when he climbed up under the P51and got the propeller through the cockpit. The second crash was in the single engine Demon for the Navy in which he had a flame out on take off, resulting in the aircraft crashing on the runway.