Tony Bevacqua, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USAF
U-2 & SR-71 Instructor Pilot/Test Pilot (USAF)
Tony, son of a Sicilian immigrant, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 7 October 1932. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the USAF on 29 February 1952. Tony began Aviation Cadet Pilot Training Program in January 1953, graduating on 14 April 1954, rated and commissioned the same day.
First assignment following fighter gunnery training was 508th Strategic Fighter Wing, Turner AFB, GA, flying the F-84G and F. The 508th was deactivated in 1956 and became the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, with RB-57D and U-2 aircraft. Tony checked out in the U-2 at Groom Lake (Area 51) in March of 1957.
The 4080th was moved to Laughlin AFB, TX in 1957, and moved again in 1963 to Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. After accumulating 1904.2 U2 flight hours, Tony reported to Air Command and Staff College, AL, leaving the U-2 program in the summer of 1965. Following ACSC, Bevacqua was assigned to Beale AFB, CA to fly the SR-71. Tony Bevacqua retired from USAF as a Lt. Colonel at Beale AFB on 31 March 1973, with 738 hours in the SR-71.
Tony has spent the last 42 years, since his retirement from the Air Force in 1973, working continuously to support the mission of high altitude reconnaissance, the survival of Beale AFB as the anchor of such a mission, and publicizing the legends of Kelly Johnson’s favorite airplanes, the U-2 and SR-71. Bevacqua became a major liaison for the cities of Marysville and Yuba City with Beale AFB, becoming politically active in fighting for the future of Beale AFB during BRAC reviews, and serving as the Chairman of the Beale Liaison Military Committee for 18 of his 40+ years on the committee.
On June 8, 2013, Tony Bevacqua was awarded the Kelly Johnson Trophy at the 20th Blackbird Association reunion in Sparks, Nevada for his outstanding contributions to the Blackbird program. On October 16, 2013, Bevacqua was formally presented with the Kelly Johnson Trophy at the annual meeting of the Beale Military Liaison Committee.
Tony was married to Marilyn (Carroll) until she passed in 2013, and they had five children and nine grandchildren. He has been married to Diane since Nov. 8, 2014. Tony is active with several hobbies, including collecting classic cars, spectator sports, volunteer work, and civic/charitable organizations.
David Kerzie, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USAF
U-2 Chief Test Pilot (Lockheed)
Dave Kerzie graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Washington in 1958. Almost every day since then, has been an adventure in a career as a pilot and test pilot flying high performance multi engine and fighter jet aircraft.
Kerzie graduated from USAF Pilot Training in 1960 and the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School (Test Pilot/Space Pilot School) in 1968. His 20 year Air Force career included operational tours in both multi-engine and fighter aircraft, as well as eleven years of experience flying within the USAF test and evaluation community. He also completed a 186 mission combat tour in Southeast Asia flying the F-4 Phantom as a 480TFS Flight Commander.
Employed by the Lockheed Company in 1979, Kerzie was initially assigned as a test pilot on the high technology L-1011 commercial transport program. He transferred to Skunk Works in May of 1983 as a U-2 test pilot, and remained on the U-2 program for 14 years, retiring as Lockheed’s U-2 Chief Test Pilot in 1997.
Dave Kerzie was the 1986 recipient of the Iven C. Kinchloe Award as the industry’s Test Pilot of the Year for his work in performing extremely high-altitude flutter investigations. Among his other contributions to the U-2 program, of note were numerous test flights for the successful integration of the GE-118 engine and the digital autopilot development. Kerzie was also honored as a recipient of the USAF Test Pilot School Distinguished Alumni Award and was elected by his peers as a Fellow and President of the prestigious Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Kerzie has logged 12,000 hours of pilot time, with almost 4000 hours in the U-2, and the remainder in more than fifty different aircraft types and sailplanes. He built an RV-6 experimental aircraft in his garage and has been flying it around the country since 1998.
Robert A. Rowe, Col. (Ret.), USAF
U-2 Chief Test Pilot (Lockheed)
Rob “Skid” Rowe graduated 8th of 902 graduates from the USAF Academy in 1979 with a bachelor degree in Ops Research, Aero, and Math – he was the only triple-major of his class. As a 2nd lieutenant, he attended Princeton University from 1979 to 1981 under a Guggenheim Fellowship, earning a Master’s degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Assignments that followed were pilot training (distinguished graduate) and flight instructor (initial cadre) of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard AFB, Texas.
Rowe flew the U-2 aircraft on world-wide reconnaissance missions between 1986 and 1989. In May of 1988, after hydraulic loss and other landing gear and aircraft complications, he successfully crash-landed a “dead-stick” U-2, with a flamed-out engine and main gear up, on Beale AFB’s runway.
Rob Rowe is a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School’s ‘89B class, and was assigned as an Operations officer of the Edwards AFB Bomber Test Squadron after his graduation, working the B-1 and B-52 programs from 1990 until 1992. The programs he oversaw were the B-1 conventional weapons integration, Advanced Cruise Missile, and the Tri-Service Stand-off Attack Missile (TSSAM). Rob was at the controls during the first successful launch of a TSSAM off a B-52.
After retiring from the USAF in 1993, Rowe worked briefly as an FTE on the C-17, then as a test pilot on the U-2 until he became the U-2 Chief Test Pilot with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in 1997. In September of 1994, Rob piloted the first flight of the U-2 “S” model (new engine and autopilot), and in December of 1998 he flew the first U-2 PEMI jet (power and electrical upgrades).
Overall, Rowe has over 31 years of pilot experience on AF/DARPA projects and 20+ years on Lockheed Martin projects, including being the first flight pilot of the X-55A/Advanced Cargo Composite Aircraft’s flight on June 6th, 2009. He has logged a total of 9300 flight hours, 5300 of them on the U-2 aircraft.
Louis C. Setter, Col. (Ret.), USAF
U-2 Instructor Pilot/Test Pilot (USAF)
At the end of World War II, the then Seaman-navigator Setter was discharged from the Navy and went back to Georgia Tech where he earned a bachelor degree in aeronautical engineering, after which he joined the Army Air Corps. He says one of his most memorable years was 1949, when he was discharged from the Army, sworn in to the U.S. Air Force, and assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base in Georgia. I got my pilot’s wings and was commissioned to 2nd lieutenant, got married, and bought a new car – all in the same day,” he said, adding, “That was a very busy day.”
During the next two decades Louis Setter became a pioneering Air Force combat aviator.
In 1952, he flew an F-84G across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, in a first ever jet fighter crossing of the Pacific. By 1954 Setter was operations officer for the F-84F Fighter Squadron and heavily involved with flight testing the supersonic version of the fighters. He was involved in developing and testing celestial navigation techniques and cruise control computers, all of which had never been done in a fighter jet before and were required as part of SAC’s concept for using the F-84G for the delivery of atomic weapons, later becoming standard for U-2 and other aircraft.
It was at this time he was called to the legendary U-2 program, a highly classified strategic reconnaissance program headed by the CIA. In October of 1955 Setter became the fourth Air Force pilot to fly the aircraft, and participated as an instructor pilot training three detachments of CIA pilots, including Gary Powers. While flight testing the U-2, Setter credits the early model partial pressure suit for saving his life three times while soaring to altitudes of nearly 70,000 feet, during airstart testing and three engine flameouts. Of the four instructor pilots on the early U-2 program, Colonel Setter is the only living instructor left. He was awarded the CIA Bronze Medallion for instructing civilian pilots and for the engineering contributions he made later in the program.
In 1959, when the U-2 flight test organization moved to Edwards North Base, Setter became the North Base Commander and U-2 Ops officer. After that he had assignments as the AFFTC pilot, FTE, and Flight Test Manager at EAFB (1960-64); SPO Director of Flight Test & Training at Wright-Patterson on XC-142, X-19, & X-22 programs (1965); Base Commander of Antigua Air Station (1965-67); combat pilot, IP, and FE in Viet Nam (1967-69); Chief of Engineering of Oklahoma City air Logistics Depot (1969-1973); Deputy for Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB (1973-76).
Louis Setter retired from the USAF as a Colonel in 1976, after 30+ years of service. In his civilian life he was asked to come out of retirement several times, and held numerous positions as a Site Manager and Director in United States and abroad. He just recently retired for the third time in March of 2015, which Louis does NOT promise is his last retirement. Louis Setter was honored as an Eagle in 2005 and again in 2015, on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the U-2 aircraft.
Ed Yeilding, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USAF
SR-71 Instructor Pilot/Test Pilot
Ed Yeilding was born 1949, raised in Florence AL, and became an Eagle Scout. He was an electrical engineering coop student at Auburn University, working at Arnold Engineering and Development Complex and at TVA, and commissioned through ROTC. After pilot training, he flew the RF-4C, and F-4E with assignments to Bergstrom AFB TX, Okinawa Japan, and Moody AFB GA. In 1983, he was selected for the SR-71 at Beale AFB CA. He flew 93 SR-71 overseas reconnaissance missions and became an SR-71 instructor pilot.
In 1987, Ed was selected to be one of two SR-71 developmental flight test pilots at Palmdale CA. Especially interesting were testing frequent software improvements controlling the engine inlet system and stability augmentation logic, newly designed generators and electrical load center, an improved ASARS imaging system, modernized composite panels, ECM enhancements, modification of the automatic center of gravity control, and newly designed replacement parts for the aging SR-71. Another large project was design inputs for a major renovation of the SR-71 simulator now displayed at the Frontiers of Flight Museum, Dallas TX.
Despite the SR-71 modernization, the fleet was suddenly retired in 1990, and the Smithsonian Institution requested one for display. Departing California 6 Mar 1990, SR-71 tail #972, pilot Ed Yeilding, and RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Officer) JT Vida set an official coast-to-coast aircraft speed record and three city-to-city speed records to call the public’s attention to the retirement of the amazing SR-71 and to honor all the highly dedicated Americans who designed, maintained, supported, and flew the SR-71 during its 25 years of vital Cold War service. The records still stand. Cruise speed was the flight manual limit, mach 3.3, 2190 miles per hour, reaching an altitude that day of 83,000 feet, flying coast-to-coast in 67 minutes 54 seconds. That SR-71 is on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport west of Washington DC.
In his next assignment, Andrews AFB, 1990-’96, Ed flew world-wide Special Air Missions in the C-20. His passengers included the Vice President, four-star generals, cabinet members, senators, congressmen, ambassadors, and First Ladies. After 23 years of active military service, Ed next flew the DC-9, DC-10, and the 747-400 for Northwest Airlines and Delta, retired in 2009, and was added to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame. Never married, Ed enjoys living again in his hometown of Florence AL and is active in his Methodist Church and community activities. He also enjoys flying his Citabria and gives frequent talks about the fascinating SR-71 Blackbird.