Tech alumni test pilots honoredBy Liz Crumbley
Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 08 - October 17, 1996
Virginia Tech engineering alumni Col. Jesse P. "Jake" Jacobs Jr. and the late John B. "Jack" McKay were inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster, California, in September.
Statues of Jacobs and McKay, along with those of three other former test pilots, were added to the Walk of Honor monument display, established in 1990 by the City of Lancaster to recognize the careers of distinguished pilots who served at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.
Also inducted were Henry E. Chouteau, Arthur K. Murray, and Col. Jack L. Ridley. Previous inductees include astronauts Neil Armstrong and Chuck Yeager, and Air Force Gen. James H. Doolittle.
Jacobs flew the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber over Europe during World War II and flew 121 combat missions in the Korean War. He received his degree in industrial engineering from Tech in 1949, and also graduated from the Empire Test Pilot School and the Air Force Command and Staff College.
During his 20-year career as a test pilot at Edwards, Wright-Patterson, and Holloman air force bases, Jacobs flew more than 100 different types of aircraft. He was a test pilot for the XC-142 Tri-Service V/STOL test force; the B-17, B-26, B-29, B-47, B-50, B-52, and B-57 aircraft; and the F-101 B/MG13 Fire Control System at the White Sands Missile Range.
A native of Tennessee, Jacobs now resides in Sequim, Washington.
McKay, a native of Portsmouth, Virginia, flew 82 combat missions in World War II before attending Tech, where he received his degree in aeronautical engineering in 1951.
McKay's 20-year career as a test pilot for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began with flights of the jet and rocket versions of aircraft used for transonic and Mach 2 research-the D-558 Skyrocket, X-1, X-4, X-5, and the Century Series fighters.
He was one of the first seven pilots selected to fly the X-15. McKay achieved astronaut status during his 29 X-15 flights, taking the aircraft to an altitude of about 56 miles and a speed of 3,938 miles per hour.
An emergency landing in an X-15 on Mud Lake in Nevada in 1962 caused back injuries that led to McKay's retirement as a test pilot in 1971. He died in 1975, 20 years to the day after his first rocket-aircraft flight.
In 1995, Virginia Gov. George Allen declared McKay's birthday, Dec. 8, 1922, as "John B. McKay Day," in honor of his contributions to the aerospace industry.