Status: Inactive. Born: 1914-08-18. Died: 1998-10-29.
Johnston was born in Admire, Kansas, to farmers Alva and Ella Johnston. He made his first flight in 1925, at eleven years old, when a barnstormer landed near his home. That day, he decided to become a pilot. He received mechanics and pilot instruction, soloing at age fifteen. After graduating from high school, Johnston began barnstorming himself. Later he returned to school for engineering, but dropped out in 1939 before he finished the required courses to get his degree. He married his wife DeLores in 1935.
He was a civilian instructor for the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Once the United States entered World War II, Johnston transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps Ferry Command.
In December 1942, Johnston moved to Bell Aircraft as a flight test engineer. He flew the P-39 Airacobra and the XP-63 Kingcobra during the prototype phases. He also flew the first US jet, the XP-59 Airacomet. Johnston earned his nickname "Tex" because of his penchant for wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson hat on the flightline.
After World War II ended, he bought two surplus Airacobras and modified them to enter and win the Thompson Trophy at the 1946 National Air Races. He set a race speed record of 373 miles per hour (600 km/h).
Johnston helped design and later flew the rocket propelled Bell X-1 on May 22, 1947. He stayed on the program as a design advisor on modifications to the trim controls that he discovered were unusable in their manufactured configuration at high subsonic speeds. In 1991, he recounted his experience in the rocket plane in The Discovery Channel's documentary series Frontiers of Flight stating "...the airplane was just gorgeous" and that its 18 G design was "indestructible".
He became a test pilot for Boeing in July 1948. He flew the B-47 Stratojet and piloted the first flight of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress prototype.
Johnston is best known for performing a barnstormer-style barrel roll maneuver with Boeing's pioneering 367-80 jet in a demonstration flight over Lake Washington outside Seattle, on August 7, 1955. The maneuver was caught on film. Called before the president of Boeing, Bill Allen, for rolling the airplane, Johnston was asked what he thought he was doing, and responded with "I was selling airplanes". He kept his position as a test pilot. Along with his cowboy style of dress, such maverick behavior is said to have inspired the creation of Dr. Strangelove's Maj. T.J. "King" Kong character, who, in rodeo style, rode a balky nuclear weapon to its target.
From 1960 to 1963, he was assistant program manager for Boeing's X-20 Dyna-Soar program in Seattle, Washington. From 1964 to 1968, he was manager of the Boeing Atlantic Test Center in Cocoa Beach, Florida, working on two of Boeing's programs, the Minuteman missile and the Lunar Orbiter designed for the Apollo missions. He also worked with NASA managing Saturn and Apollo programs.
In 1968 Johnston left Boeing to manage Tex Johnston, Inc., Total-In-Flight-Simulator Inc. and Aero Spacelines (which handled the manufacture and certification of the outsized cargo airplane used to transport rocket stages known as the Pregnant Guppy).
In 1975, he became director and chief pilot of Stanley Aviation Corporation, focusing on ejection seats. In 1991, Johnston wrote his memoirs, Tex Johnston: Jet Age Test Pilot, with writer Charles Barton. Johnston was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993.Thereafter he developed Alzheimer's disease and died in 1998.