Enshrined November 13, 2010
Memphian Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland was born in 1926. He attended boarding school during his high school years and after graduation enlisted in the U.S. Navy. In 1949, Gilliland graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in engineering. He was among an initial class offered the opportunity to accept a commission in the U.S. Air Force and began flight training. Bob earned his wings at Randolph Field, Texas in 1950 and soon afterward received his first overseas assignment flying P-47 Thunderbolts and F-84 Thunderjets in Germany. During the Korean War in 1952, Gilliland volunteered for combat duty and was assigned to Taegu to fly the F-84. His engineering degree and flight experience opened doors to opportunities in flight-testing. He ultimately flew nearly every aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory. When active duty ended in 1954, Gilliland returned home to Memphis where he joined the Tennessee Air National Guard. He left the military again in 1960 to pursue test pilot opportunities. Bob joined Lockheed as a civilian test pilot and instructor pilot on the F-104 Starfighter. In 1962 Gilliland joined the Blackbird Program and began testing the fastest and highest altitude planes ever built in the top secret Lockheed Skunk Works Division. Kelly Johnson, the founder of the Skunk Works, then hand-picked Gilliland to be the Chief Test Pilot and first man to fly the SR-71 Blackbird. Bob Gilliland is a Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and was awarded the prestigious Ivan C. Kincheloe Award in 1964 for his work on the Blackbird program. He was named an Eagle by the Air Force Flight Test Historical Foundation in 1998 and received the Godfrey L. Cabot Award in 2001. He is a trustee of the Association of Naval Aviation. Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland logged more than 6,500 flight hours and has more experimental supersonic flight test time above Mach II and Mach III than any other pilot. Mr. Gilliland is a true legend and pioneer of American Aviation. He has provided invaluable service to his country as well as major contributions in the aviation field. He is ranked among our nation’s finest aviators.
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