THE first pilot to fly the A-4 Skyhawk, the Ferrari of airplanes.
Test pilot Bob Rahn is pictured in the first A-4, XA4D-1 BuNo. 137812 shortly after the first Skyhawk flight on June 22, 1954.
(Harry Gann photo)
Robert O. Rahn, first pilot to fly the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, passed away at age 77 on Thursday, May 21, 1998, a victim of ALS (Lou Gehrig disease).
Around the Douglas Aircraft Company flight test department, Bob had the reputation as being "a cool and thorough pilot." There were several instances in the flight test programs of the AD Skyraider, the F4D Skyray, and the A4D Skyhawk where his unflappable demeanor during test flight emergencies literally saved the programs. Bob also participated in the F3D Skyknight and F5D Skylancer flight test programs.
Born in Harvey, Illinois, on December 29, 1920, Bob attended the University of Cincinnati, intending to earn a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. While there, he learned to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and, in early 1941, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and entered flight training. After graduating, he became a member of the first United States fighter group to deploy to England, where he flew the Spitfire with the 309 Fighter Squadron.
After completing his overseas tour, Rahn returned to the U.S. and wrangled an assignment to Wright Field to attend the United States Air Force Test Pilots School. With World War II all but over, in August 1945 Bob accepted employment as a test pilot at Douglas Aircraft Company, where he subsequently made first flights in 18 different aircraft between 1946 and 1956. In 1957 he joined the Rockwell Company as an Apollo Space Capsule simulator research pilot. Rahn retired from the aircraft industry in 1984 to devote much of his time to skiing and flying his Navion aircraft in speed enhancement and point to point flight competition with other Navion owners.
Among the group of World War II pilots who bridged the gap between the "seat-of-the-pants" pilots and the engineer-scientist aviators that now conduct aircraft flight tests, Bob Rahn accumulated many honors in his flying career. He was inducted into the Navy Test Pilots Hall of Honor, set a world speed record in the Douglas F4D Skyray, served as a founding member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, was a charter member of the Aviation Hall of Fame, and an original member of the Skyhawk Association.
Bob Rahn was characterized as "a pilot who knew what was going on, able to tell the engineers what the problems were in their own terms."
Ed Heinemann and Bob Krall pose by BuNo. 137813
on 10 MAY 1986 at Pensacola. Photo from Bob Krall.
D.W. Wood - Test Pilot, 1st A-4B
R.E. Drew - Test Pilot, 1st A-4C
D.R. Wilson - Test Pilot, 1st A-4E
H.H. Knickerbocker - Test Pilot, 1st TA-4F
W.S. Smith - Test Pilot, 1st A-4F, TA-4J, A-4K, A-4L and A-4M
James Stegman - Test Pilot, 1st A-4G and TA-4G
J.P. Lane - Test Pilot, 1st A-4H, TA-4H, TA-4K and A-4N
F.W. Hamilton - Test Pilot, 1st A-4KU and TA-4KU
Walter Harper - Test Pilot 1956-1973
William Paulson - Test Pilot
Bob Krall - Test Pilot
Harold G. Tutterrow - Tool Design
Douglas Rep John Rosen onboard FDR with VA172 during the 1958/59 Med Cruise.
Douglas Test Pilots - 1957
Douglas Test Pilot James Stegman shares a moment with Doug Garber from the Douglas Engineering Offices.
The TA-4F in the background is BuNo 154301 and is the 2,000th Skyhawk built. Photo from James Stegman
R.L. Lawson collection: Description: A3D-1 Skywarrior BuNo 130353 dragging the hose and drogue for a refueling test with an unknown A4D-2 Skyhawk while in-flight with A3D-1 Skywarrior BuNo 138903, circa 1956.