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The 2024 Gathering of Eagles Celebrating 30 Years of the VISTA X-62

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Roger Tanner and Bill Gray pilot the NF-16 Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA)  (U.S. Air Force photo by Christian Turner)


Saturday, November 9 | 5 p.m. | The Hellenic Center Lancaster, Calif.

Presenting the Eagle Awardees

Chris Cotting, USAF TPS

Jeff Peer, Calspan (Retired)

Presenting the Falcon Awardees

Hal Hefron, DARPA

George Kailiwai, USAF TPS (Former Commandant)

 Lily Aguilar, USAF TPS

 Adam Fricke, Calspan

James Sergeant, Lockheed Martin

MC “Evil” Bill Gray, USAF TPS Chief Test Pilot

30 years in the making, Vista, the first A.I.-operated jet, has been making the news and nominated for numerous awards! Check out the recent coverage on NBC Nightly News.

VISTA, short for Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft, is changing the face of air power at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The VISTA is a one-of-a-kind training airplane developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® in collaboration with Calspan Corporation for the USAF TPS. Built on open systems architecture, VISTA is fitted with software that allows it to mimic the performance characteristics of other aircraft.

“VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs,” said Dr. M. Christopher Cotting, former U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School director of research. “This approach, combined with focused testing on new vehicle systems as they are produced, will rapidly mature autonomy for uncrewed platforms and allow us to deliver tactically relevant capability to our warfighter.”

VISTA is a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il aircraft upgraded with Block 40 avionics. Previously designated NF-16D, in June 2021 VISTA was recognized by the U.S. Air Force and deemed a national asset with a formal redesignation to VISTA X-62A.

This new mission system capability with VSS, MFA and SACS emphasizes advancing autonomous aircraft algorithm development and integration. At the heart of SACS system is the Skunk Works Enterprise-wide Open Systems Architecture (E-OSA) which powers the Enterprise Mission Computer version 2 (EMC2) or “Einstein Box.” Additional SACS components include integration of advanced sensors, a Multi-Level Security solution, and a set of Getac tablet displays in both cockpits. These components enhance VISTA’s capabilities while maintaining its rapid-prototyping advantage, specifically allowing for quick software changes to increase the frequency of flight test flights and accelerating the pace of AI and autonomy development to meet urgent national security needs.

For decades, Lockheed Martin has been applying and deploying trusted AI technologies to help its customers maximize performance, safety, and situational awareness across all domains. Lockheed Martin’s implementations keep people in control while enabling them to be safer, more effective and better able to focus on higher-level tasks by empowering them to make more-informed decisions quickly.

VISTA will continue to serve an integral role in the rapid development of AI and autonomy capabilities for U.S. Air Force.


The Gathering of Eagles is a yearly celebration of the Flight Test Historical Foundation to acknowledge significant achievements in the flight testing of aerospace vehicles.  The celebration honors both significant events and individuals that have made these events possible. The Gathering of Eagles is meant to provide an avenue for camaraderie, education, and as a way to memorialize and honor the people who contributed to the historic advancements in aerospace development by these programs. The event is also a fundraiser, providing resources to the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base, University scholarships, and a variety of STEM education programs.

Since 1983, the Flight Test Historical Foundation has been honoring luminaries in the aerospace world at events and award dinners. In 1996, the FTHF awarded the first Eagle Awards to Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Bob Cardenas, De Beeler, and crew chief Jack Russell on the 50th Anniversary of the Bell X-1 breaking the sound barrier. In 1999, Pete Knight, Scott Crossfield, Joe Engle, Bill Dana, Fitz Fulton were honored with Eagles at the event celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the X-15 test program. Every year thereafter, the Foundation has awarded members of teams engaged in significant milestones in flight test and aerospace advancement conducted in the Aerospace Valley.

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Previous Eagle Awards and Honors

1989 (Tribute to Aerospace): Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing

Honored Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (first time they’d been together in one place since 1969)

1990 (Tribute to Aerospace): Just Wings, Fifth Annual Tribute to Aerospace honoring Jack Northrop and several flying wing pilots such as first flight pilot Max Stanley, Bob Cardenas, Chuck Tucker, Bruce Hinds and Rick Couch

1991 (Tribute to Aerospace): 40TH Anniversary of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) Award accepted by Maj Gen John Schoeppner, then AFFTC Commander

1992 (Tribute to Aerospace): 50th Anniversary of America’s First Jet – Bell P-59 Honored Lt Gen Laurence C. “Bill” Craigie, First U.S. Military Jet Pilot

1993 First Gathering of Eagles, The Men of MACH One, Eagles: Richard H. Frost, Robert A. “Bob” Hoover, Thomas V. Jones, Col William J. “Pete” Knight, Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier, Col John Paul Stapp, M.D., Ph.D, Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout, Brig Gen Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager

1993 (Tribute to Aerospace): Kelly Johnson 50th Anniversary of Lockheed Skunk Works – Award accepted by Sherm Mullin

1994 (Tribute to Aerospace): 50th Anniversary of the USAF Test Pilot School

1994 Gathering of Eagles, Eagles: Brig Gen Robert L. “Bob” Cardenas, William H. “Bill” Dana, Col. C. Gordon Fullerton, Lt Col Fitzhugh L. “Fitz” Fulton, Robert O. “Bob” Rahn, Max R. Stanley

1995 (Last Tribute to Aerospace): Edward Heinemann and Douglas Aircraft

1995 Gathering of Eagles, Eagles: Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland, J.J. Quinn, Col C.E. “Bud” Anderson, Henry E. “Hank” Chouteau. “An Evening of Aviation History!” Special Guests included Yeager, Tony LeVier, Pete Knight, Bob Cardenas (and many other aviation greats).

1996 Gathering of Eagles, Eagles: Col Joseph F. “Joe” Cotton, Brig Gen. Frank “Pete” Everest, Col Jerauld “Jerry” Gentry, Arthur K. “Kit” Murray, Lt Col Richard G. “Dick” Rutan, Louis Wellington “Lou” Schalk, Jr., Col Wendell H. “Wendy” Shawler, Alvin S. “Al” White

1997 Gathering of Eagles, 50th Anniversary of the X-1 program, Eagles: Maj Gen Fred J. Ascani, De E. Beeler, Maj Gen Joe H. Engle, Honorees: Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Bob Cardenas, Jack Russell, De Beeler

1998 Gathering of Eagles, Celebrating the Flying Wing, Eagles: Fred C. Bretcher, Col Richard S. “Rick” Couch, Lt Col Bruce J. Hinds, John Myers, Col Russell E. “Russ” Schleeh, Charles “Chuck” Tucker

1999 40th Anniversary of the X-15 Test Program, Eagles: Scott Crossfield – Honorees: Pete Knight, Joe Engle, Bill Dana, Fitz Fulton

2001: 50th Anniversary of the AFFTC, Eagles: Lt Gen Thomas Stafford, Charlie Bock, Jesse Jacobs, Don Mallick, and Fred Stoliker

2002: 50th Anniversary of the B-52, Eagles: John Carlson, Phil Conley, Charlie Kuyk, Al Phillips, Guy Towsend

2003: Centennial of Flight and Century Series Fighters, Eagles: Henry “Hank” Beaird, Jr., Robert “Bob” Little, Robert “Bob” Titus, and William “Bill” Weaver

2004: Out of the Black, Into the Blue –Paper Designs and Flying Prototypes, Eagles: Keith Beswick, Den Dyson, Doug Benjamin, Rudy Haug, Dan Vanderhorst, and Dick Thomas.

2005: 50th Anniversary of the U-2, Eagles: Louis Setter, Lt. Col. Harry Andonian, Robert “Bob” Riedenauer, Tom C. McMurtry, Don Sorlie

2006: B-58 Hustler 50th Anniversary, Eagles: Johnny G. Armstrong, Beryl Erickson, Brig. Gen, Harold Confer, Charles Harrison, Lt. Col. Robert Gray Sowers

2008: XB-70 Valkyrie Flight Test Program, Eagles: Paul Reukauf, Lyle Schofield, Bill Schweikard

2009: 50th Anniversary of the X-15 Flight Test program, Eagles: Bob White, Betty Love, Bob Hoey, John McTigue

2010: Excellence in Aviation Awards – Honorees: Brig. Gen Robert Cardenas, Bob Hoover, Clay Lacy, David Tallichet

2011: Excellence in Aviation Awards – Honorees: Frank Robinson, Robert Gilliland, Jens Neelsen

2012 – Salute to the Space Shuttle Eagles: Neil A. Armstrong

NASA ALT/OFT – Approach and Landing Teams, Orbital Flight Test

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center’s Space Shuttle Operations Team,

Boeing’s Space Shuttle AIT Team – Assembly, Integration and Test of all orbiters

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s SSME – Space Shuttle Main Engine Team

US Air Force Space Shuttle Recovery Team

2012 Excellence in Aviation Space: Dr. Buzz Aldrin and General Joe Engle; Aviation: Col. Joe Kittinger, Award presented by Bob Gilliland; Aviation Business: Mr. Del Smith, CEO Evergreen Aviation; Friends of the FTHF Foundation: Mr. David Hartman and Dr. James O. Young, former Chief Historian of the AFFTC History Office

2013 40th Anniversary LWF, Eagles: Lt. Col. Michael J. Clarke, Col. James H. Doolittle III, Col. Robert Ettinger, John Hicks, Richard Hildebrand, Frank N. Lucero, Philip F. Oestricher, James A. Papa, Col. James G. Rider, Col. Dean Stickell, Charles Van Norman, Richard A. Wood

2014 70th Anniversary of the Test Pilot School, Eagles: Gary Aldrich, George Cooper, Andy Gerner, Bill Gray, Dave VanHoy

2015 60th Anniversary of the U-2 and 25th Anniversary of the SR-71, Eagles: Lt. Col. Tony Bevacqua, Lt. Col. David Kerzie, Col. Robert A. Rowe, and Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding

2016 35th Anniversary of the First Flight of the F-117, Eagles: Col. Skip Anderson, Jon Beesley

Hal Farley, Dave Ferguson, Larry McClain, Tom Morgenfeld, and Pete Winters

2017 20th Anniversary of the First Flight of the F-22, Eagles: James E. “JB” Brown, David P.”Cools” Cooley, Chuck Killberg, Brett Luedke, Paul Metz, Randy Neville, and Steve Rainey

2018 Breaking Barriers – The Women of Flight Test, Eagles: Florence Lowe “Poncho” Barnes, Cynthia “CJ” Bixby, Dr. Eileen Bjorkman, Laurie Grindle, Lt. Col. Kelly Latimer (Ret.), Dr. Sandy Miarecki Lt. Col., and Col. Angela Wallace Suplisson, PhD

2019 30th Anniversary of the First Flight of the B-2, Eagles: Frank Birk, Bill “Flaps” Flanagan, Tony Imondi, Tom LeBeau, Bob Myers, and Otto Waniczek