Huffman Prairie Aviation Historical Society Meeting, August 5, 7pm

The next meeting of the Huffman Prairie Aviation Historical Society is set for Monday evening, August 5, at 7pm. The event is free and everyone is welcome!

Don Gray and John Schell to present “The First Operational Mission of the SR-71, March 21, 1968.”

SR-71 (MS-344, box 184)

The SR-71 has proven to be one of the most unique aircraft to be part of the U.S. Air Force inventory.  The initial design for the airplane started in the late 50s but did not fly its first operational mission until March of 1968.  There are many unique characteristics to this plane, but its sole mission was reconnaissance.  And to do the reconnaissance at a very high altitude and to do it very fast.

While the SR-71 and its predecessor, the A-12, flew many interesting and fascinating missions, its most unique mission may be its first.  John Schell and Don Gray will share the interesting story of the very first mission of the fantastic airplane.  The Vietnam war was reaching its peak.  The TET Offensive was in full swing.  And our Marine base at Khe Sanh was completely surrounded and trapped by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.  What did the SR-71 do on its first mission to eliminate this frightful position of our great Marines?

Don Gray Biography

After completing IT technical classes in 1966, Don joined the USAF.  His military career focus was as a Personal Equipment Specialist.  Don provided support and training to all air crews for all of the equipment they used to survive once they departed the aircraft.  Don had assignments at Kadena AB, Okinawa and WPAFB, Dayton, Ohio.

After leaving the Air Force, Don initially went into running and managing large data centers for various large business organizations.  Utilizing his technical and operational background, Don transitioned into technical sales for large software firms. His experience includes leading large sales teams, managing international distributorships, developing strategic product acquisitions plans, and bringing products to market. Don started his own sales consulting and advisory firm in 2001 where he has worked with numerous organizations around the world. He has written several articles on sales and has spoken to many groups and organizations on the topic of improving sales performance.

In 2003, Don became a volunteer at the National Museum of the USAF. While volunteering in all areas of the museum, Don also gives talks on various aircraft and missions such as the Doolittle Raid, the Memphis Belle, and the bombing of Nagasaki.

John Schell Biography

After completing an MSEE degree in 1970 at Penn State, John entered active duty at the AF Avionics Lab, WPAFB. There he performed research in air-air and air-ground radar.  In 1973 he was assigned to lead the development of the first spotlight mode synthetic aperture radar testbed. This led to reassignment in the SR-71/U-2 project office as the lead radar engineer and eventually chief avionics engineer for both aircraft.

After leaving the Air Force in 1980, John continued to support the development of ISR systems as a contractor. He had both engineering and engineering management roles in three companies. Projects included: operational test and fielding of SR-71 and U-2 upgrades, development and fielding of softcopy image exploitation systems for the Army and Air Force, development of geocoding and registration software for commercial satellite imagery, and development of AF rapid targeting systems.

In 1991 he was selected to participate on the DARPA team which defined the TIER II+ ( RQ-4 Global Hawk) . John’s role was to lead architectural definition of the ground stations. He later served as Project Office support, leading enterprise interoperability engineering for RQ-4.

After 47 years in avionics and ISR development engineering, John retired in 2017 to volunteer in all galleries at the NMUSAF.  He is competing his certification to become a Docent, focusing on the Cold War era.

Program Information

The program will be held at the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center, Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, 2380 Memorial Road (intersection of State Route 444 and Kauffman Road), Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

For questions about the event, please call 937-775-2092 or email library-archives@wright.edu.

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