Kenneth S. Collins, Sr. is an Air Force pioneer who demonstrated great courage in accomplishing missions under exceptionally difficult circumstances. He was born on February 5th, 1929 in Leavenworth, Kansas. Collins commissioned at Vance AFB, Oklahoma in 1952. After completing F-80 jet transition training, he volunteered for Korea.
On February 14th, 1953, Collins’ RF-86A was struck multiple times by North Korean Anti-Aircraft Artillery and barely made it back to Kimpo AB, Korea. By March 1953, he completed his combat tour, having flown 118 combat missions with the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Upon his return to the United States, Collins became an instructor pilot in the RF-80 and the RF-84F with the 18th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Three years later, Collins was transferred to the 38th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, where he served as an instructor pilot and flight commander at Spangdahlem AB, Germany. His career as a flight instructor continued with the German Air Force Waffenschule 50 until 1959, followed by an assignment as a Flight Commander and Operations Officer to the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Shaw AFB.
At this time, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was testing a secret reconnaissance aircraft codenamed OXCART and Collins volunteered as a test pilot. His first flight in the A-12 was on February 6th, 1963. During a test flight on May 24th, 1963, Collins’ A-12 entered a stall followed by the onset of an inverted flat spin. Control was completely lost and he had to eject while still inverted. Collins continued testing the A-12 and also completed six combat missions over North Vietnam during the A-12’s operational deployment to Okinawa. In the Summer of 1968, project OXCART was terminated. Collins was assigned to the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California and began flying the SR-71. He became the Operations Officer for the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron as an instructor and test pilot in the SR-71. In 1970 he served as the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron Commander and two years later was chosen as the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing Deputy Commander for Operations. In 1974 Col Collins was reassigned to Headquarters, 15th Air Force at March AFB, California. When he retired in 1980, he was the Deputy Chief of Intelligence.
After retirement, Col Collins took a managerial position with California Microwave, Inc. and served as a Program Manager, Business Development Director, Vice President and General Manager. Kenneth S. Collins is a highly decorated Air Force pioneer, having been awarded the Silver Star, Intelligence Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal. He is a lifetime member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Daedalians, and Air Force Association. Col Collins is in the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame and has been nominated for the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He currently lives in Woodland Hills, California with his wife Sandra.
A lonely A-12 cruising high above the cloud ceiling symbolizes the unique capability of the airplane and its crews.