Dave Ferguson made the first flight of the fighter that Air Force pilots will fly in the 21st century. Born in Pennsylvania, he graduated from Altoona High School in 1956. For three years he served as a draftsman then in 1959, he enlisted in the USAF as an Aviation Cadet. He earned his commission and pilot’s wings at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, in 1961. He flew the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger during his first operational assignment but he soon transitioned to the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. His first combat tour found him flying from Korat Royal Thai AB. Ferguson flew 48 combat missions in the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
In 1965, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for the first successful strike mission against North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile installations. He returned to the States in the fall of 1965 and became a flight instructor in the F-105 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and completed his bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Two years later, he volunteered for a second combat tour in Southeast Asia. Again from Korat AB, he flew a new version of the “Thud, ” the EF-105F Wild Weasel. He earned a second DFC for the first successful night strike mission against the North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile sites. Ferguson flew an additional 54 combat missions, and upon completion of his tour, returned to the States and entered a graduate program at Arizona State University.
He completed a master’s degree in mathematics, and in August of 1971, entered the USAF Test Pilot School. During eight years as an Air Force test pilot, Ferguson worked on several projects, including some that remain classified. After 20 years of service, Ferguson retired in 1979 as the Commander of the 6513th Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, California. He then joined Lockheed Aircraft Company at the “Skunkworks” and became the second pilot to fly the revolutionary F-117 Nighthawk. He flew the world’s first stealth aircraft, exploring high angle-of-attack characteristics and flight loads. At Lockheed, he also helped develop the next stealth fighter prototype, the YF-22 Lightning II.
In 1990, Ferguson became the first pilot to the fly the aircraft when he made its initial airworthiness demonstration flight. Ferguson guided testing and development of the flight test program as the Director of Flight Test Operations for Lockheed in Palmdale, California. As the details of his test missions in the F-117 and the YF-22 were declassified, Ferguson was twice awarded the Society of Experimental Test Pilot’s highest honor, the Iven C. Kincheloe Award. In 1999, Ferguson retired from Lockheed Martin, having flown over 6,000 hours in 60 different aircraft. He and his wife, Jan, live in the high desert of California, the site of many historic aviation firsts.