General Fortner was born in 1937, in St. Charles, VA, and graduated from Pennington High School, Pennington Gap, VA, in 1955. He then entered the first class of the U.S. Air Force Academy, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1959. The general earned a master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1972. He completed Squadron Officer School in 1965, Air Command and Staff College in 1971, and Air War College in 1976.
Upon graduation from the academy, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in June 1959. He attended primary pilot training at Bartow Air Base, FL, where he flew T-34s and T-37s, and completed basic pilot training in September 1960 at Reese Air Force Base, TX, flying T-33s. He then was assigned to Luke Air Force Base, AZ, and later to Nellis Air Force Base, NV, for F-100 combat crew training. In September 1961 General Fortner transferred to the 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Hahn Air Base, West Germany, as an F-100 pilot. He returned to the United States in October 1965 and was assigned to the 615th Tactical Fighter Squadron at England Air Force Base, LA.
In July 1966 the general deployed with the 615th Tactical Fighter Squadron to Phan Rang Air Base, South Vietnam, where he flew 264 combat missions in F-100s. In July 1967 he reported to Edwards Air Force Base, CA, as a flight test project officer in the Fighter Branch of the 6512th Test Squadron, Air Force Flight Test Center. His first test project was in the OV-10A Bronco at the Naval Test Center, Patuxent River, Md. He next participated in the testing of the Cessna A-37B at the company’s aircraft facility in Wichita, KS.
From June 1969 to March 1970 General Fortner was assigned to the A-7D test program and then became project pilot for a series of spin tests of the T-37B. The general transferred to the A-X program for initial test planning in August 1970 and in November 1970 became project pilot for the initial flight of the OV-10 Pave Nail aircraft. He then was assigned as operations officer for the A-X Joint Task Force and helped select the A-10 as the Air Force’s close air support aircraft.
In August 1973 he was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Taipei, Taiwan, as the F-104 adviser. He transferred to Taichung in May 1974 as the adviser to the Chinese Aero Industry Development Center, where he assisted the Republic of China air force in its F-5E co-production program and in establishing a flight test program for locally designed and produced aircraft.
The general returned to the United States in August 1975 to attend the Air War College. After graduating in June 1976, he was assigned to the F-15 program at Headquarters Air Force Systems Command, Andrews Air Force Base, MD. In June 1977 he became the director of flight management and operational plans in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Test and Evaluation there.
In November 1978 the general was assigned to the 96th Bombardment Wing, Dyess Air Force Base, TX, as assistant deputy commander for operations. In August 1979 he became deputy commander for operations. He was assigned as vice commander of the 93rd Bombardment Wing, Castle Air Force Base, CA, in June 1980. General Fortner served as commander of the 410th Bombardment Wing, K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, MI, from April 1982 to June 1983. He then transferred to Barksdale Air Force Base, LA, as commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In May 1984 he became commander of the 42nd Air Division, Blytheville Air Force Base, AR. The general was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, DC, in November 1986 as deputy inspector general. He then became deputy commander of the 6th Allied Tactical Air Force, Izmir, Turkey, in June 1987. In November 1989 he became executive director of the Joint Strategic Defense Planning Staff, Peterson AFB, CO.
The general is a command pilot with more than 5,700 flying hours in more than 35 different aircraft. The general is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
He was promoted to major general on July 1, 1987, with the same date of rank and retired from the USAF in 1992.