Norman K. Dyson
Lt. Colonel Norman “Ken” Dyson spent four years as a fighter pilot and then attended USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School. He tested weapons in the F-100, F-101, and F-4 aircraft. Ken Dyson flew the F-100 and F-4 aircraft in the Vietnam War before returning to Edwards AFB as an instructor at the USAF Test Pilot School and later as an F-15 test pilot and Director of the F-15 Joint Test Force. He began classified work in 1976, where he flight-tested “Have Blue” and “Tacit Blue” until 1982.
Testing top-secret aircraft put Colonel Dyson in the midst of the early days of stealth technology. He flew the aircraft “Have Blue” which was the prototype for the F-117A Stealth Fighter. Two Have Blue prototypes were built, “Have Blue 1001”, and “Have Blue 1-002”.
The first flight of “Have Blue-1001” was in January or February of 1978 (the date is still classified) and went fairly smoothly. On May 4, 1978 Have Blue-1001 was landing after a routine test flight when it hit the ground hard, jamming the right main landing gear in a semi-retracted position. Pilot Bill Park tried three times to shake the gear back down. After his third attempt failed, he was ordered to take the aircraft up to 10,000 feet and eject. Park ejected successfully, but he hit his head and was knocked unconscious. Since he was unable to control his parachute during descent or landing, his back was severely injured on impact. He survived but was forced to retire from flying. The Have Blue aircraft was destroyed in the crash. The wreckage was secretly buried somewhere on the Nellis test range complex.
With “Have Blue-1002” ground crews had to be careful to seal all joints thoroughly before each flight. Gaps around the canopy and the fuel-filler door had to be filled with paint-type RAM before each flight. It was imperative to make sure that all surface screws were completely tight, even one loose screw for an access panel could make the aircraft show up like a flying “barn door” during radar tests.
During its 52nd flight “Have Blue-1002” crashed in July of 1979. With Lt. Col. Dyson at the controls, one of the J-85 engines caught fire. The fire was so intense that the hydraulic fluid lines were burned through. Dyson was forced to eject, and “Have Blue-1002” was a total loss. The aircraft is also secretly buried on the Nellis AFB test range. “Have Blue” aircraft were discontinued, as the general concept had been proven.
“Tacit Blue”, flown by Ken Dyson demonstrated improvements in stealth technology from “Have Blue”. Tacit Blue’s design minimized the heat signature emitted from the engines, helping to mask its presence. Tacit Blue was aerodynamically unstable, but it had a digital fly-by-wire system to help control it.
With its low “all-aspect” radar signature, Tacit Blue demonstrated that such an aircraft could loiter over, and behind, the battlefield without fear of being discovered by enemy radar. Using advanced sensors, it could also continuously monitor enemy forces (even through clouds) and provide timely information through data links to a ground command center. Moreover, these sensors functioned without giving away the location of the aircraft.
The Tacit Blue aircraft flew 135 times before the program ended in 1985. The aircraft was declassified and placed on display at the museum in 1996. Dyson was awarded the Kincheloe Award in 1989 for test flying Have Blue and in 1996 for Tacit Blue after these programs were declassified
After Air Force retirement, Dyson joined Rockwell and flew throughout the B-1B test program. He flew the first flight of the X-31 Post Stall Aircraft in 1990 and flew the X-31 through its early testing. He retired from Rockwell as Chief Test Pilot and Director of Flight Test in 1993.
Dyson is an Engineering Fellow of the University of Alabama, a Distinguished Alumnus of the USAF Test Pilot School, and was named to the Aerospace Walk of Honor in 1997.
Sources: Excerpted from the following:
The Society of Experimental Test Pilots… [and the Super Sabre Society] …was saddened to learn of the “Last Flight” of Lt Col Ken Dyson, USAF (Ret) (F) on 15 August 2019. He was 81 years old. Ken was born 13 February 1938 in Marshall, TX. After graduating from Texarkana Texas High School in 1956, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Texas A&M in 1960 and then a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Alabama in 1971.
He graduated from the USAF Test Pilot School in 1966 and was later an instructor at the school. Ken was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years, spending 5 years as a tactical fighter pilot and 15 years as a military test pilot. He flew weapons development test at Eglin AFB on the F-100, F-101B, and F-4 aircraft, and completed 2 combat tours in Southeast Asia flying the F-100 and F-4.
He served as a test pilot and CTF Director during the initial AFDT&E on the F-15, performing flying qualities, engine development, and all-weather tests during the initial AFDT&E program. He was the only Air Force pilot on two classified programs, where he participated in all flight test areas.
After retiring from the Air Force he joined Rockwell International as an engineering test pilot for eight years and flew throughout the B-1B program. He flew the first flight X-31 Post Stall Aircraft and through its early testing. He flew the first flight X-31 Post Stall Aircraft and through its early testing. He retired from Rockwell as Chief Test Pilot and Director of Flight Test in 1993.
Ken received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award in 1989 (retroactive to 1979) for his work on the HAVE BLUE program, the proof of concept aircraft which led to the F-117. He received the Kincheloe Award again in 1996 (retroactive to 1982) for his work on the TACIT BLUE program. Ken is the only pilot to have flown both aircraft that are largely credited with giving birth to and validating the idea of stealth aircraft that could leave many radars blind to their presence.
Ken also received the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, nine air medals, was an Engineering Fellow of the University of Alabama, Distinguished Alumnus of the USAF Test Pilot School, was inducted into the Lancaster Aerospace Walk of Honor in 1997 and included in Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Aerospace Laurels.
Ken was a member of the Super Sabre Society since 2014 and had joined SETP in 1975, was upgraded to Fellow in 1990, and served as a SETP President in 1993. Ken is survived by his wife, Nina and children, Clay, Fred, and Beth.
Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.eternalvalleymortuary.com for the Dyson family.
- 307th Tactical Fighter Squadron/31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Turner AFB, GA
- 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron/354th Tactical Fighter Wing Myrtle Beach AFB, SC
- 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon, Thailand
- HQ PACAF, HQ TAC
Awards & Decorations
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Air Medal (9)
Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Aerospace Laurels
Military & Civilian Education
- Pilot Training Aviation Cadet class 55-P
- Squadron Officer School
- Computer Programming
- Defense Systems Mgmt College
- BA University of Nebraska