53 days to the millennium: Carson pilot one of first to help with anti-gravity tests
Paper: Daily Appeal – 53 days to the millennium – Thursday, Aug. 8, 1946
Owner and Publisher: Wesley L. Davis Jr.
Published daily except Saturday and Sunday in the Appeal Building, corner of Carson and Second.
If roller coasters make you queasy, riding with longtime Carson City resident Carl Bostrom 50 years ago wouldn’t have been a good idea.
Looking back he recognizes he was likely involved with the first-ever anti-gravity tests.
“All we did was fly the plane,” he said.
In 1946, when today’s edition of the Daily Appeal hit the newsstands, Carl Bostrom was in his fourth month at test-pilot school in Wright Field (Dayton, Ohio) taking classes down the runway from where Chuck Yeager was in school to be a fighter pilot.
He was very near realizing his dream of becoming a test pilot.
In 1939, Bostrom joined the Army Air Corp.
“My greatest ambition ever since I can remember was to someday be a test pilot,” he said. “I enlisted in 1939 to go to airplane mechanic school. I couldn’t afford to go to civilian school. So I promised to give them three years of my life.”
After graduation, Bostrom worked as an instructor teaching airplane hydraulics. He then joined the air cadets where he learned to fly.
“I graduated as a 2nd lieutenant,” he said. “I was trained on multi-engine aircraft. In 1943, I was assigned to a B-24 in Tonopah. That’s when I got my crew and flew overseas.”
Bostrom was flying the B-24 liberators on bombing runs over Munich and Vienna.
After serving a full tour, he was headed home across the Atlantic on a ship when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.
“We got back to the states just before the war was over,” he said. “It took us two weeks to get across the Atlantic. Of course I wanted to fly back, but they made us come back on the boat.”
Bostrom said they asked him what he wanted to do next.
“I could get out or take an assignment in the states,” he said. “It gave me my chance to say what I’d wanted all my life – that I wanted to be a test pilot.
“I was in the first test pilot school class at the close of World War II,” he said. “Chuck Yeager was down the runway at fighter-pilot test school and Tony LeVier was there as an experimental test pilot.”
By 1949, Bostrom was flying bomber tests and experimental airplanes with Capt. Glen Edwards at Wright Field.
“One day in 1947, they asked us to fly this B-17 belonging to Aero-Medic Laboratories,” he said. “They had these far-sighted scientists who were thinking into the future including rocket travel. They knew if we ever got into orbital flight we’d be floating around without the benefit of gravity and wanted to take a closer look to see what happens.
“Well a B-17 won’t fly like a rocket, but you can simulate no gravity for about 15-20 seconds with a maneuver called a push over.
“Edwards and I were of course buckled up in our seats flying the plane, but the scientists were at the back end of the plane. We could communicate with them by inter-phone, but we couldn’t see what they were doing.
“We did this series of climbs and dives about seven or eight times for the benefit of the aeronautical scientists. I think we were involved even before the public knew about (anti-gravity testing.)”
Bostrom said they would do a full-power climb until the plane was near stalling, then do another maneuver called a pull-up before the plane stalled at about 8,000 or 10,000 feet. This would gain some of their air speed back and in the middle, for a few seconds the meter measuring gravity would read zero.
Bostrom said gravity is usually measured in numbers, with 1 being the force felt as you walk.
“When you do pull ups or go around a corner real fast you get double gravity or G2, in which you weigh twice as much as normal,” he said. “At zero gravity, you’ve lost it all and your floating around in God’s great outdoors.
“We didn’t think much of it at the time, but in light of recent publications about zero gravity I thought it was important this get out. We gave the fellows a chance to test out zero gravity. We simply flew the airplane the way they wanted.”
Bostrom, who is now 79, stopped flying three years ago after 54 years.
Edwards was killed June 6, 1948, when the all-wing experimental aircraft he was flying crashed.
“We flew several experimental airplanes together,” Bostrom said. “His tragic death hit me kind of hard.”
Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California is named after his friend and Forbes Air Force base in Topeka, Kan., is named after Maj. Danny Forbes, the co-pilot who took Bostrom’s place.
“I was supposed to fly the YB49 with him,” Bostrom said. “We flew the plywood prototypes together. But just before the test program started I got an offer from MIT, which was starting its own flight test facility. This meant I had to give up flying the YB49 with Glen.”
Bostrom said they got through most of the tests and were on what was said to be last flight when they crashed.
“There were no flight recorders then,” Bostrom said. “There’s a lot of speculation as to why. Some of the speculation is valid, some of the speculation is not. I have my own ideas, but I don’t think I want them out.”