USAF Test Pilot School
Deatrick returned to the United States in early 1967 and was assigned as commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, from May 1967 to June 1968. During a ceremony with Colonel Deatrick on July 11, 1967, the school received its first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for "exceptionally meritorious service" during the period of February 1, 1964 to February 1, 1966.
During Deatrick's tenure at the school, students received the long-awaited Lockheed NF-104A—a rocket-powered variant of the F-104 intended to inexpensively train military space pilots. More than five years before, three F-104s were extensively modified to the NF-104A or Aerospace Trainer (AST) configuration that included the addition of a rocket engine and a reaction control system for flight in the upper atmosphere where the air is too thin for normal control surfaces to operate. Although the school managed the project, testing was performed not by the school's students, but by experienced test pilots from Lockheed and the Air Force Flight Test Center. Flight testing began in 1963 but was suspended when aircraft 56-0762 was destroyed on 10 December, seriously injuring the pilot. Safety modifications were made to the two remaining aircraft, and a restricted flight profile was defined that lowered the maximum altitude and decreased the climb angle. In spite of the precautions, a serious accident occurred on June 18, 1965 when an instructor flying 56-0756 experienced a hydrogen peroxide fire from the reaction control system. A nitrogen purge system was added, and after additional test flights, the school's students were finally approved for training flights in May 1968.
Students who flew the NF-104A while Deatrick commanded the school include Robert Lilac, Harry Blot, and Mike Loh. Student flights lasted only a few more years. Aircraft 56-0756 was scrapped after an inflight rocket motor explosion occurred in June 1971 and training was terminated in December of that year. As of 2011, the surviving NF-104, 56-0760, stands as a static model just outside the entrance of the USAF Test Pilot School.
On May 27, 1967, Deatrick presented an address at Kutztown State College in Pennsylvania during the unveiling of the datestone of Deatrick Hall. The men's dormitory was named in honor of Deatrick's grandfather, William Wilberforce Deatrick, who was a professor at the college. In 1968, Deatrick was selected to attend the National War College. Following his graduation in 1969, he was assigned to the Joint Staff, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Subsequently, in 1972, he became the Director of Test, Air Force Systems Command, Andrews AFB, Maryland and retired from the United States Air Force in 1974.
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