Monthly Archives: June 2015

Veteran McDonnell Spacecraft Team Honored on 50th Anniversary of Gemini Manned Flights

The fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of manned Gemini spacecraft missions was marked by the Missouri Aviation Historical Society during their monthly meeting on Thursday evening.  The event was a cooperative effort among aerospace organizations to honor the contributions of McDonnell Aircraft, including a select group of veteran Gemini program engineers, to successful manned space flight involving America’s dual-crew spacecraft.

Missouri Aviation Historical Society President, Dan O’Hara, coordinated the event and provided an informational presentation about the Gemini space program.  A display of Gemini spacecraft memorabilia was provided by the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO and the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum in Cahokia, IL:

Project Gemini mission patches and thrusters


Models of Gemini spacecraft include Rogallo Wing concept


Moderator Earl Mullins

Following the introductory program, a panel discussion, featuring veteran McDonnell Aircraft engineers who designed portions of the Gemini spacecraft, was moderated by Earl Mullins, Curator and Founder of the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO.  Members of the guest panel were: Ray Tucker, electrical ground support engineer who worked on cable systems within the launch complex; Dean Purdy, electrical engineer who worked in the St. Louis Gemini test complex; Norman Beckel, electronics engineer who developed and tested communication systems on the Gemini spacecraft; Earl Robb, structural and mechanical design engineer who designed portions of the Gemini spacecraft, including the equipment module; and Jerry Roberts, engineer who worked on guidance and control systems for the Gemini Spacecraft.

Panel members (L-R): Ray Tucker, Dean Purdy, Norman Beckel,
Earl Robb,  and Jerry Roberts


Earl Robb makes a point about the design of the equipment module


Jerry Roberts discusses the guidance and control system

Several themes emerged during the discussion, including the importance of the space program in technological as well as geo-political terms.  The Gemini program developed techniques and practices needed to maneuver and navigate in space – essential capabilities for the upcoming Apollo lunar missions.  The Gemini astronauts, most of whom went on to fly Apollo lunar missions, learned how to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft, work effectively outside of the spacecraft, and practice precision recoveries.  The panelists shared their behind-the-scenes anecdotes, remembering those like astronaut Gus Grissom and McDonnell Aircraft flight nurse Rose Church who devoted their lives to making the program succeed.  Questions from the audience were fielded prior to wrapping up the program with the presentation of a special fiftieth anniversary cake sponsored by McArthur’s Bakery.  The panelists were also presented with a copy of the book, NASA Gemini Owner’s Workshop Manual as a special gift.

Missouri Aviation Historical Society President Dan O’Hara presents
the NASA Gemini Owner’s Workshop Manual to the panelists

Special thanks to the McDonnell Aircraft Gemini panelists, Missouri Aviation Historical Society, Creve Coeur Airport, the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO, the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, the St. Louis Space Frontier, the Boeing Company and McArthur’s Bakery for contributing to the program.  Video from the program will appear on the Missouri Aviation Historical Society website in the near future.

Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame Inducts Two Metro-East Illinois Aviators

Since 1970, the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame has honored aviators whose principal aviation activity and experience has been in Illinois. I’ll borrow their description for induction:

“Induction into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame is the highest honor that can be attained by individual(s) whose principal aviation activity and experience is Illinois based. The inductees are recognized for their good character and excellence over a period of time. All of those selected are aviation enthusiasts who have also participated in community service, which reflects the character that earns this distinction.”

The 2015 inductees, we’re happy to report, include two local Metro-East IL area gentlemen: Edward Shafer and U.S. Air Force Colonel (Ret.) Robert L. McDaniel. The other two inductees, Beverlee Greenhill and Edward B. Heath, were from the Chicago area.

Edward Shafer (L) and Bob McDaniel

Edward Shafer was recognized for his years in aviation, starting in 1964 when he moved back to IL and obtained private, commercial, instrument and flight instructor certificates. Shafer flew charter in the St. Louis Metro East area and, along with his wife Lois, developed the restricted use runway on their dairy farm into what today is known as St. Louis Metro-East Airport (Shafer Field) near St. Jacob, IL. He has trained over 500 pilots, and as a Designated Pilot Examiner, has given over 350 check rides. Ed Shafer has been advocate for general aviation and in many ways has shared general aviation with the community.

As a child, Bob McDaniel initially grew up close to Southern Illinois Airport and later, St. Louis Downtown Airport (at the time known informally as Parks Airport). McDaniel took his first flying lesson, using a Cessna “Discover Flying” coupon, at the age of 14 and soloed on his 16th birthday. With his commercial pilot’s license and an aviation degree from Parks College, he joined the U.S. Air Force and continued his flying career. After 25 years of service, Bob McDaniel served as the Airport Director of the Texarkana Regional Airport before returning home to carry on his aviation career as the Director of St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, IL in 2000. Under his direction, the airport grew to be the third busiest airport in Illinois, receiving numerous awards and accolades over the years. Bob McDaniel has been an active supporter of general aviation: giving rides to anyone interested in flying, serving as the Young Eagles chairman for EAA Chapter 64 based at St. Louis Downtown Airport, and personally flying well over 2,000 youths on their first flights. Bob also shares his experience by serving on various advisory boards, serving as an adjunct instructor for St. Louis University Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, authoring a number of aviation books and speaking at various aviation, professional and civic groups championing aviation.

Congratulations to both Ed Shafer and Bob McDaniel for earning this high honor!