Russell E. "Russ" Schleeh
In 20 years with the Air Force, "Russ" Schleeh flew and tested virtually every
bomber from America's war-winning B-17 Flying Fortress to today's strategic
workhorse, the B-52 Stratofortress. A born competitor and gifted athlete, he
earned a football scholarship to Washington State College. But, in 1940, when the
Civilian Pilot Training Program offered him a chance to fly, he jumped at it. As an
apprentice aircraft and engine mechanic, he earned room and board and 15 minutes of
flight time per day. As an aviation cadet in 1941, Schleeh requested fighters at every
opportunity, but the Army had other plans.
Reporting to his first commander, Lieutenant
Colonel Curtis LeMay of the 305th Bombardment Group, he quickly reconsidered his request
for a transfer to fighters. LeMay flew frequently with Schleeh's crew in the B-17
Wham Bam. On a mission to St. Nazaire, France, while other bomber groups used
evasive tactics and achieved poor bombing results, LeMay led their formation straight and
level through heavy flak. The 305th inflicted heavy damage without losing an airplane,
and their "precision" tactics soon became the standard for Eighth Air Force.
Before leaving England, Schleeh got a rare opportunity to fly many RAF fighters and
bombers, and a captured German FW 190.
That's all it took to spark his interest in flight
test! After graduating from the Flight Performance School in 1947, he soon became the
Chief of Bomber Flight Test and later Chief of Fighter Test at Wright Field, Ohio. As
he put it, "I felt I had finally arrived...." A year later, a shortage of
qualified pilots required his return to bombers. When a YB-49 Flying Wing
crashed, killing Captain Glen Edwards, Schleeh took over the program. Later, during a
high-speed taxi test, the YB-49's nose gear collapsed and the unorthodox bomber broke
apart and burst into flames. His own back broken, Schleeh, in disgust, suggested to the
fire chief that he "let it burn."
After 8 years of flight test, Schleeh went to
the Strategic Air Command, first as General LeMay's aide and later as Commander of the
4017th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Castle AFB, California. There he began racing
unlimited hydroplanes and, in 1956, won the National High Point Championship. Retiring in
1962, he joined Douglas Aircraft and played a key role in winning several Air Force
contracts, including the KC-10 Extender. An avid outdoorsman, he "lives for
today" and enjoys hunting, fishing, tennis, and offroad motorcycling.
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On a cold, snowy February morning in 1949 at Moses Lake AFB Washington, test pilots Major Russ Schleeh and Major Joe Howell took off on a cross-country demonstration flight of the XB-47 for Congress. "The weather wasn't exactly favorable for a 1-hour pilot, a zero-hour copilot, and an experimental airplane...." Using the entire runway, the Stratojet just reached flying speed--Schleeh raised the gear and headed east! Except for a 20-minute period to conserve fuel, they kept the throttles at 100 percent until letdown. Schleeh's flight to Andrews AFB, Maryland, took just 3 hours and 46 minutes, and set an unofficial transcontinental speed record!