Paying Tribute to the People Who Took Aviation
from the Flight Deck of a Navy Carrier to Man's First Steps on the Moon
Pete Purvis was born on December 1, 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio where his first exposure to aviation came while sitting atop the family 1937 Ford watching the Cleveland Air Races. After high school, and a year at Dartmouth College, he spent the next four years at the U.S. Naval Academy where he encountered his first Grumman aircraft and had his first taste of carrier aviation while, rolled up in the bowels beneath the aft turret of a COD version of the TBF Avenger.
Upon graduating from USNA in 1957 Navy flight training beckoned. Pete flew his first Grumman aircraft, an S2F-1 Tracker while assigned to VS-32 at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island. He soon decided that there was more to flying than chugging along at 100 feet, day or night, over the roiling North Atlantic. After racking up 1,500 hours in the S-2 and over 200 straight-deck carrier landings on board USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39), he was selected to attend the US Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. Purvis was one of the first two of his USNA classmates to do so and graduating with Class XXXII in October 1962 opened new vistas. Assigned to the Service Test Division at the Naval Air Test Center Pete flew just about everything in sight while maintaining currency in six different aircraft ranging from the Lockheed P-2 and P-3 to the Grumman A-6 and Vought F-8.
One of his most interesting projects was the Skyhook Covert Aerial Retriever System invented by Robert Fulton, who was a direct descendant of the steamboat inventor. He achieved several firsts for Skyhook, such as the first live pickup at night and the first simultaneous snatch of two people. His work with Skyhook formed the solid technical base for later Skyhook Surface To Air Recovery System (STARS) programs undertaken by the U.S. Air Force for the HC-130H.
After serving three years at NATC, it was Pete back to on the North Atlantic as the Assistant Navigator of USS Randolph (CVS -15) until his 1966 assignment to VF-151 F-4 Phantoms at NAS Miramar where he compiled, and 101 combat missions with VF-151in the McDonnell F-4. In 1968 Pete resigned his commission to join Westinghouse in Baltimore as an engineering test pilot but in 1971, Grumman called and asked offered him if the opportunity to become he wanted to be an F-14 experimental test pilot at NAS Point Mugu, California. His answer was obvious. Among the various programs being tested at Point Mugu, Pete was intimately involved in missile separation tests, where he achieved brief notoriety in 1973 by being shot down by the Sparrow missile he had just launched (See “The Day I Shot Myself Down,” in April 2001 issue of Flight Journal magazine).
By early 1975, flight test activity at Point Mugu had waned, so Pete joined Grumman International as Director of Washington Operations and in 1981 he became affiliated with Tracor Aerospace. He changed course in 1988 to become the vice president for privatization for Hannon Armstrong & Company, a boutique investment-banking firm specializing in government project finance and leasing. The recession of the early ‘90s and fading government projects required another course change back to aerospace where he has worked as a consultant since 1993.
Pete remained in the Naval Reserve, retiring as a Captain in 1987 after four commands, including that of an RF-8 photoreconnaissance squadron. He is an Associate Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, former chairman of its East Coast Section, and trustee of the Association of Naval Aviation.