Retired Nov. 15, 1986.
Maj. Gen. Joe Henry Engle (U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard) was born in Dickinson County, Kan., on Aug. 26, 1932. After attending grade school in Chapman, Kan., and graduating from Dickinson County High School, he went to the University of Kansas, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1955.
Commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Kansas, General Engle entered flight school in 1957. He served with the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, Calif. Having received a personal recommendation from former test pilot Chuck Yeager, he attended the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and graduated in 1962. He flew as a test pilot in the Fighter Test Group at Edwards AFB, Calif. During his career, he flew more than 185 different types of aircraft, including 25 different fighters, and logged more than 14,700 hours of flight time.
Considering him “one of the sharpest” in the test-pilot program, then Col. Yeager selected General Engle for admission to the newly established Aerospace Research Pilot School for training military astronauts. After graduating from ARPS in June 1963, General Engle became a research pilot in the X-15 program. He became the eighth pilot to fly the X-15, an experimental aircraft, reaching Mach 4.71 and 77,000 feet altitude Oct. 7, 1963. He entered the history books on June 29, 1965, when he flew the X-15 to an altitude of 280,600 feet, becoming the youngest person, at age 32, ever to qualify officially as an astronaut. Twice more before that year ended, he would pilot the rocket-powered aerospace plane more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. Altogether, then General Joe Engle flew the X-15 sixteen times and was one of only eight men to qualify for astronaut wings by flying an “airplane” into space.
In April 1966, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected General Engle as one of its 19 new astronaut candidates — the only one who had already participated in spaceflight operations. Assigned to the Apollo program, he first served on the support crew for Apollo X, and then as backup lunar-module pilot for the Apollo XIV mission.
General Engle went on to command one of two crews that flew the Space Shuttle Enterprise approach-and-landing test flights during June – October 1977. Those flights, which involved transport atop a Boeing 747 aircraft to an altitude of 25,000 feet, then being released for a two-minute glide to landing, evaluated the orbiter’s handling qualities and landing characteristics. He and astronaut Richard Truly completed the first flight of the space shuttle in its orbital configuration. The general served as backup commander for STS-1, the first orbital test flight of Space Shuttle Columbia and commanded STS-2, the second orbital test flight of Columbia, which launched from Kennedy Space Center Nov. 12, 1981, and landed at Edwards AFB, Calif. That particular mission — the first and only time a winged aerospace vehicle was flown manually from orbit through landing — included 29 flight-test maneuvers which General Engle preformed during the re-entry profile at velocities ranging from Mach 25 to subsonic for extraction of aerodynamic and aero-thermodynamic data.
After a stint as deputy associate administrator for manned space flight at NASA headquarters, in 1982, General Engle returned to Johnson Space Center in Houston to train for command of the STS-51I mission of Space Shuttle Discovery. Launched on Aug. 27, 1985, Discovery deployed three communication satellites. That mission also involved the first manual grapple and redeployment of an on-orbit satellite by a crew member when Discovery successfully rendezvoused with and repaired the ailing 15,000-pound SYNCOM IV-3. By the time he retired from active duty in the Air Force and as an astronaut in November 1986, then-Col. Engle had accumulated 224 hours in space and held the unique distinction of being the only person to have flown two entirely different winged space vehicles — the X-15 and the space shuttle.
He subsequently joined the Kansas Air National Guard and served during the late 1980s as the ANG assistant to the commander in chief, U.S. Space Command. Before retiring from the Guard, he achieved the rank of major general. From the 1990s onward, he served as an aerospace-engineering consultant and simulation-evaluation pilot for space shuttle modifications and other advanced, piloted re-entry vehicles. His military decorations include the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal and the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. Other honors and awards include the Clifford B. Harmon International, Robert J. Collier, Lawrence Sperry, Ivan C. Kinchloe, Robert H. Goddard, and General Thomas D. White aviation and space trophies. Joe Engle has been inducted to the Aerospace Walk of Honor, the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and in 1992 was enshrined into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Courtesy, Department of the Air Force