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F-117 pioneer test pilot passes away at 70

by Mr. Rick Shea 49th Fighter Wing historian

From the USAF Website, Accessed 5/5/2007

5/4/2007 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNEWS) -- The Air Force and the F-117A Nighthawk program lost one of its premier test pilots nearly 25 years, to the day, after his near-fatal accident while attempting to take-off on an F-117A's final acceptance test.

Retired Lt. Col. Robert 'Bob' Riedenauer, 70, passed away April 23 at his home in Palmdale, Calif. following a lengthy battle with cancer. Coincidentally, Col. Riedenauer was to have been honored that day by the city with the naming of an F-104 aircraft after him at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark at Air Force Plant 42.

Born in Fresno, Calif., in 1936, Colonel Riedenauer earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University in 1967, and two years later graduated from the Air Force's Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Col. Riedenauer recalled the exact time he answered the challenge to become a test pilot. While driving east on Highway 58 just out of Mohave, Calif., he was buzzed by two jet fighters out of Edwards AFB. At that time, he was a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft commander looking for a more challenging career opportunity. Those two jet fighters captured his imagination and he immediately set his sights on the USAF Test Pilot School. He was the only test pilot to fly the U-2 Dragon Lady, the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117A Nighthawk.

As a test pilot, the colonel conducted performance and handling quality tests on the FB-111A, various programs on the U-2, and developmental flight tests on the SR-71. After retirement, he went to work for Lockheed's Skunk Works Division as an engineering test pilot and later director of operations. He served as one of Lockheed's principal test pilots during the initial flight tests of the F-117A Stealth Fighter, where he earned the moniker "Bandit 103."

On April 20, 1982, as the test pilot assigned to Lockheed's first F-117A production aircraft, Bandit 103 nearly lost his life when he discovered, immediately after take-off and only 30 feet off the ground, that the aircraft's pitch and yaw controls responded completely opposite of how they should have responded. The aircraft flipped violently, slammed into the ground and trapped the colonel in the cockpit. The colonel broke both legs and suffered back injuries in the crash.

While the accident ended Bandit 103's test pilot career, it did not end his life-long association with aviation. After his retirement from Lockheed-Martin in 1993, Colonel Riedenauer served as the executive director of the Flight Test Historical Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the aerospace history of Edwards AFB. In 2002, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor of Lancaster, Calif.

Colonel Riedenauer was a Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and logged more than 6,500 hours in more than 50 different aircraft, including the T-33, A/T-37, T-38, F-86, F-104, F-105, F-4, F/FB-111, F-117, SR-71, B-52 and U-2. He also flew 120 combat missions in the F-105 in Southeast Asia and was honored with the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with eleven oak leaf clusters and the Meritorious Service Medal.