Donald S. Lopez, Sr. bigraphy, stories - World War II flying ace; deputy director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Donald S. Lopez, Sr. : biography

July 15, 1923 - March 3, 2008

Donald S. Lopez, Sr. (July 15, 1923 – March 3, 2008) was a former U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force fighter and test pilot and until his death the deputy director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. In 1948 he married Glindel Barron, sister of Florida State Senator Dempsey Barron.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lopez showed an interest in aviation at an early age. He often rode his bike to Floyd Bennett Field where he occasionally got free flights from a family friend. During his teenage years, his family moved to Tampa, Florida, inside the traffic pattern of Drew Army Air Field, so he could see Army Air Corps fighters flying overhead. That hardened his resolve to become a fighter pilot.

He learned to fly in college, then volunteered for the Army Air Forces Aviation Cadet Program when the age limit was lowered to 18 in early 1942. After earning his wings, he saw combat in China as a member of the 23rd Fighter Group, successor to the famed Flying Tigers. He became an ace, credited with shooting down five Japanese fighters, four in a P-40 and one in a P-51.

Lopez returned to Florida in 1945 and served as a fighter test pilot at Eglin Field, flying most of the early jet fighters. After Eglin, he served two tours in the Pentagon, earned a B.S. and M.S. in aeronautical engineering, and was an associate professor of thermodynamics at the United States Air Force Academy. Following his retirement from the Air Force in 1964, he spent eight years as an engineer on the Apollo and Skylab programs with Bellcomm, Inc., a subsidiary of Bell Labs. In 1972, he joined the staff of the National Air and Space Museum.

His publications include two memoirs, Into the Teeth of the Tiger (Smithsonian, 1997, ISBN 1-56098-752-9), and Fighter Pilot's Heaven: Flight Testing the Early Jets (Smithsonian, 2001, ISBN 1-56098-916-5).

He and Glindel have two children, Joy Lopez and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (currently a professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Michigan), and one grandchild, Laura V. Lopez.

Lopez died from a heart attack on March 3, 2008, at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. He had a military honor funeral and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

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