Alvin Melvin (Tex) Johnston was born August 18, 1914, to a farmer’s family from Kansas. At the age of 11, after his first flight as a passenger in a barnstormer biplane, Tex fell in love with flying and set his eyes on a new objective: becoming a pilot himself.
His parents then decided to enroll him in an airplane and engine mechanics course in Oklahoma. He became an apprentice aircraft mechanic right after his training, which allowed him to offset his flight training costs by working on a flight school’s airplanes, where he earned his transport pilot license.
He then joined an aeronautical engineering course at Kansas State University. By that time, World War II had begun, and President Roosevelt hired civilian pilots to join the Army Air Corps efforts, where Tex flew brand-new military aircraft from the factory to the airbases where they would operate. He gained many flying hours in many types of multi-engine aircraft.
After the war, his unusual CV and many references caught the attention of Bell Aircraft where he became a test pilot.
Among the test pilot community, Johnston was notorious for his larger than life personality and was nicknamed “Tex” because of his habit of wearing cowboy boots and hats on airplanes. He was in many ways the real-life image of the Hollywood daredevil test pilot.
Tex started to work for Boeing in 1949, where he worked his way up the company ladder and was soon appointed senior experimental test pilot. Among others, he developed the famous 8-engine Boeing B-52 “Stratofortress” bomber.
Over his career, he flew or tested just about every significant aircraft of the American aviation industry.
That day, without training, and without prior notice or warning to Boeing executives, Tex performed an impressive stunt. He executed not one, but two barrel rolls with the brand-new prototype of the newest and largest Boeing jetliner to date: the famous 707. This was performed in front of a crowd of 250.000 people, including airline and industry executives from around the world. It turns out that Johnston had only informed the test engineer and the co-pilot of the stunt once they were airborne.
The trick was done without the knowledge of Bill Allen, then president of the company, who was watching and fuming. The Boeing 707 project was indeed an enormous investment from Boeing, and the firm’s future was on the line. Back then, a jet-engine aircraft was revolutionary, and airline executives were afraid that consumers would be reluctant to board an airplane without propellers.
After the second barrel roll, Bill Allen thought Johnston had either lost control of the airplane or was having some sort of seizure. Sitting next to Larry Bell, the CEO of Bell Aircraft, who had a heart condition that required meds, Bill said, “Give me one of those damned pills! I need them more than you do!”
One of the test-engineers on board happened to have a camera and snapped this amazing picture, which later became famous, of the 707 on its back with the engine on top of the wing and lake Washington below.
Tex was not terminated and thanks to his contribution in demonstrating the amazing abilities of this aircraft, the 707 became the most successful airplane of the early-jet era.
Looking back, the 707 is now credited with beginning the Jet Age.
Source : Article “60 years ago the famous Boeing 707 barrel roll over lake Washington” on www.Seattletimes.com
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