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Left to right: Joe on Ventura Beach; with Tony LeVier; Flight Test Engineer in charge behind Herman “Fish” Salmon in left seat; flying right seat in a Connie.
Introduction and Background
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Introduction and Background

Joe Ware was a genius who was never arrogant, confident but never harsh, a conservative superhero with no concept of prejudice who openly married me at his church among friends, who moved as one of the greats in United States’ aerospace yet who was so humble, I didn’t even realize the extent of it for years.

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Columbine II, the 1st Air Force One; Joe on right on Columbine II, looking at presidential plaque; SR-71 Blackbird. About the “SR,” Joe was flight test engineer in charge and said with a smile, “It was a goer.”

Joseph F. Ware, Jr, son of Joseph F. Ware, Sr. (professor at Virginia Tech and Commandant of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets), was a flight test engineer at Lockheed,Skunk Works,” Edwards Air Force Base, Palmdale, Burbank, and later Area 51 under Kelly Johnson. He was in charge of all Constellation “Connie” variants including those for SIGINT, the U.S. Department of Defense and Columbine II and Columbine III, the 1st two Air Force Ones for President Eisenhower. He later rose to Department Manager of Engineering Flight Test over the C-130, U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird.

Joe was born and raised at 404 Clay St., Blacksburg, VA, on the SE edge of Virginia Tech campus. He lived with both his mother, Susie Robinson, and his grandmother, Nellie Robinson. The East extension was built by his grandmother, Nellie, who owned the house. Joe said an old car of theirs was a Whippet, which may be that one by the older picture.

As a child he was a Dennis-the-Menace-type genius who invented gadgets, got into things out of curiosity, discovering his ability to make things. At the age of 10, in 1926, he designed and built his own radio station (he playfully called the Blacksburg Broadcasting Station, the “BBS”). Then he needed programming, so he bugged his mother’s parlor and broadcast the ladies’ discussions. He’d laugh about this to me, embarrassed about it, now. He’d strung an antenna wire up the block, chimney to chimney, and during a storm, it blew the chimney (shown) down off the roof into the front yard. Joe loved telling stories of himself that way. He once wired a backyard tent from the house fuse box and blew the house electricity out. But still, when a new step-father, Charlie Frank Manges, built a house next door to the NE, Joe was the one who they asked to wire the whole place, and he did, learning from his earlier experience.

Joe was born in his mother’s room, “the room over the living room” behind the 2nd story window on front of the house almost obscured by the tree. Joe’s room growing up was the room just behind that (above the car) on the 2nd floor, “the room over the kitchen.” The “BBS” was behind the dormer in the attic (see chapter 9, “Ware Lab, Virginia Tech“). The chip in the living room fireplace was put there by Joe as a child, something else he was later embarrassed about.

He was a simple guy, a Christian, an Elder in the Presbyterian church, who did his home work, graduated early from VT then on to Caltech where he graduated early again with a Master’s in Engineering. He was a Wright engine test engineer at Patterson, NJ, taught math at Virginia Tech, then went off to Burbank, CA, to work for Kelly. He admired Kelly and used to tell me, “I couldn’t wait to go to work.”

He had two wives before me, three children from the first marriage. Both his first wives passed away. Then he met me.

I was different: a pilot, like him, who looked at him as if he were Elvis Presley, a rock star in the aviation world I admired. We were double tidal locked from the first day we met. We’d show aircraft at major, military air shows, walk for hours around any airport and talk. I’d ask him more questions than I knew I had, and he’d answer them, often with personal items about the designer, as he knew many of them.

And I was/am transsexual. I waited for years to see if his kindness to me was a front, a curiosity, expecting the usual bigotry with a rejection to follow, but after four years, I was surprised to learn that he did, indeed, love me and I was the one who had been bigoted, against his age: I didn’t think I could love someone 40 years older. Realizing that, I dropped it, and I’ve been thankful ever since.

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J2 (“Joe and Jen”) at Le Bourget airport, France, where Charles Lindberg landed in 1927; j2 in Kings Chamber, Khufu’s pyramid, Egypt; j2 at Disneyland and also flying with Troi, both when he had Parkinson’s.

He was the best, the most intelligent, caring, conservative-yet-compassionate man I’d ever known, and he continues to inspire me today. He teaches me in my dreams.

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Joe on the right in his Ware Lab hat, eating at the Athenaeum, faculty club at Caltech, where he lived when he was a grad student there 1937-1938. In this photo, the main dining hall is decorated for Christmas.

Joe retired from Lockheed in 1974. When I met him in 1989, began living with him, then married him in 1995, these planes shown here and in the pictures below had been declassified. Joe had many photos. But the U-2 and the SR-71 still had classifications. As such, Joe did not have video or many pictures of them from his days at the SkunkWorks or his planes at Area 51, which was a U-2 then SR-71 test base, hopefully away from Soviet (USSR) prying eyes, he later told me. By the time we learned the U-2 and SR-71 had been largely declassified, Joe was getting on in years, many former colleagues had passed on, and Joe did not then seek old pictures.

Joe and I are both old school about classified material. If it’s classified, you rigidly only talk about what is allowed or not at all. He was restricted like I was at the NSA with my Top Secret SI Cat III Umbra clearance: Certain things could be said, most could not. After Joe and I saw brass-given seminars on the SR-71 and U-2 publicly available at Oshkosh, however and to our surprise, then he discussed more with me.

I will put up more simple home videos of Joe as I get them transferred off old VHS and 8mm video tape, if they still work. Check back now and then.

“The Greatest Job a Guy Ever Had” (here below) is a video I made of Joe talking about his career, planes and people he worked with. I gave copies out as Christmas presents in the early 1990s. The video quality is poor because I was (with him) just a retired pilot hanging out at the airport, airshowing—humorously, “airport bums”—and I did not have professional equipment. I just used a small video camera. I’m surprised it’s not worse. 🙂 The “block house” is where he was born and raised, 404 Clay St., Blacksburg, on the southeast edge of VT Campus. The pretty woman a couple minutes in is Leslie Oakey, of the Oakey funeral home, Blacksburg, who was his first wife and mother of his 3 three children. You can hear Joe’s voice break sometimes within because he was on the edge of crying. He loved people and times that had gone by and missed never seeing them again. The video is in two sections, because it wouldn’t fit on one, total time with the two is about 40 minutes or so.

“The Greatest Job a Guy Ever Had” is Joe Ware discussing his career through planes he worked on as flight test engineer in charge and/or Department Manager, Engineering Flight Test, Lockheed, Skunk Works. It is about 40 minutes for both parts 1 and 2.
Westview Cemetery, Blacksburg, about a mile east of campus.

“East Coast, 1996” was a trip we took, Joe age 79, me age 39, that also included Ford’s Theater (where Lincoln was shot), the National Mall, the X-15, Arlington National Cemetery (5 relatives buried there, Incl. Joe’s father, Joseph Fulton Ware, Sec. 13, 81-W-6; Rear Admiral Uncle Dr. Ben Dennis and his wife Adelaide, Sec. 6, 5719; Joe’s Uncle Samuel H. Ware, Sec. 7, 8336). (We also have family buried in Blacksburg going back to the Revolutionary War, see pic.) We also toured Mt. Vernon, Manassas, VA, Virginia Tech (which he called “VPI” all his life) and the classroom where he used to teach in 1940-’41, Holden Hall, the house where Joe was raised and inside his mother’s bedroom where he was born, 404 Clay St., Blacksburg, visiting Joe’s cousin Louisa Decker in Blacksburg, Colonial Williamsburg, Ft. Monroe, VA, the Kennedy Space Center tour, and to see his Cousin Frances Ramsey in S. Florida.

I’d like to note that Joe was a wonderfully inclusive man without a prejudiced bone in his body, evidenced partly by the fact he married me openly 17 times (repeated on anniversaries). Joe was offended by prejudice and by anyone treating anyone as less, unkindly, or unequally. He was a humble Christian in the best sense. He admired and was loyal to the United States and loved Lincoln as his favorite president, without whom we would not have this wonderful, troubled-yet-improving country. With family centuries in Virginia, the Civil War heavily on his mind, Joe tried to encourage mending going forward as Lincoln began and, I believe, in the practice of embracing college rivalry, which he enjoyed. Joe was strongly against slavery or any such thing as it was cruel and against God and humanity. We know the scars of it may last forever, but we have got to learn to live with and, I hope, love each other with our differences. That means all of us. This is a version of both E Pluribus Unum (“Out of many, one”) and Ut Prosim (“That I may serve”), Virginia Tech’s motto.

“Oshkosh 1995” is a video from one of our trips to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s largest airshow/fly-in of its kind. We flew my good old 1937 Stinson “Gullwing” Reliant, 17154, and because of its year, they parked us in the field by the Theater in the Woods. Yes, that is Joe lying under the plane, and that skinny brunette is me, waaaay before I had FFS, went blonde then silver, aged, and put on weight. This one has some funny clips.

“Oshkosh 1995” is J2 (Joe and Jenna) on a vacation to Oshkosh, WI, to the world’s largest general aviation airshow of its kind.

“Joe’s T-28” shows Joe flying his T-28 Fennec, NX28FE, out of Camarillo Airport, CA, CMA, hangar 228. That building he taxies toward after engine start is the old fire station; it’s not there any more. The tower wasn’t there, either, when I began flying with him a year before. Joe got Camarillo Tower used to left overhead breaks as an approach to land with this monster. He’s giving a ride to someone in this video—didn’t do that often—so I took advantage of the ground perspective to take some video.

Joe owned and flew this T-28 Fennec in the latter 1980s and early 1990s. It was one hell of a beast. I used to say that monster wrecked my hair every time, tied it into knots, because prop blast blew in the partially open canopy during taxi.

“WV-3 Flight Test” (below) was made by Joe in the early 1960s, is a 5′ clip of one of his WV-3 flight tests at Lockheed. It was one of the 1049 Connie variants, weather-focused, very similar to the WV-2 and C-121.

“WV-3 Flight Test” is a real Skunk Works, Lockheed, test flight. This is video was not for entertainment but to demonstrate the test.

Most people know what test pilots are; they work for flight test engineers who direct test flights and make engineering modifications to prototypes, etc. Joe was flight test engineer in charge of them, and other types, becoming the Department Manager of Engineering Flight Test, Lockheed, SkunkWorks. Sometimes Joe would fly co-pilot (right seat) on test flights, but typically, he would stand behind the pilots with his clip board making notes.

In normal flying, you would not make such abrupt movements with the yoke, but they had to make sure the plane could handle them.

In this clip, you hear Joe narrating near the front and end of this film, talking about the flight. You also hear him sometimes on the intercom, such as at the end before more narration, “That’ll be all for today.” You see Joe near the end inspecting the airplane, red clip board in hand.

From my 22 years with Joe, yet guessing, it seems to me Joe would have used this film clip to show brass at Lockheed SkunkWorks and also Air Force and Navy (customers) how the test flights were going.


More Pictures
Joe Ware as a younger man. He was a humble man, but he had to admit he did like flashy cars and planes.
In WW-II, Joe was working at Lockheed as flight test engineer on the P-38 Lightning, but he wanted to do more, so he was also in the Civil Air Patrol.
Joe at work, on the right, clip board in hand again.
Joe putting on a flight suit.
Joe on the right, onboard Columbine II, the 1st “Air Force One,” which he made for President Eisenhower. Note: Presidents had flown in earlier decades, but “Air Force One” didn’t mean “the plane that carries the President” until Columbine II, its first use as such.
Part of Joe’s flightline at Palmdale, displaying his P-3s.
Joe’s flight line at Palmdale again, this time showing the R7V-2 in front, YC-130 next, then the C-121 behind that.
Joe is on the left, and that is his old Corvette. This is Joe’s primary Connie test bed. It was a 749, and Joe stretched it into a 1049, tested various things on it. Notice #4 is a turboprop. He also once had a jet engine on there as well as the R-3350 turbo compounds and that turboprop. He said it was fun to fly. It was Howard Hughes‘ old personal airplane, but Joe got it and used it as a test bed. The plane was always called “nineteen sixty-one,” as it’s serial number was 1961.
Joe and airline crew. That was also his car. He did like flashy pictures.
Joe also did the Cheyenne.
WV-2E, another 1049 Connie variant of Joe’s.
Joe in the right seat on a Connie as co-pilot….see notation he made, below.
Joe would have been in his 70s when he wrote this note, referencing Bill Thomas and me when I was in my 30s.
Joe bending over into the SkiyFox, an in-retirement radical modification from a T-33 as a private high-performance biz jet.
Joe’s father, Joseph F. Ware, Sr,, Army colonel, professor of military science, “VPI,” Virginia Polytechnic, now called Virginia Tech, and former Commandant of the VPI Corps of Cadets.
Joe and Tony LeVier, Chief Engineering Test pilot, even on the U-2, Lockheed SkunkWorks. I met Tony, a great guy. He was tall, ornery and charming. Very likeable. He used to say, “The hardest thing known to man is a quarter inch of human skull,” talking about getting an idea in. Boy was he right.
Joe’s personal BT-13. It had a Wasp Jr. engine in it with a delicious, throaty roar. The Vultee was also known as a “vibrator.” Pilots in WW-II used to sometimes paint their aircraft or squadron on the back of their leather flight jackets. Well, Joe and I had leather flight jackets, and I used to joke, “I’m gonna get me a BT-13 and put, ‘I love my vibrator’ on the back…then act serious, like I don’t know what you’re laughing at”…part of bawdy airshow banter meant to tease. That was very us.
Joe’s later personal plane, a Beech Duke.
Joe’s even later personal airplane, T-28 Fennec NX28FE. That’s him supervising in the front seat, me flying in the back. We kept it in Hangar 228, Camarillo, took this to many air shows, military air bases.
Joe’s R7V-2 Super Connie variant, all turboprops.
The YC-130, became the C-130 Hercules. Joe was also flight test engineer in charge, said he was sitting right seat in that photo.

I have more pictures. Maybe I can get more up here in time.