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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; 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, Burbank “Skunk Works,” Edwards Air Force Base, Palmdale, and later Area 51 under Kelly Johnson. He was flight test engineer 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 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 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 it out. But still, when a new step-father, Charlie Frank Manges, built a house next door, Joe was the one who they asked to wire the whole place.

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“).

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.

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


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 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. He was restricted like I was at the NSA: I was always allowed to say that I worked in NSOC in the NSA, that I had a Top Secret SI Cat III Umbra clearance, also what I saw publicly available at the NSA’s cryptology museum at Ft. Meade in 2013 with SIGINT and the WV-2 (one of Joe’s variants), which was spotty info…but not what our mission was, NSA security protocols, etc. After Joe and I saw brass-given seminars on the SR-71 and U-2 publicly available at Oshkosh, however, to our surprise, then he discussed more with me—and even then, it was interesting that he only discussed things the colonel raised on stage.

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.

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.