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Iven C. Kincheloe “America’s No.1 Spaceman”

Iven next to the X-2 Rocket Plabe

Iven C. Kincheloe “America’s No.1 Spaceman” was a extraordinary individual in all aspects of his life, especially tucked into the aspects of aviation history. Coming from a humble beginning being born into a lower-middle class family in Detroit, Michigan, on September 7th 1956,  five years before NASA had Launched Alan Shepard into space, Iven Kincheloe became the first man to reach “space”. as well as an aerospace and aeronautical engineer, a combat proven ace fighter pilot in the Korean war, and  an accreted and awarded test pilot, flying the X-2 jet into space.

The Beginnings

Iven Carl KinchLoe, Jr was born in Detroit, Mi, July 2’ 1928, being an only child to his parents Iven Kincheloe, Sr. and Frances Wilder Kincheloe. When Kincheloe “was three his father lost his job in the engineering department at Graha,-Paige motors, and the family moved to a farm in Cassopolis Michigan.”(Mumford). It is said that Iven “received his first airplane ride at the age of four when a barnstormer stopped by the family farm”(Mumford), love for flying was hatched at this point in the young mans life, and his love for flying was largely supported by his parents. Growing up on a Michigan farm, airplanes became an early interest in his life. Beginning by building model airplanes. “You have often seen the other kids gather around him as he gets ready to launch his latest model airplane into the air. Unlike most boys, however, Iven Kincheloe graduated from flying model airplanes to flying the research planes that paved man’s way into space.”(Nurburg) By age 14 he began to attend a local flight school, “being capable of solo flight in only two hours”(Nurburg) , however due to age restriction laws was unable to fly solo til the age of sixteen, but upon his sixteenth birthday graduated from flight school, he quickly went on become an accomplished pilots. Following his graduation from high school he attended Purdue university seeking and achieving a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, he chose this school believing Purdue offered the best education in the field of aeronautics, fueling his aviation career. Although his parents had hoped their only son would become an attorney. The boilmakers of Purdue have a large history in the support of aeronautical feats and the pilots behind them. Sponsoring Amelia Airheart’s Lockheed plane, as well as James Turpin, a pilot of the Wright brothers’ first planes, and George welch, a  famous test pilot, Purdue has over 24 graduates who have been put into space.(Nurburg)

It was at Purdue where Iven joined the Air Force Recruit Officer Training Core (ROTC) program thus sealing his fate to continue as a pilot “At a summer ROTC encampment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1948, he met his life idol, Chuck Yeager, who just a few months earlier became the first person to exceed the speed of sound in the Bell X-1 rocket plane.  “Yeager liked the blond young ROTC cadet who came with the steady barrage of questions, Yeager even allowed Kincheloe to sit in the cockpit of the Bell X-1 rocket plane. He then wrote to his parents saying – “I think I have found what I really want to do in life now.” However this is not often the story told of Kincehloe during his college years at Indiana Purdue, “During the 1948 football season Purdue’s students awoke one morning to the air let out of the tires of their cars and the campus littered with pamphlets ribbing the Purdue football team. The hijinx could not go unanswered but the Indiana University Campus was now guarded against “visitors” from Purdue. The student council approached Kincheloe, who had organized a flying club and was part owner of a surplus Fairchild PT-19. A short time later the Fairchild PT-19 appeared over the rival school. Swooping low over the campus several times, Kincheloe attracted the attention of a large group of students who had come out to watch. Then Kincheloe tossed a few packages out of the plane, and the students looked up helplessly as ten thousand leaflets came fluttering down on their campus.” (Nurburg)

After graduation in 1949, Iven entered the Air Force, Taking his pilot training at Randolph Air Force Base located in Texas, where he received his pilot wings and commissioned.  soon he became an accomplished test pilot, volunteering for the duty, beginning in August 4 1950 he began testing at the time the brand new, F-86E Saber project, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

On To Becoming An Ace

However at the beginning of the Korean War, Iven was sent out and  assigned as a replacement pilot to the 325th fighter intercept squadron. Here he flew mostly escort missions, protecting the large B-29 bombers and Rf-80s from the MiG fighters flown by the communists. He wished to see combat immediately but however went to fly 16 missions before ever seeing any combat, however he was quickly recognized as a rare talent and was then transferred to the 25th fighter intercept squadron, the “Assam Draggins”,51st Fighter Intercept Wing, flying the F-86Es, the same plane model Iven tested and helped develop back in the United States just a few years earlier, He named his personal Saber fighter jet, Ivan, “unclear weather it referred to his own name(mis-spelled) or towards the Russian MiGs he faced. He damaged his first MiG-15 on his very first combat mission with the 25th squadron, on January 6th near Uilu on the 19th of January, “where he led four f-86s in an outgunned attack against more then 10 enemy Mig fighter jets”, in the dogfight,”Kinch shot down the enemy “Red” communist formation leader, then took damage to his own plane, then went on to down second ‘Red”  mig, a rare double”(Thompson)., this is where he earned his war time promotion to captain and was awarded his first Distinguished flying cross for the bravery and combat effectiveness shown in the mission and attack. With his advanced skills and confidence he became the tenth jet ace in Korea, achieving his acehood when Kincehloe “was escorting a group of F-84s just south of the Yalu River when someone spotted a dozen MIGS patrolling the river, outnumbered, he swooped behind a MIG and let him have a long burst right up the tailpipe”, after downing his fifth red plane in a 40 minute battle, it was was the roughest fight fight in his 89 missions he went on to report” (Thompson). He went on to fly a total of 131 combat missions 101 behind the F-86 Saber, and 30 missions in the Shortie F-80 Shooting Star. Thoughout his time spent flying in the Korean war he earned the Silver Star, three distinguished flying crosses, and four air medals. The 51st fighter squadron produced 6 fighter aces through out the Korean war.

Upon Returning to the United States  in 1953 he was assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as an instructor for gunnery school. Much to Kinechloe’s disappointment. He went on to considering even resigning form the air force as  his promotion to captaincy was reduced to the rank of first lieutenant. This  was  due to his promotion being considered a combat promotion and not valid in back in peacetime America.

He  kept his enthusiasm for his aviation carrier alive when he volunteered for a pilot exchange program with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, completing a course at the Empire Test Pilots School in Farnborough England.This is where he met his future wife Dorothy Heining, who was In the UK visiting form San Francisco. He returned stateside in June 1955. Where he married Dorothy, later having his only child a daughter, Jeannie Kicnheloe. He soon received his dream assignment at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edward Air Force Base, California, where he had been participating in flight testing before his deployment to Korea. Upon arrival he quickly  began participating in flight development of all present century type aircraft for the air force. Kincheloe “flew a total of 70 different aircraft both  U.S. and foreign”(Thompson). He was then selected to be pilot of the x-2 program.

The X-2

Iven Kincheloe in Uniform
(Nat’l. Museum of the Air Force)

on September 7, 1956,  five years before NASA had launched Alan Shepard into space, Iven Kincheloe became the first man to reach “space”. “Flying a supersonic plane to a record altitude height of over 126,000 ft.” At 9:17 a.m. on September 7, 1956, the X-2 dropped from the belly of the B-50 at 29,500 feet and Kincheloe started his journey to an altitude no man had ever explored. The X-2 shot upward, its rocket tubes spitting a long white trail … 45,000 feet … 55,000 feet. 65,000 and still going strong Kincheloe’s voice was recorded on tape as he calmly reported his instrument readings, ninety thousand feet. The X-2 climbed at more than one thousand five hundred miles per hour, one hundred thousand feet. Two minutes and thirteen seconds after he started the climb the rocket engines ran out of fuel, but the X-2’s momentum carried it upward. Iven Kincheloe was in space. Almost 100 percent of the earth’s atmosphere was beneath him.”(NationalAviation) This is the feat that earned him the title of the “first of the spacemen. “As he retuned to earth he did so in a vertical dive at more then 1,700 mph, touching down on the airstrip at over 250mph”, sliding down the runway for over a mile before the jet came to a complete stop. The feat quickly earned Kincheloe celebrity status in the world. He appeared on the popular television game show” I’ve Got a Secret, where the panel was supposed to guess what he did. Because he was so famous, it didn’t take long”.(National Aviation)

On August 1957, the “Kincheloe was presented with the Mackay Trophy, for the most meritorious flight of the proceeding year” by the Air Force Chief of Staff General Thomas D. White. ” A month later Kincheloe was selected as the X-15 project test pilot. A dream for Kincheloe. Kincheloe spent the spare  time in between “undergoing a rigorous training program. He was introduced to the centrifuge which simulated the G forces he would encounter in the X-15. He participated in experiments in weightlessness and spent hours in a mock-up of the X-15’s cabin. He tested his new space suit as well as his own reaction in a vacuum chamber which would simulate as altitude of one hundred miles. In June 1958, he got his first look at the nearly completed X-15 in which he planned to “blast out of this world.”(PcNewswire)

The Death and Continued Legacy of Iven Kincheloe

While still waiting for the finishing of the newly designed and built X-15 Jet, Kincheloe was killed, on  July 26th 1958 while flying an “F-104A Starfighter,  the cockpit of the jet known as  the “missile-with-a-man-in-it”, Kincheloe was flying as the “chase pilot during the test flight of (another) F-104” when his engine suddenly “flamed out”. Ejecting at a  low altitude, with the plane “inverted”, Iven inverting it himself, this being due to the F-104 having the pilot eject out of the bottom of the plane, unlike most jets that eject the pilot upwards through the air shield. Iven perished in the crash. Neil Armstraing, upon hearing of Kincheloes death said “I know had he survived that he may very well have been selected for the astronaut program” (Nurburg)He “posthumously received a number of awards for pioneer experimental flights, including the air force association David C. Shilling Award, the Astronautic award from the American rocket society, and the legion of merit from the air force.”( Kincheloe was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on August 1st, 1958.

Nearly three years later, the X-15 flew its way into aviation history, while being piloted by Joseph A. Walker, on June 27th 1962, the X-15 flew  into  the history books accomplishing a speed of 4,105 mph. A month later, Kincheloes alternate pilot Bob White, reached an altitude height of 314,750 feet, nearly 60 miles over earth, into space.(Americas first spaceman)


Iven’s legacy lives on today in numerous societies and schools. Including the  The Society of experimental  Test Pilots, which has their most prestigious award for outstanding professional  accomplishment in the conduct of flight testing named after him, The Iven C. Kincheloe award. The presentation of this award is the highlight of the annual awards banquet, and a visible manifestation of the societies contribution to the aviation community as a whole. Purdue university has also perpetuated the memory by creating a scholarship fund named in his honor to aid undergraduate aeronautical and astronautical engineering students. Iven Kincheloe is also featured in the Dowagiac Area History Museum located on the campus of Southwestern Michigan College, specificaly in the section “small town, big world: Locals who became famous. His name was also remembered for some time in the renaming of Kinross air force base to Kinchelow AFB named after him located in Su St Marie, the base was shut down, and when reactivated in 1955, at this time it was renamed as Kinchelow Air Force Base. The base was home of the 501st fight squadron. Also  becoming the location of the CIM-10 Bomarc Surface-toe-air Milssels. Later became the Semi Automatic Ground Enviroment (SAGE) data center, “SAGE system was a computer-controlled network linking Air Force (and later FAA) General Surveillance Radar stations into a centralized center for Air Defense, intended to provide early warning and response for a Soviet nuclear attack.”(Thisweekinhistory)

Iven Kincheloe was a small farm town kid who went on to fulfill his childhood dreams of becoming a pilot, not just a pilot but an accredited fighter pilot ace, receiving numerous medals, an accredited engineer, an accredited  and awarded test pilot, breaking history by becoming the first man In space. Upon his death having numerous awards and scholarships named in his honor, and after his accomplishments. Iven Kincheloe is the essential definition of the true American, and will be remembered though history for his accomplishments and as “Americas #1 Spaceman”.

Primary Sources

  1. Thompson, Warren. “F-86 Sabre Aces of the 51st Fighter Wing.” Google Books. Osprey Publishing, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <
  2. Nurburg, John. “Wings of Their Dreams.” Google Books. Purdue University, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <
  3. America’s First Spaceman.” NPR. NPR, 25 July 2003. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
  4. Mumford, L. (2014, Jan 13). ‘Small town, big world: Locals who made history’. McClatchy – Tribune Business News

Secondary Sources

  1. AP Wirephoto: From, A. F. (1952, Apr 08). Photo standalone 3 — no title. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) Retrieved from
  2. Scaled composites’ mark stucky earns 2013 iven C. kincheloe award from the society of experimental test pilots. (2013, Nov 01). PR Newswire Retrieved from
  3. This week in history. (2010). Air Force Times, , 30. Retrieved from
  4. Iven Cark Kincheloe, Jr. Test Pilot( Enshirned 2011,1928-1959) (2015)