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Retired Col. Charlie Bock, legendary test pilot who commanded the B-1’s first flight, dies at 93

Col. Charles C. “Charlie” Bock Jr. — who piloted the first flight of the B-1 bomber as chief test pilot for Rockwell International Corp. in December 1974 — died Aug. 22 at Tahoe Forest Hospital in Nevada, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported. He was 93.

Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Nov. 24, 1925, Bock served in the Air Force for 30 years as a bomber pilot, fighter pilot, test pilot and a military astronaut designee.

Bock joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 after he graduated high school and served for two years before heading to Purdue University, where he graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

The B-1A makes its first flight Dec. 23, 1974, from Rockwell International's plant in Palmdale, California, to Edwards Air Force Base. Retired Col. Charles Bock, a Rockwell test pilot, was the commander. He was accompanied by Col. Emil “Ted” Sturmthal, a pilot and the B-1 Joint Test Force director, and flight test engineer Richard Abrams. (Edwards AFB History Office)
The B-1A makes its first flight Dec. 23, 1974, from Rockwell International's plant in Palmdale, California, to Edwards Air Force Base. Retired Col. Charles Bock, a Rockwell test pilot, was the commander. He was accompanied by Col. Emil “Ted” Sturmthal, a pilot and the B-1 Joint Test Force director, and flight test engineer Richard Abrams. (Edwards AFB History Office)

After graduating from pilot training in 1951, Bock flew 51 combat missions in the Korean War with the 90th Bomb Squadron, according to the Iowa Aviation Museum. Following the war, he attended the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating in 1954. He was assigned to Flight Test Operations at Edwards for the next six years and flew and tested many of the new airplanes coming into the Air Force fleet.

Bock again went into combat during the Vietnam War, flying 52 combat missions with the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, according to the museum’s web site. Afterward, he returned to flight testing at Edwards, where he flew and tested new aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1973, Bock joined Rockwell International Corp. as chief test pilot for the B-1 bomber program

Among his many accomplishments, he brought a Convair B-58 Hustler — the first operational jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight — from the factory to Edward’s Flight Test Center for a year of testing. He served as a B-50 launch pilot for the Bell X-2 “Starbuster” and as the B-52 launch pilot for all of the first captive and launch flights of the X-15, according to the museum’s web site.

With the arrival of Lockheed’s YF-12 — a twin-seat version of the top-secret A-12 reconnaissance aircraft — at the center, Bock became the operations officer for a YF-12/SR-71 Test Force, which aimed to expand the Blackbird’s operating envelope.

Altogether, Bock flew 105 different types of aircraft and booked 10,000 flying hours, according to the Iowa Flying Museum.

After retiring from Rockwell in 1981, he served as a consultant to Northrop Corp. on the B-2 stealth bomber from 1982 to 1984.

Bock earned multiple awards for his service, including earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Air Medals and the Legion of Honor. The Aerospace Walk of Honor recognized him in 1994, and the Iowa Aviation Museum inducted Bock into its hall of fame in 2006.

Bock was married for 40 years to his high school sweetheart, Geraldine Chandler, and they had a son and two daughters. She died in 1986. He remarried in 1997 and is survived by his wife, Joyce, his children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life ceremony is slated for Sept. 21 in Nevada.

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