'RVation', Paul Rosales and the Skunk Works by Doug Reeves
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Paul and Victoria Rosales, two of RVation's greatest ambassadors.

4/8/2004 - If you will indulge me for a moment, I'd like to submit what I think is the most valuable and rewarding aspect of having a Van's RV kitplane. I have heard it said before, and I have even said it to people myself, but this past Thursday it showed itself to me so brilliantly that I have had a 'RV Grin' plastered on my face for the past 24 hours.

It has nothing to do with the RV.  It is the friendships made.

A little background. I had to visit Lancaster, CA to conduct a photo shoot on a multi-family property for my day job. It was to be a quick, out and back trip. It's usually the same:  a lot of standing in lines, getting my shoes X-rayed twice, some fast food and a car I'm not familiar with.  Now, when I travel this way I always try to look up someone in the RV White Pages and schedule a meal or visit if at all possible. If that does not work out I try to find some local attraction and visit it if time permits.  I hoped to visit the Blackbird Airpark and get some pics of a SR-71 and A-12 up close.

RV-6A notables Paul and Victoria Rosales live in Lancaster, CA.  You know them as the people who have flown their 6A to 49 of the 50 states.  I've met Paul a few times in the past at fly-ins, but had not had the chance yet to visit for any length of time.

Where Paul Rosales works.  Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works.  D.Reeves photo.
Lockheed Martin

I called Paul and he said he would be happy to meet for dinner. He works at Lockheed Martin (the Skunk Works) in Palmdale on the swing shift.  I asked about the location of the A-12/SR-71/U-2 static display (Blackbird Airpark) which is located somewhere near there.  I also wanted to visit the Skunk Works gift shop and buy a few things.  I happen to be a HUGE fan of the Skunk Works, own and have read many, many books on the subject, and consider the A-12 my favorite plane of all time.  Mach 3.35 and a single seat is hard to beat!!!

Paul asked for my Social Security number and said there was a *SMALL POSSIBILITY* he might be able to arrange a quick tour. I didn't get my hopes up or give it another thought. Understand that until very recently this just wasn't done.

Fast forward two days and I am on my way to the land of 'la'.  I get stuck in traffic, do the photo shoot, get stuck in traffic and pull into Palmdale around 5pm.  It's been a 12 hr day so far so I'm hungry and mentally pretty shot.

The A-12 at 'Blackbird Airpark'.  D.Reeves photo.
The A-12.

I found the gift store and bought some shwag for the kids, then drove to the static display where I photographed the planes through the fence (it's open on Fri/Sat/Sun and I was there on Thu).

Paul meets me at our agreed upon time and we drive to an Outback's steakhouse. It was my intention all along to buy Paul's dinner, as he had sent me (2) Skunk Works shirts a few months back as a gift, knowing I was a fan.  We ate, caught up on all things RV, he told me all about the boat he is fixing up, then I drove him back to 'the ranch'.  I didn't ask about the tour and assumed he couldn't arrange anything. He didn't offer any information up during dinner. 

In hindsight I'm really, really glad I bought his dinner.

When we got back to the entrance, he said I could come in, that I was his first 'tour guest' and that nothing I would hear or see would be classified.

Paul works on the F-117 as a software test engineer. His work revolves around the software that is used to power the displays the pilots see.  He tries his best to find bugs in the system before the software is flight tested in the actual airplane.

Paul drove me around the facilities in his Demon pointing out this and that, buildings where such and such was assembled, and (which I found so incredible) telling me what he *didn't* know. Everything is apparently so compartmentalized in his career that most are on a 'need to know' basis. He'd point to a building and say, "I don't know what they do in there. No windows, either <g>."

We pulled up to a static display of a F-117 on a pole out front and we got out. I am certainly happy and figure this is the highlight of the tour.

Up walks a Mr. Ed Burnett.

Paul introduces us and I then get a personalized tour of the F-117, all the while standing underneath an actual flight article. Ed, as it turns out, helped assemble/design/troubleshoot the F-117 cockpit simulator and at one time knew more about flying it than anyone. When it was time to show the pilots who would be flying it how to fly it, Ed showed them. He was (if I remember the story correctly) 19yrs old at the time.

We're still outside talking...and up walks a 2nd person. Mr. Craig Woolston. Craig, as it turns out, is an EAA member and is building a Velocity (his web page). We're all having a nice talk and I'm marveling at the technical talk on the F-117 that I'm lucky enough to be hearing, when the thought occurs to me that Paul might have arranged to have these gentlemen here.  I was saying how this was the highlight of my day, standing under this F-117 talking about it, when they say... "Let's walk this way.  Your visit isn't over."

Craig and Ed worked/work on the cockpit simulator for the X-35 (the Joint Strike Fighter). You may have seen it in a PBS special called 'Battle of the X Planes'. It was the one that won. It can take off vertically and translate into forward flight...and vice versa.

We're walking down a hallway, when one of them says, "That's Ben Rich's old office." It had a combination lock built into the door. Ben ran the Skunk Works after 'Kelly' Johnson, designed the inlets for the Blackbird when he was 26yrs old, and spearheaded the development of the F-117 as his first order of business as leader of the Skunk Works. I touched the door, just so I could say I did.

Ft.Worth JSF sim.  Just like the one at Palmdale.  Photo courtesy http://www.lmaeronautics.com
Photo courtesy

A few doors away and I'm standing in front of.....wait for it.....the full-motion simulator for the X-35. You might have an idea at this point how this is going to end, but I can honestly say I didn't. I was absolutely giddy just being in the presence of all the hardware and mojo of the place I'd read so much about.  On the wall is a calendar....an RV calendar.

Craig, Ed and Paul are explaining about the sim, the software and hardware that powers it, about how high into the room the cab rises (it has beveled corners so it doesn't hit the walls) and I'm listening to them say that the test pilot for the X-35,Tom Morgenfeld, practiced flying the plane from this very spot, this very seat.  "This display came out of a F-16, this from a F-18, the gear selector from a F-117."  Craig remembers the PBS crew filming a couple of nights during the making of the special.  If you ever see the show, that's the simulator.

"Go ahead and climb on it."

You won't believe this, but I still wasn't getting it.  I fully believed that I was just being permitted to sit in it, shake some hands and be on my way.  I was handed a headset, given a short checkout on some of the buttons I'd be needing on the sticks, the HUD, and shown how to use the knob that turns the JSF into (as Craig put it) a 30,000 lb. helicopter. 

Ed said goodbye and left for home, Craig jumped in the instructor seat and buckled in and Paul was outside watching on a monitor.

I am absolutely alive, unquestionably alive, and it is Christmas morning.  "Doug, rotate at 140kts."  We took off and the room started moving.  I'm flying out of Palmdale and Craig is pointing out the various buildings around the complex.  He said it might be a good idea to throttle back a little after about 30 seconds, as I was about to break the sound barrier around 2,500' AGL.

Photo courtesy http://www.jsf.milI am trying to remember what all we did, but I'm sure we rolled, did two touch and goes (one off a simulated carrier).  Converted the plane into hover and landed (twice) over the hover pit.  After a few minutes I got more comfortable, so with their permission I flew inverted over the tower at 400+ kts under 2000' and did a split 'S' to a full stop landing, deploying the gear while upside down.  None of it was pretty, but I did do it. 

You might think that was the highlight of the day, but it actually was Paul and Craig congratulating me on not crashing the JSF in either conventional or STOVL modes.

It's now approaching 8pm local (10pm body time for me), so I thanked Craig again and Paul dropped me off at my car so he could go back to work (swing shift) and I could begin the hour-long drive back down to Burbank.  I got four hours sleep and caught a morning flight back to DFW with dozens of really nice shots for my day job, additions to my Blackbird photo collection, two new friends (Craig and Ed), buckets of respect for Paul Rosales and memories to last a lifetime.

RVation, in my opinion, is more than just a state of mind.  It is membership into a special family.  And starting your journey into this hobby, for whatever reasons, leads to so much more than just fulfilling the dream of flight.  Jay Pratt has told me "I got more out of aviation than it got out of me" and I believe truer words would be elusive.

I just wanted to buy the guy a steak, but Paul Rosales took a couple hours of vacation time and with the help of two coworkers treated me to an experience that I will never forget.  I can honestly say that I wouldn't have flown the JSF simulator if I hadn't built an RV.

Build a RV and join the family.

Thank you Paul.  Thank you Craig.  Thank you Ed.  Thank you Van.

Doug Reeves

Photos courtesy http://www.lmaeronautics.com