From its beginning on 14 September 1955 when six civilian test pilots met for lunch at a cafe near Edwards Air Force Base on California's high desert, The Society of Experimental Test Pilots has grown into an internationally recognized organization which has made its mark in the aerospace world.
The first meeting was held at Aleck's in Lancaster, California, halfway between two bases of flight test activity—Edwards Air Force Base and Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale. It was attended by Ray Tenhoff, Northrop; Joe Ozier, Lockheed; Dick Johnson, Convair; Scott Crossfield, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; Tom Kilgariff, Douglas; and John Fitzpatrick, Convair. They determined the groups should be "dedicated to assist in the development of superior aircraft."
Seventeen pilots attended the first organized meeting of the "Testy Test Pilots Society" on 29 September 1955. This name was to be short-lived, however, as it was changed to The Society of Experimental Test Pilots at the second meeting on 13 October 1955.
A formative period followed, during which word-of-mouth contact was made with most of the pilots available in the area. Members dealt with incorporation, committee structure, a brochure and bylaws. It culminated in the first installation of officers on 25 October 1955 at the Hyatt House, Los Angeles. That first slate of officers consisted of R.E. Tenhoff, President; A. S. Crossfield, Executive Adviser; R. L. Johnson, Vice-President; J. W. Ozier, Secretary; W. L. Everett, Treasurer; and A. W. Blackburn, Legal Officer. The Society came through its turbulent first year with flying colors. It grew from the 17 pilots who attended the first organizational meeting to a membership of 100 with well-defined plans.
The first Awards Banquet was held on 4 October 1957 at The Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, California. It was at the second such banquet, however, that the tradition of the Iven C. Kincheloe award began. This annual award honors the member who has done the most proficient test work during the previous year. James Gannett of Boeing and Joe Tymczyszyn of the Civil Aeronautics Administration won the first Kincheloe Award for their work toward certification of America's first turbojet airliner' the Boeing 707. They have been followed each year by the most notable contributors to aviation history.
That same year the Society set its course in the direction of serious professional development by establishing the three-day technical symposium preceding the annual awards banquet. The symposium calls together the most knowledgeable representatives of the nation's professional aviators to thoughtfully discuss steps to assure greater safety in the air. In 1962 Thomas Frost won the first Ray E. Tenhoff Award, which has since been presented annually for the most outstanding symposium presentation.
Jim Pearce won the first J. H. Doolittle Award in 1966; this award is presented annually for excellence in technical management or engineering aspects of aerospace technology.
The Society reached another milestone on 14 May 1970 with the dedication of the International Headquarters Building at 44814-16 Elm Avenue, Lancaster, California. Named after Harry Brackett, the first member to lose his life in pursuit of his profession, the building now houses a permanent staff of four.
SETP's membership numbers more than 2400, with members in 30 countries throughout the world.
Its headquarters has remained in California, but subordinate Sections have been authorized—the Central Section, East Coast Section, European Section, Southeast Section, and Southwest Section—in addition to activities on the West Coast.
This professional organization maintains direct communication through exchange of methods and techniques related to flight testing and allied disciplines at a strategic level. SETP is unique in being exclusively a tool of the manned aerospace industry. The test pilot is probably the sole common denominator of manned aerospace progress.
The Society digitally publishes COCKPIT magazine on a semi annual basis. COCKPIT contains at least one technical article per issue, and also provides a means by which to keep the membership abreast of activity within the organization. During the ceremonies at the Annual Symposium and Banquet the Herman R. Salmon Technical Publications Award and cash honorarium are presented to the author of the most outstanding technical article published in COCKPIT during the past year. The Award is sponsored by Raytheon Flight Test Operations.
In addition to COCKPIT, the Society also digitally publishes the proceedings of the annual symposium in Los Angeles. This compilation of technical presentations provides a permanent record of flight test progress reports and serves as an excellent reference source. The digital link is distributed to all symposium attendees, as well as to the entire SETP Corporate and individual membership. The Society maintains a library containing all past issues of the symposium proceedings and COCKPIT. Back issues of all publications are always available through SETP Headquarters.