Paying Tribute to the People Who Took Aviation
from the Flight Deck of a Navy Carrier to Man's First Steps on the Moon
Donald Lee Evans was born in 1927 and raised on a ranch in Montana.
He joined the Army Air Corps in 1945 at age 18. Though lacking a high school diploma, he was accepted into the newly formed United States Air Force Aviation Cadet program in 1948. He received his commission as a Second Lieutenant, USAF, as well as his wings, in 1950. Flying combat missions in Korea in both North American Aviation F-86 Sabres and Lockheed F-80s, (and getting shot down once) Don won the Distinguished Flying Cross and subsequently an Oak Leaf Cluster to go with it. Don is also credited with a Mig kill.
His application for test pilot training in the Air Force was initially rejected because of his lack of an academic background. Don spent seven years attending night school to get the high school diploma and engineering background he needed. He was accepted for Air Force test pilot training in the in 1959.
Don flew many types of aircraft found in Air Force inventory at the time, including the Lockheed U-2.
After retiring from the Air Force, Don joined Grumman in 1967 and test flew many of Grumman’s production aircraft including the A-6A Intruder, right up until his retirement in 1991. Don is best remembered for his contributions to the F-14 program, opening up most of the structural envelope for the Tomcat, along with Dennis Romano in the back seat. He was the first person to depart in an F-14 and recover it. That particular F-14, shop number 3, and the oldest surviving Tomcat in the world, is currently on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York with Don and Dennis’s names painted on the canopy frame.
In 1972, along with Dennis Romano in the back seat, Don demonstrated the F-14 at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland to the Shah of Iran who was also considering purchasing the United States Air Force’s McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Air Force demonstrated first, but when Don put the F-14 through it’s paces, and quite possibly gave the best F-14 demonstration ever flown, the Shah informed President Nixon he would like to purchase 80 Tomcats.
He was also an instructor pilot training aircrews in the operation of F-14 for the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF).
Don retired from Grumman in 1991 and relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada. Sadly, he passed away at age 67 in June 1994 of cancer.