A legendary test pilot in the Golden Age of Flight, Anthony “Tony” LeVier got his start in aviation after he was inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. Well known for conducting experimental test flights of Lockheed aircraft, LeVier was also a flight instructor, aerobatic pilot, and racing pilot, and made several contributions to aviation design and safety.
Born in 1913 in Duluth, Minnesota, LeVier took an early interest in aviation. He paid for flying lessons by doing maintenance work on aircraft, earning his pilot’s license at the young age of fifteen. In 1932, LeVier began his successful racing career after winning second place in a cross-country air race and first place in an aerobatic competition at the first Junior Pilots Air Meet. He went on to compete in the National Air Races and earned second place in the Thompson Trophy Race.
In 1941, LeVier started working at the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, where he was soon assigned to the flight test department. As Lockheed’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, LeVier conducted daring experimental flights of the new Lockheed P-38 Lightning, proving the reliability of the aircraft’s performance at transonic speeds.
Throughout his career at Lockheed, LeVier led the first test flight of over 20 different aircraft, including the XF-94 Starfire, XF-104 Starfighter, the top-secret U-2 spy plane, and the P-80 Shooting Star, the United States’ first operational jet fighter.
In 1974, LeVier officially retired from Lockheed. While he was widely recognized for his test flying, LeVier also conceived several inventions to improve efficiency and safety. According to the National Flight Test Historical Foundation, LeVier was the first to develop the automatic wing stores release system, the master caution warning light system, the “hot microphone” intercom, and a practical afterburner ignition system. He was also responsible for improving the design of the trim switch by moving it to the top of the control stick, now a standard design in most of today’s military aircraft.
After his retirement, LeVier remained an aviation consultant and became a founding member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. In 1978, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame for his contributions to the safety of flight test operations. LeVier passed away in 1998 at the age of 84.
Image credit: USAF, Public Domain.