By Tom Demerly for TACAIRNET.com
Astronaut and test pilot John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, has died at age 95.
Throughout his life John Glenn typified the American ideal.
Born in Ohio in 1921, John Glenn was a first generation aviator and astronaut whose life spanned the entire history of American aviation and space exploration in the post- World War I era.
A U.S. Marine combat pilot in WWII, he flew with VMF-155 in the F4U Corsair radial engine, bent wing aircraft. Glenn completed 59 active combat missions during World War II.
But more than any era, John Glenn was a hero of the jet and space age. In the Korean conflict he flew the underpowered and dangerous F9F Panther, an early carrier-based jet aircraft. Glenn went on to participate in an inter-service pilot exchange with the U.S. Air Force where he flew the more advanced swept wing F-86F Sabre.
Glenn’s combat success in the U.S. Air Force with the F-86F was exceptional: He shot down three communist MiG aircraft in the closing weeks of the conflict. This cemented his reputation as an exceptional officer and pilot.
John Glenn is best known for his remarkable and historic contribution to the U.S. space program. Glenn entered the program at its beginning in 1958 when space flight was incredibly risky and flight test deaths were common. This was the golden era of flight test and space exploration, an age that made great American heroes, but none greater than John Glenn.
It is a frequent misconception that John Glenn was the “first man in space” or the “first American in space”. In fact, John Glenn became the first man to actually perform a full and then successive orbits of the earth on February 20th, 1962. Glenn “flew” a Mercury-Atlas 6 space capsule shot into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. He navigated three orbits of the earth reporting back to a crude mission control during his nearly 5-hour flight before making a successful reentry and splashdown. Glenn was actually the third American into outer space, preceded by two Russian cosmonauts making him the fifth man in the world to enter space, but the first to orbit the earth.
John Glenn was an outstanding airman and astronaut, but also a strong role modern for America with his ideals of selfless service, education, adventure and exploration. Following his life in space he pursued a successful political career and revisited space travel to become the oldest person to fly in space, but his legacy will always rest in the stars above us and the sky around us.