On April 15th, 1955, Captain Robert F. ‘Earthquake’ Titus, fresh out of Test Pilot School, strapped himself into a North American F-51D Mustang at Naval Air Station El Centro. Titus was working with the Joint Parachute Test Group, and was about to take off on the very last official US Air Force Mustang sortie. Now, exactly sixty years later, Titus is set to commemorate his celebrated flight on the very anniversary of that mission (provided enough funds can be raised to sponsor it). This time he will be flying in the back seat of Daryl Bond’s dual control P-51D Mustang known as ‘Lady Jo’ from Petaluma Municipal Airport in Sonoma County, California. Any donations to help sponsor the flight would be most gratefully accepted of course (Please click HERE for further details! Be sure to help if you can.). ‘Earthquake’ Titus rose to the rank of Brigadier General by the time of his retirement in 1977, and had a career which helped shape the entire US Air Force…. He is so much more than the last pilot to fly a Mustang in regular US Air Force service though…. read on to find out more.
Titus is no stranger to the Mustang of course, having flown over 100 combat missions on the type during the Korean War. His second tour was in the F-86 Sabre as flight commander. Titus was also shot down in an F-86, parachuting down over enemy lines, and having to fight his way out to safety.
After his service in the Korean War, Titus earned a place in Test Pilot School at Muroc, California (what is now Edwards Air Force Base). Following graduation became a jump master with the Air Force’s 6511th Test Group (Parachute) at NAF El Centro (where the last Mustang flight took place). Perhaps his experience with the 82nd Airborne at the tail end of WWII had something to do with his selection for this posting. The group specialized in evaluating aircrew egress systems for the military, and still exists at El Centro today.
After his secondment to the 6511th TG he returned to Muroc, flying each of the century series fighters from the F-100 to F-107, and aiding in their development. Interestingly, he participated in testing the rocket-launched, zero-length takeoff F-100 Super Sabre; a project intended to rapidly get bomber interceptors in the air without the need for a runway (for takeoff at least!). In 1959, he was one of two officers to fly an F-100 over the North Pole; a first for a single-engine jet. He won one of his four Distinguished Flying Cross medals for this accomplishment.
By 1966, after a stint in Europe with F-105s, Titus found himself at Bien Hoa AFB in the Republic of Viet Nam commanding Skoshi Tiger, the combat evaluation for the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter. In 1967, took command of the 389th TFS at Da Nang AFB flying the F-4 Phantom II. ‘Earthquake’ Titus shot down three enemy MiG-21s over the course of 400+ combat missions while flying with the 389th. During his time in Viet Nam, Titus served alongside the legendary Robin Olds, and the two of them became lifelong friends.
In September, 1967 ‘Earthquake’ Titus returned to the USA, becoming the project officer for the F-15 Eagle program and the chief of Advanced Tactical Systems in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Research and Development. He continued on through various commands before retiring as NORAD/ADCOM Inspector General in 1977. Ever the test pilot, he participated in evaluating the Northrop YF-17 Cobra for service use during his last year. While the type did not enter production, it of course evolved into the F/A-18 Hornet.
General Titus’s military decorations and awards include the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with 24 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.There is a website HERE dedicated to this forthcoming flight, which is partly helping to raise the funds necessary for the flight.
Considering all of his many accomplishments, it will be a cap to a life well-lead when ‘Earthquake’ again takes to the air in ‘Lady Jo’ to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his historic final USAF Mustang flight. This tribute for ‘Earthquake’ and the TF-51 Commemoration Flight is an all volunteer effort. There are NO mainstream sponsors…. just those who “understand that we must all do what we can to to preserve the Flame”. Please click HERE for further details! Be sure to help if you can.
There is a gripping short film interview with ‘Earthquake’ Titus and it is well worth the time to watch.