Charles G. Fullerton was born on October 11, 1936, in Rochester, New York. He graduated from U.S. Grant High School in Portland, Oregon and then earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, in 1957 and l958, respectively. Fullerton entered the U. S. Air Force in July 1958 after working as a mechanical design engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company in Culver City, California.
After graduating from flight school, Fullerton trained as an F-86 interceptor pilot, and later became a B-47 bomber pilot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona. In 1964, he was selected to attend the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the Air Force Test Pilot School) at Edwards AFB, California. Upon graduation, he was assigned as a test pilot with the Bomber Operations Division at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In 1966, Fullerton was selected to be a flight crewmember for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, serving there until the project, America’s first attempt to build a space station was terminated in 1969.
After assignment to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 1969 as an astronaut, Charles Fullerton served on the support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 lunar missions. In 1977, he was assigned to one of the two two-man flight crews that piloted the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Test Program at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB.
Fullerton piloted the third Space Shuttle orbital flight test mission, STS-3, commanded by Colonel Jack Lousma. Launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida on March 22, 1982, the eight-day mission exposed the orbiter Columbia to extremes in thermal stress and tested the 50-foot Remote Manipulator System used to grapple and maneuver payloads in orbit. STS-3 landed at Northrup Strip in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 30, after 192 hours and 4 minutes in space.
Charles Fullerton commanded the STS-51F Challenger Spacelab 2 mission, launched from KSC on July 29, 1985. This was the first pallet-only Spacelab mission and the first to operate the Spacelab Instrument Pointing System. It carried thirteen major experiments in the fields of astronomy, solar physics, ionospheric science, life science, and material science (a superfluid helium experiment). After 126 orbits of the earth Challenger landed safely at Edwards AFB, on August 6, 1985. With the completion of this flight, Charles Fullerton logged an additional 188 hours in space, for a total of 380 hours on his two missions.
Fullerton retired as a NASA astronaut in November 1986 to join the research pilot office in the Dryden Flight Research Facility. In July 1988, he completed a 30-year career with the U.S. Air Force, retiring with the rank of colonel. Fullerton remained on as a research pilot at Dryden. His assignments included a variety of flight research and support activities piloting NASA’s B-52 launch aircraft, the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), and other multi-engine and high-performance aircraft.
As project pilot on the B-52 launch aircraft, Fullerton was involved in tests to develop a new F-111 crew module recovery system, and air launching the commercially developed Pegasus space vehicle. He also served as project pilot on the NASA/Convair 990 aircraft modified as a Landing Systems Research Aircraft to test space shuttle landing gear components. Additionally, Fullerton was project pilot on F-18 Systems Research Aircraft, a test-bed to develop new flight control actuators, fiber optic control systems, and other advanced aircraft technology. Fullerton was next to the project pilot on the Propulsion Controlled Aircraft program. During this assignment he successfully landed an F-15 with all control surfaces fixed, using only engine thrust modulation for control.
In 1998, Colonel Fullerton evaluated the flying qualities of the Russian Tu-144 supersonic transport during two flights. He reached a speed of Mach 2 and became one of only two non-Russian pilots to fly that aircraft. He also piloted a Convair 990 modified to test space shuttle landing gear components during many very high-speed landings. Charles Fullerton passed away on August 21, 2013, in Lancaster, California, due to complications from a stroke four years earlier.
Other projects that he worked on include the C-140 JetStar Laminar Flow Control; F-111 Mission Adaptive Wing; F-14 Variable Sweep Flow Transition; Space Shuttle drag chute and F-111 crew module parachute tests with the B-52; X-29 vortex flow control; and the F-18 Systems Research Aircraft.
Charles Fullerton flew nearly all the research and support aircraft flown at the Dryden facility and currently flies the T-38, F-18, F-15, B-52, the NASA/Conair 990, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and the DC-8. With over 15,000 hours of flying time, Fullerton piloted 135 different types of aircraft.
Among the special awards and honors Colonel Fullerton received were the Ivan C. Kincheloe Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots in 1978; the Department of Defense Distinguished Service and Superior Service Medals; the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross; NASA Distinguished and Exceptional Service Medals; NASA’s Space Flight Medals in 1983 and 1985; the General Thomas D. White Space Trophy; the Haley Space Flight Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; the Certificate of Achievement Award from the Soaring Society of America, and the Ray E. Tenhoff Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots in 1992 and 1993.