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DREAM TAKES FLIGHT NASA PILOT'S FAN WANTS X-15 REPLICA FOR NAMESAKE MIDDLE SCHOOL IN QUARTZ HILL.

Byline: JIM SKEEN Staff Writer

QUARTZ HILL -- An Illinois fan of NASA pilot Joe Walker, who flew to the edges of space before his 1966 death in a midair collision, is seeking to put a scale replica of Walker's X-15 rocket plane in front of the Quartz Hill school that bears his name.

Cathie Godwin of Urbana, Ill., and the National Space Society's Orange County chapter are raising money to place an X-15 replica at Joe Walker Middle School, to erect a monument near Barstow memorializing the 1966 collision and to send a Joe Walker school student to space camp.

``Joe Walker was a childhood hero of mine. At school I walked and talked X-15,'' said Godwin, whose admiration for Walker began when she was about age 12 and saw Walker on the TV series ``This Is Your Life.''

While other girls put pictures of their favorite rock or pop stars on their bedroom walls, Godwin had pictures of airplanes and test pilots. X-15 pilots including Walker, Bob White, Bob Rushworth and Jack McKay were on one wall.

Godwin wrote letters to Walker, who patiently wrote back with answers to all her questions.

``My parents never thought I'd be a little girl,'' Godwin said. ``I was a little tomboy.''

A World War II fighter pilot, Walker flew rocket planes after the war for NASA and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He made 25 flights in X-15 rocket planes.

``As a chief test pilot for NASA, he was one of the most recognizable pilots outside of the Mercury astronauts,'' said Larry Evans, president of the Orange County chapter of the National Space Society. ``He was the first civilian to cross into space; that's something a lot of people don't know.''

One flight reached 354,200 feet -- an unofficial altitude record for rocket planes that stood until 2004, when Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne climbed to an altitude of about 368,000 feet.

Walker was killed in 1966 in a mid-air collision of his F-104 fighter and an XB-70 Valkryie during a photo shoot.

His death devastated Godwin.

``My mother woke me up and told me,'' Godwin said. ``I had hoped in a couple of years to go to California and meet him.''

Having an X-15 replica is a dream of Joe Walker Middle School officials, but they want to make sure it is something that will be easy to maintain and something that will last, Principal Rob Garza said.

``If there's a dream out there and we can make it a reality, that would be awesome,'' Garza said of a replica.

There is another effort by Quartz Hill hobby shop owner Bob Alvis to provide models of some of the major aircraft that Walker flew for display in the school's library. Some of the school's students would write up brief histories of the aircraft to be included in the display.

For information about the Joseph Walker Memorial Fund, go to ocspace.org.

james.skeen(at)dailynews

(661) 267-5743

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NASA pilot Joe Walker at Edwards Air Force Base after a 1961 X-15 flight in the rocket plane. A local middle school was named for Walker, the first civilian to reach the edge of space.

NASA File Photo
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 4, 2006
Words:540
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