Retired Feb. 1, 1967.
Major General J.S. Holtoner was born in New York City, N.Y., in 1911. Following his graduation from Townsend Harris Hall in 1928, he attended New York University, where he received his bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1932.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1932. In 1933 he entered flying training at Randolph Field, Texas. After earning his pilot's wings at Kelly Field, Texas, in 1934, he was assigned to the First Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Mich. It was here that he flew the early combat fighter airplanes, SU-61 vintage types as the Curtiss P-1, Curtiss Hawk P-6, Boeing the Berliner Joyce P-16 and the Boeing P-26 were flown. Lieutenant Holtoner remained at Selfridge Field until 1939. He served with all three squadrons of the First Pursuit Group during that period. The squadrons included the l7th, 27th and the famed 94th "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron. His duties ranged from engineering officer to flight commander.
In the spring of 1939, Lieutenant Holtoner was transferred to the 18th Fighter Group at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. During his two-year tour in the islands, he served as a flight commander, operations officer and squadron commander. He developed a special demonstration gunnery flight and developed mass formation gunnery, tactics for the Hawaiian Department. In individual gunnery competition, he won the famous Luke Trophy for both aerial and ground gunnery during each of the years he was there.
In the spring of 1941, now Captain Holtoner returned to the United States and to Selfridge Field, where he again joined the First Pursuit Group. As the limited emergency became more critical, the First Group was divided up to form the nucleus for five other combat fighter groups. One of these, the 53rd Fighter Group, with Major Holtoner as deputy commander, was transferred to Tallahassee, Fla. Here they spent the next year in training and preparing for combat operations overseas.
After World War II started, now Lieutenant Colonel Holtoner was assigned to command a fighter group, the 342d Composite Group, in Iceland, where he operated P-38, P-39 and P-40 fighters in defense of the transatlantic aircraft ferry route. This group distinguished itself by shooting down the first German aircraft shot down by an American unit flying American equipment in the war. The date was Aug. 17, 1943. The aircraft was a Focke-Wolfe 200K, which was destroyed over Reykjavik Harbor by P-39s from this group. Quite a few reconnaissance and bomber aircraft, JU-88s, FW-200s and B&V-138s were shot down despite the extremely adverse conditions for air defense on this Arctic Island.
On Christmas of 1943, Colonel Holtoner returned to the United States to meet his 16-month-old son for the first time, He had been born just two weeks after his father had left for the wars, a year and one-half before. From then until March 1945, he was assigned to command the 86th Fighter Group in Waycross, Ga., where he applied his combat experience to training pilots for overseas duty in the various theaters of war at that time.
Toward the end of the war, in April 1945, Colonel Holtoner went overseas again to command the 82d Fighter Group in Italy. He flew combat missions with this group, the high scoring group of the l5th Air Force in Italy, operating from the vicinity of Foggia. He flew combat missions with them for a total of 172 combat hours in World War II in the P-38, P-39 and P-40 fighters during both overseas tours. Upon his return to the United States, he attended the Army's Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Here he was president of the 25th class.
For a few months Colonel Holtoner was assigned to Wright Field in the guided missiles field. Here, during early 1946, he was privileged to participate in the origination of most of the missile research and development projects. Practically all the modern missile systems had their foundations in some of this early work.
Following that, Colonel Holtoner was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force in May 1946, His assignment was chief of the Aircraft Branch in the Directorate of Research and Development under the deputy chief of staff for development. Here he actively participated in the origination of many of the weapons systems which he was later to test in the field. He remained until July 1950, when he started off for the War College at Maxell Field. Almost immediately, the Korean War intervened, the school was closed, and he was returned to help in the organization of the Air Research and Development Command in April 1951, when he became assistant deputy for development in the headquarters of that command in Washington. In this capacity he assisted the deputy in the applied research and development programs and helped to further the progress of some of the weapons systems which had formulated as ideas in the Pentagon. One of these, the concept of the single-seater radar interceptor, which had been conceived when he was in the Pentagon, was now further developed as it went to contract and was monitored through its formative years by the Air Research and Development Command. This machine has particular significance in that Colonel Holtoner was later to set a world speed record in it.
In January 1952, Colonel Holtoner was ordered to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to command the Air Force Flight Test Center. This center, at Muroc, performs the experimental flight tests on all new Air Force aircraft and equipment. In December of that year, Colonel Holtoner was raised to the rank of brigadier general. The following year, in the summer of 1953, General Holtoner was assigned the task of establishing a new world speed record. He participated in the Thompson Trophy Race with the North American F-86D Sabrejet. This was the single-seater radar interceptor with which he had been associated since its conception in the Pentagon five or six years before. On Sept. 2, 1952, he set a new 100-kilometer world speed record of 1,110.748 kilometers per hour, approximately 690.118 miles per hour and won the Thompson Trophy.
Subsequently, during his tour at the Flight Test Center until May 1957, General Holtoner flew every test aircraft that was assigned to the center. He established a reputation for being one of the first to fly any of the machines, For instance, he flew the delta wing supersonic interceptor March 12, 1957, becoming one of the first three pilots to fly the airplane. On Oct. 11, 1955, he joined the One Thousand Mile Per Hour Club, being the ninth pilot to fly the F-8U Crusader. He was the fifth pilot to fly the P-104A Starfighter. On May 5, 1954, he became a Delta Pilot by flying the F-102. General Holtoner demonstrated his extraordinary skill and ability in the fall of 1953, when he flew the world-famous Bell X-1 Rocket airplane under full power and at altitude, making a drop from a B-29 at 30,000 feet and a deadstick landing on the famed dry lake.
He has been rated a command pilot since July 1944 and has flown every type of combat fighter aircraft from the P-l to the F-107. In fact, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional work in developing the supersonic "century" series of aircraft, the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, F-105, F-106 and F-107, all of which he flew personally. He was qualified in and tested helicopters from the ancient Bell H-5 to the gigantic jet-powered XH-16, and the H-19, H-21, H-23, H-25 and H-34. His experience in bomber aircraft extends all the way from the archaic B-4 to the modern B-47, B-52 and B-66. These, the X-1 research rocket and such specialized transport aircraft as the KC-135, 707, DC-8, and the turbo-prop variations of the modern transports just about complete the U.S. Air Force aircraft inventory. He has flown them all.
He is considered one of the Air Force's most experienced pilots. In pre-World War II days he participated in the comparative testing of the first models of the P-35 and P-36 fighters. He also made major contributions toward the development of the P-38 and P-47, two of the nation's top World War II fighter aircraft.
At the time General Holtoner assumed command of the Air Force Flight Test Center, little more than the desolate remnants of the World War II base that had been built in Muroc in 1940 remained. By the time he had completed his tour, new facilities completed included a concrete runway 16,800 feet long, 3,000 feet wide, and 19 inches thick; 14 enormous hangers on the hangarline; telemetering stations; computation laboratories and technical facilities worth $150 million constructed and in place. There were modern barracks for the airmen, 1,500 family homes, two churches, an officer's club, an airmen's club, an NCO club and a civilian club and all the accoutrements of a modern technical center. It even boasted one of the sportiest green-grass golf courses in that section of California.
With it all, there was time to develop the rocket engine test station on the remote hills across the lake. This station, with its ability to test the most powerful rocket engines yet developed, contributed immeasurably to the early success of today's ballistic missiles program. It was conceived and constructed during his regime.
The rocket station started out as a specialized test stand, but it wasn't long before the concept was changed to one of development and test of rocket propulsion systems. Millions of dollars were spent in carving a modern laboratory out of the barren rock. The end product, with hydrodynamics laboratory, thrust stands, assembly buildings and telemetering system, proved an invaluable aid to the future. Without it, the present ballistic missiles program would have been delayed many years until such a facility could have been built.
For his contribution to the development of the new, all-jet Air Force, General Holtoner was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit while at the test center.
In the spring of 1957, General Holtoner was transferred overseas to be deputy commander of the Third Air Force in the United Kingdom. Here he was instrumental in transitioning the combat Forces in the United Kingdom from the outmoded B-45 and F-84F aircraft to the modern B-66, F-100 and F-101. In the summer of 1958, he was again reassigned, to command the 832d Air Division (Tactical Air Command) at Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, N.M.
The 832d Air Division, in the latter part of 1958, was privileged to participate in a cold war action. Tactical fighter squadrons from his division flew across the Pacific to Formosa. There they assumed a combat readiness posture in support of the Chinese Nationalists in facing the Chinese Communists across the Formosa Straits. Although it cannot be said that these units actually prevented a war, it is certainly true that shortly after their arrival, the Chinese Communist withdrew from the threatening posture they had maintained over the nationalists islands. The Tactical Air Command was awarded the MacKay Trophy for this action. Both the 832d Air Division and General Holtoner were commended for participating. The division, as a part of TAC's composite Air Strike Force, also participated in the Lebanese action.
In the spring of 1959, General Holtoner was reassigned to the Pentagon where he returned to the field of research and development. Here he was assigned to the newly created Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
In his capacity of military adviser to Dr. York, General Holtoner participated in the development effort and growing pains involved in such major programs as the B-70, Minuteman, Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, and the tactical fighter. He was constantly available to participate in the scientific deliberations of Dr. York and his assistants in the fields of strategic and tactical system, air defense, electronics, aeronautics, and the myriad of problems which constantly represent the research, development and engineering part of the Department of Defense function.