The Distinguished Career of Gwynne Sutherland Curtis Jr.
Gwynne Sutherland Curtis Jr. was born on 4 September 1917 in Dallas, Texas. He began his college education at the University of Texas at Austin and later secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and graduated with the Class of 1941. His West Point his classmates gave him the nickname "Pooge".
Gwynne S. Curtis Jr. was married shortly after graduation at the West Point Cadet Chapel to Cornelia Ann Buckman of Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
Second Lieutenant Gwynne S. Curtis Jr. was initially commissioned in the Army Coast Artillery but was detailed to the Army Air Corps for Primary Flying School at Randolph Field, Texas. He graduated from Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas and then was commissioned in the U. S. Army Air Corps as a pilot.
Lieutenant Curtis served in the defense of Iceland, April 1942 to Jun 1944 as a P-40 and P-39 fighter pilot and engineering officer for the 33d Fighter Squadron at Reykjavik, Iceland. There he was engaged in flying defensive patrols over the north Atlantic. On August 14, 1942, then Lieutenant Curtis, flying a P-40C and 2nd Lieutenant Elza Shaham, flying a P-38F, shared in the destruction of a Focke Wolf FW-200C-3 to obtain the first United States victory over a Luftwaffe aircraft.
Gwynne Curtis returned to the United States in 1944, going to multi-engine flight school at Mitchell Field, New York and trained in A-26 Marauder light bomber aircraft. He was then assigned to the Pacific theater at Okinawa in April-July 1945. He was there assigned to the Seventh Air Force, 319th Bombardment Group (Light). He flew combat missions over Japan and China, attacking airdromes, shipping marshaling yards, industrial centers, and other objectives. During this assignment, he received a Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat, the Air Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. Following World War II, he commanded Yontan Air Force Base, Okinawa until January 1946.
In January of 1946, now Major Curtis was reassigned to Hawaii and became the Seventh Air Force Operations Officer, A3, at Hickam Field, Hawaii. MAJ Curtis later joined with General Thomas D. White’s staff of the Seventh Air Force at Hickam Air force Base, Hawaii as assistant chief of staff, intelligence, and headquarters commandant.
In 1947 Major Gwynne S. Curtis Jr. was assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, Bomber Flight Test Division. He attended Experimental Flight Test School and became a test pilot. MAJ Curtis was involved with early flight research and development of B-36, B-47and B-58 bombers. He was on temporary duty in California when the flight-testing of jet aircraft began to move to Muroc Field in California (now Edwards Air Force Base). It was during this time that Chuck Yeager made the first flight breaking the speed of sound in a Bell X-1 aircraft. G. S. Curtis flew the then top secret data of that historic flight to Washington D. C.
On 20 January 1949 at the White Sands Missile Range, MAJ Curtis conducted the first flight of the Matador, the Air Force’s first guided missile. The Martin MGM-1 Matador was the first operational surface-to-surface cruise missile built by the United States. It was similar in concept to the German V-1, but the Matador included a radio link that allowed in-flight course corrections. This allowed accuracy to be maintained over greatly extended ranges of just under 1000 km. To allow these ranges, the Matador was powered by a small turbojet engine in place of the V-1's much less efficient pulsejet. When originally introduced, the Air Force referred to them as bombers, and assigned them the B-61 designation. It was later re-designated "TM-61", for "tactical missile", and finally "'MGM-1" when the US Department of Defense introduced the Joint Designation System in 1963.
In 1951 Gwynne Curtis was assigned to Verona, Italy with his family. There he was assigned as the United States Air Force liaison to the newly formed Headquarters Allied Land Forces Southern Europe (Land south). He worked under the command of Italian General Maurizio Lazzaro de Castiglioni. In Verona he was involved with the task of carrying out studies, drawing up plans and making preparations for the defense of the North East Italian Theatre. This organization is now called Joint Command South (JC SOUTH), in Verona, Italy. It is one of four Joint Sub Regional Commands (JSRCs) under the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH) in the military organization of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In 1957 LTC Gwynne S. Curtis Jr. graduated from the Air War College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama.
Now a full Colonel in the United States Air Force, Gwynne S. Curtis Jr. was assigned to the Pentagon in Washington D. C. from 1957 to 1958. There he was assigned to Headquarters United States Air Force in the Office of Chief of Staff for Guided Missiles. There he served variously as the Chief of the Strategic Division, Special Assistant to the Ballistic Missile Division and Secretary of the Air Force Ballistic Missile Committee with assignment to the Pacific Missile Range, California.
In 1958, COL Curtis was transferred to Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Pacific Missile Range, California. There as the liaison officer for Air Force activity on the Pacific Missile Range, there he conducted further testing of the Matador, the Air Force’s first guided missile.
During COL Curtis’s duty at the Pacific Missile Range, he was also the Air Force Project Director for one of the earliest spy satellite programs. This was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) satellite reconnaissance system code-named DISCOVERER or CORONA. The satellites were designed to assess how rapidly the Soviet Union was producing long-range bombers and ballistic missiles, and where they were being deployed. The Corona reconnaissance spacecraft was launched into polar orbit to take photographic swaths as it passed over the Soviet Union. Corona was designed to collect its exposed film in a heat-resistant "bucket" or canister at the nose. This bucket would then reenter over the Pacific Ocean then jettison them in the film canister which came back to earth. A specially equipped aircraft would literally snag it out of the air as it descended by parachute. Strange as this sounds, the Corona program was very successful over the years, beginning with Discoverer XIV as it was snatched in midair by a C-119 cargo plane on 18 August 1960. It provided the earliest photos of the USSR's Plesetsk rocket base.
Colonel Curtis was the Air Force project director for the first successful mission when a Discoverer-13 capsule which was launched atop a Thor-Agena rocket from Vandenberg AFB on August 10, 1960, and recovered after 17 orbits by USAF aircraft near the Hawaiian Islands. It was the first successful mission of the Discoverer program following twelve consecutive failures. The capsule contained an American flag, which was given to President Dwight Eisenhower in a ceremony at the Oval Office. Subsequent missions--including the very next capsule, Discoverer-14--returned exposed film of intelligence targets in the Soviet Union. Discoverer/Corona program was the world's first successful satellite reconnaissance program. Images returned to Earth in capsules of this type were instrumental in easing Cold War tensions caused by an erroneous belief in a "missile gap" favoring the USSR. As resolution of Corona's cameras improved, these images were also used for the verification of arms control treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Gwynne Curtis's last assignment with the Air Force was as the Air Force liaison to the TRW Company in Los Angles, California.
After retiring from the Air Force as a Colonel in 1961, he became an executive at the Ford Philco Aeronutronics in Newport Beach, California. There he specializing in developing defense weapons and aerospace technology.
Later Gwynne moved to the Lockheed Space Center in Sunnyvale, California and retired from his civilian career in 1977.
Gwynne Sutherland Curtis JR passed away on 23 May 1989 at his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico.