Frank Tipton Birk
On April 29, 1993 Frank was traditionally wetted down after his final test flight in the B-2 Bomber and the F-16. The following day at his retirement ceremony, he relinquished command of the 65 10th Test Group at Edwards Air Force Base. The most highly decorated Air Force pilot at the time of his retirement, he left the 2,000 member B-2 Test Wing with a legacy of leadership, friendship, and camaraderie. Only Frank's wife, Connie, and three children, John, 17; Margaret, 15; and Catherine, 13, received more love and devotion than his work in test flight. He had encouraged Connie in her recent return to teaching, and had found great joy in watching John's basketball games and supporting Margaret's and Catherine's gymnastic competitions. Connie and the children were his greatest source of joy, and he was mindful of the sacrifices they made during his distinguished military career. Two days after retiring from the Air Force, Frank joined Rockwell International as a senior test pilot. He joined a team testing a prototype jet trainer under development for the Air Force and Navy. Following three weeks of various tests, he was asked to fly a low-level stability test north of Munich, Germany in late July. Because of a mechanical flaw, and design problems, the plane could not be controlled and during a rapid descent, Frank was forced to eject. Every family member who was able traveled to Germany to be at Frank's bedside for six days before his death. One of his three younger brothers, Harold, ensured Frank's safe return to the United States and to the Academy, where it was Frank's wish to be buried. Frank's family, along with many Air Force friends, arranged a beautiful and moving funeral and burial, which included a flyover of two B-1s, just one of the many planes Frank played a role in developing. Frank loved the Academy and the Air Force. His career included flights in 65 different aircraft, two tours and more than 800 combat missions during the Vietnam War. He earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Silver Stars, 27 Air Medals, and the Purple Heart, among others. He was also awarded the Laotian Order of the Elephants from the King of Laos, that country's highest honor, which only two other Americans have ever received. In addition, he has been posthumously awarded his second Aerial Achievement Medal. Characteristically, though, Frank's modesty kept him from discussing these recognitions, and it was only after his death that we learned the depth of love and respect which his colleagues hold for him. Their remembrances revealed to us the full measure of Frank's humanity. As one friend later wrote, "We came to know that some human beings actually have imitated their Creator and that this is what the rest of us are called to do.'' A quarter century ago, we watched proudly from the Academy stadium as Frank graduated with the Class of 1968. The honor of that moment stood sharp in contrast to the turmoil our nation was experiencing at the time. It was sadly wrenching that the next time we would share with Frank the beauty of Colorado Springs and the Academy would be at his funeral. We will miss Frank, our husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He believed in living each day fully, as if he might risk squandering the gifts God gave him. From that memory we will gather our strength. Frank was a member of the Association of Graduates. Friends and colleagues wishing to remember Frank are asked to do so through the association, where a boardroom chair and plaque have been reserved in his name.