David Walker was one of the most ambitious people in aviation history. He was an aviator for the US Navy, fighter pilot, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. Many people have heard about David’s accomplishments for piloting spacecraft in multiple space shuttle missions. His most well-known mission is often cited as the 1989 Magellan Probe Voyage.
David Walker began his career in flight by attending the US Naval Academy in Maryland. After graduation, he began flight training for the US Navy. From there, he went on to the Miramar, CA Naval Air Station. He became a commissioned officer qualified as a pilot in 1967. His call sign was Red Flash. During his time there, he learned to pilot McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s. The F-4’s were newly introduced a few years earlier, they functioned as supersonic jet interceptors with the ability to carry over 18,000 pounds of weapons.
David Walker later attended the Air Force and Navy Test Pilot programs. He had a role in evaluating the F-14 Tomcat. After attending the US Navy Safety Officer School, he received pilot training for the F-14. In 1975 he was stationed at Oceana Naval Base in Virginia Beach, VA. He was assigned to the 142nd Fighter Squadron.
In Vietnam, David Walker flew F-4’s and received multiple honors. Included in the honors are:
- Distinguished Flying Cross: awarded to officers that display heroism and direct combat operations from the air
- Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry: awarded to military personnel that illustrated valor and appropriate conduct during enemy combat
- Defense Superior Service Medal: presented to Armed Forces members by the Department of Defense for rendering “superior meritorious service in a position of significant responsibility”
- Navy Battle Efficiency Ribbon: given to Naval Service members assigned permanent duty on aviation squadrons or Navy ships
- Navy Air Medal: (6) designated to pilots that had distinguished achievements during flight
- Vietnam Service Medal: awarded to Armed Forces personnel that served for over 30 consecutive days in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia during the Vietnam War
In 1978, David Walker caught the interest of NASA. He became an astronaut for the space shuttle program. The space shuttle program was also referred to as STS, Space Transportation System. The manned spacecraft featured reusable rocket boosters and an expendable external fuel tank.
His first spaceflight was on-board Discovery, this was the 15th flight of the space shuttle program. The mission launched November 8, 1984. The goal of the launch was deployment of two communication satellites. Walker was the pilot of this mission.
On his next mission aboard Atlantis, Walker was the Commander. The space shuttle launch was May 4th, 1989. The purpose of this mission was launching the Magellan probe. The Magellan probe went on to map the surface of Venus. On the 3rd day of the flight, a glitch caused a computer that operated the orbiter to fail. The crew had to replace the computer while in orbit.
David Walker was also part of the Discovery 1992 mission (STS-53) and Endeavor (STS-69) in 1995. In a quote featured in the Orlando Sentinel, David Walker explained his thoughts on space flight, “If all I had to do is fly in space, there is no better job.” NASA reports that Walker logged over 724 hours in space.