Dedicated to the Preservation of the
U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Channing Morse, Lt. Colonel, USAF (Retired)December 16, 1947 – August 27, 2015
Channing Morse, Air Force Academy class of 1970, died in a tow plane crash in the desert northeast of Los Angeles on 27 August 2015 supporting glider rides for wounded military veterans.
An airmen’s airman, an extraordinary instructor and experimental test pilot with almost 14,000 hours of fixed wing, glider and rotary wing time, Chan was doing what he loved—flying and giving the gift of flight to others.
Chan Morse was a man of character and strong will. Eddie Rickenbacker once said: “Aviation is proof that given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.” Chan’s pursuit of an aviation career demonstrated the will, competency, and character of our greatest airmen. He thrived in an environment that pushed men to their limits. If they said, “it could not be done,” he did it, and he did it well.
After receiving an appointment to the Air Force Academy in 1965, a broken leg forced him to go to the University of Arizona for a year where he would develop lifelong friends with fellow members of the Sigma Chi fraternity. Never one to give up easily, he went through the rigorous Academy application process again! He received a second nomination and appointment to the Air Force Academy in 1966.
After graduating from the Academy with a degree in electrical engineering, Chan graduated as the outstanding graduate of his class at the US Army helicopter school. He would then have a series of assignments as a combat rescue and special operations pilot and instructor pilot at Patrick, AFB, Nakhon Phanom RTAB, Thailand and the USAF Helicopter School at Hill AFB. Much of the activity at NKP in support of operations in Cambodia and Vietnam is still classified and yet to be written about, but those early combat experiences would forge transformational concepts in the development of helicopter operations as we know them today.
Tested under fire and having those experiences only actual combat operations can give, Chan then went to fixed wing pilot training, and once again was the outstanding graduate of his class. He was then selected to attend the Naval Test Pilot School and began a long and distinguished career as a military and as a civilian experimental test pilot, having just about every FAA rating and qualifying as an instructor in 5 fixed wing aircraft, 11 rotary wing aircraft and gliders.
As an experimental test pilot in both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft at Wright Patterson AFB, OH, and Edwards AFB, CA, and as director of operations for the MH/HH-60D Nighthawk Helicopter Combined Test Force, Chan was always at the edge of the envelope. There wasn’t an Army, Navy or Air Force cutting edge helicopter program that didn’t have Chan’s fingerprints on it.
After leaving active duty, Chan Worked for Hughes, McDonald Douglas and Boeing as a test pilot and engineering technical specialist, He was awarded five patents for engine and flight control systems, and he flew, tested, and improved, over 8 commercial and military helicopters, including the UH-60M, all models of the AH-64, and the MD 520/600 series helicopters.
Often on call to address problems that nobody else could solve, Chan could be anywhere in the world. As lead project pilot on the MD 520N and AH-64 aerobatic testing, he flew aerobatic maneuvers at all the major international air shows.
But it was his work as the chief pilot on the NOTAR, a revolutionary new helicopter system that did not require a tail rotor, which separated Chan from the crowd and marked him as the best of the best. Ultimately, he received the highly coveted Society of Experimental Test Pilots Kincheloe Award for outstanding flight test achievement in 1988.
But Chan was not done yet. He was a major contributor for the LHX Project (Light Scout/Attack Helicopter). This was to be a single pilot helicopter so it required a Fly-By-Wire (FBW) flight control system (FCS) to fly the helicopter while the pilot employed the weapons and sensors on the battlefield. This was the first use of a side stick controller to send commands to the FCS for the computer to fly the helicopter. The side stick had four degrees of freedom and there was one for his right and left hands (hard switch between the preferred controllers). The FCS had two modes, attitude control and rate control for high agility. This was also the first use of the integrated laser ring gyro and GPS and the first use of a color touch screen for navigation and system interface. Chan was instrumental in the development of the flight path vector display that allowed precise guidance for an approach to a spot on the ground.
MDHC was teamed with Bell Helicopter so Chan had frequent trips to coordinate and contribute design changes with Bell. The FBW system was developed in a prototype AH-64A with the FBW in the front seat and a safety pilot flew in the back seat. The flight controls in the back seat were back driven with sensors that dumped the computer if any force was applied to any flight control by the safety pilot. The FBW was completed prior to the cancellation of the LHX program.
The FBW system was very advanced technology that was so powerful that a flight control engineer flew the demonstrator for 45 minutes without requiring the safety pilot to break out the computer. This included taxi, takeoff, approaches, sideward and rearward flight at 10 feet, terrain following and high agility maneuvering.
Never one to miss an opportunity to fly, Chan brought his combat and test pilot experience to the Air Force Reserves. He flew and instructed in the MH-3 and MH-60 special operations helicopters as a member of the 302nd and 71st Special Operations Squadrons. He acted as the Squadron and Group Director of Operations for several operations that included support of the Northern Iraqi no-fly operations following Operation Desert Storm. Taking advantage of the reduced level of bureaucratic red tape in the active force, Chan conceived, planned and executed the H-3 2.75 rocket qualification for the USAF Reserve Test Force. Again, Chan achieved something that he was told, “could not be done.”
When not involved in public service, or traveling with Barb to places where the food and wine were superb, Chan loved fishing from his classic Bertram fishing boat or flying his classic Aerostar airplane.
Chan is survived by his wife Barb, his daughter Sara, his granddaughter Shelby, and his sister Lela.