The Antelope Valley aviation world lost a fine pilot, engineer and instructor April 21 with the passing of Weneth “Wen” Painter of Mojave.
Wen was born in 1935 in Nebraska and served in the Air Force maintaining Boeing B-47 jet bombers, the forerunners of today’s jet airliners, aircraft that changed the way we travel.
1935 also saw the birth of the Douglas DC-3, another pioneering aircraft.
Following his Air Force service, Wen earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Wichita State University.
Wen’s education began in a one-room schoolhouse. He liked to remind friends that many of America’s astronauts, aerospace engineers, and pilots were educated in those mid-west, one-room school houses, an experience he attributed to their achievements.
After graduating, Wen and his family moved to Lancaster, where he was an engineer at the NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center, now the Armstrong Flight Research Center.
At Dryden, Wen’s projects included the Northrop HL-10 Lifting Body, which helped NASA develop the design of the space shuttles.
After retiring from NASA, Wen joined the National Test Pilot School in Mojave, training students both in Mojave and all over the World.
An avid pilot, Wen enjoyed training well over 100 pilots to fly powered and unpowered aircraft. It was not unusual for a young Air Force pilot to thank Wen for teaching him to fly, “so that now I am flying F-16s.”
Taught Superman to fly
One of his students was the actor Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in films, and Wen was fond of saying that he taught Superman how to fly.
His aviation passion began early when as a child he built an airplane that was suspended from trees on the family ranch. As a teenager he traded work at a local airport for flying lessons.
He often recalled watching giant Air Force B-52s from a nearby Air Force base flying over his Nebraska home. He was licensed as a multi-engine commercial pilot and flight instructor.
He also earned master’s degrees from the University of Southern California and Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo and taught Aeronautical Engineering at Cal-Poly.
Wen was also active in Explorer Scout aviation programs where many of his students went on to distinguished careers in the Air Force, NASA and as commercial pilots.
He was an active member in the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Museum Board member
Wen was a charter Board member of the Mojave Transportation Museum Foundation, and drafted its first business plan and a proposed design for the facility at the Mojave Air & Space Port.
He was also active in the association’s Young Eagle program, taking youngsters up for their first flights after briefing them on his aircraft and the basics of flight at MTM Plane Crazy Saturday programs.
He signed tax forms for pilots who displayed their vintage aircraft at Plane Crazy Saturdays at his table in the Voyager Restaurant, where he enjoyed discussing aviation with friends and fellow pilots. The museum foundation plans to place a plaque at the table honoring Wen and in Legacy Park at the airport/spaceport.
Lifting body engineer
Wen recalled his work on the NASA Lifting Body program with presentations to museum members and before other organizations.
Wen is survived by his wife JoAnn of Pleasanton, CA, a multi-engine aircraft instructor and past president of the Board of directors of the Mojave Air & Space Port; and numerous relatives.
In addition to being a talented engineer and pilot, Wen was always willing to lend a hand on community projects, especially at the Mojave Air & Space Port.
I do not recall ever seeing or hearing Wen utter a negative comment or thought.
He was a member of a generation that had to work for everything, and made America and the world better for it.
He will be missed.
Choosing who can live
Wen Painter was born in 1935, a few months before I entered this world.
Throughout his life, Wen was a productive citizen, who served in the military, used skills learned in universities to help design the Space Shuttle, introduced hundreds of adults and kids to the wonders of flight, and was just a great all-around guy.
Millions more born in that era have done the same, serving quietly to advance humankind.
Sadly, in recent weeks a growing number of younger people with no concept of the value of human life are advocating relaxing restrictions aimed at holding down the number of humans exposed to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
One of their arguments is that those of us most in danger of this terrible disease because of our age or economic situation are somehow expendable.
We’re old, we’ve lived our lives, and the “homeless” and others are somehow worth less to society and deserving of protection, these people argue.
Members of my generation were kids when World War II was begun by a madman with similar inhumane beliefs, targeting Jews, criminals, and the aged and infirm as expendable.
Our parents’ generation were heroes, men and women who volunteered to serve the cause of freedom from this insanity. When a draft notice arrived in the mail, they stood tall and accepted their responsibility and went off to war rather purchasing phoney excuses.
They have also paid their taxes and many have created jobs for others.
Some who advocate letting we old people die disguise their actions as protected by their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
That’s a false defense because the freedom that allows Americans to say hateful things doesn’t legitimize them.
When my wife and I were married, we vowed to stay together “until death do us part.”
Those words proclaiming the sanctity of all human life were on my mind as she died in my arms on the evening of January 14th of this year.
Something those who advocate letting us die so they can go to the beach will never understand.