Cover photo for William Donald "Don" Eastman, Jr.'s Obituary
1932 Don 2024

William Donald "Don" Eastman, Jr.

June 4, 1932 — May 23, 2024



William Donald "Don" Eastman, Jr. “Flew his last flight West 05/23/2024”. 

Born on June 4, 1932 in Port Arthur, Texas Don graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur. Don graduated from Texas Tech University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and received an MS in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Arizona. He also graduated from the USAF Aerospace Research Test Pilot School, flying over 8000 hours and qualified for piloting 59 different aircraft. 

On December 15, 1965 Don was the first pilot in aviation history to conduct an aerial refueling of a helicopter at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Don was recognized with the Primus Award and awarded the Air Medal. 

He accumulated a total of 660 aerial refuelings, including 90+ night refuelings and IFRs were successfully completed. These flight tests have changed the Strategic US War Planning, allowing current long range flights of combat Special Forces into combat zones (eg. Afghanistan and Iraq). The flying tactics and procedures developed in flight testing are still being used without change some 55 years later. 

Don was the only pilot in the United States Air Force who has flown every type of aircraft- Fighters, Helicopters Transports, VTOLs, Autogyros, Bombers, Trainers, Amphibious Transports & Light Aircraft, Ski Aircraft and a NASA HoverCraft. He is a nominee for the National Aviation Hall of Fame at WPAFB. 

He made the first flight of a helicopter to the western coast of Alaska in the winter of 1956. No helicopter pilot had ever been more than 60 miles from Fairbanks. One special mission he recovered a severely burned little Eskimo girl on Little Diomede Island, 2.5 miles from Russia. Don was able to land on a 45 degree slope by the Inuit village beside the ice-filled Bering Sea. He also made the first helicopter rescue of a mountain climber with a broken leg at Mt. McKinley, Alaska in the summer of 1956 at an elevation of 9000 feet and above the service ceiling of the old H-19 helicopter. 

Don routinely flew a single engine Chase/Pace fixed wing aircraft, a helicopter, and a fixed wing transport on the same day in flight test at WPAFB in the 1960's. And he taught Chuck Yeager, Brigadier General, how to fly a helicopter! 

He was the last USAF pilot approved to fly four different aircraft. He was the only pilot in the USAF that ever flew a helicopter in a loop, barrel roll, then a slit S. He was recognized for rescuing the most aircrew personnel in North Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War and was awarded the Silver Star, 6 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 17 Air Medals for heroism in 1970. 

Don retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the USAF. He then worked as a Civilian Engineer Supervisor, retiring as the Director for Test, Deployment and Training Systems for the C-17, retiring as a GM-15 after 21 years. He was instrumental in installing a Fighter Pilot Stick in the AMST prototype aircraft, convincing the Using Command pilots that a stick was a far more effective control than the Wright Brother's wheel. The Using Command put the control stick in the requirements for the C-17 and B-2. He was the first Civilian Test Pilot to be hired by the USAF, working with the Air Force Dynamics Laboratory at WPAFB. 

Don is survived by his loving wife and partner in life for 69 years, Alice Faye (Guidry) Eastman of Port Arthur, Texas and now Kettering, Ohio, his daughter Dana (Tim) Murphy and daughter-in-law Hnoi Eastman; grandchildren, Taylor (Dan) Cline, Evan (Heather) Murphy, Hunter and Zoe Eastman; great-grandchildren Carter and Conrad Cline and Miles Murphy, Don was preceded in death by his son, Jay Eastman (2023) and daughter Diane Eastman (1969). As his beloved wife of nearly 70 years always said,  “Their life together was a fast and wild ride, full of adventures, surprises, challenges and a forever love”.

 “Goodbye to the Love of My Life." - Don

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