Available Evidence Indicates Ken Johnston Was Never a "Jet Jock" or "Test Pilot" for Apollo or "Almost Selected" as a pilot astronaut
As a credibility basis for his stories of UFO cover-ups within the NASA Apollo program, Ken Johnston frequently relies on his status as a "jet jock," or an Apollo "test pilot" for the Grumman Lunar Module in the late 1960s, and — save for last-minute political interference that altered the requirements — a finalist and shoo-in selectee for the space shuttle pilot-astronaut class of 1978.
These tales reflect a scenario in which he went to US Navy pilot training in Pensacola, Florida, then to "jet school" (his words — that would normally include gunnery, formation flying, and carrier qualifications,) and then was designated a "consultant astronaut" as one of the top four Grumman pilots perfecting the Apollo Lunar Module. He also tells of flying back seat in F-4s at Mach 2 from the El Toro Naval Air Station in California.
Johnston's military service in the US Marine corps is well documented, as is his employment by Grumman at the NASA space center in Houston. He performed honorable service there, contributing to the national security and scientific leadership of the United States. Subsequent elaborations should not diminish that baseline truth.
None of that late 1960's-era military service involved flying of any kind, although he does claim to have joined the El Toro flying club and earned a pilot's license there (there seems to be no record of it.) He was never designated a "Naval Aviator," although authors (Michael Bara, e.g.) have quoted him as having claimed to have been a jet combat pilot (I have not seen the original quotations, and Bara excised that claim from a subsequent edition of his book, Dark Mission.) A decade LATER, Johnston says he completed training for multi-engine passenger aircraft "on the GI Bill" and got properly obtained pilot ratings (his FAA records show no jet-type ratings as required to actually fly them.)
Yet he still wears patches for the F-4 crew positions he claims. This may fall short of the practice called "stolen valor" (wearing unearned medals) but it's uncomfortably close.
Johnston's military record, which can be obtained by a simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (see letter below,) clearly shows his pilot training was 'INCOMPLETE'. His record of service shows that he reported to Pensacola in the MARCAD (Marine Cadet) program on 28 Sep 1964, and the status did not change until 12 Jun 1965, when he was 'awaiting assignment'. He was sent back to his previous job at El Toro on 4 Aug. His military training record shows 36 weeks of MARCAD activity, terminated under the INCOMPLETE column with no flight ratings awarded. [see below]
Public records do confirm that Johnston DID attend flight training at Pensacola, where, in his own words, "he learned to fly" - an accurate description. But he never graduated.
There are several different explanations for his dropping out, that have been found.
First is Johnston's often repeated description of how he completed flight school and then was sent to jet school, then to NASA. Source: March 1, 2014, Winterthur, Switzerland
There are three other explanations that acknowledge he failed to complete flight school, with three very different explanations.
A story traceable to his own family is that he returned to California to marry a pregnant girlfriend, an honorable step that supposedly he would not have been allowed to do had he continued pilot training followed by combat missions. But many other pilots married.
A story traceable to his flying buddies in recent years is that he quit once he was told he would NOT be assigned to jets, since all pilot cadets were being transferred to helicopter school because of severe losses in Vietnam. Since he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a fighter pilot in WW2, he on principle refused to take any lesser assignment.
A story traceable to fellow cadets who have been tracked down fifty years later is that he filed a DOR - Drop on Request - following a confidential cadet honor court's consideration of an adverse behavior report. Dean Smith, one of the three cadets on that tribunal and the secondary source of this information, was later killed flying an F-8 in the South China Sea off Vietnam (panel 16E, line 87 on the Vietnam War Memorial in DC.)
There seems to be little chance after all these years and in the face of all these versions (which may not be exclusively inconsistent) to determine what Johnston was motivated by, but the surviving records are clear that on his own request, he was released from the MARCAD program and never graduated. Navy flying veterans tell me that, like claiming to be a Navy Seal, claiming to be a Naval Aviator is a clear case of "stolen valor".
Apparently, Johnston has described back-seat rides in F-4's after he returned to El Toro in August 1965, for familiarization to enhance his flight-line electronics technician duties. None of the routinely required pre-flight training, nor any flight time records, appear in his military file [below]. F-4 pilots of that era have also advised me that hitting Mach 2 on a routine hop out of El Toro would have been very difficult - it was so rare that most F-4 pilots of that era only did it once in their careers, during flight training. If some pilot HAD sneaked him into the back seat for a hop, however, they find it not implausible that he could have briefly gone supersonic (Mach One.)
Johnston has described how he joined the El Toro flying club in late 1965 and there earned a private pilot's license on off-duty time sometime before his separation from the USMC the following August. He has offered no documentation for this, but it is possible.
The Lunar Module
Within a month of separation from the military (August 1966,) Johnston — still with only a HS diploma, military service as an avionics technician, some flying experience but NO documented ratings — was hired by Grumman to assist in cockpit development and testing of the Apollo Lunar Module at the NASA center in Houston, Texas.
"I became one of the first four civilian astronaut consultant pilots," his story goes. "That was before they even had the civilian astronauts. [JO: Five had actually been picked in mid-1965] That's what we were called. Our job was to test the lunar module in the vacuum chambers." See this video at 03:55.
Grumman did assign four of its test pilots to this task in Houston, including Gerald P. Gibbons and Glennon Kingsley. Kingsley, then a 37-year-old veteran jet pilot, was officially designated a "consulting pilot" but according to Northrup-Grumman spokesman Lon Rains, none of them were ever called "astronaut consulting pilots" and Johnston's name did not appear on the list. Kingsley died in 2011.
The LM log
Johnston presents as evidence a copy of the front page of his "LM LOG" training logbook. It appears basically authentic, with one interesting feature, illustrated below.
Compared to a known authentic log book auctioned by the family of Apollo-12 commander Pete Conrad, the job titles are not only different (to be expected) but in partially different font, with a section of the Johnston cover page apparently surrounded by a line suggestive of a paste-on label. Whereas the first line is the same -- "PRESENTED TO ASTRONAUT" - the words "CONSULTANT PILOT" on Johnston's book are in a different font. And that title appears NOWHERE in his job description in his termination recommendation letter he has posted on Facebook.
Johnston has explained to me the presence of the label as "that's just the way Grumman gave it to me". But there are other strange features of the document, which includes a large number of astronaut signatures, including many who never took LM training, and several who didn't become astronauts for many years. Johnston could have kept using the book to collect autographs, so that is not in itself suspicious.
However, it is odd that the signature of Gus Grissom, who was killed in the Apollo-1 fire in January 1967 (only a few months after Johnston went to work at Grumman,) and who was not taking any LM training classes, should be in Johnston's LM LOG on the August 1967 page, more than seven months after his death.
Odder still is the apparent masking of the logbook page's lineations in close proximity to the Grissom signature. In the first 'G', for example, one would have expected the background line to bisect the cursive capital letter, but it is somehow masked out.
The appearance is strikingly like that of a cut-out signature later pasted over the page of the logbook. It's only speculation without examining the original document, of course.
CollectSpace website expert Robert Pearlman inspected the page images to assess their authenticity. He told me the Grissom signature is the standard 'auto-pen' scribble, created by an automated machine in the astronaut mail room. The other signatures on later pages are of the same automatic origin, except for the second signatures right under the auto-pen versions, usually dated 1978, which appear to be authentic, according to Pearlman.
Johnston's role in the LM development, as described in his reference letter, was a substantial one, and I don't question the certificate with 3000 hours "manning the cockpit" in Houston (although the full 'LM LOG" posted on Facebook only shows 2600 hours, still impressive.) But it's important to clarify that these hours (over an employment period of 18 months minus classroom training) are essentially "full time" activities of the sort other similar workers called "switch monkey" tasks. And these were not simulator or trainer hours (which for commercial pilots count as simulated cockpit time,) these were hardware verification hours, turning switches on and off, waiting for hardware reconfiguration, logging anomalies — critically important, but not "test pilot" work.
Nor were they 'training the Apollo astronauts' to any significant degree, since astronauts had their own simulators — and specialized trainers — in an entirely different building. Flicking switches back and forth would not have provided a whole lot of valuable training for flight crews, without a live data simulator hooked into the cockpit.
Several vacuum chamber runs were being made in this time period, but both NASA and Grumman records have the names of the astronauts and technicians involved, and I have seen no evidence Johnston took part in any of them (recall his claim: "Our job was to test the lunar module in the vacuum chambers." [Julia Blum, Research Library Chief, Cradle of Aviation Museum, Bethpage, Long Island; Grumman veteran employees association; Northrup-Grumman Public Affairs Office] He apparently did perform suited mobility testing. These tests, and the men who actually performed in the cockpits, are described in detail (with no mention of Johnston) in this pdf document:
Johnston at the Air & Space Museum
Johnston has discussed his role with the LTA-8 on a two-video lecture he gave at the National Air and Space Museum in front of the mock-up there (not the LTA-8.) See this video and this video.
He made numerous claims about the vehicle which betrayed significant lack of understanding (or a lot of forgetting) of its hardware and function:
"This is my spacecraft, LTA-8, … [3:37] I'm quite excited to see this old spacecraft after so many years…" he says (it's not LTA-08, which is on display in Houston, Texas.)
"This vehicle was space rated it could have been used to go to the moon…"
No, the LTA-8, as clearly shown in NASA historical overviews, was never flight-qualified, had sub-flight-standard wiring, was heavy, so it was for ground testing only.
"The more yellowish area here is where we stored the lithium hydroxide canisters which we used in the environmental control system inside, to scrub CO2 out of the air and return pure oxygen back into the spacecraft..…" No, lithium hydroxide does NOT return oxygen to the cabin, that requires an entirely different supply tank - its sole purpose is to soak up the toxic carbon dioxide.
"Under each footpad there were probes, four probes that set off a light…" No, there was NO probe under the leg with the ladder, to avoid it breaking off on contact and pointing spear-like upwards into the descent path of the astronauts.
"The Mylar made an excellent insulation for all the heat and solar radiation we might pick up on the lunar surface…" No, the mylar was an excellent thermal barrier but it had no attenuation effect on the dangerous solar radiation.
"While we were still in earth orbit we had to separate from the Saturn V, take this spacecraft and turn it around, and come back and dock to the lunar module and then extract the lunar module out of a shroud where it was protected during ascent." [7:02]
No, the LM wasn't extracted until AFTER leaving earth orbit, on the way to the moon.
Johnston describes how the crewmen's descent down the ladder was actually recorded by a 16-mm camera inside the co-pilot's window, NOT by any TV camera mounted on the LM. "That's wrong," he states, about such a view. No, the live image WAS from such a TV camera, the 16-mm could not be viewed until after the film had been physically returned to Earth.
"The first one we landed with was the 'Eagle' and [points to Command Module] 'Snoopy'…" Johnston reveals. No, 'Snoopy' was the Apollo-10 lunar module, the Apollo-11 Command Module was 'Columbia'.
Further discounting Johnston's claim that he was a top "LM Test Pilot" in the run-up to the Apollo-11 mission (July 1969) can be found in Johnston's own recent Facebook description of how he watched that epochal mission. Unlike the real Grumman trainers and test pilots, who were on duty at their posts for rapid response to crew inquiries or procedural checkouts for contingencies, Johnston watched the landing on television from his wife's family's home in New Jersey. He was on terminal leave, having already been laid off by Grumman at the end of the development project. The honorable technical work he DID perform did not rise to the level of importance of keeping him around during the actual Apollo-11 mission 'just in case'.
A new job
In mid-1969 Johnston found another job with a contractor processing lunar samples. See this pdf document. When that ended in 1972, he seems to have been away from NASA for several years.
Then came the astronaut selection for the Space Shuttle program, in 1977. Here follows the standard narrative from Johnston on how close he came to pilot astronaut selection. See this video at 05:20
"Once we landed on the moon and the Apollo was winding down, I applied for the regular NASA astronaut program. I have letters from Neil Armstrong signed by him, Jack Schweickart, Jim Irwin, a couple of the others, and I submitted that.…"NASA put out the call for new astronauts, and the guys [said] 'You'll make it, no problem.'
"Well, the week before they were supposed to make the announcement of who the next twenty six astronauts, I was called into astronaut Vance Brant's office…he was in charge of the selection program committee,, He says, "Come in, sit down, Ken,." I'm excited because I'm thinking, next week they're gonna announce I'm gonna be one of the astronauts.
"Well, he says, we know you can do the job, you've been doing it with us, but he says, the government has gotten involved, and I jokingly says, 'You know what happens when the government gets involved in stuff, hmm! They didn't want to have jet jocks, they wanted to have PhD scientists, and he says, so your name's been cut from the list.
"Well, wow… There I was, thought I had everything that they needed, but then I didn't have a doctorate degree, and so I was cut from the program and didn't get to become a regular astronaut. Ten years later, when I got my first doctorate, I applied for the SHUTTLE astronaut program and, would you believe it, they said you're too old."
There are a number of MAJOR historical conflicts in this narrative.
First, the 1978 selection had ALWAYS been advertised as dual category - there would be 'Pilots' AND 'Mission Specialists' with technical or scientific or medical skills. There was NO last-minute change in requirements.
As described at this link, in 1977 the NASA call for applications listed these minimal requirements: "Pilot Astronauts must possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. An advanced degree is desirable. At least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command flight time is required for Pilot Astronauts. Flight test experience is desirable."
In 1977, Johnston (then 35) met NONE of the MINIMUM requirements for consideration by the selection board. His bachelor degree was only then being completed. He had at most a handful of real 'off-the-ground' flight hours, practically NONE as pilot-in-command.. But it would be nice, someday, to see a copy of the application Johnston says he submitted, to see what flight hours and educational level he told NASA he had..
Second, the final selection consisted of 15 pilots and 20 Mission Specialists (MS,) half of them military 'flight engineers' and the other half scientists and doctors. Of the MS group, only eleven had Ph.Ds or M.Ds. Two-thirds of the selectees had no graduate degrees.
Third, over the previous six months, NASA had brought approximately two hundred finalists to Houston for a week of tests and interviews. Their names were announced in a series of press releases, twenty at a time. Johnston's name had never been among them.
Fourth, he did NOT have multiple letters of recommendation from Apollo astronauts, as he has claimed, he had ONE [see below]. As shown in his own internet documentation, he had mailed out self-addressed stamped postcards to an undisclosed number of former astronauts (probably at least two dozen of them) with a cover letter describing his supposed qualifications (that letter and his claimed experience has never been shown.) The postcards had a box to be checked to signify recommendation for consideration.
[Note that Johnston has released his postcard from the 1977 astronaut application process, signed by selection team official Duane Ross. He has never released any letter inviting him to NASA for semi-finalist interviews and medical screening, so there's no evidence he got that far, and the absence of any such letter is evidence he did NOT — so he never could reasonably expect anyone to slip him advance word he's been picked]
On the 'recommendations, of some note is the comment by Neil Armstrong (whose first name Johnston had misspelled twice on the postcard as "Neal",) explaining, "My limited knowledge will make it difficult to say anything helpful, I'm afraid."
There was one letter, from Apollo-15 LMP James Irwin, with whom Johnston had worked during the LM testing in 1967-8, and it was personal, cordial, and supportive.
[Letter from astronaut James Irwin, 'High Flight Foundation', February 1977]
Fifth, this is a nit but a telling one in light of his misspelling of Armstrong's name, he can't seem to get the names of the other alleged "astronaut friends" right. Listen to the video description of how he confuses Rusty Schweickart [SH'WY-kert] with Jack Swigert [S'WY-gert]. "Schweickart" isn't a typo - in the Jan 30, 1983 article in the San Angelo newspaper (on Facebook) he also spelled the name out for the reporter as 'Schweickart'. (which he also described as happening on Apollo-9 in 1969.) Then he quoted from an alleged personal conversation he had with the real Jack Swigert, who he said served one term as congressman before dying of cancer (he actually died prior to being ever sworn in.) Also note how he says "Bran-T" for astronaut Vance Brand ("Bran-D") — he carefully spoke the name, and got it wrong.
Where does all of this leave the story of Johnston's near-miss at astronaut selection due only to a last-minute politically motivated reversal of announced selection criteria? All documentation and memories (including Duane Ross, whom I interviewed,) are consistent that no such change ever occurred, that no such Ph.D requirement was last-minute added. So I cannot believe that any as-described Vance Brand meeting happened.
Johnston then explains that he went and obtained Ph.D degrees to meet the changed requirements, even though all through the 1980s there were always selections of pilot-only astronauts and military/civilian flight engineers as well as PhD scientists.
Since the "doctorate" Johnston claims he got ten years later was a mail order certificate from a bogus "seminary", and would have been laughed out of any pre-selection review board, I find it impossible to believe NASA ever made the excuse to him that he was disqualified due to age (proof that 'Ph D' is bogus is here.) And NASA standards expressly PRECLUDED such a disqualification: "As per federal regulation, NASA is not allowed to specify an age range for astronaut candidates (see this document.)
Johnston made one other attempt to become an astronaut, in 2002, when he tracked me down while I was working for Mark Burnett Productions on developing a "Survivor Space" televised competition to fill a seat on an actual Russian 'Soyuz' orbital mission. Johnston called me and we had a delightful hour-long chat (he had introduced himself as an acquaintance from NASA days and I distinctly remember thinking, 'Who the hell IS this guy?") that explored ways to get him into the candidate pool. He was full of fervor, excitement and good ideas for his role in the program But the project later was dropped.
In summary, these 'test pilot' and 'astronaut finalist' stories are in such utter conflict with existing documentation, other participants' recollections, and NASA's own records, that I can find no way to accept them as credible. Generalizing this calibration, some of the even stranger stories from Johnston about Apollo-era NASA UFO secrets are, in my view, unworthy of belief as well without independent confirmation — so far, totally absent. . But I await additional documentation to refute this.