Forrest S. McCartney

Vectoring Engineering Skills into Administrative Virtuosity

Inducted in 2004

Forrest S. McCartney, lieutenant general, retired, USAF, earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University, in 1952. Next, from the Air Force Institute of Technology, he earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. After that he earned his place in aerospace history.

General McCartney’s thirty-five-year Air Force career culminated in 1986 in an assignment to NASA, as director of Kennedy Space Center. Brought there by the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger, to General McCartney fell the awesome responsibility of return-to-flight procedures. His work restoring manned space flight excited such strong approval that aerospace elites asked his continued involvement. He agreed, presiding over nearly twenty Shuttle launches and landings—choreographing 20,000 workers and a $1.3 billion annual budget—before retiring in December 1991. After consulting with industry in various capacities, in 1994, General McCartney became the vice president for launch operations at Lockheed Martin Astronautics. In this position, he was responsible for the launch of Atlas and Titan space boosters from Florida and California. He retired from Lockheed Martin in 2001 and was re-summoned by NASA to serve on the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, providing safety oversight of NASA. General McCartney served as ASAP’s vice chairman until 2003. He is now on the Stafford-Covey Task Group overseeing NASA’s efforts to return to flight from the Space Shuttle Columbia accident.

The duties entrusted to the general over the years demanded intellectual rigor; also necessary are imagination and integrity. In him, all three were united, along with a large gift for inspiring and organizing others. Space exploration is a system of systems. Engineers master the intricate design, construction, and operation of these specialized systems; others—engineers and administrators—succeed in managing programmatics for the systems. General McCartney is among those few taking personal responsibility for technical and programmatic development of each space program component, individually and in concert. It is a capability he gained in advancing Air Force assignments: from weapons program project officer to Air Force satellite controller; to program element monitor for space-related efforts at the Pentagon’s space directorate; to director of range engineering, Eastern Test Range; to systems program director, Fleet Satellite Communications systems.

Reassigned to the Air Force Space Systems Division in 1974, he became deputy for space communications systems, vice commander and commander of the Ballistic Missile Office (overseeing Minuteman, Peacekeeper, etc.), and then vice commander and commander of the Space Systems Division. General McCartney’s performances garnered three Distinguished Service Medals and two Legion of Merit decorations. He received a Presidential Rank Award, reserved to a small circle of venerable government administrators. He furthermore belongs to the Air Force Missile and Space Pioneers Hall of Fame. Private-sector awards bestowed on him are also most prestigious: the National Geographic Society’s General Thomas D. White Space Trophy, the National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Trophy, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management.

A native of Ft. Payne, General McCartney graduated with distinction from his collegiate ROTC program and entered the Air Force in 1952. In addition to taking engineering degrees, he graduated in 1967 from the Armed Forces Staff College and holds an honorary doctorate from the Florida Institute of Technology, for which he served as a trustee.

The general and his wife, Ruth, reside in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. They have two daughters and three granddaughters.

View Other AEHOF Members