James (“Jim”) Abbott McCulley
Lt. Colonel U.S. Air Force (Retired)
Jim McCulley passed away peacefully with his family at his side on April 28, 2019. Jim was an active pilot for more than 60 years, first as an Air Force fighter pilot and later in private aviation. He was married for 51 years to Rosalind Coleman McCulley, who preceded him in death in December, 2012. Jim was born in Alexandria, LA, to James Hulen McCulley and Carolyn Dean McCulley. His older sister, Doris McCulley Blackburn of Tuscumbia, AL, preceded him in death in January, 2007.
Jim is survived by his three daughters—Carolyn McCulley of Falls Church, VA; Alice Barber and her husband, Frederick, of Copper Canyon, TX; and Elizabeth Oman and her husband, Andrew, of Fairfax, VA. He is also survived by nine nieces and nephews, as well as six grandchildren: Natalie, Patrick and Matthew Oman; and Claire, Stephanie, and Abigail Barber.
Jim graduated from Texas A&M with a mechanical engineering degree in 1949 and immediately entered the U.S. Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant and was one of the earliest jet fighter pilots. At the end of 1951, he was shipped to South Korea as part of the USAF’s 51st Fighter Group at K13 Air Base in Suwon, South Korea. While in Korea, he flew 100 combat missions in the F-86E and F model Sabre jets, and was credited with 4 MiG and Yak-3 aerial victories. Early on, his supersonic combat maneuvers earned him the nickname “Mach One Mac.” Later, Jim was awarded a spot promotion to Captain and won two Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven Air Medals. He also served as the Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Officer.
Jim returned to the U.S. in late 1952 and was assigned to the Drone Organization at Holloman AFB in New Mexico to fly unmanned F-80 jet fighters by remote control during the first stateside atomic bomb testing at Yucca Flat, Nevada, and later with Eglin AFB in Florida to participate in other ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons testing over the Gulf of Mexico. Working with some of the leading electronic manufacturers of the time, Jim was assigned as the Electronics Officer for the design and maintenance of the electronics and control systems of the remotely controlled aircraft. This was the earliest effort in the nation to fly what is now routinely done with drones all over the world.
In 1957, Jim moved to Ann Arbor, MI, to acquire a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. His classmates included future NASA astronauts Jim McDivitt and Ed White. After graduation, Jim was assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, to support the Bomarc supersonic interceptor missile development and testing program. The supersonic Bomarc missiles were the first long-range anti-aircraft missiles in the world. They were capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.
In 1964, Jim was assigned to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to provide engineering support during the Gemini and Apollo space programs. A year later, he was assigned to the Pentagon office of Manned Orbital Laboratory Program (MOL), working on the highly classified side of the MOL program to develop a space-based reconnaissance satellite.
In 1969, after serving 20 years in the Air Force, Jim retired as a Lt. Colonel and continued his engineering work with a number of consulting groups. In 1977, he was hired as the executive director of the Terraset Foundation in Reston, VA, conducting energy studies of the earth-sheltered and solar heated and cooled Terraset Elementary School. Then in 1982, he was hired by Pepco in their commercial load management department, where he worked until his retirement in 1991.
In 1984, the family moved to Warrenton, VA, and soon Jim became a licensed glider/sailplane owner and a tow pilot and one of the original board of directors of the Skyline Soaring Club of Front Royal, VA. He was also a radio-controlled model airplane flyer. In 1995, he acquired a Wittman Tailwind airplane that he modified and flew until his early ‘80s.
He will be remembered as a loving father and grandfather with a great sense of humor and an engineer’s passion to modify everything.
The family will receive visitors at Moser Funeral Home on Sunday evening, May 19th from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. Funeral services will be held at Moser Funeral Home on Monday, May 20th at 10 am. The burial service with full military honors will be held at Culpeper National Cemetery at 2:00 pm.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that tribute donations be made to the American Heart Association or the Veterans Airlift Command.
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