Notable as a test pilot for NASA and the U.S. Air Force's North American X-15 project, he piloted a 1977 test flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise and went on to head a 1981 test of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
After completing his bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Kansas, he joined the United States Air Force. He began his career with NASA in early 1966.
His numerous honors include the NASA and U.S. Air Force Distinguished Service Medals; the Society of Experimental Test Pilots' Iven C. Kincheloe Prize; and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Pioneer of Flight Award.
He was born and raised in Chapman, Kansas. His marriage to Mary Catherine Lawrence produced children named Jon and Laurie; he later married Jeanie Carter.
He and fellow astronaut Joseph Walker were both X-15 test pilots.