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Robert Ernest D'Agostini

July 21, 1935 ~ December 27, 2021 (age 86)

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Obituary

Robert D’Agostini, 86 of Phoenix, Arizona, passed away at his home on December 27, 2021. He was born on July 21, 1935, the son of Robert and Carmella D’Agostini in Syracuse, New York, subsequently growing up in Gowanda, New York. When they moved to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1953, he attended Mount Lebanon High School, where he graduated.  In 1954, he joined the Air National Guard, concurrently attending the Pittsburgh Aeronautical Institute. He completed eighteen months of education, in preparation for his A&P Mechanics license. In 1957, he made a transfer to Los Angeles, California to become a civilian employee of the California Air National Guard, based out of Van Nuys Airport.  In 1959, after completing the written portion of the Flight Engineer exam, he was asked by the Commander of the California Air National Guard to attend air crew training for the C-97 Stratofreighter aircraft. After this training, he became a Flight Engineer Instructor at the Van Nuys wing, and flew numerous Military Air Transport Service missions to the Far East, mainly the Bob Hope Shows, for US troops in South Korea. He also flew in the last Berlin air lift, under the Kennedy Administration. After logging enough flight hours, he obtained his FAA Flight Engineer Certificate.  While in the Air Guard at Van Nuys Airport, Bob met other Air Guard members, such as Jack Conroy and Clay Lacy. In 1962, he joined Aero Spacelines with Jack Conroy, Lee Mansdorf, and Lloyd Dorsett, who developed the company to rebuild the Boeing B-377 Stratocruiser into a larger freight carrier, in hopes of selling the idea to NASA. NASA, at the time, needed to transport the Saturn Rocket Engine Boosters from Sacramento, California to Cape Canaveral, Florida. The plane became the largest airfreight carrier in existence, and was called the Pregnant Guppy. The inaugural flight was out of Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles, on September 19, 1962, with Bob as Flight Engineer, Jack Conroy as Pilot, and Clay Lacy as Co-Pilot. On September 26, 1962, with only 8 hours logged, the plane was flown to NASA’s facility in Huntsville, Alabama, where Wernher von Braun took a test flight. On this trip, Conroy told Bob to shut down the left outboard engine and then the left inboard engine, to demonstrate how it could fly on only two engines. The only problem was, the oil level was low, so they couldn’t unfeather the engines. Bob had to go below to add oil to the replenishing tank while spilling it, and slipping and sliding all over. Not long after this flight, Aero Spacelines did get the contract with NASA. Bob flew as Flight Engineer on not only the first Pregnant Guppy test flight, but all subsequent flights until the Part 8 Certification.  In 1963, Bob was discharged from the Air National Guard, with the rank of Master Sergeant. From 1962 through 1974, he served as Chief Flight Engineer for the Pregnant, Mini, and Super Guppy, and helped with the certification of all three planes, as well as authoring the 201 Super Guppy operations manual, and equipment lists for the flight manual.  Aero Spacelines sold two Super Guppies to France’s Aero Maritime Industries. Bob traveled to France to help with their Pilots’ and Flight Engineers’ ground school training. There is one Super Guppy that has remained in service in the US, and is used by NASA for large item transport. Bob also flew charter for American Jet Industries in the Mini Guppy, during this time. This included missions transporting temporary housing for British Petroleum of Alaska, and the Alaska pipeline.  In 1967, he obtained his Single Engine and Multi-Engine pilots license, including his Instrument Rating, and he co-owned a single engine aircraft at the Santa Monica Airport.  In 1975, Bob obtained his Inspection Authorization License for aircraft engines, and opened his own business called Idealair, at the airport in Santa Ynez, California. In 1977, he sold his business to Valley Aerostar Corporation, a sales and service company, for Ted Smith Aerostar aircraft, and worked there as company pilot and shop foreman.  In 1978, he rejoined the Mini Guppy crew, and they formed a corporation called Guppy Air Cargo. A year after this, he flew as a corporate pilot for a home building company out of Solvang, California.  In 1979, he married Janice, who became his wife of forty-two years, and two years later they had a baby girl, named Donna. In 1981, he accepted employment as a Field Service Engineer with Garrett Turbine Engine Company, based out of Phoenix, Arizona.  They moved to Fresno, California where he was a Regional Field Service Engineer.  In 1984, he transferred to Prestwick, Scotland to work on the British Aerospace Jetstream 41 aircraft program, and also traveled to Belfast, Ireland at times, to help with the Shorts Tucano turbo prop military trainer aircraft program for the United Kingdom Royal Air Force. Then, in 1987, he transferred to Lincoln, England to work at the Royal Air Force Base Scampton with the RAF and the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority, in certification of the RAF Tucano military trainer aircraft.  After five years in Britain, Bob repatriated to the U.S. with his family, and relocated in Phoenix, Arizona. There, he covered the Arizona region as a Field Service Engineer, as well as travelled all over the world again, to help customers, like in his Guppy days.  In 2005, Bob was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He retired from Honeywell that same year. He had treatment, recovered, then had fourteen years of remission. He was asked to work on contract with Honeywell after retirement and did so for the next three years. Then in 2009, he went to work on contract for RS Warbirds, which is a Tucano aircraft sales and service company, at Deer Valley Airport.  In February 2016, Bob was asked by Honeywell to help with one of its customers, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, in Bangalore, India.  They needed him to help with the TPE 331-12B engine installation.  HAL had rolled out it’s first prototype of its Hindustan Turbo Trainer 40 aircraft on February 2, 2016. Bob also traveled there again in May 2016, to help with the engine performance testing, prior to its first flight on May 31, 2016.  His bladder cancer returned in 2018. He began treatment and continued to work during chemotherapy treatments. His last month of employment was January of 2020. With COVID and his cancer growing, it was better to finally retire from aviation, at the age 85. In total, he worked sixty-eight years in the aviation industry, and received calls from associates on engine problems up to two days before he died. Bob was a very vital person his entire life, always working hard and taking care of himself by exercising and eating well. His family admired him for his life-long accomplishments. There never was a time that he didn’t go above and beyond to help his family, friends, and aviation colleagues. We will miss him terribly. He is survived by his wife, Janice, his daughter, Donna, his sister, Gloria, his nephew, Mike, his nieces, Sharon and Brenda, and his brother-in-law, Scott.    

 Richardson Funeral Home, Tempe, Arizona is compassionately serving the D'Agostini family.

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