Richard ‘Dick’ Wright

Richard ‘Dick’ WrightRichard Lee “Dick” Wright passed away peacefully Nov. 30, 2019, at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital with his wife of more than 62 years, Vivian Cates Wright, at his side. He was 89.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Grace Wright, of Sun City, Ariz., and younger brother, Tom Wright, of Boise, Idaho.

Dick was born and raised in Denver, Colo. After graduating from East High School there in 1948, he attended the Alabama Polytechnic University (now Auburn), as a U.S. Navy ROTC student. Following his graduation in 1952, he was commissioned an ensign and served as engineering officer aboard the destroyer, USS Lofberg. He then attended Navy pilot training, earning his wings in 1954, and began an extremely successful flying career as both a fleet pilot and a test pilot.

In his 23-year naval career which ended with his retirement with the rank of commander from VX-5 here at China Lake, he achieved the following milestones: graduated from the 23d class of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot school in 1959; made more than 500 aircraft carrier landings; piloted more than 38 aircraft types; performed the carrier qualification trials, including the first night carrier landing, of the A-5A Vigilante; was a runner-up in the Gemini astronaut selection process; and was selected as a Fellow, the highest level of recognition, by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

After his Navy retirement, he held several test flying jobs which included work for Cessna in Wichita, Kans.; Flight Systems and BAE Systems in Mojave; and then with the Navy flying QF-86 and QF-4 drones back at China Lake until his second retirement in 1993. He had a lifetime affection for airplanes and frequently marveled at the fact that he got paid for doing something he loved so much.

Dick loved his family and provided for them generously throughout his life. There were numerous family vacations and outings which left a rich legacy of memories.

In 2010 author Colin Burgess included a section about Dick’s career in his book, “Moon Bound; Choosing and Preparing NASA’s Lunar Astronauts.” After summarizing Dick’s long career, Burgess asked him if he was disappointed about not being selected as astronaut. He replied, “At the time it was a big disappointment to me. Looking back, however, it was probably for the better. The guys that they selected were all smarter than me — I just had to acknowledge that. But also a lot of their marriages fell apart. My lovely lady and I have been married for some 54 years. Who knows what would’ve happened if I’d become an astronaut? Perhaps I wouldn’t have had the wholesome family life. So I’m perfectly content, and I also had a wonderful career which I loved.”

Dick also loved cars, motorcycles, reading, investing, playing Blackjack and model airplanes. He always had projects under way in the garage. Two of his crowning achievements were ground-up restorations of both a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible and a 1956 Ford F100 pickup.

He is survived by his wife, Vivian Cates Wright; son Richard Lee “Rick” Wright, Jr., and his wife, Carol, of Flower Mound, Texas; son Robert Griffin “Bob” Wright and his wife, Lora, of Tucson, Ariz.; and daughter Michelle Ann Behseresht, and her husband, Doug, of The Woodlands, Texas. Dick had 11 grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

A memorial service, including military honors, will be held Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. at Ridgecrest United Methodist Church. A celebration of Dick’s life will follow at the Triple T’s Tavern from 3-7 p.m.

— Submitted by the family of Dick Wright

Story First Published: 2019-12-20