Stu Witt a naval aviator with the U.S. Navy an American Patriot

Stu Witt a naval aviator with the U.S. Navy an American PatriotBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Stu Witt, a fifth generation Kern County native, is such an American patriot that he doesn’t see what is special about him. Patriotism and service to his country is so ingrained into who he is that he humbly does not recognize what makes him stand out for a Veterans Day story. Nevertheless, he shares some pretty good stories with us.

Witt tells us he has been out of the service longer than he was in it. “After 20 almost 21 years of combined service, active and reserve and I’ve been out now for 25 or 26 years.” He laments, “I never had the pleasure of putting green ink in my logbook - that meant I flew in combat. On Veterans Day, I typically think, ‘All gave some and some gave all’ and I didn’t participate in any conflicts.”

Enlisting and serving is his family’s tradition, “I will tell you that growing up in eastern Kern County in fairly humble beginnings. I was lucky enough to be born American. I grew up in a family where everyone had served - all of my uncles. I want to say there were nine they’d all served in various capacities in the service. So Thanksgivings were filled with World War II and Korean stories. As a youngster, my brother went in the service. My cousins went in the service. I went in the service. It certainly wasn’t mandatory, but it was just something that the males did.”

Already an accomplished pilot and college graduate, his visit to the recruitment office is a tale in its own. “I was finished with college and was driving a truck for UPS and had earned a number of ratings as a civilian pilot. I had to deliver the package to the Marine recruiter one day.” As the recruiter was signing for the package, Witt asked, “‘How do you become the guy on the poster out front standing in front of that Phantom?’ He never looked up. He just said, ‘You got to go to college first.’ And I said, ‘Well, it turns out, I just graduated.’ And then he looked at me and he said,’ Yeah, right, and you’re driving a truck.’ And he says, ‘The Vietnam war is ending and we’re only taking people with pilot’s licenses.’ I said, ‘I’ve got a commercial and instrument multi-engine and I’m working on my instructor rating.’ And he said, ‘Then take my test.’ That’s how it started. And again, like I said, I was lucky enough to be a modern American where you can go from driving a truck to flying F-14s, and to this day there’s only one nation on the planet where that’s possible.”

Inspite of his many years of service, Witt downplays his contributions, preferring to focus on the sacrifices of those made in combat. “My experience in the 50 some years I’ve been involved with the military is we’re not a nation at war. We’re a military family at war and the rest of America continues to live at the mall and party and there just doesn’t seem to be any national commitment. And the only people paying that price are communities like Ridgecrest around the around the country that are military centric with a ‘Nobody needs to tell us why we do it.’ It’s just who we are.”

As a naval aviator with the U.S. Navy, he says, “I flew off the USS John F. Kennedy, and primarily in the East Coast, Mediterranean but in the reserves. I flew off a number of carriers primarily on the West Coast and and flew a variety of airplanes including the F-18, F-8 and RF-8. And a number of other airplanes.” In 1980 he graduated from the US Navy Fighter Weapons School, Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, known as TOPGUN.

After retirement Witt continued in ventures that benefit the nation and Kern County. In 2002, he became the CEO & General Manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave. He says, “I was somewhat qualified to do it the day I got it. It was putting a lot of pieces together running businesses, flying for the military flying as a civilian, working as a test pilot for a number of years. It was the culmination of many different things. The one thing that was new to me was space and to actually create a focus location in Kern County, under the restricted airspace that we enjoy, that by and large defines us out here in the high desert. It was fun to do something in the nation first as a civilian spaceport. And I believe Mojave created seven astronauts during my tenure. I remember the first time that I stood up in front of a very large audience and predicted that at Mojave in 2004, we would produce the nation’s first civilian winged astronaut in Kern County and the place broke out in laughter and I was wrong ... It turned out to be seven.”

Mojave Air and Space Port employs numerous veterans, “It was nice to be a part of that. And the majority of the people that participated in that were also vets. And we shared a common vision I’d say that at least half are former military and the National Test Pilot School is one of the largest in the world. It’s privately owned and operates out of Mojave and most all veterans from around the world Israel, England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, France, a number of countries in Asia all participate in the Test Pilot School at Mojave, a number of different allied and non allied countries.”

I was from Kern County, but it was the Navy that brought me back to Kern County in 1981 as a project pilot on the brand new F-18. I think there’s still a lot of young aviators that get orders to China Lake and they’re not sure why this place. What are they what are they going to find when they get here? How does it fit in their career path? There were so many benefits to my career that came about and doors opened because I took orders to China Lake and participated in the in the research and testing of new systems. I really enjoy living here. The quality of life fits me extremely well. On a morning like this, it’s crisp it’s just heavenly to get airborne and and still have the opportunity to fly and explore and go out and look in these canyons and see something new. I served on the East Coast but the Navy sent me home. ”

As for being a veteran, Witt says, “ People who serve tend to serve in many capacities their entire career. They don’t talk about it much, they don’t wear it on the outside; it’s very private. We tolerate a lot of people who have differing opinions. We represented them, too.”

These days Witt can be found in the skies or in Ridgecrest at the helm of his consulting business, C.O. Witt and Associates.

Laura Austin photo: Stu Witt in his office at C.O. Witt and Associates in front of a wall of photos from a lifetime of adventure and hard work.

Story First Published: 2021-11-05