George K. Muellner: 1943-2019

Retired USAF Lt. Gen. George Muellner, a former AFA chairman of the board, died on Feb. 11, 2019, at the age of 75. Photo by Chuck Fazio.

George Muellner, retired Air Force lieutenant general, fighter pilot, test pilot, a classified programs specialist, a top technologist for Boeing, a senior leader of the aerospace industry, leader of a number of aerospace societies and associations, and former Air Force Association chairman of the board, died Feb. 11 in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 75.

Muellner earned his commission through the ROTC program at the University of Illinois, after earning his bachelor’s in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He later earned three master’s degrees: in aeronautical systems management, electrical engineering, and business administration. During his career he also completed the Naval War College and Air War College.

Joining the Air Force in 1968, Muellner learned to fly the F-4 Phantom, and in the course of two tours in Southeast Asia, amassed 690 combat missions during the Vietnam War, receiving three awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross and 27 awards of the Air Medal, among other decorations. On one mission, he was shot down and made a narrow escape from enemy forces by clinging to the skids of a helicopter.

In 1973, he became a test pilot, and over the next nine years flew a wide array of aircraft, amassing a lifetime total of 121 different types. He flew operational test on the then-new F-15 and was a member of the F-16 Combined Test Force.

Muellner then joined, and later commanded, the 6513th Test Squadron, known as the “Red Hats,” where he was involved in obtaining and testing Soviet-design combat airplanes used for technical evaluation and to provide high-fidelity air combat training of US fighter pilots.

After the Air War College, he served in a variety of assignments in Europe from 1983-1987, flying the F-15 and F-16, concluding with a tour as director of operations for the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg AB, Germany; the “tip of the spear” for the US during the Cold War.

Back from Europe, Muellner worked in the requirements shop at Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Va. He then went into program management. While he was directing the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System program, the first Gulf War erupted. Muellner formed and commanded the 4411th JSTARS Squadron and took two experimental E-8 JSTARS aircraft to the war, years before the system would go through initial operational test and evaluation. The JSTARS were pivotal in detecting the Iraqi move against Khafji and directing attacks on those and follow-on forces to the north of the Kuwaiti border. The deployment signaled an end to US adversaries being able to move ground forces under cover of darkness.

Muellner then went back to be the deputy chief of requirements at TAC, and at its successor, Air Combat Command. A Pentagon job followed, as director of command and control and weapon programs under the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.

In 1993, Muellner was appointed to head the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program. Its mission was to harmonize the requirements of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for a new combat aircraft that would be used by all three services. Muellner’s task was to establish the parameters of the new fighter—meeting unique service requirements for speed, range, carrier operations, vertical landing, etc.—in a largely common airframe that could save money by achieving production scale on spare parts, training systems, software, etc. The result was the Joint Strike Fighter program, and a flyoff between the Boeing X-32 and Lockheed Martin X-35. The latter was selected, and became the F-35, which is planned to be the “backbone” of USAF’s fighter force.

Muellner’s last USAF assignment came in 1995, when he served as the top uniformed deputy to the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition. In that position he oversaw production of the F-22 fighter and B-2 bomber, C-17 airlifter, and a variety of classified and unclassified projects, such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM. He retired from the Air Force in 1998, after 31 years of service.

He joined Boeing that same year, serving at first as vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Phantom Works advanced research and development unit, later becoming president in 2001. The following year, he became vice president and general manager of Air Force systems. He then became president of advanced systems, integrated defense systems.

Among the classified products produced under his Boeing tenure were the stealth helicopters involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, which were based on technology developed for the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter the Army had canceled.

He retired from Boeing in 2008, continuing as a consultant to the company. He also served on a number of corporate boards.

Muellner continued to provide leadership, mentorship, and advice through the years that followed. He served as president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, Defense Science Board Intelligence Task Force, and vice chairman of the Board of the Aerospace Corporation.

Muellner was virtually a lifelong member of the Air Force Association, holding many positions over the years with the Aerospace Education Council and at all levels of the organization. He was Chairman of the Board from October 2012 through September 2014, and during his tenure he nurtured and expanded AFA’s CyberPatriot program, which involves middle and high school students in a cyber defense competition. He oversaw an agreement for AFA to take over the Wounded Airmen Program from the Air Force, which provides assistance to wounded Air Force personnel as they return from war. Muellner also represented AFA on Capitol Hill, articulating the importance of air, space, and cyber power.

He established the George and Vicki Muellner Foundation Scholarship, which provides annual scholarships for deserving students in the Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings—AFA sister organizations for college students.

Among his many honors, Muellner received the Defense and Air Force Distinguished Service Medals and the Legion of Merit; he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering; a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots; a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, AFA’s Theodore von Karman award; the National Defense Industrial Association’s Bob Hope Distinguished Citizen Award; the Aerospace Test Pilot Walk of Honor; and Aviation Week’s Curtis Sword Award.

“We are saddened by the loss of a model airman, model leader, and model friend,” said retired Gen. Larry Spencer, president of the AFA. “George Muellner was a force for the Air Force, AFA, and our country. He will be missed.”