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First Name: Donald

Last Name: Kutyna

Birthplace: Chicago, IL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: J.

Date of Birth: 06 December 1933

Rank: General

Years Served: 1957-1992
Donald J. Kutyna

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1957

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Donald J. Kutyna

General, U.S. Air Force

Donald J. Kutyna was born on 6 December 1933 in Chicago, IL. His parents were of Polish origin. He attended the University of Iowa for two years and subsequently was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1957.

After completing pilot training at Vance AFB, OK, in September 1958, Kutyna was assigned to the 33rd Bombardment Squadron at March AFB, CA, serving as a B-47 Combat Crew Commander until June 1963. After graduating from the MA Institute of Technology in June 1965 with a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, he was assigned to the Aerospace Research Pilot School, Edwards AFB, CA, first as a student and then as a Staff Director, training test pilots and astronauts for U.S. aviation and space programs.

From December 1969 to January 1971, he served a combat tour of duty with the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, completing 120 combat missions in the F-105 tactical fighter. Upon his return from Southeast Asia, he was assigned to U.S. Air Force Headquarters, Washington, DC, as a Development Planner in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development. In June 1973, after a tour of duty with the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, he was assigned as Executive Officer to the Undersecretary of the Air Force.

In August 1975, Kutyna entered the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. After graduation in July 1976, he transferred to Electronic Systems Division, Hanscom AFB, MA, with duty as Assistant Deputy for International Programs. He then served as Program Manager for foreign military sales of the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and, later, became Assistant Program Director for the overall E-3A program. In June 1980, he was appointed Deputy for Surveillance and Control Systems, responsible for the development and acquisition of the sensors and command centers used today by NORAD and the U.S. Space Command in the fulfillment of their worldwide missions.

Kutyna became Deputy Commander for Space Launch and Control Systems at Space Division, Air Force Systems Command, Los Angeles Air Force Station, CA, in June 1982. In this position, he managed the Department of Defense space shuttle program, including the design and construction of the West Coast space shuttle launch site at Vandenberg AFB, CA; the acquisition of space shuttle upper stage boosters; and the operational aspects of launching military payloads on the shuttle.

Other responsibilities encompassed the development, acquisition and launch support of all Air Force expendable launch vehicles, including the Titan and Atlas space boosters and the Titan IV heavy lift launch vehicle, which provides a capability equivalent to the space shuttle. His programs for control of space missions encompassed the operations and upgrade of the Air Force satellite control network, and development of Air Force Space Command's Consolidated Space Operations Center, Falcon AFS in Colorado. In June 1984, Kutyna became Director of Space Systems and Command, Control and Communications, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Research, Development and Acquisition, at Air Force Headquarters.

Kutyna is perhaps most famous for his aid in several investigations of NASA launch failures, especially his membership on the Rogers Commission investigating the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He was particularly critical of NASA's decision to allow the shuttle to keep flying despite knowledge of the catastrophic O-ring flaw that ultimately led to the disaster. He likened this situation to an airline allowing a plane to fly despite evidence that one of its wings was about to fall off. While serving, he befriended fellow panelist Richard Feynman, who later described their partnership in his humorous memoir What Do You Care What Other People Think? The partnership of Kutyna and Feynman was critical in the discovery and publication of the cause of the Challenger disaster: Kutyna told Feynman about how he was repairing his car and discovered that some seals disintegrated due to low temperatures that morning. That inspired Feynman, who discovered the truth about O-ring weakness: they lack elasticity in sub-zero temperatures, such as those on the morning of the accident.

Kutyna returned to Los Angeles Air Force Station as Vice Commander of Space Division in June 1986, overseeing all space system acquisitions, with particular emphasis on programs associated with the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In November 1987, Kutyna became Commander of the Air Force Space Command, the newest major command in the Air Force, with headquarters at Peterson AFB. Kutyna's forces conducted missile warning, space surveillance and satellite control operations at 46 locations around the world.

On 1 April 1990, Kutyna was promoted to the four-star rank of General and assumed duties as Commander-in-Chief, North American Aerospace Defense Command (CINCNORAD) and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Space Command (USCINCSPACE). In 1992, a third command was added: Commander, Air Force Space Command (COMAFSPC).

General Kutyna retired from the Air Force on 30 June 1992. During his service, he became a Command Pilot with over 4,500 flying hours in 25 different fighters and bombers.

Medals and Awards

Defense Distinguished Service Medal

Air Force Distinguished Service Medal

Legion of Merit (2 Awards)

Distinguished Flying Cross (2 Awards)

Air Medal (9 Awards)

Air Force Commendation Medal (3 Awards)


Command Pilot Badge

Master Space and Missile Badge


He received the National Geographic Society's General Thomas D. White U.S. Air Force Space Trophy in June 1987. The award is given to the individual who has made the most outstanding contribution to the nation's progress in space.

Honoree ID: 764   Created by: MHOH




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