Who is the Test Pilot? Our founding winemaker, George Cooper – who enjoyed a long marriage with Louise Garrod! George’s NASA test pilot career included over 140 different aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotorcraft. Those adventures inspired our Test Pilot label, which you see on all our blended wines. Each different blend carries the name of a specific airplane George flew. That airplane is shown on the front label with a brief description of the flight test program on the back label, along with the ‘technical specs’ of that particular wine. As we say, “Test the wine. Taste the Difference.”
We currently produce 6 distinct Test Pilot wines for your enjoyment: 1 white wine blend and 5 red wine blends. Each Test Pilot label has the same components vintage to vintage. For example, our Test Pilot P-47 Thunderbolt is always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The percentages of each component may change, but the components themselves are constant. All are made from organically and sustainably grown estate grapes, aged 10 months in French oak, and produced in small lots – often 120 cases or less.
These are the Test Pilot wines we produce, their components, and the short story George wrote about his experience with the airplane (found on the back label):
P-61 Black Widow
The P-61 Black Widow is a white wine blend of Chardonnay and Viognier.
George’s story: In another approach to acquiring transonic aerodynamic data, I flew a P-61 to drop aerodynamic bodies at 43,000 feet over Edwards Air Force Base. The instrumented bodies would free fall through the transonic speed range, oscillate through a range of angles of attack and be recovered by air brakes and parachutes. The air-brake and parachute systems developed for these tests were subsequently used by various agencies for rocket and satellite payload recovery.
The F7U Cutlass is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
George’s story: Landing on an aircraft carrier’s deck is no mean feat. In the mid-1950s, I flew the F7U-3 Cutlass to determine the minimum acceptable approach speed for such landings. The Navy had asked Ames to undertake this research program, and the Cutlass was one of 10 planes that we used in simulated carrier approaches. We established each pilot’s preferred minimum approach speed, then documented the stability, control, and thrust response characteristics of the aircraft. The result contributed to safer carrier landings for the Navy’s early Top Guns.
The F6F Hellcat is a Right Bank Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
George’s story: Dihedral, the angle between an upwardly inclined aircraft wing and a horizontal line, affects how an airplane flies. In 1948, to learn how much dihedral a pilot would desire, accept, or tolerate, Ames designed variable stability controls: ailerons that respond to the sideslip caused by the rudder, in addition to the pilot’s normal aileron control. This F6F Hellcat was modified to become the first in-flight simulator, enabling us as test pilots to establish desirable handling qualities for future aircraft, including the B-57, B-58, and XF-104.
The F-104 Starfighter is a Côte-Rôtie-style co-fermentation (not a blend) of predominantly Syrah with a small percentage of Viognier.
George’s story: The F-104 is the first Mach 2 fighter, and the Air Force asked Ames to evaluate its handling qualities, especially the high approach speeds required for its low-aspect ratio wings. I picked up a new aircraft in Los Angeles to fly back to Ames. No check flights, just a supersonic climb to 30,000 feet cruise altitude – only to find it was time to descend. Quickest LA-SF flight I ever made!
F-86 Sabre Jet
The F-86 Sabre Jet is a Left Bank Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
George’s story: In 1949, Rudy Van Dyke and I began dives from 46,000 feet to test prolonged supersonic flight. Soon local newspapers reported mysterious explosions. One day Ames’ Director, Smitty DeFrance heard one and called Flight Operations. Yes, he learned, the F-86 was making a supersonic dive when the explosion occurred. Thus, Ames was the first to recognize the sonic boom, and when supersonic flight was measured in 30-second flights, Rudy and I had more than anyone.
The P-47 Thunderbolt is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
George’s story: I flew 81 missions in the P-47D Thunderbolt in WWII. At Ames, we flight-tested a P-47 with an experimental reversible-pitch propeller as a dive brake. At the end of one dive, the prop didn’t return to normal, and I prepared for an emergency landing in a hayfield with an over-revved engine, no throttle control, and no forward thrust. As I flared to land, the propeller snapped to normal, and I was able to climb out and return to Ames.