Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America
John Shipley, Army Aviation, Integration Director
John Lincoln Shipley retired in January 2019 as the Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) Director of Special Programs (Aviation) and as the Executive Director of the command’s Aviation Integration Directorate (AID) after 65 years of government service, having served as the AID director since 1982 at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. He was an Emeritus Member of VFS, having joined the Society in 1969.
As the AID director, Shipley was responsible for the development, acquisition, modernization, fielding and sustainment of the Army’s Special Operations’ classified and unclassified aviation fleet. These low-density, high-demand classified and unclassified enablers provide the needed capability for Special Operations forces to find, fix and finish targets of national interest anywhere in the world under all conditions. He oversaw a team of nine program offices and managed a budget of more than $600M and more than 220 personnel. Shipley also served as the airworthiness release authority of the Army’s Special Operations Forces aviation assets, and was a member of the General Officer Steering Committee for all Army aviation.
Shipley was born in Perry, Kentucky, on March 4, 1936 and grew up in nearby Hyden, Kentucky. After graduating from Weldon High School in 1954, he enlisted in the Army, serving in the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions until 1956. After his enlistment, Shipley graduated from North Carolina State University in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, with a concentration in aerospace. In 1966, he finished his Master’s in mechanical engineering.
From 1960–67, Shipley served as a flight test engineer at the Flight Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland. From 1967–70, he worked as an aerospace engineer at the Army Aviation Materiel Laboratories at Fort Eustis, Virginia. From 1970–81, Shipley served as the chief of the Army Research Group’s Aerostructures Directorate at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. In 1981, he returned to Fort Eustis where he served as the Deputy Director of the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate. In 1982, Shipley took the helm as the director of the Special Operations Directorate and the Integrated Aviation Systems 21 Working Group, the predecessor organizations of what is now AID.
AID was established as a result of lessons learned from the failed Desert One mission in 1980 to rescue the Americans held hostage in Iran. The Department of Defense and Congress recognized that the success of highly complex missions in demanding environments required a group of well-trained and dedicated individuals supported by highly reliable and extremely capable aviation assets.
Shipley was appointed as a member of the Senior Executive Service in 1984, and in 1991, he assumed duties as the director of the Army Special Operations Directorate, concentrating his support to streamlining Army Special Operations Aviation (ARSOA) acquisition. In his additional capacity as the AMCOM Special Programs (Aviation) director, Shipley was responsible for the development, acquisition, modernization, fielding and sustainment of the US Army’s Special Operations classified and unclassified aviation fleet.
He helped write the requirements and oversee the design and procurement of a fleet of Special Operations Forces of Chinook, Black Hawk and Little Bird helicopters that are specialized for unique mission sets while also sharing commonalities that enable readiness, reduce sustainment costs and improve aircrew training. Shipley also led efforts to adapt new technologies into manned rotary-wing and unmanned aircraft systems, and to develop aviation survivability equipment.
In 2018, Shipley’s contributions to the Special Operations community were commemorated when the Aviation Materiel Management Center at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was named “Shipley Hall,” to honor his dedication and commitment to the modernization, readiness and capability of special operations aviation for the Army Special Operations Aviation Command.
Over the course of his career, Shipley received four Presidential Rank Awards, three meritorious and one distinguished, and a Department of the Army Superior Civilian Service Award. He also received the Order of St. Michael Award, both in bronze and gold, from the Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA), and the Joseph P. Cribbins award from the Association of the US Army (AUSA) Redstone-Huntsville Chapter.
Shipley was inducted in the Army Materiel Command Hall of Fame during his retirement ceremony at Joint Base Langley-Eustis on Jan. 31, 2019. After he retired, he was succeeded by the then-deputy director, Geoffrey Downer.
“Under his direct leadership, Mr. Shipley helped write the requirements and oversee the design and procurement of today’s fleet of Army Special Operations airframes,” AMCOM Commander Maj. Gen. Doug Gabram said at his retirement ceremony. “No other nation in the world can match the capability of the fleet he essentially built. Mr. Shipley has devoted his professional career to ensuring Special Operations aviators have the best aviation systems in support of those on the ground. We have this incredible fleet of aircraft because of his ability to foresee and articulate requirements. That fleet gives our Special Operations aviators a distinct advantage.”
One industry professional commented, “He was a GIANT, as a US government technical leader on the AH-64 and the UH-60 (with Charlie Crawford, Tom House, Dan Good, etc.), the Acquisition Executive for [the US Army Special Operations Command] USASOC, and a leader for advanced RDT&E… he would NEVER have accepted an article about him while he lived, as he believed the men and women who served, for whom he developed kit, were the only ones who deserved recognition.”
John Shipley, 85, passed away Oct. 7, 2021.
Society Update: Vertiflite November/December 2021