In the 1940s, one-hour flying lessons in San Antonio, Texas, cost $8. Frank Frazier, a teenager at the time, saved what he could, and whenever he managed to accumulate $4, took a half-hour lesson in a Cub airplane. He flew solo for the first time at age 16.
“I just wanted to be up in the air,” the Fredericka Manor resident said. He didn’t simply love flying, however — he also excelled at it.
Within 15 years of that first solo flight, he had served as a decorated Air Force pilot in the Korean War; set a record for flying 80 hours and 36 minutes nonstop in a jet; and was a pilot finalist for Project Mercury, the NASA program that sent the first Americans to space.
Frank didn’t end up as one of the Mercury 7 astronauts, but he continued flying, serving his country with distinction in the Vietnam War and as an Air Force flight engineer, test pilot and instructor.
Frank recalled the moment he fell for flying. At age six, he was working in the garden of his family’s Texas farm when an open-cockpit plane flew over. As he and the pilot waved excitedly at each other, “my future was set,” he said.
In school, Frank enjoyed mathematics and science, and graduated in 1951 from Texas A&M University (back then, it was called the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) with a degree in aeronautical engineering. All graduates were expected to serve in the military, and Frank “of course” chose the Air Force, he said.
Frank, who by that time had married his wife, Barbara, went to flight school, then served in the Korean War. He flew more than 60 missions in Korea as part of patrols to protect fighter-bombers from Russian MiG attacks. During one mission, he experienced engine failure and had to bail out in a “very chilly” Yellow Sea, where he was rescued. After the war, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and other honors.
He then served as a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, and as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where he and two others set the 80-plus hours continuous flight record.
“We flew in a kind of rectangular pattern around the United States,” he said, traveling 39,200 miles — the equivalent of 1.6 times around the world.
The Air Force took note of his accomplishments and asked him to be one of the pilots to be evaluated for Project Mercury.
Frank recalled the grueling tests he underwent to assess his readiness for space flight.
“They did all kinds of crazy things to test your mental and physical stamina,” he said. “They put us in a chamber about 30 feet below ground so we couldn’t hear, for 24 hours, by ourselves, in total darkness.” How did he make it through?
“I just did it; I accepted it,” he said.
Although disappointed he wasn’t selected as one of the Mercury 7, Frank still helped the U.S. with its space mission, teaching at the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB before returning to war, this time in Vietnam.
Frank said he flew “low-level missions” — meaning low to the ground — in Vietnam. “In the dark of night, we were intercepting trucks bringing supplies down to the North Korean border,” he said. “We only flew 150 feet above ground to detect convoys, then we had to pull up to a higher altitude so that our own bombs wouldn’t blow us out of sky.”
In 2021, Texas A&M’s Engineering Department profiled Frank as a “Living Legacy,” producing a story and video about his life. Frank is proud of his education, career and military service, but doesn’t dwell too much on his achievements. The most difficult part of being in Korea and Vietnam, he said, was being away from his wife and kids. As much as he loved to fly, his family was always most important to him. He and Barbara went on to have seven children, and he retired from the Air Force after 21 years “to spend more time at home with my family,” he said. The couple were married 67 years before Barbara passed away from cancer.
At Fredericka Manor, Frank has taken up a new hobby: playing the ukulele (he learned to play while living in Hawaii at one point during retirement; he took up surfing at the same time). He’s also turned to spirituality.
“I’ve learned about oneness, how to respect yourself and other people, love yourself and other people, and not to compete in life, but to cooperate in life,” he said.
He still loves planes, but has found another way to elevate his soul.
About Fredericka Manor
Fredericka Manor Chula Vista is a multi-level retirement community known for its lush and mature landscape and manicured lawns, charming streets, lovely cottages and a warm small-town feel. Fredericka Manor has been an iconic part of Chula Vista for generations.