Vincent (Vince) J, Wheelock grew up on an Iowa farm Northeast of Nevada one of eight children of Bernard and Mary Wheelock. His formal education began in a nearby one-room country schoolhouse that had eight grades. After his attending this school for four years, the school was closed and the children reassigned to larger city schools with the Wheelocks going to Fernald. While at Fernald, Vince lettered in basketball and baseball sports all four years during high school (Fernald was not large enough for a football team). Four other brothers and sisters also graduated from Fernald High School.
About the time of his high school graduation (1950), the Korean War broke out and shortly thereafter he and several of his schoolmates joined the Air Force. Jet engines were just developing and Vince was assigned as a jet engine propulsion technician. He served at several Air Force Bases stateside and a year in Korea (1952 – 1953) servicing and maintaining the jet engines on the F-80 Shooting Stars and the F-86 Sabre combat Jet aircraft. He was discharged as a Staff Sargent in 1954.
Following discharge from the Air Force, he attended Iowa State University and was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1958. Later on in 1997, the Iowa State Mechanical Engineering Department honored him with their “Professional Achievement Citation in Engineering” (PACE) award for his role in America’s Space Program.
After obtaining his degree, he joined the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation who was pioneering the development of Rocket Propulsion Systems for Ballistic and Space Launch Vehicles. North American Aviation had been working on Ballistic Missiles since the end of World War II building on the technology that Germany had developed in the V-2. The Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation was established in 1955 for developing and producing large rocket engines.
His initial propulsion technical Field Engineering assignments for Rocketdyne were at Edwards Rocket Base CA, Cape Canaveral FL. Vandenberg AFB CA, and the United Kingdom at Thor Intermediate Missile Royal Air Force (RAF) Bases. His initial major Leadership assignment for Rocketdyne was as the Field Operations Manager (1961 – 1964) processing Atlas Ballistic Missiles and Space Launch Vehicles propulsion systems at the General Dynamics Plant in San Diego, CA. At this facility, was the Atlas production and nearby was the Atlas vehicle captive hot fire test site. This period of time was during the Cold War when the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistics Missiles (ICBM) were being deployed throughout the United States, and the Mercury Atlas Space Launch Programs occurred. The Mercury Atlas program provided an opportunity for Vince to get to know many astronauts, like Wally Schirra as they participated in the processing of their Space Launch Vehicles before they were shipped to Florida for launch and their Earth Orbital Flights.
The next major leadership assignment was as the Rocketdyne Field Operations Manager (1964 – 1967) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Marshall Space Flight Center’s Operations in Huntsville ALA. This assignment was with Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team producing and testing the Saturn V First Stage with its five mighty Rocketdyne F-1 Engines, and for preparations for the Saturn V Apollo Program.. Associated with this assignment also was the leadership of the Rocketdyne propulsion altitude testing at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma Tennessee.
Vince participated in most large rocket engine programs including the Space Shuttle Main Engine and held many management positions at Rocketdyne in Canoga Park CA. He retired as the Director of Field Engineering & Logistics in 1996 after 38 years of formal employment.
His leadership assignments were supported by outstanding integrated teams of people with strong work ethics, a dedication to the cause of protecting America, and being number one in the Space and Rocketry Propulsion Field. These strong support teams were key to the success of the programs and were heralded by many leaders.
After his retirement, an additional 10 years of consulting and volunteering were contributed by him to Rocketdyne including assisting in construction of the Rocketdyne Leadership & Learning Center. The Center sat approximately 300 people theater style and provided additional display areas for Rocketdyne products and processes. Subsequent to completion of the Rocketdyne Leadership & Learning Center, it was used for large meetings and community affairs. One use of the Center was for Science Fairs conducted for local Middle School students for several years. Sufficient space existed to set up about nine Science Fair experiments staffed by Rocketdyne specialized employees including Vince.
He was a NASA Manned Flight Awareness Award Honoree on the 10th (1991) of the first Space Shuttle Flight. This honor was presented to him at the Smithsonian in Washington and reads “In recognition of your dedication and commitment to excellence and your achievements in support of the manned space program”.
Vince had supported John Glenn Earth-Orbiting Atlas Mercury Vehicle Flight in 1962 from the Atlas production site in San Diego and when John flew in space a second time on Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery in Oct/Nov 1998, Vince was interviewed by the Los Angeles News Channel 2 on the flights since he was familiar with both flights.
Vince and his wife attended several Astronaut honoree functions mostly at the request of Rocketdyne and they have several prized photos of these events of them with the astronauts.
In addition to the awards previously mentioned, he received the following awards: (1) The Rocketdyne President’s Award for “Outstanding Leadership and Efforts for the First Space Shuttle Orbiter (Columbia) Post-Landing Propulsion Operations” at Edwards Air Force Base, Ca. (1981), (2) The San Fernando Valley Engineers’ Council Distinguished Engineering Achievements Award for “Outstanding Contributions to Industry, Education, and Government and the Entire Engineering Community” (1994), (3) Several National Aeronautics and Space Administration Public Service Group Achievement Awards for significant contributions to Space Shuttle Main Engine Tasks
Vince and his family were invited by Rocketdyne as part of an honoree group to observe the last space shuttle launch (Atlantis - STS-135 on 07-08-11) at Kennedy Space Center. It was a successful launch and while there, Vince, son Kevin, daughter-in-law Donna, granddaughters Alyssa and Madison met and had pictures taken with Space Station Astronaut Doug Wheelock (no relative). During Doug and Vince’s discussions, Vince was talking “propulsion” with Doug and Doug interrupted and said “sorry Vince, I don’t understand you propulsion people, I’m a payloads guy”. On return to California, a PowerPoint presentation was prepared of the launch site activities and presented to the granddaughters classes at Hillcrest Christian School in California.
He maintained strong positions in community involvement, societies, and organizations over his career and in retirement such as (1) American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), (2) Air Force Association, (3) National Space Society, (4) North American Aviation Retirees Club, and (5) Valley Aerospace Retirees Club. Additionally Vince coached neighborhood Little League baseball (4 years) and basketball (3 years) Gail, Vince’s wife and a former Rocketdyne employee, created an outstanding technical library in their home that was used by many Space and Rocketry book writers. Vince made major contributions to an AIAA book that sold several thousand copies entitled “Rocketdyne: Powering Humans into Space.” Additionally, he contributed propulsion technical information to three other books that writers acknowledged in their book
He was fortunate to have a wife and family that understood Aerospace Careers and the industry’s extensive travel requirements and family relocations in this industry. Vince’s wife Gail and daughter Sheri are deceased and his son Kevin and family live nearby in California. Kevin and his wife Donna work in the Computer Systems and Communication Fields.
In conclusion, Vince’s leadership and technical contributions to America’s Rocketry Propulsion Programs during the Cold War and the Space Race assisted in the safety of America and in maintaining our strong worldwide technological position.