Mark P. Graziano
Major, United States Air Force
crash claims life of Edwards pilot
A T-38 Talon, like the one landing on an Edwards Air Force Base, California, runway April 10, crashed May 21,2009 about nine miles north of the base. The aircraft and its two-person crew were on a flight-test training mission at the time of the accident. The T-38 is a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer used in a variety of roles because of its design, economy of operations, ease of maintenance and high performance.
From 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs:
22 May 2009: EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, California - An Air Force test pilot student died yesterday when his jet trainer crashed north of Edwards Air Force Base.
Captain Mark P. Graziano, 30, died when the T-38A he was piloting crashed approximately nine miles north of Edwards AFB, near California City. Graziano was assigned to the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards, where he was undergoing training to become a test pilot.
His crew member, Major Lee V. Jones, was injured upon ejecting from the aircraft. He was transported to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, where he is listed in stable condition. Jones, a senior navigator, is also assigned to the USAF Test Pilot School, undergoing test navigator training.
"We are shocked and saddened by this sudden loss and our hearts and prayers go out to Mark's family and loved ones," said Colonel Terry M. Luallen, commandant of the USAF Test Pilot School. "We are doing all we can to support Mark's family during this trying time."
At approximately 1:15 p.m. yesterday Edwards AFB was notified that a TPS aircraft had gone down near California City. Emergency responders from the base and Kern County arrived at the scene where they found Jones near the crash site, and transported him to Kern Medical Center. Graziano was pronounced dead at the scene.
A board of officers is investigating the accident.
Base officials stress that the accident site may contain hazardous materials
released from the crash, and ask that individuals refrain from entering
the area until the investigation has been completed, and debris removed
from the scene.
From his childhood days launching model planes at the Bethpage State Park Polo Grounds to his distinguished Air Force career, Captain Mark P. Graziano lived his life aiming for the skies until he died during a training mission over the Mojave Desert.
Graziano, 30, a Wantagh, New York, native, was piloting a T-38A supersonic jet Thursday with senior navigator Major Lee V. Jones when the aircraft went down near California City, California, about nine miles north of Edwards Air Force Base, according to his family and the base.
Jones ejected from the jet and was in stable condition at a Bakersfield hospital, a statement from the base said.
Graziano's family in Wantagh took some measure of comfort in that he died pursuing his passion.
A board of officers is investigating the accident, the Air Force said. Jones and Graziano were assigned to the base's Test Pilot School. Graziano was training to be a test pilot, and Jones was training to become a test navigator.
Representative Peter King (R-Seaford), who nominated Graziano as a high schooler for the Naval Academy, although he did not attend, said he was saddened by the death.
"Coming just before Memorial Day weekend, it's a vivid reminder how much we owe the men and women of the military who are putting their lives on the line, whether it's in Iraq or Afghanistan or over a desert in the United States," he said.
As a student at Wantagh High School, Graziano was an academic standout. In his senior year, he designed an electric car so well that it became the prototype for a kit sold in hobby stores, said his mother, Helen Graziano, 56, a legal secretary. He also volunteered at the Cradle of Aviation Museum.
His academic record and gift for engineering and mechanics earned him a nomination from then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering in 2000.
Graziano also earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering last year from the University of Idaho - a degree he pursued through online classes while he was serving in the Air Force.
He flew KC-135 refueler planes during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and also flew U-2 spy planes in overseas missions before starting test pilot school in January.
He remained modest about his many achievements and accolades, his mother said.
"Mark was a very low-key guy, and he didn't want to brag about his accomplishments," she said.
The electric car was but one of Graziano's many projects. He was constantly tinkering in his garage workshop building furniture, metalworks and gizmos out of the assortment of "junk" his family said he hoarded.
His father fondly recalled notable projects, including "the bed that never squeaks" - a solidly built oak bed frame with cable winches designed in a classic Mission style.
There was the foundry Graziano made out of a water heater cut in half - used to forge aluminum ingots in a cast-iron biscuit mold.
"He built a kegerator," Gary Graziano said, showing a picture of a refrigerator with beer taps emerging from the door.
"He made his own beer," Helen Graziano added.
"He made his own beer-making equipment," Gary Graziano replied.
But he was a flyboy first and foremost. Graziano had always loved airplanes as a child, and when he became a pilot, he loved soaring through the skies even more.
"He would get so nervous about getting a desk job someday when all he wanted to do was fly," said Graziano's girlfriend, Katie Zlotek, 30, a pediatric nurse from New Hampshire who moved to San Diego last year to be closer to him.
"He was just fascinated with being up high, going fast, the mechanics of it all," said his younger brother Nicholas, 23.
To Gary Monti, Cradle's director of museum operations, there was never a doubt from the time he met Graziano as a teenager that aviation was "exactly what he wanted to do."
Graziano worked with veteran pilots to restore aircraft - from modern jets to planes made out of fabric and wood, he said. "The old guys who do this are really delighted when they see a young guy like this who was looking forward to a career in aviation and is so dedicated," Monti said.
Graziano's mother quoted World War II aviator John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s famous poem, "High Flight."
"He wanted to slip 'the surly bonds of earth,' " Helen Graziano said, and added later, "he lived a life in 30 years."
Funeral arrangements were pending, but the family plans to hold a wake at Chapey's Funeral Home in Bethpage and burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
NOTE: Mark P. Graziano was postmously promoted to Major, United States Air Force.
GRAZIANO, MARK PAUL
Posted: 24 May 2008 Updated: 7 July 2009