Anders was born in Hong Kong on October 17, 1933, the son of an American Naval officer on the Yangtze River Patrol. Upon graduation in 1955, as an electrical engineer from the United States Naval Academy, Anders was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, earning his pilot’s wings in 1956. As an Air Force pilot he served in all-weather fighter interceptor squadrons in California and in Iceland, where he participated in early intercepts of Soviet heavy bombers who were then challenging America’s air defense borders.
In 1958 he entered the graduate studies program at the USAF Institute of Technology, specializing in nuclear engineering while also taking a night school course in aeronautical engineering from Ohio State University. He graduated with honors from AFIT with honors in 1962 and was assigned to radiation shielding projects at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In addition he served as a part time instrument and proficiency instructor pilot in jet aircraft.
In late 1963, Anders was among just 14 men chosen by NASA from a pool of thousands of applicants for the astronaut corps. After helicopter training and then serving as backup copilot for the Gemini 11 mission, he was one of the first astronauts to fly the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle. He was Lunar Module Pilot on the December, 1968 Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission, the first manned flight on the giant Saturn V rocket and mankind’s first flight away from the earth to another body in the solar system. During that Christmastime mission, the Apollo 8 crew drew the attention of those on earth by reading the first several verses from the Book of Genesis in a special Christmas Eve broadcast transmitted live from over 240,000 miles in space. It was while in lunar orbit that Anders, deviating from the scheduled flight plan, captured the famous ‘Earthrise’ photograph which has been selected for the December 1999 covers of Time, Life, and American Photography editions honoring the most significant images of the twentieth century.
After Apollo 8′s successful return, Anders was named as backup Command Module Pilot for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission. He was then appointed by the President to be the Executive Secretary of the Aeronautics & Space Council, a cabinet-level group chaired by the Vice President, where Anders worked to increase national support for aeronautics R & D and help lay out plans for the post-Apollo space programs.
In 1973, the President appointed Anders to the Atomic Energy Commission, where he was made commissioner responsible for all civilian and military nuclear power R & D. With the breakup of the AEC, he was made the first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Following that he was appointed the U.S. Ambassador to Norway. During his time in the Civil Service, Anders served pro-bono as an Air Force reservist and remained on active flight status in NASA T-38 aircraft and Army helicopters, retiring from the Reserves as a Major General in 1988.
After his departure from Norway and retirement from the Civil Service in 1977, Anders was made a Vice President of the General Electric Company and General Manager of the Nuclear Energy Products Division and later the Aircraft Equipment Division. In 1984 he accepted a position as Executive Vice President for Operations at Textron Corporation where he resumed his active helicopter flying with their Bell Helicopter subsidiary.
In 1990 Anders joined the General Dynamics Corporation where, as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, he led the company’s dramatic turnaround at the end of the Cold War. For this he was awarded National Security Industrial Association’s ‘CEO of the Year’ award. Even while serving as Chairman and CEO, Anders continued his active flying as a part-time test pilot for General Dynamics’ F16 night attack systems. While he was Chairman, the corporate board members established the ‘Anders Chair’ at the US Air Force Academy for education on the economics of the defense industrial base.
Anders retired from General Dynamics in 1993 and moved with his wife to their present home on Orcas Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. He has established the philanthropic Anders Foundation supporting educational and environmental concerns and the Heritage Flight Museum dedicated to collecting and flying vintage ‘warbirds’.
Over his distinguished career Anders was the co-holder of several world flight records and has received numerous awards including the USAF, NASA, and AEC’s Distinguished Service Medals. He is a recipient of the Collier Trophy, the Harmon Trophy, the Goddard Trophy, the Gen. Thomas D. White Trophy, the American Astronautical Society’s Flight Achievement Award, the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for exploration, and several honorary doctorate degrees. He was chosen to be Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in 1968 along with his Apollo 8 crewmates. In 2000 he was selected as one of the U.S. Naval Academy’s first six Distinguished Graduates. In July of 2004, Anders was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio
He is a trustee of the Battelle Memorial Institute and U.S. Naval Academy Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Anders, who has over 8000 hours of flying time in fighter-type aircraft and helicopters, is still logging 300-400 hours per year as an FAA commercial pilot with single and multi engine land and sea, helicopter and instrument ratings and has recently earned his glider rating. He raced his P51 Mustang (‘Val Halla’) and his F8F Bearcat (‘Wampus Cat’) in the Reno National Championship Air Races and flies them in air show formation passes with USAF (A10, F16, F15) and USN (F18) fighters in their ‘Heritage Flight’ and ‘Legacy Flight’ shows.
Anders and his wife Valerie have six grown children, two of them flying warbirds in formation on their dad’s wing. Anders’ hobbies: flying, and teaching others about flying and aviation history.
Bill was honored at the 2009 Legends of Aviation event in Hollywood (often called the ‘Academy Awards of Aviation’). Inventive Productions produced the following short movie about Bill, which was played at the event.