"I really think he was the most welcome baby in the world," says the woman who still calls her strapping only child Freddy.

Nora D. Gregory is flipping through scrapbooks. They contain All Things Freddy.

Freddy's second grade report card. The reply Sid Caesar once sent him, after Freddy had written to ask why Caesar's television show couldn't be on before his bedtime. Snapshots of Freddy with his aunts. Freddy with his cousins.

And Freddy with his father.

Francis A. Gregory died a year ago, but his wife and son agree that he was a profound influence on Frederick Drew Gregory.

Francis Gregory was an assistant superintendent of the D.C. public schools. He organized the first troop of Negro Boy Scoutts in Washington. He served on the D.C. Library Board. At one time, he was the second highest-ranking black in the Labor Department.

Francis Gregory followed in a longline of high-octane Gregories. His father, James Francis Gregory, was a Congregationalist minister and professor of English and drama at Miners Teachers College here. His grandfather, James Monroe Gregory, was professor of Latin and mathematics at Howard University, as well as dean of the college of liberal arts.

"But Daddy always had time for Freddy," said Mrs. Gregory, who was a D.C. elementary school teacher for 36 years. "They were together constantly."

Beside the family home at 4015 Massachusetts Ave. SE. Francis Gregory and his son built a basketball hoop and a garage. They fished on Chesapeake Bay. In later years, when Fred Gregorywas stationed even remotely enroute, his father would tailor his business travel schedule to include a visit.

But it was a family friend who pushed the aviation button in Fred Gregory.

"I remember it so clearly," said Gregory, as he leaned back on a sofa in the living room os his home in Hampton, Va. "I was six or seven. We went up in a little plane, maybe a Piper or something, just once around a little dirt field. But that's all it took."

Actually, Gregory's earliest ambition was "to go around the country in a truck with my dog. And I think that fits with my desire to be an astronaut. It was just a way to gather life.

"You know this thing about gusto? About how you only go around once? That's the way I feel. I'm an aggressive conservative. I'll drive 180 miles an hour - but I'll wear a seat belt."

As a young man, "I read everything about space I could get my hands on," Gregory recalled. "But I wasn't thinking of 2050 because I knew I wouldn't be around then. I wanted to fly, and to do it now."

At 12, Gregory was taken to Andrews Air Force Base one weekend to watch the Thunderbirds, a precision stunt-flying team. Thrilled, he asked an Air Force man standing nearby what he would have to do to fly one. Go to college and join the Air Force, he was told.

Anacostia High School was the means to both ends. There, Fred Gregory served as an officer in the cadet corps, a now-defunct military drill team, and compiled an A-minus average.

"He was kind of a quiet kid, but a very hard working kid," recalls Russell Lombardy, then a physical education teacher and now the principal. "The reason I remember him so well is that he missed only four days in three years, and he never took advantage of his father's position. He earned what he got."

Social life in those days tended to be organized, Gregory recalls. "There were a lot of debutante balls at the Shoreham, and I was an escort every year," he said. There was also fund-raising work through Jack and Jill, a club of teen-agers whose mothers were friends and longtime Washingtonians.

But there was also the field beside the Gregory's home, near the corner of Alabama Avenue. "Every night, it didn't matter what the weather was doing," Gregory and his friends would play baseball or football there. Two of his favorite "running mates" were Arrington Dixon, now a city councilman, and Paul Reason, now an aide to President Carter.

After graduating from Anacostia in 1958, Gregory tried Amherst College for a year and American College for a year and American University for another before being appointed to the Air Force Academy by Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Gregory graduated in 1964, and finished helicopter pilot training just as the huge U.S. troop buildup in Vietnam got under way in 1965.

In slightly more than a year in Vietnam, Gregory flew 593 helicopter missions, rescuing downed pilots or hemmed-in ground troops. He has spent most of the last decade as a test pilot. He is certified to fly 19 kinds of aircraft and says he is known as "the guy who will fly anything." For the last year, he has been assigned to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk.

Gregory's road to the space shuttle began two years ago in a somewhat odd way. He saw, and answered, an ad in an aviation magazine that asked for applicants.

"I had wanted to be an astronaut for a long time." he said. "I'm 37. If it wasn't now, it never would have been. In a way, it was really just a matter of 13 cents postage."

Gregory sent in two applications - one through Air Force chnnels and the other as a civilian applicant, a procedure allowed under service regulations. The Air Force did not endorse his application, but based on his civilian application, NASA picked him for a spot on the shuttle missions.

"I wasn't bitter. If I was the Air Force, I wouldn't have chosen me, either," Gregory said.

But he felt he had "credentials NASA should see." So he risked the damage to his carer that going outside channels might have posed. "I really thought I was going to get zapped," he said.

The space shuttle "doesn't have the aura of circus-ism that Mercury, Gemini and Apollo had," Gregory said. "I expect it, and I think NASA expects it, to become very routine."

But, says Gregory, "I'm sky high about it."