28 January 1986, 16:39:13 UTC, T + 1:13.162

Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L Flight Crew. Front Row, left to right, Captain Michael J. Smith, U.S. Navy; Lieutenant Colonel Francis R. Scobee, U.S. Air Force; Ronald Ervin McNair. Back Row, left to right: Lieutenant Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka, U.S. Air Force; Sharon Christa McAuliffe; Gregory Bruce Jarvis; Judith Arlene Resnick. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L Flight Crew. Front Row, left to right, Captain Michael J. Smith, U.S. Navy; Lieutenant Colonel Francis R. Scobee, U.S. Air Force; Ronald Ervin McNair. Back Row, left to right: Lieutenant Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka, U.S. Air Force; Sharon Christa McAuliffe; Gregory Bruce Jarvis; Judith Arlene Resnick. (NASA)

28 January 1986, 11:38:00 a.m. (EST): The Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Mission STS-51L.

73 seconds after liftoff, Challenger was accelerating through Mach 1.62 at approximately 46,000 feet (14,000 meters) when it was destroyed by the explosion of its liquid hydrogen fuel tank. The crew cabin with seven astronauts aboard broke away and continued upward for another 25 seconds to approximately 65,000 feet (20,000 meters), then began a long fall to the ocean below.

2 minutes 45 seconds after the explosion, the cabin impacted the surface of the Atlantic Ocean at 207 miles per hour (333.13 kilometers per hour). The entire crew was killed.

Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off at Pad 39B, 16:38:00 UTC, 28 January 1986. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off at Pad 39B, 16:38:00 UTC, 28 January 1986. (NASA)

I watched this terrible tragedy as it happened, live on television. I will never forget.

The explosion occurred 1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff. (NASA)
The explosion occurred 1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

28 January 1919–31 January 2002

Major Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Army Air Forces
Major Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Army Air Forces

28 January 1919: Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, the son of Polish immigrants, was born at Oil City, Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Gabreski was a fighter pilot assigned to Curtiss P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks in Hawaii when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked there on 7 December 1941.

Because of his Polish lineage and his fluency in the language, he requested a transfer to a Polish fighter squadron fighting with the Royal Air Force in Europe. His request was approved and he was transferred to No. 315 Squadron based at RAF Northolt, London, England, where he flew the Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk. IX.

Francis S. Gabreski in teh cocpit of his Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.IX, PK E, BS410, with No. 315 Squadron, Royal Air Force.
Captain Francis S. Gabreski, USAAF, in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.IX, PK E, BS410, with No. 315 Squadron, Royal Air Force, RAF Northolt, England, 1943.

As American involvement in the European Theater increased, “Gabby” was again transferred, this time to the 56th Fighter Group, U.S. 8th Air Force, and flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. He was promoted to the rank of major and commanded the 61st Fighter Squadron. By July 1944, Gabreski had shot down 28 German airplanes in aerial combat and destroyed another three on the ground, making him the leading American fighter ace up to that time.

Major Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, RAF Boxted, Essex, England, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, RAF Boxted, Essex, England, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Francis S. Gabreski, commanding 61st Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of his Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Francis S. Gabreski, commanding 61st Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of his Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Having completed his combat tour and waiting transport to the United States, on 20 July 1944 he decided to take “just one more” combat mission. As he made a low strafing run across an enemy airfield near Bassenheim, Germany, the tips of his propellers hit the ground, causing a severe vibration. He put his Thunderbolt down on its belly, climbed out and ran to avoid being captured. He was caught after evading the enemy for five days, and was held as a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft I until April 1945.

Two German officers stand on the wing of Colonel Gabreski's Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderboalt, 42-26418, after his belly landing near Bassenheim, Germany, 20 July 1944. (Luftwaffe)
Two German officers stand on the wing of Major Gabreski’s Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, after his belly landing near Bassenheim, Germany, 20 July 1944. (Luftwaffe)
Colonel Gabreski's P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, near bassenheim, Germany. (Luftwaffe)
Major Gabreski’s P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt, 42-26418, near Bassenheim, Germany. (Luftwaffe)
Colonel Gabreski in the cockpit of his North American F-86 Sabre. (U.S. Air force)
Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski in the cockpit of his North American F-86E Sabre, with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, ca. 1952. (U.S. Air Force)

In the Korean War he commanded the famous 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, South Korea. He shot down 6.5 MiG 15 fighters with his North American Aviation F-86E Sabre. He went on to commanded several other tactical fighter units. His final command was the 52nd Fighter Wing (Air Defense) based at Suffolk County Airport, New York, which was equipped with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptor. Colonel Gabreski retired from the Air Force 1 November 1967 after 27 years of service and 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed. At the time of his retirement, he had flown more combat missions than any other U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.

Colonel Gabreski with a North American F-100 Super Sabre, Okinawa, 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Gabreski with a North American F-100 Super Sabre, Okinawa, ca. 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

Gabby Gabreski and his wife, Kay, were married for 48 years. They had nine children. Two of their sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and became U.S. Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law, Lieutenant General Terry L. Gabreski, USAF, was the highest-ranking woman in the United States Air Force at the time of her retirement.

Colonel Gabreski died of a heart attack, 31 January 2002. He is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Long Island, New York.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Air Force, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, standing in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86E Sabre, Korea, ca. 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski, United States Air Force, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, standing in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86E Sabre, Korea, ca. 1952. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

27 January 1967, 23:31:21 UTC

The crew of Apollo 1. Left to right, Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. Grissom, United States Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. White II, United States Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, United States Navy. (NASA)
The crew of Apollo 1. Left to right, Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. Grissom, United States Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. White II, United States Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, United States Navy. (NASA)

27 January 1967: During a “plugs out” test of the Apollo 1 capsule, two weeks ahead of the scheduled launch of the AS-204 Saturn 1B—the first manned Apollo Program space flight—a fire broke out in the pressurized pure oxygen environment and very quickly involved the entire interior. The pressure rapidly built to 29 pounds per square inch (200 kPa) and 17 seconds later, at 23:31:21 UTC, the capsule ruptured. The three astronauts inside, Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. Grissom, United States Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Edward H, White II, United States Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, United States Navy, were killed.

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

27 January 1957

The last North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs in squadron service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, 27 January 1957. This airplane, F-51D-25-NA 44-72948, is on display at the WV ANG headquarters, Yeager Regional Airport, Charleston, WV. (U.S. Air Force)
The last North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs in squadron service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, 27 January 1957. This airplane, F-51D-25-NA 44-72948, is on display at the WV ANG headquarters, Yeager Regional Airport, Charleston, WV. (U.S. Air Force)

27 January 1957: The last North American Aviation F-51D Mustang fighters in operational service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, Martinsburg, West Virginia.

North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA 44-73574, 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA 44-73574, 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane in the photographs below, North American Aviation F-51D-30-NA 44-74936, was was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where it is on display. It is painted with the markings of another Mustang, P-51D-15-NA, 44-15174, Shimmy IV, of the 361st Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Group, which served in Italy during World War II. The actual Shimmy IV was lost over Austria, 9 December 1944. (The U.S. Air Force redesignated the P-51 to F-51 in 1948.)

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation fighter, with a total of 8,156 produced by North American at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. It was a single-seat, single engine fighter, powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63, either a V-1650-3 or V-1650-7. This was a 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam 60° V-12 engine, which produced 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton-Standard constant speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.40 meters).

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)

The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463.2 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,488.5 kilograms). Its maximum speed was 437 miles per hour (703.3 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the maximum range was 1,650 miles (2,655 kilometers).

Armorers carry six Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry six Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition was provided  for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pairs of guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing, in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes