6 March 1931

Ruth Nichols (1901–1960)
Ruth Rowland Nichols (1901–1960)

6 March 1931: Ruth Rowland Nichols set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record of 28,743.44 feet (8,761 meters) at Jersey City Airport, New Jersey.

Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Vega 5a, NR496M, owned by Powell Crosley, Jr., and named The New Cincinnati. Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5a is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms). The airplane was powered by a 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.02 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney Wasp R-1340B 9-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 420 horsepower 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level.

FAI Record File Num #12228 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C (Aviation with engine)
Category: Feminine
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 8 761 m
Date: 1931-03-06
Course/Location: Jersey City Airport, NJ (USA)
Claimant Ruth Nichols (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed Vega
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp
Images:

Ruth Nichols with man holding barograph after setting FAI World Altitude Record. (FAI)
Ruth Nichols with man holding barograph after setting FAI World Altitude Record. (FAI)

“Ruth Nichols was the only woman to hold simultaneously the women’s world speed, altitude, and distance records for heavy landplanes. She soloed in a flying boat and received her pilot’s license after graduating from Wellesley College in 1924, becoming the first woman in New York to do so. Defying her parents wishes to follow the proper life of a young woman, in January 1928 she flew nonstop from New York City to Miami with Harry Rogers in a Fairchild FC-2. The publicity stunt brought Nichols fame as “The Flying Debutante” and provided headlines for Rogers’ airline too. Sherman Fairchild took note and hired Nichols as a northeast sales manager for Fairchild Aircraft and Engine Corporation. She helped to found the Long Island Aviation Country Club, an exclusive flying club and participated in the 19,312-meter (12,000-mile) Sportsman Air Tour to promote the establishment of clubs around the country. She was also a founder of Sportsman Pilot magazine. Nichols set several women’s records in 1931, among them a speed record of 339.0952 kph (210.704 mph), an altitude record of 8,760 meters (28,743 feet), and a nonstop distance record of 3182.638 kilometers (1,977.6 miles). Her hopes to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean were dashed by two crashes of a Lockheed Vega in 1931, in which she was severely injured, and again in 1932. In 1940, Nichols founded Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for disaster relief that quickly became an adjunct relief service of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) during World War II. Nichols became a lieutenant colonel in the CAP. After the war she organized a mission in support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and became an advisor to the CAP on air ambulance missions. In 1958, she flew a Delta Dagger at 1,609 kph (1,000 mph) at an altitude of 15,544 meters (51,000 feet). A Hamilton variable pitch propeller (which allowed a pilot to select a climb or cruise position for the blades), from her Lockheed Vega is displayed in the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Nichols’ autobiography is titled Wings for Life.”

Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Women In Aviation and Space History, The Golden Age of Flight.

Ruth Nichols with her Lockheed Vega. Her records are painted on the engine cowling. (FAI)
Ruth Nichols with her Lockheed Model 5a Vega. Her records are painted on the engine cowling. (FAI)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

5 March 1966

British Overseas Airways Corporation's Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFE. (BOAC)
British Overseas Airways Corporation’s Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFE. (British Airways)

5 March 1966: British Overseas Airways Corporation Speedbird 911, an around-the-world flight, departed Tokyo-Haneda Airport (HND) at 1:58 p.m., enroute Hong Kong-Kai Tak (HKG), with 113 passengers and 11 crew members. The airliner was a Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, serial number 17706, with British registration G-APFE. It was nearly six years old, having been delivered 29 April 1960, and had 19,523 hours on the airframe.

Shortly before takeoff, the flight crew requested a change from an IFR flight plan to VFR, with a course that would take the airliner near Mount Fujiyama. The 707 climbed to an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,875 meters) as it approached the mountain from the southwest. The weather was very clear. A weather station on Mount Fuji recorded wind speeds of 60-70 knots (111–130 kilometers per hour).

Speedbird 911, Boeing 707 G-APFE, in a flat spin. The tail section and engines are missing, the right wing is broken and the airplane is trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks.
Speedbird 911, Boeing 707 G-APFE, in a flat spin. The tail section and engines are missing, the right wing is broken and the airplane is trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. (JSDF)

Flying upwind toward Fujiyama at 320–370 knots (592–685 kilometers per hour), Speedbird 911 encountered severe Clear Air Turbulence that resulted in a catastrophic structural failure of the airframe. The vertical fin attachment failed and as it fell away, struck the left horizontal stabilizer, breaking it off. Next, the ventral fin and all four engine pylons failed due to extreme side loads. The 707 went in to a flat spin, trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. The entire tail section broke away, the right wing failed, and the nose section came off.

The 707 left a debris field  that was 10 miles (16 kilometers) long. Speedbird 911 crashed in a forest on the lower flanks of Mount Fujiyama at about the 3,500 foot (1,066 meter) level. The forward section crashed about 1,000 feet (300 meters) away from the main wreckage. All 124 persons aboard were killed.

Disintegrating Speedbird 911 trails fuel vapor as it falls toward Mount Fujiyama, 5 March 1966.
Disintegrating Speedbird 911 trails fuel vapor as it falls toward Mount Fujiyama, 5 March 1966. (JSDF)

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The aircraft suddenly encountered abnormally severe turbulence over Gotemba City which imposed a gust load considerably in excess of the design limit.”

The accident was photographed by the Japanese Self Defense Forces from the East Fuji Maneuver Area, located in the foothills of the volcano. A passenger aboard Speedbird 911 had been filming with an 8 mm movie camera. The camera and film were recovered from the wreckage and the film was developed as part of the investigation. The film showed that the aircraft had experienced severe turbulence immediately before the accident.

A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was sent to look for the accident site. When it approached Mount Fujiyama, it also encountered severe turbulence, to the point that the pilot feared the small fighter would break up in flight. After returning to base, the A-4 was grounded for inspection. Its accelerometer indicated that it had experienced acceleration forces ranging from +9 Gs to -4 Gs.

Mount Fujiyama, an active stratovolcano, i steh tallest mountain in Japan, at 12,389 feet (3,776.24 meters). It i sapproximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo on the island of Hinshu.
Mount Fujiyama, an active stratovolcano, is the tallest mountain in Japan, at 12,389 feet (3,776.24 meters). It is approximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo on the island of Honshu. (Alpsdake)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

5 March 1962

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458, Cowtown Hustler, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458, Cowtown Hustler, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

5 March 1962: Operation Heat Rise: Two Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bombers from the 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bombardment Wing, Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, took off at sunrise and headed west to Los Angeles, California. Off the Pacific coast they refueled from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, then headed east at maximum speed. They were to enter a radar starting gate at Los Angeles, but the radar did not pick them up so they returned to the tanker, topped off the fuel tanks again, then proceeded east once again. This time their entry was visually confirmed.

The crew of Cowtown Hustler checks the weather and files their flight plan at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, before taking off on Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
The crew of Cowtown Hustler checks the weather and files their flight plan at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, before taking off on Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. From Center, right, 1st Lieutenant John T. Walton, Captain Robert G. Sowers and Captain Robert MacDonald. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Both B-58s had been assigned a block altitude of Flight Level 250 to Flight Level 500 (between 25,000 and 50,000 feet (7,620 to 15,240 meters) by the FAA and all other aircraft were cleared from those altitudes along the course. The flight outbound from Los Angeles was at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) at speeds above Mach 2.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2485 in flight. (General Dynamics)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2485 in flight. (General Dynamics)

Under normal conditions, the maximum speed of the B-58 was limited to a skin temperature of 115 °C., to prevent the aluminum honeycomb skin panels from delaminating. For this speed run, Convair engineers had authorized a temperature of 125 °C., which would allow the two bombers to exceed 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour). Sensors were placed in the skin to monitor the temperature rise (which gave the operation is name: “Heat Rise”).

The first B-58, call sign “Tall Man Five Five,” had a problem with the navigation radar and had some difficulty locating their tanker, but finally were able to. The B-58s descended to 25,000 feet over Kansas for the third refueling and over a 21-minute period, took on 85,000 gallons (321,760 liters) of fuel, climbed back to 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) then continued on to New York.

One of the two B-58 bombers refuels from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker over Kansas during Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
One of the two B-58 bombers refuels from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker over Kansas during Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The Cowtown Hustler crossed the radar gate at New York with an elapsed time of 2:00:58.71 for the West-to-East flight, averaging 1,214.65 miles per hour (1,954.79 kilometers per hour). The second B-58, Tall Man Five Six, was one minute behind.

Passing New York, the two B-58 Hustlers proceeded over the Atlantic Ocean and rendezvoused with tankers for a fourth aerial refueling, then headed back west to Los Angeles. Shortly after passing New York, Tall Man Five Six developed mechanical troubles and had to withdraw from the round-trip record attempt.

Once again over Kansas, Cowtown Hustler refueled for a fourth time then continued back to Los Angeles. The East-to-West leg from New York to Los Angeles was completed in an elapsed time of 2:15:50.08, averaging 1,081.81 miles per hour (1,741 kilometers per hour).

General Thomas Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, congratulates Captain Rober G. Swoers and his crew after Operation Heat Rise.
General Thomas S. Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, congratulates Captain Robert G. Sowers and his crew at Los Angeles Airport after Operation Heat Rise. The three airmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Power. John T. Walton is wearing his new captain’s bars.

The total elapsed time, Los Angeles–New York–Los Angeles, was 4 hours, 41 minutes, 14.98 seconds (4:41:14.98)  for an average speed of 1,044.97 miles per hour (1,681.71 kilometers per hour) The crew and the airplane established three National Aeronautic Association speed records for Speed Over A Recognized Course. At Los Angeles the crew, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Pilot, Captain Robert MacDonald, Navigator, and Captain John T. Walton, were congratulated by General Thomas S. Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, and each airman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. For the eastbound transcontinental flight, the crew won the Bendix Trophy, and for “the most meritorious flight of the year,” they were also awarded the MacKay Trophy. Their records still stand.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.33.18

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.34.10Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.34.37Reportedly, the U.S. Air Force received more than 10,000 damage claims for windows that were broken by the sonic booms created by the two B-58 Hustlers as they flew across the country.

Today, the record-setting, trophy-winning airplane, Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2458, the Cowtown Hustler, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Bendix and macKay Trophy-winning flight crew of Operation Heat Rise, left to right, Captain Robert G. Sower, pilot; Captain Robert MacDonald, navigator; First Lieutenent John Walton, Defense Systems. behind them is another B-58A, 59-2447.(U.S. Air Force)
The Bendix and Mackay Trophy-winning flight crew of Operation Heat Rise, left to right, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Pilot; Captain Robert MacDonald, Navigator; First Lieutenent John Walton, Defense Systems Operator. Behind them is another B-58A, 59-2447. Rapid Rabbit, flown by another crew, was destroyed 15 February 1962, three weeks before Operation Heat Rise. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
The crew of Cowtown Hustler is presented the Bendix Trophy by A.P. Fontaine of the Bendix Corporation. Left to right, Sowers, MacDonald, Walton, Fontaine and Crew Chief, Master Sergeant Cockrell.
The crew of Cowtown Hustler is presented the Bendix Trophy by A.P. Fontaine, Director of Engineering, and later CEO, of the Bendix Corporation. Left to right, Captain Robert MacDonald, Captain John T. Walton, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Mr. Fontaine and 458’s Crew Chief, Master Sergeant Cockrell.

The 19 minute, 39 second video below is a General Dynamics informational film about Operation Heat Rise. This video clip is longer than the time it took Cowtown Hustler to fly from Los Angeles, California to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

5 March 1936

Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers in the cockpit of K5054, the first prototype Supermarine Spitfire, 5 March 1936. (BBC)
Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers in the cockpit of K5054, the first prototype Supermarine Spitfire, 5 March 1936. (BBC)

5 March 1936: Vickers Aviation Ltd. chief test pilot, Captain Joseph (“Mutt”) Summers, CBE, made the first flight of the prototype of the legendary Supermarine Spitfire, K5054, at Eastleigh Aerodrome, Southampton, England. Landing after only 8 minutes, he said, “Don’t change a thing!”

Prototype Supermarine Spitfire K5054, first flight, 5 March 1936
Prototype Supermarine Spitfire K5054, first flight, 5 March 1936. (RAF Museum)

The Vickers-Supermarine Type 300 was a prototype single-seat, single-engine interceptor. The airplane was designed by Reginald J. Mitchell and built at the Supermarine Aviation Works, Southampton. It was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long, with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). Its empty weight was 4,082 pounds (1,852 kilograms) and loaded weight was 5,359 pounds (2,431 kilograms).

Left profile of Vickers Supermarine Type 300 K5054.
Left profile of Vickers Supermarine Type 300 K5054.

K5054 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04 liter) Rolls Royce Merlin C single overhead camshaft 60° V-12 engine, serial number C9, which produced 950 horsepower at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). The engine turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden Watts air screw.

The Type 300 had a maximum speed of 349 miles per hour (562 kilometers per hour) at 16,800 feet (5,120 meters). It could reach 15,000 feet (4,571 meters) in 5 minutes, 52 seconds. The prototype had a service ceiling of 35,400 feet (10,790 meters).

Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

4 March 1954

Legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson shakes hands with test pilot Tony LeVier after the first flight of the XF-104 at Edwaards Air Force Base. (Lockheed via Mühlböck collection)
Legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson shakes hands with test pilot Tony LeVier after the first flight of the XF-104 at Edwards Air Force Base. (Lockheed via Mühlböck collection)

4 March 1954: Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. LeVier takes the prototype XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7786, for its first flight at Edwards AFB. The airplane’s landing gear remained extended and the duration of the flight was about twenty minutes.

Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson, the Starfighter was a Mach 2+ interceptor and was known as “the missile with a man in it.”

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 rolling out on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. This photograph shows how short the XF-104 was in comparison to the production F-104A. Because of the underpowered J65 engine, there are no shock cones in the engine inlets. (U.S. Air Force)

Tony LeVier was a friend of my mother’s family and a frequent visitor to their home in Whittier, California.

Lockheed test pilot Anthony William "Tony" LeVier, with the first prototype Lockheed XF-104, 53-7786, at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed test pilot Anthony William “Tony” LeVier, with the first prototype Lockheed XF-104, 53-7786, at Edwards AFB. LeVier is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with K-1 helmet. (U.S. Air Force)

There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptors. The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).

The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire afterburning turbojet engine. The J65 produced 7,800 pounds of thrust, and 10,300 pounds with afterburner.

The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters).

XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes