8 February 2012

Boeing 747-100SR, N911NA, NASA 911, Space Shuttle Carrier makes its last landing, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)
NASA 911, a modified Boeing 747-100SR transport, FAA registration N911NA, one of two NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, makes its final landing at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)

8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-100SR that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.

NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

NASA's fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911, (background). NASA)
NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911. (NASA)

The 747-100SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975. They had a 520,000 pound (235,868 kilogram) maximum takeoff weight and were powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan engines, producing 43,000 pounds of thrust. As the Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines which increased thrust to 50,000 pounds each.

NASA 911 is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.663 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).

While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695  kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).

A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)
A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)

NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 1973, 02:33:12 UTC

Skylab in Earth orbit, as seen by the departing Skylab 4 mission crew, 8 February 1974. (NASA)
Skylab in Earth orbit, as seen by the departing Skylab 4 mission crew, 8 February 1974. (NASA)

8 February 1973: At 02:33:12 UTC, the Skylab 4/Apollo command module undocked from the Skylab space station in Earth orbit, after 83 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes, 12 seconds. After several orbits, the Apollo capsule reentered the atmosphere and landed in the Pacific Ocean southwest of San Diego California, at 15:16:53 UTC. The crew was recovered by USS Okinawa (LPH-3), a helicopter carrier. Today, the Apollo capsule is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Skylab was an orbital laboratory built from a Saturn S-IVB third stage. It was launched from Cape Canaveral 14 May 1973 as part of a modified Saturn V rocket. The Skylab 4 crew was the third and final group of astronauts to live and the space station. Skylab’s orbit gradually decayed and it re-entered the atmosphere near Perth, Australia, 11 July 1979.

The Skylab 4 mission crew, left to right, Mission Commander Gerald P. Carr, Mission Scientist Edward G. Gibson and Pilot William R. Pogue. Pogue and Carr had joined NASA during the Apollo Program and were scheduled for Apollo 19, which was cancelled. This was the only space flight for these three astronauts. (NASA)
The Skylab 4 mission crew, left to right, Mission Commander Gerald P. Carr, Mission Scientist Edward G. Gibson and Pilot William R. Pogue. Pogue and Carr had joined NASA during the Apollo Program and were scheduled for Apollo 19, which was cancelled. This was the only space flight for these three astronauts. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 January–8 February 1971

A Lockheed P-3C Orion (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)
Lockheed P-3C-225-LO Orion, Bu. No. 162775, of Patrol Squadron Four (VP-4), similar to the record-setting airplane flown by CDR Lilienthal and his crew, 22 January–8 February 1971. (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)

22 January–8 February 1971: A Lockheed P-3C Orion antisubmarine warfare patrol bomber under the command of Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy, took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, and flew 11,036.47 kilometers (6,857.745 miles) non-stop to NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. The duration of the flight was 15 hours, 21 minutes.

This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for turboprop airplanes. (FAI Record File Number 8070) The Orion’s course deviated around foreign airspace so the actual distance flown was 7,010 miles (11,218.5 kilometers).

Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156521. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)
Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156512. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)

The record-setting airplane was a Lockheed P-3C-110-LO, Bu. No. 156512, c/n 5506, built in 1969 by the Lockheed California Company, Burbank, California, and assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River. The Orion was a standard production P-3C with no engine or fuel system modifications.

For the long distance flight the Orion carried a flight crew of seven: CDR Donald H. Lilienthal, Aircraft Commander; CAPT R.H. Ross, Pilot; LCDR F. Howard Stoodley, Pilot; LT R.T. Myers, Navigator; CDR J.E. Koehr, Meteorologist; ADJC K.D. Frantz, Flight Engineer; AEC H.A. Statti, Flight Engineer.

A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (U.S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (Lockheed Martin via Code One Magazine)

On 27 January, the same airplane set both FAI and National Aeronautic Association records for Speed Over a Straight Course of 15/25 Kilometers of 806.10 kilometers per hour (500.89 miles per hour) at NAS Patuxent River. (FAI Record File Number 8582)

The U.S. National Record still stands:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 19.47.13

On February 4, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California, CDR Lilienthal flew 156512 to a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 13,721.5 meters (45,018.0 feet). (FAI Record File Number 8476)

On 8 February 1971, still at Edwards AFB, CDR Lilienthal and 156512 set five more world records for heavy turboprop airplanes. The P-3C climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 2 minutes, 52 seconds; to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 5 minutes, 46 seconds; to 9,000 meters (29, 528 feet) in 10 minutes, 26 seconds; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 19 minutes, 42 seconds. (FAI Record File Number 3400–3403) The Orion continued climbing until it reached a world record altitude of 14,086.1 meters (46,214.2 feet). (FAI Record File Number 8055)

The Lockheed P-3 Orion was developed from the Model 188 Electra—a four-engine turboprop airliner which first flew in 1957—primarily as a long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft. The P-3 has been adapted to many other missions. The P-3C variant in U.S. Navy service is usually operated by a crew of 11.

The bomber is 116 feet, 10 inches (35.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 99 feet, 8 inches (30.378 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 8 inches (11.786 meters). It has a zero-fuel weight of 77,200 pounds (35,017 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 142,000 pounds (64,410 kilograms).

The P-3C is powered by four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines which produce 4,600 shaft horsepower, each, and drive four-bladed Hamilton-Standard 54H60-77 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 13 feet, 5¾ inches (4.109 meters) at 1,020 r.p.m.

The P-3C can remain airborne for 16 hours.

There is a wide variety of sensors board the P-3. Sonobuoys can be dropped from the belly. A Magnetic Anomaly Detector, the “MAD boom” is mounted at the tail of the aircraft.

The Orion caries no defensive weapons. It can carry bombs, depth charges, torpedoes, mines, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles, and nuclear weapons.

Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion escorts a nuclear-powered Soviet Victor-III attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)
Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C-205-LO Orion, Bu. No. 161339, escorts a Soviet Victor-III nuclear-powered attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)

More than 750 P-3 Orions and its variants were built by Lockheed and licensee Kawasaki Heavy Industries between 1961 and 1996. In addition to the U.S. Navy and various Federal government agencies, the Lockheed P-3 Orion remains in service worldwide with more than twenty countries.

Lockheed P-3C-110-LO Orion Bu. No. 156512, served as a test aircraft at Patuxent River until 15 July 1974. It was then assigned to VP-31 where it remained for over nine years, carrying the squadron identification marking RP and the numeral 9. It later served with VP-9, VP-46, VP-65, VP-16 and finally, VP-45. 156512 was placed in long-term storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1995, and was scrapped in 2004.

Commander Donald Herman Lilienthal was a 1955 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis Maryland. He served the Navy for twenty years as a test pilot and ASW aircraft pilot. For his record-setting flights in 1971, Lilienthal was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He passed away 21 August 2014 at the age of 83 years.

A Lockheed P-3B Orion, Bu. No. 153451, Patrol Squadron 17, off Ohau, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3B-90-LO Orion, Bu. No. 153451, of Patrol Squadron 17, off Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 1933

Boeing 247 NC13300 (Boeing)
Boeing 247 NC13300 (Boeing)

8 February 1933: Boeing test pilot Leslie R. (“Les”) Tower and United Air Lines Captain Louis C. Goldsmith made the first flight of the Boeing Model 247, NX13300, a twin-engine airline transport, at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. The first flight lasted 40 minutes and Tower was quite pleased with the airplane. He took it up a second time later in the day.

The Boeing Model 247 instrument panel used gyroscopic-stabilized instruments for instrument flight. (Unattributed)
The Boeing Model 247 instrument panel used gyroscopic-stabilized instruments for instrument flight. (Boeing)

The 247 is considered to be the first modern airliner because of its all-metal semi-monocoque construction, cantilevered wing and retractable landing gear. It was 50 mph faster than its contemporaries, and could climb on one engine with a full load.

The airplane was built at Boeing’s Oxbow factory on the Duwamish River, then barged to Boeing Field where it was assembled and tested. The 247 was originally named “Skymaster” but this was soon dropped. Two months after the first flight, the first production 247, NC13301, was placed in service with United Air Lines. It was the first of ten 247s bought by United.

United Air Lines' Boeing Model 247, NC13304, over Chicago, 1933. (Chris Baird Collection)
United Air Lines’ Boeing Model 247, NC13304, over Chicago, 1933. (Chris Baird Collection)
This postcard illustration shows the interior arrangement of a Boeing 247 airliner. (United Air Lines)
This postcard illustration shows the interior arrangement of a Boeing 247 airliner. (United Air Lines)

The Model 247 was operated by a pilot, co-pilot and a flight attendant and carried up to ten passengers. The airplane was 51 feet, 5 inches (15.672 meters) long, with a wingspan of 74 feet, 1 inch (22.581 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The empty weight was 8,921 pounds (4,046.5 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 16,805 pounds (7,622.6 kilograms).

The Duralamin skin panels were anodized, rather than painted, for corrosion protection. This saved weight, and resulted in the 247’s characteristic gray-green color.

The airliner was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liters) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S1H1-G Wasp 9-cylinder radial engines, rated at 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. at 6,200 feet (1,890 meters). They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction.

The Boeing 247 had a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour) with a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (302.6 kilometers per hour. It had a range of 745 miles (1,199 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 25,400 feet (7,742 meters).

A contemporary photo post card depicts United Air Lines stewardesses with a Boeing Model 247 airliner. The post mark on the reverse side is faintly visible.
A contemporary photo post card depicts ten United Air Lines stewardesses with a Boeing Model 247 airliner. The post mark on the reverse side is faintly visible. (United Air Lines)

75 Model 247s were built. 60 were bought by Boeing Air Transport.

[Note: the windshield was canted forward to prevent instrument panel lighting from reflecting into the cockpit at night. Unfortunately, ground lighting was reflected instead. This was soon changed to a rearward slant and resulted in a slight increase in speed.]

In this photograph of United Air Lines' Boeing 247 N13308, the airplane displays the Townend low-drag rings around the engines. Compare this to the full cowlings on the 247D in the image below.
In this photograph of United Air Lines’ Boeing 247 N13308, the airplane displays the original Townend low-drag rings around the engines. Compare this to the full cowlings on the 247D below. (Unattributed)
United Air Lines' Boeing 247D, NC13369. (Unattributed)
United Air Lines’ Boeing 247D, NC13369, with full cowlings and rearward sloped windshield. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 1918

U.S. Army Air Service national insignia, 1918–1919.
U.S. Army Air Service national insignia, 1918–1919.

8 February 1918: General Order 299 specified that all U.S. Army Air Service airplanes assigned to the AEF would be marked with a roundel (or cocarde) of three concentric circles. The outer circle was to be painted red and have a diameter approximately equal to the chord of the wing. A blue circle had a diameter two-thirds the length of the chord, and an inner white circle was one-third the chord in diameter. Two roundels were painted on the upper surface of the airplane’s top wing, just inside the aileron. Two more roundels were painted on the lower surface of the bottom wing.

In addition the airplane’s rudder was painted with three red, white and blue vertical stripes, with the red stripe adjacent to the rudder post and the blue stripe on the rudder’s trailing edge.

This national insignia was similar to the roundels used by France and England, though the order of the colors varied.

The red, blue and white roundel replaced the previous national insignia, which was a white 5-pointed star surrounded by a blue circle, with a red circle in the center. The star insignia had also been place in the same position on the wings, and the rudder also had three vertical stripes, but the order had been blue, white and red.

The new roundel was short-lived. It was replaced in 1919.

The 1918 Air Service roundels and vertical stripes on the rudder are visible on this SPAD XIII C.1, serial number 7689, Smith IV, which had just undergone restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Mark Avino, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1918 Air Service roundels and vertical stripes on the rudder are visible on this SPAD XIII C.1, serial number 7689, Smith IV, which had just undergone restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Mark Avino, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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