31 August 1986

Aeroméxico's McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED, "Hermosillo". Photograph © Bob Garrard, used with  permission.
Aeroméxico’s McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED, “Hermosillo”. Photograph © Bob Garrard, used with permission.
Aeroméxico Flight 498 inverted after mid-air collision over Cerritos, California, 31 August 1986. (NTSB)
Aeroméxico Flight 498 inverted after mid-air collision over Cerritos, California, 31 August 1986. (NTSB)

31 August 1986: A Piper Archer PA-28-181 single-engine, four-place light airplane, FAA registration N4891F, departed Zamperini Field (TOA), Torrance, California and began to climb to the east, enroute to Big Bear City Airport (L35), high in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. A pilot and two passengers were aboard. Without authorization from Air Traffic Control, the pilot entered a segment of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area.

Aeroméxico Flight 498 was a chartered McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, XA-JED, named Hermosillo. It was descending into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on a flight from Mexico City. Aboard were 6 crew members and 58 passengers.

At 11:52:09 a.m., the Piper collided with the left side of the DC-9 at an altitude of 6,650 feet (2,027 meters), damaging the horizontal stabilizer, vertical fin and right wing. All three persons aboard the light airplane were decapitated. The airplane was heavily damaged, and with no one alive to fly it, crashed on the playground of Cerritos Elementary School.

Piper Archer PA-28-121 N4891F wreckage, 31 August 1981. (Thomas Kelsey, Los Angeles Times)
Piper Archer PA-28-181 N4891F wreckage at Cerritos Elementary School, 31 August 1986. (Thomas Kelsey, Los Angeles Times)

The cockpit voice recorder picked up the DC-9 captain’s exclamation, “Oh, this can’t be!” The Aeroméxico pilots had no way to control their damaged DC-9. It rolled inverted and, on fire, crashed into a residential neighborhood.

All three persons on board the PA-28, all 64 on the DC-9, and another 15 on the ground were killed. Another eight persons on the ground were injured. Five homes were destroyed and another ten were damaged.

The devastated neighborhood in Cerritos where Flight 498 crashed, 31 August 1986. (Paul Chin/Herald-Examiner/L.A. Public Library Photo Collection)
The devastated neighborhood in Cerritos where Flight 498 crashed, 31 August 1986. (Paul Chin/Herald-Examiner/L.A. Public Library Photo Collection)
Scene of the crash of the Aeroméxico Flight 498, 31 August 1968. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times)
Scene of the crash of the Aeroméxico Flight 498, 31 August 1968. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 August 1984

Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off from LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 12:41:50 UTC, 30 August 1984. (NASA)

30 August 1984: At 8:41 a.m., EDT (12:41:50 UTC), the Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lifted off from Launch Complex 39A on its first flight into space. This was the fourth attempt to launch Discovery on Mission STS-41-D. The purpose of the mission was to place three communications satellites into orbit, and to deploy an experimental solar panel array. Various other experiments were also carried out.

The Mission Commander was Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr., making his second space flight. Shuttle Pilot Michael L. Coats was on his first. Three Mission Specialists, Richard M. Mullane, Steven A. Hawley, Judith A. Resnick, and Payload Specialist Charles D. Walker, were all on their first space flight.

A highlight of this mission was the onboard filming by the crew of footage for the IMAX film, “The Dream Is Alive”.

Discovery touched down at Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 6:37 a.m., PDT (13:37:54 UTC), completing its first flight into space in 6 days, 56 minutes, 4 seconds.

Discovery is the space shuttle fleet leader, having made 39 orbital flights, more than any other shuttle.

Mission Specialist Judith Arlene Resnick was a crew member of shuttle mission STS-51-L. She was killed when Challenger was destroyed shortly after launch, 28 January 1986.

Front, left to right: Richard M. Mullane, Steven A. Hawley, Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr., Michael L. Coats. Back, left to right: Charles D. Walker, Judith A. Resnick. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 August 1982

Russ Scott. (Northrop)

30 August 1982: Northrop test pilot Russ Scott made the first flight of the F-5G Tigershark prototype, N4416T, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During the 40 minute flight the Tigershark, which would be re-designated F-20A, reached an altitude of 40,000 feet and speed of Mach 1.04.

Developed from the earlier F-5E Tiger II, the F-5G Tigershark was a Mach 2+ single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a General Electric F404-GE-100 turbofan engine, producing 17,000 pounds of thrust. It had a combat radius of 345 miles (556 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,800 meters).

Armament consisted of two 20mm Pontiac M39A2 autocannons with 280 rounds each, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, carried on the wingtips.

The F-5G was developed by Northrop at the request of the Department of State. U.S. policy at the time prevented the export of front line fighters, like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, to Allied nations outside of NATO, with the exception of Australia, Israel, Egypt and Iran. Since the Republic of China was building the F-5E under license for its air force, the State Department had asked Northrop to design an advanced fighter based on that earlier type that could be produced in Taiwan.

Northrop F-5G prototype, 82-0062. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop F-5G prototype, 82-0062. (U.S. Air Force)

Changing political administrations relaxed the export policies and the projected sales of the F-5G, now designated F-20A, did not materialize. The fighter competed against the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon for an Air Force contract. The F-20A was as good, and in some ways, superior to the F-16. It was also less expensive. Other factors, though, resulted in the order for the General Dynamics fighter.

Only three F-5G/F-20As were built. N4416T (82-0062) and the second prototype were both destroyed and their pilots killed during demonstration flights. Investigations found that both pilots had lost consciousness due to high-G maneuvers. The third Northrop F-20A, 82-0064, is on display at the California Science Center, Exposition Park, at Los Angeles, California.

The Northrop F-5G Tigershark prototype, N4416T, lands at Edwards AFB after its first flight, escorted by a T-38A Talon. Note the similarity of the two Northrop airplanes. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 August 1952

The left wing attachment points of this Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion, 51-5781, failded during a fly-by at the Inaternational Aviation Exposition, Detroit, Michigan, 30 August 1952. (U.S. Air Force)
The left wing of this Northrop F-89C-30-NO Scorpion, 51-5781, failed during a fly-by at the International Aviation Exposition, Detroit, Michigan, 30 August 1952. (U.S. Air Force)

30 August 1952: A tragic accident occurred during a fly-by of two new United States Air Force Northrop F-89C Scorpion all weather interceptors at the International Aviation Exposition at Detroit, Michigan.

Two F-89Cs fo the 27th Fighter Interceptor Squadron based at Griffis Air Force Base, Rome, New York, made a low-altitude, high speed pass in full view of 51,000 spectators. Suddenly, the left wing of the lead interceptor separated. The tail also broke away and the fighter crashed and exploded.

Major Donald E. Adams, United States Air Force.
Major Donald E. Adams, United States Air Force.

Major Donald E. Adams, a fighter ace who had won the Silver Star in Korea just months earlier, was killed along with Captain Ed F. Kelly, the radar intercept officer. Five people on the ground were injured by falling wreckage.

This was not the first wing failure in an F-89C, nor the last. The Air Force grounded the Scorpions and ordered Northrop to return the airplanes to the factory or to modification centers using the company’s pilots. Northrop engineers began an intensive investigation to discover the cause of these catastrophic failures.

When designing the airplane engineers tried to use materials that provided the greatest strength at the lightest weight. A new aluminum alloy had been used for the wing attachment fittings. This material had properties that weren’t understood at the time, but when subjected to certain types of dynamic loads, it could fatigue and become brittle rapidly. It was also very sensitive to surface imperfections, such as scratches or machining marks, that could rapidly propagate fatigue fractures.

A second problem was that, under certain conditions, the Scorpion’s wings could enter a sequence of rapidly increasing oscillations, actually twisting the wing. This occurred so quickly that a pilot was not likely to see it happening. The twisting motion focused on the wing attachment points, and resulted in a catastrophic failure.

Northrop redesigned the wing to reduce the oscillation, and replaced the aluminum attachment fittings with new ones made of forged steel.

The F-89 was returned to service and became a very reliable airplane.

Northrop F-89C-15-NO Scorpion 50-781, similar to Major Adams' F-89C-30-NO 51-5781. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop F-89C-15-NO Scorpion 50-781, similar to Major Adams’ F-89C-30-NO 51-5781. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Adams’ Scorpion, Northrop F-89C-30-NO 51-5781, was a two-place, twin-engine all weather interceptor, designed as a replacement for the World War II Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter. It was 53 feet, 5 inches (16.281 meters) long with a wingspan of 56 feet (17.069 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 6 inches (5.334 meters). Its empty weight was 24,570 pounds (11,145 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 37,348 pounds (16,941 kilograms). 781 was powered by two Allison J35-A-33 afterburning turbojet engines which produced 5,400 pounds of thrust “dry” and 7,400 pounds with afterburner. The F-89C had a maximum speed of 650 miles per hour (1,046 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 562 miles per hour (905 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 50,500 feet (15,392.4 meters) and maximum range was 905 miles (1,456.5 kilometers). The fighter was armed with six 20 mm M24 cannon in the nose, and could carry sixteen 5-inch rockets or 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms) of bombs on hardpoints under its wings.

Northrop Corporation built 1,050 F-89 Scorpions. 164 were F-89Cs. Variants produced after this deleted the six cannon in the nose and used aerial rockets instead. Scorpions served the Air Force and Air National Guard in the air defense role until 1969.

Pilot and radar intercept officer of a Northrop F-89C Scorpion. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Pilot and Radar Intercept Officer of a Northrop F-89C Scorpion. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Silver Star
Silver Star

Donald E. Adams graduated from college in 1942 and entered the U.S. Army Air Force Aviation Cadet Program, graduating in 1943 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was assigned as a flight instructor and then was sent to Europe as a P-51 Mustang pilot. After the War, he remained in the Air Force, flying Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars and North American F-86 Sabres.

On 3 May 1952, Adams was leading a flight of six Sabres of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, against an armed enemy of the United Nations. He and his flight and attacked a group of twenty Chinese MiG 15s. During the battle, he shot down the enemy flight leader and then the deputy flight leader and damaged three more enemy fighters, completely breaking up the enemy flight. He was awarded the Silver Star.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 August 1970

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 prototype, N10DC, makes its first takeoff, Long Beach Airport, 29 August 1970. (Boeing)

29 August 1970: The McDonnell Douglas prototype widebody airliner, DC-10-10, N10DC, made its first flight from Long Beach Airport to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it underwent flight testing and F.A.A. certification. The aircraft commander was the company Project Pilot, Clifford L. Stout, with Deputy Chief Engineering Pilot Harris C. Van Valkenburg as co-pilot. John D. Chamberlain was the flight engineer and the flight test engineer was Shojun Yukawa.

During the first flight the DC-10 reached 300 knots (345.2 miles per hour, 555.6 kilometers per hour) and 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The primary purpose of this flight was to check the airliner’s basic flight characteristics, aircraft systems and the installed test equipment. The flight lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes. During the test program, N10DC made 989 test flights, accumulating 1,551 flight hours. It was put into commercial service with American Airlines 12 August 1972, re-registered as N101AA.

The DC-10 was a wide-body commercial airliner designed for medium to long range flights. It was flown by a crew of three and depending on the cabin arrangement, carried between 202 and 390 passengers. The DC-10-10 was 170 feet, 6 inches (51.968 meters) long with a wingspan of 155 feet, 4 inches (47.346 meters) and overall height of 58 feet, 1 inch (17.704 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 240,171 pounds (108,940 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 430,000 pounds (195,045 kilograms). It was powered by three General Electric CF6-6D turbofan engines, producing 40,000 pounds of thrust, each. These gave the DC-10 a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.88 (610 miles per hour, 982 kilometers per hour). Its range is 3,800 miles (6,116 kilometers) and the service ceiling is 42,000 feet (12,802 meters).

In production from 1970 to 1988, a total of 386 DC-10s were built in passenger and freighter versions. 122 were the DC-10-10 variant. Another 60 KC-10A Extender air refueling tankers were built for the U.S. Air Force and 2 KDC-10 tankers for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

The first McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was in service with American Airlines from 12 August 1972 to 15 November 1994 when it was withdrawn from service and placed in storage at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The 24-year-old airliner had accumulated 63,325 flight hours.

After three years in storage, the first DC-10 returned to service flying for Federal Express. In 1998 it was modernized as an MD-10 and re-registered again, this time as N530FE. It was finally retired from service and scrapped at Goodyear, Arizona in 2002.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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