21 May 1956

Major David Crichlow, USAF, Aircraft Commander, Barbara Grace, 21 May 1956. (LIFE photograph via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major David Crichlow, USAF, Aircraft Commander, Barbara Grace, 21 May 1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1956: The second test of the Operation Redwing series was Redwing Cherokee, a weapons effects test. A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 4925th Test Group (Atomic), Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, took off from Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, under the command of Major David Crichlow, USAF.

Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-0383. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-383. (U.S. Air Force)

The bomber, named Barbara Grace, was a Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress, serial number 53-383. The weapon was a TX-15-X1 two-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, weighing 6,867 pounds (3,114.9 kilograms). It was 136 inches long (3.454 meters), with a diameter of 34.5 inches (0.876 meters). The target was a point on Namu Island, Bikini Atoll.

Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.

Flying at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), the aircrew misidentified an observation facility on a different island for their targeting beacon. The bomb missed Namu Island by 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), detonating at 4,350 feet (1,325 meters) over the open ocean to the northeast at 0551 hours, local time (1751 GMT). The explosive force of the TX-15 was rated at 3.8 megatons, but because of the error in targeting, most of the test data was lost.

Fireball from detonation of TX-15 weapon, Operation Redwing Cherokee, 21 May 1956. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)
Fireball from detonation of TX-15-X1 weapon, showing “cloud chamber” effects of pressure changes in air, Operation Redwing Cherokee, 5.21 a.m. (local time), 21 May 1956. Photograph was taken from an aircraft at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,658 meters), 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) northwest of the target. (The Nuclear Weapon Archive)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 May 1955, 05:59:45–17:26:18 PST

1st Lieutenant John M. Conroy, 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, checks the time after arriving back at the point of departure, 21 May 1955. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
1st Lieutenant John M. Conroy, 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, checks the time after arriving back at the point of departure, 21 May 1955. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1955: At 05:59:45 Pacific Standard Time (13:59:45 UTC) 1st Lieutenant John M. (“Jack”) Conroy, U.S. Air Force, a World War II B-17 pilot and former Prisoner of War, took off from the California Air National Guard Base at the San Fernando Valley Airport (re-named Van Nuys Airport in 1957). His airplane was a specially-prepared North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre, USAF serial number 49-1046. His Destination? Van Nuys, California—by way of Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. His plan was to return to the ANG base in “The Valley” before sunset.

Several weeks of planning and preparation were involved in “Operation Boomerang”. Five refueling stops would be required and Air National Guard personnel across the United States would handle that. A deviation from peacetime standards would allow the Sabre to be refueled with the engine running to minimize time spent on the ground. (The F-86 was not capable of inflight refueling.) The six-year-old F-86A was polished to ensure that all rivet heads were smooth, seams in the fuselage and wing skin panels were adjusted for precise fit, then were sealed. The gun ports for the six .50-caliber Browning machine guns in the fighter’s nose were filled then covered with doped fabric and painted. This was to reduce aerodynamic drag as much as possible. The General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet was overhauled, then tested and adjusted for maximum efficiency.

Arrangements for official timing of the West to East and Back Again speed run were paid for by North American Aviation, Inc., whose personnel also provided technical support to the Air National Guard.

Jack Conroy’s F-86A was nicknamed California Boomerang, and had a map of the United States and a boomerang painted on the fuselage. The Sabre remained in its overall natural aluminum finish but had green stripes on the fuselage, vertical fin and wings. The jettisonable wing tanks were painted red.

North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, California Boomerang, being readied for its record flight at Van Nuys, California. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, California Boomerang, being readied for its return flight at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

After takeoff, Lieutenant Conroy climbed to approximately 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and headed to his first refueling stop at Denver, Colorado. He landed at 7:48 a.m. PST and the Sabre was refueled and off again in just 6 minutes. From Denver he continued eastward to Springfield, Illinois, arriving at 9:32 a.m. PST. Refueling there took 5 minutes. The next stop was Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. He touched down at 11:19 a.m., PST and remained on the ground for 39 minutes.

Conroy departed Mitchel Field on the westbound leg at 11:58 a.m. PST and arrived at Lockburne Air Force Base, Ohio at 12:58 p.m., PST. This refueling stop required 7 minutes. Next on the flight plan was Tulsa, Oklahoma. The airplane landed there at 2:26 p.m. PST, and was refueled and airborne again in 6 minutes. The last refueling took place at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lieutenant Conroy landed at 3:58 p.m., PST. After another 7 minute stopover, California Boomerang took off on the final leg of the round-trip journey, finally landing back at Van Nuys, California at 5:26:18 p.m., PST.

John Conroy’s Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast “dawn to dusk” flight covered 5,058 miles (8,140.1 kilometers). The total elapsed time was 11 hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds. His average speed was 445 miles per hour (716.2 kilometers per hour). Weather across the country caused some delays as Jack Conroy had to make instrument approaches to three of the airports.

California Boomerang, 1st Lieutenant Jack Conroy's California Air National Guard F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 49-1046, being refueled at an intermediate stop, 21 May 1951. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
California Boomerang, 1st Lieutenant Jack Conroy’s California Air National Guard F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 49-1046, being “hot” refueled at an intermediate stop, 21 May 1951. At least six fueling hoses are simultaneously filling the fighter’s fuselage, wing and drop tanks tanks while the jet engine remains in operation. Note the fire fighting apparatus standing by in the background. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 May 1949

Captain Hubert D. Gaddis, USAAF with teh Sikorsky S-51-1. NAA representatives check baraographs. (Sikorsky Archives)
Captain Hubert D. Gaddis, United States Army, with the Sikorsky S-52-1 NX92824. NAA representatives Walter Goddard and Charles Logsdon check the barographs. (Sikorsky Archives)
Captain Hubert D. Gaddis, Artillery, United States Army. (FAI)
Captain Hubert D. Gaddis, Artillery, United States Army. (FAI)

21 May 1949: Captain Hubert D. Gaddis, Artillery, United States Army, flew a Sikorsky S-52-1 helicopter, registration NX92824, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record of 6,468 meters (21,220.47 feet) at Bridgeport, Connecticut.

FAI Record File Num #2181 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1 (Helicopters)
Category: General
Group: 1 : piston engine
Type of record: Altitude without payload
Performance: 6 468 m
Date: 1949-05-21
Course/Location: Bridgeport, CT (USA)
Claimant Hubert D. Gaddis (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-52-1
Engine: 1 Franklin 6V6

The Sikorsky S-52-1 was an completely new design helicopter based on the company’s experience with the earlier R-4 and R-5/S-51 models. It was of all metal monocoque construction, using primarily aluminum and magnesium. The three-bladed fully-articulated articulated main and two-bladed tail rotor were also of all metal construction. The main rotor had a diameter of 33 feet (10.058 meters) and rotated counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right side of the helicopter.) The semi-rigid tail rotor was mounted on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It had a diameter of 6 feet, 4 inches (1.930 meters) and rotated counter clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is at the top of the tail rotor arc.) The S-52-1 was powered by a 425.3-cubic-inch-displacement (6.969 liter) air-cooled Franklin 6V6-245-B16F vertically-opposed 6-cylinder engine, which produced 245 horsepower at 3,275 r.p.m.

On 27 April 1949 Sikorsky test pilot Harold E. “Tommy” Thompson flew the same helicopter to an FAI speed record of 208.49 kilometers per hour (129.55 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer straight course (Record File Number 13097), and on 6 May, to 197.54 kilometers per hour (122.75 miles per hour) over a 100-kilometer closed circuit (Record File Number 13146).

Sikorsky S-52-1 NX92824 (FAI)
Sikorsky S-52-1 NX92824 (FAI)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 May 1937

Amelia Earhart prepares to leave Burbank, California, 21 May 1937.
Amelia Earhart prepares to leave Burbank, California, 21 May 1937.

21 May 1937: Day 2 of Amelia Earhart’s second attempt to fly around the world aboard her Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan fly from Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California to Tucson, Arizona, where they stopped to refuel. Her husband, George Palmer Putnam, and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKneely were also aboard. When Earhart attempted to restart the left engine at Tucson, it caught fire. An unplanned overnight stay was required while the damage was repaired.

“Accompanying me on this hop across the continent was Fred Noonan. “Bo” McKneely my mechanic, and Mr. Putnam. A leisurely afternoon’s flight ended at Tucson, Arizona. The weather was sailing hot as Arizona can be in summertime. After landing and checking in, when I started my motors again to taxi to the filling pit the left one back-fired and burst into flames. For a few seconds it was nip-and-tuck whether the fire would get away from us. There weren’t adequate extinguishers ready on the ground but fortunately the Lux apparatus built in the engine killed the fire. The damage was trivial, mostly some pungently cooked rubber fittings a deal of dirty grime. The engine required a good cleaning and the ship a face-washing.” —Amelia Earhart

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 May 1927

The Spirit of St. Louis arrives at Le Bourget Aerodrome, 21 May 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

After a 33 hour, 30 minute flight from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, Charles A. Lindbergh lands his Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France. He is the first pilot to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean.

“I circle. Yes, it’s definitely an airport…It must be Le Bourget…I shift fuel valves to the center wing-tank, sweep my flashlight over the instrument board in a final check, fasten my safety belt, and nose the Spirit of St. Louis down into a gradually descending spiral….

“I straighten out my wings and let the throttled engine drag me on beyond the leeward border. Now the steep bank into the wind, and the dive toward the ground. But how strange it is, this descent. I’m wide awake, but the feel of my plane has not returned…My movements are mechanical, uncoordinated, as though I were coming down at the end of my first solo….

“It’s only a hundred yards to the hangars now — solid forms emerging from the night. I’m too high — too fast. Drop wing — left rudder — sideslip — — — Careful — mustn’t get anywhere near the stall — — — I’ve never landed the Spirit of St. Louis at night before…. Below the hangar roofs now — — — straighten out — — — A short burst of the engine — — — Over the lighted area — — — Sod coming up to meet me… Still too fast — — — Tail too high — — — The wheels touch gently — off again — No, I’ll keep contact — Ease the stick forward — — — Back on the ground — Off — Back — the tail skid too — — — Not a bad landing….”

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, Pages 489–492.

Over 100,000 people have come to Le Bourget to greet Lindbergh. He has flown the Spirit of St. Louis into history.

Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of Spirit of St. Louis. (The Dallas Morning News/AFP/Getty Images)
Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of Spirit of St. Louis. (The Dallas Morning News/AFP/Getty Images)

FAI Record File Num #14842 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C (Aviation with engine)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Distance in a straight line without landing
Performance: 5 809 km
Date: 1927-05-21
Course/Location: New York, NY (USA) – Paris (France)
Claimant Charles A. Lindbergh (USA)
Aeroplane: Ryan Monoplan “Spirit of St Louis”
Engine: 1 Wright J5

Crowds approach Charles Lindbergh an dteh Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget, shortly after landing, 21 May 1927.(Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)
Crowds mob Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Aerodrome, shortly after Charles A. Lindbergh’s  arrival from New York, 21 May 1927. The crowd soon swelled to over 100,000 people. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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