20 August 1977

Voyager 2/Titan IIIE-Centaur launch, LC-41, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 20 August 1977. (NASA)

20 August 1977: Voyager 2 was launched from Launch Complex 41 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Titan IIIE-Centaur launch vehicle. It was placed on an orbital trajectory that would take it on a journey throughout the Solar System and beyond. Nearly two years later, 9 July 1979, Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Jupiter, passing within 350,000 miles (570,000 kilometers). Many dramatic images as well as scientific data were transmitted back to Earth.

The probe continued outward to Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, continuously transmitting images and data. In 1990 the space probe passed beyond the limits of the Solar System. Voyager 2 is now in interstellar space and is still operating, 37 years after it was launched.

Voyager 2 captured this image of the moon Io transiting Jupiter, 9 July 1979. (NASA)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

20 August 1975

Viking 1/Titan IIIE-Centaur launches from Kennedy Space Centaur, enroute to Mars, 20 August 1975. (NASA)

20 August 1975: The Viking 1 space probe was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Titan IIIE/Centaur rocket. For the next ten months it traveled to Mars, the fourth planet of the Solar System. Once there, it was placed in orbit and began sending telemetry data back to Earth. A Viking Lander descended to the planet’s surface, landing at Chryse Planitia.

This was the first time that a spacecraft had landed on another planet. The orbiter continued to operate over the course of 1,485 orbits. As it ran low on fuel, mission controllers boosted it into a higher orbit to prevent it falling to the planet. Orbiter operations were terminated 17 August 1980. The lander operated for 6 years, 116 days, before the mission was terminated by a faulty transmission which resulted in a loss of contact, 11 November 1982.

The surface of Chryse Planitia, Mars, photographed by the Viking 1 Lander. (NASA)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

20 August 1955

Colonel Horace A. Hanes with his F-100C, 53-1709, at Edwards AFB after setting a supersonic speed record, 20 August 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

20 August 1955: Colonel Horace A. Hanes, United States Air Force, flew the first North American Aviation F-100C-1-NA Super Sabre, 53-1709, to Mach 1.25 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record of 1,323.312 kilometers per hour (822.268 miles per hour) over a measured 15/25-kilometer course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. This was the first supersonic world speed record. It was also the first speed record set at high altitude. Previously, all speed records were set very close to the ground for measurement purposes, but with ever increasing speeds this practice was becoming too dangerous.

FAI Record File Num #8867 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 1 323.312 km/h
Date: 1955-08-20
Course/Location: Palmdale, CA (USA)
Claimant H.A. Hanes (USA)
Aeroplane: North American F-100C
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney J-57

A Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter pilot during World War II, Horace Hanes went down over Yugoslavia and evaded capture for three months. He next commanded several fighter squadrons, including the first to be equipped with the new Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. He was a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College and was assigned to the Directorate of Research and Development as Chief of the Air Defense Division and then went to the Air War College. Colonel Hanes was Director of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, 1953–1957. He commanded a fighter-bomber squadron in Korea, and went on to serve in several senior Air Defense Command assignments. He reached the rank of Major General.

After being used in Air Force testing at Edwards AFB, 53-1709 was transferred to the NASA High Speed Test Station, also at Edwards AFB. It was identified as NASA 703, and assigned civil registration N703NA. At some point its tail surfaces were upgraded to those of the F-100D series. Today, the FAI record setting F-100C is displayed at the Castle Air Museum, marked as F-100D 55-2879.

North American Aviation F-100C-1-NA Super Sabre 53-1709, FAI World Speed Record holder. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

20 August 1947

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, makes a pass over the 3-kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

20 August 1947: At Muroc Dry Lake in the high desert of Southern California, Commander Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, flew the first of three Douglas D-558-I Skystreaks, Bu. No. 37970, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course. Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet (61 meters) or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two best consecutive passes out of the four. Commander Caldwell’s average speed was 1,031.178 kilometers per hour (640.744 miles per hour). He was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.

Commander Turner F. Caldwell, jr., United States Navy with the number one Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at Muroc dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)
Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, with the number one Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)

FAI Record File Num #9864 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1d (Landplanes: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a 3 km course
Performance: 1 031.178 km/h
Date: 1947-08-20
Course/Location: Muroc, CA (USA)
Claimant Turner F. Caldwell (USA)
Aeroplane: Douglas D-558 “Skystreak”
Engine: 1 Allison J-35 (TG-180)

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, an dCommander Turner F. Daldwell, Jr., USN, stan dwith teh record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, left, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

The D-558 Program was intended as a three phase test program for the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) to investigate transonic and supersonic flight using straight and swept wing aircraft powered by turbojet and/or rocket engines. The Douglas Aircraft Company designed and built three D-558-I Skystreaks and three D-558-II Skyrockets. The Phase I aircraft were flown by Douglas test pilot Gene May and Navy project officer Turner Caldwell.

The D-558-I Skystreak (also referred to as the D-558-1) was a single-engine, straight winged, turbojet-powered airplane. It was built of magnesium and aluminum for light weight, but was designed to withstand very high acceleration loads. It was 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.62 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1¾ inches (3.702 meters). The airplane had retractable tricycle landing gear. Its empty weight was approximately 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms), landing weight at the conclusion of a flight test was 7,711 pounds (3,498 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 10,105 pounds (4,583.6 kilograms). The aircraft fuel load was 230 gallons (870.7 liters) of kerosene.

This photograph shows two of the three D-558-I Skystreaks being inspected by U.S. navy officials at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. In the foreground is the number two aircraft, Bu. No. 37971, with the sections o fte hfuselage separted for better viewing. The entire nose section, including teh cockpit, coul dbe jettisoned in an emergency. The second aircraft is Bu. No. 37970, th eSkystrak flown by CDR Caldwell for his speed record. In the background is another Douglas airplane, the famous AD Skyraider. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
This photograph shows two of the three D-558-I Skystreaks being inspected by U.S. Navy officers at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. In the foreground is the number two aircraft, Bu. No. 37971, with the sections of the fuselage separated. The entire nose section, including the cockpit, could be jettisoned in an emergency. Just beyond that, two wing tip fuel tanks are displayed on a cart. The second aircraft is Bu. No. 37970. A GE TG-180 jet engine is shown between that and the last airplane, another Douglas product, the famous AD Skyraider. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The Skystreak was powered by a General Electric TG-180 11-stage axial turbojet engine which produced 5,000 pounds of thrust. (This was the first widely-used American jet engine. For production, the TG-180 was built by Allison Engineering Company as the J35-A-11. It was also produced by Chevrolet.)

The D-558-I had a designed service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,930 meters). Intended for experimental flights of short duration, it had a very short range and took off and landed from the dry lake at Muroc. (After 1949, this would be known as Edwards Air Force Base.) The experimental airplane was not as fast as the more widely known Bell X-1 rocketplane, but rendered valuable research time in the high  transonic range. Gene May did reach Mach 1.0 in 37970, 29 September 1948, though he was in a 35° dive. This was the highest speed that had been reached up to that time by an airplane capable of taking off and landing under its own power.

The three D-558-I Skystreaks made a total of 229 flights and Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of them. After the Douglas test program was completed, -970 was turned over to NACA as NACA 140, but it was quickly grounded after the crash of the number two aircraft, and was used for spare parts for number three. Today, 37970 is in the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.

Rear Admiral Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)
Rear Admiral Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)

Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1935. He was a dive bomber pilot with Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5) aboard U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5) and U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) during the early part of World War II. Between March and September 1942 he was three times awarded the Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy’s second-highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor. Later he commanded a night fighter group, CVLG(N)-41, assigned to USS Enterprise. For his actions during that period he was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit. After the war Caldwell commanded Carrier Air Group 4 (CVG-4) aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). Captain Caldwell commanded USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), 1959–1960.  Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., rose to the rank of Vice Admiral, United States Navy and served as Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare Plans. He died in 1991.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

20 August 1944

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG346 at Speke Aerodrome, November 1941. (RAF)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG346 at Speke Aerodrome, November 1941. (RAF)

20 August 1944: Mustang Mk.I AG346, while flying with No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force, from a forward airfield at St. Honorine, France, was shot down by antiaircraft fire.

They very first operational North American Mustang, AG346 was the second airplane off the assembly line at Inglewood, California. After testing by North American test pilots and Royal Air Force fighter pilots Chris Clarkson and Michael “Red Knight” Crossley, AG346 was crated and shipped to England, arriving 24 October 1941. It was taken to Speke Aerodrome (now, Liverpool John Lennon Airport) where it was reassembled and put through additional performance and flight tests. It was then assigned to an operational RAF fighter squadron.

A North American Mustang Mk I of No. 168 Squadron banking over Pierrefitte-en-Cinglais in Normandy on a tactical reconnaissance sortie, August 1944. Allied tanks can be seen on the road below. No. 168 Squadron RAF © IWM (C 4559)
A North American Mustang Mk I of No. 168 Squadron banking over Pierrefitte-en-Cinglais in Normandy on a tactical reconnaissance sortie, August 1944. Allied tanks can be seen on the road below. © IWM (C 4559)

The Mustang Mk.I was a new fighter built by North American for the Royal Air Force. It was powered by an Allison V-1710-39(FR) liquid-cooled supercharged V-12. Armament consisted of two synchronized .50-caliber Browning machine guns mounted in the nose under the engine and firing through the propeller, and two more .50-caliber and four .30-caliber machine guns in the wings. Below 20,000 feet, the Mustang was the fastest fighter in the world. The British would recommend that the Allison be replaced by the Rolls Royce Merlin V-12. This became the Mustang Mk.III and the U.S.A.A.F. P-51B. Eventually, over 15,000 Mustangs were built, and it was a highly successful combat aircraft. Today, after 70 years, the Mustang is one of the most recognizeable of all airplanes.

AG346 was the first one to go to war.

No. 168 Squadron was a reconnaissance unit. Its motto was “Rerum cognoscere causas” (“To know the cause of things”)

Mustang Mk.1 of No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force. (RAF)
Mustang Mk.1 of No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force. (RAF)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes