21 February 1961

Project Mercury astronauts with Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart 59-0158. (NASA)
Project Mercury astronauts with Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart 59-0158. (NASA)

21 February 1961: Final training begins for Mercury 7 astronauts. Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn are selected for the initial flights. Left-to-Right: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.

The aircraft in the photograph is a Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart, 59-0158, a two-place supersonic interceptor trainer.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes
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February 21, 1910 – September 5, 1982

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Duxford, September 1940. Photograph by F/O S. A. Devon, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 1406)
Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Duxford, September 1940. Photograph by F/O S. A. Devon, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 1406)

21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, Royal Air Force, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force in World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. He was commissioned as a pilot officer in 1930.

BADER, Sir Douglas R.S. Bader, Group Captain, RAF, CBE DSO DFC FRAeS DLBader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired. In 1939 he fought to not only return to active duty but to flying status as a combat pilot. He returned to flying status in November 1939.

Credited with more than 20 aerial victories while flying Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Bader was shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “D B”. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally did parachute to safety. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped. He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Colditz Castle where he was held as a Prisoner of War for three years.

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.
Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.

He is the subject of Reach For The Sky, a biography by Paul Brickhill, and a movie of the same name, starring Kenneth More.

Sir Douglas was knighted in 1976 for his service to the disabled. He died suddenly of a heart attack 5 September 1982.

Douglas Bader climbing into the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire.
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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19–20 February 1979

Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the Iniversity of Cincinatti College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Informaton Office)
Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Information Office)

19–20 February 1979: Professor Neil A. Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, member of the Board of Directors of Gates Learjet Corporation, former United States Navy fighter pilot, NACA/NASA research test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and The First Man To Set Foot On The Moon, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and National Aeronautics Association class records for time to climb to an altitude and altitude while flying the prototype Learjet 28, serial number 28-001.

Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28, March 1979.
Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28.

Armstrong, with Learjet program test pilot Peter Reynolds as co-pilot, and with NAA observer Don Berliner aboard, flew the Learjet 28 to 15,000 meters (49,212.598 feet) in 12 minutes, 27 seconds at Kittyhawk, North Carolina on 19 February. On the same day, during a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Elizabeth City, New Jersey, Armstrong flew the Learjet to 15,584.6 meters (51,130.577 feet), setting records for altitude and for sustained altitude in horizontal flight.

The following day, 20 February 1979, flying from Elizabeth City to Florence, Kentucky, Armstrong again set altitude and sustained altitude in horizontal flight, in a different class, by taking the Learjet to 15,585 meters (51,131.89 feet).

Learjet 28, serial number 28-001
Learjet 28, serial number 28-001

The Learjet 28 was a development of the Learjet 25 twin-engine business jet. It was operated by two pilots and could carry 6–8 passengers.  The Model 28 used a new wing design. It was the first civil aircraft to be certified with winglets. The prototype first flew 24 August 1977, and it received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration 29 July 1979.

The Learjet 28 is 47 feet, 7 inches (14.503 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 10 inches (13.360 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). It has an empty weight of 8,267 pounds (3,749.9 kilograms) and gross weight of 15,000 pounds (6,803.9 kilograms).

The Learjet 28 is powered by two General Electric CJ610-8A turbojet engines, each  producing 2,850 pounds of thrust at Sea Level, and 2,960 pounds of thrust for takeoff (five minute limit).

The business jet has a cruise speed of 470 miles per hour (756.4 kilometers per hour) at 51,000 feet (15,544.8 meters). Its maximum speed is 549 miles per hour (883.5 kilometers per hour). Maximum range is 1,309 miles (2,106.6 kilometers). The service ceiling is 51,000 feet (15,544.8 meters), the same as the record altitude.

The aircraft was limited by its older technology turbojet engines, and only five Learjet 28s were built.

The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, has been re-registered several times. At the time of its FAI record-setting flights, it carried FAA registration N9RS. Later it was registered as N3AS. The most recent information shows it currently registered as N128LR.

A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.
A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.

Neil Alden Armstrong, one of America’s most loved heroes, passed away 25 August 2012.

Learjet 28 (Business Aviation Online)
Learjet 28 N128LR. (Business Aviation Online)

FAI Record File Num #2652 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1e (Landplanes: take off weight 3 000 to 6 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 15 000 m
Performance: 12 min 27s
Date: 1979-02-19
Course/Location: Kitty Hawk, NC (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #8657 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1f (Landplanes: take off weight 6 000 to 9 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 15 584.6 m
Date: 1979-02-19
Course/Location: Wichita, KS (USA) – Elisabeth City, NC (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #8670 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1f (Landplanes: take off weight 6 000 to 9 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 15 584.6 m
Date: 1979-02-19
Course/Location: Wichita, KS (USA) – Elisabeth City, NC (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #2653 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1e (Landplanes: take off weight 3 000 to 6 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 15 585 m
Date: 1979-02-20
Course/Location: Elizabeth City, NC (USA) – Florence, KY (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #2654 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1e (Landplanes: take off weight 3 000 to 6 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 15 585 m
Date: 1979-02-20
Course/Location: Elizabeth City, NC (USA) – Florence, KY (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, registered as N128LR, in 2009. (Lone Mountain Aircraft Sales)
The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, registered as N128LR. (Lone Mountain Aircraft Sales)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1966

Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream. The aircraft commander was Captain Bob Amos, and co-pilot, Captain Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Captain Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Captain Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sergeant Demp Johnson, gunner.

Brigadier General James M. ("Jimmy") Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General James M. (“Jimmy”) Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Jimmy Stewart was a successful Hollywood actor. He had an interest in aviation since childhood, and he earned a private pilot license in 1935, then upgraded to a commercial license in 1938. He owned his own airplane, a Stinson 105, and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family.

Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army 22 March 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.”

James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)

Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps on 19 January 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, California. Stewart was next assigned as a pilot at the Bombardier School at Kirtland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico. After transition training in the B-17 Flying Fortress he was assigned as as an instructor at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. On 9 July 1943, Stewart was promoted to captain and given command of a training squadron.

First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirkland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirkland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force) Update: The first student on the left has been identified as John M. “Jack” Drenan. 1st Lieutenant Drenan, a B-24 bombardier, was listed as Missing in Action on a mission to the Marshall Islands, 2 January 1944. Thanks to Mr. Patrick E. Freudenthal for the information.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group. On 7 January 1944, Stewart was promoted to major, and served as deputy commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing during a series of missions known as “Big Week.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.
Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.

Major Stewart was next assigned as Group Operations Officer of the 453rd Bombardment Wing at RAF Old Buckenham. He assigned himself to fly the lead B-24 in the group’s missions against Germany until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned as executive officer of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In this position he flew missions with the 445th, 453rd, 389th Bomb Groups, and with units of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing. After being promoted to the rank of Colonel on 29 March 1945, he was given command of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. He had risen from Private to Colonel in four years. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross and was presented the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by France.

Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Air Corps as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1948. He commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his rank of colonel was made permanent, and in 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General. During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

"Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber." (©Bettman/CORBIS)
“Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber.” (Bettman/CORBIS)

James Stewart was one of America’s most successful film actors. He made a number of aviation films , such as “No Highway in the Sky,” “Strategic Air Command,” “The Spirit of St. Louis”and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

James Stewart on te set of "Strategic Air Command" at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in teh U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed "Colonel Dutch Holland" a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
James Stewart on the set of “Strategic Air Command” at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed “Colonel Dutch Holland,” a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
Boeing B-52F-70-BW Stratofortress 57-162, dropping Mk. 117 750-pound bombs on a target in Vietnam. This bomber is the same type flown by Brigadier General Stewart on his last combat mission, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52F-70-BW Stratofortress 57-162, dropping Mk. 117 750-pound bombs on a target in Vietnam. This bomber is the same type flown by Brigadier General Stewart on his last combat mission, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1968. He died of a heart attack 2 July 1997 at the age of 89 years.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC, T + 4 seconds

Launch of Friendship 7 from Launch Complex 14, Kennedy Space Center, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

2 minutes, 10 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:20. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:24 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster.

Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.

Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.

This photograph of Friendship 7’s cockpit was taken in orbit around the Earth, 20 February 1962. Astronaut John Glenn’s hands and legs are visible at the lower edge of the image. (Ohio State University)

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.  (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2½ inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the  Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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