28 May 1987: At 12:21 p.m., 18-year-old Mathias Rust, a pilot with just 50 flight hours’ experience, took off from Malmi Airport, Helsinki, Finland, aboard a rented Reims Aviation F172P Skyhawk II, D-ECJB. At 6:43 p.m., he landed the Skyhawk inside Krásnaya Plóshchaď (Red Square), Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Rust was prosecuted for entering Soviet air space without authorization and “malicious hooligansim” and sentenced to four years in a labor camp. After 14 months, he was released in August 1988 and returned to Germany.
In November 1989, while performing community service (in place of military service) at a hospital in Hamburg, Germany, Mathias Rust attacked an 18-year-old student nurse with a switchblade knife after she rejected his attempts to kiss her. Miss Stefanie Walura suffered multiple stab wounds and barely survived. (Rust’s defense attorney acknowledged that Miss Walura would have died had the stabbing not occurred inside a hospital.) Rust was convicted of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to 30 months in prison. (The prosecution reduced the original attempted murder charge because of the defense assertion that Rust suffered from “diminished capacity” as a result of his treatment in the Soviet prison. Even so, prosecutors recommended an eight year prison sentence.)
Rust was released after serving only 15 months. (A civil court ordered Rust to pay damages to Miss Walura equivalent to $23,500 U.S. dollars—approximately 39,785.5 DM at June 1991 exchange rates.) Prosecutors later appealed the prison sentence as being too lenient.
In 2001, Rust was convicted of theft, and in 2005, fraud. In both cases he was sentenced to pay a fine.
The F172P Skyhawk II is a Cessna 172 built under license by Société anonyme Reims Aviation, France. It is an all-metal, four-place, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed tricycle landing gear. The airplane is operated by a single pilot and is equipped for instrument flight.
The 172P is 26 feet, 11 inches (8.201 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inch (10.973 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The wing is externally braced and has a 1° 30′ angle of incidence at the root, with 3° negative twist. The dihedral is 1° 44′. The total wing area is 174 square feet (16.17 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer span is 11 feet, 4 inches (3.429 meters). The standard airplane’s empty weight is 1,454 pounds (660 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms).
The F172P is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-D2J horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine. The -D2J has a compression ratio of 8.5:1 and is rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine turns a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches ( meters). The O-320-D2J weighs 275 pounds (125 kilograms).
The 172 has a maximum structural cruise speed (VNO) of 142 miles per hour (228 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed (VNE) of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,007 miles (1,621 kilometers) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).
Over 44,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.
D-ECJB,¹ which was a rental aircraft, was flown back to Germany. It changed ownership several times before being purchased and taken to Japan where it was on outdoor display for twenty years. The Skyhawk was located and purchased by the German Museum of Technology, returned to Germany and restored by the museum’s technical staff. Today it is on display at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin.
¹ The airplane flown by Rust was the second Reims Cessna 172 Skyhawk to be registered D-ECJB. The first, c/n F1720732, was destroyed in a fatal accident, 12 March 1976.
28 May 1971: At 12:08 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (16:08 UTC), a twin-engine Aero Commander 680E, N601JJ, flying through rain and fog, crashed into 3,056-foot (931 meter) Brush Mountain, approximately 16 miles (26 kilometers) west-northwest of Roanoke, Virginia. The point of impact was about 400 feet (122 meters) below the mountain’s summit. All six persons on board were killed. The wreckage burned.
Witnesses had seen the airplane flying in and out of clouds at very low altitude, and at one point attempting a landing on a highway.
One of the passengers aboard the Aero Commander was 45-year-old Audie Leon Murphy, recipient of the Medal of Honor and the most highly-decorated American soldier of World War II. Other passengers were Claude Crosby, Kim Dodey, Jack Littleton and Raymond Prater, business associates of Murphy.
The Aero Commander was flown by Herman Levelle Butler of El Paso, Texas. Born in Louisiana, 30 December 1927, Butler had served as a seaman 2nd class in the United States Navy during World War II. He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for single- and multi-engine airplanes. Significantly, he was not instrument rated. Butler had flown more than 8,000 hours, but the Aero Commander was new to him. He only had 6 hours in type.
Just over a year earlier, 14 March 1970, Herman Butler had crashed a Piper PA-23 Apache light twin-engine airplane 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Angeline County Airport (LFK), Lufkin, Texas. Both engines stopped when the airplane ran out of fuel. Butler had unsuccessfully attempted to land on a highway on that occasion, as well, but the airplane stalled and crashed into trees. The Piper was destroyed, though Butler was only slightly injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the 28 May 1971 crash. It determined that the probable cause of the accident was:
. . . the pilot’s attempt to continue visual flight into adverse weather conditions at an altitude too low to clear the mountainous terrain. The board also finds that the pilot attempted to continue flight into instrument weather conditions which were beyond his operational capabilities.
Major Audie Leon Murphy, United States Army (Retired), had served in nine military campaigns in the Mediterranean and European Theaters during World War II, and later served in the Korean War. His military accomplishments are too numerous to describe here, but they were truly heroic.
Murphy wrote about them in his autobiography, To Hell and Back (Henry Holt and Company, 1949) which was adapted into one of the most successful motion pictures of the 1950s, and in which Murphy portrayed himself.
The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America’s Most Decorated Hero of World War II, by David A. Smith, was published in 2015.
Murphy was a very popular Hollywood actor, though he suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of his combat experiences. He was twice married. He raised horses in California and Texas.
During a military career that spanned two wars, Major Audie Leon Murphy, United States Army, was awarded the Medal of Honor; Distinguished Service Cross; Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); Legion of Merit; Bronze Star with “V” Device and bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); Purple Heart with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards); Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver star, four bronze stars and one arrowhead device (nine campaigns); World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Combat Infantryman Badge; Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar; Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar.
France appointed Murphy a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur (French Legion of Honor – Grade of Chevalier—Knight), and awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, the Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the French Liberation Medal. Leopold III, King of Belgium, awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre with 1940 Palm. He was authorized to wear the French Fourragère in the colors of the Croix de Guerre.
For his service as technical advisor for a 1960 film, “The Broken Bridge,” Murphy was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The State of Texas awarded him the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.
Audie Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
Washington 25, D.C., 9 August 1945
General Orders No. 65
MEDAL OF HONOR – Award
I. MEDAL OF HONOR. – By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:
Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:
EDWARD F. WITSELLG.C. MARSHALL Major GeneralChief of Staff Acting for the Adjutant General
Major Audie L. Murphy’s remains are interred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Section 46, Site 366-11, Arlington County, Virginia.
N601JJ was an Aero Commander 680E, serial number 680-491-161. It had been built in 1957 by the Aero Design and Engineering Company, at Bethany, Oklahoma. The airplane had just been acquired by Colorado Aviation, Inc., of Texico, New Mexico, and in fact, the registration certificate was not issued by the Federal Aviation Administration until 8 June 1971, eleven days after the crash.
The Aero Commander 680E is a six-place, twin-engine, high-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It can be flown by one or two pilots, and is equipped for flight in instrument conditions. The airplane is 35 feet, 2 inches (10.719 meters) long with a wingspan of 49 feet, 6 inches (15.088 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 6 inches (4.420 meters). Its empty weight is approximately 4,475 pounds (2,230 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 7,500 pounds (3,402 kilograms).
The 680E is powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 479.624-cubic-inch-diplacement (7.860 liter) Lycoming GSO-480-B1A6 horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines with a compression ratio of 7.3:1. The -B1A6 is rated at 320 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and 340 horsepower at 3,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The engines drive three-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters) through a 77:120 (0.642:1) gear reduction. The GSO-480-B1A6 is 4 feet, 1.31 inches (1.253 meters) long, 2 feet, 9.08 inches (0.840 meters) high and 2 feet, 9.12 inches (0.841 meters) wide. It weighs 513.00 pounds (232.693 kilograms)
The Aero Commander 680E has a maximum structural cruise speed of 210 miles per hour (338 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed (Vne) is 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 25,360 feet (6,980 meters). The maximum range is 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).
The U.S. Air Force selected the Aero Commander 680E as a transport for President Dwight Eisenhower. Designated L-26C-AD, fifteen were acquired, with two being used by the White House. The Air Force designation was later changed to U-4B. In U.S. Army service, the airplane was designated U-9C.
28 May 1935: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Aktiengesellschaft (BFW) test pilot Hans-Dietrich Knoetzsch took the prototype Bf 109 V1 fighter, civil registration D-IABI, on its first flight at Haunstetten, near Augsburg, Germany. The duration of the flight was twenty minutes.
The new fighter was designed by Wilhelm Emil Messerschmitt, Walter Rethel and Robert Lusser. It was a light weight, single-seat, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear.
The first prototype, Versuchsflugzeug 1, was 8.884 meters (29.147 feet) long with a wingspan of 9.890 meters (32.448 feet). The empty weight was 1,404 kilograms (3,095 pounds) and the maximum weight was 1,800 kilograms (3,968 pounds).
Because the Junkers Jumo 210 inverted V-12 engines planned for the new fighter were not yet available, a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,295.91-cubic-inch-displacement (21.24 liter) Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 was installed. This British engine had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.00:1. It produced 695 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch Propellerwerk Gustav Schwarz laminated composite propeller through a 0.553:1 gear reduction. The Kestrel was 6 feet, 0.35 inches (1.838 meters) long, 2 feet, 11.00 inches (0.889 meters) high and 2 feet, 0.40 inches (0.620 meters) wide. It weighed 955 pounds (433 kilograms).
V1’s maximum airspeed was 470 kilometers per hour (292 miles per hour) and its maximum altitude was 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).
No armament was installed on the prototype.
The Bf 109 V1 was tested for several months before being sent to the Luftwaffe test center at Rechlin for acceptance trials. The prototype’s landing gear collapsed while landing there.
The prototype Bf 109 was revealed to the public when D-IABI flew at the Games of the XI Olympiad (the 1936 Summer Olympics, held at Berlin, Germany).
The Bf 109 (also known as the Me 109, following Willy Messerschmitt’s acquisition of BFW) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the Bf 109 during World War II.
After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant remained in production until 1958.
27 May 1958: At Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s Chief Test Pilot (and future company president) Robert C. Little made the first flight of the YF4H-1 prototype. The twin-engine Mach 2+ airplane was the first pre-production model of a new U.S. Navy fleet defense interceptor that would be developed into the legendary F-4 Phantom II fighter bomber.
The flight lasted 22 minutes. Little had planned to go supersonic but a leak in a pressurized hydraulic line caused him to leave the landing gear extended as a precaution, should the back-up hydraulic system also have a problem. This limited the maximum speed of the prototype to 370 knots (426 kilometers per hour). A post-flight inspection found foreign-object damage to the starboard engine.
Initially designated XF4H-1 and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259, the identifier was changed to YF4H-1. It had been in development for over five years based on a company proposal to the Navy.
The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II was 56 feet, 7.9 inches (17.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 4.89 inches (11.707 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 3.0 inches (4.953 meters). With wings folded, the airplane’s span was narrowed to 27 feet, 6.6 inches (8.397 meters). The wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The inner wing had no dihedral, while the outer panels had 12° dihedral. The stabilator had a span of 16 feet, 5.0 inches (5.004 meters), with -23.25° anhedral. The wheelbase of Phantom II’s tricycle undercarriage was 23 feet, 3.25 inches (7.093 meters), with a main wheel tread of 17 feet, 10.46 inches (5.447 meters).
The YF4H-1 prototype was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-2 engines. These were single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-2 was rated at 10,350 pounds of thrust (46.039 kilonewtons), and 16,150 pounds (71.389 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engines were 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches in diameter (0.973 meters), and each weighed 3,620 pounds (1,642 kilograms).
The production F4H-1 (F-4B) had a maximum speed of 845 miles per hour (1,360 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,485 miles per hour (2,390 kilometers per hour) at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters meters). (Mach1.11 and Mach 2.25, respectively). The service ceiling was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters) and maximum range with external fuel was 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers).
The second prototype YF4H-1, Bu. No. 142260, flown by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., USN, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude, 6 December 1959, when it zoom-climbed to 30,040 meters (98,556 feet).¹ On 22 November 1961, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, USMC, 142260 also set an FAI World Record for Speed over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, averaging 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour).² On 5 December 1961, the same Phantom set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight at 20,252 meters (66,444 feet) with Commander George W. Ellis, USN, in the cockpit.³
The F-4A through F-4D Phantoms were armed with four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing air-to-air missiles, and could carry additional Sparrows or AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles on pylons under the wings. Up to 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs could be carried on five hardpoints.
McDonnell Aircraft built two YF4H-1 prototypes, followed by 45 F4H-1F (F-4A) Phantom IIs before the F-4B was introduced in 1961. 649 F-4Bs were produced. The initial U.S. Air Force variant was the F-110A Spectre (F-4C Phantom II). McDonnell Douglas delivered its last Phantom II, an F-4E-67-MC, on 25 October 1979. In 21 years, the company had built 5,057 Phantom IIs.
After 11 test flights at St. Louis, Bob Little flew the YF4H-1 west to Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California where more detailed flight testing and evaluation took place.
On 21 October 1959, a failure of an engine access door led to a cascading series of problems which resulted in the loss of the airplane and death of the pilot, Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck.
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, was awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty King George VI in a ceremony at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, England. Wing Commander Gibson received the medal for his leadership of No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, during Operation Chastise, an attack on Germany’s Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, 16–17 May 1943.
The Victoria Cross ranks with the George Cross as the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry.
The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, with the first recipients being personnel honored for their gallantry during the Crimean War.
The bronze cross pattée, which bears the inscription “FOR VALOUR,” is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean campaign. The Victoria Cross is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
Air Ministry, 28th May, 1943.
ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —
Acting Wing Commander Guy Penrose GIBSON, D.S.O., D.F.C. (39438), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 617 Squadron: —
This officer served as a night bomber pilot at the beginning of the war and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding operational pilot. In addition to taking the fullest possible share in all normal operations, he made single-handed attacks during his “rest” nights on such highly defended objectives as the German battleship Tirpitz, then completing in Wilhelmshaven.
When his tour of operational duty was concluded, he asked for a further operational posting and went to a night-fighter unit instead of being posted for instructional duties. In the course of his second operational tour, he destroyed at least three enemy bombers and contributed much to the raising and development of new night-fighter formations.
After a short period in a training unit, he again volunteered for operational duties and returned to night bombers. Both as an operational pilot and as leader of his squadron, he achieved outstandingly successful results and his personal courage knew no bounds. Berlin, Cologne, Danzig, Gdynia, Genoa, Le Creusot, Milan, Nuremberg and Stuttgart were among the targets he attacked by day and by night.
On the conclusion of his third operational tour, Wing Commander Gibson pressed strongly to be allowed to remain on operations and he was selected to command a squadron then forming for special tasks. Under his inspiring leadership, this squadron has now executed one of the most devastating attacks of the war—the breaching of the Moehne and Eder dams.
The task was fraught with danger and difficulty. Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the antiaircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn.
Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed.
Wing Commander Gibson has completed over 170 sorties, involving more than 600 hours operational flying. Throughout his operational career, prolonged exceptionally at his own request, he has shown leadership, determination and valour of the highest order.
—The London Gazette, Tuesday, 25 May 1943, No. 3630 at Page 2361