12 December 1957

Major Adrian E. Drew, U.S. Air Force, 1920–1985. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

12 December 1957: Major Adrian Eason Drew, U.S. Air Force, commanding officer, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) absolute speed record over the 15/25 kilometer course at Edwards Air Force Base, California.¹ Major Drew flew a modified McDonnell F-101A-5-MC Voodoo, serial number 53-2426.

The Voodoo, the ninth production F-101A, had been bailed to Pratt & Whitney by the Air Force to test a new J57-P-55 afterburning turbojet engine intended for the F-101B Voodoo, and it was redesignated JF-101A. The new engine produced 16,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner. The modified aircraft had longer jet exhaust tubes, and air scoops were installed in the belly to provide additional cooling air for the afterburners.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Thompson Trophy. (NASM)

At 39,000 feet (11,887 meters), Major Drew accelerated for 65 miles (105 kilometers) before entering the 10.1 statute mile (16.25 kilometers) course. He made one pass in each direction. Actual time on course, each way, was 29.8 seconds. The official average speed for the two passes is 1,943.5 kilometers per hour (1,207.64 miles per hour). Although the air temperature was -79 °F. (-62 °C.), frictional heating brought the Voodoo’s skin temperature to 190 °F. (88 °C.), high enough to blister the airplane’s paint.

Major Drew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Thompson Trophy for 1957.

Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. [TDiA speculates that the man on the right is Major Drew’s younger brother, Bobby R. Drew.] (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Adrian Eason Drew was born 8 October 1920 in Georgia, the first of six children of John Robert Drew, a farmer, and Ada Elma Eason Drew.

After one year of college, Adrian Drew enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 March 1942, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (1.73 meters) tall and weighed 143 pounds (64.9 kilograms).

On 14 November 1942, Drew married Miss Sarah B. Kaylor in Pinellas County, Florida. They would have three daughters, Nancy, Bonnie and Jo Anne.

Colonel Drew was a combat pilot during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He commanded the 309th Strategic Fighter Squadron from January to October 1955, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. In August 1957, he became the first commanding officer of the 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron at Bergstom Air Force Base,  Austin, Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Drew commanded the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California, from 1962 to 1964, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief, and briefly commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Two weeks before a scheduled promotion to Brigadier General, Colonel Drew suffered a major heart attack and was forced to retire from the Air Force. He died 27 July 1985 at the age of 64 years. He was buried at Shawnee View Gardens Cemetery, Cumming, Georgia.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, holder of the World Absolute Speed Record, 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was originally designed as a single-seat, twin-engine long range bomber escort, or “penetration fighter” for the Strategic Air Command, but was developed as a fighter bomber and reconnaissance airplane. The Voodoo first flew 29 September 1954, and the first F-101A was delivered to the Air Force 2 May 1957.

The F-101A was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). It was 18 feet (5.486 meters) high. The Voodoo weighed 24,970 pounds (11,245 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms).

The standard F-101A was equipped with two Pratt and Whitney J57-P-13 afterburning turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 was rated at 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37, and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The J57-P-55 engines installed in the JF-101A were rated at 10,700 pounds of thrust (49.60 kilonewtons), and 16,900 pounds (75.18 kilonewtons) with afterburner. They were 20 feet,  11.93 inches (6.399 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,215 pounds (2,365 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-101A was 1,009 miles per hour (1,624 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 55,800 feet (17,008 meters). It carried 2,341 gallons (8,862 liters) of fuel internally. With external tanks, the fighter bomber had a maximum range of 2,925 miles (4,707.3 kilometers).

The F-101A was armed with four 20mm Pontiac M39 single-barreled revolver cannon, with 200 rounds per gun. It could carry a Mark 28 bomb on a centerline mount.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426 is on static display at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

A McDonnell Aircraft Corporation film about Operations Sun Run and Fire Wall is available of YouTube:

¹ FAI Record File Number 9064

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 December 1953

Bell X-1A 48-1384 in flight. The frost band on the fuselage shows the location of the cryogenic propellant tank. (U.S. Air Force)

12 December 1953: On its tenth flight, U.S. Air Force test pilot Major Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1A rocket plane to Mach 2.44 (1,621 miles per hour/2,609 kilometers per hour) at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters), faster than anyone had flown before.

After the rocket engine was shut down, the X-1A tumbled out of control—”divergent in three axes” in test pilot speak—and fell out of the sky. It dropped nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in 70 seconds. Yeager was exposed to accelerations of +8 to -1.5 g’s. The motion was so violent that Yeager cracked the rocketplane’s canopy with his flight helmet.

Yeager was finally able to recover by 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.

Yeager later remarked that if the X-1A had an ejection seat he would have used it.

Bell Aircraft Corporation  engineers had warned Yeager not to exceed Mach 2.3.

Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, seated in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A, 48-1384, circa 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

The following is from Major Charles E. Yeager’s official post-flight report:

“After a normal drop at 31,000 feet, chambers #4, #2, and #1 were ignited and [the] airplane was accelerated up to .8 Mach number. A flight path was formed holding .8 Mach number up to 43,000 feet where chamber #3 was ignited and the airplane accelerated in level flight to 1.1 Mach number. A climb was again started passing through 50,000 feet at 1.1 Mach number, 60,000 feet at 1.2 Mach number and a push-over was started at 62,000 feet. The top of the round-out occurred at 76,000 feet and 1.9 Mach number. The airplane was accelerated in level flight up to 2.4 [2.535 indicated] Mach number where all of the rocket chambers were cut. The flight path was very normal and nothing uneventful [sic] happened up to this point. After the engine was cut, the airplane went into a Dutch roll for approximately 2 oscillations and then started rolling to the right at a very rapid rate of roll. Full aileron and opposite rudder were applied with no effect on the rate of roll of the airplane. After approximately 8 to 10 complete rolls, the airplane stopped rolling in the inverted position and after approximately one-half of one second started rolling to the left at a rate in excess of 360 degrees per second, estimated by the pilot. At this point the pilot was completely disoriented and was not sure what maneuvers the airplane went through following the high rates of roll. Several very high ‘g’ loads both positive and negative and side loads were felt by the pilot. At one point during a negative ‘g’ load, the pilot felt the inner liner of the canopy break as the top of his pressure suit helmet came in contact with it. The first maneuver recognized by the pilot was an inverted spin at approximately 33,000 feet. The airplane then fell off into the normal spin from which the pilot recovered at 25,000 feet.”

Flight test data from Yeager's 12 December 1953 flight superimposed over a photograph of the bell X-1A. (NASA)
Flight test data from Yeager’s 12 December 1953 flight superimposed over a photograph of the Bell X-1A. (NASA)

The following is a transcript of radio transmissions during the flight:

Yeager: Illegible [inaudible]—gasping—I’m down to 25,000 over Tehachapi. Don’t know
whether I can get back to the base or not.
Chase (Ridley): At 25,000 feet, Chuck?
Yeager: Can’t say much more, I got to (blurry—save myself).
Yeager: I’m—(illegible)—(Christ!)
Chase (Ridley): What say, Chuck?
Yeager: I say I don’t know if I tore anything up or not but Christ!
Chase (Murray): Tell us where you are if you can.
Yeager: I think I can get back to the base okay, Jack. Boy, I’m not going to do that any more.
Chase (Murray): Try to tell us where you are, Chuck.
Yeager: I’m (gasping)…I’ll tell you in a minute. I got 1800 lbs [nitrogen] source pressure.
Yeager: I don’t think you’ll have to run a structure demonstration on this damned thing!
Chase (Murray): Chuck from Murray, if you can give me altitude and heading, I’ll try to check you from outside.
Yeager: Be down at 18,000 feet. I’m about—I’ll be over the base at about 15,000 feet in a minute.
Chase (Murray): Yes, sir.
Yeager: Those guys were so right!
Yeager: Source pressure is still 15 seconds, I’m getting OK now.
Yeager: I got all the oscillograph data switches off. 4 fps camera off, it’s okay.
Bell Truck: Jettison and vent your tanks.
Yeager: I have already jettisoned. Now I’m venting both lox and fuel. Leaving hydrogen peroxide alone.
Bell Truck: Roger.
Yeager: I cut it, I got—in real bad trouble up there.
Yeager: Over the base right now, Kit, at 14,500 feet.
Chase (Murray): I have you.

A North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre chase plane, 51-2848, follows the Bell X-1A as it glides toward Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
A North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre chase plane, 51-2848, follows the Bell X-1A as it glides toward Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

In his autobiography, Always Another Dawn, NACA test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield wrote:

Probably no other pilot could have come through that experience alive. Much later I asked Yeager, as a matter of professional interest, exactly how he regained control of the ship. He was vague in his reply, but he said he thought that after he reached the thick atmosphere, he had deliberately put the ship into a spin.

“A spin is something I know how to get out of,” he said. “That other business— the tumble—there is no way to figure that out.”

. . . Yeager received many accolades. I didn’t begrudge him one of them. If ever a pilot deserved praise for a job well done, it was Yeager. After that X-1A episode, he never flew a rocketplane again.

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield with Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, Chapter 19 at Pages 183–184.  

Bell X-1A 48-1384 (U.S. Air Force)

The Bell X-1A, 48-1384, was an experimental rocket-powered high-speed, high-altitude research aircraft. It was one of four second-generation X-1s (including the X-1B, X-1D and X-1E), specifically designed to investigate dynamic stability at speeds in excess of Mach 2 and altitudes greater than 90,000 feet. It was a mid-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was 35 feet, 6.58 inches (10.835 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 2.37 inches (3.261 meters). The wheelbase, measured from the nose wheel axle to the main wheel axle, was  13 feet, 5.13 inches. (4.093 meters). The main wheel tread was 4 feet, 3 inches (1.295 meters). The X-1A design gross weight was 10,668 pounds (4,839 kilograms).

The X-1A was powered by a single Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 rocket engine with four independent combustion chambers. The XLR11 was fueled with ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.689 kilonewtons).

The Bell X-1A made its first flight 14 February 1953 with Bell test pilot Jean Ziegler in the cockpit. It reached its highest speed, Mach 2.44 on Flight 10. Its highest altitude was 90,440 feet (27,566 meters) on its 24th flight. On 8 August 1955, while still on board its B-50 drop ship, the X-1A suffered an external explosion. The rocketplane was jettisoned and destroyed when it hit the desert floor.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1972 19:54:58 UTC, T plus 110:21:58

Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt stands in front of the lunar lander Challenger (LM-12) and the lunar rover, 01:13:58 UTC, 12 December 1972. (Eugene A. Cernan/NASA)
Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt stands in front of the lunar lander Challenger (LM-12) and the lunar rover, 01:13:58 UTC, 12 December 1972. (Eugene A. Cernan/NASA)

11 December 1972, 19:54:58 UTC: Apollo 17 lunar module Challenger with astronauts Eugene A. Cernan and Harrison H. Schmitt landed at the Taurus-Littrow Valley, The Moon.

Apollo 17 was the last manned moon mission.

Gene Cernan was the last human to stand on the lunar surface.

Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt and the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater in the Taurus-Littrow Valley, The Moon. (Eugene A. Cernan/NASA)
Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt and the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater in the Taurus-Littrow Valley, The Moon. (Eugene A. Cernan/NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1959

Lieutenant General Joseph H. Moore (1914–2007)
Lieutenant General Joseph H. Moore, United States Air Force

11 December 1959: Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore, U.S. Air Force, Wing Commander, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record when he flew a Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief, serial number 57-5812, over a closed 100-kilometer (62.137 miles) closed course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Thunderchief averaged 1,878.67 kilometers per hour (1,167.35 miles per hour).¹ General Moore’s fighter bomber was a standard production aircraft and it was armed with a full load of ammunition for the M61 cannon.

FAI Record File Num #8873 [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 closed circuit of 100 km without payload
Performance: 1 878.67 km/h
Date: 1959-12-11
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Joseph H. Moore (USA)
Aeroplane: Republic F-105B
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney J-75

Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape. The Thunderchief was 63 feet, 1 inch (19.228 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters). It was 19 feet, 8 inches high (5.994 meters). wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no twist. The wings had 3° 30′ anhedral. The total wing area was 385 square feet (35.8 square meters). The F-105 had an empty weight of 25,855 pounds (11,728 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms).

Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Early production F-105Bs had the Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5 axial-flow turbojet engine. Beginning with the Block 20 aircraft, the more powerful J75-P-19 was installed. The -19 engine was retrofitted to the earlier aircraft. The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 14,300 pounds of thrust (63.61 kilonewtons), continuous power; 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons), Military Power (30-minute limit); and Maximum Power rating of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15-minute limit). The engine could produce 26,500 pounds of thrust (117.88 kilonewtons) with water injection, for takeoff. The J75-P-19W is 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

Armament consisted of one 20 mm General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun with 1,080 rounds of ammunition. It had an internal bomb bay and could carry bombs, missiles or fuel tanks on under wing and centerline hardpoints. The maximum bomb load consisted of four 750-pound (340 kilogram) bombs. For tactical nuclear strike missions, the F-105B could carry one Mk-28 “special store” in the internal bomb bay.

The F-105B had a maximum speed of 737 knots (848 miles/1,364 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 1,204 knots (1,386 miles per hour/2,230 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling was 45,700 feet (13,929 meters). Maximum range was 2,006 nautical miles (2,308 statute miles/3,715 kilometers).

Republic Aircraft Corporation built 833 Thunderchiefs for the U.S. Air Force. 75 of those were F-105Bs. 372 F-105s were lost to enemy action in South East Asia.

Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812 served with the 119th Tactical Fighter Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard, and was later assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 508th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. One source indicates that the the record-setting F-105B was used as a battle damage repair trainer at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, from October 1980.

Six F-105B-10-REs (6 of 9 block 10 aircraft built) of General Moore's 4th Tactical Fighter Wing parked on the ramp. The stripes on the nose and vertical fin are green. Aircraft are (nearest to farthest) S/N 57-5779, -5780, -5782, -5784, -5781, -5778. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Six F-105B-10-REs (6 of 9 block 10 aircraft built) of General Moore’s 4th Tactical Fighter Wing parked on the ramp. The stripes on the nose and vertical fin are green. Aircraft are (nearest to farthest) 57-5779, -5780, -5782, -5784, -5781, -5778. (U.S. Air Force)
Three Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchiefs, serial numbers 57-5815, 57-5807 and 57-5822, begin their takeoff roll. This is the same block number as the F-105B flown by General Moore for the FAI World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Three Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchiefs, serial numbers 57-5815, 57-5807 and 57-5822, begin their takeoff roll. These are from the same production block as the F-105B flown by General Moore for the FAI World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812, assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (Million Monkey Theater)
The World Speed Record holder, Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812, assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 508th Tactical Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (Million Monkey Theater)

¹ Many sources cite General Moore’s World Record Speed for the 100-kilometer closed course at 1,216.48 miles per hour (1,957.745 kilometers per hour). The FAI’s official web site gives General Moore’s speed as 1,878.67 kilometers per hour (1,167.35 miles per hour). (See above.) Also, many sources (including General Moore’s official Air Force biography) state that General Moore won the Bendix Trophy for this flight. The Bendix Trophy was awarded to the winner of an annual West-to-East transcontinental air race. The Smithsonian Institution indicates that the Bendix Trophy was not awarded for the years 1958, 1959 or 1960.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1951

Test pilot William R. Murray at the control of Kaman K-225, Bu. No. 125477, with a Boeing 502-2 gas turbine engine installed, hovering out of ground effect. (U.S. Navy)

11 December 1951: The first helicopter powered by a gas turbine engine made its first flight at the Kaman Aircraft Company plant at Bloomfield, Connecticut. Using a K-225 tandem rotor helicopter delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1949, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 125477, Kaman replaced the 220 horsepower Lycoming O-435-A2 reciprocating engine with a Boeing 502-2E turboshaft engine. This engine could produce 175 continuous horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. at Sea Level, less than the piston engine it replaced, but it also weighed considerably less.

K-225 Bu. No. 125477 was the first helicopter to perform an intentional loop, when it was delivered to the Navy at NATC Patuxent River by factory test pilot William R. Murray. It was placed in storage at Bradley Field, Windsor Locks, Connecticut until 1957. The gas turbine had been removed. When the helicopter was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1957, a similar-appearing Boeing YT-50-BO-2 gas turbine engine was installed.

The K-225 was a two-place, single-engine helicopter using Kaman’s unique system of counter-rotating, intermeshing rotors (“synchropter”). Each rotor cancelled the torque reaction of the other, eliminating the need for a tail rotor. In a conventional single-rotor helicopter, up to 30% of the engine power is required to drive the tail rotor. With the counter-rotating design, the total engine power is available for lift and thrust.

K-225 Bu. No. 125477 is 22 feet, 5 inches (6.83 meters) long. Each rotor has a diameter of 38 feet (11.58 meters). It stands 11 feet, 6 inches (3.51 meters) high. The helicopter has an empty weight of 1,800 pounds (816 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 2,700 pounds (1,225 kilograms). It is a slow helicopter, with a never-exceed (VNE) limit of 70 miles per hour (112.7 kilometers per hour). This historic helicopter is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Kaman K-225, Bu. No. 125477, the first gas turbine-powered helicopter, at the Vertical Flight Gallery, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia. (NASM)
Kaman K-225, Bu. No. 125477, the first gas turbine-powered helicopter, at the Vertical Flight Gallery, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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