17 August 1958

Thor-Able 1 Pioneer launch, 17 August 1958. NASA)
Thor-Able 1 Pioneer launch, 17 August 1958. NASA)

17 August 1958: In what was the first attempt to launch a spacecraft beyond Earth orbit, Thor-Able 1 was to place a small instrumented satellite in orbit around the Moon. Called Pioneer, the satellite carried a television camera, a micrometeorite detector and a magnetometer.

The Thor-Able was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 12:28:00 UTC, 4 minutes behind schedule.

73.6 seconds into the flight, at an altitude of 9.9 miles (16 kilometers), the first stage of the rocket exploded. Telemetry from the upper stages continued and that was tracked until impact in the Atlantic Ocean. An investigation found the cause to be a turbopump failure.

The Thor Able was a two-stage orbital launch vehicle which was developed from the Douglas Aircraft Company’s SM-75 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile.

Designated Thor DM-19, the first stage was 60.43 feet (18.42 meters) long and 8 feet (2.44 meters) in diameter. Fully fueled, the first stage had a gross weight of 108,770 pounds (49,337 kilograms). It was powered by a Rocketdyne LR-79-7 engine which burned liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a highly-refined kerosene rocket fuel) and produced 170,565 pounds of thrust (758.711 kilonewtons). This stage had a burn time of 2 minutes, 45 seconds.

The second stage was an Aerojet General Corporation-built Able, a second stage for the U.S. Navy’s Vanguard rocket. It was 21 feet,6.6 inches (6.57 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 2 feet, 9 inches (0.84 meters). The second stage had a gross weight of 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms). It used an Aerojet AJ10-101 rocket engine which burned a hypergolic  mixture of nitric acid and UDMH. The second stage produced 7,711 pounds of thrust (34.300 kilonewtons) and burned for 1 minutes, 55 seconds.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1951

Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force
Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force

17 August 1951: In order to demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Colonel Fred J. Ascani, Vice Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, California, to the National Air Races at Detroit, Michigan. He was to attempt a new world speed record.

Colonel Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (FAI)
Colonel Fred J. Ascani with the Thompson Trophy, 1951. (AP)

Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Fred Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 1,023.04 kilometers per hour (635.69 miles per hour), and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers.¹

For his accomplishment, Colonel Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy.

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E Sabre was an improved F-86A. The most significant change was the incorporation of an “all flying tailplane” in which the entire horizontal tail moved to control the airplane’s pitch. The tailplane pivoted around its rear spar, allowing the leading edge to move up or down 8°. The elevators were mechanically linked to the tailplane and their movement was proportional to the tailplane’s movement. Control was hydraulic, and this provided improved handling at high speeds where compressibility could “freeze” control surfaces. There were systems improvements as well, with “artificial feel” to the hydraulic controls to improve feedback to the pilot and prevent over-controlling. Beginning with Block 10 aircraft, the “V”-shaped windscreen of the earlier models was replaced with an optically flat laminated glass windshield.

Fred Ascani in the cockpit of F-86E
Fred Ascani in the cockpit of North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2724. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,555 pounds (4,787.7 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 16,436 pounds (7,455.2 kilograms).

The F-86E was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engine. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. The J47-GE-13 was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust and 6,000 pounds (“wet”). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds ( kilograms).

The F-86E Sabre had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,092.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 601 miles per hour (967.2 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet (14,386.7 meters).

The F-86E carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,022 miles (1,645 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684. North American Aviation built 336 F-86Es and 60 more were built by Canadair (F-86E-6-CAN).

In order to emphasize that Colonel Ascani’s record-setting Sabre was a standard production airplane, it was immediately sent into combat with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, Korea. There, it was christened THIS’LL KILL YA. On 3 May 1953, 51-2721 was damaged during a landing accident at Kimpo Air Base, but it was repaired and returned to service.

The FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952.
A group of Allied pilots stand with the FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952. Its pilot, Lieutenant Jack L. Price, has named it THIS’LL KILL YA.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10429

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1946

Sergeant Lawrence Lambert is ejected from a P-61B Black Widow, 17 August 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
Sergeant Lawrence Lambert is ejected from the Northrop XP-61B Black Widow, 17 August 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Sgt. Lawrence Lambert

17 August 1946: First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, U.S. Army Air Forces, was the first person to eject from an aircraft in flight in the United States.

Lambert was assigned to the Air Material Command Parachute Branch, Personal Equipment Laboratory. He was an 11-year veteran of the Air Corps. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. Previous to this test, Lambert had made 58 parachute jumps.

The test aircraft was a modified Northrop P-61B-2-NO Black Widow night fighter, 42-39498,¹ redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Captain McGyrt and named Jack in the Box.

The ejection seat was placed in the gunner’s position, just behind and above the Black Widow’s pilot. A 37 mm cartridge fired within a 38 inch (0.97 meter) gun barrel launched the seat from the airplane at approximately 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). Lambert experienced 12–14 Gs acceleration.

Flying  over Patterson Field at more than 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), Lambert fired the ejection seat. He and the seat were propelled approximately 40 feet (12 meters) above the airplane. After 3 seconds, he separated from the seat, and after another 3 seconds of free fall, his parachute opened automatically. Automatic timers fired smaller cartridges to release Lambert from the seat, and to open the parachute.

Sergeant Lawrence parachuted safely. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read:

His courageous in the face of unknown factors that might have caused serious injury or loss of life, has contributed immeasurably to aeronautical and medical knowledge of the ejection method of escape from the aircraft. —Air Force Enlisted Heritage Institute

Lambert was later involved in rocket sled tests with Colonel John P. Stapp, M.D., Ph.D.

¹ Another source states 42-39489.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1943

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortresses of the 1st Bombardment Wing (Heavy) over Schweinfurt, Germany, 17 August 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

17 August 1943: Mission No. 84. One year after the Eighth Air Force first attacked occupied Europe with its B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, a mass attack of 376 B-17s attacked the Messerschmitt Bf-109 factory at Regensburg, Germany, and the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt.

Over Germany for over two hours without fighter escort, 60 bombers were shot down and as many as 95, though they made it to bases in Allied territory, were so badly damaged that they never flew again. 55 air crews (552 men) were listed as missing in action.

Of the 146 B-17s of the 4th Bombardment Wing which attacked Regensburg, 126 dropped their bombs, totaling 298.75 tons (271.02 Metric tons), destroying the factory and seriously slowing the production of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. After the attack, the 4th Bomb Wing headed for bases in North Africa. 122 B-17s landed there, half of them damaged.

The 1st Bombardment Wing (Heavy) sent 230 B-17s to Schweinfurt. Weather delays caused the planned diversion of two separate attacks to be unsuccessful. Cloud buildup over the Continent forced the bombers to fly at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), nearly 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) lower than planned, increasing their vulnerability. Just 183 bombers made it to the target and dropped 424.3 tons (383.9 Metric tons) on the five factories in the target area. Then they headed back to their bases in England, under fighter attack most of the way. The 1st Bombardment Wing lost 36 bombers.

Though the raid did cut production of ball bearings as much as 34%, the losses were quickly made up from stockpiles. The two attacking forces succeeded in shooting down 25–27 German fighters.

A B-17 Flying Fortress, its right wing shot off and the left outboard engine on fire, goes down over Europe. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1942

A flight of Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers forms up over England, 1942. “Yankee Doodle,” 41-9023, is just to the left of center. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker (Margaret Bourke-White/LIFE)

17 August 1942: Mission No. 1. The United States VIII Bomber Command made its first heavy bomber attack on Nazi-occupied Europe when eighteen Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, headed for the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France. This was the largest and most active railroad yard in northern France.

The group began takeoffs at 1530 hours. It was escorted by several squadrons of Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters.

While six B-17s flew along the French coast as a diversion, twelve bombers flew to Rouen and were over the target from 1739 to 1746. From an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), they dropped 39,000 pounds (17,690 kilograms) of general purpose bombs.

Accuracy was good. One of the aim points, the locomotive shops, was destroyed by a direct hit. The overall results were moderate.

Rouen-Sotteville target assesment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Rouen-Sotteville target assessment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

All of the bombers returned to their base, with the first landing at 1900. Two B-17s had been damaged. American gunners claimed damage to one Luftwaffe airplane.

brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded the raid from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, here being serviced between missions. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded Mission No. 1 from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, shown here being serviced between missions. This bomber survived the War. (U.S. Air Force)

The raid was commanded by Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker aboard Yankee Doodle, B-17E 41-9023, leading the second flight of six B-17s. The 97th Bombardment Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., flew as the co-pilot of the lead ship, Butcher Shop, B-17E 41-2578, with pilot Major Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. Tibbets was in command of the 97th’s 340th Bombardment Squadron. (He would later command the 509th Composite Group and fly the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.)

Colonel Frank A. Armstrong in the pilot's position of a Boeing B-17 (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 890)
Colonel Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, commanding the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), in the pilot’s position of a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress. (Imperial War Museum)

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a major redesign. A new aft fuselage was used, incorporating larger vertical and horizontal stabilizers. A tail turret was added. A power-operated gun turret was added at dorsal and ventral positions.

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 73 feet, 10 inches (22.504 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 2 inch (5.842 meters). Its empty weight was 32,350 pounds (14,674 kilograms), 40,260 pounds (18,262 kilograms) gross weight, and the maximum takeoff weight was 53,000 pounds (24,040 kilograms).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2587, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 4053)
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms). 8,422 of these engines were produced by Wright Aeronautical Division and its licensees between February 1940 and August 1942.

The B-17E had a cruise speed of 195 miles per hour (314 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 318 miles per hour (512 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 36,600 feet (11,156 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 2,490 gallons (9,426 liters) the B-17E had a maximum range of 3,300 miles (5,311 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF.
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, the lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France, flown by Major Paul W. Tibbets, photographed at RAF Bovingdon, 1943. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E Flying Fortress was armed with one .30-caliber Browning M2 Aircraft Machine Gun and eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The .30 was mounted in the nose.  Power turrets mounting two .50-caliber guns, each, were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. (The first 112 B-17Es were built with a remotely-operated turret in the belly position, sighted by a periscope. A manned ball turret replaced this.) Two machine guns were in a tail turret, and one on each side at the waist.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17E was 20,800 pounds (9,435 kilograms) over very short distances. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) or four 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing. 512 of the total were B-17Es. The last one was completed 28 May 1942. Production shifted to the further-improved B-17F.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2509, flying over the Florida Keys, circa 1942. (United States Air Force via Getty Images)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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