14 September 2003

Captain Chris Stricklin ejects from his F-16C approximately 140 feet above the ground at Mountain Home AFB, 14 September 2003. (SSgt Bennie J. Davis III, U.S. Air Force)
Captain Chris Stricklin ejects from his F-16C approximately 140 feet (43 meters) above the ground at Mountain Home AFB, 14 September 2003. (Detail from photograph by SSgt Bennie J. Davis III, U.S. Air Force)
Captain Chris R. Stricklin, USAF
Captain Chris R. Stricklin, USAF

14 September 2003: During an air show at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Captain Chris R. Stricklin, a member of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, was flying Thunderbird Six, a solo demonstration aircraft. Thunderbird Six was a General Dynamics F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon, serial number 87-0327, a single-seat, single-engine fighter.

Captain Stricklin was performing a “Maximum Climb and Split-S on Takeoff” maneuver, in which the pilot takes off in a maximum climb at 55° nose up to a height of 3,500 feet above the ground, rolls to an inverted position and performs a descending inside half loop. This results in the aircraft returning to level flight in the opposite direction, upright, and at a considerably lower altitude.

Diagram of Split-S maneuver.
Diagram of Split-S maneuver.

During his time with the Thunderbirds, Stricklin had performed this maneuver more than 200 times. This time, though, he mistakenly entered the Split-S at 2,670 feet (814 meters) above the ground—when he should have been at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) AGL. As he came approached the vertical point in his dive, he realized that he did not have enough altitude to pull out.

Captain Stricklin banked the F-16 so that it was heading away from the crowd of spectators, and when he was just 140 feet (43 meters) above the surface, he ejected from the fighter. 87-0327 impacted the ground 0.8 seconds later and was completely destroyed. The F-16 was valued at $20.4 million.

Captain Stricklin descends by parachute as his F-16 leaves a trail of fire on the runway at Mountain Home AFB. (Still frame from YouTube video at https://youtu.be/ujXnhCfrjX8 )
Captain Stricklin descends by parachute as his F-16 leaves a trail of fire on the runway at Mountain Home AFB. (Still frame from video at https://youtu.be/ujXnhCfrjX8 )
F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon 87-0327, 422 TES landing at Nellis AFB 30 March 1989. (Takeshi Imagome via F-16.net)
General Dynamics F-16C Block 32J Fighting Falcon 87-0327, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, landing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 30 March 1989. It is armed with an AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile. (Takeshi Imagome via F-16.net)

The F-16 was designed to be a highly-maneuverable, light weight air superiority day fighter, but it has evolved into a multi-role fighter/fighter bomber with all weather attack capability. The F-16C is a single-seat, single-engine Mach 2+ fighter. It is 49 feet, 4 inches (15.037 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 0 inches (9.449 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 8½ inches (5.093 meters). It has an empty weight of 18,238 pounds (8,272.6 kilograms), a loaded weight of 26,463 pounds (12,003.4 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,300 pounds (19,186.9 kilograms).

The F-16C Block 32J is powered by one Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 afterburning turbofan engine which produces a maximum of 23,770 pounds of thrust (105.34 kilonewtons).

The Fighting Falcon has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at Sea Level, and Mach 2.02 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling is higher than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

The F-16C is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm 6-barreled Gatling gun with 515 rounds of ammunition, and can carry a wide range of missiles and bombs, including the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, and AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles..

Thunderbird Six, an F-16C, 87-0327, seen in February 2001. (F-16.net)
Thunderbird Six, General Dynamics F-16C Block 32J 87-0327, photographed in February 2001. (F-16.net)

This accident ended Striklin’s assignment with the Thunderbirds. He was reassigned as Pilot Career Field Manager, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force.

A 1994 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Stricklin went on to earn a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and later a Master  of Military Operational Art and Science degree from the Air Command and Staff College.

Captain Stricklin was promoted to the rank of major, 1 September 2004. From 2006 to 2007, Major Stricklin was Chief of Fighter Operations, NATO, at Eskisehir Air Base, Turkey. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel 1 June 2008. From February 2009 to June 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Stricklin was assigned as Chief of Safety, 14th Flying Training Wing, at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. On 18 June 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Stricklin was assigned to command the 49th Fighter Training Squadron, also at Columbus. After assignments to the White House and the Army War College, Stricklin was assigned to NATO as Chief of Staff, Air Training Command, Kabul, Afghanistan. In June 2014, Lieutenant Colonel Stricklin was assigned as Vice Commander, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Force Base, California. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel, 1 September 2014. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2017.

Colonel Chris R. Stricklin, United States Air Force.
Colonel Chris R. Stricklin, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 September 1962

Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler Mach 2+ strategic bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

14 September 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., United States Air Force, with Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines, flew a Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2456, to a record 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) while carrying a 5,000 kilogram payload. This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in both the 2,000 kilogram (4,409.25 pounds) ¹ and 5,000 kilogram (11,023.11 pounds) ² classes.

Left to right, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., USAF, Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines. (FAI)
Left to right, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., USAF, Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines. (FAI)
Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., 1942.

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born 6 June 1925 at Blakeley, Georgia. He was the son of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton and Manila T. Fulton. He graduated from Columbus High School, Columbus, Georgia, in 1942. He later studied at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma (just south of Oklahoma City). he graduated from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fitz Fulton married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945.

He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. He flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport during the Berlin Airlift and Douglas B-26 Invaders during the Korean War. Fulton graduated from the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber. At Edwards AFB, he flew the B-52 “motherships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie to more than Mach 3. When Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966, he was a lieutenant colonel assigned as Chief of Bomber and Transport Test Operations.

Fitz Fulton continued as a test pilot for NASA, flying as project pilot for the YF-12A and YF-12C research program. He flew all the early test flights of the NASA/Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and carried the space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. By the time he had retired from NASA, Fulton had flown more than 16,000 hours in 235 aircraft types.

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with a full weapons load. Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, U.S. Air Force, flew this Mach 2+ strategic bomber to an altitude of 16.2 miles (26 kilometers) over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 September 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wing’s leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder, and there are no flaps.

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine, rated at 10,300 pounds of thrust (45.82 kilonewtons), and 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.136 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.965 meters) in diameter.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of a W-39 warhead, and/or Mk.43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 warhead, the same used with the Redstone IRBM or Snark cruise missile, was carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel for the aircraft. The smaller bombs were carried on underwing hardpoints. For defense, there was a General Electric M61 Vulcan 20×102 mm six-barreled rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of linked ammunition, controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456 was assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Wing at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas until 1969 when it was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 9 December 1969. The record-setting strategic bomber was scrapped 1 June 1977.

FAI altitiude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber's weapons capability. (U.S. Air Force)
FAI altitude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber’s weapons capability. Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, U.S. Air Force, flew this Mach 2+ strategic bomber to an altitude of 16.2 miles (26 kilometers) over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 September 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14656

² FAI Record File Number 14652

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 September 1939

The prototype VS-300 helicopter clears the ground for the first time, 14 September 1939. Igor Sikorsky is at the controls. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
The prototype VS-300 helicopter clears the ground for the first time, 14 September 1939. Igor Sikorsky is at the controls. His right foot rests on the anti-torque pedal. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

14 September 1939: At Stratford, Connecticut, Igor Sikorsky made the first tethered flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 prototype helicopter. The duration of the flight was just 10 seconds but demonstrated that the helicopter could be controlled.

The Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 was the first successful single main rotor, single tail rotor helicopter.

The three-bladed main rotor had a diameter of 28 feet (8.534 meters) and turned approximately 255 r.p.m. The rotor turned clockwise as seen from above (the advancing blade is on the left). This would later be reversed. A counter-weighted single blade anti-torque rotor with a length of 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) is mounted on the left side of the monocoque beam tail boom in a pusher configuration and turns counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left (the advancing blade is above the axis of rotation).

Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 under construction, 8 September 1939. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 under construction, 8 September 1939. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

In the initial configuration, the VS-300 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 144.489-cubic-inch-displacement (2.368 liter) Lycoming O-145-C3 horizontally-opposed, four-cylinder, direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. It was rated at 75 horsepower at 3,100 r.p.m., using 73-octane gasoline. It was equipped with a single Stromberg carburetor and dual Scintilla magnetos. The dry weight of the O-145-C3 was 167 pounds (75.75 kilograms). Later in the VS-300’s development, the Lycoming was replaced by a 90-horsepower Franklin 4AC-199 engine.

On 19 December 1939, the VS-300 was rolled over by a gust of wind and damaged. It was rebuilt, however, and developed through a series of configurations. It made its first free (untethered) flight 13 May 1940.

Test flights continued for several years. After 102 hours, 32 minutes, 26 seconds of flight, the VS-300 was donated to the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.

Igor Sikorsky adjusts is fedora while at teh controls of the VS-300. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Igor Sikorsky adjusts his fedora while at the controls of the VS-300. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 September 1985

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-17-MC Eagle, 76-0084, “Celestial Eagle,” ASAT missile launch, 13 September 1985. (U.S. Air Force)

13 September 1985: Major Wilbert D. Pearson, U.S. Air Force, flying McDonnell Douglas F-15A-17-MC, 76-0084, Celestial Eagle, launched an anti-satellite missile in a test, approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, on the central coast of California.

From level flight at Mach 1.22, Major Pearson pulled into a 3.8 G zoom to a 65° angle of climb. On reaching 38,100 feet (11,613 meters) and having slowed to 0.934 Mach, the LTV ASM-135 missile was automatically launched. At 1:42 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the 30 pound (13.6 kilogram) kinetic interceptor collided with the Solwind P78-1 satellite at an altitude of 345 miles (555 kilometers) and a closing speed of 15,000 miles per hour (21,140 kilometers per hour).

ASM-135 first stage ignition. (U.S. Air Force)
Ball Aerospace Solwind P78-1 (NASA)
Ball Aerospace Solwind P78-1 (NASA)

Solwind P78-1 was an Orbiting Solar Observatory satellite built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., of Broomfield, Colorado. The satellite had been launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base, 24 February 1979, and was in an almost circular orbit. P78-1 weighed 1,870 pounds (848 kilograms). Degraded batteries had made the satellite difficult to work and it was planned to terminate the mission when it was selected as the target for the ASAT.

The ASM-135 was a three-stage guided missile using a Boeing AGM-69 Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) as its first stage and an LTV Aerospace Altair 3 rocket as the second stage. The third stage was the homing vehicle, which used an infrared seeker to intercept the targeted satellite. This was not an explosive warhead. The satellite was destroyed by the energy of the very high speed impact. The ASM-135 is 18 feet (5.48 meters) long, 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) in diameter and weighs 2,600 pounds (1,180 kilograms).

This incident was used as a plot device in Tom Clancy’s speculative World War III novel, Red Storm Rising.

22 years later, Celestial Eagle was assigned to the 125th Fighter Wing, Florida Air National Guard, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, and was flown by General Pearson’s son, Captain Todd Pearson of the 390th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. F-15A-17-MC 76-0084 was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 19 August 2010.

Major General Doug Pearson, USAF (Ret.), with Captain Todd Pearson, USAF, and the “Celestial Eagle,” 13 September 2007. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 September 1935

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the H-1 Special, NR258Y, 1935. (FAI)
Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, 1935. (FAI)

13 September 1935: Flying his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y,  Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course near Santa Ana, California. Making seven passes over the measured course, each in opposite directions, his average speed was 567.12 kilometers per hour (352.39 miles per hour).¹ This was 61.27 kilometers per hour (38.07 miles per hour) faster than the previous record, set by Raymond Delmotte, 25 December 1934, flying a Caudron C.460 Rafale

Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1935, Page 3, Columns 2–5

Just after completing the final pass over the course, the airplane’s engine stopped due to fuel starvation. Hughes made a belly landing in a farm field. He was uninjured and the airplane received only minor damage.

Howard Hughes with his H-1, NR258Y, in a been field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1935.
Howard Hughes with his H-1, NR258Y, in a farmer’s field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1935. (AP)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

HUGHES WINS SKY RECORD AND CRASHES

Death Escaped in Mishap

Millionaire Flyer Forced Down After Averaging 347 Miles and Hour

     Howard Hughes, Millionaire sport flyer, missed death by a narrow margin yesterday morning a few seconds after he brought back to the United States the world’s speed mark for land planes when he averaged 347 miles an hour near Santa Ana.

Official confirmation of the new mark must await calibration of the speed over the measured three-kilometer course, bordering the Eddie Martin Airport, by the Federation Aeronautic Internationale of Paris, France. The figures are to be submitted following a conference between officials of the National Aeronautics Association and representatives of the California Institute of Technology.

TIMER CONFIDENT

     “I don’t expect any difficulty in having Hughes’s speed marks officially allowed,” said William R. Enyart, official timer, shortly after the mystery racing plane made a forced landing in a beet field and ploughed a furrow for sixty yards.

     Hughes had just completed his seventh lap against the former world record of 314.319 miles an hour, held by Raymond Delmotte of France, when he suddenly lifted the silver monoplane into the air as his fourteen-cylinder Wasp radial air-cooled engine sputtered.

     The pilot sought altitude, climbing to 500 feet. Then he turned and headed for the beet field, his engine stopped.

DEAD STICK LANDING

     Despite his landing speed of about eighty miles and hour, Hughes made a perfect “dead stick” landing as the ship flattened out on its lower side and slid through the soft ground. A bent propeller and wrenched landing gear were the only visible damage.

     “My gas supply in one tank was exhausted,” Hughes said as he stepped unhurt from the racer. When I switched on the other tank the motor didn’t take it. An air lock—pressure built up from the dry tank—had developed in the line and the only thing I could do was attempt a forced landing.”

WINS CONGRATULATIONS

     Hughes received the congratulations of numerous officials gathered to witness the assault on the speed record for his manipulation of the speedy ship and the perfect landing. Amelia Earhart, who had been flying as an observer, was one of the first to praise the pilot.

     “The stoppage in gas came so suddenly, Hughes said, “that I did not have time to lower the retractable landing gear. It was only partially down when the plane hit. The force drove it back into the ship and probably aided in preventing additional damage.”

SERIES OF CHECKS

     Six record-breaking tests were made as Hughes streaked over the course. An electronic chronograph photographed and clocked each flight. Four are required to officially set a new speed mark.

     Determination of Hughes to make his second record-breaking attempt early yesterday morning came as a surprise and after he and his assistants had spent the night checking over difficulties faced in the flight late Thursday afternoon.

     Hughes rolled his $120,000, 1000-horsepower, low-winged monoplane from the hangar at Union Air Terminal shortly after daylight and awaited word from officials at the measured course that all was in readiness.

     At 6:30 a.m. he flashed into the air and an hour and ten minutes later had made his successful seven flight when halted by the gas supply stoppage.

     Hughes and associates announced that the next speed record he will attempt to break in his specially constructed racer will be the flight from Los Angeles to New York. The present time, 10 hours and 2 minutes, is held by Col. Roscoe Turner.

SCENE OF FLIGHT

     The record-breaking flight was made over the course on the Irvine ranch surveyed for the late Dr. Albert A. Michelson’s experiments to measure the speed of light. Joe Nikrent and W.H. Hitchman, representing the National Aeronautic Association, helped time the dashes.

     In beating the Delmotte record by approximately twenty-nine miles an hour, Hughes brings back to America, the record once held by the late James Wedell. Wedell set a world mark of490.8 kilometers an hour, only to have it bettered by the French flyer last December 24.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LIV, Saturday, 14 September 1935, Page 1, Column 4, and Page 3, Columns 3 and 4

The Hughes H-1, NR258Y, at rest in a farm field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1934. (Corbis)

The Hughes H-1 (Federal Aviation Administration records identify the airplane as the Hughes Model 1B, serial number 1) was a single-seat, single-engine low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. Emphasis had been placed on an aerodynamically clean design and featured flush riveting on the aluminum skin of the fuselage. The airplane was 27 feet, 0 inches long (8.230 meters) with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.6 meters) and height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). (A second set of wings with a span of 31 feet, 9 inches (9.677 meters) was used on Hughes’ transcontinental flight, 19 January 1937). The H-1 has an empty weight of 3,565 pounds (1,617 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,492 pounds (2,491 kilograms).

Hughes H-1B NX258Y at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (SDASM)

The H-1 was powered by a air-cooled, supercharged 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr. two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine. Pratt & Whitney produced 18 civil and 22 military (R-1535) versions of the Twin Wasp Jr., in both direct-drive and geared configurations, rated from 650 to 950 horsepower. According to a 1937 article in Popular Mechanics,

“Hughes’ motor is a stock air-cooled fourteen-cylinder twin-row Pratt & Whitney wasp junior that develops 700 horsepower at 2,500 revolutions per minute at 8,500 feet altitude. The engine has an outside diameter of forty-four and one-eighths inches, a dry weight of 1,060 pounds, and a displacement of 1,535 cubic inches. Compression ratio is 6.7 to one and the supercharger ratio is ten to one. Carburetion and magneto ignition are stock.”

Popular Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 67, No. 4, April 1937, at Page 502, Column 2

The data cited by Popular Mechanics seems to match the characteristics of P&W’s Twin Wasp Jr. S3A5-G aircraft engine.

The Hughes H-1 Racer, NR258Y, at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Hughes H-1 Racer, NR258Y, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Eric Long/NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8748

² FAI Record File Number 8749: 505.85 kilometers per hour (314.32 miles per hour)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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