21 November 1970

"The Raid, Blue Boy Element" by Michael Nikiporenko. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
“The Raid, Blue Boy Element” by Michael Nikiporenko. In this painting, a USAF/Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter, 65-12785, from 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, call sign BANANA 01, has intentionally crash-landed inside the prison compound at 0219 to insert the BLUE BOY element of Green Berets. (Son Tay Raiders Association)

21 November 1970: Operation Kingpin was a mission to rescue 61 American prisoners of war at the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. There were over 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers stationed within five miles of the prison. The ultra-secret mission was carried out by 56 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and 98 airmen aboard 28 aircraft.

Months of intelligence gathering, mission planning and meticulous training preceded the mission. Personnel were selected from more than 500 volunteers. Training was conducted at Duke Field, an auxiliary field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. A full-size replica of the prison was constructed and live-fire training was conducted. Aircraft formations flew day and night, following the precise courses and distances that would be flown during the actual mission.

Originally planned for October, the mission had to be pushed back to November.

 Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)
Reconnaissance photograph showing the Sơn Tây prison and surrounding area. (U.S. Air Force)

Two Lockheed C-130E(I) Combat Talons (a special operations variant of the four-engine Hercules transport), call signs CHERRY 01 and CHERRY 02, each lead a formation of aircraft for the raid. The assault group, consisting of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 65-12785, (BANANA 01) and five Sikorsky HH-53B/C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters (APPLE 01–05) carried the Special Forces team. The second formation was a strike group of five Douglas A-1E Skyraiders (PEACH 01–05) for close air support. The Combat Talons provided navigation and communications for their groups and illumination over the prison.

A C-130 Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
A C-130E Combat Talon leads the assault group during training at Duke Field, near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October–November 1970. (U.S. Air Force)
Soldiers of BLUE BOY element aboard the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, BANANA 01, at the start of Operation Kingpin. (Son Tay Raiders Association)
Rescue force enroute to Sơn Tây. (USAF 071120-F-6420S-002)

Because there was insufficient room to land a helicopter within the prison, it was planned to have BANANA 01, flown by Major Herbert D. Kalen and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Zehnder, and carrying a 14-man assault team, BLUEBOY, crash-land inside the perimeter. The Special Forces soldiers were tasked to locate and protect the prisoners and to kill any guards that might interfere. The larger helicopters first fired on the guard towers with their miniguns and then landed their soldiers outside the prison. The A-1 Skyraiders bombed and strafed nearby foot and vehicle bridges to stop reinforcements from making their way to the prison.

Assault Element Blueboy

Once inside the prison, it was quickly discovered that there were no American POWs there. The assault forces then withdrew. The total time from the beginning to the end of the assault was just 26 minutes. One American soldier suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The crew chief of BANANA 01 broke an ankle when it was hit by a falling fire extinguisher during the crash landing. As expected, BANANA 01 was written off. Between 100–200 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed.

A Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant, illuminated by the flash of an exploding surface-to-air missile, leaves the Sơn Tây Prison, 21 November 1970. Banana 01, the Sikorsky HH-3E, is visible inside the prison compound. (Air University, United States Air Force)

During the withdrawal from the area, North Vietnam fired more than 36 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. None were hit, though one Republic F-105G Wild Weasel, 62-4436, call sign FIREBIRD 05, was damaged by a near miss. This aircraft ran out of fuel just short of its tanker rendezvous and the crew bailed out over Laos. They were rescued by Super Jolly Green Giants APPLE 04 and APPLE 05, after they had been refueled by an HC-130P Combat Shadow, LIME 02.

Although meticulously planned and carried out, the mission failed because the POWs had been moved to another prison camp, closer to Hanoi (“Camp Faith”). Three days after the raid on Sơn Tây, they were again moved, this time to the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Jolly Green Giant

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This is the same type helicopter as BANANA 01. (U.S. Air Force)

Super Jolly Green Giant

This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Son Tay Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
This USAF/Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-10357, a special operations combat search and rescue helicopter, was APPLE 01 on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970. Flown by LCOL Warner A. Britton and MAJ Alfred C. Montream, it carried the command element for the raid. Built at Stratford, Connecticut, as a HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, it was continuously upgraded over its service life, to MH-53E, MH-53J and finally MH-53M. It flew its last mission 28 March 2008 in Iraq. After 38 years of continuous front line service, Three Five Seven was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Combat Talon, Combat Shadow

This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, flying to Cannon AFB, New Mexico, where it will be placed on display. (U.S. Air Force)
This Lockheed MC-130E-LM Combat Talon I, serial number 64-0523, was CHERRY 01, leading the assault helicopters during the raid on the Sơn Tây prison. After 47 years of service and more than 23,500 flight hours, Five-Two-Three made its last flight, 22 June 2012. It is shown in this photograph taking off from its special operations base at Duke Field, near Eglin AFB, Florida, on its final flight. It is on static display at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. LIME 02, HC-130P-130-LM Combat Shadow 65-0991, is also displayed at Cannon. (U.S. Air Force)

Skyraider

This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
This Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649, was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Air Force in 1952. In 1966, it was flown by Major Bernard Fisher when he rescued another pilot, an act of heroism for which Major Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor. This Skyraider was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is in its permanent collection at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. It is the same type aircraft as PEACH 01–05. (U.S. Air Force)

Wild Weasel

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel 63-8320 (converted from an F-105-1-RE Thunderchief) at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This is the same type aircraft as the F-105G lost on the Sơn Tây Raid, 21 November 1970.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 November 1947

Corky Meyer in the cockpit of the first Grumman XF9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 122475, during the first flight, 21 November 1947. (U.S. Navy)
Corky Meyer in the cockpit of the first Grumman XF9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 122475, during the first flight, 21 November 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
Corwin H. ("Corky") Meyer
Corwin Henry Meyer, 1920–2011. (Grumman)

21 November 1947: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation engineering test pilot Corwin Henry (“Corky”) Meyer took off from the company’s  airfield at Bethpage, Long Island, New York, in the first prototype XF9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 122475. After the preliminary flight evaluation, Meyer landed the new jet fighter on a longer runway at Idlewild Airport. The Bethpage runway was only 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) long. As the first jet aircraft built by Grumman, it wasn’t known if the XF9F-2 could land on that short a runway.

Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine quoted Meyer as saying that the weather was “the foulest of any first flight in my experience.” He described the prototype’s handling qualities: “It handled like a J-3 Cub.” In an article for Flight Journal, Corky Meyer wrote: “I conducted a very satisfactory first flight of the 5,000-pound-thrust Rolls-Royce Nene-powered fighter on November 21, 1947.”

Grumman XF9F-2 prototype, photographed 20 November 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

The XF9F-2 Panther was the first jet-powered aircraft to be built by Grumman, a major supplier of aircraft for the United States Navy. It was a single-seat, single-engine, day fighter, designed for operation on the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It was developed from a proposed four-engine XF9F-1 night fighter. Grumman planned to use the Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene centrifugal-flow turbojet engine. With 5,000 pounds rated thrust at 12,400 r.p.m., the Nene was more powerful (and more reliable) than any engine manufactured by an American company.

The first prototype Grumman XF9F-2 Panther at Grumman's Plant 4, 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)
The first prototype Grumman XF9F-2 Panther at Grumman’s Plant 4, 1947. (Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation)

Originally it was planned that the Nene would be licensed for production to the Taylor Turbine Corporation as the J42-TT-2. No J42s were ready, so Taylor supplied Grumman with imported Rolls-Royce engines. The Navy had concerns about Taylor’s capability to produce engine in sufficient quantities and arranged for the J42 license to be sold to Pratt & Whitney.

Ensign Neil A. Armstrong, as wingman to Lieutenant (j.g.) Ernie Moore, is flying the second Grumman F9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 125122 (marked S 116), assigned to VF-51, USS Essex (CV-9), 1951. (Naval Aviation Museum)
Ensign Neil A. Armstrong, as wingman to Lieutenant (j.g.) George Russell, is flying the second Grumman F9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 125122 (marked S 116), assigned to VF-51, USS Essex (CV-9), 1951. (John Moore/Naval Museum of Naval Aviation)

The Panther was placed into production as the F9F-2. The F9F-2 was 37 feet, 5-3/8 inches (11.414 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 5⅜ inches (11.719 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.528 meters)—not including wing tanks. Its overall height was 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). The wings could be hydraulically folded to reduce the span for storage aboard ship. The Panther weighed 9,303 pounds (4,220 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 19,494 pounds (8,842 kilograms.

Grumman F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 126034, of VF-781, catches an arresting cable when landing aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 1952. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 126034, of VF-781, catches an arresting cable when landing aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 15 November 1952. (U.S. Navy)

The F9F-2 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney JT6 (J42-P-8) turbojet engine which produced 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.241 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 5,750 pounds (25.577 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J42 was a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Nene. The engine used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 9 combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The J42-P-8 weighed 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms).

The Panther had a maximum speed of 575 miles per hour (925 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its service ceiling was 44,600 feet (13,594 meters), and the range was 1,353 miles (2,177 kilometers).

The Panther was armed with four M3 20 mm autocannon placed in the nose with 760 rounds of ammunition. It could carry up to 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of bombs or eight 5-inch (12.7 centimeters) rockets on four hardpoints under each wing.

Lt. Royce Williams, USN, points out battle damage to his Grumman F9F-5 Panther, aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 18 November 1952. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Royce Williams, USN, points out battle damage to his Grumman F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 125459, aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34), 18 November 1952. (U.S. Navy via Flight Journal)

It was a very successful air-to-air and air-to-ground fighter during the Korean War. On 18 November 1952, Lieutenant Elmer Royce Williams, USN, flying an F9F-5 Panther, Bu. No. 125459, of VF-781 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34), shot down four of seven Soviet Air Force MiG 15 fighters which had launched from Vladivostok toward Task Force 77. His Panther sustained significant damage from enemy cannon shells. Though he safely returned to his carrier, the fighter, Number 106, was so badly damaged that it was pushed over the side. Lieutenant Royce was awarded the Silver Star for this action. No other pilot has ever shot down four MiG fighters during a single combat action.

This Grumman F9F-5 Panther aboard the USS Midway Museum, San Diego, California, is painted to represent Royce Williams' fighter. (USS Midway Museum)
This Grumman F9F-5 Panther aboard the USS Midway Museum, San Diego, California, is painted to represent Royce Williams’ fighter. (USS Midway Museum)

The F9F Panther was flown during the Korean War by such famed naval aviators as Ted Williams, and future astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

Grumman built 1,358 F9F-2,-3,-4 and -5 Panthers and another 1,392 swept wing F9F-6, -7 and -8 Cougars. Panthers remained in service with the United States Navy until 1958, and Cougars until 1974.

The combat survivability of Grumman's fighters earne dteh factory the nickname of "The Grumman Iron Works". In this photograph, future NASA astronaut John H. Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, examines some of the 714 holes in his F9F Panther. (U.S. Navy)
The combat survivability of Grumman’s fighters earned the factory the nickname of “The Grumman Iron Works.” In this photograph, future NASA astronaut Major John H. Glenn, U.S. Marine Corps, the first American to orbit the Earth, examines some of the 714 holes in his F9F Panther. (U.S. Navy)

Corwin Henry (“Corky”) Meyer ¹ was born 14 April 1920 at Springfield, Illinois. He was the second of three children of Dr. John Gerhard Meyer, a physician and surgeon, and Betsy Arenia Corwin Meyer.

Corwin H. Meyer, 1938. (Capitoline)

At the age of 17 years, Corky Meyer learned to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. (This was a federal government-funded program which provided 72 hours of ground school and 35–50 hours of flight training, intended to increase the number of pilots available for civilian aviation.)

Meyer attended Springfield High School, in Springfield. He was a member of the Senior Boys’ Council and the National Honor Society. Meyer graduated from high school in May 1938, then entered the University of Illinois. He studied at the at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1942–43.

Meyer was a pilot trainee for Pan American Airways before being employed as an engineering test pilot at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation at Bethpage, New York.

A flight crew boards a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, circa early 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum NASM-XRA-0780)

Meyer’s first project was testing newly-built TBF Avenger torpedo bombers. Later he was was a project test pilot for the F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat and F7F Tigercat. (Robert Leicester Hall made the first flights of these airplanes, but Corky Meyer was involved in flight testing of each of them early on.)

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 26108, Long Island, New York, circa 1942. The pilot standing by the airplane may be Corky Meyer. (Rudy Arnold Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum NASM-XRA-0648)

Corwin H. Meyer married Miss Dorothy Marjorie Fyfield, 7 April 1945, at Huntington, New York. They would have a daughter, Sandra Louise Meyer, born in 1950, and two sons, John Fyfield Meyer and Peter Meyer.

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Bu. No. 121718. The pilot may be Corky Meyer. (Grumman)

On 19 May 1952, Corky Meyer took the prototype variable-wing-sweep XF10F-1 Jaguar for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Grumman XF10F-1 Jaguar, 1952.

From 1952 to 1954, Meyer was head of Grumman’s flight operations at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In 1954, he became the first civilian airplane pilot to qualify for flight operations aboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, when he flew an F9F-6 Cougar to USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39). ²

Grumman XF9F-9 prototype, Bu. No. 138604. (Grumman)

Corky Meyer made the first flight of the XF9F-9 prototype, Bu. No. 138604, on 30 July 1954, and was able to approach mach 1 in level flight. The XF9F-9 was a completely redesigned F9F Cougar, which incorporated the “wasp-waist” in its area-ruled fuselage. The following year, this type would be redesignated the F11F Tiger.

In 1967, Meyer was appointed  vice president of Grumman, and in 1968, he was elected to the board of directors of the Grumman Aerospace Corporation. He became the senior  vice president of Grumman Aerospace in 1972. In 1974, Meyer became President of Grumman American Aviation Corp., Savannah, Georgia, a subsidiary which produced light civil airplanes, the Grumman AgCat, and the Gulfstream line of executive jets. Corwin Meyer retired from Grumman in 1978. He later served as chief executive officer of the Enstrom Helicopter Corporation and the Falcon Jet Corporation.

A Grumman C-20B Gulfstream III, 86-0200, in service with the 89th Airlift Wing, U.S. Air Force.
Corwin Henry Meyer

Meyer was an early member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. In 1971, he was awarded SETP’s James H Doolittle Award for excellence in technical management or engineering achievement in aerospace technology. In 1999 the National Aeronautic Association selected him for its Elder Statesman Award.

Meyer was the author of Corky Meyer’s Flight Journal, an autobiography published in 2005, by Specialty Press, North Branch, Minnesota.

Corwin Henry Meyer died in Naples, Florida, 1 June 2011, at the age of 91 years.

¹ Lutheran Church birth and baptismal records give Meyer’s name as “Henry Corwin Meyer.”

² On 3 April 1991, TDiA’s author became the only civilian helicopter pilot (at that time, and who was not a former military pilot) to qualify to fly from U.S. Navy warships at sea. The Deck Landing Qualification (DLQ) flights were evaluated by instructors from Helicopter Antisubmarine (Light) Squadron (HSL-31) aboard USS Kincaide (DDG-965), a Spruance-class guided missile destroyer.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 November 1783

Jean-François Pilâtre Rozier, etching by André Pujos, ca. 1784. (Library of Congress)

21 November 1783: At approximately 2:00 p.m., Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes (Monsieur le Marquis d’Arlandes) departed Château de la Muette, the home of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette near the Bois de Boulogne in the western outskirts of Paris, aboard a hot air balloon which had been designed and built by the brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier.

De Rozier had made several tethered ascents previously, learning to control the balloon. On this, the first manned, untethered ascent, de Rozier and Marquis d’Arlandes rose to an altitude of approximately 3,000 feet (910 meters) and drifted to the southwest. After about 25 minutes, they descended to land between two windmills outside the city, at Butte-aux-Cailles. They had traveled about five miles (nine kilometers). They could have flown farther, but the embers from the fire were beginning to scorch the balloon.

The Montgolfier brothers were the sons of a paper maker. They combined with Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, a wallpaper manufacturer, to construct their balloon envelopes of taffeta (a woven silk fabric) coated by an alum/varnish mixture.

The balloon flown by de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes had an approximate volume of 60,000 cubic feet (1,699 cubic meters). It was approximately 75 feet (22.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 50 feet (15.24 meters). The air within the balloon was heated by burning coals. This resulted in a pressure differential: the heated air was less dense than the ambient air. This caused the balloon to rise.

A 1786 illustration of the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon, flown by de Rozier and M. le Marquis d’Arlandes, 21 November 1783.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was killed 15 June 1785, while attempting to cross the English Channel in a hydrogen balloon along with Pierre Romain. Adverse winds blew him back onshore, but for unknown reasons, the balloon collapsed and fell approximately 1,500 feet (457 meters) to the ground near Wimereux, Pas-de-Calais.

François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes died in 1806, possibly committing suicide.

François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes, Monsieur le Marquis d’Arlandes, etching by André Pujos, 1784. (Library of Congress)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 November 1963

Brigadier General Gilbert L. Meyers and Colonel Frank K. Everest delivered the first production McDonnell F-4C Phantom IIs to the Tactical Air Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air Force)

20 November 1963: The U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command accepted its first two production McDonnell F-4C Phantom II jet fighters, F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 ¹ and F-4C-15-MC 63-7416. These aircraft were the ninth and tenth production F-4Cs. They were flown from the McDonnell plant at St. Louis, Missouri, to MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, by Brigadier General Gilbert Louis Meyers, commanding the 836th Air Division, and Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, a world-famous test pilot, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron. Co-pilot for General Meyers was Captain Joseph D. Moore. Captain Thomas C. Ross flew with Colonel Everest. The two new fighters arrived at 11:00 a.m., local time.

Lieutenant General Charles B. Westover, Vice Commander, Tactical Air Command, formally accepted the new fighters on behalf of TAC. Up until this time, the 4453rd had been training crews with McDonnell F-4B Phantom IIs on loan from the United States Navy.

McDonnell F-4C15-MC 63-7415 at Gila Bend AAF, 1967. (Stephen Miller)
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7415, 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing, at Gila Bend Auxiliary Air Field, Arizona, 1967. (Stephen Miller)

The McDonnell F-4C Phantom II (originally designated F-110A Spectre) was produced for the U.S. Air Force, based on the U.S. Navy McDonnell F4H-1 (F-4B after 1962) fleet defense interceptor. Evaluation testing had shown the the Navy’s F4H was superior to the Air Force Convair F-106 Delta Dart. It was faster, could fly higher, had a longer range and greater payload. It was also better suited as a tactical fighter.

The Navy operated its Phantom IIs with a pilot and a radar systems operator. The Air Force’s F-4C variant was equipped with dual flight controls and was flown by two rated pilots. The F-4C was externally the same as the F-4B, but otherwise differed by the addition of a ground attack capability. Also, while the F-4B used a hose-and-drogue system for air-to-air refueling, the F-4C was equipped with a boom refueling system. It retained the folding wings and arresting hook of the Navy variant, but deleted catapult provisions.

McDonnell F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 in SEA camouflage in service with the Hawaii Air National Guard.
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 in four-color South East Asia camouflage scheme, in service with the Hawaii Air National Guard.

The F-4C was 58 feet, 3¾ inches (17.774 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 5 inches (11.709 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). Its empty weight was 28,496 pounds (12,926 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 58,000 pounds (26,308 kilograms).

The F-4C-15-MC was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-15 engines. The J79 is a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine, with a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-15 is rated at 10,900 pounds of thrust (48.49 kilonewtons) and 17,000 pounds (75.62 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 17 feet, 4.7 inches (5.301 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter and weighs 3,699 pounds (1,677.8 kilograms).

F-4C 63-7415 in two-color gray air superiority camouflage, 199th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard.
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 in three-color gray air superiority camouflage, 199th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard.

The F-4C had a maximum speed of 826 miles per hour (1,329 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.09—at Sea Level, and 1,433 miles per hour (2,306 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.17— at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). The fighter’s service ceiling was 56,100 feet (17,099 meters). Its maximum unrefueled range, with external fuel tanks, was 1,926 miles (3,100 kilometers).

Awaiting restoration, McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7415 at San Antonio, Texas. (ABC Pic)
Awaiting restoration, McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7415 at San Antonio, Texas. (Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection)

The standard armament for the F-4C were four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing missiles carried in recessed in the bottom of the fuselage. Four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles could be carried on underwing pylons. A maximum of 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs on five hardpoints.

This McDonnell F-4 Phantom II is armed with a centerline gun pod, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles. (Tommy Wu/McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom Phanatics)

During the Vietnam War, the missile armament of the Phantom II was found unsatisfactory in dogfights with enemy aircraft. The violent maneuvers of Air Combat Maneuvering (“ACM”) made it difficult for the missiles to align and track the intended target. Of 612 AIM-7 Sparrows fired by F-4s, only 56 enemy aircraft were destroyed, while 187 AIM-9 Sidewinders brought down 29 enemy aircraft. This was a kill ratio of 9% and 16%, respectively.

A SUU-16/A gun pod is test fired on McDonnell YRF-4C-14-MC Phantom II 62-12201 (YRF-110A Spectre). (U.S. Air Force)

Forward-thinking planners had assumed that an all-missile armament was all that was required in the modern era, so F-4s were built without any machine guns or cannon. The Air Force used an SUU-16/A pod containing a General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon with 1,200 rounds of ammunition mounted to the F-4’s centerline hardpoint. (Two additional SUU-16/A pods could be mounted on the outboard underwing hardpoints.) This was useful in close-in combat, but the airplane was not equipped with a suitable gun sight. It was not until the F-4E variant that a gun was incorporated into the airplane.

McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7416. This fighter crashed 22 May 1964, killing both pilots. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7416. Note the FJ-416 “buzz number” on the fuselage. This fighter crashed at the Avon Park Bombing Range, Florida, 22 May 1964, killing both pilots, Captain Joseph P. Onate and Captain William F. Buhrman. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-4C first flew 27 May 1963. 583 of this variant before production shifted to the F-4D in 1966. The F-4C remained in service until the last was retired from the Oregon Air National Guard in 1989.

Recommended reading: Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996

The first McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, 63-7407. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Source: UNITED STATES AIR FORCE STATISTICAL DIGEST FISCAL YEAR 1964 (19th Edition), Directorate of Data Automation (AFADA), Comptroller of the Air Force, Headquarters, USAF, Washington, D.C.: Chronology of United States Air Force Major Events— FY 1964, at Page XXXVIII

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 November 1953

NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket after his record-setting flight, 20 November 1953. (NASA) 20 November 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, NACA’s High Speed Flight Station research test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., rode behind the flight crew of the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress as it carried the Douglas Aircraft Company D-558-II Skyrocket supersonic research rocketplane to its launch altitude. As the four-engine bomber climbed through 18,000 feet (5,486 meters), Crossfield headed back to the bomb bay to enter the Skyrocket’s cockpit and prepare for his flight.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The Douglas D-558-II was Phase II of a United States Navy/Douglas Aircraft Company/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics joint research project exploring supersonic flight. It was a swept-wing airplane powered by a single Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine. The Skyrocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

There were three Phase II aircraft. Originally, they were also equipped with a Westinghouse J34-W-40 turbojet engine which produced 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.35 kilonewtons). The Skyrockets took off from the surface of Rogers Dry Lake. Once the D-558-II reached altitude, the rocket engine was fired for the speed runs.

As higher speeds were required, the program shifted to an air launch from a B-29 (P2B-1S) drop ship. Without the need to climb to the test altitude, the Skyrocket’s fuel load was available for the high speed runs.

NACA 144. a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The D-558-II was 42.0 feet (12.80 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25.0 feet (7.62 meters). The leading edge of the wing was swept at a 35° angle and the tail surfaces were swept to 40°. The aircraft weighed 9,421 pounds (4,273 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 15,787 pounds (7,161 kilograms). It carried 378 gallons (1,431 liters) of water/ethyl alcohol and 345 gallons (1,306 liters) of liquid oxygen.

The mothership, NACA 137, was a Boeing Wichita B-29-95-BW Superfortress, U.S. Air Force serial number 45-21787. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy, redesignated P2B-1S and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics number 84029. Douglas Aircraft modified the bomber for its drop ship role at the El Segundo plant.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

Going above the planned launch altitude, the Superfortress was placed in a slight dive to build to its maximum speed. At the bomber’s critical Mach number (Mcr), the Skyrocket was just above its stall speed. At 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), Crossfield and the Skyrocket were released. The rocketplane fell for about 400 feet (122 meters) until the rocket engine ignited and then it began to accelerate.

Crossfield climbed at a steep angle until he reached 72,000 feet (21,946 meters), and then leveled off. Now in level flight, the D-558-II accelerated, quickly passing Mach 1, then Mach 1.5. Crossfield pushed the nose down and began a shallow dive. The Skyrocket, still under full power, built up speed. As it passed through 62,000 feet (18,998 meters) the Skyrocket reached its maximum speed, Mach 2.005, or 1,291 miles per hour (2,078 kilometers per hour).

Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)
Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield was the first pilot to fly an aircraft beyond Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. During his career as a test pilot, he flew the Douglas D-558-II, the Bell X-1, Bell X-2 and North American X-15. He made 112 flights in rocket-powered aircraft, more than any other pilot.

NACA Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., Aeronautical Engineer and Test Pilot, 1921–2006. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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