16 September 1958: At Palmdale, in the high desert of southern California, the prototype North American Aviation, Inc., Model NA-246 Sabreliner, N4060K, took off on its first flight.
The Sabreliner had been designed and built at North American’s expense to meet the U.S. Air Force specification for the UTX, a twin-engine jet that would be primarily used as a trainer for Air Force pilots in non-flying assignments but who needed to remain proficient. It could also be used as a passenger and cargo transport.
The NA-246 was flown by two pilots and could carry up to four passengers in “club seating.”
In October 1958, the Air Force ordered the Model 265 Sabreliner into production, designated T-39A-1-NA (Serial numbers 59-2868 to -2871). This aircraft could carry up to 7 passengers. In 1962, a commercial variant of the T-39A, the Model 265 Sabreliner, was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The T-39A was 44 feet (13.411 meters) long, with a wingspan of 44 feet, 6 inches (13.564 meters) and overall height of 16 feet (14.874 meters). The wings were swept at 28°. It had an empty weight of approximately 9,250 pounds (4,196 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 17,760 pounds (8,056 kilograms).
The Model 246 prototype was powered by General Electric J85 turbojet engines which produced about 2,000 pounds of thrust (8.90 kilonewtons). The the production T-39A used Pratt & Whitney J60-P-3 engines, rated at 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) for takeoff.
The T-39A had a maximum allowable airspeed (VMO) of 350 knots, indicated (KIAS) (403 miles per hour/648 kilometers per hour) from Sea Level to 21,100 feet (6,431 meters). Above that altitude, speed was restricted to 0.77 Mach.
The prototype was issued an Airworthiness Certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration 25 April 1958. The registration was cancelled 30 June 1970.
16 September 1951: On Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. (in most locations), the speakers of American television sets blared with the roar of a twin-engine airplane, while the announcer called, “Out of the clear blue of the western sky comes. . . SKY KING!“ The television series “Sky King” debuted on the NBC Television Network.
“Schuyler King,” owner of the Flying Crown Ranch in the fictional town of Grover, Arizona, was portrayed by actor Kirby Grant. His niece, “Penny,” was played by actress Gloria Winters.¹ The television program (developed from an earlier radio series) was a juvenile action-adventure series set in the American Southwest. The lead character, Sky King, was a former naval aviator-turned-rancher who was frequently called on to deal with criminals and spies, and to rescue his niece, all while using his airplane, which he had named Songbird.
Several airplanes were used during the filming of the television series. Initially, “Uncle Sky’s” airplane was a twin-engine Cessna T-50, N67832, owned by Paul Mantz. This airplane had been built as a U.S. Army Air Corps UC-78B Bobcat 43-32179 (Cessna serial number 6117). In 1946 it was sold as surplus by the War Assets Administration and registered under Cessna’s T-50 type certificate. N67832 was last registered to an owner in Clinton, Missouri. The registration was cancelled 16 March 2018.
The best known Flying Crown Ranch airplane, though, was a 1958 Cessna 310B, serial number 35548. In the title sequence of later episodes, Songbird is clearly seen with FAA registration N5348A on the bottom of its left wing as it banks away from the camera plane.
After filming of the “Sky King” series came to an end in 1959, Cessna sold N5348A. On 4 August 1962, it crashed near Delano, California, and its pilot was killed.
Some sequences filmed from inside the Songbird show a partial N-number of “-635B” on the upper surface of the right wing. This airplane was probably Cessna 310B 35735, registered N6635B. It was destroyed when it crashed while on approach to Van Nuys Airport (VNY) at 11:49 a.m., 17 December 1969. All three persons on board were killed.
N5348A was painted white, yellow and gold. Cessna owned the airplane and it was usually flown by the manufacturer’s pilot. A fuselage which had been used for static testing was also provided by Cessna for use in closeup and interior cockpit scenes.
The Model 310 was a 5-place light twin. It was the first airplane built by Cessna to have retractable tricycle landing gear. It was also the first Cessna design to be tested in a wind tunnel. In 1958, the only year in which the 310B variant was produced, the list price for a new airplane was $59,950. The airplane’s fuselage was 26 feet, 3 inches (8.001 meters) long (27 feet, 0 inches/8.230 meters including the extended nose wheel). Its wingspan was 35 feet, 9 inches (10.897 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 8 inches (3.251 meters). Its empty weight was approximately 2,850 pounds (1,293 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,700 pounds (2,132 kilograms).
The Cessna 310B was powered by two air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 471.239-cubic-inch-displacement (7.722 liters) Continental Motors O-470-M horizontally-opposed six-cylinder direct-drive engines with a compression ratio of 7:1. They were rated at 240 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff (5-minute limit), using 91/96 octane aviation gasoline. The O-470-M weighed 410 pounds (186 kilograms). The engines drove two-bladed Hartzell full-feathering propellers with a diameter of 7 feet, 0 inches (2.134 meters).
The 310B had a maximum structural cruise speed (VNO) of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed (VNE) of 248 miles per hour (399 kilometers per hour). The light twin had a service ceiling of 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).
According to an aerodynamicist who worked for Cessna at the time, the 51-gallon (193 liters) wing-tip-mounted fuel tanks were the main design feature of the 310. Company management insisted on them as a safety measure, even though they caused some handling difficulties and slowed the airplane by nearly 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour). In the early 310 models, the entire fuel load was carried in the tip tanks, with none in the wings. It was felt that keeping fuel as far from the passenger compartment was safer in the event of an accident.
The Model 310 was in production from 1954 to 1980. The 310B was produced only in 1958. A total of 6,321 of all variants were built.
¹ Gloria Winters was a friend of TDiA’s sister-in-law. I met her at a Christmas Party circa 1977. My back was turned to her and she was in an adjacent room, but I heard her voice, which was instantly recognizable. “It’s Penny!”
16 September 1931: Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight was flying the second Supermarine S.6B, S.1596, to test an alternate propeller before attempting a 3-kilometer speed record. As he landed on the water following the test flight, his foot became caught in the rudder bar. The S.6B skidded across the surface, and then capsized. Stainforth was able to escape with only minor injuries.
While it was being towed back to the seaplane station at RAF Calshot, the racer sank to the bottom of Southampton Water.
Divers were called in to locate the sunken airplane and to rig it for recovery. The following day, the 17th, a Royal Navy salvage ship recovered the airplane.
The S.6B had sustained damage to one float and the cockpit, but was otherwise in reasonably good condition. It was returned to the Supermarine works for repairs.
S.1596 was the second of two Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplanes, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England
The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).
In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.
S.1596 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R25. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). A special fuel, a mixture of benzol, methanol and acetone with TCP anti-detonation additive, was used. Engine R25 was specially prepared for the 3-kilometer speed runs.
George Hedley Stainforth was born at Bromley, Kent, in 23 March 1899, the son of George Staunton Stainforth, a solicitor, and Mary Ellen Stainforth.
Stainforth was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. On 11 September 1918, Cadet Stainforth was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, East Kent Regiment (“The Buffs”), ³ effective 21 August 1918 and then served in France. On 30 March 1923, Lieutenant Stainforth, R.A.R.O., was granted a short service commission as a Flying Officer, Royal Air Force, effective 15 March 1923.
Flying Officer Stainforth married Miss Gladys Imelda Hendy at St. George’s Hanover Square Church, London, in March 1923.
Stainforth was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 July 1928. He was granted a permanent commission in this rank 1 October 1929.
In 1929, Stainforth won the King’s Cup Air Race, and on 10 September, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 541.10 kilometers per hour (336.22 miles per hour) while flying a Gloster Napier 6 powered by a Napier Lion VIID borad arrow W-12 engine.¹
Stainforth would set another 3-Kilometer world speed record on 29 September 1931, at 655 kilometers per hour (407 miles per hour).² He was the first pilot to fly faster than 400 miles per hour. For this accomplishment, Flight Lieutenant Stainforth was awarded the Air Force Cross, 9 October 1931.
Stainforth was promoted to Squadron Leader with effect from 1 June 1936. On 12 March 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander, with effect from 1 March 1940.
During World War II, Wing Commander Stainforth commanded No. 89 Squadron in Egypt. The New York Times reported that he was “the oldest fighter pilot in the Middle East.” On the night of 27–28 September 1942, while flying a Bristol Beaufighter near the Gulf of Suez, Wing Commander George Hedley Stainforth, A.F.C., was killed in action. He was buried at the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.
¹ FAI Record File Number 11829
² FAI Record File Number 11831
³ “The Buffs” is a reference to the regiment’s uniform colors during the Austrian War of Succession, circa 1744.
16 September 1910: Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar Raiche, M.D., having had no training, made a solo flight in an airplane that she and her husband, François C. Raiche, had built at their home in Mineola, New York.
Two weeks earlier, 2 September 1910, Blanche Stuart Scott had also made a solo flight in an airplane while under instruction of Glenn Hammond Curtiss at his school at Hammondsport, New York. Scott was practicing taxiing to familiarize herself with the airplane and its controls. Curtiss had rigged the throttle to prevent it advancing far enough for the airplane to takeoff. However, possibly because of a wind gust, the airplane did become airborne and Blanche Scott is considered to have been the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane.
The Aeronautical Society of America credits Bessica Raiche with the first intentional solo flight, however. The society awarded her a gold medal, studded with diamonds, and inscribed The First Woman Aviator in America.
Bessica Medlar was a many-talented woman. She received a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) from Tufts University in 1903. She was a practicing dentist, a linguist and an artist. She had traveled to France to study painting, and while there, had seen Orville Wright demonstrate his Wright Flyer.
Later, back at home, she and her husband built an airplane based on the Wrights’ design. Using lighter-weight materials, though—bamboo, silk and piano wire—they assembled the components in their home before taking them outside to put together. The biplane had a length of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters) and a wingspan of 33 feet (10.058 meters). It was powered by an engine built by C.M. Crout which produced approximately 30 horsepower.
Because Dr. Raiche was lighter, it was decided that she would attempt the first flights. The airplane was transported from their home to Hempstead Plains for the attempt. During the day she made five flights. The last one covered approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers). The airplane nosed over in a depression and Dr. Raiche was thrown out. She was uninjured and the airplane was only slightly damaged.
Forming the French-American Aeroplane Company, Mr. and Mrs. Raiche built several more airplanes.
Bessica Faith Curtis Medlar was born in Wisconsin, 23 April 1875, the first of two daughters of James Burch Medlar, a photographer, and Elizabeth Ann Curtis Medlar. She graduated from Rockford High School, Rockford, Illinois, in 1894. She spent the next four years studying art in France. One her return in 1900, she entered Tufts Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated in 1903. Dr. Medlar worked at the Staten Island Children’s Hospital, New York, before opening her own medical practice.
Dr. Medlar married François C. Raiche, Esq., an attorney, in 1904. They had one child, Catherine Elizabeth.
Moving to the West Coast of the United States, Dr. Raiche opened her medical practice near Newport Beach, California, in 1912. She was a well-respected physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. She served as chairperson of the Orange County Medical Association.
The Raiches divorced in 1925.
Dr. Raiche died at her home on Balboa Island, 9 April 1932, at the age of 56 years. She was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California.
15 September 1961: As a consultant to Northrop Corporation, Jackie Cochran flew a T-38A-30-NO Talon to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Over a Closed Course of 2,166.77 kilometers (1,346.37 miles).¹ During August and September 1961, she set series of speed, altitude and distance records with the T-38.
Famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager kept notes during these record runs:
September 13: Jackie landed at 4:15 am. We flew the T-38 on the closed course distance. Takeoff at 2:15 pm and climbed to 40,500 feet[12,344 meters]for initial cruise. Fuel checked out very good. I was amazed at the way Jackie handled the aircraft at high altitude. Everything looked good on the entire flight. Landed a little short of oil in the left engine. Weather was bad over Kingman, Arizona. Cruise climbed at 96% rpm and .87 IMN to 46,500 [14,173 meters] at the end of run. We were in the air 2 ½ hours.
September 14: We tried cold fuel today. It gave us an additional 170 pounds [77 kilograms]at the end. Was a very good flight. We talked with the NAA[National Aeronautic Association] about tomorrow’s run.
September 15: Flew closed course distance for record today and had a good run. Jackie did an excellent job even with bad weather. I chased her in an F-100 all the way.
— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted inJackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 305–306.
The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).
The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).
It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).
In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.