4 March 1954: Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. LeVier takes the prototype XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7786, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. The airplane’s landing gear remained extended throughout the flight, which lasted about twenty minutes.
Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson, the XF-104 was a prototype Mach 2+ interceptor and was known in the news media of the time as “the missile with a man in it.”
Tony LeVier was a friend of my mother’s family and a frequent visitor to their home in Whittier, California.
There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptor prototypes.
The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).
The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 afterburning turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2 stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons) at 8,200 r.p.m. The J65-B-3 was 9 feet, 7.0 inches (2.921 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.5 inches (0.953 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms).
The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters) and a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers).
XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.
Lockheed Martin has an excellent color video of the XF-104 first flight on their web site at:
4 March 1944: Flight Officer Charles E. Yeager, United States Army Air Corps, was leading an element of White Flight, 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, 3d Bombardment Division, 8th Air Force, southeast of Kassel, Germany. Yeager was flying a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, 43-6763, named Glamourus Glen and marked B6 Y. It was his seventh combat mission. At 13:05 British Standard Time, he observed a Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighter. He wrote (errors in original):
Leading the second element of Chambers White Flight, I was flying at 26,000 feet [7,925 meters] when I spotted a Me. 109 to the right and behind us about 2,000 feet [610 meters] below. I broke right and down. The E/A [Enemy Aircraft] turned right and down and went onto a 50° dive. I closed up fast and opened fire at 200 yards [183 meters]. I observed strikes on fuselage and wing roots, with pieces flying off. I was overrunning so I pulled up and did an aleron roll and fell in behind again and started shooting at 150 yards[137 meters]. The e/A engine was smoking and wind-milling. I overran again, observing strikes on fuselage and canopy. I pulled up again and did a wingover on his tail. His canopy flew off and the pilot bailed out and went into the overcast at 9,000 feet [2,743 meters]. The E/A had a large Red and Black “Devil’s Head’ on the left side of the ship. The E/A took no evasive action after the first burst.
Flight Officer Yeager’s combat report indicates that he fired 461 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. He was credited with one enemy aircraft destroyed. (He previously had claimed another enemy plane shot down over the English Channel, but that was not credited.)
The following day, 5 March, Yeager was again in the cockpit of Glamourus Glen. A Focke-Wulf Fw 190A 4 flown by Unteroffizier Irmfried Klotz, shot him down east of Bourdeaux, France.
In his autobiography, Chuck Yeager wrote:
. . . The world exploded and I ducked to protect my face with my hands, and when I looked a second later, my engine was on fire, and there was a gaping hole in my wingtip. The airplane began to spin. It happened so fast, there was no time to panic. I knew I was going down; I was barely able to unfasten my safety belt and crawl over the seat before my burning P-51 began to snap and roll, heading for the ground. I just fell out of the cockpit when the plane turned upside down—my canopy was shot away.
—Yeager: an Autobiography, by Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, Chapter 4 at Page 26.
Yeager was slightly wounded. His Mustang was destroyed. Over the next few months he evaded enemy soldiers and escaped through France and Spain, returning to England in May 1944. He returned to combat with a new P-51D Mustang, and by the end of World War II was officially credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed.
Yeager remained in the Air Force until retiring in 1975 with the rank of brigadier general, and having served 12,222 days. He was a world famous test pilot, breaking the sound barrier with a Bell XS-1 rocketplane, 14 October 1947. He commanded F-86H Sabre and F-100D fighter bomber squadrons, flew the B-57 Canberra over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and commanded the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. General Yeager celebrated his 94th birthday 13 February 2017.
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.
In 1942, soon after the first production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.
In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.
The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).
P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.
The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).
Armament consisted of four Browning .50-caliber (12.7×99 NATO) AN-M2 machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.
1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.
4 March 1936: The airship Hindenburg (D–LZ 129) made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, on the north shore of Lake Constance in southern Germany. In command was Hugo Eckener,¹ chairman of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH. There were 87 passengers and crew aboard.
The airship was operated by a flight crew of 40, with 12 stewards and cooks. There were 50 passenger sleeping berths in private cabins, with large public areas on the upper, “A” deck, with crew quarters, galley, a public bar and smoking lounge on the lower “B” deck. The ship’s control station was located in a gondola below the forward part of the hull.
The airship was designed by Ludwig Dürr. Its rigid structure was built of duralumin, a specially heat-treated alloy of aluminum and copper, and the covering was cotton fabric painted with varnish which had been impregnated with aluminum powder, both to give it the silver color, but also to act as a reflector to protect the hydrogen-filled bouyancy gas bags contained inside from heat and ultraviolet light.
Hindenburg was 803 feet, 10 inches (245.008 meters) long, with a diameter of 135 feet, 1 inch (41.173 meters).
The huge airship was powered by four liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 88.514 liter (5,401.478-cubic-inch-displacement) Daimler-Benz DB 602 50° V-16 diesel engines with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 16:1. Mounted in a pusher configuration, the engines turned 19 foot, 8.4 inch (6.005 meter) diameter, four-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propellers through a 0.50:1 gear reduction. The DB 602 had a cruise power rating of 850 horsepower at 1,350 r.p.m. It could produce 900 horsepower at 1,480 r.p.m., and a maximum 1,320 horsepower at 1,650 r.p.m. (5 minute limit). The engines could be run in reverse. The DB 602 was 2.69 meters (8 feet, 10 inches) long, 1.02 meters (3 feet, 4 inches) wide and 1.35 meters (4 feet, 5 inches) high. Each engine weighed 1,976 kilograms (4,356 pounds).
Hindenburg had a gross weight of approximately 215,000 pounds (97,522 kilograms). Lift was provided by 16 hydrogen gas cells which were made of multiple layers of cotton fabric which was brushed with latex gelatin. These contained 7,062,000 cubic feet (199,974 cubic meters) of hydrogen with a lift capacity of 511,500 pounds (232,013 kilograms), nearly double the airship’s weight when fully loaded.
LZ 129 had a cruising speed of 76 miles per hour (122 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 84 miles per hour (135 kilometers per hour).
¹ Eckner is universally referred to as “Dr. Eckener.” He earned a doctorate from the Institute for Experimental Psychology, University of Leipzig, 1892.