Daily Archives: April 3, 2017

3 April 1962

McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 149449 climbing during Project High Jump. (U.S. Navy)

3 April 1962: At NAS Point Mugu, Ventura County, California, a future NASA astronaut, United States Navy test pilot Commander John Watts Young, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world record by flying his McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F4H-1 Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 149449, from the surface to 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 3 minutes, 50.44 seconds.¹

Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. (U.S. Navy)
Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. (U.S. Navy)

John Young had set another FAI record on 21 February, reaching a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 34.523 seconds with the Phantom II at NAS Brunswick, Maine.² Young set a total of 21 FAI records. Three remain current.

This was one of a series of time-to-altitude record flights flown at with F4H-1 149449 during February, March and April 1962. Flown by four other pilots, 149449 also set time-to-altitude records for 3,000, 6,000, 9,000, 12,000, 15,000, and 20,000 meters.

Point Mugu’s Runway 21 ends on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and the elevation is 9 feet (2.7 meters) above Sea Level. The restricted airspace of the Pacific Missile Test Range assured that these flights could be conducted safely and without interfering with civilian air traffic. The U.S. Air Force had used the same runway when it conducted time-to-altitude record flights with a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter in 1958.

John Young’s McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 149449. (U.S. Navy)

John Young was a test pilot assigned to the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, where he was a project officer for F4H and F8U armament systems. He was selected as a NASA astronaut and served as Pilot of Gemini III; backup pilot, Gemini IV; Commander for Gemini 10; Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10; back-up commander for Apollo 13; Commander, Apollo 16; and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Later, he was Commander of the maiden flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS-1 and again for STS-9. He was in line to command STS-61J.

Record-setting McDonnell F-4B-11-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 149449, VF-151, USS Coral Sea (CV-43). (U.S. Navy)
Record-setting McDonnell F-4B-11-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 149449, VF-151, USS Coral Sea (CV-43). (U.S. Navy)

McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 149449, redesignated F-4B-11-MC, served with VF-96 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61), VF-151 aboard USS Coral Sea (CV-43) and was later assigned to Marine Air Group 13, VMFA-323, “Death Rattlers,” based at Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam.

On 2 August 1968, 149449 was hit by small arms fire near An Hoa, 17 miles southeast of Da Nang. On returning the damaged airplane to Chu Lai, the Phantom’s landing gear could not be extended. The pilot, Major DanieI I. Carroll, USMC, and Weapons System Officer, First Lieutenant R.C. Brown, USMC, ejected one mile (1.6 kilometers) off the coast. Both were rescued by a U.S. Army helicopter.

The record-setting Phantom II was lost in the South China Sea.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9092

² FAI Record File Number 9078

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 April 1941

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

3 April 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton takes his first flight—a one hour familiarization—in the company’s prototype of a new fighter for the Royal Air Force, the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field. (Mines would later become Los Angeles International Airport, LAX.)

The airplane’s had first been flown by free-lance test pilot Vance Breese, 26 October 1940,  and he had flown it several times. North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, on his first flight in NX19998, ran out of fuel and crash landed in a plowed field 150 yards (137 meters) west of the airfield, 20 November 1940. The prototype had flown just 3 hours, 20 minutes.

The NA-73X was repaired and Bob Chilton was assigned to complete the testing program. The airplane would become the legendary P-51 Mustang, and Chilton would continue to conduct the majority of flight testing on its improvements and modifications.

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stands on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.

At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.

In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.

Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.

On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Repulic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.

From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.

Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.

In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.

Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 April 1933

Lord Clydesdale, flying Westland WP-3 G-ACAZ, approaching the summit of Mt. Everest, 3 April 1933. (The Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition via National Geographic)

3 April 1933: Lord Clydesdale—at the time, the youngest Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force and in command of 602 Squadron—as Chief Pilot of the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition—flew a modified Westland PV-3 biplane, G-ACAZ, in formation with Westland PV-6, G-ACBR, over the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, elevation 29,029 feet (8,848 meters). The PV-6 was piloted by Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, also of 602 Squadron. The two airplanes took off from Purnia, in the northeast of India, at 8:25 a.m., and returned three hours later.

Aboard Lord Clydesdale’s airplane was observer Lieutenant Colonel Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker OBE (“Blacker of the Guides”), and on McIntyre’s was Sidney R. G. Bonnett, a cinematographer for Gaumont British News. During the ascent to Everest, Bonnett damaged his oxygen hose and lost consciousness due to hypoxia.

Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton, photographed 12 November 1929 by Bossano Ltd. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Bristol Pegasus S.3 was considered to be the only aircraft engine in the world that would be capable of powering an airplane with the necessary personnel and equipment high enough to fly over Everest. It was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) nine-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It had a Takeoff Power rating of 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with a three minute limit. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller manufactured by The Airscrew Company Ltd., through either a 0.5:1 or 0.655:1 gear reduction.

After deciding on the engine, the Expedition had to select an airplane. The Westland PV-3 was chosen because it had the highest rate of climb of any airplane ever tested by the Royal Air Force.

Westland WP-3 G-ACAZ, after modifications for the Houston Everest Expedition.

The Westland Aircraft Works PV-3 was a private venture prototype torpedo bomber, based on the earlier Westland Wapiti. It had an all-metal structure and folding wings. Only one was built, and no orders for the airplane were placed. The airplane was modified for the Houston Everest Expedition. The gunner’s open position behind the pilot’s cockpit was replaced with an enclosed cabin for an observer and cameras. The original Bristol Jupiter X.FA engine was replaced by the more powerful Bristol Pegasus S.3 and a large-diameter propeller.

The Houston-Westland was 34 feet, 2 inches (10.414 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 8 inches (3.556 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 3,420 pounds (1,551.3 kilograms) and loaded weight of 5,100 pounds (2,313.3 kilograms).

The PV-3 had a maximum speed of 163 miles per hour (262.3 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Burmah-Shell provided a special fuel for operations at very high altitude.

Westland PV-6 G-ACBR

The Westland PV-6 was also a private venture prototype. It was later converted to the Wallace I configuration.

The airplanes carried Williamson Automatic Eagle III survey cameras that would take photographs of the surface at specific intervals as the airplanes flew over known survey locations. It was planned that a photographic mosaic of the terrain and an accurate map could be drawn.

Dame Fanny Lucy Houston, DBE (then, Baroness Byron), by Bassano, Ltd, circa 1910. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The expedition was financed by Lucy, Lady Houston, DBE, who offered to provide up to £15,000 to finance the project. The flight helped to demonstrate the need for specialized equipment for high altitude flight.

For his accomplishment, Lord Clydesdale—later, Air Commodore His Grace The Duke of Hamilton KT GCVO AFC PC DL FRCSE FRGS—was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, Royal Air Force. (602 Squadrom Museum)
Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, AFC, Royal Air Force. (602 Squadron Museum)

Mount Everest, known in Nepal as सगरमाथा (Sagarmāthā), is a mountain in the Mahalangur Range of the the Himalayas. Its peak is believed to be the highest point on Earth. The mountain was “discovered” by the Western world in 1856, during the decades-long Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Identified as Peak XV, the height of the mountain was measured at 29,002 feet¹ (8,839.8 meters) above Sea Level. The Royal Geographical Society named the mountain Everest after Colonel Sir George Everest, FRS, FRAS, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. At present, the agreed height of Everest is 8,848 meters (29,029 feet). The upper portion of the mountain is primarily marble and is covered by several meters of ice and snow.

Everest as seen from the south. Compare this photograph to the one above.

¹ Interestingly, in The Map Makers (John Noble Wilford, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1981), it was reported that the Great Survey actually calculated the height of the mountain at 29,000 feet (8,839.2 meters), but it was felt that this value would be taken as an approximation rather than an exact value, so 2 feet were added, resulting in the generally known height of 29,002 feet (8,839.8 meters).

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 April 1926 – 27 January 1967

Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom with scale model of Gemini/Titan II launch vehicle. (NASA)

3 April 1926: Virgil Ivan Grissom was born at Mitchell, Indiana, the second of five children. Upon graduation from high school during World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war, he went to Purdue University and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering, then joined the U.S. Air Force and was trained as a fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre during the Korean War. He attended a one year program at the Air Force Institute of Technology and earned a second Bachelor’s degree in aircraft engineering. Next he went to the test pilot school at Edwards AFB. After completion, he was assigned as a fighter test pilot at Wright-Patterson AFB.

One of 508 pilots who were considered by NASA for Project Mercury, Gus Grissom was in the group of 110 that were asked to attend secret meetings for further evaluation. From that group, 32 went on with the selection process and finally 18 were recommended for the program.  Grissom was one of the seven selected.

Major Grissom was the second American to “ride the rocket” aboard Mercury-Redstone 4. He named his space capsule Liberty Bell 7.  Next he orbited Earth as commander of Gemini III along with fellow astronaut John Young. He was back-up commander for Gemini VI-A, then went on to the Apollo Program.

As commander of AS-204 (Apollo I), LCOL Virgil I. Grissom, USAF was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chafee during a test on the launchpad, 27 January 1967.

Gus Grissom was an Air Force Command Pilot with over 4,600 hours flight time. He was the first American astronaut to fly into space twice.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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