Daily Archives: April 14, 2017

14 April 1986

General Dynamics F-111F Aardvark with 2000 pound GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bombs at RAF Lakenheath, 14 April 1981. (U.S. Air Force)
General Dynamics F-111F Aardvark with 2000 pound GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bombs at RAF Lakenheath, 14 April 1981. (U.S. Air Force)

14 April 1986: In response to several acts of international terrorism sponsored by the Libyan regime of Muammar Khadafi, the United States launched Operation El Dorado Canyon. Along with A-6E Intruders, F/A-18 Hornets and A-7 Corsair IIs from the aircraft carriers USS America and USS Coral Sea, 24 General Dynamics F-111F Aardvarks of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing from RAF Lakenheath, accompanied by EF-111 Ravens for electronic counter measures, and flew 3,500 miles to their targets.

Navy aircraft attacked Benina Airfield and the Benghazi barracks, while the Air force fighter bombers, using GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs, attacked the Aziziyah Barracks and the Sadi Bilal terrorist training camp at Tripoli. Because of the length of the flight, the F-111s had to refuel from KC-10 Extender air tankers, four times in each direction. The KC-10s, in turn, refueled in flight from KC-135 Stratotankers.

There were very stringent rules of engagement in place, and for that reason, the majority of the Aardvarks did not release their bombs.

Libya had some of the most sophisticated air defenses in the world. Analysis indicated that only three cities in Russia were more heavily defended. Even so, of the 55 aircraft in the two attack forces, only one F-111 was lost, probably shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Its two man crew were killed.

A number of Libyan aircraft and facilities were destroyed. 37 people were killed and 93 wounded. From the standpoint of destruction caused, the results were minimal. But the effects on Colonel Khadafi were pronounced, and resulted in a significant scaling back of his regime’s terrorist activities. Viewed from that perspective, the mission was a complete success.

General Dynamics F-111F 70-2380, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, with wings swept for high-speed flight, over a desert landscape. (U.S. Air Force)
General Dynamics F-111F 70-2380, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, with wings swept for high-speed flight, over a desert landscape. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 April 1981

NASA JSC Electronic Imagery10:21 a.m., PST, 14 April 1981: The first space shuttle, Columbia, touches down on Runway 23, Edwards Air Force Base, California, completing the first space flight of the United States’ shuttle program.

With its two-man crew, commander, veteran astronaut John W. Young, and pilot Robert L. Crippen, Columbia traveled 1,074,567 miles (1,729,348 kilometers) on its 37-orbit journey, in 54 hours, 20 minutes, 53 seconds.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 April 1947

Douglas test pilot Gene May with a D-558-I Skystreak high-speed research airplane. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot Eugene Francis May. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

14 April 1947: Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot Eugene Francis (“Gene”) May took the Number 1  U.S. Navy/NACA/Douglas D-558-I Skystreak high-speed research aircraft, Bu. No. 37970, for its first flight at at Muroc Army Airfield. The aircraft had been transported from the Los Angeles factory to Muroc by truck.

The Skystreak was a joint United States Navy/National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) research aircraft designed to explore flight at high subsonic speed. The Phase I Skystreak was designed by a team led by Douglas Chief Engineer Edward Henry Heinemann. Flight testing was conducted at the NACA High Speed Flight Station at Muroc Army Airfield (later known as Edwards Air Force Base). Three D-558-Is were built, followed by the Phase II, swept-wing, Mach 2, D-558-II Skyrocket rocketplane.

The D-558-I carried extensive flight test instrumentation for its time. The wings had 400 orifices for air pressure sensors. During the test series, aircraft stability in the range of 0.82–0.99 Mach was investigated. One of the Skystreaks may have briefly exceeded Mach 1 as it came out of a dive.

Unlike some of the other experimental high speed aircraft of the time, it took off from the ground under its own power rather than being carried aloft by a mother ship. While those other aircraft could briefly reach much higher speeds, the D-558-I was able to fly for extended periods in the high-subsonic range, providing scientists and engineer with a tremendous amount of data.

The research airplane was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The fuselage of the D-558-I was constructed of an aluminum framework covered with sheet magnesium. It was designed for an ultimate load factor of 18 gs. The wings and tail surfaces were aluminum. The airplane was painted scarlet (not orange, like its contemporary, the Bell X-1) and was known as “the crimson test tube.” The D-558-I was 35 feet, 1.5 inches (10.706 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1.6 inches (3.698 meters). Gross weight 10,105 pounds (4,584 kilograms). It carried 230 gallons (871 liters) of kerosene in its wings.

A Douglas D-558-I Skystreak being inspected by U.S. Navy personnel at tehe Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Los Angeles, California. [Modelers: Note the GREEN anti-glare panel.] (Getty Imamages/Bettman)
The D-558-I was powered by a single Allison J35-A-11 turbojet engine. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-11 was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons). The engine was 12 feet, 1.0 inches (3.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,455 pounds (1,114 kilograms).

Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of the 228 Phase I flights. It set a world speed record 1,031.178 kilometers per hour (640.744 miles per hour), flown by Commander Turner F. Caldwell Jr., U.S. Navy,  20 August 1947.¹ (Major Marion E. Carl, U.S. Marine Corps, flew the second Skystreak, Bu. No. 37971, to 1,047.356 kilometers per hour (650.797 miles per hour),² breaking Caldwell’s record.)

After Douglas completed the contractor’s test series, the Number 1 Skystreak was turned over to the NACA High Speed Flight Station and designated NACA 140. It was not as highly instrumented as the Number 2 and Number 3 Skystreaks and was not flown, but was used as a source for spare parts for the other D-558-Is.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9864

² FAI Record File Number 9865

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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