Daily Archives: April 18, 2017

18 April 1958

Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a World Altitude Record with a Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, 18 April 1958. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a World Altitude Record with a Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger, 18 April 1958. (U.S. Navy)

18 April 1958: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record of 23,449 meters (76,932 feet)¹ with a Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 138647.

Lieutenant Commander Watkins wore a David Clark Co. C-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation (ILC Dover) K-1 helmet and face plate for protection at high altitudes.

Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647, in flight near Edwards AFB, California. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647, in flight near Edwards AFB, California. (U.S. Navy)

The F11F-1F Tiger was a higher performance variant of the U.S. Navy F11F single-seat, single-engine swept wing aircraft carrier-based supersonic fighter. The last two regular production F11F-1 Tigers, Bu. Nos. 138646 and 138647 were completed as F11F-2, with the standard Westinghouse J65-WE-18 turbojet engine replaced by a more powerful General Electric YJ79-GE-3, which produced 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons), or 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The air intakes on each side of the fuselage were longer and had a larger area to provide greater airflow for the new engine. After testing, the fuselage was lengthened 1 foot, 1½ inches (0.343 meters) and an upgraded J79 engine installed. The first “Super Tiger” was damaged beyond repair in a takeoff accident and was “expended” as a training aid for fire fighters.

The U.S. Navy determined that the F11F-2 was too heavy for operation aboard carriers and did not place any orders. The designation was changed from F11F-2 to F11F-1F, and later, to F-11B, although the remaining aircraft was no longer flying by that time.

The F11F-1F Tiger is 48 feet, 9 inches (14.859 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 7½ inches (9.639 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 4¾ inches (4.388 meters). The Super Tiger has an empty weight of 16,457 pounds (7,465 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 26,086 pounds (11,832 kilograms).

With the YJ79 engine, the F11F-1F has a maximum speed of 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 1,325 miles per hour (2,132 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). Cruise speed is 580 miles per hour (933 kilometers per hour). It had an initial rate of climb of 8,950 feet per minute (45.5 meters per second) and service ceiling of 50,300 feet (15,331 meters). Range with internal fuel was 1,136 miles (1,828 kilometers).

The Tiger’s armament consisted of four 20 mm Colt Mk 12 autocannon with 125 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

The single remaining F11F-1F, Bu. No. 138647, is on static display at the Naval Air Weapons center, China Lake, California.

Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647. (U.S. Navy)

George Clinton Watkins was born at Alhambra, California, 10 March 1921, the third of seven children of Edward Francis Watkins, a purchasing agent for the Edison Company, and Louise Whipple Ward Watkins.

Watkins graduated from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland in 1943, was commissioned an ensign and assigned as a gunnery officer aboard the battleship, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). Near the end of the war, he entered pilot training and won his naval aviator’s wings in 1945. In 1950 he attended the Navy’s test pilot school at NAS Patuxent River, along with classmates John H. Glenn and Alan B. Shepard. He served as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, then returned to duty as a test pilot.

George Watkins was the first U.S. Navy pilot to fly higher than 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) and 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). In 1956, he set a speed record of 1,210 miles per hour (1,947.3 kilometers per hour). In 1962, Commander Watkins was the first U.S. Navy pilot to have made 1,000 aircraft carrier landings.

Captain George C. Watkins, U.S. Navy (1921–2005)

Captain Watkins served in planning assignments at the Pentagon, and was an aide to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. He commanded a supply ship [experience commanding a deep draft ship was a requirement before serving as captain of an aircraft carrier] during the Vietnam War, and served as a technical adviser for the 1970 20th Century Fox/Toei Company movie, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, about the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States of America into World War II.

By the time Captain Watkins retired from the Navy in 1973, he had flown more than 200 aircraft types, made 1,418 landings on 37 aircraft carriers, and logged more than 16,000 flight hours. He continued flying after he retired, operating sailplane schools at Santa Monica and Lompoc, California. By the time he passed away, 18 September 2005, he had flown more than 21,000 hours during 26,000 flights.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8596

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1952

Consolidated-Vultee YB-60-1-CF 49-2676. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated-Vultee YB-60-1-CF 49-2676. (U.S. Air Force)

18 April 1952: Piloted by Chief Test Pilot Beryl A. Erickson, and Arthur S. Witchell, the prototype Consolidated-Vultee YB-60-1-CF, serial number 49-2676, made its first takeoff at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas.

As a proposed competitor to Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress, the YB-60 (originally designated B-36G) was developed from a B-36F fuselage by adding swept wings and tail surfaces and powered by eight turbojet engines. Its bomb load was expected to be nearly double that of the B-52 and it would have been much cheaper to produce since it was based on an existing operational bomber.

Test pilot Beryl A. Erickson waves from the cockpit of the YB-60. (Convair, via Jet Pilot Overseas.)
Test pilot Beryl A. Erickson waves from the cockpit of the YB-60. (Jet Pilot Overseas.)

The Associated Press reported:

New Jet ‘Rides Like Cadillac’, Crew Says After Test Flight

     FORT WORTH, April 18 (AP)—The all-jet YB-60 bomber “rides like a Cadillac” and “touched at fighter speed,” crew members said Friday after the ultra-secret global bomber completed its first test flight.

   “I came back with very little perspiration, B.A. Erickson, chief test pilot for Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp. said. “That’s the answer to any pilot.”

  Erickson tried the YB-60’s performance and capabilities only “modestly,” he said. The flight was made at a moderate altitude—”a couple of Texas miles,” Erickson said.

Rides Like Cadillac

     “The YB-60 rode like a Cadillac with no noise like a B-36—no prop noise or vibration,” Arthur S. Witchell Jr., the co-pilot, said.

“This is the Queen Mary coming in gracefully,” Erickson said.

     The YB-60, an eight-jet bomber sometimes called a jet version of the B-36, was in the air one hour and six minutes. Erickson said it “touched at fighter speed.”

The plane is about the same size as the B-36, Erickson said. “Most any B-36 pilot would feel right at home,” he said.

Higher Speed Tests

     Witchell said tests would probably be made soon at higher speeds and higher altitudes.

The plane took off with a deep roar, with a shrill, whining overtone. Several thousand spectators, including Air Force personnel from Carswell Air Force Base, home of the B-36, lined the left side of the Carswell runway and stood on rooftops.

     The spectators were able to distinguish little more than the YB-60’s extreme, almost-triangular swept-back shape.

     The YB-60 made a rendezvous in the air with a B-25 Air Force camera plane from which highly secret photographs were taken.

Valley Morning Star, Volume XLII, No. 271, Saturday 19 April 1952, Page 1 at Columns 3 and 4.

Consolidated-Vultee YB-60 (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Consolidated-Vultee YB-60 49-2676. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The YB-60’s first flight was three days after that of the Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress. In testing, it was 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers) slower than the B-52 prototype, despite using the same engines. A second B-60 prototype was cancelled before completion, and after 66 flight hours the YB-60 test program was cancelled. Both airframes were scrapped in 1954, with the second prototype never having flown.

The Convair YB-60 was 171 feet (52.121 meters) long with a wingspan of 206 feet (62.789 meters) and overall height of 60 feet, 6 inches (18.440 meters). The wings were swept at a 37° angle. It had an empty weight of 153,016 pounds (69,407 kilograms) and gross weight of 300,000 pounds (136,078 kilograms).

The prototype jet bomber was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet developed from an experimental turboprop engine. It had 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages), 8 combustors and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The YJ57-P-3s were rated at 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons), each. The YJ57-P-3 was 183.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 41.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms). These were the same engines used in the YB-52, and were similarly mounted in four 2-engine nacelles below the wings.

Right profile of the first prototype YB-60. Note the tail landing gear strut. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Right profile of the first prototype YB-60. Note the tail landing gear strut. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

Maximum speed was 0.77 Mach (508 miles per hour, 818 kilometers per hour) at 39,250 feet (11,963 meters) and the combat ceiling was 44,650 feet (13,609 meters). The YB-60 could reach 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in just over 28 minutes. Takeoff required 6,710 feet (2,045 meters) and 8,131 feet (2478 meters) were required to clear a 50-foot (15.24 meters) obstacle. Maximum range was 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers) but the combat radius was 2,920 miles (4,699 kilometers) with a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilograms) bomb load.

The maximum bomb load was 72,000 pounds (32,659 kilograms). Defensive armament consisted of two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in a remote-controlled tail turret. The second YB-60 retained the upper forward and lower aft retractable gun turrets of the B-36, adding eight more 20 mm cannon.

Chief Test Pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson. (Convair)
Chief Test Pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson. (Convair)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1943

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, IJN

18 April 1943: Acting on Top Secret decrypted radio traffic, eighteen Lockheed P-38G Lightning twin-engine fighters of the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force, flew the longest interception mission of the war—over 600 miles (966 kilometers)—from their base at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands to Bougainville.

Arriving at 0934, they were just in time to see two Japanese Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty” long range bombers escorted by Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters. The Americans engaged the Japanese in a massive aerial dog fight. Both Bettys were shot down. One crashed on the island and another went into the sea.

One of the the two bombers, T1-323, carried Admiral (Kaigun Taishō) Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet. The admiral and several of his senior staff were killed in the attack.

Admiral Yamamoto had planned the attack on the United States bases at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. His death was a serious blow to the Japanese.

Pilots of the 339th Fighter Squadron with Lockheed P-38G Lightning, Guadalcanal, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Pilots of the 339th Fighter Squadron with Lockheed P-38G Lightning, Guadalcanal, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1942

A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting teh signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Air Force)
A North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber revs its engines, awaiting the signal to launch from the flight deck officer. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, A north American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
With flight deck personnel dropping to the deck to avoid its turning propellers, a North American B-25B Mitchell medium bomber starts its takeoff roll aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy) 
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy
Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, United States Navy

18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack.

Planning for the attack began in January 1942 under orders from Admiral Earnest J. King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet. Captain Donald B. Duncan, U.S. Navy, was responsible for the plan.

The operation was carried out by Task Force 16 under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., United States Navy. Task Force 16 consisted of two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), four cruisers, eight destroyers and two oilers. There were two air groups, consisting of eight squadrons of 54 fighters, 72 dive bombers, 36 torpedo bombers, and one squadron of of 16 medium bombers. Lieutenant Colonel James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded the Strike Group of North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bombers aboard Hornet.

With the land-based Army bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in Chinese territory.

A U.S. Army Air Corps B-25B Mitchell medium bomber is launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. ("Jimmy") Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, flies a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber off the deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), 18 April 1942. His was the first bomber to takeoff. (U.S. Navy)

At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.

Admiral William H. Halsey watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber take off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplanes nose wheel has cleared the flight deck while the ship's bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Vice Admiral William H. Halsey, U.S. Navy, watches a North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell medium bomber take off from USS Hornet (CV-8). The airplane’s nose wheel has lifted clear of the flight deck while the ship’s bow pitches down in heavy seas. (U.S. Navy)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAF, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S Air Force)
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, USAAC, aboard USS Hornet, April 1942. (U. S. Air Force)

The sixteen B-25s were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle.

Single B-25s each attacked targets in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. This was the first offensive operation carried out by the United States of American against the Empire of Japan during World War II.

The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill.

Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.

A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)
A B-25 is airborne over the bow of USS Hornet (CV-8). (U.S. Navy)

Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Russians, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas.

Five of the airmen were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.

North American Aviation B-25B interred south of Vladivostok
Captain Edward J. York’s North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell, 40-2242, Aircraft 8, interned about 40 miles (25 miles) west of Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAF, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, Bat Out of Hell, was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China. he was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. He is one of just five living members of the Doolittle Raiders, though he was too ill to attend their 2012 Reunion. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Robert L. Hite, USAAC, co-pilot of Aircraft 16, “Bat Out of Hell,” was captured by the Japanese after bailing out over China, and was held as a prisoner of war for 3½ years. Colonel Hite died Sunday, 29 March 2015 at the age of 95 years. Only one of the Doolittle raiders, Richard Cole, is still living. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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