Daily Archives: May 7, 2017

7 May 1958

MAJ Howard C. Johnson prepares for his record flight, with Lockheed test pilot Willam M. ("Bill") Park (center) and Jack Holliman. YF-104A Starfighter 55-2957 is in the background. (Lockheed)
Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, prepares for his record flight, with Lockheed test pilot Willam M. (“Bill”) Park (center) and Jack Holliman. F-104A Starfighter 55-2957 is in the background. (Lockheed Martin)

7 May 1958: Major Howard C. Johnson, United States Air Force, the operations officer of the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, based at Hamilton Air Force Base, California, zoom-climbed a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2957, to an altitude of 91,243 feet (27,811 meters) over Edwards Air Force Base, establishing a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record.¹

Major Johnson was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.

Major Howard C. Johnson takes off with the Lockheed YF-104A Starfire, 55-2957, 6 May 1958.
The landing gear are retracting as Major Howard C. Johnson takes off with the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2957, 7 May 1958. (U.S. Air Force)

Using techniques developed by Lockheed aerodynamicists, Major Johnson climbed to 41,000 feet (12,497 meters) and accelerated to the Starfighter’s maximum speed in level flight. He then started to climb, maintaining a steady 2.5 G load, until he reached the optimum climb angle. A piece of masking tape applied to the side of the cockpit canopy at the predetermined angle gave Johnson a visual reference during his climb. At approximately 77,000 feet (23,470 meters) the F-104’s J79 turbojet engine had to be shut down to prevent overheating in the thin high-altitude atmosphere. The interceptor continued from that point on a ballistic trajectory until it reached the peak altitude. On the descent, the engine was restarted and Johnson flew the Starfighter back to Edwards Air Force Base.

Major Johnson had broken the altitude record set just 17 days earlier by Lieutenant Commander George C. Watkins, U.S. Navy, flying an experimental Grumman F11F-1F Tiger. The Lockheed F-104 beat the Grumman F11F by 4,362 meters (14,311 feet).²

Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, after his record-setting flight. (Lockheed)
Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, after his record-setting flight. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The F-104A was 54 feet, 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). It had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms), combat weight of 17,988 pounds (8,159.2 kilograms), gross weight of 22,614 pounds (10,257.5 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 25,840 pounds (11,720.8 kilograms). Internal fuel capacity was 897 gallons (3,395.5 liters).

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second). The combat ceiling was 55,200 feet (16,825 meters) and the service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

55-2957 had been one of the first group of YF-104A pre-production aircraft. After the flight test program, it and the others were modified to the F-104A production standard.

The record-setting Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was later converted to a QF-104A high-speed drone. It was shot down 8 August 1967.

Lockheed QF-104A Starfighter 55-2957, after modification to a high-speed drone, in flight. There is no pilot aboard. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed QF-104A Starfighter 55-2957 in flight after modification to high-speed drone configuration. There is no pilot aboard. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 5056

² FAI Record File Number 8596

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6–7 May 1943

Colonel Frank Gregory lands the Vought-Sikorsky XR-4, 41-18864, aboard SS Bunker Hill, 6-7 May 1943. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Colonel Frank Gregory lands the Vought-Sikorsky XR-4, 41-18874, aboard SS Bunker Hill, 6-7 May 1943. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

6–7 May 1943: To determine the feasibility of operating helicopters from the decks of merchant ships for antisubmarine patrols, Colonel Hollingsworth Franklin (“Frank”) Gregory, U.S. Army Air Corps, made 23 landings and takeoffs from the tanker SS Bunker Hill in Long Island Sound, flying the Army’s Vought-Sikorsky XR-4, 41-18874.

According to an official U.S. Coast Guard history of the tests,

The tanker BUNKER HILL was made available for the tests and a deck 78 feet [23.8 meters] long, with obstructions at both ends, was put in place. An eight foot [2.4 meters] bullseye in the center of a square was painted in the middle of the platform. Colonel Frank Gregory arrived on 6 May to fly the Army XR-4 provided for the tests. The entire helicopter project rested on the XR-4’s ability to land on a ship. Gregory was concerned at first. His “shipboard” experience was limited to a 20 foot [6.1 meters] platform at Wright Field. He immediately set about getting “additional experience.” Gregory noted with reference to his first attempt:

Igor Sikorsky and Colonel Frank Gregory with the Vought-Sikorsky XR-4. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Igor Sikorsky and Colonel Frank Gregory with the Vought-Sikorsky XR-4. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

“The space on the deck looked even smaller—it didn’t look like the helicopter would fit. The cabin superstructure towered up like a two story building, and the people on it had that “it can’t be done” look on their faces—yet the big white bullseye stuck out like a target—the XR-4 came true to the white marker as though being pulled by a powerful magnet, and a minute later the floats touched the deck.”

He continued to practice landings and takeoffs that afternoon with the ship at anchor, then underway at five, seven and one-half, ten and fifteen knots. As the speed increased the landings became more difficult because of increased turbulence over the superstructure but the helicopter proved to be completely controllable.

The next morning guests were ferried out to the BUNKER HILL . . . A total of 97 names were on the guest list. Gregory put on an impressive and flawless performance as the ship cruised at various speeds up to 15 knots and on various headings with relation to the wind which was blowing at 12 knots. . . .

—”The Helicopter as an Anti-Submarine Weapon,” A History of Coast Guard Aviation, The Growth Years (1939–1956).

SS Bunker Hill, a Type T2 tanker, with a tugboat alongside. (Unattributed)
SS Bunker Hill, a Type T-2 tanker, with a tugboat alongside. (Unattributed)

SS Bunker Hill was a 10,590 gross ton Type T-2 tanker owned by the Keystone Tankship Corporation. It was  504 feet (153.6 meters) long, with a beam of 68.2 feet (20.8 meters) and drawing 39.2 feet (12 meters). Its engine developed 7,000 horsepower.

On 6 March 1964, Bunker Hill was enroute from Tacoma to Anacortes, Washington when it suffered a vapor explosion in the Number 9 cargo tank which broke the ship in half. It sank in Rosario Strait in less than one hour. Five members of the crew of thirty-one, including the captain, chief mate, third mate, quartermaster and steward, were lost.

The Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls. The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right). The three-blade tail rotor was mounted to the right of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade was below the axis of rotation.)

The XR-4 was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).

The VS-316A had originally been powered by a 499.8-cubic-inch-displacement (8.19 liter) air-cooled Warner Scarab SS-50 (R-500-1) seven-cylinder radial engine, rated at 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. In the XR-4 configuration, the engine was upgraded to an air-cooled, direct-drive 555.298-cubic-inch-displacement (9.100 liter) Warner Super Scarab SS185 (R-550-3) seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 6.20:1. The R-550-3 was rated at 185 horsepower at 2,175 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 200 horsepower at 2,475 r.p.m (five minute limit) for takeoff. The engine was placed backwards in the aircraft with the propeller shaft driving a short driveshaft through a clutch to a 90° gear box and the transmission. The R-550-3 weighed 344 pounds (156 kilograms).

The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Vought-Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 during shipboard testing, June 1943. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Vought-Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 during shipboard testing, June 1943. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 May 1937

Lockheed XC-35 36-353 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

7 May 1937: Ordered by the Air Corps in 1936 as a high-altitude research aircraft, and for the development of cabin pressurization, the XC-35 Supercharged Cabin Transport Airplane was a highly modified Lockheed Electra 10A. It was the first airplane to be specifically built with a pressurized cabin.

With a strengthened circular fuselage and smaller windows, the XC-35′s passenger compartment was pressurized by engine turbo-superchargers and controlled by a flight engineer. Cabin pressure could be maintained at the equivalent of 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) above sea level, at an actual altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

A crew of three and two passengers were accommodated within the pressurized section, and there was room for another passenger to the rear of the pressure bulkhead, which could only be used at lower altitudes.

The Lockheed XC-35 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-43 (Wasp T5H1) single-row, nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6:1. The R-1340-43 had a Normal and Takeoff Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. from Sea Level to 3,000 feet (914 meters), burning 92-octane gasoline. It was direct drive. The engine was 3 feet, 6.25 inches (1.073 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.50 inches (1.308 meters) in diameter, and weighed 864 pounds (392 kilograms).

Able to fly above 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the XC-35 was later used by NACA for thunderstorm penetration research flights. In 1948 it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution.

Lockheed XC-35 35-363. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XC-35 36-353. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–7 May 1936

1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 - 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
“1st April 1936: English aviator Amy Mollison, nee Johnson (1903 – 1941) wearing a woollen suit from the collection of flight clothes designed by Madame Schiaparelli for her solo flight from London to Cape Town. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)”

4–7 May 1936: British aviatrix Amy Johnson, CBE, departed Gravesend Aerodrome, Kent, England at 8:02 a.m. GMT, 4 May 1936, in her Percival D.3 Gull Six, registration G-ADZO, enroute to Cape Town, South Africa. In July 1932, she had set a record for flying this route, solo, breaking the existing record which had been set by her husband, James Mollison. The current record, though, was held by Flight Lieutenant Tommy Rose. Her goal was to retake the record.

During the next three days, Johnson flew approximately 6,700 miles (10,782 kilometers). She made several stops to refuel her airplane, but she slept only about six hours.

She arrived at Wingfield Aerodrome, Cape Town at 2:31 p.m. GMT, 7 May, for an elapsed time of 3 days, 6 hours, 29 minutes. She broke Tommy Rose’s time by 11 hours, 9 minutes. Her plan was to then make the return flight and beat Rose’s two-way record.

FAI Record File Num #13241 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 1 : internal combustion engine
Type of record: Speed over a recognised course
Performance: 122.65 km/h
Date: 1936-05-07
Course/Location: London (UK) – Cape Town (South Africa)
Claimant Amy Mollison (GBR)
Aeroplane: Percival Gull (G-ADZO)
Engine: 1 De Havilland Gipsy Six

Amy Johnson’s record-breaking Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADZO. (Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library)

Amy Johnson’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, c/n D63 was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, built of wood and covered by fabric. It was flown by a single pilot and could carry two passengers. The airplane had been sold to Harold Leslie Brook, 12 December 1935. The airplane was scrapped 8 February 1938.

The airplane was 24 feet, 9 inches (7.544 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 2 inches (11.024 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4½ inches (2.248 meters). The D.3 had an empty weight of 1,170 pounds (530.7 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,050 pounds (929.9 kilograms).

The Gull Six was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 9.186 liter (560.57-cubic-inch-displacement) air-cooled de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted, inline six-cylinder engine which produced 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and  205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller via direct drive. The engine weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).

The Gull Six was capable of reaching 178 miles per hour (286.5 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 16,000 feet (4,876.8 meters) and range was 700 miles (1,126.5 kilometers).

Amy Johnson had set many flight records, both individually and with her husband, James Mollison, whom she had married in 1932 (divorced, 1938). He proposed to her during an airplane flight, only eight hours after having met her. For her record-setting flight from England to Australia in May 1931, she was made Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and won the Harmon Trophy.

During World War II, Amy Johnson flew for the Royal Air Force as a First Officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary (equivalent to the RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant). Tragically, on 5 January 1941, while flying over London, she was challenged by an RAF fighter. Twice she gave the incorrect recognition code and she was then shot down. Her airplane crashed into the Thames, where she was seen struggling in the water. Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher of HMS Haslemere dived into the river to rescue her, but both died. This incident was kept secret and it was publicly reported that she had run out of fuel.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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