Daily Archives: October 21, 2017

21 October 1959

Gerald Huelsbeck
Gerald Huelsbeck

21 October 1959: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Gerald (“Zeke”) Huelsbeck was killed while test flying the first prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base during preparations for Operation Top Flight. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259 takes off at Edwards Air Force Base during preparations for Operation Top Flight. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

In October 1959 the Navy tried, a bit prematurely, for its first world record with the F4H. McDonnell test pilot Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck, flying near Edwards AFB, was testing various flight plans for a high-altitude zoom, looking for one to recommend to the Navy test pilot who would fly the record attempt. Huelsbeck was flying the very first F4H prototype when an engine access door blew loose, flames shot through the engine compartment, and the F4H crashed, killing Huelsbeck. (Over the next three years of the F4H-1 test program three aircraft were destroyed and three crew members died, all preparing for record flights.)

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 101.

Gerald Huelsbeck
Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with a prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II. Huelsbeck is wearing a Goodyear Mk. IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

The flight control system of the YF4H-1 was damaged by the fire and went it out of control at high speed and into a spin. Zeke Huelsbeck did eject but was too low. His parachute did not open. The prototype crashed in an open area near Mt. Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest,  Ventura County, California, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Edwards.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259 was the first prototype Phantom II. It had first been flown by Robert C. Little at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, 27 May 1958. The Phantom II was designed as a supersonic, high-altitude fleet defense interceptor for the United States Navy. It was a two-place twin engine jet fighter armed with radar- and infrared-homing air-to-air missiles.

Gerald Huelsbeck was born in Wisconsin, 16 April 1928, the third child of Walter Andrew Huelsbeck, a farmer, and Irene M. Voigt Huelsbeck. He attended Carroll College (now, Carroll University) in Waukesha, before joining the United States Navy as a midshipman. He completed flight training at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, and was commissioned as an ensign, 2 June 1950.

In 1950, Ensign Gerald Huelsbeck married Miss Mary Jean Hillary, who had also attended Carroll College. They would have two children.

Huelsbeck was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 2 June 1952. Assigned as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, he flew 54 combat missions in the McDonnell F2H Banshee.

While flying in the Navy, Huelsbeck experimented with helmet-mounted cine cameras:

. . . He took a standard gun camera, added a couple of gadgets, and attached it to his helmet, The camera is electrically driven and able to take about two minutes of film with a 50-foot magazine. . . “I spent some time doing ‘hand camera’ work in Korea,” he recalls. “You know, after 54 combat missions, you don’t like to think about crashing while trying to take a picture.”

The Indianapolis Star, Vol. 53, No. 116, Tuesday, 29 September 1955, Page 4 at Columns 2–4

Lt. (j.g.) Huelsbeck in teh cocpit of a Grumman F9F. A small motion picture camera is attached to his flight helmet (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lt. (j.g.) Huelsbeck in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy fighter. A small motion picture camera is attached to his flight helmet. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

He was serving with VF-11 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, when he was selected for the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in July 1953.

“Zeke” Huelsbeck left the Navy in 1955 to accept a position as a test pilot with the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. After several months, he was assigned as an experimental test pilot and project pilot of the F4H program.

At the time of the accident, Zeke Huelsbeck was the most experienced pilot flying the F4H.

Gerald Huelsbeck was 31 years old when he died. He is buried in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 October 1947

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, 21 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)
Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

21 October 1947: At Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, Northrop Corporation Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley took off in the first YB-49, 42-102367, and flew it to Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards Air Force Base) for flight testing.

42-102367 had been converted from the second YB-35 pre-production test aircraft. The original Flying Wing’s four Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major (R-4360-21) radial engines were replaced by eight Allison J35-A-5 turbojet engines and several aerodynamic improvements were made.

The YB-49 was a very unusual configuration for an aircraft of that time. There was no fuselage or tail control surfaces. The crew compartment, engines, fuel, landing gear and armament was contained within the wing. Air intakes for the turbojet engines were placed in the leading edge of the wing. The exhaust nozzles were at the trailing edge. Four small vertical fins for improved yaw stability were also at the trailing edge.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-49 had a length of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters), wingspan of 172 feet (52.426 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). It weighed 88,442 pounds (40,117 kilograms) empty and the gross weight was 193,938 pounds (87,969 kilograms).

The YB-49 was powered by eight General Electric-designed, Allison Engine Company-built J35-A-5 engines. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-5 was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.79 kilonewtons) at 7,700 r.p.m. (static thrust, Sea Level). The engine was 14 feet, 0.0 inches (4.267 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms). (This same engine variant was used in the North American Aviation XP-86, replacing its original Chevrolet-built J35-C-3.)

During testing the YB-49 reached a maximum speed of 493 miles per hour (793 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters). Cruise speed was 429 miles per hour (690 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,929 meters). Maximum range was 3,575 miles (5,753 kilometers).

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne California. Note teh crowds of onlookers and residential housing along W. 120th Street, on the north side of the airport. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. Note the crowds of onlookers and residential housing along W. 120th Street, on the north side of the airport. (U.S. Air Force)

Only two Northrop YB-49s were built and they were tested by Northrop and the Air Force for nearly two years, and though an additional nine YB-35s were ordered converted, the B-49 was not placed into production.

The second ship, YB-49 42-102368, disintegrated in flight during a test flight north of Muroc Air Force Base, 5 June 1948, killing the entire crew, which included Captain Glen Edwards. The name of Muroc was changed to Edwards Air Force Base in his honor.

YB-49 42-102367 was destroyed by fire following a taxiing accident at Edwards, 15 March 1950. The program was cancelled on the same day.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 in flight near Muroc Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 in flight near Muroc Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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