Daily Archives: November 4, 2017

4 November 1962, 06:30 GMT

Dominic Tightrope fireball, 00:00 GMT, 4 November 1962. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)
Dominic Tightrope fireball, 06:30 GMT, 4 November 1962. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)

4 November 1962: A Western Electric M6 Nike Hercules air-defense guided missile was launched from Johnston Island in the North Pacific Ocean. The missile was armed with a W-31 Mod 1 nuclear warhead, and had been modified to include a command arm/fire capability, and an automatic disarm feature. At an altitude of 69,000 feet (21,031 meters), 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south-southwest of the island, the warhead detonated with an explosive yield of 12 kilotons. This nuclear weapon effects test, Dominic Tightrope, was the final test of the Operation Dominic I test series, and was the last atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States.

The Nike Hercules was a long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air guided missile, designed and produced by Western Electric Company and the Douglas Aircraft Company. It was a two-stage missile with a cluster of four Hercules Powder Company M5E1 solid-fuel rocket engines as the boost stage. The second stage was powered by a Thiokol Chemical Corporation M30 solid-fuel rocket engine. The booster stage produced 173,600 pounds of thrust (772.211 kilonewtons)and burned for 3.4 seconds. The second stage engine produced 13,500 pounds of thrust (60.051 kilonewtons) and had a burn time of 29 seconds.

A Nike Hercules air defense missile launch. (U.S. Army)
A Nike Hercules air defense missile launch. (U.S. Army)

The Nike air defense missile system used multiple radars to track incoming target aircraft and the outgoing missile. Computer systems analyzed the data and signals were sent to guide the missile toward the target. This was a complex system and multiple missiles were based together at missile sites around the defended area.

The Nike Hercules was 41 feet (12.497 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 2 feet, 6.5 inches (0.775 meters). The maximum wing span was 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). Its weight was 10,710 pounds (4,858 kilograms). The Hercules could reach an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and had a range of 90 miles (145 kilometers). The missile’s maximum speed was Mach 3.65.

The Hercules could be armed with either a M17 high explosive fragmentation warhead or a W-31 nuclear warhead. Although designed to attack jet aircraft, the Nike Hercules also successfully intercepted guided and ballistic missiles, and had a surface-to-surface capability.

The Western Electric SAM-A-25 Nike B was renamed Nike Hercules in 1956 while still in development. It was redesignated Guided Missile, Air Defense M6 in 1958, and MIM-14 in 1963. (“MIM” is Department of Defense terminology for a mobile, ground-launched interceptor missile.) About 25,000 Nike Hercules missiles were built. Initially deployed in 1958, it remained in service with the U.S. Army until 1984.

The W-31 was a boosted fission implosion warhead designed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. It weighed 900 pounds (408 kilograms) and had a selectable yield of from 2 to 40 kilotons. About 2,550 warheads were produced and remained in service until 1989.

A battery of U.S. Army Nike Hercules SAM-A-25 surface-to-air guided missiles. (U.S. Army)
A battery of U.S. Army Nike Hercules MIM-14 surface-to-air guided missiles. (U.S. Army)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1960

At the left, Boeing NB-52A 52-003 carries X-15 56-6670 while on the right, NB-52B 52-008 carries X-15 56-6671.(NASA)
At the left, Boeing NB-52A 52-003 carries X-15 56-6670 while on the right, NB-52B 52-008 carries X-15 56-6671. (NASA)

4 November 1960: This photo shows one of the four attempts NASA made at launching two X-15 aircraft in one day. This attempt occurred November 4, 1960.

None of the four attempts was successful, although one of the two aircraft involved in each attempt usually made a research flight.

In this case, Air Force test pilot Major Robert A. Rushworth flew X-15 #1, 56-6670, on its sixteenth flight to a speed of Mach 1.95 and an altitude of 48,900 feet (14,905 meters).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1954

Boeing B-29A-40-BW Superfortress 42-4612. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29-40-BW Superfortress 42-24612. (U.S. Air Force)

4 November 1954: The Strategic Air Command retired its last B-29 Superfortress four-engine heavy bomber to the aircraft storage facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona.

The B-29 Superfortress was the most technologically advanced—and complex—aircraft of World War II. It required the manufacturing capabilities of the entire nation to produce. Over 1,400,000 engineering man-hours had been required to design the prototypes.

The Superfortress was manufactured by Boeing at Seattle and Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas; by the Glenn L. Martin Company at Omaha, Nebraska; and by Bell Aircraft Corporation, Marietta, Georgia.

There were three XB-29 prototypes, 14 YB-29 pre-production test aircraft, 2,513 B-29 Superfortresses, 1,119 B-29A, and 311 B-29B aircraft. The bomber served during World War II and the Korean War and continued in active U.S. service until 1960. In addition to its primary mission as a long range heavy bomber, the Superfortress also served as a photographic reconnaissance airplane, designated F-13, a weather recon airplane (WB-29), and a tanker (KB-29).

The B-29 was operated by a crew of 11 to 13 men. It was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.068 meters). The vertical fin was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.305 meters) high. Empty weight was 74,500 pounds (33,793 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 133,500 pounds (60,555 kilograms).

The B-29 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 670C18BA4 (R-3350-23A) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove 16 foot, 7 inch (5.055 meter) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-23A was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the B-29 was 357 miles per hour (575 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), though its normal cruising speed was 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The bomber’s service ceiling was 33,600 feet (10,241 meters) and the combat range was 3,250 miles (5,230 kilometers).

The Superfortress could carry a maximum of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) of bombs in two bomb bays. For defense it had 12 Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in four remote-controlled turrets and a manned tail position.

A number of B-29 Superfortresses are on display at locations around the world, but only two, the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29A-60-BN 44-62070, Fifi, and B-29-70-BW 44-69972, Doc, are airworthy. (After a lengthy restoration, Doc received its Federal Aviation Administration Special Airworthiness Certificate, 19 May 2016.)

The Superfortress could carry a maximum of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) of bombs in two bomb bays. For defense it had 12 Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in four remote-controlled turrets and a manned tail position.

B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine)
B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3–4 November 1945

Boeing 314, California Clipper, NC18602, over Oakland, California, 1937. (Clyde Sunderland Photograph Collection, Library, University of California Berkeley)

3–4 November 1945: On the evening of Saturday, 3 November 1945, the Boeing 314 Honolulu Clipper, NC18601, departed Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, enroute to San Francisco, California. The flying boat was under the command of Captain Sanis E. (“Robby”) Robbins, Pan American Airways, with First Officer Wally Reed, Second Officer Dunbar Carpenter, Radio Officer Jack B. Crawford, First Engineer Dan W. Broadwater, Second Engineer Robert J. Dernberger. There were 13 passengers and 10 crew members on board. The flight to San Francisco was expected to take 11 hours.

Approximately 5 hours into the flight, the number 3 engine (starboard wing, inboard) began to backfire. It was shut down and the propeller feathered. Captain Robbins decided to return to Hawaii. A short while later, the number 4 engine (starboard wing, outboard) also started to malfunction. It continued to run but eventually it was also shut down.

With two engines inoperative, the airplane was unable to maintain altitude. At 11:07 p.m. local, Captain Robbins, in total darkness, brought the flying boat to a “masterful”  landing on the relatively calm surface of the Pacific Ocean. There were no injuries. The airplane suffered minor damage to the port sea wing, and started taking on water.

California Clipper, NC18602, another Boeing 314, also enroute to San Francisco, orbited Honolulu Clipper‘s position to guide rescue ships to scene. The following message was broadcast from Pearl Harbor:

PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER DOWN AT SEA AT 040935Z POSITION 2749N 14802W. PLANE IN GOOD CONDITION. IS ABLE TO COMMUNICATE ON [frequency deleted] KCS VOICECALL C18601 ON [frequency deleted] KCS. INVESTIGATE SIGHTINGS REPORT PERTINENT INFO TO ORIGINATOR.

Freighter S.S. John Henry Payne sighted flares fired from the flying boat and quickly arrived on scene. The ship took all of the passengers on board. Ten crew stayed aboard flying boat.

USS Manila Bay (CVE 61), a Casablanca-class escort aircraft carrier under the command of Captain Leon Johnson, was approximately 60 miles (97 kilometers) away, and had been ordered to take charge of efforts to salvage the airplane.

On arrival, a whale boat was sent to remove the remaining crew members from the flying boat. Wind and waves had increased and it was feared that the boat might damage the hull of the flying boat, so a rubber life raft was used to transfer the Clipper‘s crew to the whale boat. Aircraft mechanics were sent from Manila Bay to attempt to repair the airplane, but were not successful.

A whale boat from USS Manila Bay approaches Honolulu Clipper, 4 November 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Plans were made to rig the airplane for towing. 200 fathoms (1,200 feet/366 meters) of 6-inch (15.2 centimeter) diameter hawser was rigged from the aircraft carrier to the nose of the flying boat. Stabilizing lines were tied to the propeller hubs of the outboard engines. Manila Bay began towing the Honolulu Clipper and was gradually able to increase speed to 6 knots (7 miles per hour/11 kilometers per hour). About an hour after sunset, at about 7:30 p.m., the tow line parted.

Darkness and rising seas made it impossible to rig a new tow. Manila Bay stood by awaiting arrival of USS San Pablo (AVP-30) (Commander Charles Robert Eisenbach), a Barnegat-class seaplane tender, on Tuesday, 6 January, then departed for Pearl Harbor.

Seaplane tender USS San Pablo (AVP-30) standing by Honolulu Clipper. (U.S. Navy)
USS San Pablo approaches the undamaged Honolulu Clipper. (U.S. Navy)

During the several days that Honolulu Clipper was afloat in the open ocean, weather increased to the point that it was considered too hazardous to approach it in a small boat, so the aviation tender closed on the airplane directly to try to take it on tow. Unfortunately, San Pablo hit the clipper and caused significant damage.

Hawaii Clipper from the bridge of USS San Pablo. The starboard wing is damaged and the Number 4 engine is missing. (U.S. Navy)

With salvage impossible, the derelict Honolulu Clipper was now considered a hazard to navigation. It was sunk by 20 mm gun fire from San Pablo.

Honolulu Clipper was the prototype for the Boeing Model 314 series flyjng boat. It had been designed to carry a maximum of 76 passengers and a crew of 10 a distance of 5,200 miles at 184 miles per hour. The design used the wings and engine nacelles of Boeing’s experimental Model 294 (XB-15) very long-range heavy bomber.

The Boeing Model 314 was a large four-engine, high-wing monoplane flying boat designed and built by the Boeing Airplane Company to take off and land on water. It was 106 feet (32.309 meters) long with a wingspan of 152 feet (46.330 meters). It had a maximum take off weight of 82,500 pounds (37,421 kilograms).

Boeing 314 prototype NX18601 in original configuration. (Boeing Airplane Company)

The airplane was built at Boeing’s Plant 1, then transported by Barge to Elliot Bay. It carried experimental registration NX18601. Test pilot Edmund Turney (“Eddie”) Allen made the first flight of the prototype on 7 June 1938. He reported that the flying boat had insufficient rudder control and that he had to vary engine power to turn it. The prototype was modified to a twin-tail configuration.

Boeing Model 314 NX18601 flying over Elliot Bay. Note the twin-tail configuration. (Boeing Airplane Company)

With two vertical fins and rudders, control was improved, but was still insufficient. A third, center, fin was added and this became the production configuration.

Prototype Boeing 314 NX18601 in triple-tail configuration, 24 November 1938. (U.S. Air Force/San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Boeing 314 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600A2, two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7.1:1. They were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,550 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 91/96 octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic full-feathering constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 14 feet (4.267 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The GR2600A2 was 5 feet, 2.06 inches (1.576 meters) long and 4 feet, 7 inches (1.387 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,935 pounds (878 kilograms). The engines could be serviced in flight, with access through the wings.

The Boeing 314 had a maximum speed of 199 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), with a range of 3,685 miles (5,930 kilometers) at its normal cruising speed of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,400 feet (4,084 meters). The fuel capacity was 4,246 gallons (16,073 liters).

Boeing built six Model 314 and another six 314A flying boats for Pan American Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation. Pan Am paid $549,846.55 for each 314, about $9,545,726.07 in 2017 dollars, and Boeing lost money on every one sold.

Honolulu Clipper was leased to the United States Navy by Pan American Airways, 17 December 1942, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 48227. The airplane continued to be operated by Pan Am crews.

A Pan American Airways Boeing 314 at Hawaii. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Sanis E. (“Robby”) Robbins was born at Matthews, Indiana, 17 September 1898. He was the sixth of seven children of William S. Robbins, a real estate agent, and Sarah Ellen Brokaw Robbins.

Robbins enlisted as a Private, United States Army, at Camp Dodge, Iowa, 26 June 1916. He was promoted to Private First Class on 1 August 1916, and to Corporal, 18 December 1916. Corporal Robbins was hospitalized at Brownsville, Texas, 4–23 January 1917. He was released from military service at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, 20 February 1917, shortly before the United States entered World War I. A 1920 Air Service Information Circular listed Second Lieutenant Sanis E. Robbins as a pursuit pilot, residing at Cassia, Florida.

Robby Robbins married Miss Virginia J. Bing. They would have three children.

Robbins was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, United States Naval Reserve, 15 September 1940. He held this rank until at least 1955.

Captain Sanis E. Robbins died at Palo Alto, California, 8 August 1961, at the age of 62 years. He was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

Pan American Airways Boeing 314 NC18604, Atlantic Clipper, taking off. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1941

Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer's serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer’s serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed Martin)
Ralph B. Virden. (Los Angeles Times)
Ralph B. Virden. (Los Angeles Times)

4 November 1941: Lockheed test pilot Ralph B. Virden was conducting high speed dive tests in the first Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, Air Corps serial number 39-689 (Lockheed’s serial number 122-2202).

As the airplane’s speed increased, it approached what is now known as its Critical Mach Number. Air flowing across the wings accelerated to transonic speeds and began to form shock waves. This interrupted lift and caused a portion of the wing to stall. Air no longer flowed smoothly along the airplane and the tail surfaces became ineffective. The YP-38 pitched down into a steeper dive and its speed increased even more.

Designed by famed aeronautical engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the YP-38 had servo tabs on the elevator that were intended to help the pilot maintain or regain control under these conditions. But they increased the elevator’s effectiveness too well. As Virden pulled out of the dive, the YP-38’s tail came off.

The YP-38 crashed into the kitchen of Jack Jensen’s home at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. Fire erupted. Ralph Virden was killed. The airplane’s tail section was located several blocks away.

Another view of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. It's factory serial number, "2202," is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)
Another photograph of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. The factory serial number, “2202,” is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)

39-689 was the first of thirteen YP-38 service test aircraft that had been ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after the XP-38 prototype, 37-457, had crashed on a transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. 39-689 made its first flight 16 September 1940 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls. With hundreds of production P-38s being built, Lockheed continued to use the YP-38 for testing.

Newspaper phototograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)
Newspaper photograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)

The YP-38s were service test prototypes of a single-place, twin engine long range fighter with a unique configuration. There was not a fuselage in the normal sense. The cockpit, nose landing gear, and armament were contained in a central nacelle mounted to the wing. Two engines and their turbochargers, cooling systems and main landing gear were in two parallel booms. The booms end with vertical fins and rudders, with the horizontal stabilizer and elevator between them. The P-38 was 37 feet, 9 inches (11.506 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). The YP-38 had an empty weight 11,171 pounds (5,067 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,500 pounds (6,123 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight 14,348 pounds (6,508 kilograms).

The YP-38 was powered by two counter-rotating, liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.60-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison V-1710-27 right-hand tractor and V-1710-29 left-hand tractor, single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines (Allison Engineering Co. Models F2R and F2L) with a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. In a change from the XP-38, the propellers rotated outboard at the top of their arc. The V-1710-27/-29 engines were 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 3 feet, 0-17/32 inches (0.928 meters) high. The V-1710-27/-29 weighed 1,305 pounds (592 kilograms)

The YP-38 had a maximum speed of 405 miles per hour (651.8 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and it could climb  from the surface to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in six minutes. Normal range 650 miles (1,046 kilometers).

Lockheed built one XP-38, thirteen YP-38s, and more than 10,000 production fighter and reconnaissance airplanes. At the end of World War II, orders for nearly 2,000 more P-38 Lightnings were cancelled.

Boeing president Claire L. Egvtedt and United Air Lines Captain Ralph B. Virden examine a scale model of the Boeing 247D airliner. (Boeing)
Boeing Airplane Company President Clairmont L. Egvtedt and United Air Lines Captain Ralph B. Virden examine a scale model of the Boeing 247D airliner. (Boeing)

Ralph B. Virden was born 11 June 1898, the son of Hiram and Carrie Virden of Audobon Township, Illinois. He was four years younger than his sister, Ruth. He attended Bradley Polytechnic Institute at Peoria, Illinois. At the age of 17, 15 October 1918, Ralph Virden enlisted in the U.S. Army. With the end of World War I less than one month later, he was quickly discharged, 7 December 1918.

During the mid-1920s, Virden flew as a contract mail pilot. He held Airline Transport Pilot Certificate No. 628, and was employed by Gilmore Aviation and Pacific Air Transport. For thirteen years, Virden was a pilot for United Air Lines. He joined Lockheed Aircraft Company as a test pilot in 1939. He had flown more than 15,000 hours.

Virden lived at 4511 Ben Ave., North Hollywood, California, with his wife, Florence, and 19-year-old son, Ralph, Jr., who was also employed at Lockheed.

After Virden’s death, Lockheed, the Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) undertook an extensive test program of the P-38.

The Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
The second Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Langley Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 #2 in the NACA full-scale wind tunnel at Langley, Virginia. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690 (122-2203), in the NACA Langley Research Center’s full-scale wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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