Daily Archives: December 12, 2017

12 December 1957

Major Adrian E. Drew, U.S. Air Force, 1920–1985. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

12 December 1957: Major Adrian Eason Drew, U.S. Air Force, commanding officer, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) absolute speed record over the 15/25 kilometer course at Edwards Air Force Base, California.¹ Major Drew flew a modified McDonnell F-101A-5-MC Voodoo, serial number 53-2426.

The Voodoo, the ninth production F-101A, had been bailed to Pratt & Whitney by the Air Force to test a new J57-P-55 afterburning turbojet engine intended for the F-101B Voodoo, and it was redesignated JF-101A. The new engine produced 16,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner. The modified aircraft had longer jet exhaust tubes, and air scoops were installed in the belly to provide additional cooling air for the afterburners.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Thompson Trophy. (NASM)

At 39,000 feet (11,887 meters), Major Drew accelerated for 65 miles (105 kilometers) before entering the 10.1 statute mile (16.25 kilometers) course. He made one pass in each direction. Actual time on course, each way, was 29.8 seconds. The official average speed for the two passes is 1,943.5 kilometers per hour (1,207.64 miles per hour). Although the air temperature was -79 °F. (-62 °C.), frictional heating brought the Voodoo’s skin temperature to 190 °F. (88 °C.), high enough to blister the airplane’s paint.

Major Drew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Thompson Trophy for 1957.

Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. [TDiA speculates that the man on the right is Major Drew’s younger brother, Bobby R. Drew.] (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Adrian Eason Drew was born 8 October 1920 in Georgia, the first of six children of John Robert Drew, a farmer, and Ada Elma Eason Drew.

After one year of college, Adrian Drew enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 March 1942, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (1.73 meters) tall and weighed 143 pounds (64.9 kilograms).

On 14 November 1942, Drew married Miss Sarah B. Kaylor in Pinellas County, Florida. They would have three daughters, Nancy, Bonnie and Jo Anne.

Colonel Drew was a combat pilot during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He commanded the 309th Strategic Fighter Squadron from January to October 1955, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. In August 1957, he became the first commanding officer of the 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron at Bergstom Air Force Base,  Austin, Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Drew commanded the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California, from 1962 to 1964, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief, and briefly commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Two weeks before a scheduled promotion to Brigadier General, Colonel Drew suffered a major heart attack and was forced to retire from the Air Force. He died 27 July 1985 at the age of 64 years. He was buried at Shawnee View Gardens Cemetery, Cumming, Georgia.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, holder of the World Absolute Speed Record, 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was originally designed as a single-seat, twin-engine long range bomber escort, or “penetration fighter” for the Strategic Air Command, but was developed as a fighter bomber and reconnaissance airplane. The Voodoo first flew 29 September 1954, and the first F-101A was delivered to the Air Force 2 May 1957.

The F-101A was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). It was 18 feet (5.486 meters) high. The Voodoo weighed 24,970 pounds (11,245 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms).

The standard F-101A was equipped with two Pratt and Whitney J57-P-13 afterburning turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 was rated at 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37, and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The J57-P-55 engines installed in the JF-101A were rated at 10,700 pounds of thrust (49.60 kilonewtons), and 16,900 pounds (75.18 kilonewtons) with afterburner. They were 20 feet,  11.93 inches (6.399 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,215 pounds (2,365 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-101A was 1,009 miles per hour (1,624 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 55,800 feet (17,008 meters). It carried 2,341 gallons (8,862 liters) of fuel internally. With external tanks, the fighter bomber had a maximum range of 2,925 miles (4,707.3 kilometers).

The F-101A was armed with four 20mm Pontiac M39 single-barreled revolver cannon, with 200 rounds per gun. It could carry a Mark 28 bomb on a centerline mount.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426 is on static display at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

A McDonnell Aircraft Corporation film about Operations Sun Run and Fire Wall is available of YouTube:

¹ FAI Record File Number 9064

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 December 1953

Bell X-1A 48-1384 in flight. The frost band on the fuselage shows the location of the cryogenic propellant tank. (U.S. Air Force)

12 December 1953: On its tenth flight, U.S. Air Force test pilot Major Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1A rocket plane to Mach 2.44 (1,621 miles per hour/2,609 kilometers per hour) at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters), faster than anyone had flown before.

After the rocket engine was shut down, the X-1A tumbled out of control—”divergent in three axes” in test pilot speak—and fell out of the sky. It dropped nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in 70 seconds. Yeager was exposed to accelerations of +8 to -1.5 g’s. The motion was so violent that Yeager cracked the rocketplane’s canopy with his flight helmet.

Yeager was finally able to recover by 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.

Yeager later remarked that if the X-1A had an ejection seat he would have used it.

Bell Aircraft Corporation  engineers had warned Yeager not to exceed Mach 2.3.

Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, seated in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A, 48-1384, circa 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

The following is from Major Charles E. Yeager’s official post-flight report:

“After a normal drop at 31,000 feet, chambers #4, #2, and #1 were ignited and [the] airplane was accelerated up to .8 Mach number. A flight path was formed holding .8 Mach number up to 43,000 feet where chamber #3 was ignited and the airplane accelerated in level flight to 1.1 Mach number. A climb was again started passing through 50,000 feet at 1.1 Mach number, 60,000 feet at 1.2 Mach number and a push-over was started at 62,000 feet. The top of the round-out occurred at 76,000 feet and 1.9 Mach number. The airplane was accelerated in level flight up to 2.4 [2.535 indicated] Mach number where all of the rocket chambers were cut. The flight path was very normal and nothing uneventful [sic] happened up to this point. After the engine was cut, the airplane went into a Dutch roll for approximately 2 oscillations and then started rolling to the right at a very rapid rate of roll. Full aileron and opposite rudder were applied with no effect on the rate of roll of the airplane. After approximately 8 to 10 complete rolls, the airplane stopped rolling in the inverted position and after approximately one-half of one second started rolling to the left at a rate in excess of 360 degrees per second, estimated by the pilot. At this point the pilot was completely disoriented and was not sure what maneuvers the airplane went through following the high rates of roll. Several very high ‘g’ loads both positive and negative and side loads were felt by the pilot. At one point during a negative ‘g’ load, the pilot felt the inner liner of the canopy break as the top of his pressure suit helmet came in contact with it. The first maneuver recognized by the pilot was an inverted spin at approximately 33,000 feet. The airplane then fell off into the normal spin from which the pilot recovered at 25,000 feet.”

Flight test data from Yeager's 12 December 1953 flight superimposed over a photograph of the bell X-1A. (NASA)
Flight test data from Yeager’s 12 December 1953 flight superimposed over a photograph of the Bell X-1A. (NASA)

The following is a transcript of radio transmissions during the flight:

Yeager: Illegible [inaudible]—gasping—I’m down to 25,000 over Tehachapi. Don’t know
whether I can get back to the base or not.
Chase (Ridley): At 25,000 feet, Chuck?
Yeager: Can’t say much more, I got to (blurry—save myself).
Yeager: I’m—(illegible)—(Christ!)
Chase (Ridley): What say, Chuck?
Yeager: I say I don’t know if I tore anything up or not but Christ!
Chase (Murray): Tell us where you are if you can.
Yeager: I think I can get back to the base okay, Jack. Boy, I’m not going to do that any more.
Chase (Murray): Try to tell us where you are, Chuck.
Yeager: I’m (gasping)…I’ll tell you in a minute. I got 1800 lbs [nitrogen] source pressure.
Yeager: I don’t think you’ll have to run a structure demonstration on this damned thing!
Chase (Murray): Chuck from Murray, if you can give me altitude and heading, I’ll try to check you from outside.
Yeager: Be down at 18,000 feet. I’m about—I’ll be over the base at about 15,000 feet in a minute.
Chase (Murray): Yes, sir.
Yeager: Those guys were so right!
Yeager: Source pressure is still 15 seconds, I’m getting OK now.
Yeager: I got all the oscillograph data switches off. 4 fps camera off, it’s okay.
Bell Truck: Jettison and vent your tanks.
Yeager: I have already jettisoned. Now I’m venting both lox and fuel. Leaving hydrogen peroxide alone.
Bell Truck: Roger.
Yeager: I cut it, I got—in real bad trouble up there.
Yeager: Over the base right now, Kit, at 14,500 feet.
Chase (Murray): I have you.

A North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre chase plane, 51-2848, follows the Bell X-1A as it glides toward Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
A North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre chase plane, 51-2848, follows the Bell X-1A as it glides toward Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

In his autobiography, Always Another Dawn, NACA test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield wrote:

Probably no other pilot could have come through that experience alive. Much later I asked Yeager, as a matter of professional interest, exactly how he regained control of the ship. He was vague in his reply, but he said he thought that after he reached the thick atmosphere, he had deliberately put the ship into a spin.

“A spin is something I know how to get out of,” he said. “That other business— the tumble—there is no way to figure that out.”

. . . Yeager received many accolades. I didn’t begrudge him one of them. If ever a pilot deserved praise for a job well done, it was Yeager. After that X-1A episode, he never flew a rocketplane again.

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield with Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, Chapter 19 at Pages 183–184.  

Bell X-1A 48-1384 (U.S. Air Force)

The Bell X-1A, 48-1384, was an experimental rocket-powered high-speed, high-altitude research aircraft. It was one of four second-generation X-1s (including the X-1B, X-1D and X-1E), specifically designed to investigate dynamic stability at speeds in excess of Mach 2 and altitudes greater than 90,000 feet. It was a mid-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was 35 feet, 6.58 inches (10.835 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 2.37 inches (3.261 meters). The wheelbase, measured from the nose wheel axle to the main wheel axle, was  13 feet, 5.13 inches. (4.093 meters). The main wheel tread was 4 feet, 3 inches (1.295 meters). The X-1A design gross weight was 10,668 pounds (4,839 kilograms).

The X-1A was powered by a single Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 rocket engine with four independent combustion chambers. The XLR11 was fueled with ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.689 kilonewtons).

The Bell X-1A made its first flight 14 February 1953 with Bell test pilot Jean Ziegler in the cockpit. It reached its highest speed, Mach 2.44 on Flight 10. Its highest altitude was 90,440 feet (27,566 meters) on its 24th flight. On 8 August 1955, while still on board its B-50 drop ship, the X-1A suffered an external explosion. The rocketplane was jettisoned and destroyed when it hit the desert floor.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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