Monthly Archives: February 2018

29 February 1964

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)

29 February 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly revealed the existence of the Top Secret Lockheed YF-12A, a Mach 3+ interceptor designed and built by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s “Skunk Works.” President Johnson referred to the interceptor as the “A-11.”

Intended as a replacement for Convair’s F-106 Delta Dart, three pre-production YF-12As were built for testing. On 1 May 1965, a YF-12A set a speed record of 2,070.103 miles per hour (3,331.507 kilometers per hour) and reached an altitude of 80,259 ft (24,463 meters).

Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The reason for President Johnson’s announcement of the existence of the YF-12A prototypes was to conceal the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of Lockheed A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance aircraft based at Groom Lake, Nevada. Any sightings of these aircraft could be attributed to test flights of the YF-12As based at Edwards Air Force Base, 160 miles (258 kilometers) to the southwest.

The YF-12A interceptor is very similar to its A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird stablemates. It was flown by a pilot and a Weapons System Officer. The airplane is 101 feet, 8 inches (30.988 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 7 inches (16.942 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters). It has an empty weight of 60,730 pounds (27,547 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds (63,503 kilograms).

The YF-12A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 (JT11D-20A) high-bypass turbojets which produce 34,000 pounds of thrust (151,240 Newtons), each, with afterburner, burning JP-7 fuel.

Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The YF-12A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.35 (2,232 miles per hour/3,342 kilometers per hour) at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Its service ceiling is 90,000 feet (27,432 meters) and it has a range of 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers).

The United States Air Force ordered 93 production F-12B aircraft, which would have been armed with three Hughes AIM-47A Falcon air-to-air missiles in enclosed bays in the bottom of the fuselage. However, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds for the purchase for three consecutive years and eventually the project was cancelled.

AIM-47A missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)
Hughes AIM-47A guided missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)

The first YF-12A, 60-6934, seen in the top photograph, was extensively damaged by a brake system fire on landing at Edwards AFB, 14 August 1966. It was salvaged and rebuilt as SR-71C 61-7981. The third YF-12A, shown in the photograph below, was lost due to an inflight fire 24 June 1971. The crew safely ejected.

The only existing YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 February 1960

Beechcraft Baron
Beechcraft Baron

29 February 1960: Beech Aircraft Corporation test pilot S. Little made the first flight of the Beechcraft 95-55 Baron, serial number TC-1.

One of the most popular light twin airplanes, the original production variant was flown by a single pilot and could carry 3 to 4 passengers. The Baron 55 was 26 feet, 8 inches (8.128 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). It had a maximum takeoff weight of 4,880 pounds (2,214 kilograms).

The airplane was powered by two air-cooled, fuel-injected, 471.24-cubic-inch-displacement (7.72 liter) Continental IO-470-L horizontally-opposed six cylinder engines rated at 260 horsepower at 2,625 r.p.m., each, driving two-bladed constant-speed Hartzell or McCauley propellers with a diameter of 6 feet, 6 inches (1.981 meters).

Beechcraft Baron
Beechcraft Baron

Its cruise speed  was 185 knots (213 miles per hour/343 kilometers per hour), and it had a service ceiling of 19,200 feet (5,852 meters). The maximum range was 1,225 miles (1,971 kilometers).

TC-1, the prototype Beechcraft Baron, N9695R, is on display at the Bonanza Baron Museum, Tullahoma, Tennessee. (The Staggerwing Museum Foundation)
TC-1, the prototype Beechcraft Baron, N9695R, is on display at the Bonanza Baron Museum, Tullahoma, Tennessee. (The Staggerwing Museum Foundation)

TC-1 was retained by the Beech Aircraft Corporation and used for testing until it was sold in 1968. Registered N9695R, the prototype Baron is owned by Frank Kimmel III of Greenwood, Mississippi. It is on loan the Staggerwing Museum Foundation’s Bonanza Baron Museum, Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Sixty-five Model 95-B55 Barons were purchased by the U.S. Army for use as instrument training  aircraft. The military designation was T-42A Cochise.

More than 6,700 Barons have been built since 1961. 2,456 of these were Model 95-55s. The Textron Aviation Beechcraft G58 Baron is still in production.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 February 1966

The Flight Crew of Gemini IX, left to right, Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy, and Captain Charles A. Bassett II, U.S. Air Force.

The primary and back up flight crews of Gemini IX flew from Houston to St. Louis where they planned to visit the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where the spacecraft was being built. They flew aboard two Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainers which NASA used for proficiency training.

The lead aircraft, NASA 901, was flown by Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy Reserve, designated as the Command Pilot for Gemini IX. Captain Charles Arthur (“Charlie”) Bassett II, U.S. Air Force, Pilot, Gemini IX, was in the rear cockpit. NASA 901 was a Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181 (Northrop serial number N.5528).

Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181

The second T-38, NASA 907, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Eugene A. Cernan, U.S. Navy.

A NASA Northrop T-38A-75-NO Talon, N864NA, similar to NASA 901. (NASA)

Weather at Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport was poor with low clouds and limited visibility in rain and snow. Lambert Field weather at 8:25 a.m. was: sky partially obscured, measured ceiling 800 feet (244 meters) broken, 1,500 feet (457 meters) overcast, visibility 1½ miles (2.4 kilometers) in light rain, light snow, and fog.

Elliot See flew an ILS instrument approach and broke out of the clouds properly aligned with the runaway, but was too high to make a landing. He requested a visual, circling approach. The T-38 entered a 360° turn to the southeast at approximately 500 feet (152 meters). During the circling approach, Stafford, in NASA 907, lost sight of See’s T-38 and executed a missed approach. As the airplane came around to line up for the runway, See radioed that he had the runway in sight, but, at 8:58 a.m., NASA 901 struck the top of McDonnell’s Building 101 and crashed.

The wreck immediately caught fire and both See and Bassett were killed. Sixteen people of the ground were injured.

The accident investigation board found that at approximately 3 seconds before the crash, Elliot See had apparently tried to climb away. The T-38’s angle of bank was significantly reduced and afterburner was selected.

Wreckage of NASA 901. (Scott Dine/St. Louis Post Dispatch)
Burned out wreckage of NASA 901 at Lambert Field, 28 February 1966. (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch)

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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27–28 February 1947

North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, “Betty Jo,” takes off from Hickam Field, 27 February 1947. (Hawaii Aviation)

27–28 February 1947: At 3:05 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, (01:05 G.M.T.), Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, Lieutenant John M. Ard, took off from Hickam Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, enroute non-stop to LaGuardia Airport, New York City, New York.

Thacker and Ard were assigned to the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field, Daytion, Ohio. Their airplane was a North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168 (North American serial number 123-43754). The fighter had been named Betty Jo, in honor of Thacker’s wife. (The painter mistakenly applied the name as Betty Joe.)

North American Aviation P-82B-1 NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo, over Los Angeles, California. (U.S. Air Force)

Betty Jo had been modified by North American Aviation at El Segundo, California, in preparation for its long-distance flight. The fighter’s armor was removed, as were the six Colt MG 53-2 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns. Additional internal fuel capacity was added, and the P-82 was equipped with four large external fuel tanks. The Twin Mustang’s fuel capacity was 2,215 gallons (8,385 liters).

Planned route of Betty Jo. (NASM)

Thacker and Ard climbed to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) after takeoff. As the fuel was burned off, the P-82 was able to climb higher. Most of the flight was made between 19,000 and 22,000 feet (5,791–6,706 meters).

After burning off the fuel in the four external tanks, Thacker tried to jettison them, but a mechanical problem prevented three tanks from being released. This resulted in adverse yaw and excessive drag for the overland portion of the flight. Colonel Thacker used the weight of his leg on the control stick to counteract the yaw.

Betty Jo, flying at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), crossed the California coast near Point Arena at 12:34 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (08:34 G.M.T.), 6 hours, 59 minutes after takeoff. The P-82 passed north of Reno, Nevada, at 1:00 a.m. EST (09:00 G.M.T.), and Humboldt, Nevada, 23 minutes later.

North American Aviation P-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo (U.S. Air Force)

Thacker and Ard next flew over Ogden, Utah, at 3:12 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (10:12 G.M.T.), and Laramie, Wyoming, at 4:05 MST (10:05 G.M.T.). They reported over Chicago at 6:49 a.m., Central Standard Time (12:49 G.M.T.), and Detroit at 8:38 a.m., CST (14:38 G.M.T.).

Betty Jo crossed overhead at LaGuardia Airport at 11:06 a.m., Eastern time (16:06 G.M.T.) and landed there at 11:08:34 a.m. (16:08:34 G.M.T.) The elapsed time from take off at Hickam Field to overhead LaGuardia was 14 hours, 31 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 14 hours, 33 minutes, 34 seconds.

On arrival at LaGuardia, only 60 gallons (227 liters) of fuel remained on board the Twin Mustang.

Contemporary news reports gave the total distance of the flight as 4,978 miles (8,011 kilometers), but current information is that it was 5,051 miles (8,129 kilometers). Using the second distance, Betty Jo averaged 347.95 miles per hour (559.97 kilometers per hour) over the course.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, left, and First Lieutenant John M. Ard, standing on the wing of the North American P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168, Betty Jo. (Unattributed)

Betty Jo is the ninth production North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang. The airplane was designed toward the end of World War II as a very long range escort fighter operated by two pilots. It was built using two lengthened P-51H Mustang fuselages and standard left and right wings. A center wing section and horizontal stabilizer joined the two fuselages.

The P-82B was 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) long, with a wingspan of 51 feet, 3 inches  (15.621 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 10 inches (4.216 meters). The airplane’s empty weight is 13,405 pounds (6,080 kilograms), and maximum gross weight, 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms).

The P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang was powered by liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-19 and -21 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines. They drove counter rotating Aeroproducts four-bladed propellers. through a 0.479:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-19 was rated at 1,700 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 19¾ inches of boost for takeoff, with military power rating of 2,200 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,875 horsepower at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). At 1,770 pounds (803 kilograms), the V-1650-19 was the heaviest Packard Merlin variant produced.

The P-82B had a maximum speed of 482 miles per hour (776 kilometers per hour) at 25,100 feet (7,650 meters) and its service ceiling was 41,600 feet (12,680 meters). Its range was 1,390 miles (2,237 kilometers).

North American Aviation XP-82 Twin Mustang prototype with 8-gun pod, rockets and bombs. (North American Aviation, Inc./Boeing Images)

The P-82B was armed with six air-cooled Colt Automatic Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50,  MG 53-2, located in the center wing section, with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun. A pod containing eight additional .50-caliber machine guns could be installed under the center wing section. The Twin Mustang could also carry up to four 1,000 pound bombs, two 2,000 pound bombs, or twenty-five 5-inch rockets on underwing hard points.

After the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1947, many aircraft designations were changed. The P-82B was redesignated as F-82B.

North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168 at the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio, 1952. (NASA)

In September 1950, F-82B 44-65168 was transferred to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for use in testing ram jet engines at the Cleveland Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. It was damaged in June 1957. The airplane was retired and turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Robert E. Thacker was born 21 February 1918 in California. He was the second of four children of Percie C. Thacker and Margaret Eadie Thacker.

in 1939, Thacker was appointed an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, and trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 21 June 1940.

On 3 March 1941, 2nd Lieutenant Thacker married Miss Betty Jo Smoot at Yuma, Arizona. They would be married for 71 years until she died in 1992.

On 1 November 1941, Thacker was appointed a first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2443 over the Hawaiian Islands, circa 1941. This is the same type airplane as flown by Lt. Thacker, 6–7 December 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

In December 1941, Lieutenant Thacker was one of a group of pilots assigned to ferry new Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers from the United States to the Philippine Islands, with a stop at Hickam Field. The bombers took off from Hamilton Field in Marin County, California. on 6 December. Thacker’s airplane was B-17E 41-2432, named The Last Straw. The inbound Flying Fortresses arrived over Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2432, The Last Straw, undergoing maintenance in the South West Pacific Area, circa 1943. (David Vincent Collection/HistoryNet)

On 31 March 1942, Lieutenant Thacker was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. He flew over New Guinea during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 4–8 May 1942. On 15 February 1943, he was promoted to major, A.U.S. (A.C.).

Assigned as operations officer of the 384th Bombardment Group at Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England, Thacker was promoted to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S., 8 July 1944. He is credited with 28 combat missions flown over Europe, frequently as a group or wing leader.

Following World War II, Lt. Colonel Thacker reverted to his permanent rank, 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with his date of rank 7 December 1944. Thacker was transferred to the U.S. Air Force after its establishment, 18 September 1947. He retained his permanent rank.

Colonel Thacker also flew in combat during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Thacker was a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, and tested many aircraft at Muroc Army Air Field (Edwards Air Force Base), beginning with the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.

Colonel Thacker retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1970.

Robert E. Thacker with his North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang, Betty Jo, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Thacker celebrated his 100th Birthday at his home in San Clemente, California, 21 February 2018.

“Retired Air Force Col. Robert Thacker address his friends after they sang Happy Birthday to him during his 100th birthday party in San Clemente on Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)”

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 February 1946

Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475 takes of at Muroc AAF, California. (U.S. Air Force )
Republic XP-84 prototype 45-59475 at landing at Muroc Army Airfield, California, 1946. (U.S. Air Force )
Wallace A. Lien

28 February 1946: At Muroc Army Airfield, California, (now, Edwards Air Force Base) the first of three prototype Republic Aviation Corporation  XP-84 Thunderjet fighter bombers, serial number 45-59475, made its first flight with company test pilot Wallace Addison Lien in the cockpit.

Alexander Kartveli, Chief Engineer of the Republic Aviation Corporation, began working on the XP-84 during 1944 as a jet-powered successor to the company’s P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bomber. The prototype was completed at the factory in Farmingdale, New York, in December 1945. It was then partially disassembled and loaded aboard Boeing’s prototype XC-97 Stratofreighter and flown west to Muroc Army Airfield in the high desert of southern California. It was reassembled and prepared for its first flight.

The XP-84 was 37 feet, 2 inches (11.328 meters) long, with a wingspan of 36 feet, 5 inches (11.100 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). It had an empty weight of 9,080 pounds (4,119 kilograms) and gross weight of 13,400 pounds (6,078 kilograms).

The XP-84 was powered by a General Electric J35-GE-7 engine. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-GE-7 was rated at 3,750 pounds of thrust (16.68 kilonewtons) (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).

The XP-84 had a cruise speed of 440 miles per hour (708 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 592 miles per hour (953 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), which it could reach in approximately 13 minutes. The maximum range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).

The prototype Republic XP-84, as yet unpainted. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive)
Republic XF-84. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The first of three prototypes, Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475 is parked on the dry lake at Muroc Army Airfield. (U.S. Air Force)
The first of three prototypes, Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475 is parked on the dry lake at Muroc Army Airfield. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-84 Thunderjet 45-59475 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Wallace Addison Lien was born at Alkabo, in Divide County, at the extreme northwest corner of North Dakota, 13 August 1915. He was the second of six children of Olaf Paulson Lien, a Norwegian immigrant and well contractor, and Elma Laura Richardson Lien.

Wallace A. Lien (The 1939 Gopher)

Wally Lien graduated from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology 17 June 1939 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.M.E.). He was a president of the Pi Tau Sigma (ΠΤΣ) fraternity, a member of the university’s cooperative book store board, and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (A.S.M.E.). He later studied at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) at Pasadena, California, and earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.

Lien worked as a an engineer at a steel sheet mill in Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the  the United States Army at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 18 February 1941. He was accepted as an aviation cadet at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 11 November 1941. 26 years old, Lien was 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88 meters) tall and weighed 174 pounds (79 kilograms). During World War II, Lien remained in the United States, where he served as a test pilot at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He conducted flight tests of the Bell YP-59A Airacomet and the Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star. Having reached the rank of Major, he left the Air Corps, 16 February 1946. Lien then worked for the Republic Aviation Corporation, testing the XP-84. A few months later, Lien went to North American Aviation, where he made the first flight of the the XFJ-1 Fury, 11 September 1946

Wally Lien married Miss Idella Muir at Elizabeth, New Jersey, 26 December 1946. They would have two children.

Wallace Addison Lien died at Colorado Springs, Colorado, 28 October 1994, at the age of 79 years. He was buried at the Shrine of Remembrance Veterans Honor Court, Colorado Springs, Colorado

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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