Daily Archives: April 15, 2018

15 April 1970, 01:09:40 UTC: T Plus 077:56:40.0

Impact crater of the Apollo 13/Saturn V AS-508 S-IVB third stage, photographed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The crater is approximately 30 meters (98 feet) across. (NASA)

15 April 1970, 01:09:40 UTC: T plus 077:56:40.0: The Apollo 13 Saturn S-IVB-508 third stage impacted the surface of The Moon north of Mare Cognitum. (S. 2° 33′ 00″, W. 27° 52′ 48″)The S-IVB hit the lunar surface at a velocity of 2.58 kilometers per second (5,771 miles per hour). The impact energy was 4.63 x 1017 ergs (1.04 kiloton).

The impact was detected by seismometers placed on the Moon by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. This was part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP.

Seismograph tracings of Apollo 13 S-IVB impact. (NASA)

The Apollo 12 seismometer was located 135 kilometers (83.9 miles) from the Apollo 13 third stage impact. The signals were used to calibrate the instrument package, which was in service from 1969 to 1977.

The Saturn V third stage was designated Saturn S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds (118,841 kilograms). The third stage had one Rocketdyne J-2 engine which used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. Itproduced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,033.10 kilonewtons). The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

A Saturn V S-IVB third stage. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 April 1970

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) ot the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

15 April 1970:

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN TRAVIS HENRY SCOTT, JR.

Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., United States Air Force

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Captain Scott was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. With display of great skill and professional airmanship, Captain Scott made two earlier attempts to position his helicopter, but each time he was driven off by heavy ground fire, which inflicted damage to his helicopter. After assessing the damage to his helicopter, and assuring that his crew was able to continue with the mission, Captain Scott requested and received permission to make a third rescue attempt. In this attempts, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. Captain Scott heroically struggled to keep his crippled helicopter airborne and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellowmen, he crash landed his helicopter in order to save the lives of his crew and passengers. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness in the face of an opposing armed force, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Captain Scott reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Captain Travis Henry Scott, Jr., was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal (his fifth award) for this action. He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).

AIR FORCE CROSS

MAJOR TRAVIS WOFFORD

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Major Travis Wofford (AFSN: 0-61477), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Co-Pilot of an HH-53 ¹ Rescue Helicopter Pilot of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Major Wofford was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. Although Major Wofford was wounded by enemy ground fire during two earlier rescue attempts, he chose to continue with the rescue operations. On the third attempt, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. When the helicopter lost power and crashed, Major Wofford, with complete disregard for his personal safety and despite his painful injuries, freed himself from the wreckage and then attempted to free the pilot, who was instantly killed on impact. He then observed the other members of the crew engulfed in flames and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellow men, he rushed to their aid, extinguished the flames and then dragged the aircrew members to a place of safety from which they were rescued. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Wofford reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Major Wofford was also awarded the Purple Heart. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a rescue carried out the previous day. He also received the Cheney Award for 1970. His other medals include the Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), the Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), and the Gallant Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The above citation incorrectly references Major Wofford’s aircraft as an HH-53. It was a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, call sign “Jolly Green 27.” This helicopter, 66-13280, was one of two HH-3Es to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, 31 May 1967.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 April 1969, 0447 Zulu

United States Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star, Bu. No. 135749, circa 1969. (U.S. Navy)

15 April 1969: This was a national holiday in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), celebrating the 57th birthday of Kim Il-Sung, who had been the political leader of the communist country since 1948.

Deep Sea 129 was a United States Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star, Bu. No. 135749, an electronic intelligence variant of the commercial Lockheed Model 1049A Super Constellation. The airplane was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1), based at NAS Atsugi on the island of Honshu, Japan.

LCDR James Howard Overstreet USN

The Warning Star took off from NAS Atsugi at 0700 local time (2200Z¹) for a planned 8½-hour BEGGER SHADOW electronic intelligence (ELINT) mission. From Atsugi, it was to fly to a point off Chongjin, a coastal city near the DPRK/Manchuria border, fly 2½ elliptical orbits, 120 nautical miles (222 kilometers) long and parallel to the North Korean coast. Deep Sea 129 was to approach no closer than 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) of the coastline. It would then proceed to Osan Air Base, Pyeongtaek, Republic of Korea (South Korea).

Deep Sea 129 was under the command of Lieutenant Commander James Howard Overstreet, U.S.N. There were 31 men on board, consisting of the flight crew, signals intelligence  and electronics countermeasures technicians and foreign language linguists.

On 28 March 1969, the Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF) moved two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM (NATO: Fishbed-F) interceptors from Puk’ang-ni Airfield to the MiG-17 training base at Hoemun-Ni Airfield on the eastern coast of North Korea. This was an unusual move and suggested that something was being planned.

Korean People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM (Fishbed-F) interceptors armed with AA-2 Atoll missiles. (Oryx Blog)

As Deep Sea 129 approached the northern end of its planned elliptical track at 1330 local (0430Z), both MiG-21s launched from Hoemun-Ni to intercept. The first MiG set up a defensive patrol 65 nautical miles (75 statute miles, or 120 kilometers) west of the EC-121, while the second flew eastward and attacked it approximately 80 miles (92 statute miles, 148 kilometers) east of the North Korean coastline. The radar returns of the MiG-21 and the EC-121 merged at 0447Z, the probable time of the shoot down.

All 31 persons on board Deep Sea 129 were killed.

Warning Star shoot down. (Central Intelligence Agency)

Just two minutes earlier, at 0445Z, Brigadier General Arthur W. Holderness, commanding the 314th Air Division, United States Air Force, ordered to Convair F-102A Delta Dagger interceptors to proceed from Osan to a point along the planned flight path of the EC-121, locate it, and rescue it from harassment or attack. The interceptors took off at 0504Z, too late to save Deep Sea 129.

An HC-130 took off from Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, at 0644 to begin search operations. It was accompanied by a combat air patrol (CAP) of Convair F-106A Delta Dart interceptors. U.S. Navy warships USS Dale (DLG-19) and USS Henry W. Tucker (DD-785) departed the naval base at Sasebo, Japan, to assist in the search and rescue effort. Also assisting were two Soviet Foxtrot-class submarines, their submarine tender, and three destroyers.

The Soviet destroyer Hull Number 429 recovered a 20-man life raft, three leather jackets, a parachute, two exposure suits and many aircraft parts. These were transferred to Tucker.

Debris recovered indicated that the EC-121 had suffered major structural damage from the detonation of a fragmenting warhead of one, possibly two, AA-2 Atoll missiles.

On 17 April, the bodies of two crewmen, Lt. (j.g.) Joseph R. Ribar and AT1 Richard E. Sweeney, were recovered from the Sea of Japan. They were transported to Japan aboard Tucker.

The United States sent Task Force 71 into the Sea of Japan to defend aircraft flying in international airspace. The task force consisted of 3 attack aircraft carriers, and anti-submarine aircraft carrier, a battleship, two guided missile heavy cruisers, three guided missile destroyer leaders, two guided missile destroyers, a heavy cruiser, ten destroyers and one frigate.

United States Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star Bu. No. 135749 in pre-1969 paint scheme. (U.S. Navy)

The Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star (WV-2Q before 1962) was a military electronic intelligence gathering aircraft, based on the commercial Lockheed L-1049A Super Constellation. Originally ordered as the PO-2W, the type was redesignated WV-2 prior to delivery. The WV-2s were primarily used as radar early warning aircraft for the Pacific and Atlantic Barriers. Bu. No. 135749 was one of thirteen WV-2s which were converted to WV-2Qs. They were redesignated EC-121M in 1962.

The EC-121 had distinctive dorsal and ventral radomes. The airplane was 116 feet, 2 inches (35.408 meters) long, with a wingspan of 126 feet, 2 inches ( 38.456 meters), and height of 24 feet, 9 inches (7.544 meters). It had an empty weight of 69,210 pounds (31,393 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 143,000 pounds (64,864 kilograms). According to a declassified 1989 National Security Agency document, (DOCID: 4047116) the EC-121M carried nearly 6 tons of electronic intelligence equipment.

The EC-121M Warning Star was powered by four air-cooled, direct fuel-injected 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-91 (923TC18DA2) turbocompound engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The turbocompound engine used captured exhaust gases to drive three Power Recovery Turbines. These PRTs were geared to the engine’s crankshaft. This system added approximately 450 horsepower to the engine’s total power output. The R-3350-91 had a Normal Power rating of 2,600 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Maximum Power rating of 3,250 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m., for Take Off. 115/145-octane aviation gasoline was required. The engines turned three-bladed propellers through a 0.4375:1 propeller gear reduction. The R-3350-91 was 56.59 inches (1.437 meters) in diameter, 89.53 inches (2.274 meters) long, and weighed 3,690 pounds (1,674 kilograms).

The EC-121M had a cruise speed of 255 miles per hour, and maximum speed of 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and it had a maximum range of 4,250 miles (6,840 kilometers).

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM. (Comtourist)

The Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-21ПФМ (Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM) was an export version of the Soviet Union’s short-range supersonic interceptor. An identifying feature is the very wide chord of its vertical fin. Also, the one-piece, forward-opening canopy of previous variants is replaced by a two-piece canopy that opens to the right. The MiG-21PFM is 40 feet, 4 inches (12.294 meters) long, with a wingspan of 23 feet, 6 inches (7.163 meters), and height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). Its gross weight is 20,010 (pounds (9,076 kilograms).

Mikoya-Gurevich MiG-21PFM. (AlvanBeem/Wikimedia Commons)

The MiG-21PFM was powered by a single Tumansky R-11F2S-300 engine. It is a dual-spool axial-flow turbojet with afterburner, with a 6-stage compressor section (3 low- and 3 high-pressure stages) and a 2-stage turbine (1 high- and 1 low-pressure stage). The engine is rated at 8,650 pounds of thrust (38.48 kilonewtons), and 11,900 pounds (52.93 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The R-11F2S-300 is 0.906 meters (2 feet, 11.7 inches) in diameter, 4.600 meters (15 feet, 1.1 inches) long, and weighs 1,124 kilograms (2,478 pounds).

The MiG-21PFM has a cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 1,386 miles per hour (2,231 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 62,000 feet (18,898 meters) and its range is 1,035 miles (1,666 kilometers).

The primary armament consists of up to four Vympel R-3S infrared-homing, or Kalininingrad RS-2US radar-guided, air-to-air missiles; or Zvezda Kh-66 radar-guided air-to-surface missiles. It could also carry a gun pod containing a Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 two-barrel 23 × 115 mm autocannon with 200 rounds of ammunition on a centerline hardpoint. Alternatively, it could carry up to 1,000 kilograms of bombs.

Vympel R-3S air-to-air missile (AA-2 Atoll) at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (Dane Penland/NASM)

The Vympel R-3S was a short range, infrared-homing, air-to-air missile. It is also known as the K-13, and was identified as the AA-2 Atoll by NATO forces. The missile was reverse-engineered by the Turopov Design Bureau, Tushino, Russia, from a Raytheon AIM-9B Sidewinder which had been captured by the People’s Republic of China during the 1958 Taiwan Straits Crisis.

The R-3S is 2.838 meters (9.311 feet) long, 0.127 meters (0.417 feet) in diameter, with a maximum fin span of 0.528 meters (1.732 feet). The missile weighs 75.3 kilograms (166.0 pounds), and is armed with a 11.3 kilogram (24.9 pounds) high explosive fragmentation warhead. A solid propellant rocket engine can accelerate it to a maximum speed of 550 meters per second (1,230 miles per hour). The effective range is 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), with a maximum range of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles).

The pilot of a Korean People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM interceptor, 4.15 Red, returns from a mission. An Internet source suggests that the numerals “4.15” represent the birthday of Kim Il-Sung. (Korean People’s Air Force)

¹ The letter Z following the four-digit time notation stands for “Zulu Time,” a U.S. military term meaning the time at the Zero Meridian (also known as the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude). It is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 April 1959

This McDonnell RF-101C-60-MC Voodoo, 56-055, is the sister ship of the Voodoo flown by Captain Edwards to set a World Speed Record, 15 April 1959. (Unattributed)
This McDonnell RF-101C-60-MC Voodoo, 56-055, is the sister ship of the airplane flown by Captain Edwards to set a World Speed Record, 15 April 1959. (Hervé Cariou)
Captain George A. Edwards, Jr., in teh cockpit of his McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo, after setting an FAI World Record for Speed. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain George A. Edwards, Jr., in the cockpit of his McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo, after setting an FAI World Record for Speed. (U.S. Air Force)

15 April 1959: Captain George A. Edwards, Jr., United States Air Force, assigned to the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers (310.686 miles) Without Payload at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Captain Edwards flew a McDonnell RF-101C-60-MC Voodoo, serial number 56-054. His speed over the course averaged 1,313.677 kilometers per hour (816.281 miles per hour).¹

Captain Edwards told The Nashville Tennessean, “The flight was routine. The plane ran like a scalded dog.”

Nine days earlier, Colonel Edward H. Taylor flew another McDonnell RF-101C to a World Record for Speed Over a 1000 Kilometer Course of 1,126.62 kilometers per hour (700.05 miles per hour).²

McDonnell RF-101C-65-MC Voodoo 56-068, very similar to the aircraft flown by Captain Edwards. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell RF-101C-65-MC Voodoo 56-068, of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Shaw AFB, is similar to the Voodoo flown by Captain Edwards, 15 April 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

George Allie Edwards, Jr., was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1929, the son of George Allie Edwards, an automobile agent, and Veriar (“Vera”) Lenier Edwards. When his father died, his mother, younger sister Jane, and George went to live with Mrs. Edwards’ parents at Crossville, Tennessee. He attended Cumberland High School and studied at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He took flight lessons at the age of 15 and accumulated more than 2,000 flight hours over the next six years.

In 1951, during the Korean War, Edwards entered the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet. He graduated from flight school at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was assigned to the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Kimpo Air Base, South Korea. As a pilot of North American RF-51D Mustang and Lockheed RF-80 Shooting Star photographic reconnaissance airplanes, he flew 101 combat missions.

His next assignment was as a jet instructor at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas, and then an F-100 pilot with the 354th Tactical fighter Wing. he next served as chief of safety and standardization for the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. It was during this assignment that he set the world record.

Major George A. Edwards climbs to the cockpit of a McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II. (Lake Travis View)
Lieutenant Colonel George A. Edwards climbs to the cockpit of a McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II. (Lake Travis View)

From 1959 to 1962, Edwards was an advisor to the West German Air Force. In recognition for his service, the chief of staff awarded him Luftwaffe pilot’s wings. For the next several years, he rotated through a series of training assignments, education and staff assignments.

During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Edwards commanded the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron which was equipped with the McDonnell RF-4C Phantom II reconnaissance variant. He also commanded a detachment of the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, and flew the Martin RB-57 Canberra. Edwards flew another 213 combat missions.

Colonel Edwards went on to command the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, (which he had previously served with during the Korean War), Bergstom Air Force Base, Texas; as a brigadier general, was vice commander of 12th Air Force; commander 314th Air Division, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and also commanded the Korean Air Defense Sector. Edwards was promoted to Major General 1 August 1976, with an effective date of rank of 1 July 1973.

Major General George A. Edwards, Jr., United States Air Force.

During his career in the United States Air Force, Major General George A. Edwards, Jr., was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with four oak leaf clusters (5 awards), the Bronze Star, Air Medal with 19 oak leaf clusters (20 awards), Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation emblem, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award ribbon with four oak leaf clusters (5 awards).

General Edwards retired from the Air Force 1 March 1984 after 33 years of service. As of 2015, the General and Mrs. Edwards live near Austin, Texas.

McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo 56-042, 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell RF-101C-60-MC Voodoo 56-042, 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force)

The RF-101C Voodoo was an unarmed reconnaissance variant of the F-101C fighter. It was 69 feet, 4 inches (21.133 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). The height was 18 feet (5.486 meters). Empty weight for the RF-101C was 26,136 pounds (11,855 kilograms), with a maximum takeoff weight of 51,000 pounds (23,133 kilograms).

Two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustors 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 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The aircraft had a maximum speed of 1,012 miles per hour (1,629 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling was 55,300 feet (16,855 meters). The Voodoo could carry up to three drop tanks, giving a total fuel capacity of 3,150 gallons (11,294 liters) and a maximum range of 2,145 miles (3,452 kilometers).

The RF-101C carried six cameras in its nose. Two Fairchild KA-1s were aimed downward, with four KA-2s facing forward, down and to each side.

Beginning in 1954, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation built 807 F-101 Voodoos. 166 of these were the RF-101C variant. This was the only F-101 Voodoo variant to be used in combat during the Vietnam War. The RF-101C remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 1979.

This McDonnell RF-101C-45-Voodoo, 56-0183, of the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, is similar in appearance to the Voodoo flown by Captain Edwards, 15 April 1959. (Unattributed.
This McDonnell RF-101C-45-Voodoo, 56-0183, of the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, is similar in appearance to the Voodoo flown by Captain Edwards, 15 April 1959. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8858

² FAI Record File Number 8928

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 April 1952

The Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress, 49-231, takes off from Boeing Field at 11:09 a.m., 15 April 1952. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)
The Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress, 49-231, takes off from Boeing Field at 11:09 a.m., 15 April 1952. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)

15 April 1952: At 11:09 a.m., Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, and Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force, ran all eight turbojet engines to full power and released the brakes on the YB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 49-231.

With an awesome eight-engine roar, the YB-52 sprang forward, accelerating rapidly, wings curving upward as they accepted the 235,000-pound initial flight gross weight. At V2 (takeoff speed) the airplane lifted off the runway, because of the 6-degree angle of incidence of the wing, and at 11:08 a.m. we were airborne. The initial flight of the YB-52 had begun.

Tex Johnston: Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1992, Chapter 13 at Pages 397–398.

Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston, test pilot, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, Boeing Chief of Flight Test, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The YB-52 remained over the Seattle area for approximately 40 minutes while Johnson and Townsend ran through a series of systems checks. When completed, they climbed to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and flew the new bomber to Larson Air Force Base at Moses Lake, Washington, where they stayed airborne for continued testing. The Stratofortress finally touched down after 3 hours, 8 minutes—the longest first flight in Boeing’s history up to that time. Johnston radioed that the airplane performed exactly as the engineers had predicted.

The YB-52 had actually been ordered as the second of two XB-52s, but modifications and additional equipment installed during building resulted in enough differences to warrant a designation change. The first XB-52, 49-230, would have been the first to fly, but it was damaged during ground testing.

The Boeing XB-52 and YB-52 were prototypes for a very long range strategic bomber. Both were built with a tandem cockpit for the pilot and co-pilot, similar to the earlier B-47 Stratojet. The wings were swept to 35° and mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”). The eight turbojet engines were in in two-engine nacelles mounted on pylons, below and ahead of the wings. This had the effect of preventing the airplane’s center of gravity from being too far aft, and also provided cleaner air flow across the wings. The B-52’s landing gear has four main struts with two wheels, each. They can turn to allow the airplane to face directly into the wind while the landing gear remain aligned with the runway for takeoff and landing. With the landing gear under the fuselage, the wings could be constructed with greater flexibility.

Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-52 was 152 feet, 8 inches (46.533 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters). The prototype’s overall height was 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The vertical fin could be folded over to the right so that the B-52 could fit into a hangar. The YB-52 had an empty weight of 155,200 pounds (70,398 kilograms) and gross weight of 405,000 pounds (183,705 kilograms).

The YB-52 was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet developed from an experimental turboprop engine. It had 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages), 8 combustors and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The YJ57-P-3s were rated at 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons), each. The YJ57-P-3 was 183.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 41.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms).

The YB-52 had a cruise speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its range was 7,015 miles (11,290 kilometers).

The two prototypes were unarmed.

Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231

The B-52 was produced by Boeing at its plants in Seattle and Wichita from 1952 to 1962, with a total of 744 Stratofortresses built. The last version, the B-52H, entered service with the Strategic Air Command in 1960. The final B-52, B-52H-175-BW Stratofortress 61-0040, was rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 26 October 1962. This airplane remains in service with the United States Air Force. The newest B-52 in service, 61-0040 is 56 years old and has flown more than 21,000 hours.

All previous versions, B-52A through B-52G, have long been retired to The Boneyard and scrapped. Of the 102 Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bombers, 76 are still in the active inventory. One, 61-007, known as Ghost Rider, was recently taken from Davis-Monthan and after an extensive restoration and update, returned to service.

The YB-52 prototype was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in the late 1950s. By the mid-60s it was determined to be excess and was scrapped.

Captain William Magruder (standing) Boeing Chief Test Pilot Alvin M. Johnston (center) and Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend with the Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (Boeing)
Left to right: Captain William Magruder, USAF; Boeing Chief Test Pilot Alvin M. Johnston; and Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, USAF, with the Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress, 49-231. (Boeing)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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