Daily Archives: March 22, 2019

22 March 1956

Boeing P2B-1S, Bu. No. 84029, at Edwards AFB, 22 March 1956. (NASA)

22 March 1956: While carrying the U.S. Navy’s Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, problems developed aboard both the research rocketplane and the “mothership.” The modified four-engine heavy bomber, a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29-95-BW Superfortress (which had been transferred to the U.S. Navy and redesignated P2B-1S Superfortress), had a runaway propeller on the Number 4 engine, outboard on the right wing. The propeller broke apart from excessive rotational speed, slicing through the Number 3 engine, the fuselage, and striking the Number 2 engine.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

NACA research test pilot John Barron (“Jack”) MacKay, in the cockpit of the Skyrocket, had called “No drop!” because of problems with the rocketplane, but he was jettisoned so that the mothership could maintain flight and make an emergency landing.

McKay dumped the Skyrocket’s propellants and glided to the lake bed.

John Barron McKay, NACA/NASA Research Test Pilot. (NASA)

“Each rocket-plane pilot had worked out, in conjunction with the pilot of the mother ship, a procedure to follow if any emergency developed in either plane. Jack McKay, who had developed into a very able test pilot, and I had agreed with Butchart that if something went wrong after either of us had entered the cockpit of the Skyrocket and had closed the canopy, he would immediately jettison the rocket plane, leaving the rocket-plane pilot to look after his own hide. As a matter of fact, McKay and Butchart later ran into such an emergency. One day something went haywire in a propeller on the B-29 mother plane. As agreed, Butchart instantly cut loose the Skyrocket. A split second later the B-29 prop tore loose and cartwheeled through the space the Skyrocket had just vacated. McKay landed without difficulty; but had Butchart not cut the parasite plane loose, the prop would have ripped into its fuel tanks, causing an explosion that would have killed everyone, including McKay.”

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960, Chapter 21 at Pages 201–202.

The Superfortress pilots, Stanley Paul Butchart and Neil Alden Armstrong, landed the plane safely on the lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Neil Armstrong would land on The Moon 13 years later.

The P2B1-S is jacked up inside a hangar at Edwards AFB so the the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket can be loaded aboard.
The P2B-1S is jacked up inside a hangar at Edwards AFB so the the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket can be loaded aboard. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 March 1948

Tony LeVier in the cockpit of Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356, the prototype T-33A Shooting Star two-place trainer.
Tony LeVier in the cockpit of Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356, the prototype T-33A Shooting Star two-place trainer. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

22 March 1948: Just over one year since being injured when the prototype P-80A was cut in half by a disintegrating turbojet engine, Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier made the first flight of the prototype TP-80C-1-LO, serial number 48-356, a two-place jet trainer. The airplane was redesignated TF-80C Shooting Star on 11 June 1948 and to T-33A, 5 May 1949.

Adapted from a single-seat P-80C Shooting Star jet fighter, Lockheed engineers added 38.6 inches (0.980 meter) to the fuselage forward of the wing for a second cockpit, instrumentation and flight controls, and another 12 inches (0.305 meter) aft. A more powerful engine, an Allison J33-A-23 with 4,600 pounds of thrust, helped offset the increased weight of the modified airplane. Internal fuel capacity decreased 72 gallons (273 liters) to 353 (1,336 liters).

The Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star is 37.72 feet (11.50 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37.54 feet (11.44 meters), and overall height of 11.67 feet (3.56 meters). The wings a total area of 234.8 square feet (21.8 square meters). They have an angle of incidence of 1° with -1° 30′ of twist and 3° 49.8′ dihedral. The “T-Bird” has a basic weight of 9,637 pounds (4,371 kilograms), and gross weight of 15,280 pounds (6,931 kilograms).

Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356 prototype, with P-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-173, at Van Nuys Airport, California. (Lockheed Martin)

Originally produced with the J35-A-23 engine, the T-33 fleet was later standardized with the J35-A-35 engine. The J33 was a development of an earlier Frank Whittle-designed turbojet. It used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, eleven combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine section. The J33-A-35 had a Normal Power rating of 3,900 pounds of thrust (17.348 kilonewtons) at 11,250 r.p.m. (96%), and 4,600 pounds (20.462 kilonewtons) at 11,750 r.p.m. (100%). It was 107 inches (2.718 meters) long, 50.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms). The engine was 16 feet, 3.5 inches (4.966 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.0 inches (0.940 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,830 pounds (1,284 kilograms).

Cruise speed for maximum range is 0.68 Mach. The maximum speed is 505 knots (581 miles per hour/935 kilometers per hour), or 0.8 Mach, whichever is lower. Service ceiling 44,700 feet (1,3625 meters). The maximum range is 1,071 nautical miles (1,232 statute miles/1,983 kilometers).¹

While the P-80 fighter was armed with six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose, the trainer was usually unarmed. Two machine guns could be installed for gunnery training.

In production for 11 years, 5,691 T-33As were built by Lockheed, with licensed production of another 656 by Canadair Ltd., and 210 by Kawasaki Kokuki K.K. For over five decades, the “T-Bird” was used to train many tens of thousands of military pilots worldwide.

TF-80C 48-356 was rebuilt as the prototype for Lockheed’s YF-94A interceptor, and then modified further to the F-94B. Sources have reported it as being stored at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Specifications and performance data from T-33A PERFORMANCE EVALUATION, AFFTC-TR-61-22, May 1961,  Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Project Pilot was Captain Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force. Stafford was next selected for the NASA Gemini Program, and flew Gemini 6A and Gemini 9. He commanded Apollo 10.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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