Daily Archives: July 21, 2019

21 July 1961, 12:20:36 UTC, T minus Zero

Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7) launch at Pad 5, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 12 20 36 UTC, 21 July 1961. (NASA)

21 July 1961: At 7:20:36 a.m. Eastern Time (12:20:36 UTC), NASA Astronaut, Captain Virgil Ivan (“Gus”) Grissom, United States Air Force, was launched from Launch Complex 5, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard Mercury-Redstone 4.

This was the second manned flight of Project Mercury. Grissom’s Mercury space craft was named Liberty Bell 7. The Mercury space craft was a one-man capsule built by McDonnell Aircraft. The Redstone launch vehicle was a highly-modified version of a liquid-fueled U.S. Army ballistic missile.

Gus Grissom in his full-pressure suit awaits orders to man his spacecraft. After sleepin for about four hours, Grissom was awakened at 1:15 a.m. He entered the Liberty Bell 7 at 3:58 a.m., 3 hours, 22 minutes prior to launch. (NASA)

The Redstone rocket accelerated to Mach 6.97 (5,168 miles per hour, 8,317 kilometers per hour). Grissom experienced a maximum 6.3 gs of acceleration on climbout.When the booster engine shut down, the Mercury capsule was released and continued upward on a ballistic trajectory. The peak altitude reached by Liberty Bell 7 was 102.8 nautical miles (118.3 statute miles, or 190.4 kilometers). The maximum velocity, relative to Earth, was 6,618 feet per second (2,017 meters per second). Grissom was “weightless” for 5.00 minutes. The capsule traveled downrange and landed in the Atlantic Ocean 262.5 nautical (302.1 statute miles, or 486.2 kilometers) from Cape Canaveral. During the reentry phase, the maximum deceleration of Liberty Bell 7 reached 11.1 gs. Total duration of the flight was 15 minutes, 37 seconds.

Several minutes after landing in the ocean, the hatch of the spacecraft was jettisoned by explosive bolts¹ and the craft began to fill with water. Though one of the recovery helicopters, a Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse, Bu. No. 148755 ² (Call sign “Hunt Club 1”), piloted by Lieutenants James L. Lewis and John Reinhard, tried to recover Liberty Bell 7, it was too heavy and had to be released. The capsule sank to the ocean floor, 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) below. (The Mercury capsule was recovered from the sea 38 years later, 21 July 1999.) Grissom was picked up by the second helicopter, HUS-1 Bu. No. 148754, “Hunt Club 3.”

Hunt Club 1 attempts to lift Liberty Bell 7. The primary recovery ship, the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CVS-15), is on the horizon. (NASA)

Virgil Ivan Grissom was born at Mitchell, Indiana, the second of five children. Upon graduation from high school during World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war, he went to Purdue University and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering, then joined the U.S. Air Force and was trained as a fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre during the Korean War. He attended a one year program at the Air Force Institute of Technology and earned a second Bachelor’s degree in aircraft engineering. Next he went to the test pilot school at Edwards AFB. After completion, he was assigned as a fighter test pilot at Wright-Patterson AFB.

One of 508 pilots who were considered by NASA for Project Mercury, Gus Grissom was in the group of 110 that were asked to attend secret meetings for further evaluation. From that group, 32 went on with the selection process and finally 18 were recommended for the program.  Grissom was one of the seven selected.

Gus Grissom in the cockpit of his 1963 Corvette Stingray.

Captain Grissom was the second American to “ride the rocket.” He named his space capsule Liberty Bell 7.  Next he orbited Earth as commander of Gemini III along with fellow astronaut John Young. He was back-up commander for Gemini VI-A, then went on to the Apollo Program.

As commander of AS-204 (Apollo I), LCOL Virgil I. Grissom, USAF was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chafee in a disastrous launch pad fire, 27 January 1967.

Gus Grissom was an Air Force Command Pilot with over 4,600 hours flight time. He was the first American astronaut to fly into space twice.

Project Mercury spacecraft under construction at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. (NASA)

Liberty Bell 7 (Mercury spacecraft number 11) differed from Alan Shepard’s Mercury capsule with the addition of a large viewing window and a side hatch equipped with explosive bolts. There were also differences in the capsule’s instrument panel, as well as other improvements. The MR-4 capsule was delivered to Cape Canaveral on 7 March 1961. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). At launch, Mercury 11 weighed approximately 2,835 pounds (1,286 kilograms), empty.

During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.

The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. The pilot wore a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV Model 3 Type I full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost.

The Redstone MRLV rocket was a redesigned, “man rated” version of the Chrysler-built, United States Army M8 medium-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It was lengthened to provide greater fuel capacity, a pressurized instrumentation section was added, the control systems were simplified for greater reliability, and an inflight abort sensing system was installed. The rocket fuel was changed from hydrazine to ethyl alcohol. The cylindrical booster was 59.00 feet (17.983 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. The rocket had four guidance fins with rudders mounted at the tail section. (Interestingly, the Redstone stood freely on the launch pad. No hold-downs were used. The guidance fins supported the entire weight of the vehicle.)

The Redstone MRLV was powered by a single NAA 75-110-A7 liquid-fueled engine built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The A7 produced 78,000 pounds of thrust (346.96 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 89,000 pounds (395.89 kilonewtons) in vacuum, burning ethyl alcohol with liquid oxygen.

The total vehicle height of Mercury-Redstone 4, including the booster, adapter, capsule and escape tower, was 83.38 feet (25.414 meters). The total vehicle launch weight was approximately 66,000 pounds (29,937 kilograms).

Virgil Ivan (“Gus”) Grissom, NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

¹ “The mystery of Grissom’s hatch was never solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Among the favorite hypotheses were that the exterior lanyard might have become entangled with the landing bag straps; that the ring seal might have been omitted on the detonation plunger, reducing the pressure necessary to actuate it; or that static electricity generated by the helicopter had fired the hatch cover. But with the spacecraft and its onboard evidence lying 15,000 feet down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, it was impossible to determine the true cause. [377] The only solution was to draft a procedure that would preclude a recurrence: henceforth the astronaut would not touch the plunger pin until the helicopter hooked on and the line was taut. As it turned out, Liberty Bell 7 was the last manned flight in Project Mercury in which helicopter retrieval of the spacecraft was planned. In addition, Grissom would be the only astronaut who used the hatch without receiving a slight hand injury. As he later reminded Glenn, Schirra, and Cooper, this helped prove he had not touched his hatch plunger.”This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander. NASA Special Publication SP-4201, 1989

² After retiring from military service, Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse Bu. No. 147755 (redesignated UH-34D in 1962) was sold to the civil market, and was registered N4216H, 10 March 1981. It was owned by Orlando Helicopter Airways, Inc., Orlando, Florida. The FAA registration was cancelled in 2013. The status of the helicopter is not known.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 July 1946

The second McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom prototype, Bu. No. 48236, lands aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), 21 July 1946. Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, U.S.N., is in the cockpit. (U.S. Navy)

21 July 1946: Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, United States Navy, flying the second prototype McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom, made four takeoffs and landings aboard the Midway-class aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). This was the very first time that an all-jet aircraft had operated from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.¹

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) cruising the Mediterranean Sea, November 1948. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom Bu. No. 48236 crosses the arresting cables aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), 21 July 1946. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom Bu. No. 48236 takes off from USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), 21 July 1946. The pilot is Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, U.S.N. (U.S. Navy)

The McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom was a prototype turbojet-powered fighter, one of two designed and built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. It was a single-place, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear, intended for operations from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. The XFD-1 was 37 feet, 2.50 inches (11.341 meters) long, with a wingspan of 42 feet, 0.00 inches (12.802 meters) and height of 13 feet, 2.00 inches (5.105 meters). With its wings folded for storage, the span was reduced to 15 feet, 4.00 inches (4.674 meters), but the overall height increased to 16 feet, 9.00 inches (5.105 meters). The airplane had a normal gross weight of 8,250 pounds (3,742 kilograms), and an overload gross weight of approximately 9,700 pounds (4,400 kilograms).

McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom.

The XFD-1 was powered by two Westinghouse 19B (J30-WE- ) engines. The engines were positioned on either side of the fuselage, inside the wing roots. By keeping the engines close to the airplane’s center of gravity, it was more maneuverable, and had less adverse yaw when operating on a single engine. The Westinghouse 19B was a single-spool axial flow turbojet. It used a six-stage compressor section with a single-stage turbine. There is conflicting information as to the specific engine variant, and their thrust, but the 19B as installed in the XFD-1 was rated at 15,500 r.p.m for cruise, with a Normal (continuous) rating of 17,000 r.p.m., and a Military/War Emergency Power rating of 18,000 r.p.m. The Westinghose 19B was 19.0 inches (0.483 meters) in diameter, 94.0 inches (2.388 meters) long, and weighed 826 pounds (375 kilograms).

One of the two McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom prototypes. (SDASM)

Both XFD-1 prototypes were lost before flight testing was completed, so performance data is limited. They were limited to a maximum speed of 0.66 Mach. (The test pilot was provided with a chart for the equivalent indicated air speed (IAS) at specific altitudes.) The speed in a dive was limited to 365 knots (305 miles per hour/491 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airframe was restricted to a maximum 5gs acceleration. Spins, snap rolls and inverted flight were prohibited. Contemporary reports were that the Phantom was faster than 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour). Its ceiling was over 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and its range was 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers).

The XFD-1 was armed with four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose, with 250 rounds of ammunition per gun.

The first prototype, Bu. No. 48235, made its first flight 26 January 1945, flown by test pilot Edwin Woodward (“Woody”) Burke, but it crashed 1 November 1945. Burke, the pilot, was killed. The second prototype, Bu. No. 48236, crashed 26 August 1946.

McDonnell built 62 FD-1 Phantoms (redesignated FH-1 in 1947) before production shifted to the larger F2H-1 Banshee.

Left to right, Lieutenant Commander James Jennings Davidson, with Vice Admiral Arthur William Radford, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air, and Vice Admiral Gerald Francis Bogan, Commander, Air Force, Atlantic Fleet, aboard U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). Photo released 22 July 1946. (U.S. Navy via Navy Pilot Overseas)
Captain James Jennings Davidson, United States Navy

James Jennings Davidson was born 19 July 1919 at Sparta, Wisconsin. He was the second of three children of David Davidson, a farmer, and Clara Josephine Gilbertson. He attended Lewiston High School, and the the Wisconsin State Teacher’s College at Winona. He graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) in Science Education.

While at college, Davidson participated in the Civilian Pilot Training program.

Davidson enlisted in the United States Navy as an aviation cadet, 25 November 1940. He underwent flight training at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. On completing flight school, Davidson was awarded the gold wings of a Naval Aviator, and commissioned as an ensign, U.S. Navy, with date of rank from 4 August 1941.

Ensign Davidson married Miss Muriel Juliet Mindrum in March 1942. They would have a daughter, Barbara Claire Davidson.

During World War II, Davidson flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless and Curtiss-Wright SB2C Helldiver dive bombers. Davidson was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant 1 October 1943. The rank was made permanent, with date of rank retroactive to 4 August 1941.

In 1944, Lieutenant Davidson was assigned to Naval Air Test Center at NAS Anacostia, at Washington, D.C. Davidson was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 3 October 1945. He later attended the United Kingdom’s Empire Test Pilots’ School.

During the Korean War, Lieutenant Commander flew combat missions in the Grumman F9F Panther. He was promoted to commander, 1 July 1953. Later in his career, Commander Davidson served aboard USS Kearsarge (CV-33); and commanded Fighter Squadron Fifty-Two (VF-52).

Commander Davidson was promoted to the rank of captain, 1 July 1960, and commanded Carrier Air Group 14 (CVG 14) aboard USS Ranger (CV-61).

Captain Davidson retired from the U.S. Navy in July 1972. He died at Prince William, Virginia, 5 December 1993, and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ The very first jet landings and takeoffs had occurred over seven months earlier, 3 December 1945, when Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, D.S.C., Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, flying a de Haviulland DH.100 Vampire, made several takeoffs and landings aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20–21 July 1921

SMS Ostfriesland at anchor off Cape Henry, Virginia. (USNNMNA 1987.096.004.018)

The captured Kaiserliche Marine dreadnought battleship SMS Ostfriesland was expended as a target during aerial bombing tests conducted by the United States Army and Navy, 20–21 July 1921. The ship was anchored approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Cape Henry, Virginia, at the edge of the outer continental shelf.

An aerial bomb explodes on the foredeck of SMS Ostfriesland, 21 July 1921. (U.S. Air Force 020926-O-9999G-016)

The U.S. Navy wanted to investigate the damage that could be caused to ships by airplanes, and required that the Army aircraft drop 25-pound anti-personnel bombs, and 550- and 1,000-pound demolition bombs. Between tests, Navy engineering officers would examine the ships.

A 2,000 bomb detonates near the stern of SMS Ostfriesland. (U.S. Navy)

Brigadier General William (“Billy”) Mitchell, commanding the Army bombers, had a different goal. He had said that the Air Service could sink a battleship, and that was what he planned to do.

SMS Ostfriesland sinking by the stern, about 12:30 p.m., 21 July 1921. (U.S. Navy)

General Mitchell observed to attacks from his DH-4, with Captain St. Clair Streett, the foremost expert in aerial photography, as an observer. The bombing was conducted by the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, flying Martin NBS-1 twin-engine bombers.

Martin MB-2. (U.S. Air Force photo) 061219-F-1234S-014)

Ostfriesland suffered some damage from the early bombing attacks, but when the Army dropped several 2,000-pound bombs close aboard, the underwater explosions caused severe damage to the battleship’s hull.

If this had been actual combat, the battleship’s crew might have been able to control the flooding and save the ship, but, instead, it began to settle by the stern, rolled over and sank in only 10 minutes.

Front view detail of Martin MB-2. (U.S. Air Force photo 061219-F-1234S-021)
3/4 aft view detail of Martin MB-2. (U.S. Air Force photo 061219-F-1234S-022)
Brigadier General William L. Mitchell, United States Army Air Service. (U.S. Air Force)

The wreck of Ostfriesland is located at latitude N. 37° 09.396′, longitude W. 74° 34.562′, at a depth of 380 feet (116 meters).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 July 1911

“Denise Moore” (1876–1911)

21 July 1911: Denise Moore was a popular figure in aviation circles in France.  She had been taking flying lessons at the Henri Farman Aviation School at Étampes, about 30 miles south of Paris.

She took off at 6:20 p.m. in Farman’s biplane, on her third flight of the day, and made two circuits of the field. On her third turn, the aircraft banked steeply and pitched downward. It crashed and Ms. Moore was killed. She was the first woman to be killed in an aircraft accident.

FLIGHT reported:

Fatal Accident to Mme. Moore.

At the present moment there are a good many ladies learning to fly in France and they appear to be unperturbed by the fatal accident to Mme. Denise Moore at Mourmelon on Friday of last week. The unfortunate lady, of whom little is known beyond that she came from Algeria, had been making splendid progress during the three weeks she had been learning and during her early solo flights showed great promise. She was, however, fired by an ambition for altitude work and on the day when the accident happened, in spite of the emphatic directions of her instructor, she started off to go high. She had reached only 150 ft. however, when apparently she made a mistake in steering, for the machine fell sideways to the ground, the pilot being killed instantly.

FLIGHT, No. 135. (No. 30. Vol. III.), 29 July 1911, at Page 665

Denise Moore was a pseudonym for Mrs. E. J. Cornesson, widow of Denis Cornesson. She was the former Miss E. Jane-Wright. She assumed the name to keep her family from discovering that she was learning to fly.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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