10 December 1963: In an attempt to set a world absolute altitude record, Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, took a Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter Aerospace Trainer, 56-0762, on a zoom climb profile above 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) at Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California. This was Colonel Yeager’s fourth attempt at the record.
The zoom climb maneuver was planned to begin with the NF-104A in level flight at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The pilot would then accelerate in Military Power and light the afterburner, which increased the J79 turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter was to continue accelerating in level flight. On reaching Mach 2.2, the Colonel Yeager would ignite the Rocketdyne AR2–3 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide to produce 6,600 pounds of thrust (29.36 kilonewtons).
When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Yeager was to begin a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), he would shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. Yeager would then gradually reduce the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), and then shut it down. Without the engine running, cabin pressurization would be lost and his A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit would inflate.
The NF-104A would then continue to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. The pilot had to use the reaction control thrusters to pitch the AST’s nose down before reentering the atmosphere, so that it would be in a -70° dive. The windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes was used to restart the jet engine.
The 10 December flight did not proceed as planned. Chuck Yeager reached a peak altitude of approximately 108,000 feet (32,918 meters), nearly two miles (3.2 kilometers) lower than the record altitude set by Major Robert W. Smith just four days earlier.
On reentry, Yeager had the Starfighter incorrectly positioned with only a -50° nose-down pitch angle, rather than the required -70°.
The Starfighter entered a spin.
Without air flowing through the engine intakes because of the spin, Yeager could not restart the NF-104’s turbojet engine. Without the engine running, he had no hydraulic pressure to power the aerodynamic flight control surfaces. He was unable to regain control the airplane. Yeager rode the out-of-control airplane down 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before ejecting.
“The data recorder would later indicate that the airplane made fourteen flat spins from 104,000 until impact on the desert floor. I stayed with it through thirteen of those spins before I punched out. I hated losing an expensive airplane, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. . . I went ahead and punched out. . . .”
— Yeager, An Autobiography, by Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Pages 279–281.
NF-104A 56-762 crashed at N. 35° 7′ 25″, W. 118° 8′ 50″, about one mile (1.6 kilometers) north of the intersection of State Route 14 and State Route 58, near California City. The airplane was completely destroyed.
Chuck Yeager was seriously burned by the ejection seat’s internal launch rocket when he was struck by the seat which was falling along with him.
This incident was dramatized in the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff,” (based on Tom Wolfe’s book of the same title), with Yeager portrayed by actor Sam Shepard.
56-762 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs).
These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the reaction control system for flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wings were lengthened for installation of the Reaction Control System. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne AR2–3 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 6,600 pounds of thrust (29.36 kilonewtons) for up to 100 seconds.
On 13 December 1958, prior to its modification to an AST, Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 was flown by 1st Lieutenant Einar K. Enevoldson, USAF, to seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Californa (NTD).
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby
10 December 1958: Using a Boeing 707 leased from Pan American World Airways, National Airlines became the first U.S. airline to operate jet airliners within the United States.
Pan American’s Clipper America, N710PA, a Boeing 707-121, departed Idlewild Airport (IDL), New York City, New York, at 9:54 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, bound for Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida, 949 nautical miles (1,092 statute miles/1,756 kilometers) to the south-southwest. The National Airlines pilots were Captain Roger Whittacker and Captain David B. Gannon. The airliner carried 102 passengers.
N710PA arrived at Miami at 12:39 p.m. Departing Miami at 2:13 p.m., returned to New York and touched down at Idlewild at 4:52 p.m. The 707 was flown on a scheduled Pan Am flight that night.
A contemporary news magazine article discussed the lease arrangement:
“Monday, Dec. 08, 1958: One of the few U.S. airlines climbing out of the labor fog last week was National Airlines, whose routes stretch along the Atlantic Coast to Florida. On Dec. 10 National will inaugurate the first domestic jet airliner service with daily flights on the rich New York-Miami run. Using 600-m.p.h. Boeing 707s under a complicated lease-stock deal with Pan American, which already flies jets across the Atlantic, National will make the 1,100-mile run in 2 hr. 15 min. To make sure that it can fly jets, National signed contracts with its pilots, flight engineers and mechanics running into 1960. National is paying well to be the first domestic jet operator. Plans call for three 707s under lease around the first of the year, each one costing an estimated $216,000 per month to operate and maintain. To sweeten the kitty. National has also agreed to a stock exchange that, if CAB approves, will eventually give Pan Am a big voice in its affairs. In a $16 million swap, the two lines will exchange 400,000 shares of stock, and Pan Am will get a two-year option to buy another 250,000 shares of National stock at $22.50 per share. The effect would be to give National a minor (6%) interest in Pan American, while Pan Am could gain 36% of National if it exercises its option. . . .”
— TIME Magazine, 8 December, 1958
American Airlines was the first domestic carrier to fly its own Boeing 707s, with the first flight from Los Angeles to new York, 25 January 1959.
National Airlines was a domestic carrier, founded in 1930. Pan Am acquired the airline 7 January 1980.
The Boeing 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty.”
The Boeing Model 707-121 was a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings were swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer.
The 707-121 was 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stood 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms).
The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49.82 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).
At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,352.8 meters) of runway to take off.
The 707-121 had a maximum speed of 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It’s range was 2,800 nautical miles (5,185.6 kilometers).
N710PA, c/n 17589, was delivered to Pan American 29 September 1958. It was later renamed Clipper Caroline. In 1965, the airliner was upgraded to the 701-121B configuration. After being sold by Pan Am, it served with a number of different companies. It was scrapped in 1984.
Note: Thanks to regular TDiA reader Tom Facer for suggesting this post.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby
10 December 1947: Near the Santa Rosa Summit in the Coachella Valley of southeastern California, Jackie Cochran flew her green North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, over a 100-kilometer (62 miles) closed circuit, averaging 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour). She set both a U.S. National and a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record.¹
This record still stands.
For a series of six records set in her P-51, Jackie Cochran, who held a commission as a colonel in the United States Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
NX28388 was the first of three P-51 Mustangs owned by Jackie Cochran. It was a North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang built at Inglewood, California in 1944. It was assigned NAA internal number 104-25789 and U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 43-24760.
Cochran bought it from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. The airplane was registered to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, Inc., 142 Miller Street, Newark, New Jersey, but was based at Jackie’s C-O Ranch at Indio, California. The Mustang was painted “Lucky Strike Green” and carried the number 13 on each side of the fuselage, on the upper surface of the left wing and lower surface of the right wing.
NX28388 was powered by Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12, serial number V332415.
Jackie Cochran flew NX28388 in the 1946 Bendix Trophy Race and finished second to Paul Mantz in his P-51C Mustang, Blaze of Noon. Cochran asked Bruce Gimbel to fly the Mustang for her in the 1947 Bendix. There was trouble with the propeller governor and he finished in fourth place. In May 1948, Jackie set two more speed records with NX28388. Jackie and her green Mustang finished in third place in the 1948 Bendix race. She asked another pilot, Lockheed test pilot Sampson Held, to ferry the fighter back to California from Cleveland, Ohio after the race, but,
“. . . my plane crashed, carrying my associate, Sam Held, with it to his death.” —The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 79.
NX28388 had crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing Sam Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.
The P-51B was the first production Mustang to be built with the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was virtually identical to the P-51C variant. (The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant.) They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).
P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic constant speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters).
The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).
In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.
1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.
¹ FAI Record File Number 4478
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby