Daily Archives: July 9, 2021

9 July 1962, 09:00:09 UTC, T + 13:41

Fireball of Operation Dominc Starfish Prime, 248 miles ( kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean, 9 July 1962.
Fireball of Operation Dominic-Fishbowl Starfish Prime, 248 miles (399.1 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean, 9 July 1962.

9 July 1962: At 09:00:09 UTC, the United States detonated a thermonuclear warhead over the Pacific Ocean. This was part of the Operation Dominic-Fishbowl test series at Johnston Island, and was designated Starfish Prime.

A Thor missile is launched from Johnston Island. Note the instrumentation pods at the base of the rocket. (Johnston Memories)

At 08:46:28 UTC, a Douglas Thor DSV2E orbital launch vehicle, serial number 195,  was launched from missile complex LE-1 on Johnston Island, carrying a W-49 warhead in an AVCO Corporation Mk-2 reentry vehicle. The rocket also carried three instrumentation pods which were jettisoned at pre-selected altitudes. The W-49 reached a peak altitude of 600 miles (965 kilometers) along a ballistic trajectory, and then began to descend.

Starfish Prime fireball was visible from Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, 898 miles (1,445.2 kilometers) from Ground Zero. “Widespread red air glow (6300 å) amid dark clouds, caused mostly by x-ray-excited atomic oxygen (i.e., oxygen by photoelectrons liberated by Starfish X-rays)” (Commission to Assess Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, 2004, at Page 5)
Starfish Prime (atomicarchive.com)

The W-49 detonated 36 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of Johnston Island at an altitude of 400 kilometers (246 miles) with an explosive yield of 1.45 megatons. The point of detonation deviated from the planned Air Zero by 1,890 feet (576 meters) to the north, 2,190 feet (668 meters) east, and +617 feet (188 meters) in altitude. The fireball was clearly visible in the Hawaiian Islands, more than 800 miles (1,288 kilometers) away.

The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) damaged electrical systems in The Islands, cutting power, damaging equipment and interrupting telephone systems. Brilliant auroras were visible, lasting about 7 minutes.

Telstar, an American communications satellite that was placed in Earth orbit the following day, was also damaged by residual radiation from the detonation.

The Starfish Prime experiment was for the purpose of “Evaluation of missile kill mechanisms produced by a high altitude nuclear detonation.” The electromagnetic effects on communications were also studied.

A Douglas SM-75/PGM-17A Thor IRBM. (U.S. Air Force)
A Douglas SM-75 Thor IRBM (DM-18A) is launched at Launch Complex 17B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 12 May 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

The Thor DSV2E was an orbital launch variant of the Douglas Aircraft Company SM-75 Thor IRBM. This was a single-stage nuclear-armed intermediate-range ballistic missile, 61 feet, 3.91 (19.692 meters) long and 8 feet, 0.00 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter. With the Mk-2 reentry vehicle, the overall length of the missile was 63 feet, 7.38 inches (19.390 meters). It weighed 109,800 pounds (49,805 kilograms) at liftoff and 6,889 pounds (3,124 kilograms) at burnout.

The SM-75 was powered by one Rocketdyne LR79-NA-9 rocket engine which produced 150,000 pounds of thrust (667.23 kilonewtons). Two Rocketdyne LR101-NA-9 vernier engines of 1,000 pounds thrust (4.45 kN), each, provided directional control and thrust adjustments. The Thor was fueled with kerosene and liquid oxygen sufficient for 156 seconds of main engine burn time.

The Thor could reach a maximum speed of 11,020 miles per hour (17,735 kilometers per hour) and had a maximum range of 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).

The W-49 thermonuclear warhead was designed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) and is believed to be a development of the earlier B-28 two-stage radiation-implosion bomb. It incorporated a 10-kiloton W-34 warhead as a gas-boosted fission primary, and had a one-point-safe safety system. The warhead had a diameter of 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meters) and length of  4 feet, 6.3 inches (1.379 meters). It weighed 1,665 pounds (755 kilograms).

The flash from the Starfish-Prime detonation, photographed from Maui in the Hawaiian Islands 15 seconds after detonation. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
The flash from the Starfish-Prime detonation, photographed from Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, 15 seconds after detonation. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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Medal of Honor, First Lieutenant Donald Dale Pucket, United States Army Air Corps

First Lieutenant Donald Dale Pucket, U.S. Army Air Corps (1915–1944). (Longmont Museum)


PUCKET, DONALD D. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 98th Bombardment Group.

Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 9 July 1944.

Entered service at: Boulder, Colo. Birth: Longmont, Colo.

G.O. No.: 48, 23 June 1945.

Citation: He took part in a highly effective attack against vital oil installation in Ploesti, Rumania, on 9 July 1944. Just after “bombs away,” the plane received heavy and direct hits from antiaircraft fire. One crewmember was instantly killed and 6 others severely wounded. The airplane was badly damaged, two engines were knocked out, the control cables cut, the oxygen system on fire, and the bomb bay flooded with gas and hydraulic fluid. Regaining control of his crippled plane, 1st Lt. Pucket turned its direction over to the copilot. He calmed the crew, administered first aid, and surveyed the damage. Finding the bomb bay doors jammed, he used the hand crank to open them to allow the gas to escape. He jettisoned all guns and equipment but the plane continued to lose altitude rapidly. Realizing that it would be impossible to reach friendly territory he ordered the crew to abandon ship. Three of the crew, uncontrollable from fright or shock, would not leave. 1st Lt. Pucket urged the others to jump. Ignoring their entreaties to follow, he refused to abandon the 3 hysterical men and was last seen fighting to regain control of the plane. A few moments later the flaming bomber crashed on a mountainside. 1st Lt. Pucket, unhesitatingly and with supreme sacrifice, gave his life in his courageous attempt to save the lives of 3 others.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
Donald D. Pucket, 1938. (The Coloradan)

Donald Dale Pucket was born at Longmont, Colorado, 15 December 1915. He was the son of Roy A. Pucket, an automotive mechanic, and Lula M. (Gilmore?) Pucket.

Pucket attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he studied business. He was president of the Board of Directors of the School of Business, and a member of the Delta Sigma Pi (ΔΣΠ) fraternity. During his senior year, he was the fraternity’s president and headmaster. Pucket graduated in 1938. Pucket was employed by a finance company as an insurance inspector.

On 16 September 1939, Donald Dale Pucket married Miss Lorene Edna Joyce, a public school teacher, at Denver, Colorado. They rented a home at 2705 High Street, Pueblo, Colorado.

In 1940, as required, Pucket registered for the Draft (conscription for military service). His registration shows that he was 5 feet, 8 inches (172.7 centimeters) tall and weighed 158 pounds (71.7 kilograms). He had brown hair and brown eyes.

Pucket enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Forces at Denver, Colorado, 25 November 1942 and was trained as a bomber pilot. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, in October 1943. Lieutenant Pucket was assigned to the 343rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), as a B-24 Liberator pilot and deployed to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in April 1944. He was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in June 1944. He was killed in action during an attack against the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 9 July 1944.

Lieutenant Pucket’s remains were eventually returned to the United States. On 31 October 1950, Lieutenant Pucket’s remains were interred in a group grave with those of five members of his crew, at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, Missouri. They were: Staff Sergeant Herschel K. Devore, Technical Sergeant Ilas B. Dye, Staff Sergeant Leon Fournas, Staff Sergeant Lawrence L. Hood and Staff Sergeant Jack C. Rathbun.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, First Lieutenant Donald Dale Pucket, United States Army Air Corps, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters (three awards), and the Purple Heart.

[Note: Records available online do not indicate the specific variant or serial number of the B-24 Liberator flown by 1st Lieutenant Pucket, however research revealed that there were two B-24s lost by the 98th Bombardment Group on 9 July 1944. They were both North American/Dallas-built B-24G-15-NT Liberators, serial numbers 42-78346 and 42-78348. The B-24 in the photograph below is their sister ship, 42-78349.] ¹

North American B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78349, four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78349, four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
North American B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78349, four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ UPDATE: Information provided by Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan B. Ott, United States Army, indicates that Lieutenant Pucket’s bomber was North American Aviation B-24G-15-NT Liberator 42-78346. Thank you very much, Colonel Ott.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 July 1910

Walter Richard Brookins. (Empire State Aerosciences Museum)
Brookins’ Wright Flyer over the Atlantic City pier, 9 July 1910.

9 July 1910: Walter Richard Brookins flew his Wright Flyer to an altitude of 6,175 feet (1,882 meters) at the Atlantic City Aero Meet at Atlantic City, New Jersey, becoming the first pilot to fly higher than one mile. He broke his own altitude record of 4,380 feet (1,335 meters) set at Indianapolis, Indiana, less than a month earlier.

Brookins took off in a Wright Model A at 6:07:30 p.m. The ascent took just over 56 minutes as he made a gradual climb in 2-mile circles. The altitude was recorded by a Richard Frères recording aneroid barometer (or barograph), serial number 48188, which had a measurement range of 0–5,000 meters (0–16,404 feet). The descent from the record altitude took approximately seven minutes, as Brookins circled in a steeply-banked spiral and landed at 7:11 p.m.

In addition to the barograph carried aboard the Wright Flyer, a team of engineers and surveyors from the civil engineering firm of Ashmead & Hackney of Atlantic City measured the height of Brookins’ airplane bt rriabulation, using transits set up approximately 2½ ¹ miles (4 kilometers) apart. At 7:03:55 p.m., Brookins’ crossed the surveyors’ base line.

Civil engineers’ trianglulation measurements. Altitude: 6,175.48 feet (1,882.29 meters).  (American Engineer)

The engineering team reported:

“Gentlemen, —We beg leave to report that we have determined the height of the undersides of the runners of the Wright biplane occupied by Mr. Walter R. Brookins at the time of crossing the established base line between the two instrument stations (7h. 03m. 55s. p.m., July 9th, 1910) to have been 6,175 ft. (nearest even ft.) above sea-level.”

Flight, No. 86 (Vol. II, No. 34.), 20 August 1910, at Page 677, Column 2

Brookins was awarded a prize of $5,000.00 offered by the Atlantic City Aero Club.

Walter Richard Brookins (Library of Congress)

A contemporary newspaper reported the event:


     Atlantic City, July 9.—Walter Brookins, in a Wright biplane, broke the world’s altitude record here this evening, when he attained a height of 6,175 feet. He used his last drop of gasoline at his highest altitude and was still climbing when his engine missed explosions. The daring aviator brought his machine back to level to get the last drop of fuel out of the storage tank to reach the line of vision of engineers on the beach. Reaching the imaginary line, Brookins started to glide to earth and his engine stopped entirely when he was at 5,600 feet and still over the ocean. His circling glide to the beach which the crown believed to be a bit of fancy flying was done to save himself from diving into the sea.

     Brookins was ready to collapse when he reached the ground and did not tell of his plight in the air until midnight, after he had partly recovered.

     Officials at midnight gave 6,175 feet as the exact height of the flight from calculations of engineering experts. The barograph record is 6,200 feet, leaving but 25 feet difference. It is expected that the record will stand without protest.

Wins $5,000 Prize.

     By his feat today Brookins wins the $5,000 prize offered by the Atlantic City Aero Club for breaking the world’s record, unless a higher altitude is reached here before the end of the present meet.

     Brookins spent one hour, two minutes, 35 15-100 seconds in the air, according to the official timing of Chairman Henry M. Neely and Recorder Augustus Post, of the Contest Committee of the National Council of the Aero Club of America. About 57 minutes of this time was made in a circling ascent, the rush of over a mile to the ground consuming less than seven minutes.

     Fear that Brookins at his highest point had not crossed the line of vision of the expert engineers in charge of securing his height by triangulation startled officials and spectators until it was discovered that the failure to secure a record of his crossing the imaginary line on which his record will be based was on two swings at a much lower altitude than at the final highest point.

Makes Final Start at 6.08 P. M.

     Brookins, after waiting all day for the brisk southerly wind to die out, made a practice spin of a little over 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 1,900 feet. His final start was made at 6.08 o’clock p. m., with the weather absolutely clear and much of the force of the wind gone in the lower altitudes.

     His rise was made from alongside one of the ocean piers, He pointed his machine to the west and then swung out over the ocean, where he started his spiral flight over the ocean and city.

     News that Brookins was really attempting to break the altitude record reached hotels and city people, and when he reached a height of 1,520 feet the greater part of the city was on the beach. It is calculated that nearly 100,000 people watched the flight and cheered Brookins when he descended at 7.11 p. m.

     Men and women in the great throng threw up hats and handkerchiefs and the police had trouble keeping back the crown until Brookins made a run from his machine to his dressing room on the pier.

Waves Roses to Cheering Crowd.

Miss Eva Goffyn, sister of Frank Goffyn, Brookins’ fellow aviator, pushed a bunch of roses into his hands which he waved to the cheering crowd as he mounted to the deck of the pier.

     Brookins declined to receive callers and rested for 10 minutes before he left for his hotel in an automobile. He again went into seclusion, after stating that he found the air currents steady at his highest altitude and that he turned toward the earth when his aneroid barometers showed an altitude of over 6,000 feet.

     Glenn Curtiss made several short flights while Brookins was preparing to ascend for his final trial, but descended without attempting any altitude flight over the 50-mile course which he expects to cover tomorrow.

THE READING EAGLE, Vol. 43, No. 164 Sunday 10 July, Page 1 at Column 3

Recording baraograph chart of Brookins’ altitude record indicates 6,200 feet (1,890 meters). (American Machinist)

The Wright Model A, produced from 1907 to 1909, was the world’s first series production airplane. It was slightly larger and heavier than the Wright Flyer III which had preceded it. It was a two-place, single-engine canard biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires and covered with muslin fabric. A new system of flight controls allowed the pilot to sit upright rather than lying prone on the lower wing.

The dual horizontal elevators were placed forward and the dual vertical rudders aft. The biplane was 31 feet (9.449 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters). The wings had a chord of 6.6 feet, and vertical separation of 6 feet. The airplane had an empty weight of approximately 800 pounds (363 kilograms).

A Wright vertical four-cylinder engine at teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Sanjay Acharya/Wikipedia)
A Wright vertical inline four-cylinder engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Sanjay Acharya/Wikipedia)

The Model A was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,3525 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8½ foot (2.591 meters) diameter, two-bladed, counter-rotating propellers, driven by a chain drive, are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. They turned 445 r.p.m.

The Wright Model A  could fly 37 miles per hour (kilometers per hour).

Walter R. Brookins and his Wright Model A at Atlantic City, New Jersey, 9 July 1910.

Walter Richard Brookins was born at Dayton, Ohio, 17 July 1888. He was the second of four children of Noah Holsapple Brookins, a salesman, and Clara Belle Spitler Brookins.

Brookins, then working as a chauffeur, married Miss Grace M. Miller, a governess, on 7 February 1907, in Hamilton County, Ohio. They divorced 18 May 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (An earlier divorce decree, issued in Dayton in 1910, was set aside.)

Walter Richard Brookins was the first civilian pilot trained by Orville Wright. He was in a group of five pilots trained for the Wright Brothers’ Exhibition Team at their training camp at what is now Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.

Brookins was then hired as an instructor and finished training the last two men in the group. He was given a two-year contract with a salary of $20.00 per week, plus $50.00 per day for each flying day. Any prize money won—such as the $5,000 prize at Atlantic City—was turned over to the company.

All-In-One Liquid Measure. (Automobile Trade Journal)

From May 1919, Brookins, with his brother Earl, owned and operated the Brookins Manufacturing Company, Inc., in Dayton, which produced their invention, the All-In-One Liquid Measure. The first version was patented in 1924, and improvements followed.

Brookins married Mary Lamke, a secretary at McCook Field, Dayton, 12 April 1921. She held the position of corporate treasurer for the company. They remained together until his death.

In 1930, Brookins was self-employed in the financial industry. He and Mary relocated to California, living in Beverly Hills.

Brookins partnered with David R. Davis ² to form Brookins-Davis Aircraft Corporation, Los Angeles. In 1931 the company had applied for a patent for an airfoil profile designed by Davis, and which would become known as the “Davis Wing.”  The patent was issued 1934. Mrs. Brookins had known Major Reuben Hollis Fleet at McCook Field. (Fleet was the founder and president of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation.) This led to meetings between Brookins, Davis and Fleet which resulted in the airfoil being licensed to Consolidated. It was used on the B-24 Liberator and B-32 Dominator heavy bombers.

Walter Richard Brookins died at Los Angeles, California, on 29 April 1953. His ashes were interred at the Portal of the Folded Wings, Valhalla Memorial, North Hollywood, California, 17 December 1953.

The Portal of the Folded Wings at Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California. The remains of many pioneers of aviation are interred here. (Dignity Memorial)

¹ The actual length of the base line was 13,394.29 feet (4,082.58 meters). Brookins’ trangulated altitude was 6,175.48 feet (1,882.29 meters).

² Davis had previously co-founded the Davis-Douglas Company, which would become the Douglas Aircraft Company.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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