22 December 1964: At Groom Lake, Nevada, a Lockheed M-21, a special two-place variant of the Central Intelligence Agency’s A-12 Oxcart Mach 3 reconnaissance aircraft, took off for the first time while carrying a D-21 drone. The pilot was William C. Park, Jr., Lockheed’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot.
Two M-21s were built, Article 134, 60-6940, and Article 135, 60-6941. Article 135 was struck by its drone during an air launch off the coast of California, 30 July 1966, and both aircraft were destroyed. Bill Park escaped, but the Launch Control Officer, Ray Torick, was killed.
Lockheed M-21 60-6940 is on display at The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.
Bill Park has the distinction of having bailed out of four Lockheed aircraft and living to tell about it: the first XF-104 prototype, 56-7786, when its tail came off at 12,500 feet (3,810 meters), 11 July 1957; an A-12, 60-6939, when the flight controls locked on approach to Groom Lake at only 200 feet (61 meters), 9 July 1964; the M-21; and the first Have Blue stealth technology demonstrator, 1001, at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 4 May 1978.
22 December 1964: Lockheed test pilot Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland made a solo first flight of the first SR-71A, 61-7950, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. The “Blackbird” flew higher than 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and more than 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 kilometers per hour) before landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 22 miles (35 kilometers) northeast, to begin the flight test program.
Bob Gilliland made the first flight of many of the Lockheed SR-71s. It is reported that he has logged more flight time in excess of Mach 3 than any other pilot.
The SR-71A Blackbird is a Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft designed and built by Lockheed’s famous (but Top Secret) “Skunk Works” for the United States Air Force. It was developed from the Central Intelligence Agency’s A-12 Oxcart program.
The SR-71A is a two-place aircraft, operated by a Pilot and a Reconnaissance Systems Officer (“RSO”). It uses electronic and optical sensors. The fuselage has a somewhat flattened aspect with chines leading forward from the wings to the nose. The wings are a modified delta, with integral engine nacelles. Two vertical stabilizers are mounted at the aft end of the engine nacelles and cant inward toward the aircraft centerline.
The SR-71A is 107 feet, 5 inches (32.741 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 7 inches (16.942 meters), and overall height of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters). Its empty weight is 67,500 pounds (30,620 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 172,000 pounds (78,020 kilograms).
The Blackbird is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20 (J58-P-4) turbo-ramjet engines, rated at 25,000 pounds of thrust (111.21 kilonewtons) and 34,000 pounds of thrust (151.24 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The exhaust gas temperature is approximately 3,400 °F. (1,870 °C.). The J58 is a single-spool, axial-flow engine which uses a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J58 is 17 feet, 10 inches (7.436 meters) long and 4 feet, 9 inches (1.448 meters) in diameter. It weighs approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms).
The SR-71A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.3 at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters)—2,199 miles per hour (3,539 kilometers per hour). Its maximum rate of climb is 11,810 feet per minute (60 meters per second), and the service ceiling is 85,000 feet (25,908 meters). The Blackbird’s maximum unrefueled range is 3,680 miles (5,925 kilometers).
Lockheed built 32 SR-71As. They entered service with the 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (later redesignated the 9th SRW) in 1966 and were initially retired in 1989. Several were reactivated in 1995, but finally retired in 1999.
22 December 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, test pilot Captain Richard James Harer was flying a Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, serial number 50-962.¹ Harer was accompanied by fellow test pilot Captain Milburn G. Apt in a chase plane.
The Lockheed F-94 was the first U.S. production fighter aircraft to be equipped with a drag chute to provide aerodynamic braking on landing. (Drag chutes had been in use on larger aircraft since the 1930s.) There was speculation that the sudden deceleration provided by a drag chute might be useful during air-to-air combat.
Captain Harer’s test flight was to determine what would happen when the drag chute opened while the airplane was traveling at 600 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour).
LIFE Magazine described the test in the following excerpt:
. . . A captain named Richard J. Harer was assigned to make the test in an F-94C, capable of flying 600 miles an hour. The plane was equipped with a manual release, so Harer could get rid of the parachute after the test. In the event that the manual release failed, Harer could get rid of the parachute by detonating a small explosive charge which was wired to the rope that secured the parachute to the plane. If both of these devices failed, Harer could still get rid of the parachute by going into a dive and maneuvering the parachute into the blast of flame from his afterburner. In sum, a thoughtful arrangement of affairs. Harer got into his plane and took it up to 20,000 feet, closely followed by a chase aircraft flown by another captain named Milburn Apt. Harer opened the parachute, began to tumble crazily across the sky and then—as far as anyone knows—must have tried the manual release. It failed. Then, because he was a cool, skillful pilot, Harer must have kept his head and tried the explosive charge, although no one is sure what he did. In any case, the charge did not explode. By this time Harer was plummeting out of control toward the dry lake bed at perhaps 500 miles an hour, with Captain Apt flying right beside him shouting advice over the radio. Harer’s plane continued down, wallowing, gyrating, the deadly parachute never quite getting into the flame of the afterburner. Harer crashed. His plane burst into flames.
Captain Apt landed on the lake bed at almost the instant of the crash. The two planes, one burning, one under control, skidded along beside each other. As soon as he came to a halt, Apt leaped out of his plane and ran over to Harer’s. “It was nothing but fire,” Apt remembers. “The only part of the plane I could see sticking out of the flames was the tip of the tail.”
Apt dashed around to the other side of Harer’s plane. Strangely, this side was not burning. Apt was able to climb up onto the plane and look through the Plexiglas canopy into the cockpit. It was filled with smoke, but he could see Harer inside, feebly, faintly moving his head. Apt grabbed the canopy release, a device on the outside of the plane designed for just such and emergency. It failed.
The dry lake bed has absolutely nothing on its surface except the fine-grained sand of which it is composed. No sticks, no stones, nothing that Apt might have picked up to smash the canopy. He tried to pry it off with his bare hands, an effort that, had it not been for the circumstances, would have been ludicrous. He smashed it with his fists and succeeded only in injuring himself. Meanwhile he could see Harer inside, the fire beginning to get to him now.
As Captain Apt smashed his fists on the canopy, a single jeep raced across the lake bed toward the plane at 70 miles an hour. Reaching the plane, the driver leaped out and ran over to it, carrying the only useful piece of equipment he had: a five-pound brass fire extinguisher, the size of a rolling pin. He could as well have tried to put out the fire by spitting on it. Apt and the jeep driver shouted contradictory instructions at each other above the growing roar of the fire. The jeep driver emptied his extinguisher on the forward part of the plane, then handed the empty container to Apt. Apt raised it above his head and smashed it down on the canopy. It bounced off. He pounded the canopy again and again, as hard as he could, and each time the extinguisher bounced off. “It was like hitting a big spring,” he says forlornly. “I couldn’t break it.”
Meanwhile, 9,950 men on the base quietly pursued their jobs, unaware of the accident. The obstetrician said, “Come back Thursday, Mrs. Smith,” Robert Hawn worked on his YAPS, and Smith, Douglas S., changed a tire. The only immediate spectators, aside from Apt and the jeep driver, were the Joshua trees growing all along the edge of the lake bed, very old and mournful.
By this time Captain Harer’s flesh was on fire. The jeep driver dashed back to his vehicle and returned with a five-gallon gasoline can. “My God.” Apt thought. “No, no,” the jeep driver cried, “it’s full of water. It’s all right.”
Apt hefted the can, which weighed nearly 50 pounds. He raised it high in the air and smashed it down. The canopy cracked. Apt hit it again, opening a hole in it, letting out the smoke inside. In a few seconds he had broken a large jagged opening through which Harer could be pulled out. “It was a tough job,” Apt says. “Harer was a very tall man.” Was a tall man. Not is, but was.
“He’s not tall now,” Apt says. “Both his feet were burned off.” Captain Harer lived. Today, he gets around very well on his artificial feet. He has been promoted to major and will soon be honorably retired from the Air Force with a pension. He has no memory whatever of the accident. He recalls flying at 20,000 feet and popping open the parachute, and his next memory is of awakening in a hospital two weeks later. . . .
—Excerpted from “10,000 Men to a Plane,” LIFE Magazine, 18 June 1956.
For his heroism in the face of great danger, Captain Mel Apt was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest award for valor in a non-combat mission for Army and Air Force personnel. The regulation establishing the award states, “The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. Awards will not be made solely on the basis of having saved a life.”
Mel Apt would continue as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, and on 26 September 1956, he would be the first pilot to exceed Mach 3 when he flew the Bell X-2 rocketplane to Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,377 kilometers per hour) at 65,589 feet (19,992 meters). Just seconds later, the X-2 began uncontrolled oscillations and came apart. Mel Apt was unable to escape from the cockpit and was killed when the X-2 hit the desert floor. He was the thirteenth test pilot to be killed at Edwards since 1950.
Richard James Harer was born at Painesville, Ohio, 8 October 1924. He was the son of Otto H. Harer, a foundry manager, and Edith Mynchenberg Harer. He had a younger sister, Marilyn.
Harer graduated from Harvey High School in Painesville in 1941. He was a member of the debate club and the Hi-Y club. (Harer’s father was president of the Painesville Board of Education.)
In 1942, Harer was a student at the University of Ohio. A member of the Class of 1945, he studied engineering and was a member of the Phi Eta Sigma (ΦΗΣ) fraternity.
World War II interrupted Harer’s education. On 4 December 1942, he enlisted as a private in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve Corps. On 2 March 1943, Private Harer was selected as an Aviation Cadet and assigned to flight training. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 7 January 1944. On 6 November 1944, Harer was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S. On 25 September 1945, First Lieutenant Harer was transferred to the Air Corps Reserve. In 1947, the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service. Richard Harer was appointed a second lieutenant, U. S. Air Force, with his date of rank retroactive to 8 October 1945.
During World War II, Lieutenant Harer flew 31 combat missions in the European Theater of Operations. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
Following the war, Richard Harer returned to his studies, now at the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio. He was a member of the Sigma Beta Phi (ΣΒΦ) fraternity, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Engine Club.
On 21 January 1948, Lieutenant Harer married Miss Barbara Alice Heesen at Lucas, Ohio. They would have four children.
After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Captain Harer was assigned as a test pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He conducted performance testing on the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Harer flew an F-84F in the Bendix Trophy Race, 4 September 1954. He made one flight in the Bell X-1B rocketplane, 4 November 1954.
¹ Several sources list the U.S. Air Force serial number of the F-94C flown by Captain Harer as “50-692,” however that serial number is actually assigned to a Boeing C-97C-35-BO Stratofreighter four-engine medical transport. It is apparent that the numbers have been transposed.
22 December 1949: North American Aviation, Inc., test pilot George S. Welch made the first flight of the YF-86D Sabre, 50-577 (c/n 164-1, at Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California.
Based on the F-86A day fighter, the F-86D (originally designated YF-95) was a radar-equipped, rocket-armed, all-weather interceptor. Its first flight took place only nine years after the first flight of North American’s prototype NA-73X, which would become the famous P-51 Mustang fighter of World War II. This was an amazing jump in technology in just a few years.
The interceptor was intended to be an improved variant of the F-86A Sabre day fighter. During development, though, so many changes became necessary that the F-86D shared only about 25% of its parts of the F-86A. Essentially an new airplane, the Air Force assigned it the designation YF-95. It would revert to the F-86D designation before it actually flew.
The first YF-86D (still identified as YF-95) was rolled out at North American’s Inglewood plant in September 1949. In late November it was partially disassembled to be transported by truck to Edwards Air Force Base, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) away. The airplane was then reassembled and ground tested to prepare it for flight.
The first two test aircraft carried no armament or fire control/radar system and retained the sliding canopy of the F-86A. This would be replaced with a hinged “clamshell” canopy in production models. The airplane was 40 feet, 3.1 inches (12.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1 inch (11.294 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). Its empty weight was 12,470 pounds (5,656 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 18,483 pounds (8,384 kilograms).
The service test aircraft and early production airplanes were powered by a General Electric J47-GE-17 single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 5,425 pounds of thrust (24.132 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m., or 7,500 pounds (33.362 kilonewtons) with afterburner. This engine was equipped with an electronic fuel control system which substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. It was 226.0 inches (5.740 meters) long, 39.75 inches (1.010 meters) in diameters, and weighed 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).
The first production aircraft, F-86D-1-NA Sabre, had a maximum speed of 614 knots (707 miles per hour/1,137 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 539 knots (620 miles per hour/998 kilometers per hour)at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). From a standing start, the interceptor could climb to 40,000 feet in 5 minutes, 54 seconds with a full combat load. The service ceiling was 54,000 feet (16,460 meters).
The F-86D Sabre carried no guns. Instead, its armament consisted of twenty-four 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with explosive warheads, carried in a retractable tray in the airplane’s belly. A Hughes electronic fire control computer was used to calculate an interception path and determine the firing point for the unguided rockets.
The single-seat F-86D Sabre was nearly 50 knots faster than the contemporary twin-engine Northrop F-89 Scorpion and Lockheed F-94 Starfire, both of which carried a two-man crew. North American Aviation built 2,504 F-86D Sabres, and these equipped nearly two-thirds of the Air Defense Command interceptor squadrons.
After the Air Force service test program was completed, 50-577 was transferred to the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field, California, and designated NACA 149. It was used as a variable stability aircraft for flight testing various control configurations for feel, sensitivity and response.
NACA 149 remained at Ames from 26 June 1952 to 15 February 1960.
22 December 1945: Test pilot Vern Louis Carstens made the first flight of Beech Aircraft Corporation’s new Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza. Five prototypes were built. The first two were used as static test articles. The third prototype, NX80150, serial number 3, was the first to fly.
“. . . Wichita residents and Beech employees “lined the runway” to watch the first flight of the Beechcraft Bonanza. “The town turned out and the plant all but shut down for the occasion,” said Vern L. Carstens, retired Beech Aircraft chief test pilot who made the historic flight. From the day of its first flight, the Beechcraft V-tailed Bonanza has set industry standards for high performance single engine aircraft. The Bonanza received its type certificate on March 25, 1947. . . .”
—The Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas, Sunday, 27 December 1970, at Page 25, Columns 1–7.
On 26 October 1946, one of the Model 35 prototypes, possibly s/n 3, was destroyed:
During a dive test to determine the maximum dive velocity, a landing gear door buckled under the air loads, causing the door to be forced open. Air was then forced into the landing gear recess on the underside of the wing, and internal pressure built up to the point where the wing failed.
—Department of Transportation, Transportation Systems Center Beech V-Tail Bonanza Task Force Report, 1985.
Harry Lawrence Reiter, Jr., Chief Flight Research Pilot for Beechcraft, was killed when the airplane broke up and crashed 15 miles east of Wichita. An observer, Robert King, was able to escape.
The registration for NX80150 was cancelled 18 May 1948.
The Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza is a single-engine, four-place all-metal light civil airplane with retractable landing gear. The Bonanza has the distinctive V-tail with a 30° dihedral which combined the functions of a conventional vertical fin and rudder, and horizontal tail plane and elevators.
The Model 35 was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 10 inches (10.008 meters) and height of 6 feet, 6½ inches (1.994 meters). It had an empty weight of 1,458 pounds (661 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,550 pounds (1,157 kilograms.)
The first flyable prototype, NX80150, was equipped with an air-cooled, normally aspirated 289.31-cubic-inch-displacement (4.741 liter) Lycoming O-290-A horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, rated at 125 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 130 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m (five minute limit).
Prototype number four, s/n 4, NX80040, and the following production models used a more powerful air-cooled, 471.24-cubic-inch-displacement (7.72 liter) Continental Motors, Inc., E185 horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder engine. This engine was rated at 165 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. The Bonanza used a two-bladed electrically-controlled variable-pitch R-100 propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters), made of laminated wood.
The “V-tail Bonanza” had a maximum speed of 184 miles per hour (296 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a cruise speed of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its service ceiling was 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). With full fuel, 40 gallons (151.4 liters), the airplane had a range of 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).
The Beechcraft 35 was in production from 1947 to 1982. More than 17,000 Model 35s and the similar Model 36 were built.