10 May 1972: Chief test pilot Howard W. (“Sam”) Nelson made the first flight of the prototype Fairchild Republic YA-10A Thunderbolt II, 71-1369, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California.
The production A-10A Thunderbolt II is a single-place, twin engine low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane is 52 feet, 7 inches (16.027 meters) long with a wing span of 57 feet, 6 inches (17.526 meters), and overall height of 14 feet, 8 inches (4.470 meters). Its operating weight is 24,513 pounds (11,119 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms). This includes the operating weight plus full internal fuel, 1,350 rounds of ammunition and 18 Mk.82 bombs.
The A-10 is powered by two General Electric TF34–GE-100 engines. These are two-spool axial flow turbofans with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor, and 6-stage turbine. The engines produce a maximum 8,900 pounds of thrust ( kilonewtons).
The A-10 was designed and built around its hydraulically-operated General Electric GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm Gatling-type autocannon. The gun has 7 rotating barrels and is capable of firing at a rate of 4,300 rounds per minute. The Thunderbolt II can carry a maximum of 1,350 rounds of high explosive-incendiary or armor piercing-incendiary ammunition.
Howard Verner Nelson was born on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1924, at Hartford Connecticut. He was the second son of Gustaf B. Nelson, a clerk, and Signe Ottilia Nelson.
Nelson entered the United States Army Air Forces on 20 November 1944, and remained on active duty in the U.S. Air Force until 28 May 1957, when he transferred to the Air Force Reserve. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He flew 105 combat missions during the Korean War.
“Sam” Nelson joined the Republic Aviation Corporation in 1960. He was assigned Republic’s chief test pilot for the F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber. In October 1976, Nelson was promoted to Director of Flight Operations.
Nelson was killed at the Paris Air Show 3 June 1977 while demonstrating an A-10A Thunderbolt II.
Lieutenant Colonel Nelson’s remains were buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
10 May 1961: At approximately 1:12 a.m. local time (23:12, 9 May, UTC) Air France Flight 406, a Lockheed L-1649 Starliner was cruising at 20,500 feet (6,248 meters) on a flight from Fort Lamy Airport (NDJ), Chad, and Marseille-Marignane Airport (MRS), in France. For unknown reasons, the airliner’s tail section failed, and it crashed in the Great Eastern Sand Sea of the Sahara Desert, between “the walled Sahara oasis and caravan town” of Ghadamès, Libya, and Zarzaïtane, Algeria. All 78 persons on board were killed.
An Air France pilot who flew over the crash site said it looked as if the plane caught fire in the air. Lt. Ferdinand Pecollo said he was told that frontier guards had seen a great ball of fire tumbling from the sky.
—Chicago Tribune, Volume CXX—No. 112, Thursday, 11 May 1961, Part 2, Page 13, Columns 3–5
The last radio contact was at 23:10 UTC, reporting that the flight was normal. The cause of the crash is unknown, but The Sydney Morning Herald reported rumors that the airliner had been bombed in an assassination of several Central African Republic government officials.
F-BHBM was a Lockheed L-1649A-98-11 Starliner, serial number 1027, built at Burbank, California. It was delivered to Air France, 29 July 1957, and named De Grasse.
In 1930, aviation pioneer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. The technology to accomplish this was three decades in the future.
On 10 May 1961, a U.S. Air Force/Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, The Firefly, did just that. Flown by a crew consisting of Aircraft Commander, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Navigator, Major Eugene Moses, and Defensive Systems Officer, First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, the Mach 2+ Strategic Air Command bomber flew 669.4 miles (1,077.3 kilometers) in 30 minutes, 43 seconds. Their average speed was 1,302.07 miles per hour (2,095 kilometers per hour).
The black and white marble trophy was presented to the B-58 crew by Alice Védères Blériot, widow of Louis Blériot, at Paris, France, 27 May 1961. It is on permanent display at the McDermott Library of the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Convair B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude, Mach 2+ strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft has a delta-winged configuration similar to Convair’s F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.
The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wings’ leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder. There are no flaps.
The B-58’s delta wing has a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters) and the leading edges are swept back at a 60° angle. The wing has an angle of incidence of 3° and 2° 14′ dihedral (outboard of Sta. 56.5).
The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23161 kilograms), or 53,581 pounds (24,304 kilograms) with the MB-1 pod. The maximum takeoff weight was 158,000 pounds (71,668 kilograms).
The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. It had a Normal Power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons). The Military Power rating was 10,000 pounds (44.482 kilonewtons), and it produced a maximum 15,600 pounds (69.392 kilonewtons) at 7,460 r.p.m., with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.0 inches (5.131 meters) long and 2 feet, 11.2 inches (0.894 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).
The bomber had a cruise speed of 544 knots (626 miles per hour/1,007 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,147 knots (1,320 miles per hour/2,124 kilometers per hour) at 67,000 feet (20,422 meters). The B-58A had a combat radius of 4,225 nautical miles (4,862 statute miles/7,825 kilometers). Its maximum ferry range was 8,416 nautical miles (9,685 statute miles/15,586 kilometers).
The B-58 weapons load was a combination of Mark 39, B43 or B61 thermonuclear bombs. The weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel. The four of the smaller bombs could be carried on underwing hardpoints. There was a General Electric M61 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of ammunition, and controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.
On 26 May 1961, The Firefly, flown by a different aircrew, set a speed record by flying New York to Paris, while enroute to the Paris Air Show, a distance of 3,626.46 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes, 58 seconds, for an average of 1,089.36 mph.
Convair built 116 B-58s between 1956 and 1961. They were retired by 1970.
On 3 June 1961, the Blériot Trophy-winning crew of Murphy, Moses and Dickerson departed Le Bourget Airport aboard 59-2451 for the return trip to America. The B-58 crashed five miles from the airport. All three men were killed and the aircraft totally destroyed.
General Dynamics contributed an extensive collection of photographs of the speed run to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which holds them in its Archives.
A 1961 Air Force film covering the event and the presentation of the Blériot Trophy can be seen on You Tube at https://youtu.be/0D_n8YRodII
10 May 1946: The first successful launch of a captured V-2 ballistic missile in the United States took place at the White Sands Proving Ground in the Tularosa Basin of southern New Mexico. With a burn time of 59 seconds, the rocket reached an altitude of 70.9 miles (114.1 kilometers) and traveled 31 miles (49.9 kilometers) down range.
On 15 March 1946, a static test firing of a V-2 rocket had taken place at White Sands, and then on 16 April, a rocket was launched. One of the stabilizing fins failed, and then radio conttact was lost at 19.5 seconds. The rocket reached a peak altitude of only 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) before crashing a short distance from the launch site. (A 9-minute video of the preparations and launch can be seen at: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6apkns Notice the extremely casual attitude toward personnel safety displayed throughout the film.)
The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, or Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile with an empty weight of approximately 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) and weighing 28,000 pounds (12,700 kilograms), fully loaded. It carried a 738 kilogram (1,627 pound) (sources vary) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. The propellant was a 75/25 mixture of of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.
The complete rocket was 14.036 meters (46.050 feet) long, and had a maximum diameter of 1.651 meters (5.417 feet). The rocket was stabilized by four large fins, 4.035 meters (13.238 feet) long, with a maximum span of 3.564 meters (11.693 feet). The leading edge of these fins was swept 60°, and 3°. A small guide vane was at the outer tip of each fin, and other vanes were placed in the engine’s exhaust plume.
When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,760 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (320 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles (142–206 kilometers), depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,880 kilometers per hour), about Mach 2.35, so its approach would have been completely silent in the target area.
The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.
As World War II came to and end, the Allies captured many partially-completed missiles, as well as components and parts. Sufficient parts and materiel and been transferred from Germany to construct more than one hundred V-2 rockets for testing at White Sands. No missiles were received in flyable condition. Over a five year period, there were 67 successful launches, but it is considered that as much knowledge was gained from failures as successes.
Along with the rockets, many German engineers and scientists surrendered or were captured by the Allies. Under Operation Paperclip, Wernher von Braun and many other scientists, engineers and technicians were brought to the United States to work with the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, and the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama.
Tests of the V-2 rockets led to the development of U.S. rockets for the military and NASA’s space program. A NASA article states,
“The contribution that the V-2 made to guided missile technology is immeasurable. In general, the program provided training for men in the handling and firing of large missiles, experiments directly concerned with design of future missiles, operational tests of future missile components, and experience in collecting upper atmosphere and ballistic data.”
—Notes Regarding History of V-2 Operations at White Sands, MSFC History Office, Mashall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama.
10 May 1927: At 3:55 p.m., PST, Charles A. Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis lifted off from Rockwell Field on North Island, San Diego, California, for their record-setting overnight flight to St. Louis, Missouri. The new Ryan NYP, N-X-211, had been ready and all the flight tests complete since 4 May. Lindbergh had completed the navigational planning for both the transcontinental flight to New York City, and then, the transoceanic flight to Paris. He had been in daily consultation with Dean Blake, chief of the Weather Bureau in San Diego. A system over the Rockies had been holding up his departure for days, but now everything was ready. Lindbergh wrote:
At 3:40 I crawl into my flying suit. It’s uncomfortably hot in the California sun. . . It’s a few minutes early, but why wait any longer in this heat? I wave good-by, taxi into position, and ease the throttle open. As I pick up speed, I hold the tail low to put as much load as possible on the wings and reduce strain on the landing gear.
The Spirit of St. Louis is in the air soon after its wheels start clattering over the hummocky portion of the field. The take-off wasn’t as difficult as I expected. It’s 3:55 Pacific. I make a mental note of the time, check instruments, pull the throttle back slightly, and begin a wide climbing turn to the left. Two army observation planes and a Ryan monoplane have taken off with me as an escort. Colonel Graham, the Commanding Officer at Rockwell Field, is in one of the observation planes. Hall, Bowlus, Harrigan, and A.J. Edwards are in the Ryan. We circle North Island, the factory, and the city of San Diego. Then, leaving the ocean and the bay behind, I set my compass heading for St. Louis.
—The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1953, at Page 134.