Daily Archives: August 19, 2023

19 August 1960

Fairchild C-119J-FA Flying Boxcar 51-8037 of the 6593rd Test Squadron recovers the Discoverer XIV satellite, 19 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

Discoverer XIV was a Key Hole KH-1 satellite of the Corona Program. It carried a 70mm reconnaissance camera, and was launched into a polar orbit aboard a Thor-Agena rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After 17 orbits, 7 of which crossed over “denied territory,” the satellite was de-orbited.

A Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar, 51-8037, of the 6593rd Test Squadron, Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, was sent to recover the satellite as it descended through the lower atmosphere by parachute. The air crew sighted the parachute at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), 360 miles (580 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii. On their third attempt, they were able to snag the satellite and parachute with recovery equipment deployed under the transport and then pull it inside. This was the first time that film from a satellite had been recovered.

Corona 1 photographic image of Mys Shmidta Air Field, USSR. This image, taken 18 August 1960, has a resolution of 40 feet x 40 feet ( meters). (National Reconnaissance Office)
Corona 1 photographic image of Mys Shmidta Air Field, Chukotka, Russia, USSR, an intercontinental bomber staging base built in 1954. This image, taken 18 August 1960, has a resolution of 40 feet × 40 feet (12.2 meters × 12.2 meters). The runway is 2,450 meters (8,038 feet) long. (National Reconnaissance Office)

The Discoverer program was publicly explained as an Earth sciences research project, but was actually a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance of the Soviet Union and China. Corona 1 missions located 64 Soviet airfields and 26 surface-to-air (SAM) missile sites.

51-8037 had been built as a C-119F, but was converted to a C-119J in 1957. The satellite recovery airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Fairchild C-119J-FA Flying Boxcar 51-8037 at the National Air and Space Museum, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

19 August 1954

19 August 1954: The Valley News reported:

‘Old Hodgepodge’, Lockheed’s Doughty Jet, Retiring to Scientific Service on Ground

     Skyworn and airweary, but still full of flight, the grand-daddy of Lockheed jets has dodged the junkman’s grimy grip and flown proudly from California to new York to sit out the rest of its life on the ground, but still in the service of science. A last minute reprieve from the U.S. Air Force spared from destruction Old Hodgepodge, a research plane that flew as four different models of advanced aircraft designs and led to $500,000,000 worth of jets for United States fighting forces.

      Many times modified and too often patched in seven years of aerial contortions, the test jet had been relegated to the scrapheap. It was declared no longer safe for combat or further flight experiment.

Busy Every Day

     But, USAF officials later decided, it could continue in use at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, N.Y., as a nonflying instrument of a secret technical study. It was ferried to Griffiss AFB from Lockheed’s Palmdale jet base by Lt. Frank M. Eichler.

     How Old Hodgepodge came to such an unusual end is a tale of home [sic] new and better airplanes are born.

     The plane was first built in 1947 as an F-80A Shooting Star, America’s first quantity jet design.

     Then it was sliced in half to be expanded into the world’s first jet trainer, the two-seat T-33.

     It got new engines—and magic radar—to become the first F-94A interceptor.

     Then it donned a new kind of wingtip fuel tank and was the F-94B.

Became Dean Emeritus

     It then took on and tested electronic and rocket inventions designed for the F-94C, today’s all-weather and all-rocket interceptor flying invasion watch from USAF bases.

     Yesterday the 40-foot-long jet-job was a brawling daredevil of science that withstood ice and lightning and screeching dives and twisting spins. One minute it was being pampered by research engineers and mechanics, the next it was undergoing aerial wringout at the hands of Lockheed’s best test pilots.

     The ship spent 546 hours in the air in tests. It made 772 research flights—773 counting the last-mile dash to New York.

     After shaping the course of jet pilot training for most of the world, it helped develop today’s super-performance fighters and even engaged in guided missile experiments.

     As the T-33 prototype, it became the dean emeritus of jet trainers. U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots learned jet flying in its offspring, as did the pilots of a dozen friendly nations.

Checked Out Rockets

     As a flying drawing board it pioneered advanced engines, radar, radomes, deicers, rocket pods, fuel tanks and cockpit canopies.

     When fitted with a wooden nose, a model of the first Starfire’s radar nose, it gained the nickname “Pinocchio.”

     Then it became the first jet to carry a combination search and rocket fire-control radar system, first jet to have a long clamshell canopy, first to wear a plastic radome nose designed for the Starfire’s radar system.

     Scientists rigged pods to hold rockets on its wings, thus doubling the hall-rocket Starfire’s firepower.

     They gave the plane an afterburner, leading to improvement of the double-jet type engines used in today’s fastest turbine planes.

     It flew on a half-dozen different engines. Its power increased from 3800 pounds of thrust to about 6000 pounds.

     Moving from scientific job to scientific job, the airplane became an unrecognizable conglomerate. It contained experimental devices applied to no other airplane in the world.

Even Foiled Lightning

     Its first flight as a trainer came March 22, 1948, with Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. W. (Tony) LeVier at the controls. Eight days and three flights later LeVier took up F. E. Gaiser, flight-test engineer, first passenger ever to ride in a production jet trainer.

     In Lockheed’s test and experimental program, pilots tried to fly the wings off the plane in stability, spin, speed and dive tests.

     They caked ice on the wing, nose and cockpit and then used unusual deicing equipment to “defrost” accumulations up to two inches thickness. “Metal sandwich” wings operating on high voltage were one type; a millionth-inch-thick spray was another.

     On one derring-do mission, Pilot Stanley Baltz and Engineer E. L. Joiner Jr., purposely flew the airplane in zero visibility through cloud, cold and night when all other planes were grounded—just to ice up the wings and test foul-weather performance.

     That night lightning struck and burned a hole in the wing, but Old Hodgepodge flew on in full control.

Under Own Power

     Gradually the laboratory plane’s test role faded because newer concepts and models were coming forward. Old Hodgepodge was assigned less glamorous jobs—radar target ship and missile chase plane.

     Eventually it became to fat and sluggish for arduous scientific duties. It was more of a crazy quilt than a magic carpet, no longer fit for any Air Force squadron.

     At the end it had to carry 1000 pounds of ballast in its nose to maintain balance in flight. Takeoff weight was up to about nine tons instead of the original seven tons.

     Into teh blue she knew so well, the old plane has flown off to anonymity, but—to her everlasting credit—she got there on her own power and her own wings.

The Valley News, Vol. 34, No. 10, 19 August 1954, Page 9-C, Columns 3–6

Originally a P-80C Shooting Star single-place fighter, 48-356 had been modified at Lockheed Plant B-9 in Van Nuys to become the prototype TF-80C two-place jet trainer (the designation was soon changed to T-33A), which first flew 22 March 1948. It was then modified as the prototype YF-94. 48-356 was later modified as the prototype F-94B. It is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, and is in storage awaiting restoration.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

19 August 1940

Vance Breese (SDA&SM)

19 August 1940: At Mines Field (now known as Los Angeles International Airport), the first North American Aviation B-25 twin-engine medium bomber, serial number 40-2165, took off on its first flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls and engineer Roy Ferren in the co-pilot’s position.

The airplane, North American model NA-62, serial number 62-2834, was developed from two earlier designs which had been evaluated by the U.S. Air Corps but rejected, and it was ordered into production without a prototype being built.

The first few B-25s built—sources vary, but 8–10 airplanes—were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, with the outer wing panels having very slight dihedral ¹ and giving it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size.

40-2165 was retained by North American for testing while the next several aircraft were sent to Wright Field.

Roy Ferren (SDA&SM)

The B-25 was named Mitchell in honor of early air power advocate Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. A total of 9,984 B-25s, F-10 reconnaissance variants and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps PBJ-1 patrol bombers were built by North American Aviation at Inglewood, California and Kansas City, Kansas. The last one, a TB-25J, remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 1960.

Twenty-three B-25s were built before the B-25A Mitchell went into production. The B-25 was operated by a crew of five. It was 54 feet, 1 inch (16.485 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 6.7 inches (20.592 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 4 inches (4.978 meters). The empty weight was 17,258 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum gross weight was 28,557 pounds (12,953 kilograms).

Scale model of a North American Aviation B-25 medium bomber being tested in a wind tunnel. (4″ × 5″ Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer)

The B-25 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600B665 (R-2600-9) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines which were rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic variable-pitch propellers through 16:9 gear reduction. The R-2600-9 was 5 feet, 3.1 inches (1.603 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms).

The medium bomber had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It could carry a 3,000 pound bomb load 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Defensive armament consisted of three air-cooled Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns and one Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine gun.

After testing was completed, B-25 40-2165 was retained by North American and modified as a company transport. On 8 January 1945, flown by Edgar A. Stewart, the airplane suffered an engine failure and made a forced landing at Mines Field—the location of its first flight. The prototype B-25 was damaged beyond repair.

Front view of the first North American B-25 Mitchell, 40-2165. The constant dihedral wing was used on the first nine airplanes built. (U.S. Air Force)
Front view of the first North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, 40-2165, at Mines Field, August 1940. The constant dihedral wing was used on the first nine airplanes built. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation NA-62, B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left front. (U.S. Air Force)
North American B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left rear. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left rear. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber in flight near Wright Field, Ohio, 1 May 1941. (Rudy Arnold Photo Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum XRA-4945)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber in flight near Wright Field, Ohio, 1 May 1941. (Rudy Arnold Photo Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum XRA-4946)

¹ The wing center section of the B-25H and B-25J has 4° 38′ 23″ dihedral. The outer sections have 0° 21′ 39″. The wing has 2° 29′ 37″ negative twist.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes