Monthly Archives: October 2023

31 October 1964

Captain Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force. (NASA)

31 October 1964: Captain Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force, was a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps. He was one of fourteen pilots who had been selected for the third group of candidates in October 1963.

At 10:01 a.m., Saturday morning, Captain Freeman took off at 10:01 a.m. from Ellington Air Force Base, Houston, Texas. He was on the first of two planned training flights, flying a Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon, 63-8188, Northrop serial number N.5535.  The weather was reported as scattered clouds at 2,000 feet (607 meters), with visibility 7 miles (11.3 kilometers) in haze. He returned to the airfield at 10:38 for touch and goes, but was instructed to exit traffic pattern because of arriving aircraft.

At 10:46, Freeman called Ellington Tower, reporting that he was 5 miles (8 kilometers) southwest, inbound. He received no response and 30 seconds later, reported that he was breaking out to the east. The tower acknowledged this transmission and instructed Freeman to make another approach. At 10:47, Freeman called, “Roger, be about two minutes.” There were no further transmissions.

Ted Freeman’s T-38 struck a Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) in the vicinity of the airport. These birds weigh between 4½ to 6 pounds (2.1–2.7 kilograms). The impact resulted in damage to the left side of the airplane’s forward canopy. Both engines flamed out.

Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens). (Gary Swant/Montana Standard)

Unable to reach runway at Ellington, Freeman turned away from the airfield to avoid buildings, lowered the landing gear and headed for an open field. At approximately 100 feet (30 meters), he fired his ejection seat. The altitude was too low to allow his parachute to open and Freeman was killed when he struck the ground.

The T-38 crashed at 10:48 a.m., 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) south of Ellington Air Force Base, between Highway 3 and the Gulf Freeway.

(The Miami News, Sunday, 1 November 1964, Page 3A, Columns 1–3)
Wings of Lesser Snow Goose and fragments of Freeman’s T-38 canopy. (NASA S64-38117)

Investigators found blood and feathers in the cockpit. Suspecting a bird strike, a search was carried out and on 12 November, the remains of a snow goose along with fragments of the T-38’s canopy were found approximately 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) southeast of Ellington AFB, and about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the crash site.

At 10:58 a.m., Charles Alden Berry, M.D., Chief of the Manned Space Flight Center Medical Operations Office, declared Captain Freeman dead at the scene. The Chief of the Astronaut Office, Deke Slayton, and Dr. Berry went to the Freeman home and made the formal notification to Mrs. Freeman.

Following an autopsy, Captain Freeman’s remains were transported to the Arlington National Cemetery, at Arlington, Virginia, for burial.

The marker for Captain Freeman’s grave, Section 4, Lot 3148, Grid AA-11. (Heroic Relics)
Midshipman Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Naval Academy. (1953 Lucky Bag)

Theodore Cordy Freeman was born 18 February 1930 at Haverford, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth child of John T. Freeman, a carpenter, and Catherine Thomas Wilson Freeman. Ted Freeman attended Lewes High School, in Lewes, Delaware. He graduated in 1948, and was ranked academically third in his class. While still in high school, Freeman qualified for a private pilot’s license. He then studied at the University of Delaware at Newark.

While at the University of Delaware, Freeman received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and entered as a midshipman, United States Navy, 17 June 1949. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree on 5 June 1953. Along with 129 of his classmates, Midshipman Freeman elected to be commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force.

Later that same afternoon, Second Lieutenant Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force, married Miss Faith Dudley Clark of Orange, Connecticut, at the First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis. They would have a daughter, Faith Huntington Freeman, born at Bryan, Texas, 18 July 1954.

Miss Faith Huntington Freeman and Mrs. Theodore Cordy Freeman (née Faith Dudley Clark), circa 1963. (Larry Clark/Valley Times TODAY)

Second Lieutenant Freeman trained as an Air Force pilot at Hondo and Bryan Air Bases in Texas. He was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in February 1955 and awarded his pilot’s wings. Freeman was then sent for fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1955, Lieutenant Freeman was stationed in Okinawa. On his return to the United States, he was assigned to George Air Force Base in California.

1st Lieutenant Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force, with a North American Aviation, Inc., F-100 Super Sabre, circa mid-1950s. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1960, Freeman earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of  Michigan at Ann Arbor. While there, he was promoted to the rank of captain.

Captain Freeman entered the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 3 January 1962 and graduated 17 August 1962. Next he attended the Aerospace Research Pilot School. After completing that course, Freeman remained at the school as an instructor and served as a flight test engineer at Edwards. By this time, Ted Freeman was an experienced pilot with over 3,300 flight hours.

Astronaut Group Three. Ted Freeman is standing, fourth from left. Front Row, left to right: Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., William A. Anders, Charles A. Bassett II, Alan L. Bean, Eugene A. Cernan and Roger B. Chaffee. Back Row, Michael Collins, R. Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, Theodore C. Freeman, Richard F. Gordon Jr., Russell L. Schweickart, David R. Scott, and Clifton C. Williams. (NASA)

In October 1963, Captain Freeman was selected as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Group Three. The Group was announced to the public on 18 October. Ted Freeman arrived at the Manned Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas, on 15 January 1964. He and his family resided on Blanchmont Lane in Nassau Bay, southeast of Houston.

Freeman was not assigned to a specific flight, but Group Three was intended for the Apollo Program. Ten of the fourteen astronauts went to The Moon.

Buzz Aldrin and Ted Freeman, Friday, 30 October 1964. (NASA)
Northrop T-38A-35-NO Talon 60-0582 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. The Northrop T-38A Talon is a pressurized, two-place, twin-engine, jet trainer. Its fuselage is very aerodynamically clean and uses the “area-rule” (“coked”) to improve its supersonic capability. It is 46 feet, 4.5 inches (14.135 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10.5 inches (3.924 meters). The one-piece wing has an area of 170 square feet (15.79 square meters). The leading edge is swept 32º. The airplane’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is approximately 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-55-NO Talon 64-13302 on takeoff at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

The T-38A has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour/1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 1.3 (882 miles per hour/1,419 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It has a rate of climb of 33,600 feet per minute (171 meters per second) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters). Its range is 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers).

Between 1959 and 1972, 1,187 T-38s were built at Northrop’s Hawthorne, California, factory. As of 4 September 2018, 546 T-38s remained in the U.S. Air Force active inventory. The U.S. Navy has 10, and as of 30 October 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration reports 29 T-38s registered to NASA.

Northrop T-38A-35-NO Talon 60-0582 rolls inverted, northeast of Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

31 October 1959

Colonel Georgy Konstantinovich Mosolov
Colonel Georgy Konstantinovich Mosolov

31 October 1959: At Joukovski-Petrovskoe, U.S.S.R., Гео́ргий Константи́нович Мосоло́в (Georgy Konstantinovich Mosolov), chief test pilot for Mikoyan-Gurevich, flew a prototype of the MiG-21 interceptor identified as the E-66, to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15-to-25 Kilometer Straight Course. His speed averaged 2,388 kilometers per hour (1,483.8 miles per hour).¹

The МиГ-21 prototype identified by the symbol E-66  is known at the Mikoyan Design Bureau as the E-6\3. Its first flight took place in December 1958. It is powered by a Tumansky 11F-300 afterburning turbojet engine. (A Wikipedia article suggests that this airplane was rebuilt to different configurations several times, with designations changed accordingly.)

Mosolov’s FAI altitude record of 28 April 1961 was also flown in a MiG-21 prototype called E-66. (FAI Record File # 8661) Photographs and motion picture film of that airplane show it marked with red numerals “31” on the forward fuselage.

This photograph from the web site Wings of Russia is described as showing the Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-6T/1 prototype, "31 Red", flown to a world record altitude, 28 April 1961.
The airplane in this  photograph from the web site “Wings of Russia” is described as showing the Mikoyan-Gurevich E-6T\1 prototype, “31 Red,” flown to a world record altitude by Colonel Mosolov, 28 April 1961.

Colonel Mosolov was interviewed for an article in Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine. He told writer Tony Reichhardt that after completing the speed record course, he was 125 miles (201 kilometers) from base at 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). Low on fuel, he shut down the turbojet engine and began a long glide. He twice unsuccessfully attempted to restart the engine for the landing, but was forced to glide all the way to the runway. After landing, the fuel system was drained. Only 8 liters (2.1 gallons) remained.

Colonel Georgy K. Mosolv, Soviet Air Forces. Hero of the Soviet Union.
Colonel Georgy Konstantinovich Mosolov, Soviet Air Forces. Hero of the Soviet Union.

Georgy Konstantinovich Mosolov was born 3 May 1926 at Ufa, Bashkortostan, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He was educated at the Central Aviation Club, where he graduated in 1943, and then went to the Special Air Forces School. In 1945 he completed the Primary Pilot School and was an instructor at the Chuguev Military Aviation School (Kharkiv, Ukraine). In 1953 Mosolov was sent to the Ministry of Industrial Aviation Test Pilot School at Ramenskoye Airport, southeast of Moscow, and 6 years later, to the Moscow Aviation Institute. He was a test pilot at the Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau from 1953 to 1959, when he became the chief test pilot.

Georgy Mosolov set six world speed and altitude records. He was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, 5 October 1960.

On 11 September 1962, an aircraft that Colonel Mosolov was flying suffered a catastrophic compressor failure at Mach 2.15 and began to break apart. Severely injured, Mosolov ejected from the doomed airplane at Mach 1.78. He survived but his test flying career was over. His recovery took more than a year, and though he was able to fly again, he could not resume his duties as a test pilot.

Mikoyan-Gurevich Ye-152A, one of the MiG-21 prototypes flown by Georgy Mosolov.
This Mikoyan-Gurevich E-152A, NATO code name  “Flipper,” is one of the many MiG-21 prototypes flown by Georgy Mosolov.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9062

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

31 October 1940

A British civilian air observer searches the sky over London for enemy bombers. (National Archives and Records Administration)

31 October 1940. “All Clear.” The Battle of Britain, which began on 10 July 1940, came to an end. It was a decisive victory for the Royal Air Force.

The German Luftwaffe began its bombing campaign against Britain with the intention of forcing the R.A.F. to defend the cities. The German leaders believed that they could destroy the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat. It was necessary to eliminate the British air service in order to proceed with the cross-Channel invasion of the British Isles, Operation Sea Lion.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Royal Air Force, GCB, GCVO, CMG, 1st Baron Dowding. (Imperial War Museum)

Commander of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding, understood that he needed to choose when and where to fight. Using the secret Chain Home system of radar stations, he was able to place his fighter squadrons above the German bomber formations.

Though Germany started the Battle with a 3:2 advantage in numbers of airplanes (and most of them more modern and superior to the majority of aircraft Britain had available for its defense), the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters took a heavy toll on Luftwaffe crews.

At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, the R.A.F. and Royal Naval Air Service had a total of 1,963 airplanes, most of them obsolete. Germany had 2,550 fighters and bombers, most of them very modern. By the end, however, Britain had lost 554 men killed, 422 wounded and 1,547 airplanes destroyed. Germany lost 2,698 killed, 967 captured and 638 missing, with 1,887 airplanes destroyed. Because the Luftwaffe directed most of its attacks against the civilian population, a concept of Total War which Germany had first used when its airships bombed London during World War I, 23,002 men, women and children were killed and 32,138 wounded.

Because of a system of dispersed manufacture, Britain was able to replace the losses in aircraft. Many pilots parachuted to safety and were able to return to combat immediately. Germany’s industrial output could not keep up with its combat losses, and the Luftwaffe could not replace the lost airmen.

Operation Sea Lion was cancelled. Hitler looked to the East.

Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940. (Imperial War Museum)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

30 October 1991

Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 88-26118 of the 12th Rescue Wing—a sister ship of Jolly 110—recovers pararescue jumpers during a training mission outside of San Francisco's Golden Gate. (TSGT Lance Cheung, U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 88-26118 of the 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, recovers pararescue jumpers during a training mission outside of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. (Technical Sergeant Lance Cheung, U.S. Air Force)

30 October 1991: United States Air Force Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, 88-26110, call sign “Jolly 110,” assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, headed out into a hurricane that would become known as “The Perfect Storm.” Aboard were Major C. David Ruvola, pilot; Captain Graham Buschor, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant James R. Mioli, flight engineer; and pararescue jumpers Technical Sergeant John Spillane and Technical Sergeant Arden Rick Smith. Their mission was to attempt a rescue 250 miles (400 kilometers) out to sea.

Due to the severity of the storm—a weather buoy located 264 miles (425 kilometers) south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, reported a wave height of 100.7 feet (30.7 meters) on 30 October, the highest ever recorded in that part of the Atlantic Ocean—the Pave Hawk crew was unable to make the rescue and had to return to their base.

Having already refueled from the Lockheed HC-130 Hercules tanker three times during the mission, and with low fuel, a fourth refueling was needed for the helicopter to make it back to the mainland. Because of the the extreme turbulence and lack of visibility, Jolly 110 could not make contact with the refueling drogue trailing behind the airplane.

Major Ruvola made more than 30 attempts, but finally both drogues had been damaged by the severe conditions. With just twenty minutes of fuel remaining, Jolly 110 would have to ditch in the middle of “The Perfect Storm.”

Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 88-26109, sistership of "Jolly 110", ready for refueling from a C-130. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 88-26109, a sistership of “Jolly 110,” ready for refueling from a Lockheed MC-130P Combat Shadow, 69-5828. This helicopter was destroyed 7 January 2014, when it crashed off the coast of England following multiple bird strikes at 130 knots. The four-man crew was killed. (TSGT Justin D. Pyle, U.S. Air Force)
Technical Sergeant Arden R. Smith, Pararescue Jumper, 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Technical Sergeant Arden R. Smith, Pararescue Jumper, 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

Unable to refuel, Major Ruvola made the decision to ditch the helicopter into the sea while the engines were still running. At 9:30 p.m., the Sikorsky’s number one engine flamed out from fuel starvation. With one engine still operating, Ruvola held the Pave Hawk in a hover over the raging ocean while Buschor, Mioli, Spillane and Smith jumped.

When the number two engine flamed out, Ruvola put the Pave Hawk into a hovering autorotation. Its blades came to a sudden stop when they hit the face of an oncoming wave. Ruvola was about 15 feet (4.6 meters) under water by the time he was able to escape from the sinking helicopter.

The Pave Hawk had gone down 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Montauk Point in 100-knot (185 kilometers per hour) winds and 80-foot (25 meter) waves. After five hours in the water, four airmen were rescued by USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166), a 48-year-old former U.S. Navy fleet tug, operated by the Coast Guard since the end of World War II as a medium endurance cutter.

The search for Rick Smith continued for a week. He was never found.

USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166). (U.S. Coast Guard)
USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166). (U.S. Coast Guard)
USCGC Tamaroa (WHEC-166) pitches and rolls in heavy seas during the rescue of Satori, during "The Perfect Storm". (U.S. Coast Guard)
USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166) pitches and rolls in heavy seas during the rescue of Satori, a 32-foot sail boat, 29 October 1991. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk is medium-sized twin-engine combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) helicopter, developed from the Army UH-60A Black Hawk transport. These helicopters were upgraded with an extendable probe for air-to-air refueling and additional fuel tanks in the cabin. They were given the project name Credible Hawk.

The Credible Hawks were further upgraded to the MH-60G Pave Hawk standard, which incorporated an inertial navigation system, GPS, and Doppler radar for precision navigation. Low-light television, infrared cameras and night vision systems allowed the MH-60G to operate at night and very low altitude. The Pave Hawk is equipped with an Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS), a very sophisticated autopilot which incorporates automatic hover capability.

Some of the MH-60G Pave Hawks received further upgrades for the special operations mission. Helicopters dedicated to CSAR were redesignated HH-60G. A rescue hoist capable of lifting 600 pounds (272 kilograms) from a 200-foot (60.7 meter) hover is incorporated on the upper right side of the fuselage.

Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, 88-26107, sister ship of 88-26110, which was lost in "The Perfect Storm".
Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, 88-26107, sister ship of 88-26110, which was lost in “The Perfect Storm.” (U.S. Air Force)

The HH-60G is operated by a crew of two pilots, a flight engineer and gunner. For rescue operations, pararescue jumpers, the famous “P.J.s,” are added to the crew. The helicopter has an overall length of 64 feet, 11 inches (19.787 meters) with rotors turning. The fuselage is 49 feet, 10 inches (15.189 meters) long and 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters) wide. Overall height (rotors turning) is 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters).

The HH-60G has a four-bladed fully-articulated main rotor with elastomeric bearings. It has a diameter of  53 feet, 8 inches (16.358 meters) and turns counterclockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor turns 258 r.p.m., resulting in a blade tip speed of 728 feet per second (222 meters per second). The blades were built with titanium spars and used two different airfoils and a non-linear twist (resulting in a net -16.4°). The outer 20 inches (0.508 meters) were swept aft 20°.

The four-blade bearingless tail rotor assembly is mounted on the right side of a pylon in a tractor configuration. The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor has a diameter of 11 feet (3.353 meters) and each blade has a chord of 0.81 feet (0.247 meters) and -18° twist. The tail rotor turns 1,214 r.p.m. and has a tip speed of 699 feet per second (213 meters per second). Because the Black Hawk’s engines are behind the transmission, the aircraft’s center of gravity (c.g.) is also aft. The tail rotor plane is inclined 20° to the left to provide approximately 400 pounds of lift (1.78 kilonewtons) to offset the rearward c.g.

Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 88-26106, sister ship of Jolly 110, at William J. Fox Field, Lancaster, California. (Alan Radecki)
Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 88-26106 at William J. Fox Field, Lancaster, California. (Alan Radecki)

Power is supplied by two General Electric T700-GE-701C turboshaft engines which are mounted on top of the fuselage on either side of the transmission and main rotor mast. They have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,662 shaft horsepower, each, at Sea Level on a Standard Day. Maximum Power (10 minute limit) is 1,890 shaft horsepower, and the One Engine Inoperative (OEI) rating is 1,940 shaft horsepower (2½ minute limit.) The -701C is 3 feet, 10 inches (1.684 meters) long), 1 foot, 3.6 inches (0.396 meters) in diameter and weighs 458 pounds (208 kilograms). The helicopter’s main transmission is rated for a maximum 3,400 horsepower.

Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 91-26403, 33rd Rescue Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, 2001. (MSgt Val Gempis, United States Air Force)

The HH-60G has a cruise speed of 184 miles per hour (296 kilometers per hour) and its maximum speed is 224 miles per hour (361 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) and maximum range is 373 miles (600 kilometers). The hover ceiling, in ground effect (HIGE) is approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and out of ground effect (HOGE) is about 6,000 feet (1,830 meters).

Defensive armament consists of two GAU-18A .50-caliber machine guns.

Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk 89-26212. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Marisa Catlin, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, flies a Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, 89-26212, over the Kunar Province, Afghanistan, 9 February 2011. (Captain Erick Saks, U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force initially purchased 112 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, though as of May 2016, 96 remain in service. Most of these are approaching their design airframe lifetime limit of 7,000 flight hours. Several have passed 10,000 hours. The Air Force will replace them with a new HH-60W, a combat rescue helicopter based on the Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk. 21 U.S. Army UH-60Ls were modified to replace HH-60G losses.

Sikorsky HH-60W 14-4483. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

The next CSAR helicopter, the HH-60W, based on the Sikorsky UH-60M, made its first flight 17 May 2019. Low-rate production of 10 new Combat Rescue Helicopters was authorized 24 September 2019. The Air Force plans to purchase 113 “Whiskeys.”

On 5 November 2020, the first two HH-60Ws were delivered to Moody AFB, near Valdosta, Georgia.

A Sikorsky HH-60W, 14-1482, at the Sikorsky Development Flight Test Center, Jupiter, Florida, 7 October 2019. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

30 October 1961

Tupolev Tu 95 carrying Tsar Bomba
Tupolev Tu-95V No. 5800302 carrying the RDS-220 bomb.

30 October 1961: At 9:30 a.m., specially modified Tupolev Tu-95V “Bear A” bomber, No. 5800302, under the command of Major Andrey Ergorovich Durnovtsev of the 409th Heavy Bomber Air Regiment, departed Olenegorsk Air Base, 92 kilometers (57 miles) south of Murmansk, at 9:30 a.m. The bomber carried a nine-man crew, including navigator Major Ivan Nikoforovich Mite.

The Tu-95 was accompanied by a Tupolev Tu-16 instrumentation ship (No. 3709), under the command of Colonel Vladimir Fedorovich Martynenko. Some sources say that the two bombers were escorted by a flight of fully-armed fighters.

Major Durnovtsev’s mission was to carry out the Soviet Union’s 130th nuclear weapons test. The Tu-95 carried a single RDS-220, a three-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb. It was 8 meters (26.25 feet) long, with a diameter of 2.1 meters (6.89 feet), and weighed approximately 27,000 kilograms (59,525 pounds). The bomb was variously known as “Big Ivan” or “Tsar Bomba” (King of Bombs).

Fully assembled RDS-220 three-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, with retarding parachute in place, at Arzamas-16 .

The Tu-95 dropped the RDS-220 from an altitude of 10,500 meters (34,449 feet) over the D-II test range, 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the Mityushikha Strait on Novaya Zemlya. The bomb was retarded by parachute to allow the Bear time to escape the blast effects. After falling for 3 minutes, 8 seconds, at 11:33 a.m., the bomb detonated 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above the surface of Novaya Zemlya. A bright flash of light lasted for 30 seconds and finally faded away after 70 seconds.

45 seconds after detonation, the nuclear cloud reached a height of 30 kilometers (19 miles), then spread outward, reaching a maximum diameter of 95 kilometers (59 miles).

Major Durnovtsev's Tupolev Tu-95N Bear A, carrying the RDS-220 bomb to the target. A Tu-16 instrumentation aircraft is just behind, on the bomber's left quarter.
Major Durnovtsev’s Tupolev Tu-95V “Bear A,” carrying the RDS-220 bomb to the target. A Tu-16 instrumentation aircraft is just behind, on the bomber’s left quarter.
The RDS-220 bomb just after drop. The retarding parachute is beginning to deploy.
“Big Ivan” with first stage parachute deployed.

Major Durnovtsev’s Tu-95 was approximately 39 kilometers (24 miles) away for “ground zero” at the time of the explosion. As it continued to fly away from the blast, the shock waves finally caught up to bomber at a distance of 115 kilometers (71 miles), 8 minutes, 20 seconds after they had released the bomb.

At the same time, a secret United States Air Force Boeing JKC-135A Stratotanker instrumentation aircraft, Speed Light Bravo, 55-3127, had flown closer to ground zero to gather data about the air burst. It was so close that its special anti-radiation paint was scorched. (55-3127 was later converted to the NKC-135A airborne laboratory configuration to support the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963. It was returned to tanker configuration in the 1980s. Later, 55-3127 served as a test bed aircraft for the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson  It was retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1992.)

Speed Light Bravo, Boeing JKC-135A Stratotanker 55-3127.

After the nuclear explosion data was analyzed by the Foreign Weapons Evaluation Panel (the “Bethe Panel”) the RDS-220 yield was estimated at 57 megatons. This was the largest nuclear weapon detonation in history. It was also the “cleanest,” with 97% of the energy yield produced by fusion. Relative to the size of the explosion, very little fallout was produced.

Tsar Bomba fireball over Novaya Zemlya, 11:32 a.m., 30 October 1961. The fireball has reached a diameter of 5 miles (8 kilometers). Shock waves reflecting off of the ground caused the slight flattening of the bottom of the fireball.

All buildings in the town of Severny, 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) from Ground Zero, were destroyed. Wooden buildings as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) were destroyed or heavily damaged.

A visible shock wave in the air was seen at a distance of 700 kilometers (435 miles). The shock wave from the explosion traveled around the world three times.

The mushroom cloud of Tsar Bomba climbs into the stratosphere.

Following the test, Major Durnovtsev was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and named Hero of the Soviet Union.

The crater created by the Tsar Bomba test, 30 October 1961.

Bear No. 5800302 was ordered in 1955 and completed in 1956. The Tupolev Tu-95 is a long range strategic bomber. It is 151 feet, 6 inches (46.2 meters) long with a wingspan of 164 feet, 5 inches (50.10 meters). The wings are swept at a 35° angle. The bomber is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12M turboprop engines, producing 14,800 shaft horsepower, each, and turning 8-bladed counter-rotating propellers. It weighs 90,000 kilograms (198,416 pounds) empty, with a maximum takeoff weight of 188,000 kilograms (414,469 pounds). The Bear has a maximum speed of 920 kilometers per hour (572 miles per hour) and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers (9,321 miles). (The Bear A is capable of inflight refueling.) Service ceiling is 13,716 meters (45,000 feet).

Approximately 72 of these aircraft remain in service with the Russian Federation. The current variant is the Tupolev Tu-95MS “Bear H.” Recently, individual bombers have been taken out of service to be modernized by the Beriev Aircraft Company at Taganrog, Russia. The modernized Bear is designated Tu-95MSM. It is expected that 20 Tu-95s will be upgraded.

A current production Tupolev Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
A current production Tupolev Tu-95MS Bear H strategic bomber. (Royal Air Force)

Андрей Егорович Дурновцев (Andrey Ergorovich Durnovtsev) was born 14 January 1923 at Verkhney, a village in the Krasnoyarsk Krai of Siberia. He graduated from high school in 1940.

Durnovtsev was inducted into the Red Army 19 July 1942 and sent to the Irkutsk Military School of Aviation Mechanics, graduating in November 1943. He was promoted to sergeant. Sergeant Durnovtsev request assignment for pilot training, and was sent to the 8th Military Aviation School for initial flight training. In August 1945, he was sent to complete training in long-range bombers at the Engels Military Aviation Pilot School (VAUL). He graduated in 1948.

Lieutenant Durnovtsev next attended the Ryazan Higher Officers’ School, studying the combat application of long-ranger bombers. He was assigned as a pilot with the 330th Bomber Aviation Regiment. Durnovtsev served as an aircraft commander, detachment commnder, then deputy squadron commander.

Lieutenant Colonel Durnovtsev was named Hero of the Soviet Union by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, 7 March 1962, “for courage and bravery shown in the development of new military equipment.”

Lieutenant Colonel Drnovtsev retired in 1965. During his military career, he had been awarded the Gold Star Medal, the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Star, and the Medal for Military Merit.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrey Ergorovich Durnovtsev, Hero of the Soviet Union, died in Kiev, 24 October 1976, at the age of 53 years.

Майор Андрей Дурновцев

A recently declassified 40-minute video of the test can be viewed on YouTube at:

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes