Monthly Archives: February 2024

29 February 1964

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6934, the first of three prototype Mach 3+ interceptors. (U.S. Air Force)

29 February 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly revealed the existence of the Top Secret Lockheed YF-12A, a Mach 3+ interceptor designed and built by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s “Skunk Works.” President Johnson referred to the interceptor as the “A-11.”

The following day, the Los Angeles Times ran two lengthy articles on its front page:

Johnson Discloses New Jet Secretly Developed by U.S.

Manned Aircraft Flies at 3 Times Speed of Sound; Military Potential Great


Times National Science Correspondent

     WASHINGTON—President Johnson disclosed Saturday the secret five-year development of an experimental jet aircraft whose performance “far exceeds that of any other aircraft in the world today.”

     Several of the craft, designated A-11, have been “tested in sustained flight” at speeds greater than 2,000 m.p.h. and at heights over 70,000 ft., he said.

     The craft has been made possible “by major advances in aircraft technology of great significance to both military and commercial application,” Mr. Johnson told a press conference.

     Tests are under way at Edwards AFB, Cal., to determine the capability of the airplanes as long-range interceptors of enemy bombers. The plane was developed by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. of Burbank as a special project.

     “Appropriate members of the Senate and the House have been kept fully informed on the program since its day of inception” in 1959, Mr. Johnson said.

     Costs of the A-11 were not revealed, and the President said detailed performance information on the aircraft “will remain strictly classified.” Personnel working on the project have been told to keep quiet, he added.

     Why the project has been wrapped in secrecy was not immediately clear. All that a White House spokesman would say, in answer to a question, was the A-11 represents “a new plateau in aircraft potential”—of such great potential that the military wanted to “explore it in secrecy.”

     The A-11’s development also will aid in building a supersonic transport for commercial airlines, Mr. Johnson said. Like A-11, the transport would fly about Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.

     One of the most important technological achievements of the A-11 project, the President said, has been the mastery of the problem of using titanium metal on aircraft.

Great Heats

     The aluminum used in today’s airplanes wears out in sustained flight at speeds greater than about Mach 2.2. This is due to the great heats generated by friction as air rushes over the surfaces of the aircraft, particularly the leading edges of the wings.

     “The existence of this (A-11) program is being disclosed today to permit the orderly exploitation of this advanced technology in our military and commercial planes,” Mr. Johnson said.

     High performance aircraft like the controversial TFX multi-service airplane and the Navy’s Phantom fighter will have speeds up to about Mach 2.5—about 1,600 m.p.h. These high speeds are possible for relatively short duration, however.

     Funds for the A-11 were presumably buried in other appropriations, conceivably in part in Air Force appropriations for the B-70.

     Dimensions of the A-11 were not revealed although an in-flight picture of the side view of the plane was distributed. It suggests the A-11 is more than 100 ft. long, based on the size of the pilot’s head in the cockpit.

     The front half of the A-11 looks very similar to that of the X-15 rocket plane which has flown at speeds over 4,000 m.p.h. The characteristic tail surfaces of the X-15, extending both above and below the fuselage, also were obvious.

     The A-11’s engine, a J-58 from Pratt & Whitney, occupies the rear third of the vehicle.

     The experimental fire control and air-to-air missile system was developed by the Hughes Aircraft Co. The “A” in the aircraft’s designation suggests an “attack” function.

Number of Questions

     Announcement of the project raises a number of questions, some of which Presidential Press Secretary Pierre Salinger answered at a subsequent briefing.

     For example, why did the Pentagon object to the Boeing Aircraft Co.’s proposal to use titanium in the TFX if the A-11 had proved that the metal can be used?

     “The technical knowledge obtained in the A-11 program made it possible to evaluate Boeing’s proposal,” Mr. Salinger said, and the Pentagon concluded that the titanium in the TFX represented a “High development risk.”

Technical Justification

     This seemed to be further technical justification for the choice of General Dynamics over Boeing for the TFX, a choice which raised a political furor in Congress.

The economic meaning of the A-11 was another question put to Mr. Salinger. While the project makes a major contribution to Mach 3 flight, he replied, “It cannot be converted into a transport. A major independent development program is still necessary to produce a supersonic transport.”

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXXIII, Sunday, 1 March 1964, Page 1, Columns 7–8, and Page 6, Columns 3–4

The second Times article identifies the designer as Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson:



Times Aerospace Editor

     President Johnson’s announcement of a new triple-sonic interceptor Saturday disclosed on of the best kept secrets in military annals, a security feat comparable in many ways to that achieved with the atomic bomb.

     Apparently even the House Armed Services Committee didn’t know of the project for it recommended $40 million for an improved manned interceptor, a fund approved by the full House just 10 days ago.

     The Senate, however, must have had more information, for it made no provision for the new interceptor studies in approving aircraft funding last Thursday, including $52 million for an advanced bomber.

     The secret of Lockheed’s new A-11 interceptor was kept far better than that of the same company’s U-2 reconnaissance plane that was eventually shot down on a sky-spy flight over Russia.

     Dozens of reports on the mysterious U-2 from various sections of the world had filtered into the news before the international incident over Russia.

     The Times learned the new A-11 was spurred by the same aircraft genius who headed development of the U-2 and Lockheed’s famed F-104 Starfighter interceptor, Clarence (Kelly) Johnson, vice president for advanced development projects.

     Johnson and his crew work in a carefully-guarded area at the Lockheed Burbank factory known as the “Skunk Works.”

     Pierre Salinger, White House press officer, told newsmen the A-11 was funded and managed by the Air Force in the normal manner for a classified project.

     Inasmuch as the new plane was started in 1959, this gave rise to speculation as to why a similar plane, the F-108, was canceled in that year.

     The F-108 was a North American Aviation project in the same time era that the company’s triple-sonic B-70 bomber was started.

     Like the A-11, it was to have had a speed of Mach 3 (about 2,000 m.p.h.) with a range of about 2,000 miles, plus combat time.

     Reason for canceling the F-108 was largely budgetary, according to reports in 1959, with the Defense Department declaring that of the two North American projects, the B-70 bomber was a more urgent program than the F-108.

     Some estimates of the A-11 can be drawn from the F-108. The North American plane was to have been powered by two engines, and one considered was the Pratt & Whitney J-58, the engine that will power the A-11.

     This indicates the new Lockheed interceptor will have two engines also. The J-58 has never been used, either militarily or commercially, as far as The Times could determine. It has a thrust of about 30,000 lb.

     Another indication from the F-108 relates to the armament of the A-11. The canceled North American interceptor was to have been armed with Hughes GAR-9 nuclear-tipped rockets.

     The A-11 has a Hughes fire control system and its armament could well be the same guided, air-to-air rocket or an advancement of it.

     The new interceptor will answer fears expressed by many military experts that Russia’s bomber fleet poses a greater threat to North America than her intercontinental missiles.

     The A-11 will have the speed to intercept high speed bombers and shoot them down at ranges that would precluded their launching air-to-ground missiles against U.S. targets.

     In appearance, the A-11 looks something like the X-15 rocket plane, a long, slim craft with sharp pointed nose section similar to that of the F-104 Starfighter.

     It has both ventral and dorsal fins and appears to be about 90 ft. long over-all.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXXIII, Sunday, 1 March 1964, Page 1, Columns 7–8 and Page 6, Column 5–6

The YF-12A first flew 7 August 1963.

Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson, Director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“the Skunk Works”) with the first YF-12A interceptor, 60-6934. (Lockheed Martin)

Intended as a replacement for Convair’s F-106 Delta Dart, three pre-production YF-12As were built for testing. On 1 May 1965, a YF-12A set a speed record of 2,070.103 miles per hour (3,331.507 kilometers per hour) and reached an altitude of 80,259 ft (24,463 meters).

The reason for President Johnson’s announcement of the existence of the YF-12A prototypes was to conceal the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of Lockheed A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance aircraft based at Groom Lake, Nevada. Any sightings of these aircraft could be attributed to test flights of the YF-12As based at Edwards Air Force Base, 160 miles (258 kilometers) to the southwest.

Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Lockheed A-12 Oxcarts and YF-12As at Groom Lake, Nevada. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The YF-12A interceptor is very similar to its A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird stablemates. It is a large twin-engine delta wing aircraft, flown by a pilot and weapons system operator. Because of the altitudes that the F-12 operates, the crew wears S901F full-pressure suits produced by the David Clark Company. The A-12 is 101.6 feet (30.97 meters) long with a wingspan of 55.62 feet (16.953 meters) and overall height of 18.45 feet (5.624 meters). It has a zero fuel weight of 54,600 pounds (24,766 kilograms) and a maximum ramp weight of 124,600 pounds (56,518 kilograms). ¹

Lockheed YF-12A three-view illustration. (NASA)

The YF-12A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 (JT11D-20A) engines. These are single rotor bleed-bypass turbojets with a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. They have a static thrust rating of 31,500 pounds (140.118 kilonewtons), each, at Sea Level with afterburning. The J58s use a unique JP-7 fuel.

Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)
Pratt & Whitney J58 test. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The YF-12A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.35 (2,232 miles per hour/3,342 kilometers per hour) at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). The A-12 has a normal operating cruise speed of Mach 3.1. Its maximum operating altitude is 85,000 feet (25,908 meters) and it has a range of 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers). Unlike most fighters, the A-12 has a maximum load factor of 2.5 gs. Its maximum bank angle when above Mach 2.5 is 30°.

The United States Air Force ordered 93 production F-12B aircraft, which would have been armed with three Hughes AIM-47A Falcon air-to-air missiles in enclosed bays in the bottom of the fuselage. However, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds for the purchase for three consecutive years and eventually the project was cancelled.

AIM-47A missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)
Hughes AIM-47A guided missile ready for loading into the weapons bay of a Lockheed YF-12A. (U.S. Air Force)

The first YF-12A, 60-6934, seen in the top photograph, was extensively damaged by a brake system fire on landing at Edwards AFB, 14 August 1966. It was salvaged and rebuilt as SR-71C 61-7981. The third YF-12A, shown in the photograph below, was lost due to an inflight fire 24 June 1971. The crew safely ejected.

The only existing YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, holder of three World Absolute Speed Records and the World Absolute Altitude Record, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ The Lockheed SR-71A has a length of 107.4 feet (32.74 meters). Wingspan and height are the same. Its zero fuel weight varied from 56,500–60,000+ pounds (25,628–27,216+ kilograms) and the gross weight had a range of approximately 135,000–140,000+ pounds (61,235–63,503+ kilograms).

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

29 February 1960

1977 Beechcraft Baron B-55 N17655

29 February 1960: Beech Aircraft Corporation test pilot S. Little made the first flight of the Beechcraft 95-55 Baron, serial number TC-1.

One of the most popular light twin airplanes, the original production variant was flown by a single pilot and could carry 3 to 4 passengers. The Baron 55 was 26 feet, 8 inches (8.128 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). It had a maximum takeoff weight of 4,880 pounds (2,214 kilograms).

Beechcraft Baron 95-55

The airplane was powered by two air-cooled, fuel-injected, 471.24-cubic-inch-displacement (7.72 liter) Continental IO-470-L horizontally-opposed six cylinder engines rated at 260 horsepower at 2,625 r.p.m., each, driving two-bladed constant-speed Hartzell or McCauley propellers with a diameter of 6 feet, 6 inches (1.981 meters).

Beechcraft Baron
1967 Beechcraft Baron 95-B55, N6272V. (T-42A Cochise)

Its cruise speed  was 185 knots (213 miles per hour/343 kilometers per hour), and it had a service ceiling of 19,200 feet (5,852 meters). The maximum range was 1,225 miles (1,971 kilometers).

TC-1, the prototype Beechcraft Baron, N9695R, is on display at the Bonanza Baron Museum, Tullahoma, Tennessee. (The Staggerwing Museum Foundation)
TC-1, the prototype Beechcraft Baron, N9695R, is on display at the Bonanza Baron Museum, Tullahoma, Tennessee. (The Staggerwing Museum Foundation)

TC-1 was retained by the Beech Aircraft Corporation and used for testing until it was sold in 1968.

Registered N9695R, the prototype Baron is owned by Frank Kimmel III of Greenwood, Mississippi. It is on loan the Staggerwing Museum Foundation’s Bonanza Baron Museum, Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Sixty-five Model 95-B55 Barons were purchased by the U.S. Army for use as instrument training  aircraft. The military designation was T-42A Cochise.

More than 6,700 Barons have been built since 1961. 2,456 of these were Model 95-55s. The Textron Aviation Beechcraft G58 Baron is still in production.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

28 February 1966

The Flight Crew of Gemini IX, left to right, Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy, and Captain Charles A. Bassett II, U.S. Air Force.

28 February 1966: The primary and back up flight crews of Gemini IX flew from Houston to St. Louis where they planned to visit the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where the spacecraft was being built. They flew aboard two Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainers which NASA used for proficiency training.

The lead aircraft, NASA 901, was flown by Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy Reserve. See was designated as the Command Pilot for Gemini IX. Captain Charles Arthur (“Charlie”) Bassett II, U.S. Air Force, Pilot, Gemini IX, was in the rear cockpit. NASA 901 was a Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181 (Northrop serial number N.5528).

Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181

The second T-38, NASA 907, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Eugene A. Cernan, U.S. Navy.

Weather at Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport was poor with low clouds and limited visibility in rain and snow. Lambert Field weather at 8:25 a.m. was: sky partially obscured, measured ceiling 800 feet (244 meters) broken, 1,500 feet (457 meters) overcast, visibility 1½ miles (2.4 kilometers) in light rain, light snow, and fog.

Elliot See flew an ILS instrument approach and broke out of the clouds properly aligned with the runaway, but was too high to make a landing. He requested a visual, circling approach. The T-38 entered a 360° turn to the southeast at approximately 500 feet (152 meters). During the circling approach, Stafford, in NASA 907, lost sight of See’s T-38 and executed a missed approach. As his airplane came around to line up for the runway, See radioed that he had the runway in sight, but, at 8:58 a.m., NASA 901 struck the top of McDonnell’s Building 101 and crashed.

The wreck immediately caught fire and both See and Bassett were killed. Sixteen people on the ground were injured.

The accident investigation board found that at approximately 3 seconds before the crash, Elliot See had apparently tried to climb away. The T-38’s angle of bank was significantly reduced and afterburner was selected.

Wreckage of NASA 901. (Scott Dine/St. Louis Post Dispatch)
Burned out wreckage of NASA 901 at Lambert Field, 28 February 1966. (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch)

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 32°. 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-35-NO Talon 60-0582 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (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-38 A Talon (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

28 February 1959

Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est SE 3160 Alouette prototype, F-ZWVQ. (Jean Delmas)

28 February 1959: Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est (SNCASE) test pilot Jean Ernest Boulet took the first prototype SE 3160 Alouette III, F-ZWVQ, for its first flight at Marignane, France.

After extensive testing, the helicopter was put into production as the Sud-Aviation SA 316A Alouette III. In 1968, the helicopter was re-engined and designated SA 316B. In 1970, the Alouette III was again re-engined and designated the Aérospatiale SA 319B

Sud-Est SE 3160 prototype F-ZWVQ, s/n 001. (Airbus)

This helicopter is extremely effective at high altitudes and is widely used in the Alps, the Canadian Rockies and the Himalayas. The SA 319B is a development of the previous SA 316B. It is a single-engine, seven-place, light helicopter, operated by one or two pilots.

The helicopter’s fuselage is 10.175 meters (33 feet, 4.6 inches) long, with a main rotor diameter of 11.020 meters (36 feet, 1.9 inches). It has a height of 3.000 meters (9 feet, 10.1 inches).

Sud-Est SE 3160 prototype F-ZWVQ, s/n 001. (Pierre Gillard Collection)

The three-bladed articulated main rotor follows the French practice of turning clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s left side.) Main rotor speed is 353.2 r.p.m. at 100% NR. In autorotation, it may operate in a range from 270 to 420 r.p.m. A three-bladed tail rotor is mounted on the right side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the tail boom.) The tail rotor has a diameter of 1.912 meters (6 feet, 3.228 inches). The tail rotor speed is 2,001 r.p.m.

SA 319B Alouette III three-view illustration with dimensions. (Aerospatiele)

The SA 316A was powered by a Turboméca Artouse IIIB, single shaft gas turbine engine. Single stage, axial-flow, single-stage centriugal flow compressor, annualr combustor and three stage turbine. ,  870 h.p. for takeoff 33,500 r.p.m. 182 kg.

The SA 319B is powered by a Turboméca Astazou XIV turboshaft engine, capable of producing 870 shaft horsepower, but derated to 660 shaft horsepower. This provides a power rating of 90 horsepower more than the earlier helicopter’s Artouste IIIB engine. The engine turns 33,500 r.p.m at 100% N1.

At its maximum gross weight the SA 316B Allouette III has a cruising speed of 185 kilometers per hour (100 knots, or 115 miles per hour), and a maximum speed (VNE) of 210 kilometers per hour (113 knots, 130 miles per hour), both at Sea Level. Its range is 470 kilometers (254 nautical miles, 292 statute miles), and the service ceiling is 6,000 meters (19,685 feet).

Jean Boulet with the number 2 aircraft, F-ZWVR, s/n 002 in India, October 1960. (Ministère des Armées)

As with all helicopters, the Alouette III’s Hover Ceiling varies with its weight. At maximum gross weight, the Hover Ceiling in Ground Effect (HIGE) is 1,650 meters (5,413 feet), and out of Ground Effect (HOGE), just 100 meters (328 feet), MSL. At a reduced gross weight of 1,750 kilograms (3,858 pounds), HIGE increases to 5,550 meters (18,045 feet), and HOGE, 1,650 meters (5,413 feet). With the same weights, the helicopter’s rate of climb varies from 4.3 meters per second to 8.7 meters per second (846–1,713 feet per minute).

Sud-Est SE 3160 prototype F-ZWVQ, s/n 001, Mount Blanc 30 June 1960. (Turbomeca)
Jean Ernest Boulet

Jean Ernest Boulet was born 16 November 1920, in Brunoy, southeast of Paris, France. He was the son of Charles-Aimé Boulet, an electrical engineer, and Marie-Renée Berruel Boulet.

He graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in 1940 and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’aéronautique In 1942. (One of his classmates was André Edouard Turcat, who would also become one of France’s greatest test pilots.)

Following his graduation, Boulet joined the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force)and was commissioned a sous-lieutenant. He took his first flight lesson in October. After the surrender of France in the Nazi invaders, Boulet’s military career slowed. He applied to l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique in Toulouse for post-graduate aeronautical engineering. He completed a master’s degree in 1943.

During this time, Boulet joined two brothers with La Resistance savoyarde, fighting against the German invaders as well as French collaborators.

In 1943, Jean Boulet married Mlle. Josette Rouquet. They had two sons, Jean-Pierre and Olivier.

In February 1945, Sous-lieutenant Boulet was sent to the United States for training as a pilot. After basic and advanced flight training, Bouelt began training as a fighter pilot, completing the course in a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. He was then sent back to France along with the other successful students.

On 1 February 1947 Jen Boulet joined Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est (SNCASE) as an engineer and test pilot. He returned to the United States to transition to helicopters. Initially, Boulet and another SNCASE pilot were sent to Helicopter Air Transport at Camden Central Airport,  Camden, New Jersey, for transition training in the Sikorsky S-51. An over-enthusiastic instructor attempted to demonstrate the Sikorsky to Boulet, but lost control and crashed. Fortunately, neither pilot was injured. Boulet decided to go to Bell Aircraft at Niagara Falls, New York, where he trained on the Bell Model 47. He was awarded a helicopter pilot certificate by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 23 February 1948.

Test pilot Jean Boulet (center), with Mmme. Boulet and the world-record-setting Alouette II. (HELIMAT)
Officier de l’Legion de Honneur

As a test pilot Boulet made the first flight in every helicopter produced by SNCASE, which would become Sud-Aviation and later, Aérospatiale (then, Eurocopter, and now, Airbus Helicopters).

While flying a SE 530 Mistral fighter, 23 January 1953, Boulet entered an unrecoverable spin and became the first French pilot to escape from an aircraft by ejection seat during an actual emergency. He was awarded the Médaille de l’Aéronautique.

Jean Boulet was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur in 1956, and in 1973, promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur.

Jean Boulet had more than 9,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours in helicopters. He set 24 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for speed, distance and altitude. Four of these are current.

Jean Boulet wrote L’Histoire de l’Helicoptere: Racontée par ses Pionniers 1907–1956, published in 1982 by Éditions France-Empire, 13, Rue Le Sueuer, 75116 Paris.

Jean Ernest Boulet died at Aix-en-Provence, in southern France, 15 February 2011, at the age of 90 years.

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

27–28 February 1947

North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, “Betty Jo,” takes off from Hickam Field, 27 February 1947. (Hawaii Aviation)

27–28 February 1947: At 3:05 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, (01:05 G.M.T.), Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, Lieutenant John M. Ard, took off from Hickam Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, enroute non-stop to LaGuardia Airport, New York City, New York.

Thacker and Ard were assigned to the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field, Daytion, Ohio. Their airplane was a North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168 (North American serial number 123-43754). The fighter had been named Betty Jo, in honor of Thacker’s wife. (The painter mistakenly applied the name as Betty Joe.)

North American Aviation P-82B-1 NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo, over Los Angeles, California. (U.S. Air Force)

Betty Jo had been modified by North American Aviation at El Segundo, California, in preparation for its long-distance flight. The fighter’s armor was removed, as were the six Colt MG 53-2 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns. Additional internal fuel capacity was added, and the P-82 was equipped with four large external fuel tanks. The Twin Mustang’s fuel capacity was 2,215 gallons (8,385 liters).

Planned route of Betty Jo. (NASM)

Thacker and Ard climbed to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) after takeoff. As the fuel was burned off, the P-82 was able to climb higher. Most of the flight was made between 19,000 and 22,000 feet (5,791–6,706 meters).

After burning off the fuel in the four external tanks, Thacker tried to jettison them, but a mechanical problem prevented three tanks from being released. This resulted in adverse yaw and excessive drag for the overland portion of the flight. Colonel Thacker used the weight of his leg on the control stick to counteract the yaw.

Betty Jo, flying at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), crossed the California coast near Point Arena at 12:34 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (08:34 G.M.T.), 6 hours, 59 minutes after takeoff. The P-82 passed north of Reno, Nevada, at 1:00 a.m. EST (09:00 G.M.T.), and Humboldt, Nevada, 23 minutes later.

North American Aviation P-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo (U.S. Air Force)

Thacker and Ard next flew over Ogden, Utah, at 3:12 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (10:12 G.M.T.), and Laramie, Wyoming, at 4:05 MST (10:05 G.M.T.). They reported over Chicago at 6:49 a.m., Central Standard Time (12:49 G.M.T.), and Detroit at 8:38 a.m., CST (14:38 G.M.T.).

Betty Jo crossed overhead at LaGuardia Airport at 11:06 a.m., Eastern time (16:06 G.M.T.) and landed there at 11:08:34 a.m. (16:08:34 G.M.T.) The elapsed time from take off at Hickam Field to overhead LaGuardia was 14 hours, 31 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 14 hours, 33 minutes, 34 seconds.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, left, and First Lieutenant John M. Ard, standing on the wing of the North American P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168, Betty Jo. (Unattributed)

On arrival at LaGuardia, only 60 gallons (227 liters) of fuel remained on board the Twin Mustang.

The Great Circle distance between Hickam and LaGuardia is s 4,324.32 nautical miles (4,976.34 statute miles/8,008.65 kilometers). Betty Jo averaged 297.89 knots (342.81 miles per hour/551.69 kilometers per hour) over the course.

North American Aviation XP-82 Twin Mustang prototype with 8-gun pod, rockets and bombs. (North American Aviation, Inc./Boeing Images)

Betty Jo is the ninth production North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang. The airplane was designed toward the end of World War II as a very long range escort fighter operated by two pilots. It was built using two lengthened P-51H Mustang fuselages and standard left and right wings. A center wing section and horizontal stabilizer joined the two fuselages.

The P-82B was 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) long, with a wingspan of 51 feet, 3 inches  (15.621 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 10 inches ( meters) in three-point position. The airplane’s empty weight is 13,405 pounds (6,080 kilograms), and maximum gross weight, 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms).

The P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang was powered by liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-19 and -21 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines. They drove counter rotating Aeroproducts four-bladed propellers. through a 0.479:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-19 was rated at 1,700 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 19¾ inches of boost for takeoff, with military power rating of 2,200 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,875 horsepower at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). At 1,770 pounds (803 kilograms), the V-1650-19 was the heaviest Packard Merlin variant produced.

The P-82B had a maximum speed of 482 miles per hour (776 kilometers per hour) at 25,100 feet (7,650 meters) and its service ceiling was 41,600 feet (12,680 meters). Its range was 1,390 miles (2,237 kilometers).

The P-82B was armed with six air-cooled Colt Automatic Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50,  MG 53-2, located in the center wing section, with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun. A pod containing eight additional .50-caliber machine guns could be installed under the center wing section. The Twin Mustang could also carry up to four 1,000 pound bombs, two 2,000 pound bombs, or twenty-five 5-inch rockets on underwing hard points.

After the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1947, many aircraft designations were changed. The P-82B was redesignated as F-82B.

North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168 at the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio, 1952. (NASA)

In September 1950, F-82B 44-65168 was transferred to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for use in testing ram jet engines at the Cleveland Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. It was damaged in June 1957. The airplane was retired and turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Robert E. Thacker was born 21 February 1918 in California. He was the second of four children of Percie C. Thacker and Margaret Eadie Thacker.

in 1939, Thacker was appointed an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, and trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 21 June 1940.

On 3 March 1941, 2nd Lieutenant Thacker married Miss Betty Jo Smoot at Yuma, Arizona. They would be married for 71 years until she died in 1992.

On 1 November 1941, Thacker was appointed a first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2443 over the Hawaiian Islands, circa 1941. This is the same type airplane as flown by Lt. Thacker, 6–7 December 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

In December 1941, Lieutenant Thacker was one of a group of pilots assigned to ferry new Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers from the United States to the Philippine Islands, with a stop at Hickam Field. The bombers took off from Hamilton Field in Marin County, California. on 6 December. Thacker’s airplane was B-17E 41-2432, named The Last Straw. The inbound Flying Fortresses arrived over Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2432, The Last Straw, undergoing maintenance in the South West Pacific Area, circa 1943. (David Vincent Collection/HistoryNet)

On 31 March 1942, Lieutenant Thacker was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. He flew over New Guinea during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 4–8 May 1942. On 15 February 1943, he was promoted to major, A.U.S. (A.C.).

Assigned as operations officer of the 384th Bombardment Group at Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England, Thacker was promoted to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S., 8 July 1944. He is credited with 28 combat missions flown over Europe, frequently as a group or wing leader.

Following World War II, Lt. Colonel Thacker reverted to his permanent rank, 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with his date of rank 7 December 1944. He retained the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel.

Lieutenant Colone Robert E. Thancker and 1st Lieutenant John M. Ard at La Guardia Field, new York, 28 February 1947. (New York Times)

Thacker was transferred to the U.S. Air Force after its establishment, 18 September 1947. He retained his permanent rank.

Colonel Thacker also flew in combat during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Thacker was a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, and tested many aircraft at Muroc Army Air Field (Edwards Air Force Base), beginning with the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.

Colonel Thacker retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1970.

Robert E. Thacker with his North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang, Betty Jo, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Thacker celebrated his 100th Birthday at his home in San Clemente, California, 21 February 2018. He passed away 25 November 2020 at the age of 102 years.

“Retired Air Force Col. Robert Thacker address his friends after they sang Happy Birthday to him during his 100th birthday party in San Clemente on Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)”

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes