Daily Archives: March 25, 2024

25 March 1968

General Dynamics F-111As of 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

25 March 1968: A U.S. Air Force General Dynamics F-111A, 66-0018, flown by Colonel Ivan H. (“Ike”) Dethman and Captain Richard M. Matteis, completed the type’s first combat mission when it attacked a munitions dump on Tiger Island (Cồn Cỏ), off the coast of North Vietnam. The precision strike mission was flown at night with heavily overcast skies. The fighter bomber carried twelve 750 pound (340 kilogram) M117 bombs on hard points under its wings, and approached the target from the west at 500 knots (575 miles per hour/926 kilometers per hour) at just 500 feet (152 meters) above the ground.

Colonel Dethman later told news reporters that, “the computers clicked over, crosshairs on target, bombs away.” The weather prevented a post-strike damage assessment, but the mission was considered successful.

Three additional single-aircraft combat missions were flown by F-111As that night.

General Dynamics F-111A 66-0018 at Takhli RTAFB, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

66-0018 was one of six “Combat Lancer” F-111As assigned to Detachment 1, 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron, under the command of Colonel Dethman, which had deployed to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand from Nellis AFB in the United States just a few days earlier. (Colonel Dethman had previously commanded “Harvest Reaper,” an Air Force project to train pilots to fly the F-111A.)

Two F-111As were lost in the next five days. The aircraft and their crews have never been found. A third went down the following month, but its crew were able to use the escape module and were rescued. Their aircraft had suddenly pitched up and rolled over out of control. It was later determined that a hydraulic actuator valve in the stabilator control system had failed.

General Dynamics F-111A at Takhli RTAFB, 1968. (U.S. Air Force 090810-F-1234O-003)

The General Dynamics F-111A is a large twin-engine strike fighter with variable-sweep wings produced for the U.S. Air Force. A second variant, the F-111B, was intended for the U.S. Navy as an interceptor, but proved to be too heavy to operate from aircraft carriers and was not put into production. The F-111A made its first flight at Carswell AFB, Texas, 21 December 1964.

The F-111 was a result of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s controversial “TFX” program which would use a single aircraft for both the Air Force and Navy as a fighter, interceptor, tactical fighter bomber, and strategic nuclear-armed bomber. Trying to make a single aircraft perform these different missions resulted in very high cost overruns, and the aircraft gained a negative perception in the news media. The F-111A and its follow-on, the FB-111, however, proved to be very effective in precision strike missions.

Det. 1, 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron personnel at Takhli RTAFB, 1968. Left-to right: Front row (kneeling): Major Tom Germscheid; Captain Joe Hodges; Colonel Ivan H. (“Ike”) Dethmann; Lieutenant Colonel Dean Salmeier; Lieutenant Colonel Ed Palmgren; Commander Bruce Ashley, USN; Major Roger Nunemaker. Back row (standing): Captain Mac Armstrong; Major Charlie Arnet; Captain Rick Matteis; Captain Joe Keene; Major Les Holland; Major Sandy Marquardt; Major Bill Coltman; Major Hank (“Mac”) MacCann; Captain Bill Sealy; Captain Denny Graham, USN; Lieutenant Commander David “Spade” Cooley, USN; Captain Ken Powell; Captain Norm Rice; and  Major Charlie Tosten. (U.S Air Force)
The crew escape module of General Dynamics F-111A 66-0017, which went down 22 April 1968. Major “Sandy” Marquardt and Captain Joe Hodges are seated inside. (Key.Aero)

The F-111A was flown by two pilots seated side-by-side in the cockpit. Pre-production aircraft were equipped with ejection seats, but production aircraft had a crew escape module which protected the pilots from the effects of supersonic speed. The airplane incorporated a state-of-the art terrain-following radar and and inertial guidance computer system that allowed it to fly at a constant height above the ground. The radar searched ahead and to the sides of the aircraft’s flight path and the computer calculated pitch angles to clear obstacles ahead. The system could be programmed to fly the aircraft as low as 200 feet (61 meters) above the ground. These “nap of the earth” profiles allowed the F-111A to avoid detection by radar.

The cockpit of General Dynamics F-111A 67-0067 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force 070703-F-1234S-019)

The F-111A is 73 feet, 10.6 inches (22.520 meters) long. With the wings fully extended, their span is 63 feet, 0.0 inches (19.202 meters), and fully swept, 31 feet, 11.4 inches (9.738 meters). The airplane has an overall height of 17 feet 1.4 inches (5.217meters). The wings are capable of being swept from 16° to 72.5°. Roll control is transferred to the stabilators when the wings sweep to 42°.  It has an empty weight of 46,172 pounds (20,943 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 92,657 pounds (42,029 kilograms).

A Pratt & Whitney TF30 turbofan engine at NASA’s Propulsion Systems Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio, 1967. Left-to-right are engineers Fred Looft and Robert Godman. (NASA Glenn Research Center)

Early production F-111As were powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-1 afterburning turbofan engines, with following aircraft powered by the TF30-P-3. Both are two-spool axial-flow engines with a 3-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). Both engines are rated at 10,750 pounds of thrust (47.82 kilonewtons), and 18,500 pounds of thrust (82.29 kilonewtons) with afterburner. Both the -1 and -3 engines are 19 feet, 7.5 inches (5.982 meters) long, 4 feet, 0.0 inches (1.219 meters) in diameter, and weigh 3,869 pounds (1,755 kilograms).

The F-111A had a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at Sea Level, (913 miles per hour/1,225 kilometers per hour), and Mach 2.2 (1,452 miles per hour/2,336 kilometers per hour) at 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). With 5,015.5 gallons (18,985.7 liters) of internal fuel, its range was 3,165 miles (5,094 kilometers). The aircraft could carry external fuel tanks and was capable of inflight refueling.

A General Dynamics F-111A carrying 16 cluster bombs. (U.S. Air Force 120920-F-DW547-001)

The F-111A was designed to carry either conventional or nuclear weapons. It has an internal bomb bay, one hardpoint under the fuselage, and four hardpoints under each wing. With the wings swept to 72.5°, it could carry 18 M117 bombs, but when extended to 26°, it could carry as many as 50. A General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon could be installed in the bomb bay.

The F-111A returned to Vietnam in 1972 and flew more than 4,000 combat sorties during Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II. Attacking heavily defended airfields and surface-to-air missile sites, only six additional F-111As were lost in combat.

159 F-111As were built, including 18 pre-production aircraft. 66-0018 (s/n A1-36) was later converted to an EF-111A Raven electronic warfare aircraft. It was sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 11 June 1998.

General Dynamics EF-111A Raven 66-0018, photographed in October 1984. (Dan Stilovich/AirHistory.net)

Ivan Harry (“Ike”) Dethman was born 19 March 1919 at Mansfield, South Dakota. He was the sixth of eleven children of Henry H. Dethman, a carpenter, and Marie D. Christianson Dethman. He grew up in Seattle, Washington.

Dethman registered for the draft (conscription) 6 November 1940. He was described as being 5 feet, 10½ inches (1.791 meters) tall, 158 pounds (71.7 kilograms) with a ruddy complexion, brown hair and blue eyes.

On 1 March 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Dethman enlisted in the United States Army. He was trained as a pilot and flew 161 combat missions in the Douglas A-26 Invader over Italy, France and Germany.

Ivan H. Dethman, 1948.

Following the War, Dethman returned to the United States where he attended the University of Washington, graduating in 1948. While there, he worked on the staff of Forester’s Quarterly.

He remained in the Air Force. His date of rank as a first lieutenant is 30 August 1946. He was assigned to the 27th Tactical Wing at Carney, Nebraska, and from 1948 to 1950 was an instructor in the Air Training Command. In 1950, he attended the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Dethman commanded the 55th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, at RAF Weathersfield, England, and then the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1966 to 1967.

Ike Dethman was married to Beverly Jane Smith, later to Anita Eveland, and finally, Marita A. Romson.

During his military career, Colonel Dethman was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards), and the Air Medal with 14 oak leaf clusters (15 awards). He retired from the Air Force 29 December 1972 after thirty years of service.

Colonel Ivan H. Dethman, U.S. Air Force (Retired), died at Escondido, California, 24 March 2004, at the age of 85 years. His remains are interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

25 March 1958

Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow 25201 (RL 201) with its landing gear lowered during it’s first flight over Avro’s plant at Malton, Ontario, Canada, 25 March 1958. (Hugh MacKechnie, Avro Aircraft Ltd.)
Janusz Żurakowski, 1958

25 March 1958: At 9:51 a.m., the Avro CF-105 Arrow 1, 25201,  began its take off roll on Runway 32 at Melton, Ontario, Canada. In the cockpit was Avro’s Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Janusz (“Zura”) Żurakowski.

The prototype interceptor was followed by two chase planes, an Avro CF-100 Canuck interceptor, flown by test pilot Władysław Jan (“Spud”) Potocki, with photographer Hugh MacKechnie in the rear seat, and an Orenda-powered Canadair CL-13 Sabre, flown by Flight Lieutenant John Fraser (“Jack”) Woodman, C.D., Royal Canadian Air Force.

The Arrow lifted off after a takeoff roll of less than 3,000 feet (914 meters). Leaving the airplane’s landing gear extended, Żurakowski climbed to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) and put the prototype through some basic maneuvers to evaluate its handling. Satisfied, he raised the landing gear and climbed to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), where he continued to explore the flight characteristics of the CF-105 and to check its systems for proper functioning. The airplane reached a maximum altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) and speed of 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour).

Landing at Melton after 35 minutes, Żurakowski said, “Everything went exactly to plan. It handled nicely. There was no unexpected trouble.”

Avro CF-105 Arrow 1 25201 landing at Malton, Ontario, following its first flight, 25 March 1958. Speed brakes are deployed under the fuselage. (Avro Aircraft Limited)

The Avro Aircraft Limited CF-105 Arrow 1 was a prototype long-range Mach 2 interceptor built for the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was a large, twin-engine airplane with a high delta wing and an internal weapons bay. To enable high supersonic speeds, the fuselage incorporated the “area rule.”

Due to the perceived threat of the Soviet Union’s nuclear-armed, four-engine Myasishchev M-4 Molot strategic bomber (NATO reporting name “Bison”), development of the CF-105 Arrow was accelerated. The five prototype aircraft were built on a production line, rather than being hand-built as was customary up to that time.

Avro Aircraft Limited CF-105 Arrow 1, 25201 (RL201), photographed after roll out, 4 October 1957. (Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN ID 3596416)

The CF-105 was designed to be flown by a pilot and radar operator in a tandem cockpit. The airplane was 73 feet, 4 inches (22.352 meters) long (80 feet, 10 inches/24.638 meters, including the pitot probe), with a wingspan of 50 feet, 0 inches (15.240 meters) and overall height of 21 feet, 3 inches (6.401 meters). The leading edges of the wings were swept aft at 61° 27′ and incorporated a small “dog tooth” at mid span, and the trailing edges, 11° 12′. The wings had 4° anhedral, and a total area of 1,225 square feet (113.81 square meters).

The first prototype CF-105 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney J75-P-3 engines. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 16,500 pounds of thrust (73.40 kilonewtons), and 23,500 pounds (104.53 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J75-P-3 was 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter and weighed 6,175 pounds (2,801 kilograms). The following Arrow 1s were to be equipped with the similar J75-P-5, while production Arrow 2s would use the more powerful Orenda PS.13 Iroquois.

CF-105 25201 had a calculated operational weight of 48,821.07 pounds (22,144.87 kilograms). With maximum internal fuel, its calculated gross weight was 68,664.07 pounds (31,145.50 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 69,000 pounds (31,298 kilograms).

The size of the Avro CF-105 Arrow 1 can be seen in this photograph of the aircraft with ground personnel. (Avro Aircraft Limited)

The Arrow 1 carried 2,508 Imperial gallons (3,012 U.S. gallons/11,402 liters) of JP-4 in 8 fuel tanks. An addition 500 gallon (600 U.S. gallons/2,273 liters) external long range tank could be carried under the fuselage.

The CF-105 Arrow was predicted to have a maximum speed of Mach 1.98. During flight testing, the highest speed recorded in level flight was Mach 1.90, while in a dive, it reached Mach 1.95. The maximum allowable speed (VNE) was 700 knots (806 miles per hour/1,296 kilometers per hour) EAS (Equivalent Air Speed), or Mach 2.0, (MMO) which ever is lower.

Armament was intended to be four short-range Canadair CL-20 Velvet Glove radar-homing guided missiles, but when this system was cancelled in 1956, substitute weapons selected were either eight Hughes GAR-1 radar-homing or GAR-2 infrared homing guided missiles (later designed AIM-4 Falcon), or three Raytheon AAM-N-2 (later, AIM 7 Sparrow) radar-homing guided missiles in a weapons bay under the fuselage. For speed of handling, the entire weapons bay could be lowered out of the aircraft and replaced with another.

A total of five CF-105 Arrow 1s were built before the program was cancelled by Canadian Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker, on 20 February 1959. The prototypes and the production tooling were ordered to be destroyed.

Avro CF-105 Arrow I, 25201, taking off. (Avro Aircraft Limited Żurakowski.

Janusz Żurakowski was born 12 September 1914 at Ryżawka, Ukraine, Russian Empire. He was the son of Adam Żurakowski and Maria Antonina Szawłowska. He had two brothers, Bronisław and Adam. Following the war between war between the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Second Polish Republic, the family fled to Poland.

Janusz attended high school at Lublin, Poland, and learned to fly gliders. He joined the Polish Air Force in 1934, graduating from officer’s school in 1935, and was commissioned a sub-lieutenant. Trained as a fighter pilot, he was assigned to 161 Fighter Squadron, then later served as an instructor.

When Germany invaded Poland, Lieutenant Żurakowski, flying an obsolete single-engine, high-wing PZL P.7 trainer, attacked a flight of seven Dornier 17s twin-engine light bombers, damaging one. When Poland, fell, he made his way to England and joined the Royal Air Force. Pilot Officer Żurakowski served with No. 152 Squadron, and No. 234 Squadron, flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I. He shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110. He was himself shot down 24 August 1940. He was “captured” by the Home Guard, who apparently took him to be a German airman. He had been reported as killed in action, but was soon returned to his squadron. In early September 1940, he shot down two Messerschmitt Bf 109s. In April 1942, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. He served with several other RAF squadrons, rising to the rank of Squadron Leader. He commanded No. 315 Squadron, and was deputy wing leader of Polish No. 1 Fighter Wing. On 17 May 1943, he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109G.

Squadron Leader Żurakowski attended the Empire Test Pilot School in 1944. Following the War, he flew with the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down, where he flew the de Havilland DH.103 Hornet. He was a noted expert in aerobatics.

In 1947, Żurakowski left the Royal Air Force and was employed as a test pilot for Gloster.

In 1949, Squadron Leader Żurakowski married Anna Alina Danielska in Paris, France. They would have two children, George and Mark.

Żurakowski and his family emigrated to Canada in 1952. He went to work for Avro Aircraft Limited as a test pilot. On 18 September 1952, he became the first pilot in Canada to “break the sound barrier,” when he put an Avro CF-100 Mk 4 into a dive. In 1958, he was selected as the chief test pilot for the CF-105 project. He remained with Avro until 1959.

Following his career in aviation, Żurakowski operated a tourist lodge at Kamaniskeg Lake, Ontario, for the next 40 years.

For his service during World War II, Squadron Leader Żurakowski was awarded the Order Wojenny Virtuti Militari (For Military Virtue), Poland’s highest military award for heroism, and the Krzyż Walecznych (Cross of Valor) with two bars (three awards). In 1999, he was awarded the Order Zasługi Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, an order for people who have performed great service to Poland.

Shortly before his death, Żurakowski co-authored an autobiography, Janusz Żurakowski: Legend of the Skies, with Bill Zuk. (Crecy Publishing, Wythenshawe, England, 2007). His wife and son, George, wrote Janusz Żurakowski: Not Just About Flying, which was published privately in 2021.

Janusz Żurakowski died at Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada, 9 February 2004, at the age of 89 years.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

25 March 1956

Martin XB-51 46-685, the number one prototype, on takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin XB-51 46-685, the number one prototype, on takeoff. (Lockheed Martin)

25 March 1956: At approximately 10:50 a.m., the first of two prototype Martin XB-51 three-engine attack bombers, serial number 46-685, crashed on takeoff from Runway 22 at El Paso International Airport (ELP). The pilot, Major James Otto Rudolph, United States Air Force, survived the crash although he was  seriously burned. Staff Sergeant Wilbur Robert Savage, 28, engineer, was killed. Major Rudolph died of injuries 16 April 1956.

Pieces of wreckage were marked “Gilbert XF-120” which had been painted on the airplane for the filming of the William Holden, Lloyd Nolan movie, “Toward The Unknown.” (Toluca Productions, 1956). The second prototype, 46-686, had previously crashed at Edwards AFB.

A newspaper article from the El Paso Times is quoted below [I have corrected some typographical errors]:


Bill Feather
El Paso Times

A sleek jet bomber, carrying a full load of fuel, crashed while attempting a take-off at International Airport Sunday morning, killing the flight engineer and seriously injuring the pilot.

The XB-51, the only one of its type in existence, smashed through the fence at the end of the southwest runway and then began to disintegrate, spreading wreckage along a 250-yard trail.

Only the tail section of the three-engine bomber was left intact.

Name of the dead man, a 28-year-old staff sergeant was withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Flying the aircraft was Maj. James O. Rudolph, 36, one of the top test pilots in the Air Force.

He suffered severe burns and was taken Sunday afternoon in an emergency flight to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio.

The XB-51, based at Edwards Air Force Base in Muroc, Calif., was being flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where it was to be used in the filming of a Warner Brothers movie, “Toward the Unknown.”

Identification of the aircraft was confused for a short time after the crash.

A piece of wreckage with the notation “Gilbert XF-120” was found nearby.


Air Force spokesmen explained that the XF designation had been painted on the plane for use in the movie.

The airplane had been refueled at International Airport and started its takeoff at 10:30 a.m.

Witnesses said the plane got about three feet above the ground and suddenly settled. The tail dragged first and then the rest of the airplane settled, running at high speed.

It ripped through a barbed wire fence at the end of the runway, raced across Airport Road and then began to go to pieces.

After crashing, it burned and several explosions threatened firemen, rescuers and spectators who crowded around the flaming aircraft.

First person to the scene of the crash was Eddie C. Wilkerson, 1106 Del Monte Drive, tennis coach at Austin High School.

“I was just turning into the road to the airport when the plane was taking off. I don’t believe it ever got airborne.

“I looked back and saw a big ball of smoke, so I just wheeled my car around.”

Wilkerson said that when he arrived, the major was lying on the ground about 15 feet from the burning wreckage.

“His clothes were burning so I started tearing them off.”

Other witnesses to the crash arrived and helped Wilkerson move the major to a safer place, away from the intense heat of the flaming aircraft.

Capt. John D. Chandler, a doctor at the Biggs Hospital, was at the airport when the crash occurred and he was one of the first persons at the scene. He administered aid to the injured man until an ambulance arrived. Later Capt. Chandler flew to San Antonio with Maj. Rudolph.

A fire truck from International Airport was rushed to the scene almost as soon as the plane stopped its forward motion.

Sunday drivers were attracted to the scene by the tower of smoke and the heavy traffic delayed the arrival of fire trucks from Biggs Air Force Base.

The plane was one of two XB-51s built by Martin Aircraft Co. and was completed in 1953.

The first one crashed at Muroc, Calif., in 1952.

Air Force spokesmen said the aircraft was comparable to the B-47, which was accepted instead of the XB-51 for use in the Air Force.

Its three jet engines one in each wing and on in the fuselage, were capable of driving the craft at tremendous speeds. The aircraft had broken the sound barrier, spokesmen said.

Its sleek lines gave it the appearance of a fighter rather than a medium bomber.

Normally, the airplane carried a crew of three.

Recently it had been used in assisting the Army in missile and anti-aircraft development at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

A board of officers was investigation the crash and two Air Force colonels arrived at Biggs Air Force Base from Muroc Sunday afternoon.

Military police from Ft. Bliss and Air Police patrolled the area about the crash Sunday afternoon, keeping away the curious.

— http://elpasotimes.typepad.com/morgue/2011/03/today-in-1956-plane-crash-kills-engineer-pilot-injured-as-bomber-falls-.html

James Otto Rudolph was born at Marion, Ohio, 8 February 1920, the first of two children of of Frank Otto Rudolph, a German immigrant who was employed as a secretary for the YMCA, and Helen Claire Shafer Rudolph.

Following two years of college, Rudolph enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Detroit, Michigan, 17 March 1941. He was 6 feet, 1inch (1.854 meters) tall and weighed 175 pounds (79.4 kilograms). He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Reserve, 31 October 1941,and was promoted to First Lieutenant, Army of the United States (Air Corps), 5 August 1942. He was again promoted, to Captain, 15 June 1943. Following the end of World War II, Rudolph was promoted to the rank of Major, 19 September 1946. He remained in the Air Force, but with military needs shrinking, he reverted to the rank of First Lieutenant, with date of rank, 7 December 1944.

James Rudolph married Clara D.    in 194–

Major Rudolph graduated from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School, Class 54-A, 2 July 1954. As a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, Rudolph was a project pilot in the FICON program in which Republic RF-84K Thunderflash reconnaissance planes were carried by modified Convair RB-36D bombers.

During his military career, Major Rudolph had been awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards).

After the crash on 25 March 1956, Major Rudolph was taken to Brooke Army Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, suffering from 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 38% of his body. He contracted septicemia and died there, 16 April 1956. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wilbur Robert Savage was born 19 July 1927 at Dawsonville, Georgia. He was the son of Newton McKinley Savage and May Belle Carney Savage. He married to Ida Pedroza Aceves in 1948. They would have three children.

Staff Sergeant Savage’s remains were interred at Mountain View Cemetery, San Bernardino, California.

The first Martin XB-51, 46-585, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

The Glenn L. Martin Co. XB-51 was a prototype jet-powered ground attack bomber. It was an unusual design for its time. The airplane had mid-mounted, variable-incidence swept wing, a T-tail and tandem landing gear with a configuration similar to that used on the Boeing B-47 Stratojet (and which had been tested using a Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber.)

The XB-51 was operated by a pilot in a single-place cockpit with a bubble canopy, and a navigator station inside the fuselage, below and behind the pilot. The prototype was 85 feet, 1 inch (25.933 meters) long with a wingspan of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 4 inches (5.283 meters). The total wing area was 548.0 square feet (50.9 square meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 30,906 pounds (14,019 kilograms) and a maximum overload takeoff weight of 62,452 pounds (28,328 kilograms).

The wings of the XB-51 were swept aft to 35° and had 6° anhedral. The wings’ angle of incidence (the relation of the chord to the fuselage longitudinal axis) could be adjusted to increase lift for takeoff and landing. They had 2° negative twist and were equipped with leading edge slats for improved low speed performance. Instead of ailerons, the XB-51 used spoilers.

Lloyd Nolan (“General Bill Banner”) and William Holden (“Major Lincoln Bond”) with the “Gilbert XF-120” in the 1956 Hollywood movie, “Toward the Unknown.” (Toluca Productions via Turner Classic Movies)

Power was supplied by three General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engines, with two located in nacelles outboard of the forward fuselage on 45° pylons, and a third installed in the tail with its intake on top of the fuselage. The J47-GE-13 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. It had a normal power rating of 4,320 pounds of thrust (19.216 kilonewtons) at 7,370 r.p.m.; military power, 5,200 pounds (23.131 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (30-minute limit); and maximum power rating of 6,000 pounds(26.689 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m., with water/alcohol injection (5-minute limit). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds (1,145 kilograms). A Rocket Assisted Takeoff (RATO) system was also installed.

The XB-51 had a maximum speed of 560 knots (644 miles per hour/1,037 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level—0.85 Mach. The service ceiling was 39,400 feet (12,009 meters) and the maximum ferry range was 1,255 nautical miles (1,444 statute miles/2,324  kilometers).

Armament was planned for a maximum bomb load of 10,400 pounds (4,717 kilograms) carried internally in a rotary bomb bay, and eight M39 20 mm revolving autocannon mounted in the nose with 160 rounds of ammunition per gun. 5-inch High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR) could be carried under the wings or in the bomb bay.

Martin XB-51 46-685 during engine start and ground run-up. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

25 March 1955

John W. Konrad in the cockpit of the prototype Vought XF8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 138899. (Vought Heritage)
John W. Konrad in the cockpit of the prototype Vought XF8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 138899. (Vought Heritage)

25 March 1955: Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation experimental test pilot John William Konrad took the first prototype XF8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 138899, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.

The new fighter had been transported from the factory at Dallas, Texas, aboard a Douglas C-124C Globemaster II, on 3 March 1955. It was reassembled and all systems were checked. Taxi tests began on 14 March.

During the first flight on 25 March, the Crusader went supersonic in level flight. It was able to maintain supersonic speeds (not only for short periods in a dive) and was the first fighter aircraft to exceed 1,000 miles per hour in level flight (1,609 kilometers per hour).

Chance Vought test pilot John W. Konrad talks with engineers following the first test flight. (Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation photograph via Bill Spidle’s “Voughtworks” http://voughtworks.blogspot.com)

The F8U Crusader has a unique variable-incidence wing which can be raised to increase the angle of attack. This created more lift at low speeds for takeoff and landing aboard aircraft carriers, but allows the fuselage to remain fairly level for better forward visibility.

The test program went so well that the first production airplane, F8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 140444, made its first flight just over six months after the prototype’s.

Prototype Vought XF8U-1 Crusader during a test flight, 25 March 1955. (Vought)
Prototype Vought XF8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 138899 during a test flight, 25 March 1955. (Vought Heritage)

The Chance Vought F8U-1 was nearly identical to the prototype XF8U-1. It was a single-place, single-engine swept-wing fighter designed to operate from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. The F8U-1 was 54 feet, 2.75 inches (16.529 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) and height of 15 feet, 9.1 inches (4.803 meters). With wings folded, the airplane’s width was reduced to 22 feet, 6 inches (6.858 meters).

The Crusader’s wing angle of incidence was adjustable in flight. It had a total area of 375 square feet (34.8 square meters). The leading edges were swept aft to 47°, and the outer panels had a 1 foot, 0.7 inch “dog tooth.” The wings had 5° anhedral, while the horizontal stabilator had 5° 25′ dihedral. The stabilator’s leading edges were swept 50°.

Its empty weight was 15,513 pounds (7,037 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,500 pounds (12,474 kilograms).

Prototype Chance Vought XF8U-1 Crusader in landing configuration. (Vought Heritage)

Early production aircraft were powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-4 engine. This was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J57-P-4 had a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons); military power, 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons), and a maximum rating of 16,000 pounds (71.17 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine was 20 feet, 10 inches (6.350 meters) long and 3 feet, 5 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter.

The F8U-1 had a cruising speed of 494 knots (569 miles per hour/915 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 637 knots (733 miles per hour/1,180 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level—0.95 Mach—and 860 knots (990 miles per hour/1,180 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters)—Mach 1.50.  It had a service ceiling of 42,300 feet (12,893 meters) and combat range of 1,280 nautical miles miles (1,473 statute miles/2,371 kilometers).

The F8U Crusader was known as “The Last of the Gunfighters” because it was the last American fighter aircraft to be designed with guns as the primary armament. It carried four Colt Mark 12 20-mm autocannon with 500 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry two AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles.

Because of a high accident rate, the Crusader has also been called “The Ensign Killer.”

Vought XF8U-1 Crusader parked on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base. (Vought)
Vought XF8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 138899 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base. (Vought Heritage)

The Vought F8U Crusader was in production from 1955 through 1964 with a total of 1,261 built in both fighter and photo reconnaissance versions.

Vought XF8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 138899 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base. (Vought Heritage)

During five years of testing, Bu. No. 138899 made 508 flights. It was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1960. The restored prototype is now at The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.

According to information recently discovered by The Museum of Flight, fighter pilot, test pilot and future astronaut John Herschel Glenn, Jr., made his first flight in a Crusader when he flew Bu. No. 138899 on 4 May 1956. According to Glenn’s logbook, he made two flights in the prototype on that date, totaling 2 hours of flight time. Many thanks to Mike Martinez, a docent for the museum for providing this information.

The Vought XF8U-1 has been restored by The Museum of Flight at Paine Field, Stattle, Washington. (The Museum of Flight)
The first of two prototypes, Chance Vought XF8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 138899, has been restored by The Museum of Flight at Paine Field, Seattle, Washington. The Crusader’s variable incidence wing is in the raised take-off/landing position. (The Museum of Flight)

John William Konrad was born 25 November 1923 at San Diego, California. He was the second of three children of  William Konrad, a salesman, and Emma Louise Stensrud Konrad.

Konrad became interested in aviation at an early age, learning to fly in a Piper Cub at the age of 15. After graduating from high school, he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Diego, 26 February 1943. Konrad was 5 feet, 3 inches (1.60 meters) tall and weighed 118 pounds (53.5 kilograms). He trained as a pilot and flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers with the 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), stationed at RAF Chelveston, during World War II. He later flew Douglas C-47 Skytrains during the Berlin Airlift.

Konrad married Miss Harriet Marilyn Hastings at Clearwater, Florida, 11 February 1945. They would have two children.

Following the War, Konrad was selected for the first test pilot training class at Wright Field, then was assigned to Muroc Army Airfield (Edwards Air Force Base) in California, where he graduated from the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School, Class 51-C, 19 May 1952.

Konrad resigned from the Air Force in 1953 and joined the Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation in Dallas, Texas, as a test pilot. In addition the the XF8U-1 Crusader, he also made the first flight of the Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II, and the experimental LTV XC-142 tiltwing V/STOL transport in 1964. He was appointed Director Test Operations in 1965. Konrad retired from Vought in 1988 after 25 years with the company.

After retiring, John Konrad continued to fly a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair with Commemorative Air Force.

John William Konrad, Sr., Captain, United States Air Force, died 20 September 2006 at Dallas, Texas. He is buried at the Dallas–Fort Worth National Cemetery.

John William Konrad. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes