Daily Archives: April 3, 2024

3 April 1962

A McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 148423, climbing during Project High Jump. (U.S. Navy)

3 April 1962: At NAS Point Mugu, Ventura County, California, a future NASA astronaut, United States Navy test pilot Commander John Watts Young, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world record by flying his McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F4H-1 Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 149449,¹ from the surface to 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 3 minutes, 50.44 seconds.²

Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. (U.S. Navy)
Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. (U.S. Navy)

John Young had set another FAI record on 21 February, reaching a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 34.523 seconds with the Phantom II at NAS Brunswick, Maine.³ Young set a total of 21 FAI records. Three remain current.

This was one of a series of time-to-altitude record flights flown at with F4H-1 149449 during February, March and April 1962. Flown by four other pilots, 149449 also set time-to-altitude records for 3,000, 6,000, 9,000, 12,000, 15,000, and 20,000 meters.

A bridle restrained the F4H-1 on the runway while its engines were run up to full afterburner. The pilot fired an explosive bolt to release the airplane for flight.⁴

Point Mugu’s Runway 21 ends on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and the elevation is 9 feet (2.7 meters) above Sea Level. The restricted airspace of the Pacific Missile Test Range assured that these flights could be conducted safely and without interfering with civilian air traffic. The U.S. Air Force had used the same runway when it conducted time-to-altitude record flights with a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter in 1958.

Project High Jump McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. (U.S. Navy)

John Young was a test pilot assigned to the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, where he was a project officer for F4H and F8U armament systems. He was selected as a NASA astronaut and served as Pilot of Gemini III; backup pilot, Gemini IV; Commander for Gemini 10; Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10; back-up commander for Apollo 13; Commander, Apollo 16; and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Later, he was Commander of the maiden flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS-1 and again for STS-9. He was in line to command STS-61J.

Record-setting McDonnell F-4B-11-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 149449, VF-151, USS Coral Sea (CV-43). (U.S. Navy)
Record-setting McDonnell F-4B-11-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 149449, VF-151, USS Coral Sea (CV-43). (U.S. Navy)

McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 149449, redesignated F-4B-11-MC, served with VF-96 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61), VF-151 aboard USS Coral Sea (CV-43) and was later assigned to Marine Air Group 13, VMFA-323, “Death Rattlers,” based at Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam.

On 2 August 1968, 149449 was hit by small arms fire near An Hoa, 17 miles southeast of Da Nang. On returning the damaged airplane to Chu Lai, the Phantom’s landing gear could not be extended. The pilot, Major DanieI I. Carroll, USMC, and Weapons System Officer, First Lieutenant R.C. Brown, USMC, ejected one mile (1.6 kilometers) off the coast. Both were rescued by a U.S. Army helicopter.

The record-setting Phantom II was lost in the South China Sea.

Another F4H-1 Phantom II flown during Project High Jump was Bu. No. 148423, shown in the photograph above (top). In 1971, -423 was withdrawn from service and used as a ground trainer at the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) at Millington, Tennessee. It was later converted to the QF-4B drone configuration. It was reported preserved at the Herlong Airport, near Jacksonville, Florida. In 2002, part of the airplane was used as a cockpit display at the USS Hornet (CV-12) Museum, Alameda, California. In 2004, the nose section was transferred to the Pacific Coast Air Museum, Santa Rosa, California.⁵

¹ USN McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, by Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2016, Introduction, Page 10

² FAI Record File Number 9092

³ FAI Record File Number 9078

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts into Systems, by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996, Chapter 5, Page 105

⁵ Warplane Survivors USA: Florida Warplanes, by Harold A. Skaarup, https://www.silverhawkauthor.com/post/warplane-survivors-usa-florida-warplanes-book

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

3 April 1946

Bell Model 47, s/n 1, NX41962. This helicopter would be re-registered NC1H. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

3 April 1946: The first commercially certified helicopter, Bell Model 47 NC1H, serial number 1, was being flown by two Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilots, Edward F. Hensley and Gerald Arthur (“Jay”) Demming. Hensley was teaching Demming to fly the aircraft.

Demming was hovering the helicopter about 15 feet (4½ meters) above the ground and began to transition to forward flight. Checking the instruments, he noticed that the engine was turning 3,100 r.p.m., the upper limit of its operating range. Intending to reduce the r.p.m., he moved the collective pitch control lever.

When the collective pitch lever is raised (controlled by the helicopter pilot’s left hand), it causes the angle of attack of all main rotor blades to increase, “collectively.” While this increases the amount of lift being produced, it also increases drag, which slows the rotation of both the main rotor and engine. Lowering the collective lever has the opposite effect. Drag is reduced, and the rotor and engine accelerate.

In an early helicopter like the Model 47, the pilot must manually correlate engine r.p.m. with main rotor collective pitch and tail rotor collective pitch. A twist-grip throttle is on the forward end of the collective lever for this purpose. Throttle adjustments are continuous during helicopter flight, as any change in the other controls will effect engine speed.

Bell test pilot Edward F. Hensley at the controls of an early version of the Bell 47. Hensley’s right hand is on the “cyclic.” This photograph provides a good view of the the helicopter’s flight control system. The three vertical rods behind the pilot control the stationary swash plate, which is mounted at the top of the cylindrical transmission. The center rod controls collective pitch, and the outer two, cyclic pitch. Above the rotating swash plate, two angled pitch control rods (on either side of the main rotor mast) lead to the stabilizer bar. Smaller rods continue to two hydraulic dampers, and then to the pitch horns on the main rotor blade grips. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)
Dual tachometer from a Bell 47G-3B1. Engine r.p.m. is indicated on the outer scale, while rotor r.p.m. is shown on the inner scale.

As Demming was new to the helicopter, he had not yet learned to make these power adjustments automatically. Rather than raise the collective to slow the engine r.p.m., he inadvertently lowered it. This caused a sudden decrease in the rotor blades’ angle of attack and a corresponding decrease in drag. The load on the engine was decreased, but the throttle setting was not reduced accordingly. The engine accelerated to 3,400 r.p.m., which would have driven the main rotor to 378 r.p.m., 5% beyond its maximum operating r.p.m. (“red line”).

Recognizing his error, Demming raised the collective to control the engine/rotor r.p.m.

There was a violent shock. NC1H fell to the ground from a height Demming estimated at 30–50 feet (9–15 meters).

The wreck of the first civil-certified helicopter, Bell Model 47, serial number 1, NC1H, at Niagara Falls Airport, 3 April 1946. The main rotor blades are not seen in this photograph.(Niagara Aerospace Museum)

After the impact, both Demming and Hensley were unconscious. Demming soon regained consciousness and got out of the cockpit, while airport fire/rescue personnel looked after Hensley.

Hensley had fractured three vertebra and was initially not expected to survive his injuries, but he did eventually recover.

NC1H, the first civil-certified helicopter, was damaged beyond repair.

NC1H (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

In photographs of the damaged helicopter, the main rotor yoke, blade grips, pitch horns, drag braces and the main rotor blades are nowhere to be seen. The gimbal ring, static stop, main rotor retaining nut and stabilizer bar are still in place. This suggests that the hub failed and the associated parts were thrown outward, away from the axis of rotation.

With nothing to support it in flight, the rest of the helicopter dropped to the ground like a stone from your hand.

NC1H (originally registered NX41962) had first flown on 8 December 1945, and had received the very first civil helicopter Type Certificate, H-1, on 8 March 1946.

At the time of the accident, NC1H had 75 hours, 42 minutes, total time (TTAF). Its engine had accumulated 136 hours, 50 minutes, since being manufactured (TTSN).

After the crash, NC1H’s registration number was reassigned to s/n 11.

NC1H (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The Bell 47 series was constructed of a welded tubular steel airframe with a sheet metal cockpit and a characteristic plexiglas bubble canopy. In the original configuration, it had a four-point wheeled landing gear, but this was soon replaced with a tubular skid arrangement. It was a two-place aircraft with dual flight controls.

The first Bell Model 47 had an overall length (with rotors turning) of 39 feet, 7½ inches (12.078 meters). The main rotor diameter was 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters). The length of the fuselage, from the front of the canopy to the trailing edge of the tail rotor disc, was 29 feet, 3½ inches (8.928 meters). The helicopter’s height, to the top of the main rotor mast, was 9 feet, 2–7/16 inches (2.805 meters).

NC1H had an empty weight of 1,393 pounds (632 kilograms). Its gross weight was 2,100 pounds (953 kilograms).

The Bell 47’s main rotor is a two-bladed, under-slung, semi-rigid assembly that would be a characteristic of helicopters built by Bell for decades. The blades were constructed of laminated wood. A stabilizer bar was placed below the hub and linked to the flight controls through hydraulic dampers. This made for a very stable aircraft. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) Its normal operating range is 322–360 r.p.m. (294–360 r.p.m. in autorotation).

The tail rotor is positioned on the right side of the tail boom in a tractor configuration. It has a diameter of 5 feet, 5 inches (1.676 meters) and rotates counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor blades were also made of wood.

Power was supplied by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 333.991-cubic-inch-displacement (5.473 liter) Franklin Engine Company 6V4-178-B3 vertically-opposed six cylinder engine, serial number 17008, which was rated at 178 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Engine torque was sent through a centrifugal clutch to a transmission. The mast (the main rotor drive shaft) was driven through a two-stage planetary gear reduction system with a ratio of 9:1. The transmission also drove the tail rotor drive shaft, and through a vee-belt/pulley system, a large fan to provide cooling air for the engine.

The new helicopter had a cruise speed of 75 miles per hour (121 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed (VNE) of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). NC1H had a service ceiling of 11,400 feet (3,475 meters).

The Bell 47 was produced at the plant in New York, and later at Fort Worth, Texas. It was steadily improved and remained in production until 1974. In military service the Model 47 was designated H-13 Sioux, (Army and Air Force), HTL (Navy) and HUG (Coast Guard). The helicopter was also built under license by Agusta, Kawasaki and Westland. More than 7,000 were built worldwide and it is believed that about 10% of those remain in service.

In 2010, the type certificates for all Bell 47 models was transferred to Scott’s Helicopter Service, Le Sueur, Minnesota, which continues to manufacture parts and complete helicopters.

Gerald A. (“Jay”) Demming, Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilot. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

Gerald Arthur (“Jay”) Demming was born 4 July 1918 at Niagara Falls, New York. He was the son of Arthur L. Demming, Jr., a factory foreman, and Marie I. Demming. He attended La Salle High School, graduating in 1936, then the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

While at college, Demming entered the Civilian Pilot Training Program. He became a multi-engine and instrument flight instructor at Dominion Skyways Ltd., a flight school at Malton, Ontario, Canada. He was next employed as a civilian pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

On 30 May 1942, Jay Demming married Miss Audrey Mary Prowse. They would have two children. They divorced im May 1966 in Brevard County, Florida.

Gerald Arthur Demming died 20 May 1996, at Plant City, Hillsborough, Florida.

Edward Freeland Hensley, Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilot. (LeslieGift)

Edward Freeland Hensley was born 22 November 1910 at Mountain Park, Oklahoma. He was the first of three children of Edward Hensley, owner of a real estate company, and Mamie A. Freeland Hensley.  He attended John Brown College at Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Hensley had brown hair and blue eyes. He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds.

Hensley married Miss Edith Hyla Collins in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 15 August 1931. They would have four children.

In th mid-1930s, Hensley worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Oklahoma City. He was a special deliveries manager.

Hensley was issued a commercial pilot’s license in 1938. By 1940, he was a flight instructor at McConnell Flying Service, Parsons, Kansas. He was next employed as a civilian flight instructor for Brayton Flying Services, inc., at the U.S. Army contract flight school in Cuero Municipal Airport, Cuero, Texas. He then joined Bell Aircraft Corporation as a test pilot.

He later was a test pilot for the Boeing B-47 Stratojet at Wichita, Kansas.

Edward Freeland Hensley died in June 1969 in Wichita.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

3 April 1941

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

3 April 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton takes his first flight—a one hour familiarization—in the company’s prototype of a new fighter for the Royal Air Force, the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field. (Mines would later become Los Angeles International Airport, LAX.)

The airplane had first been flown by free-lance test pilot Vance Breese, 26 October 1940,  and he had flown it several times. North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, on his first flight in NX19998, ran out of fuel and crash landed in a plowed field 150 yards (137 meters) west of the airfield, 20 November 1940. The prototype had flown just 3 hours, 20 minutes.

The NA-73X was repaired and Bob Chilton was assigned to complete the testing program. The airplane would become the legendary P-51 Mustang, and Chilton would continue to conduct the majority of flight testing on its improvements and modifications.

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stands on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.

At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.

In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.

Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.

On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Repulic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.

From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.

Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.

In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.

Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

3 April 1933

Lord Clydesdale, flying Westland WP-3 G-ACAZ, approaching the summit of Mt. Everest, 3 April 1933. (The Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition via National Geographic)

3 April 1933: Squadron Leader Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale ¹ (Lord Clydesdale)—at the time, the youngest squadron leader in the Royal Air Force, and in command of 602 Squadron—as Chief Pilot of the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition, flew a modified Westland PV-3 biplane, G-ACAZ, in formation with Westland PV-6, G-ACBR, over the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, elevation 29,029 feet (8,848 meters). The PV-6 was piloted by Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, also of 602 Squadron.

The two airplanes took off from Purnia, in the northeast of India, at 8:25 a.m. Aboard Lord Clydesdale’s airplane was observer Lieutenant Colonel Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker, O.B.E. (“Blacker of the Guides”), and on McIntyre’s was Sidney R. G. Bonnett, a cinematographer for Gaumont British News. During the ascent to Everest, Bonnett damaged his oxygen hose and lost consciousness due to hypoxia.

Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale, photographed 12 November 1929 by Bossano Ltd. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Bristol Pegasus S.3 was considered to be the only aircraft engine in the world that would be capable of powering an airplane with the necessary personnel and equipment high enough to fly over Everest. It was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) nine-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It had a Takeoff Power rating of 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with a three minute limit. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller manufactured by The Airscrew Company Ltd., through either a 0.5:1 or 0.655:1 gear reduction.

After deciding on the engine, the Expedition had to select an airplane. The Westland PV-3 was chosen because it had the highest rate of climb of any airplane ever tested by the Royal Air Force.

Westland WP-3 G-ACAZ, after modifications for the Houston Everest Expedition.

The Westland Aircraft Works PV-3 was a private venture prototype torpedo bomber, based on the earlier Westland Wapiti. It had an all-metal structure and folding wings. Only one was built, and no orders for the airplane were placed. The airplane was modified for the Houston Everest Expedition. The gunner’s open position behind the pilot’s cockpit was replaced with an enclosed cabin for an observer and cameras. The original Bristol Jupiter X.FA engine was replaced by the more powerful Bristol Pegasus S.3 and a large-diameter propeller.

The Houston-Westland was 34 feet, 2 inches (10.414 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 8 inches (3.556 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 3,420 pounds (1,551.3 kilograms) and loaded weight of 5,100 pounds (2,313.3 kilograms).

The PV-3 had a maximum speed of 163 miles per hour (262.3 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Burmah-Shell provided a special fuel for operations at very high altitude.

Westland PV-6 G-ACBR

The Westland PV-6 was also a private venture prototype. It was later converted to the Wallace I configuration.

The airplanes carried Williamson Automatic Eagle III survey cameras that would take photographs of the surface at specific intervals as the airplanes flew over known survey locations. It was planned that a photographic mosaic of the terrain and an accurate map could be drawn.

Dame Fanny Lucy Houston, D.B.E. (then, Baroness Byron), by Bassano, Ltd, circa 1910. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The expedition was financed by Lucy, Lady Houston, D.B.E., who offered to provide up to £15,000 to finance the project. The flight helped to demonstrate the need for specialized equipment for high altitude flight.

For his accomplishment, Lord Clydesdale—later, Air Commodore His Grace The Duke of Hamilton KT GCVO AFC PC DL FRCSE FRGS—was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, Royal Air Force. (602 Squadrom Museum)
Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, A.F.C., Royal Air Force. (602 Squadron Museum)

Mount Everest, known in Nepal as सगरमाथा (Sagarmāthā), is a mountain in the Mahalangur Range of the the Himalayas. Its peak is believed to be the highest point on Earth. The mountain was “discovered” by the Western world in 1856, during the decades-long Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Identified as Peak XV, the height of the mountain was measured at 29,002 feet ² (8,839.8 meters) above Sea Level. The Royal Geographical Society named the mountain Everest after Colonel Sir George Everest, FRS, FRAS, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. At present, the agreed height of Everest is 8,848 meters (29,029 feet). The upper portion of the mountain is primarily marble and is covered by several meters of ice and snow.

Everest as seen from the south. Compare this photograph to the one above.

¹ In 1940, Lord Hamilton succeeded his father, Lieutenant Alfred Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 13th Duke of Hamilton and 10th Duke of Brandon, as 14th Duke of Hamilton and 11th Duke of Brandon.

² Interestingly, in The Map Makers (John Noble Wilford, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1981), it was reported that the Great Survey actually calculated the height of the mountain at 29,000 feet (8,839.2 meters), but it was felt that this value would be taken as an approximation rather than an exact value, so 2 feet were added, resulting in the generally known height of 29,002 feet (8,839.8 meters).

The elevation of the summit may have changed due to a Magnitude 7.8 earthquake that occurred 25 April 2015, and a M 7.3 aftershock on 12 May 2015. Nepal and China both conducted an elaborate survey in 2020. Nepal used the Bay of Bengal as Sea Level, while China used the Yellow Sea. They agreed that the height of the summit of Mount Everest is now 29,032 feet (8,848.86 meters).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Virgil Ivan Grissom (3 April 1926 – 27 January 1967)

Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom with scale model of Gemini/Titan II launch vehicle. (NASA)
Virgil Ivan Grissom (1944 Gold and Blue)

3 April 1926: Virgil Ivan Grissom was born at Mitchell, Indiana, the second of five children of Dennis David Grissom, an electrician, and Cecile King Grissom. “Gus” Grissom attended Mitchell High School, graduating in 1944. He was a member of the Hi-Y Club, the Camera Club, and the Signal Club.

Upon graduation from high school. Virgil I. Grissom enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana, 9 August 1944. He was assigned to basic flight training at Sheppard Field, Texas, but the War came to an end before he could graduate as a pilot. Then reassigned as a clerk, he requested to be discharged from the Air Corps, which he was in November 1945.

Grissom married Miss Betty Lavonne Moore at Mitchell, Indiana, 6 July 1945. They wood have two sons, Scott and Mark. (In Korea, Grissom named his F-86 Scotty after his first son.)

After the war, Grissom enrolled at Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, and in 1950, graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

He then re-joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and was trained at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and Williams Air Base, Arizona, where he specialized as a fighter pilot.  He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, in March 1952.

Lieutenant Grissom was assigned to he 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, based at Kenpo Air Base (K-14), in the Republic of South Korea. He flew 100 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. Grissom was promoted to first lieutenant, 11 March 1952. he requested to fly another 25 combat missions, but that was declined and he returned to the United States. Lieutenant Grissom was then assigned as a flight instructor at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas.

Grissom attended a one year program at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, and earned a second bachelor’s degree in aircraft engineering. He was then sent to the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California (Class 56D). After completion, he was assigned as a fighter test pilot back at Wright-Patterson.

One of 508 pilots who were considered by NASA for Project Mercury, Gus Grissom was in the group of 110 that were asked to attend secret meetings for further evaluation. From that group, 32 went on with the selection process and finally 18 were recommended for the program. Grissom was one of the seven selected.

Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7) launch at Pad 5, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 12 20 36 UTC, 21 July 1961. (NASA)

Major Grissom was the second American to “ride the rocket” aboard Mercury-Redstone 4. He named his space capsule Liberty Bell 7. The spacecraft reached a maximum altitude of 102.8 nautical miles (118.3 statute miles, 190.4 kilometers) and traveled 262.5 nautical miles (302.1 statute miles, 486.2 kilometers) down range. During the 15 minute, 37 second, flight, Grissom was weightless for 5:00 minutes.

Next he orbited Earth as commander of Gemini III along with fellow astronaut John Young. He was back-up commander for Gemini VI-A, then went on to the Apollo Program.

The flight crew of Gemini III, John W. Young and Virgil I. Grissom. (NASA)

Gus Grissom was selected as the commander for Apollo I in January 1968. This was to be the first manned flight of the Apollo spacecraft. Ed White and Roger Chaffee were the other members of the flight crew.

As commander of AS-204 (Apollo I), LCOL Virgil I. Grissom, USAF was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chafee during a test on the launchpad, 27 January 1967.

The crew of Apollo 1. Left to right, Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. Grissom, United States Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. White II, United States Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, United States Navy. (NASA)

Gus Grissom was an Air Force Command Astronaut with over 4,600 hours flight time. He was the first American astronaut to fly into space twice, and logged 5 hours, 7 minutes of space flight. For his military service, Grissom was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Air Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); the American Campaign medal; the World War II Victory Medal; teh Korean Service Medal; the United Nations Korea medal, and the Korean War Service Medal of the Republic of South Korea. For his NASA service, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor (posthumous); the NASA Distinguished Service Medal (two awards); and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Had he lived, it is very possible that Grissom would have commanded the first Apollo mission to land on The Moon.

The remains of Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Ivan Grissom, United States Air Force, NASA Astronaut, are buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes