Daily Archives: April 26, 2024

26 April 1995

Roman Taskaev in the cockpit of a Mikoyan MiG-29 in flight over Canada, circa 1990. (Vintage Wings of Canada)

26 April 1995: Mikoyan test pilot Roman Petrovich Taskaev flew a MiG-29 to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record of 27,460 meters (90,092 feet) at Aerodrome Akhtubinsk, Russia. This record still stands.¹

Роман Петрович Таскаев (Roman Petrovich Taskaev) was born at Khilok, Zabayaski Krai, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, 14 October 1954.

From 1967 through 1971, Taskaev was a member of the Chita aero club, where he participated in gliding and skydiving.

Taskaev entered the Soviet Army in 1971. In 1975, he graduated from the National University of Internal Affairs at Kharkiv, Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic. He then served with several combat units of the Soviet Air Force. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1981.

Роман Петрович Таскаев

Captain Taskaev attended the School of Test Pilots in 1983. He was then assigned to the Mikoyan Design Bureau as a test pilot in June 1983. He remained there through May 1998. he was a senior test pilot 1992–1997. He was involved in flight testing the variants of the Mikoyan MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-29 and MiG-31. He flew a MiG-31 over the North Pole.

Taksaev has ejected from a MiG-23UB at very low altitude and maximum speed following an engine failure, and from a MiG-29M.

By decree of the president of the Russian Federation, 16 August 1992, Taskaev was named a Hero of the Russian Federation with Gold Star. In 1996, he was awarded the order of Courage, and in 1998, he was named an Honored Test Pilot of the Russian Federation.

Since 1998, Roman Taskaev has served as Deputy Director of Flight Testing at the Yakovlev Design Bureau.

Roman Taskaev holds his FAI record certificate. (FAI)

The Mikoyan MiG-29 is a fourth generation, single-seat, twin-engine, Mach 2+ air superiority fighter built by the Mikoyan Design Bureau. It entered service with the Soviet Union in 1983 and has been widely exported to many other nations.

The MiG 29 is 17.320 meters (56 feet, 9.89 inches) long, including the pitot boom. The wingspan is 11.360 meters (37 feet, 3.24 inches) and the overall height is 4.730 meters (15 feet, 6.22 inches). They have an area of 38 square meters (409 square feet). The wings’ leading edges are swept aft to 42°. They have approximately 5° anhedral. The two vertical fins are tilted outboard 6° and their leading edges are swept to 50°. The horizontal stabilizers are swept to 47° 30′.

The fighter has a basic weight of 15,775 kilograms (34,778 pounds) with full internal fuel and a centerline tank. Its maximum takeoff weight is 18,480 kilograms (40,741 pounds).

MiG 29 three-view illustration with dimensions

The fighter is powered by two Klimov RD-33 engines. The RD-33 is a two-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbofan with a 13 stage compressor section (4 low- and 9 high-pressure stages) and a two-stage turbine (1 high- and 1 low-pressure stages). It has a military power rating of 49.43 kilonewtons (11,111 pounds of thrust), and 81.40 kilonewtons (18,298 pounds) with afterburner. The RD-33 is 1.040 meters (3 feet, 6.95 inches) in diameter, 4.229 meters (13 feet, 10.50 inches) long, and weighs 1,055 kilograms (2,326 pounds).

The MiG 29 has a maximum speed of Mach 2.25 and a service ceiling of 59,100 feet (18,013 meters). Maximum range with internal fuel is 1,430 kilometers (888 miles).

Armament consists of one Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 30mm autocannon with 150 rounds of ammunition, and a combination of air-to-air missiles, rockets or bombs carried on underwing pylons or fuselage hard points.

More than 1,600 MiG 29s have been built.

Mikoyan MiG-29SMT RF-92934 (“22 Red”), Russian Air Force. (Alex Beltyukov/Wikipedia)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2554

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes


26 April 1966

Major Paul J. Gilmore and 1st Lieutenant William T. Smith with their McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, 26 April 1966. (Air Force Historical Foundation)

26 April 1966: Major Paul J. Gilmore, aircraft commander, and First Lieutenant William T. Smith, pilot, flying McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0752, shot down the first Vietnam People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 of the Vietnam War.

Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer 53-422. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer 53-422. (U.S. Air Force)

An official Air Force history reports:

. . . on 26 April, Maj. Paul J. Gilmore, in the front seat of the lead F-4C, and 1st Lt. William T. Smith in the back, downed the first MiG-21 of the war. They were part of a flight of three F-4s flying escort for two RB-66s. Launching from Da Nang, they rendezvoused with the RB-66s and proceeded north to the Red River, where one RB-66 and one F-4 split off for a separate mission. Gilmore, flying the other F-4, and the other RB-66 proceeded north east of Hanoi. Almost at once they spotted two or three MiGs coming high in the 2 o’clock position and closing rapidly. Gilmore and his wingman jettisoned their external tanks, lit their afterburners, and broke into a hard left descending turn while the RB-66 departed the area.

Gilmore pulled out of his vertical reversal at 12,000 feet [3,657.6 meters], with his wingman flying a tight wing position. They pulled up after the MiGs, which were in afterburner, heading northwest at 30,000 feet [9,144 meters].

A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 interceptor at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in the markings of the VPAF. (U.S. Air Force)

The second MiG was descending very slowly, trailing white vapor toward the east. The F-4 aircrews lost sight of this aircraft as they closed rapidly on the first, which was making gentle clearing turns as he climbed away. Gilmore had several boresight lock-ons but was out of range for a good Sparrow shot. At a range of 3,000 feet [915 meters], Gilmore fired one Sidewinder with a good tone; he then maneuvered to the left to gain more separation and as a result did not see his first missile track.

Later, Gilmore reported that he had not realized that he had scored a victory with his first missile: “My wingman, flying cover for me, told me later the MiG pilot had ejected after I fired the first missile. I didn’t realize I’d hit him the first time. My wingman wondered why I kept after him as I had hit him the first time and the pilot ejected.” Because of radio difficulties, his wingman could not inform Gilmore of his success.

A U.S. Air Force ordnance technician prepares to load four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles (top row) and four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missiles (bottom row) aboard an F-4C. This aircraft, F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0793, is from the same production block as the fighter flown by Major Gilmore and Lieutenant Smith, 26 April 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

After his maneuver to gain separation, Gilmore pulled up behind the pilotless MiG-21 again and fired another Sidewinder without effect. He again rolled left, pulled up, and fired his third Sidewinder at a range of 3,000 feet. “After missing [he thought] twice,” Gilmore later told a newsman, “I was quite disgusted. I started talking to myself. Then I got my gunsights on him and fired a third time. I observed the missile go directly in his tailpipe and explode his tail.”

The two F-4 aircrews then descended to watch the debris impact. As Gilmore commenced his pull-up he spotted another MiG-21 tracking his wingman and called for a defensive split. He broke to the left and down while his wingman broke to the right and up.

When Gilmore emerged from the roll, he sighted the MiG ahead, in afterburner and climbing away. He rolled in behind this aircraft and climbed in afterburner until he was directly behind. He fired his fourth Sidewinder, but the range was too short and the missile passed over the MiG’s left wing. Because of low fuel reserves, both F-4s then left the battle area. The 6-minute aerial battle was Gilmore’s first encounter with an enemy plane “after twelve years in the tactical fighter business.”

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 27–29.

According to Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force records, a fighter was lost 26 April 1966, though it is described as a MiG-17. The pilot, First Lieutenant Tràn Vặn Triém, ejected after being hit by friendly fire.

The Phantom II flown by Gilmore and Smith on that date was written off 6 August 1967.

F-4C 64-0752. Ngày 06/08/67 chiếc F-4C này bị PK bắn rơi ở Quảng Bình.
F-4C 64-0752. Ngày 06/08/67 chiếc F-4C này bị PK bắn rơi ở Quảng Bình. (vnmilitaryhistory.net) [A Vietnamese historical website describes the aircraft in this photograph as Major Gilmore’s F-4C.]
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

26 April 1962

Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk, Jr. (Lockheed)
Lockheed test pilot Louis W. Schalk, Jr. (Lockheed Martin)

26 April 1962: At a non-existent location in the Mojave Desert of Nevada, Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Louis Wellington (“Lou”) Schalk, Jr., was scheduled to take the first Oxcart for a high-speed taxi test on the specially constructed 8,000-foot (2.44 kilometer) runway. However, he had received secret, specific instructions from designer Kelly Johnson to take the craft, known as “Article 121,” airborne.

Lou Schalk roared down the runway and lifted off. He flew at about 20 feet for two miles. The super-secret aircraft was oscillating badly so he set it down straight ahead on the dry lake bed and disappeared into a cloud of dust and flying sand. Johnson said that it “was horrible to watch.” A few minutes later, the needle nose of Article 121 appeared out of the dust as Schalk taxied back to the runway. It turned out that some equipment had been hooked up backwards. Subsequent flights were made without difficulty.

This was the actual first flight of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Top Secret A-12 reconnaissance aircraft. The “official” first flight would come several days later.

Lockheed A-12 60-6924 lands at Groom Lake, NV, after its first flight, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed)
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 lands at Groom Lake, NV, after its first flight, 30 April 1962. (Lockheed Martin)

Designed as the successor to the Agency’s subsonic U-2 spy plane, the twin-engine  jet was capable of flying more than Mach 3 (over 2,000 miles per hour/3,218.7 kilometers per hour) and higher than 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Built by Lockheed’s “Skunk Works,” the new airplane wasn’t “state of the art,” it was well beyond the state of the art. New materials were developed. New equipment designed and built. New manufacturing processes were invented.

The A-12, developed under the code name “Oxcart,” was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The first A-12 was referred to as Article 121. “A” = “Article.” “12-” is for A-12. “-1” is for the first production aircraft. So you get “Article 121.” What could be simpler?

The A-12 was so fast and could fly so high that it was invulnerable to any defense. No missile or aircraft or gun could reach it.

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)

Thirteen A-12s were built for the CIA.  Two M-21 variants, built to carry the Mach 4 D-21 drone, were also produced. An interceptor version was developed for the Air Force as the YF-12A.

Ninety-three Lockheed F-12B interceptors were ordered though Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara  refused to release the funding for production. After three years, the order was cancelled. The Air Force liked the A-12, however, and ordered 32 of the more widely known two-place SR-71A “Blackbird” reconnaissance ships.

Today, Article 121 is on display at the Blackbird Airpark, an annex of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Lockheed A-12 60-6924 at the Blackbird Airpark, Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (© 2012, Bryan R. Swopes)
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 at the Blackbird Airpark, Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (© 2012, Bryan R. Swopes)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

26 April 1948

est Pilot George Welch flying the prototype North American Aviation XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation test pilot George S. Welch, flying the first of three XP-86 prototypes, serial number 45-59597. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

26 April 1948: At Muroc Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base), in the high desert of southern California, North American Aviation test pilot George Welch put the prototype XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597, into a 40° dive and broke the Sound Barrier. It is only the second U.S. aircraft to fly supersonic. The first was the Bell X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, only a few months earlier.

Or, maybe not.

In his book, Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, fellow North American Aviation test pilot Albert W. Blackburn makes the case that George Welch had taken the prototype XP-86 Sabre supersonic on its first flight, 1 October 1947, and that he had done so three times before Chuck Yeager first broke the Sound Barrier with the Bell X-1 rocketplane, 14 October 1947. Blackburn described two runs through the NACA radar theodolite with speeds of Mach 1.02 and 1.04 on 13 November 1947.

Mr. Blackburn speculates—convincingly, in my opinion—that Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington, Jr., ordered that Welch’s excursions beyond Mach 1 were to remain secret. However, during a radio interview, British test pilot Wing Commander Roland Prosper (“Bee”) Beamont, C.B.E, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, stated that he had flown through the Sound Barrier in the number two XP-86 Sabre prototype (45-59598). Once that news became public, the U.S. Air Force released a statement that George Welch had flown beyond Mach 1 earlier, but gave the date as 26 April 1948.

Test pilot George S. Welch, wearing his distinctive orange helmet, in the cockpit of the prototype XP-86. This photograph was taken 14 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilot George S. Welch, wearing his distinctive orange helmet, in the cockpit of the prototype XP-86. This photograph was taken 14 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)

It wasn’t long after the first flight of the XP-86 on October 1, 1947, that Welch dropped into Horkey’s [Edward J. Horkey, an aerodynamicist at North American Aviation] office at the Inglewood plant. He wanted to talk about his recent flight and some “funny” readings in the airspeed indicator. He had made a straight-out climb to more than 35,000 feet. Then, turning back toward Muroc Dry Lake, he began a full-power, fairly steep descent.

“I started at about 290 knots,” Welch was explaining to Horkey. “In no time I’m at 350. I’m still going down, and I’m still accelerating but the airspeed indicator seems stuck like there’s some kind of obstruction in the pitot tube. I push over a little steeper and by this time I’m through 30,000 feet. All of a sudden, the airspeed indicator flips to 410 knots. The aircraft feels fine, no funny noises, no vibration. Wanted to roll off to the left, but no big deal. Still, I leveled out at about 25,000 and came back on the power. The airspeed flicked back to 390. What do you think?”

“. . . You may be running into some Mach effects. . . .”

— Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, 1999, at Pages 147–148.

The “funny” reading of the airspeed indicator became known as the “Mach jump.” George Welch was the first to describe it.

The Sabre became a legendary jet fighter during the Korean War. 9,860 were built by North American, as well as by licensees in Canada, Australia and Japan.

George Welch had been recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions as a P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot in Hawaii, December 7, 1941. He was killed while testing a North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

Test pilot George S. Welch with a North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

26 April 1944

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310, at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 26 April 1944. (McMahan Photographic Archive)

26 April 1944: The first production Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, landed at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, shortly after 2:00 p.m. The crew were Lieutenant Colonel George A. Hatcher, Material Command Project Engineer, and Lieutenant Colonel Clarence A. Shoop, Materiel Command resident inspector at Lockheed Burbank in California.

Orville Wright on a ladder entering a Lockheed Constellation airplane at Wright Field. 4-26-1944 (Digital Services Department; Wright State University Libraries)

Orville Wright was present to see the airplane. After a tour, he was invited to stay aboard as a passenger. The flight was planned for 15 minutes, but the actual duration was 50 minutes.

Colonel Hatcher invited Wright to take the right seat and to handle the controls. Wright was reluctant but did so and grinned. While Hatcher climbed out of the left seat so that Brigadier General Franklin Otis Carroll could take his position, Wright continued to fly the Constellation. It was the first time in 25 years that he had piloted an airplane.

After the flight, Wright said, “It was absolutely marvelous. . . You can say that I ran the whole thing. Put exclamation points and question marks around that—because all I had to do was just let it take care of itself. . . I enjoyed every minute. I guess a ran the whole plane for a minute. But I let the machine take care of itself. I always said airplanes would fly them selves if you left them alone.”

Orville Wright, inventor of the airplane, grins as he sits at the co-pilot’s controls of the Lockheed C-69 Constellation during a 50-minute flight from Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 26 April 1944. (jack-frye.blogspot.com)

“It’s a fine plane. . . it [the flight] was really fine.”

Orville Wright and Brigadier General Franklin Otis Carroll, Materiel Command, with the Lockheed C-69 Constellation at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 26 April 1944. (Digital Services Department; Wright State University Libraries)

Later the C-69 was flown to Dayton Army Air Base at Vandalia, Ohio, for testing and crew training.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes