Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.
View all posts by Bryan Swopes →
14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.
Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.
This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.
During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.
¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048
“This picture of the Earth and Moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded September 18, 1977, by NASA’s Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon is at the top of the picture and beyond the Earth as viewed by Voyager. In the picture are eastern Asia, the western Pacific Ocean and part of the Arctic. Voyager 1 was directly above Mt. Everest (on the night side of the planet at 25 degrees north latitude) when the picture was taken. The photo was made from three images taken through color filters, then processed by the Image Processing Lab at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Because the Earth is many times brighter than the Moon, the Moon was artificially brightened by a factor of three relative to the Earth by computer enhancement so that both bodies would show clearly in the prints. Voyager 1 was launched September 5, 1977 and Voyager 2 on August 20, 1977. JPL is responsible for the Voyager mission.”—NASA Greatest Images Archive
18 September 1961: Jackie Cochran, acting as a test pilot and consultant for Northrop Corporation, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance when she flew the Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, from Palmdale, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a distance of 2,401.780 kilometers (1,492.397 miles).¹
Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:
September 18: Jackie took off from Palmdale at 10:00 am for attempt to set records from points to points. I took off from Edwards with 275-gallon [1,041 liter] drop tanks. During climb Jackie reported rough engine and poor performance. Also the fuel flow was inoperative. Jackie returned to the field where I finally found her takeoff flaps were still down. Also her navigation lights and beacon were on. I was rather disappointed. She’s a little cocky in the airplane. She landed back there at Palmdale with 1500 pounds [680 kilograms] of fuel in each side and made a good heavy-weight landing. The aircraft refueled and another takeoff was made at 12:30 pm. Everything went smooth this flight. We ran into clouds at the edge of Utah which lasted until Cheyenne, Wyo. Clear the rest of the way. Jackie landed with 250 pounds of fuel in each side. Made a beautiful landing and turned off after a 4000 foot [1,220 meters] ground roll. Bob White returned the F-100 to Edwards.
— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted inJackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306.
The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).
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).
It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).
In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.
18 September 1959: At 05:16:00 UTC, a three-stage Vanguard Satellite Launch Vehicle lifted of from Launch Complex 18A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The rocket placed a 50 pound (22.7 kilogram) scientific satellite into Earth orbit.
Contained inside the satellite’s 20 inch (50.8 centimeter) diameter magnesium outer shell were sensors and transmitters. The satellite collected data on the Earth’s magnetic field, the Van Allen Radiation Belt, micrometeorite impacts on the satellite and measured drag acting to slow the satellite in its orbit.
Vanguard 3 transmitted data for 84 days before it stopped functioning. It is estimated that it will remain in orbit around the Earth for 300 years.
18 September 1948: The first delta-winged aircraft took flight for the first time when Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation test pilot Ellis D. “Sam” Shannon lifted off from Muroc Dry Lake with the prototype delta-wing XF-92A, serial number 46-682. For the next 18 minutes he familiarized himself with the new aircraft type, before landing back on the lake bed.
Later, with Captain Chuck Yeager flying, the XF-92A reached Mach 1.05. Yeager found that the airplane’s delta wing made it nearly impossible to stall, even with a 45° angle of attack. He was able to land the airplane at nearly 100 miles per hour slower than the designers had predicted.
The XF-92A was a difficult airplane to fly. NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield commented, “Nobody wanted to fly the XF-92. There was no lineup of pilots for the airplane. It was a miserable flying beast.” Scotty made 25 flights in the experimental delta-winged aircraft. On its last flight, 14 October 1953, the airplane’s nose gear collapsed after landing. The XF-92A was damaged and never flew again.
The XF-92A (Consolidated-Vultee Model 7-002) was a single-place, single-engine prototype fighter. The airplane was 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 4 inches (9.550 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 9 inches (5.410 meters). It had an empty weight of 9,078 pounds (4,118 kilograms) and gross weight of 14,608 pounds (6,626 kilograms).
The prototype was originally powered by It was powered by an Allison J33-A-21 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine with a single-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. It produced 4,250 pounds of thrust at 11,500 r.p.m. at Sea Level. This was later replaced by a more powerful J33-A-29 (7,500 pounds thrust).
The XF-92A had a maximum speed of 718 miles per hour (1,156 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 50,750 feet (15,469 meters).
The XF-92A was not put into production. It did appear in several motion pictures, including “Toward The Unknown” (one of my favorites). It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This was the first of several Convair delta-winged aircraft, including the F2Y Sea Dart, F-102A Delta Dart and F-106A Delta Dagger supersonic interceptors, and the B-58A Hustler four-engine Mach 2+ strategic bomber.
Consolidated-Vultee XF-92A 46-682 is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Ellis Dent Shannon was born at Andalusia, Alabama, 7 February 1908. He was the third of five children of John William and Lucy Ellen Barnes Shannon.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant the Alabama National Guard (Troop C, 55th Machine Gun Squadron, Cavalry) 21 May 1926. He transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1929. In 1930, he was stationed at Brooks Army Airfield, Texas.
In 1932 Shannon was employed was assigned as a flight instructor and an advisor to the government of China.
On 24 December 1932, Shannon married Miss Martha Elizabeth Reid at Shanghai, China. They had son, Ellis Reid Shannon, born at Shanghai, 24 August 1934, and a daughter, Ann N. Shannon, born at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1940.
Shannon and his family returned to the United States in 1935 aboard SS Bremen, arriving at New York.
He was employed by the Glenn L. Martin Co., at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1936 as a test and demonstration pilot. He travel throughout Latin America for the company, demonstrating the company’s aircraft. As a test pilot he flew the Martin Model 187 Baltimore, the B-26 Marauder, PBM Mariner and the Martin JRM Mars.
In February 1943, Shannon started working as a Chief of Flight Research for the Consolidated Aircraft Company at San Diego, California. While there, made the first flights of the Consolidated XB-24K, a variant of the Liberator bomber with a single vertical tail fin; the XR2Y-1, a prototype commercial airliner based on the B-24 Liberator bomber; the XB-46 jet-powered medium bomber; the XP5Y-1 Tradewind, a large flying boat powered by four-turboprop-engines; the Convair 340 Metropolitan airliner; and the XF2Y Sea Dart, a delta-winged seaplane powered by two turbojet engines. Shannon also participated in the flight test program of the YF-102A Delta Dart.
After retiring from Convair in 1956, Ellis and Martha Shannon remained in the San Diego area. Ellis Dent Shannon died at San Diego, California, 8 April 1982 at the age of 74 years.