Category Archives: Aviation

22 August 1963

Joe Walker and the X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake at the end of a flight. Walker is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (U.S. Air Force)

22 August 1963: On his twenty-fifth and last flight with the X-15 program, NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph Albert Walker would attempt a flight to Maximum Altitude. Engineers had predicted that the X-15 was capable of reaching 400,000 feet (121,920 meters) but simulations had shown that a safe reentry from that altitude was risky. For this flight, Flight 91, the flight plan called for 360,000 feet (109,728 meters) to give Walker a safety margin. Experience had shown that slight variations in engine thrust and climb angle could cause large overshoots in peak altitude, so this was not considered an excessive safety margin.

For this flight, Joe Walker flew the Number 3 X-15, 56-6672. It was the only one of the three North American Aviation X-15s equipped with the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system, which had been developed to improve control of the rocketplane outside Earth’s atmosphere. This flight was the twenty-second for Number 3.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15A 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)

Walker and the X-15 were airdropped from the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003, The High and Mighty One, at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) above Smith Ranch Dry Lake, Nevada, about half-way between the city of Reno and the NASA High Range Tracking Station at Ely. Launch time was 10:05:57.0 a.m., PDT. Walker ignited the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. This engine was rated at 57,000 pounds of thrust. Experience had shown that different engines varied from flight to flight and that atmospheric conditions were a factor. Thrust beyond 60,000 pounds was often seen, but this could not be predicted in advance. The flight plan called for the duration of burn to be 84.5 seconds on this flight. The X-15 climbed at a 45° angle.

As Walker was about to shut down the engine according to plan, it ran out of fuel. The total burn time was 85.8 seconds, just slightly longer than planned.

“At burnout, Joe was passing 176,000 feet [53,645 meters] and traveling at 5,600 feet per second [1,707 meters per second]. He then began the long coast to peak altitude. It would take almost 2 minutes to reach peak altitude after burn out. Two minutes does not seem like a lot of time, but try timing it. Just sit back in your easy chair and count off the seconds. It is almost impossible to believe that you can continue to coast up in altitude for that length of time after the engine burns out. It gives you some feel for how much energy is involved at those speeds. For comparison, when you throw a ball up in the air as hard as you can, it only coasts upward a maximum of 4 or 5 seconds. The X-15 coasted up for 120 seconds.

“The airplane would coast up another 178,000 feet during that time to peak out at 354,200 feet. . . .”

At The Edge of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1992, Chapter 5 at Page 125.

Joe Walker and the X-15 reached the peak of their ballistic trajectory at 354,200 feet (67.083 miles, 107,960 meters). Walker pitched the nose down to be in the proper attitude for atmospheric reentry. The X-15 decelerated as it hit the atmosphere and Walker experienced as much as 7 Gs. The rocketplane’s aerodynamic control surfaces again became operational as it descended through 95,000 feet (28,956 meters) and Walker leveled at 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). He then glided to a landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after 11 minutes, 8.6 seconds of flight.

Flight 91 was the highest flight achieved by any of the X-15s. It was Joe Walker’s second flight into space. His record would stand for the next 41 years.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 August 1953

Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, USAF, rides in the nose of a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress mothership before a rocketplane flight. He is wearing a David Clark Co. capstan-type partial pressure suit with a K-1 helmet. This scene was portrayed by William Holden in Toward The Unknown". (LIFE Magazine via jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, USAF, rides in the nose of a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress mothership before a rocketplane flight. He is wearing a T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a K-1 helmet. This scene was portrayed by William Holden in “Toward The Unknown”. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

22 August 1953: After one successful glide flight with Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Skip Ziegler, the X-1D rocketplane, serial number 48-1386, was scheduled for its first powered flight with the Air Force project officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest.

Bell X-1D 48-1386. (Bell Aircraft Corp./U.S. Air Force)
Bell X-1D 48-1386. (Bell Aircraft Corp./U.S. Air Force)

The Bell X-1D was one of four second-generation X-1 rocketplanes, each designed and built to investigate a different area of supersonic flight. The X-1D was instrumented for aerodynamic heating research.

A Boeing EB-50D Superfortress carries the Bell X-1D. (Edwards Flight Test.com)
The Boeing EB-50A Superfortress carries the Bell X-1D. The band of white frost around the rocketplane’s fuselage shows the location of the liquid oxygen tank. (EdwardsFlightTest.com)
A Boeing EB-50D Superfortress carries the Bell X-1D at high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing EB-50A Superfortress carries a Bell X-1 at high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)

After being carried to altitude by the Boeing EB-50A Superfortress mothership, Pete Everest saw that the rocketplane’s nitrogen pressure was dropping. (Pressurized nitrogen was used to push the ethyl alcohol/liquid oxygen propellant to the Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 engine.) With insufficient pressure, the X-1D’s flight had to be cancelled. Everest tried to jettison the fuel so that a landing could be made safely. There was an internal explosion.

Fearing that a larger explosion or fire would jeopardize the bomber and its crew, Everest abandoned the X-1D, climbing up into the bomber. The X-1 was then dropped. It crashed onto the desert floor and exploded.

Wreckage of Bell X-1D 48-1386. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of Bell X-1D 48-1386. (U.S. Air Force)

At first it was assumed that vapors from a fuel leak had exploded from contact with an electrical source inside the rocketplane. There had been three similar explosions which resulted in the destruction of the X-1A, X-1-3 and the number two Bell X-2. That explosion, which occurred while the X-2 was on a captive test flight near the Bell Aircraft Corporation Factory, Buffalo, New York, 12 May 1953, killed test pilot Skip Ziegler and flight test engineer Frank Wolko aboard the B-29 mothership.

Investigators discovered that leather gaskets which were used in the rocketplanes’ fuel systems had been treated with tricresyl phospate (TCP). When this was exposed to liquid oxygen, an explosion could result. The leather gaskets were removed from the other rocketplanes and the explosions stopped.

Colonel Everest’s close call was dramatized in the 1956 Toluca Productions motion picture, “Toward The Unknown,” which starred Academy Award-winning actor William Holden as “Major Lincoln Bond,” a fighter pilot, test pilot and former prisoner of war, all of which could describe Pete Everest.

Major Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force gives some technical advice to William Holden ("Major Lincoln Bond") with Bell X-2 46-674, on the set of "Toward The Unknown", 1956.
Major Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, gives some technical advice to William Holden (“Major Lincoln Bond”) with Bell X-2 46-674, on the set of “Toward The Unknown”, 1956. (bellx-2.com)

Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., was born 10 August 1920, at Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Frank Kendall Everest, an electrician, and Phyllis Gail Walker Everest. He attended Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West Virginia, graduating in 1938, and then Fairmont State Teachers College where he was a member of the Tau Beta Iota (ΤΒΙ) fraternity. Everest also studied engineering at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown.

Pete Everest enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 7 November 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. His enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 132 pounds (60 kilograms). Everest graduated from pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 3 July 1942.

Lieutenant Everest married Miss Avis June Mason in Marion County, West Virginia, 8 July 1942. They would have three children, Frank, Vicky and Cindy.

Lieutenant Everest was appointed first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 11 November 1942. He was assigned as a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot. Everest flew 94 combat missions with the 314th Fighter Squadron, 324th Fighter Group, in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-52 transports, 18 April 1943, and damaging a third. Everest was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S., 17 August 1943.

Pete Everest with his Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, North Africa, 1943. (West Virginia State Archives)

In 1944, Captain Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations, commanding the 17th Provisional Fighter Squadron at Chenkiang (Zhenjiang), China, where he flew 67 missions in the Northh American P-51 Mustang, and shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S., 1 July 1945. He was returned to the control of the United States military 3 October 1945.

After the war, Major Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Everest’s permanent rank was advanced from second lieutenant, Air Reserve, to first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945.

At Edwards, Pete Everest was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100 (he flew the YF-100A prototype to an FAI world speed record, 29 October 1953¹), F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the Bell X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set an unofficial world speed record with the Bell X-2 at Mach 2.87 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,150 kilometers per hour), which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was the pilot on thirteen of the twenty X-2 flights.

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments in March 1957, commanding the 461st Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Wing, equipped with the F-100 Super Sabre, at Hahn Air Base, Germany. Later, Colonel Everest commanded the 4453rd and 4520th Combat Crew Training Wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

On 1 November 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Between 1966 and 1972, General Everest flew 32 combat missions over Southeast Asia.

He served as commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service from 1970 to 1973. He retired from the Air Force 1 March 1973 after 33 years of service. PeteEverest later worked as a test pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft.

During his military career, General Everest was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Purple Heart; Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Prisoner of War Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four bronze stars; Asiatic-Pacific campaign Medal with two bronze stars; World War II Victory Medal; national Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (eight awards); Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960– device. General Everest was rated as a Command Pilot, and a Basic Parachutist.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force, died at Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2004, at the age of 84 years.

Bell X-2 46-674 is airdropped from the EB-50D Superfortress, 48-096. U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force

¹ FAI Record File Number 8868: World Record for Speed Over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 August 1922

Second Lieutenant Stanley Cockerell, Royal Flying Corps

22 August 1922: Captain Stanley Cockerell, A.F.C., a test pilot for Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department), made the first flight of the prototype Type 56 Victoria Mk.I, J6869, at Brooklands, Surrey, England.

The Victoria was a twin-engine biplane military transport, developed from the earlier Vickers Vernon and Virginia. It was operated by a crew of two in an open cockpit and could carry up to 22 troops.

A Vickers Victoria (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog # Iraq_00831)
A Royal Air Force Vickers Victoria transport. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog # Iraq_00831)

The prototype Vickers Victoria was powered by two water-cooled, normally-aspirated,  1,461.135 cubic-inch-displacement (23.944 liters) D. Napier and Son Ltd. Lion I, a 60° “triple Four” or “broad-arrow” 12-cylinder engine (also known as a W-12), rated at 450 horsepower at 1,925 r.p.m., each. This was a very complex engine, using individually machined steel cylinders surrounded by welded stamped-steel water jackets. The cylinders were closed at the upper end, rather than having a separate cylinder head. Four valve ports were machined into the “crown.” Each cylinder had two intake and two exhaust valves, which were operated by a dual overhead camshaft arrangement. The cylinders were screwed into a aluminum “head block” which provided stiffening to the assembly, and contained intake and exhaust runners and cooling passages. The three individual banks of four cylinders were attached to the crankcase by studs. The engine’s crankshaft used large roller main bearings for support. The engine used a dry sump lubrication system with an oil pick up at each end. The propeller was driven through a 2:1 reduction gear unit. Cast aluminum alloy pistons were fitted to a master rod with two side rods. The Napier Lion was was compact, very light for the power it produced, and also very efficient. The Napier Lion I weighed approximately 860 pounds (390 kilograms).

The Vickers Victoria had a maximum speed of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour), and a service ceiling of 16,200 feet (4,940 meters). Its range was 770 miles (1,240 kilometers).

97 Victoria transports were built by Vickers. The type remained in service with the Royal Air Force until 1935 and saw extensive use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stanley Cockerell, 1933
Stanley Cockerell, 1933. (A Fleeting Peace)

Stanley Cockerell had been an aircraft mechanic before becoming a fighter pilot. On 27 October 1916, Serjt. Cockerell was assigned to the Royal Flying Corps. He was credited with seven aerial victories during World War I, while flying the Airco DH.2, DH.5 and the Sopwith Camel.

Albert I, King of the Belgians, conferred the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne to Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Cockerell, 21 September 1917. On 25 October 1917, Cockerell was promoted to the temporary rank of Captain. He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre 11 March 1918.

For a flight from England to South Africa in a Vickers Vimy, 24 January–26 February 1920, (“The Times Flight”) Captain Cockerell was awarded the Air Force Cross by George V.

On 4 June 1921, Flight Lieutenant Stanley Cockerell, A.F.C., Royal Air Force, was transferred to the unemployed list.

In 1921, Cockerell married Miss Lorna Lockyer. They would have seven children.

In 1922, Cockerell competed in the King’s Cup, a cross country air race, flying a Vicker’s Type 61 Vulcan, G-EBEM. He finished in 7th place. In the 1923 race, he flew a Type 74 Vulcan, but that airplane did not finish.

Stanley Cockerell and his six-year-old daughter, Kathleen, were killed during the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe bombed Sunbury-on-Thames, 29 November 1940. Mrs. Cockerell was also killed during The Blitz.

A Royal Air Force Vickers Victoria transport, J7924, photographed in flight over Iraq. (RAF)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1989

Lyle Shelton in the cockpit of Rare Bear. (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

21 August 1989: Twenty-five years to the day after the first flight of the prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat, Lyle Shelton flew his highly-modified Unlimited Class racing plane, the F8F-2 Rare Bear, N777L, over a 3 kilometer course at Las Vegas, New Mexico, setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of  850.24 kilometers per hour (528.315 miles per hour),¹ and becoming the world’s fastest piston engine airplane.

Rare Bear had been built for the U.S. Navy at Grumman’s Bethpage, New York plant, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 122629. It was a light-weight, high performance interceptor designed to operate from the Navy’s smaller aircraft carriers.

Among other things, the original 2,250 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp E12 (R-2800-30W) engine was replaced with a 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) hybridized Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone 18-cylinder radial engine and a 13 foot, 6 inch (4.115 meters) diameter Aeroproducts four-bladed propeller from a Douglas AD-Skyraider, with the cowling from a Douglas DC-7. This customized engine reportedly produced 4,500 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m, with 80 inches of manifold pressure.

Rare Bear won the National Air Races six times and set several speed and time to altitude records.

Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Bu. No. 122629, Unlimited Class racer Rare Bear, N777L. (Kogo via Wikipedia)
Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Bu. No. 122629, Unlimited Class racer Rare Bear, N777L. (Kogo via Wikipedia)

The production F8F-2 Bearcat was 27 feet, 8 inches (8.432 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). Its empty weight was 7,070 pounds (3,206.9 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 12,947 pounds (5,872.7 kilograms).

The production F8F-2 used an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp VSE11-G (R-2800-30W) 18-cylinder, twin-row, radial engine. It was rated at 1,720 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,250 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., takeoff and military power, with water/alcohol injection and 115/145 aviation gasoline. The engine drove an Aeroproducts Inc. four-bladed propeller with a diameter of 12 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.450:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-30W was 7 feet, 10.75 inches (2.356 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,560 pounds (1,161 kilograms).

The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour (677.5 kilometers per hour). It could climb at 4,570 feet per minute (23.2 meters per second) and had a service ceiling of 38,700 feet (11,796 meters). Its range was 1,105 miles (1,778 kilometers).

Unlimited class air racer Rare Bear as it appeared in 2014. (Unattributed)
Unlimited Class air racer Rare Bear as it appeared in 2014. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8437

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1967

Major William J. Knight, U.S. Air Force, with the modified X-15A-2, 56-6671, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Major William J. Knight, U.S. Air Force, with the modified X-15A-2, 56-6671, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

21 August 1967: On the 186th flight of the X-15 program, the modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, made the first of two flights with a heat-protective ablative coating, designed to protect the steel structure of the rocketplane from the extreme heat of flight at high Mach numbers.

After a landing accident which caused significant damage to the Number 2 X-15, it was rebuilt by North American. A 28-inch (0.71 meter) “plug” was installed in the fuselage forward of the wings to create space for a liquid hydrogen fuel tank which would be used for an experimental “scramjet” engine that would be mounted the the ventral fin. The modified aircraft was also able to carry two external fuel tanks. It was hoped that additional propellant would allow the X-15A-2 to reach much higher speeds. The external tanks were not carried on the 21 August 1967 flight.

With Major William J. (“Pete”) Knight, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit, the X-15A-2 was airdropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, known as Balls 8, over Hidden Hills Dry Lake, just on the California side of the border with Nevada. This was Knight’s 11th X-15 flight, and the 52nd flight for 56-6671. The launch time was 10:59:16.0 a.m., PDT. Knight fired the 57,000-pound-thrust Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and accelerated for 82.2 seconds. The purpose of this flight was to attain a high speed rather than altitude. The X-15A-2 reached Mach 4.94 (3,368 miles per hour, 5,420 kilometers per hour) at 85,000 feet (25,908 meters) and reached a peak altitude of 91,000 feet (27,737 meters). Pete Knight touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, just 7 minutes, 40.0 seconds after launch.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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