Category Archives: Aviation

23 May 1953

Jackie Cochran in cockpit of the Sabre Mk.3, with Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force
Jackie Cochran in cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3, with Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)

23 May 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jackie Cochran set another Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record with the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200. Flying over a 500-kilometer closed circuit without payload, the Orenda-powered Sabre averaged 952.032 kilometers per hour (591.565 miles per hour). ¹

The following week a morning opened up with conditions satisfactory, except for a fifteen-knot wind, and I went around the course five times for a 500-kilometer record of 590 miles per hour. The plane, without the  carrying of external tanks, had fuel for only seventeen minutes of full-power low-altitude flying, so for this longer run I had to carry the external tanks, which slowed the airplane down by about 40 miles per hour. Even so, I only had fuel for twenty-seven minutes of full-power flying, which was insufficient, so I had to make the runs pulling 94 per cent of full power rather than full power. I landed on the dry lake bed just as I did after the 100-kilometer run and again with two minutes of fuel remaining.

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter XII, at Pages 230–231.

ackie Cochran’s FAI Diplome de Record at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran’s FAI Diplôme de Record at the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives. (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)

During May and June 1953, Cochran, a consultant to Canadair, flew the Sabre Mk.3 to FAI records over the 15/25 kilometer straight course, the 100-kilometer closed circuit, the 500-kilometer closed circuit and to an altitude record of 14,377 meters (47,168.635 feet). She was the first woman to “break the Sound Barrier” when she flew No. 19200 to Mach 1.04.

The Canadair Sabre Mk.3 was a one-of-a-kind CL-13 Sabre (an F-86E Sabre manufactured by Canadair Ltd. under license from North American Aviation, Inc.) built to test the prototype Avro Canada Gas Turbine Division Orenda 3 engine. Modifications to the F-86 airframe were required to install the new, larger engine.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB. (LIFE Magazine)

The Orenda 3 was an axial-flow turbojet engine with a 10-stage compressor, six combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (16.69 kilonewtons), a 15% improvement over the General Electric J47-GE-13 installed in the standard F-86E. The Orenda was 121.3 inches (3.081 meters) long, 42 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,650 pounds (1,202 kilograms).

Canadair Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer located at Cartierville, Montreal, Canada, owned by the American submarine builder, Electric Boat Company. Canadair also built licensed versions of the Douglas DC-4 (powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines) and the Lockheed T-33 two-place jet trainer. In 1954, the company became a part of General Dynamics.

After the speed records, No. 19200 was sent to North American Aviation for evaluation. Today, it is on static display outdoors at Wetaskiwin Regional General Airport (CEX3), Alberta, Canada.

Record-setting Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200 (Canadair Ltd.)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9075

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

23 May 1937

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020 is refueled at Miami, Florida, 1 June 1937
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, is refueled at Miami, Florida.

23 May 1937: Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, her husband, George Palmer Putnam, and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKinney, arrive at Miami, Florida, aboard her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020. This completed the fourth leg of her second attempt to fly around the world.

. . . on Sunday morning, May 23, headed on southeastward for Miami. From New Orleans we laid a straight course across the north-easterly “corner” of the Gulf of Mexico to Tampa, a matter of about 400 miles. It was Bo’s first considerable over-water flying and I am not sure he was very enthusiastic about it. That Sunday afternoon we reached Miami, and dug in for a week of final preparation, with the generous aid of Pan American personnel.

Amelia Earhart

Great Circle courses from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Tampa, Florida, 413 nautical miles, then on to Miami, for a total of 591 nautical miles (680 statute miles/1,094 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

The Miami Tribune reported:

Miami Tribune, Vol. IV, No. 191, Monday, 24 May, 1937, Page 1

AMELIA EARHART PAYS MIAMI        SURPRISE VISIT IN ‘LABORATORY’

     Amelia Earhart, world famous flyer, paid Miami a surprise visit yesterday, landing at the 36th st. airport at 2:43 p.m. in her “Flying Laboratory,” 4 hours and 31 minutes out of New Orleans on a shakedown cruise for the plane, which had just been rebuilt after its crash in Honolulu on a projected world flight.

     Miss Earhart was accompanied by her publisher-husband, George Palmer Putnam. Capt. Fred Noonan, her navigator on the trip that ended in Honolulu on March 20 when a tire was blown in an attempt to takeoff at Luke field after a record breaking flight from the American mainland and by her mechanic, “Bo” Mc-Kneeley.

     Other members of the welcoming committee were David Putnam, manager of the Fort Pierce airport, and his wife. David is Putnam’s son by a former marriage. The younger Putnam’s had been informed earlier of the pending arrival, but had not made their information public.

     Miami’s first news of her arrival came a little more than an hour before her landing when a radio message was received at Pan American Airways. George Hussey, chairman of the mayor’s reception committee, and R. V. Waters, president of the Greater Miami Airport association, hurried to the field to greet the celebrated arrivals, and to invite Miss Earhart to appear in Bayfront park tonight at the city’s welcome for Capt. Dick Merrill and Jack Lambia. The invitation was accepted.

     “We’re just out on a shakedown trip,” Miss Earhart said. “Miami wasn’t on our route as originally planned, but on reaching New Orleans we decided to continue the trip and visit David.

     “We crossed the Gulf, and with the navigation of Captain Noonan, hit Tampa squarely on the nose and within one minute of the time he said he would be over the city, and when one considers wind drift, that’s pretty good navigation. We expect to stay here two or three days.”

     All of the facilities of the 36th st. airport being taxed with Eastern Airlines planes, Miss Earhart stopped there but a few minutes, then hopped over to Municipal airport, where hanger space was arranged for her plane.

Miami Tribune, Vol. IV, No. 191, Monday, 24 May, 1937, Page 3, Columns 2–4

© 2022, Bryan R. Swopes

22 May 1991

22 May 1991: After nearly 30 years in service with West Germany, the F-104 Starfighter made its last flight before retirement. The Luftwaffe was the largest single operator of the Lockheed F-104 with nearly 35% of the total worldwide production in West German service. 915 F-104F two-place trainers and F-104G fighter-bombers were built, with most going to the Luftwaffe, but 151 were assigned to the West German Navy.

Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson as a Mach 2 interceptor, the Starfighter was used as a fighter bomber by Germany. The F-104G was most-produced version of the Lockheed Starfighter. It had a strengthened fuselage and wings, with hardpoints for carrying bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.

The F-104G is a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 58.26 feet (17.758 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).

The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).

The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers). The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

The Starfighter’s standard armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling gun, with 750 rounds of ammunition, and up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles could be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles two wingtip fuel tanks and another two underwing tanks could be carried.

General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)
General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Messerschmitt-built F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)

On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton and was designed for high-speed, low-altitude, laydown delivery.

German Air Force F-104G Starfighter equipped with rocket booster for Zero Length Launch. A B43 nuclear bomb is on the centerline hardpoint. (MoRsE via Wikipedia)
German Air Force F-104G Starfighter DB+127 at the Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr, Berlin Gatow. The fighter bomber equipped with four external fuel tanks and a ZELL-Verfaren rocket booster for Zero-Length Launch. A B43 nuclear bomb is on the centerline hardpoint. (MoRsE via Wikipedia)

The Starfighter had an undesirable reputation for high accident rates. 270 German F-104s were lost in accidents, resulting in the deaths of at least 110 pilots. In reality, this was not unusual, and can be attributed the the nature of the mission: high-speed, low-altitude flight, in the poor weather conditions of Europe. The German press, however, gave it the name Witwenmacher (“Widowmaker”).

The last Luftwaffe F-104 to fly was 26+40 from Ingolstadt Manching Airport, 22 May 1991.

Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)
Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. It is powered by a MAN Turbo J79-MTU-J1K engine rated at 15,950 pounds of thrust. (© Peter Doll)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

22 May 1968

Los Angeles Airways’ Sikorsky S-61L N300Y at Disneyland Heliport, Anaheim, California. This is the sister ship of N303Y, and it would also be destroyed in a catastrophic accident, 14 August 1968. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Los Angeles Airways’ Sikorsky S-61L N300Y at Disneyland Heliport, Anaheim, California. This is the prototype S-61L and the sister ship of N303Y. It would also be destroyed in a catastrophic accident, 14 August 1968. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

22 May 1968: Los Angeles Airways Flight 841, a Sikorsky S-61L, N303Y, was enroute from Disneyland, Anaheim, California, to Los Angeles international Airport (LAX). Captain John E. Dupies and First Officer Terry R. Herrington were in the cockpit, while Flight Attendant Donald P. Bergman was in the passenger cabin with twenty passengers. The flight was cruising on a westerly heading at 2,000 feet (610 meters) when the five main rotor blades “underwent a series of extreme over-travel excursions in their lead/lag axis.”

The five main rotor blades are identified by color markings: red, black, white, yellow and blue (clockwise as seen from above). As the black blade oscillated fore and aft, the geometry of the pitch change control rods to the blades changed, rapidly varying the blades’ pitch angles and therefore, the lift and drag they produced. This put extreme overloads on the pitch control rods and and the rod controlling the yellow blade failed. The yellow blade was no longer in control. The extreme dynamic changes in the blade’s motion was transmitted to the white blade which also went out of control, followed by the other three blades. All five blades diverged from the normal tip-path plane and began to strike each other and the helicopter’s fuselage. The yellow blade was driven out of its normal sequence between the white and blue blades and struck the fuselage at the baggage door with its top flat against the fuselage side. It broke into five sections then wrapped around the rotor mast. All blades were destroyed. The helicopter, completely out of control, fell nearly vertically to the ground. The crew radioed, “L.A., we’re crashing. Help us.”

At 5:51 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Flight 841 crashed on Alondra Boulevard near Minnesota Street in the city of Paramount. The aircraft was completely destroyed by the impact and post-crash fire. All 23 persons on board were killed.

The crash scene of Los Angeles Airways Flight 841, along Alondra Blvd, Paramount, California, 22 May 1968. One main roto rblade can be seen protruding from a building's roof, nearby. (Unattributed)
The crash scene of Los Angeles Airways Flight 841, along Alondra Blvd, Paramount, California, 22 May 1968. One main rotor blade can be seen on a building’s roof, nearby. (Unattributed)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation determined that the probable cause of the accident was a failure of the black blade’s lead/lag hydraulic damper or a loss of effectiveness of the white blade’s damper. The reason for this failure was not determined.

Captain “Jack” Dupies was a veteran pilot with Los Angeles Airways, having worked for the airline since 1953. He had a total of 12,096 flight hours with 4,208 hours in the S-61. First Officer Herrington had a total of 872 flight hours with 589 hours in helicopters. He had joined Los Angeles Airways in January 1968.

Sikorsky S-61L N303Y, s/n 61060, was completed in June 1962. At the time of the crash, it had accumulated 11,128 total hours on the airframe. It had undergone a complete 2,400-hour overhaul approximately 6 months earlier.

The Sikorsky S-61L was a civil variant of the United States Navy HSS-2 Sea King, and was the first helicopter specifically built for airline use. The prototype, N300Y, first flew 2 November 1961. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. Although HSS-2 fuselage is designed to allow landing on water, the S-61L is not amphibious, having standard fixed landing gear rather than the sponsons of the HSS-2 (and civil S-61N). The S-61L fuselage is 4 feet, 2 inches (1.270 meters) longer than that of the HSS-2. The S-61L is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high, with rotors turning.

The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.149 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% r.p.m., the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

N303Y was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-1 engines. The CT58 is an axial-flow free-turbine turboshaft engine with a 10-stage compressor section and a 3-stage turbine (2 low- and 1 high-pressure stages). The -140-1 is rated at 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and 1,500 SHP for 2½ minutes, with one engine inoperative. The compressor turns 26,300 r.p.m. (100% N1) and the power turbine, 19,500 r.p.m. (100% N2). The CT58-140-1 is 1 foot, 8.2 inches (0.513 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 11.0 inches (1.499 meters) long and weighs 350 pounds (158.8 kilograms).

The helicopter’s main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.

The S-61 has a cruise speed of 166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The maximum takeoff weight is 20,500 pounds (9,298.6 kilograms).

Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61 series helicopters. 13 were S-61Ls. As of September 2013, two remained in service.

Diagram of Sikorsky S-61L rotor head. (NTSB)
Diagram of Sikorsky S-61L rotor head. (NTSB)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

22 May 1958

Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps.

22 May 1958: At NAS Point Mugu, a naval air weapons test center on the southern California shoreline, Major Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude with a Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bureau of Aeronautics (“Bu. No.”) serial number 130745.

Runway 21 at Point Mugu (NTD) has a slight downhill gradient and the departure end is very near the shoreline, with an elevation of just 9 feet (2.7 meters). This runway has been used for time-to-altitude records on several occasions.

Douglas F4D-1 Skyray Bu. No. 130745 at NOTS China Lake, circa 1960. (China Lake Alumni)

Major LeFaivre’s Skyray climbed from the runway to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 44.392 seconds ¹; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), 1:06.095 ²; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet), 1:30.025 ³; 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), 1:51.244 ⁴; and 15,000 meters (49,213 feet), 2:36.233.⁵ This was the first time that a 15,000 meter had been set.

F4D-1 Bu. No. 130745 was the fifth production Skyray. The Douglas Aircraft Company F4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine, transonic all-weather interceptor, designed to operated from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. It had a tailless delta configuration with rounded wing tips. The Skyray was 45 feet, 7-7/8 inches (13.916 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and height of 12 feet, 11-7/8 inches (3.959 meters). The span with wings folded for storage on flight and hangar decks was 26 feet, 1-7/8 inches (7.972 meters), The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 52.5°. The total wing area was 557 square feet (51.747 square meters).

The interceptor had an empty weight of 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum weight of 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms).

Early production F4D-1s were powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-8 had a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons) at 5,750 r.p.m. , N1. The military power rating was 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1. Maximum power was 14,500 pounds of thrust (64.50 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1, with afterburner. The engine was 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 20 feet, 10 inches (6.35 meters) long.

The cruise speed of the F4D-1 was 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour, or 0.95 Mach) at Sea Level, and 695 miles per hour (1,118 kilometers, or Mach 1.05) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). The Skyray had a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters), and maximum range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

The F4D-1 was armed with four 20 mm Colt Mark 12 autocannon with 70 rounds per gun. The Mark 12 had a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute. Four AAM-N-7 (AIM-9) Sidewinder infrared-homing air to air missiles could be carried under the wings, or various combinations of 2.75 inch rocket pods, up to a maximum of 76 rockets.

A U.S. Marine Corps Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 134815, assigned to VMF(AW)-115, just south of the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Southern California, 4 April 1957. (Robert L. Lawson Collection, National Naval Aviation Museum)

The Skyray had very unpleasant handling characteristics. It was used to teach pilots how to handle unstable aircraft. Bu. No. 130745 was used as a flight test aircraft at NOTS China Lake, a Naval Ordnance Test Station near Ridgecrest, in the high desert of southern California. (China Lake, NID, is about 55 miles/89 kilometers north-northwest of Edwards AFB, EDW).

Lt. Jan M. Graves, USNR

On 21 October 1960, Lieutenant Jan Michael (“Black Jack”) Graves, United States Naval Reserve, was flying 130745, simulating aircraft carrier takeoffs from Runway 21 at China Lake. The F4D-1 had just taken off when, at approximately 100 feet (30.5 meters), it slowly rolled upside down and then crashed on to the runway. It slid about 1.14 miles (1.83 kilometers) before coming to  stop. Lieutenant Graves was killed.

Accident investigators found that a broken wire in the rudder feedback system had allowed the rudder to go to its maximum deflection.

As this Douglas F4D-1 Skyray dives away from the camera, its unusual delta wing planform can be seen. (United States Navy)

Edward Norris LeFaivre was born at Baltimore, Maryland, 11 October 1924. He attended the University of Maryland, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree. He was then employed at the Glenn L. Martin Company.

LeFaivre joined the United States Marine Corps in 1942. Trained as a Naval Aviator, he was assigned as a night fighter pilot with VMF(N)-533 at Yontan, Airfield, Okinawa. On 18 May 1945, Lieutenant LeFaivre shot down two enemy bombers with his Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat, for which he was awarded the Silver Star.

Captain LeFaivre continued as a night fighter pilot during the Korean War. Flying a Grumman F7F Tigercat assigned to VMF(AW)-513, on 21 October 1951, he repeatedly attacked a heavy concentration of enemy vehicles, LeFaivre’s airplane was shot down. He was rescued by helicopter, but his observer was listed as missing in action. Captain LeFaivre was awarded two additional Silver Stars for his actions on that night.

From 8 August to 31 December 1967, Colonel LeFaivre commanded Marine Air Group 13 (MAG-13), based at Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. The group’s three squadrons were equipped with the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II.

Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre retired from the Marine Corps in 1972. He died 28 June 1992 at the age of 68 years, and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8591

² FAI Record File Number 8592

³ FAI Record File Number 8593

⁴ FAI Record File Number 8594

⁵ FAI Record File Number 8595

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes