Category Archives: Aviation

29 May 1963

oniann LeVier and Tony LeVier flew this Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter from Palmdale, California to Washington, D.C., 29 May 1963. (Lockheed Martin)

29 May 1963: Lockheed Test Pilot Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier and his 18-year-old daughter, Toniann LeVier, flew the company’s two-place TF-104G Starfighter demonstrator, FAA registration N104L, from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. They made fuel stops at Kirkland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton Ohio.

The Free World Defender, Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter N104L, a company-owned demonstrator aircraft, being refueled during its transcontinental flight, May 1963. (Stephen Miller, International F-104 Society)
Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter N104L, a company-owned demonstrator aircraft, being refueled during its transcontinental flight, May 1963. (Stephen Miller, International F-104 Society)

The Oxnard Press Courier reported:

PALMDALE, Calif. — Toni Ann LeVier, 18, recently earned the title of World’s Fastest Teen-ager after a scorching Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) flight in the front cockpit of a Talley Corporation equipped TF-104G Super Starfighter.

The back-seat driver of the Lockheed aircraft A.W. (Tony) LeVier, her father.

Director of flying operations for Lockheed-California Company, Tony took Toni for a double crack at the sound barrier in the supersonic corridor near Edwards Air Force Base…

The teen-age fledgling flier handled the TF-104G controls during the Mach 2 dash.

Flying the stub-wing fighter was a giant step for Toni, who holds a student pilot’s license.

She started flying lessons in January and has 35 hours in a Beechcraft Musketeer light plane, whose docile 140-m.p.h. speed is about one-tenth that of the TF-104G.

A student at John Muir High School in Pasadena, the pert Mach 2 Miss offered this reaction to the flight:

“I’m still tingling. That sudden surge of power made me feel like we were taking off for outer space, but it’s just as easy to fly as a light plane.”

The company-owned TF-104G they flew is being assigned to Andrews AFB near Washington for a series of demonstrations to U.S. Air Force officials.

Toni volunteered to help Pop ferry the airplane on the cross-country hop.

They plan to leave Friday morning. Stops are scheduled at USAF bases at Albuquerque, Oklahoma City (where they will remain overnight after a noon arrival), and at Dayton, Ohio.

Toni is no stranger to military bases.

She was named “Miss Starfighter” by F-104 pilots of the 479th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, Calif., for Armed Forces Week.

at Andrews AFB Saturday the LeViers will turn the 1500-m.p.h Super Starfighter over to a Lockheed Demonstration team.

Then — for Toni — it’s back to flying a school desk.

Oxnard Press Courier, Tuesday, 4 June 1963, Page 4, Columns 1–3.

Toniann LeVier on the cover of This Week, 29 September 1963.
Toniann LeVier on the cover of This Week Magazine, 28 September 1963.

Toniann LeVier was born 21 September 1944 in Los Angeles County, California. She was the first of two daughters of Anthony W. (“Tony”) Levier, a test pilot for Lockheed in Burbank, California, and Neva Jean Ralph LeVier. Miss LeVier attended John Muir High School in Pasadena, California, where she participated in the Adelphians, the Civil Affairs Council, Fine Arts Council and the Senior Class Council. She graduated in 1963. Later, she studied at Cabrillo College, Aptos, California.

Miss LeVier married David M. Logan, a real estate agent from La Cañada, California, on 11 July 1964. On 24 June 1978, she married her second husband, Theodore E. Posch, in Orange, California. On 21 June 2003, she married Richard Samuel Almaz, a chef, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today, Mrs. LeVier-Almaz works as a massage therapist. She and her husband live in Aptos.

Lockheed’s demonstrator TF-104G Starfighter, N104L, Free World Defender (Lockheed Martin)

N104L is the same aircraft in which Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record of 1,273.12 miles per hour (2,048.88 kilometers per hour) over a 15/25 kilometer straight course, 12 April 1963.¹ 1,203.94 miles per hour over a 100 kilometer closed circuit on 1 May 1963.²

Koninklijke Luchtmacht Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter D-5702. (Harry Prins/International F-104 Society)

N104L, originally registered N90500, was retained by Lockheed for use as a customer demonstrator to various foreign governments. In 1965 Lockheed sold N104L to the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (the Royal Netherlands Air Force), where it served as D-5702 until 1980. It next went to the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force), identified as 4-702. The record-setting Starfighter was retired in 1989 and after several years in storage, was scrapped.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13042

² FAI Record File Number 12390

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 May 1951

Charles F. Blair, Jr., standing in the cocpit of his North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N1202, Excalibur III, 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., standing in the cockpit of Pan American World Airways’ North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Excalibur III, Bardufoss, Norway, 29 May 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

29 May 1951: Pan American World Airways Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., flew a modified North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, NX12012, Excalibur III, from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska, via the North Pole. He flew the 3,260 miles (5,246.5 kilometers) non-stop in 10 hours, 27 minutes.

After departing Bardufoss at 3:58 p.m., Captain Blair flew north along the E. 20° meridian until crossing the North Pole at an altitude of 22,000 feet (6,706 meters), then south along the W. 160° meridian until reaching N. 70° latitude, and then southeast to Fairbanks.

During the transpolar flight, the Mustang was subjected to air temperatures as low as -25 °F. (-31.6 °C.).

Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., checks his astrocompass shortly before beginning his transpolar flight, 29 May 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., checks his astrocompass shortly before beginning his transpolar flight, 29 May 1951. ( National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Captain Blair navigated by using a system of pre-plotted sun lines calculated by Captain Phillip Van Horns Weems, U.S. Navy (Ret.), as a magnetic compass was useless near the Pole and there were no radio navigation aids available.

Blair was presented the Harmon International Trophy by President Harry S. Truman, in a ceremony at the White House, 18 November 1952. The Harmon awards are for “the most outstanding international achievements in the art and/or science of aeronautics for the previous year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Excalibur III being fueled at Bardufoss, Norway, May 1951. (Arkivverkets digitale fotoarkiv)

Charles Blair was commissioned in the United States Naval Reserve in 1931. He was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, in 1937. During World War II, Blair served as a transport pilot in the U.S. Navy and rose to the rank of captain.

Blair resigned from the Navy in 1952 and the following year accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel. In 1959 he was promoted to brigadier general.

While serving as a reserve officer, Charlie Blair continued his civilian career as an airline pilot for United Airlines, American Overseas Airlines, and then with Pan American.

Captain Blair was married to actress Maureen O’Hara, whom he had met during one of his 1,575 transatlantic crossings.

Excalibur III is a Dallas, Texas-built North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, one of a group of 400 fighters which had been contracted on 5 March 1943. Its North American Aviation serial number is 111-29080, and the U.S. Army Air Force assigned it serial number 44-10947.

After World War II, 44-10947 was purchased by Paul Mantz, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration registered it as NX1202. Mantz had it painted red and named it Blaze of Noon. Paul Mantz flew NX1202 to win the 1946 and 1947 Bendix Trophy Races. Flown by Linton Carney and renamed The Houstonian, NX1202 placed second in the 1948 Bendix race, and with “Fish” salmon in the cockpit, it took third place in 1949. Paul Mantz had set several speed records with the Mustang before selling it to Pan American World Airways, Inc., Blair’s employer. Blair named the Mustang Stormy Petrel, but later changed it to Excalibur III.

To increase the Mustang’s range for these long-distance flights, Mantz had removed the standard 90-gallon pressure-molded Firestone self-sealing tanks from each wing and converted the entire wing to a fuel tank (what is known as a “wet wing”).

Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California. Paul Mantz had won the 1946 and 1947 races with this P-51C, NX1202, “Blaze of Noon.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California. Paul Mantz had won the 1946 and 1947 races with this P-51C, NX1202, “Blaze of Noon.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The P-51B and P-51C Mustang are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc, at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, "Excalibur III," at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, “Excalibur III,” at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, at 3,000 r.p.m and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These engines were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), slightly faster than the more numerous P-51D Mustang. The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

Though the P-51D with its bubble canopy was built in far greater numbers during World War II, the earlier P-51B and P-51C Mustangs were actually faster, so many surplus airplanes were used for racing and record attempts after the war.

In 1952, Pan American World Airways donated Excalibur III to the Smithsonian Institution. Today, completely restored, it is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Charles F. Blair, Jr.'s North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 May 1940

Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division XF4U-1 Corsair prototype, Bu. No. 1443, in flight. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

29 May 1940: Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division test pilot Lyman A. Bullard, Jr. took the U.S. Navy’s new prototype fighter, the XF4U-1, Bu. No. 1443, for its first flight at the Bridgeport Municipal Airport, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Designed by Rex Buren Beisel, the prototype would be developed into the famous F4U Corsair.¹

Rex Buren Beisel, designer of the F4U-1 Corsair, at left, with Corsair pilot Major Gregory Boyington, USMCR, circa 1942. (Unattributed)

The F4U Corsair is a single-place, single-engine fighter, designed for operation from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. The XF4U-1 prototype was 30 feet (9.144 meters) long with a wing span of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 7 inches (4.750 meters). It had an empty weight of 7,576 pounds (3,436 kilograms) and gross weight of 9,374 pounds (4,252 kilograms).

Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 1443
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 1443. The airplane’s wings are painted yellow. (Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division)

The XF4U-1 was first powered by an experimental air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liters) Pratt & Whitney R-2800 X-2 (Double Wasp A2-G), and then an R-2800 X-4 (Double Wasp SSA5-G), both two-row 18-cylinder radial engines. The R-2800 X-4 was an X-2 with an A5-G supercharger. The R-2800 X-2 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). The X-4 was rated at 1,600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters); 1,540 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 13,500 feet (4,115 meters); 1,460 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters); and 1,850 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m for takeoff. The engine drove a 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The X-4 had a compression ratio of 6.66:1 and used a two-speed, two-stage supercharger. This was the most powerful engine and largest propeller used on any single engine fighter up to that time. The R-2800 X-4 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and 7 feet, 4.81 inches (2.256 meters) long. It weighed 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms).

The size of the propeller was responsible for the Corsair’s most distinctive feature: the inverted gull wing. The width of the wing (chord) limited the length of the main landing gear struts. By placing the gear at the bend, the necessary propeller clearance was gained. The angle at which the wing met the fuselage was also aerodynamically cleaner.

Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, front. (Vought Sikorsky VS-2612)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, front, 19 April 1941. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2612)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, right front quarter view. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2618)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, right front quarter view, 19 April 1941. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2618)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, right profile (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2619)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, right profile, 19 April 1941. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-2619)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1, right rear quarter, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1414/ cropped image from Connecticut Air & Space Center)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, rear, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1407)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair, rear, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1407)
Vought Aircraft Division XF4U-1, left side, wings folded, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1416)
Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1, left side, wings folded, 26 May 1940. (Vought-Sikorsky VS-1416)

The XF4U-1 prototype had a maximum speed of 378 miles per hour (608 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). Although it has been widely reported that it was the first U.S. single-engine fighter to exceed 400 miles per hour (643.7 kilometers per hour) in level flight, this is actually not the case. During a flight between Stratford and Hartford, Connecticut, the prototype averaged a ground speed 405 miles per hour (652 kilometers per hour). This was not a record flight, and did not meet the requirements of any official speed record.

Several changes were made before the design was finalized for production. Fuel tanks were removed from the wings to make room for six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and ammunition. A new tank was placed in the fuselage ahead of the cockpit. This moved the cockpit rearward and lengthened the nose.

On 11 July 1940, the XF4U-1 was low on fuel. Rather than returning to Bridgeport, test pilot Boone Tarleton Guyton made a precautionary landing on a golf course at Norwich, Connecticut. The grass was wet from rain and the prototype ran into the surrounding trees. Guyton was not injured, but 1443 was seriously damaged. Vought-Sikorsky repaired it and it returned to flight testing about two months later.

Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, Bu. No. 2170, with test pilot Willard Bartlett Boothby, 24 October 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection/National Air and Space Museum NASM-XRA-1294)

The production F4U-1 Corsair had a length of 33 feet, 4.125 inches (10.163 meters), wingspan of 40 feet, 11.726 inches (12.490 meters) and overall height (to top of propeller arc) of 15 feet, 0.21 inches (4.577 meters). The wing had 2° incidence at the root. The outer wing had a dihedral of 8.5°, and the leading edges were swept back 4°10′. With its wings folded, the width of the F4U-1 was 17 feet, 0.61 inches (5.197 meters), and gave it a maximum height of 16 feet, 2.3 inches (4.935 meters). When parked, the Corsair’s 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) propeller had 2 feet, 1.93 inches (65.862 centimeters) ground clearance, but with the fighter’s thrust line level, this decreased to just 9.1 inches (23.1 centimeters).

Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

During fight testing of a production F4U-1 Corsair with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8 (Double Wasp SSB2-G) engine installed, armed with machine guns with 360 rounds of ammunition per gun, the fighter reached a maximum speed of 395 miles per hour (635.7 kilometers per hour) in level flight at 22,800 feet (6,949 meters), using Military Power. The service ceiling was 38,400 feet (11,704 meters).

A total of 12,571 Corsairs were manufactured the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division (F4U-1), Goodyear Aircraft Corporation (FG-1D) and Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (F3A-1). The Corsair served the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. Corsairs also served in other countries’ armed forces. Its last known use in combat was in Central America in 1969.

Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

¹ corsair: noun, cor-sair. A pirate, or privateer (especially along the Barbary Coast of the Mediterranean Sea); a fast ship used for piracy.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 May 1987

Mathias Rust lands at Red Square, Moscow, 7:43 p.m., 28 May 1987. (Salon.com)
Mathias Rust lands at Red Square, Moscow, 6:43 p.m., 28 May 1987. (Salon.com)

28 May 1987: At 12:21 p.m., 18-year-old Mathias Rust, a pilot with just 50 flight hours’ experience, took off from Malmi Airport, Helsinki, Finland, aboard a rented Reims Aviation F172P Skyhawk II, D-ECJB. At 6:43 p.m., he landed the Skyhawk inside Krásnaya Plóshchaď (Red Square), Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Mathias Rust landing in Red Square.
Mathias Rust, Moscow, 28 May 1987.

Rust was prosecuted for entering Soviet air space without authorization and “malicious hooligansim” and sentenced to four years in a labor camp. After 14 months, he was released in August 1988 and returned to Germany.

Mathias Rust during his trial, 1987.
Mathias Rust during his trial, September 1987. (© dpa)

In November 1989, while performing community service (in place of military service) at a hospital in Hamburg, Germany, Mathias Rust attacked an 18-year-old student nurse with a switchblade knife after she rejected his attempts to kiss her. Miss Stefanie Walura suffered multiple stab wounds and barely survived. (Rust’s defense attorney acknowledged that Miss Walura would have died had the stabbing not occurred inside a hospital.) Rust was convicted of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to 30 months in prison. (The prosecution reduced the original attempted murder charge because of the defense assertion that Rust suffered from “diminished capacity” as a result of his treatment in the Soviet prison. Even so, prosecutors recommended an eight year prison sentence.)

Rust was released after serving only 15 months. (A civil court ordered Rust to pay damages to Miss Walura equivalent to $23,500 U.S. dollars—approximately 39,785.5 DM at June 1991 exchange rates.) Prosecutors later appealed the prison sentence as being too lenient.

In 2001, Rust was convicted of theft, and in 2005, fraud. In both cases he was sentenced to pay a fine.

Reims Aviation F172P Skyhawk II D-ECJB

The F172P Skyhawk II is a Cessna 172 built under license by Société anonyme Reims Aviation, France. It is an all-metal, four-place, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed tricycle landing gear. The airplane is operated by a single pilot and is equipped for instrument flight.

The 172P is 26 feet, 11 inches (8.201 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inch (10.973 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The wing is externally braced and has a 1° 30′ angle of incidence at the root, with 3° negative twist. The dihedral is 1° 44′. The total wing area is 174 square feet (16.17 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer span is 11 feet, 4 inches (3.429 meters). The standard airplane’s empty weight is 1,454 pounds (660 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms).

The F172P is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-D2J horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine. The -D2J has a compression ratio of 8.5:1 and is rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine turns a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches ( meters). The O-320-D2J weighs 275 pounds (125 kilograms).

Reims/Cessna F172P
Reims/Cessna F172P D-ECJB at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin. (Anthony Belenko/Wikipedia)

The 172 has a maximum structural cruise speed (VNO) of 142 miles per hour (228 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed (VNE) of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,007 miles (1,621 kilometers) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).

Over 44,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.

D-ECJB,¹ which was a rental aircraft, was flown back to Germany. It changed ownership several times before being purchased and taken to Japan where it was on outdoor display for twenty years. The Skyhawk was located and purchased by the German Museum of Technology, returned to Germany and restored by the museum’s technical staff. Today it is on display at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin.

Reimes Aviation F172P Skyhawk II D-ECJB at the Deutsches Technikmuseum , Berlin. (Wings Over New Zealand rnzaf.proboards.com)
Reims Aviation F172P Skyhawk II D-ECJB at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin. (rnzaf.proboards.com)

¹ The airplane flown by Rust was the second Reims Cessna 172 Skyhawk to be registered D-ECJB. The first, c/n F1720732, was destroyed in a fatal accident, 12 March 1976.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 May 1971, 16:08 UTC

Original Caption: 1950-Film star Audie Murphy, World War II's most decorated hero, will train with Texas' famed 36th National Guard Infantry for possible action in Korea. Murphy received a Captain's commission of intelligence in 36th Division unit at Austin, TX., and will train with the Division at Fort Hood, TX. Murphy is officially credited with killing, capturing or wounding 240 Germans during World War II. He received a battle field commision as a lieutenant and every citation the Army awards plus the Congressional Medal of Honor. BPA2# 389
First Lieutenant Audie Leon Murphy, Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, 7th United States Army, Army of the United States

28 May 1971: At 12:08 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (16:08 UTC), a twin-engine Aero Commander 680E, N601JJ, flying through rain and fog, crashed into 3,056-foot (931 meter) Brush Mountain, approximately 16 miles (26 kilometers) west-northwest of Roanoke, Virginia. The point of impact was about 400 feet (122 meters) below the mountain’s summit. All six persons on board were killed. The wreckage burned.

Witnesses had seen the airplane flying in and out of clouds at very low altitude, and at one point attempting a landing on a highway.

The red marker indicates the location of the Audie Murphy Monument on Brush Mountain. The city of Roanoke, Virginia, is at the lower right corner of the image. The long, parallel ridges and steep, narrow valleys are characteristic of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Google Maps)

One of the passengers aboard the Aero Commander was 45-year-old Audie Leon Murphy, recipient of the Medal of Honor and the most highly-decorated American soldier of World War II. Other passengers were Claude Crosby, Kim Dodey, Jack Littleton and Raymond Prater, business associates of Murphy.

The Aero Commander was flown by Herman Levelle Butler of El Paso, Texas. Born in Louisiana, 30 December 1927, Butler had served as a seaman 2nd class in the United States Navy during World War II. He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for single- and multi-engine airplanes. Significantly, he was not instrument rated. Butler had flown more than 8,000 hours, but the Aero Commander was new to him. He only had 6 hours in type.

Just over a year earlier, 14 March 1970, Herman Butler had crashed a Piper PA-23 Apache light twin-engine airplane 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Angeline County Airport (LFK), Lufkin, Texas. Both engines stopped when the airplane ran out of fuel. Butler had unsuccessfully attempted to land on a highway on that occasion, as well, but the airplane stalled and crashed into trees. The Piper was destroyed, though Butler was only slightly injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the 28 May 1971 crash. It determined that the probable cause of the accident was:

“.  .  . the pilot’s attempt to continue visual flight into adverse weather conditions at an altitude too low to clear the mountainous terrain. The board also finds that the pilot attempted to continue flight into instrument weather conditions which were beyond his operational capabilities.”

Wreck of N601JJ, discovered 31 May 1971. (check-six.com)
Wreck of Aero Commander N601JJ, discovered 31 May 1971. (Check-Six.com)

Major Audie Leon Murphy, United States Army (Retired), had served in nine military campaigns in the Mediterranean and European Theaters during World War II, and later served in the Korean War. His military accomplishments are too numerous to describe here, but they were truly heroic.

Murphy wrote about them in his autobiography, To Hell and Back (Henry Holt and Company, 1949) which was adapted into one of the most successful motion pictures of the 1950s, and in which Murphy portrayed himself.

The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America’s Most Decorated Hero of World War II, by David A. Smith, was published in 2015.

Murphy was a very popular Hollywood actor, though he suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of his combat experiences. He was twice married. He raised horses in California and Texas.

Audie Murphy portrayed himself in the 1955 Univeral-International film, "To Hell and Back." Murphy is seen here with a U.S. Rifle, .30-caliber, M1.
Audie Murphy portrayed himself in the 1955 Universal-International film, “To Hell and Back.” Murphy is seen here with a U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, the legendary Garand.

During a military career that spanned two wars, Major Audie Leon Murphy, United States Army, was awarded the Medal of Honor; Distinguished Service Cross; Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); Legion of Merit; Bronze Star with “V” Device and bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); Purple Heart with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards); Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver star, four bronze stars and one arrowhead device (nine campaigns); World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Combat Infantryman Badge; Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar; Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar.

France appointed Murphy a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur (French Legion of Honor – Grade of Chevalier—Knight), and awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, the Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the French Liberation Medal. Leopold III, King of Belgium, awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre with 1940 Palm. He was authorized to wear the French Fourragère in the colors of the Croix de Guerre.

For his service as technical advisor for a 1960 film, “The Broken Bridge,” Murphy was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The State of Texas awarded him the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.

Audie Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

WAR DEPARTMENT

Washington 25, D.C., 9 August 1945

General Orders No. 65

MEDAL OF HONOR – Award

Section 1

I. MEDAL OF HONOR. – By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.

BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:

OFFICIAL:

EDWARD F. WITSELL                                                        G.C. MARSHALL
Major General                                                                    Chief of Staff
Acting for the Adjutant General

2nd Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, wearing the Medal of Honor and Legion of merit, at Salzburg, Austria, 7 June 1945. (New York Daily News)
19-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, wearing the Medal of Honor and Legion of Merit, at Salzburg, Austria, 7 June 1945. (New York Daily News)

Major Audie L. Murphy’s remains are interred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Section 46, Site 366-11, Arlington County, Virginia.

This Aero Commander 680E, N4278S, is the same type aircraft as N601JJ. (flickr)

N601JJ was an Aero Commander 680E, serial number 680-491-161. It had been built in 1957 by the Aero Design and Engineering Company, at Bethany, Oklahoma. The airplane had just been acquired by Colorado Aviation, Inc., of Texico, New Mexico, and in fact, the registration certificate was not issued by the Federal Aviation Administration until 8 June 1971, eleven days after the crash.

The Aero Commander 680E is a six-place, twin-engine, high-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It can be flown by one or two pilots, and is equipped for flight in instrument conditions. The airplane is 35 feet, 2 inches (10.719 meters) long with a wingspan of 49 feet, 6 inches (15.088 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 6 inches (4.420 meters). Its empty weight is approximately 4,475 pounds (2,230 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 7,500 pounds (3,402 kilograms).

The 680E is powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 479.624-cubic-inch-diplacement (7.860 liter) Lycoming GSO-480-B1A6 horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines with a compression ratio of 7.3:1. The -B1A6 is rated at 320 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and 340 horsepower at 3,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The engines drive three-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters) through a 77:120 (0.642:1) gear reduction. The GSO-480-B1A6 is 4 feet, 1.31 inches (1.253 meters) long, 2 feet, 9.08 inches (0.840 meters) high and 2 feet, 9.12 inches (0.841 meters) wide. It weighs 513.00 pounds (232.693 kilograms)

The Aero Commander 680E has a maximum structural cruise speed of 210 miles per hour (338 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed (Vne) is 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 25,360 feet (6,980 meters). The maximum range is 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).

The U.S. Air Force selected the Aero Commander 680E as a transport for President Dwight Eisenhower. Designated L-26C-AD, fifteen were acquired, with two being used by the White House. The Air Force designation was later changed to U-4B. In U.S. Army service, the airplane was designated U-9C.

This U.S. Air Force U-4B is the military variant of the Aero Commander 680 Super. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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