Category Archives: Aviation

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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21 August 1961

Douglas DC-8-43 N9604Z is accopmanied by a U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, near Edwards Air Force base, California.
Douglas DC-8-43 N9604Z is accompanied by a U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Douglas Aircraft Co.)

On 21 August 1961, a Douglas DC-8-43, N9604Z, c/n 45623, Line Number 130, flown by Chief Test Pilot William Marshall Magruder, Paul Patten, Joseph Tomich and Richard H. Edwards climbed to 50,090 feet (15,267 meters) near Edwards Air Force Base. Placing the DC-8 into a dive, it reached Mach 1.012 (668 miles per hour/1,075 kilometers per hour) while descending through 41,088 feet (12,524 meters). The airliner maintained this supersonic speed for 16 seconds. This was the first time that a civil airliner had “broken the Sound Barrier.”

An Air Force F-100 Super Sabre and F-104 Starfighter were chase planes for this flight. Reportedly, the F-104 was flown by the legendary test pilot, Colonel Chuck Yeager.

Canadian Pacific Douglas DC-8-43 CF-CPG, Empress of Montreal. (Photograph © Peter Scharkowski. Used with permission)

The Douglas DC-8 is a commercial jet airliner, a contemporary of the Boeing 707 and Convair 880. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 177 passengers. The DC-8 was powered by four turbojet or turbofan engines mounted on pylons suspended below the wings. The wings’ leading edges were swept to 30°, as was the vertical fin and horizontal tailplane.

The DC-8-40 series is 150 feet, 6 inches (45.872 meters) long with a wingspan of 142 feet, 5 inches (43.409 meters) and overall height of 42 feet, 4 inches (12.903 meters). It had an empty weight of 124,790 pounds (56,604 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 315,000 pounds (142,882 kilograms).

The DC-8-40 series had a cruising speed of 0.82 Mach (542 miles per hour/872 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its maximum range was 5,905 nautical miles (6,795 statute miles, 10,936 kilometers).

N9604Z was powered by four Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.12 Mk 509 two-shaft axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 17,500 pounds of thrust (77.844 kilonewtons) at 9,990 r.p.m. The 509 is 11 feet, 3.9 inches (3.452 meters) long, 3 feet, 6.2 inches (1.072 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,542 pounds (2,060 kilograms).

N9604Z was delivered to Canadian Pacific Airlines 15 November 1961, re-registered CF-CPG, and named Empress of Montreal. It later flew under CP Air as Empress of Buenos Aires. The DC-8 was scrapped at Opa Locka Municipal Airport, north of Miami, Florida, in May 1981.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1956

Commander R.W. "Duke" Windsor, U.S. Naby, flying Vought F8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 141345, set a U.S. national speed record of miles per hour ( km/h) at 40,000 feet over China Lake, California. (University of Texas)
Commander Robert W. “Duke” Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy, flying Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345. (University of Texas)
Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy, with a Vought F8U Crusader. (U.S. Navy)

21 August 1956: At 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) over Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake, near Ridgecrest, California, Commander Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., United States Navy, flew a production Chance Vought Aircraft F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345, to 1,015.428 miles per hour (1,634.173 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.54—over a 15 kilometer (9.3 miles) straight course. This established a new National Aeronautic Association U.S. national speed record, breaking the previous record set by a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre two years earlier by 193.16 miles per hour (310.86 kilometers per hour).

“Duke” Windsor was awarded the Thompson Trophy for 1956 at the National Aircraft Show, Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, during the first weekend of September.

National Aeronautics Association officials check timers after Commander Windsor's speed record flight. (Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation via Voughtworks)
National Aeronautic Association officials check timers after Commander Windsor’s speed record flight. (Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation via Voughtworks)

F8U-1 Bu. No. 141345 was the twelfth production Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader. It was a single-place, single-engine turbojet-powered air superiority day fighter designed to operate from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers.

The F8U-1 (redesignated F-8A in 1962) was 54 feet, 3 inches (16.535 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 8 inches (10.770 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9 inches (14.801 meters). With the wings folded for storage, the span is 22 feet, 6 inches (6.858 meters). The wings were swept aft 42° at ¼-chord.

The swept wing is placed high on the fuselage and its angle of incidence is adjustable in flight. The wing has a total area of 375 square feet (34.84 square meters) and has a “dog tooth” leading edge, extending 1 foot, 0.7 inches (0.323 meters). The leading edges are swept aft to 47° (42° at ¼-chord), and there is 5° anhedral. The horizontal stabilator is placed lower than the wings. Its leading edge is swept aft to 50° and it has 3° 25′ dihedral.

The empty weight of the F8U-1 was 15,513 pounds (7,037 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,500 pounds (12,474 kilograms).

The F8U-1 is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney J57-P-4 engine. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). Its Normal (continuous) rating is 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons) at 5,780 r.p.m. The Military Power rating is 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons) at 6,100 r.p.m., and it can produce 16,000 pounds (71.17 kilonewtons) at 6,100 r.p.m. with afterburner. The J57-P-4 is 20 feet, 10 inches (6.35 meters) long, 3 feet, 5 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,860 pounds (2,205 kilograms).

The F8U-1 had a maximum speed of 637 knots (733 miles per hour/1,180 kilometers/hour) at Sea Level, and 880 knots (1,013 miles per hour/1,630 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling is 42,300 feet (12,893 meters), and it has a combat ceiling of 51,500 feet (15,697 meters) with afterburner. The airplane’s combat radius is 310 nautical miles (357 statute miles/ kilometers)and the combat range is 1,150 nautical miles (1,323 statute miles/2,130 kilometers) at 494 knots (568 miles per hour/915 kilometers per hour)and 42,100 feet (12,832 meters).

Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy (right) with the Thompson Trophy. (Vought Aircraft)
Commander Robert W. Windsor, Jr., U.S. Navy (right) and Fred Crawford of Thompson Products with the Thompson Trophy. (Vought Heritage)

The F8U-1 was armed with four Colt Mk. 12 20 mm cannon with 500 rounds of ammunition, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles. It could also carried thirty-two 2.75-inch Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) internally.

Commander Windsow was a Navy test pilot who carried out much of the F8U test program, including the aircraft carrier qualifications aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59).

Bu. No. 141345 was assigned to the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC), NAS Point Mugu, California, in 1961. It was converted to an F-8D, but was withdrawn from service in 1964.

Chance Vought built 1,213 F-8 Crusaders. 318 were the F8U-1 variant. Crusaders were in service with the United States Navy for 30 years.

A Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader (F-8A), Bu. No. 143806, is on display at the Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum at Horsham, Pennsylvania, approximately 30 minutes north of Philadelphia.

Vought Aircraft F8U Crusader Bu. No. 141345 at NAS Point Mugu, circa 1961).
Vought Aircraft F8U Crusader Bu. No. 141345 at NAS Point Mugu, circa 1961. (Million Monkey Theater)
Midshipman Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., U.S. Naval Academy (Lucky Bag, 1941)
Midshipman Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., U.S. Naval Academy, 1941. (Lucky Bag)

Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr. was born at Wilmington, Delaware, 8 October 1918, the son of Robert W. Windsor and Mary B. Hackett Windsor. He studied at the University of Virginia before being appointed as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, entering 9 July 1937 and  graduating in 1941. He was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 7 February 1941, and promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant, effective 1 December 1942.

Trained as a pilot, Windsor was designated a Naval Aviator in 1943. During World War II, he served aboard the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS McLanahan (DD-615 ), a Benson-class destroyer, in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He also commanded Composite Squadron 68 (VC-68) aboard the escort carrier USS Shamrock Bay (CVE-84).

Lieutenant Windsor was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 20 July 1945. He served on the staff of Admiral Marc A. Mitsher. He was promoted to commander, 1 June 1951.

Following World War II, Lieutenant Commander Windsor trained at the Combat Information Center School, and then the Naval Air Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. During the Korean War, Commander Windsor flew off of USS Yorktown (CV-10).

USS Currituck (AV-7) at anchor off Santa Catalina Island, California, 12 November 1964. The aircraft is a Martin P5M Mariner. (U.S. Navy)
USS Currituck (AV-7) at anchor off Santa Catalina Island, California, 12 November 1964. The aircraft is a Martin P5M-2 Marlin. (U.S. Navy)

After two tours as a test pilot, Commander Windsor was promoted to the rank of Captain, 1 July 1959. He served on the naval operations staff. Captain Windsor commanded USS Currituck (AV-7), a sea plane tender, from April 1962 to February 1963. From 31 July 1964 to 11 August 1965, he commanded the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVA-62), and then served on the staff of Commander, Second Fleet, aboard USS Newport News (CA-148). Captain Windsor retired from the Navy in April 1967, after 30 years of service.

USS Independence (CVA-62) at New York Harbor, Juky 1964. (U.S Navy)
USS Independence (CVA-62) at New York Harbor, July 1964. (U.S Navy)

Captain Windsor married Miss Elizabeth Bethell Foster of Denver, Colorado. They had one son, also named Robert. Mrs. Windsor died in 1963.

Captain Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., United States Navy (Retired), died at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 27 May 2000, at the age of 81 years. He and his wife are buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Commander Robert W. "Dule" Windsor, Jr., stands in teh cockpit of teh record-setting Vought F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345. (U.S. Navy)
Commander Robert W. “Duke” Windsor, Jr., stands in the cockpit of the record-setting Vought F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345, at Armitage Field, NAWS China Lake, California. (U.S. Navy)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1953

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029. (NASA)

21 August 1953: Major Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps, flew the number three Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, to an altitude 83,235 feet (25,370 meters).¹

The supersonic research rocketplane had been dropped from a Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) over Edwards Air Force Base. During this flight the Skyrocket reached Mach 1.728.

The Associated Press wire service reported the event:

Altitude Record Set By Hubbard Pilot

     WASHINGTON (AP) —The Navy said Monday Lt. Col. Marion E. Carl, a Marine Corps pilot set a new altitude record of 83,235 feet in the Douglas Skyrocket research plane on Aug. 21.

    The Navy said the unofficial world mark was established during a test of a newly developed high-altitude flying suit. ²

     The previous altitude record was 79,494 feet, set in the same airplane by Douglas test pilot Bill Bridgeman on Aug. 7, 1951.

     A Navy spokesman said Carl is at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. for an attempt Monday or Tuesday on the speed mark of 1,238 miles an hour set by Bridgeman in the Navy D-558-2 Skyrocket Aug. 1, 1951.

     As in Bridgeman’s altitude and speed record flight, Carl’s runs are being made through aerial launching. The Skyrocket is carried to an altitude of 30,000 feet or better by a B29 “mother plane,” and then released.

     National Aeronautic Assn. rules require that altitude record attempts be launched from the ground and that speed runs be made at specified altitudes.

     For these reasons, none of the Skyrocket records is, or likely to become, official. Some flying authorities have urged that official rules be rewritten to conform to modern developments in flying technique.

     Carl is from Hubbard, Ore. and is stationed at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps Air Station. He has been assigned as assistant Marine Corps project officer for the national aircraft show at Dayton next week.

     Five Years ago Carl set a world speed mark of 650.8 miles an hour in the Skyrocket’s Navy predecessor, the D-558-1 Skystreak.

Eugene Register-Guard, Vol. XXCVII, No. 243, 31 August 1951, at Page 1A, Columns 6 and 7

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The Douglas D-558-II was Phase II of a U.S. Navy/Douglas Aircraft Company/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics joint research project exploring supersonic flight. It was a swept-wing airplane powered by a single Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine. The Skyrocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

There were three Phase II aircraft. Originally, they were also equipped with a Westinghouse J34-W-40 turbojet engine which produced 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.35 kilonewtons) and the Skyrockets took off from the surface of Rogers Dry Lake. Once the D-558-II reached altitude, the rocket engine was fired for the speed runs. As higher speeds were required, the program shifted to an air launch from a B-29 (P2B-1S) “mothership”. Without the need to climb to the test altitude, the Skyrocket’s fuel load was available for the high speed runs.

The D-558-II was 42.0 feet (12.80 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25.0 feet (7.62 meters). The leading edge of the wing was swept at a 35° angle and the tail surfaces were swept to 40°. The aircraft weighed 9,421 pounds (4,273 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 15,787 pounds (7,161 kilograms). It carried 378 gallons (1,431 liters) of water/ethyl alcohol and 345 gallons (1,306 liters) of liquid oxygen.

The mothership, NACA 137, was a Boeing Wichita B-29-95-BW Superfortress, U.S. Air Force serial number 45-21787. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy, redesignated P2B-1S and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics number 84029. Douglas Aircraft modified the bomber for its drop ship role at the El Segundo plant.

Between 4 February 1948 and 28 August 1956, the three rocketplanes made a total of 313 flights.

Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974. (NASA)
The rocket-powered Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974 (NACA 144). (NASA)

Marion Eugene Carlwas born at Hubbard, Oregon, 1 November 1915. He was the second of four children of Herman Lee Carl, a dairy farmer, and Ellen Lavine Ellingsen Carl.

Marion E. Carl 1935

Carl graduated from Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve, 31 May 1938. Lieutenant Carl soon resigned this commission to accept an appointment as an Aviation Cadet, United States Navy. He enlisted as a private, first class, Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve, 17 July 1938, and was designated a student Enlisted Naval Aviation Pilot assigned to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Squantum, Massachusetts. He entered flight school as an Aviation Cadet at Naval Air Station Pensacola near Pensacola, Florida, 26 July 1938.

Lieutenant Marion E. Carl, USMC, Naval Aviator. (U.S. Navy)

After completing flight training, Carl was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps Reserve, 20 October 1939. He was then assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron One (VMF-1) at Brown Field, Quantico, Virginia.

In 1940, Lieutenant Carl returned to NAS Pensacola as a flight instructor. On 25 February 1941, Second Lieutenant Carl, U.S.M.C.R., was appointed a Second Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps.

Lieutenant Carl was transferred to VMF-221 at San Diego, California, as a fighter pilot. The unit was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) for transportation to MCAS Ewa, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. On 25 December 1941, VMF-221 was deployed to Midway Atoll.

Marion Carl and his squadron fought during the Battle of Midway. Flying a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Bu. No. 1864,³ on 4 June 1942, he shot down his first enemy airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, and damaged two others. Lieutenant Carl was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in that decisive battle.

Marion Carl was next assigned to VMF-223 under the command of Captain John L. Smith. The Marine fighter squadron was the first air unit to arrive at Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons, 20 August 1942. This was a critical airfield, originally built by the Japanese military but occupied by Allied forces. On 26 August, Lieutenant Carl became the Marine Corps’ first “ace.”

Carl was shot down in 9 September 1942 and was missing for five days. He was helped by islanders who eventually returned him to his base.

The squadron departed Guadalcanal 16 October 1942, and sailed to San Francisco, California. VMF-223 was credited with destroying 110½ enemy aircraft. Carl was credited with 16.

Lieutenant Carl married Miss Edna T. Kirvin at New York City, New York, 7 January 1943.

On 26 January, he took command of VMF-223. On 8 May 1943, Lieutenant Carl was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. The squadron was re-equipped with the new Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsair. Training in the new fighter took place at MCAS El Toro, in southern California.

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, commanding VMF-223 in 1943. The aircraft is a Vought F4U Corsair in which Carl shot down two enemy aircraft in December 1943. (U.S. Navy)

In August, the squadron returned to combat in the Solomons. By the end of 1943, Major Carl’s total of enemy aircraft destroyed was 18½ with 3 damaged, making him the seventh highest-scoring Marine fighter pilot of World War II.

Marion Carl is dressing in teh Model 7 pressure suit aboard the P2BS-1 drop ship, 21 August 1953. (U.S. Navy)
Marion Carl is dressing in the David Clark Company Model 7 full-pressure suit aboard the P2B-1S drop ship, 21 August 1953. (U.S. Navy)

After the War Marion Carl trained as a test pilot at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, testing jet aircraft on aircraft carriers and he was also the first Marine Corps pilot to fly a helicopter. He commanded the Marine’s first jet squadron, VMF-122, which flew the McDonnell FH-1 Phantom. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel 7 August 1947.

In May 1955, Colonel Carl commanded Marine Photo Reconnaisance Squadron One (VMJ-1). The squadron flew the McDonnell FH-2 Banshee from air bases on Taiwan on secret missions over the People’s Republic of China.

At Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) he tested the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak and D-558-II Skyrocket, setting world records for speed and altitude. He was promoted to colonel, 1 October 1956.

By 1962 Colonel Carl was Director of Marine Corps Aviation. He was promoted to brigadier general, 1 June 1964.

Brigadier General Carl commanded the First Marine Brigade during the Vietnam War and flew combat missions in jet fighters and helicopter gun ships.

Promoted to major general in August 1967, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 June 1964. Carl commanded the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, then served as Inspector General of the Marine Corps from 1970 until 1973. When he retired in 1973, General Carl had accumulated more that 13,000 flight hours.

During his military career, Major General Carl was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars (three awards); The Legion of Merit with valor device and three gold stars (four awards); The Distinguished Flying Cross with four gold stars (five awards); and the Air Medal with two gold and two silver stars (twelve awards).

Tragically, General Carl was murdered in Roseburg, Oregon, 28 June 1998, as he defended his wife, Edna, during a home-invasion robbery. Mrs. Carl was wounded, but survived.

Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps (1915–1998)
Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps (1915–1998)

¹ No officially-certified altitude record was set during this flight.

² The pressure suit Lieutenant Colonel Carl was testing was a David Clark Co. Model 7 full-pressure suit.

³ Often cited as Grumman F4F-3 Bu. No. 4000 (second bureau number series, 1935–1940) the entry in Carl’s certified pilot logbook for 4 June 1942 states the airplane he flew to shoot down the enemy fighter was F4F-3 Bu. No. 1864.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1944

Robert L. Hall in the cockpit of the prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat. (Northrop Grumman)

21 August 1944:¹ The first of two Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat prototypes, Bu. No. 90460, made its first flight at Bethpage, New York, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and test pilot Robert Leicester Hall at the controls. The Bearcat was a light-weight high performance interceptor, designed to operate from the U.S. Navy’s smaller aircraft carriers. It used an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC13-G (R-2800-22) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, an uprated version of the engine used in its predecessor, the Grumman F6F Hellcat.

The R-2800-22 engine was rated at 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,100 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., for takeoff and Military Power. In order to use the engine’s power more effectively, the prototype Bearcat used a 12-foot, 4-inch (3.759 meter) diameter, four-bladed Aero Products, Inc., propeller, driven through a 0.45:1 gear reduction.

Prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat. (Northrop Grumman)

The Bearcat was 20% lighter than the Hellcat. It was 50 miles per hour faster and had a much higher rate of climb.

For aircraft carrier operations, the new fighter could not sacrifice structural strength. In order to limit the weight, armament was reduced to four .50-caliber machine guns, and fuel capacity was also less than that of the Hellcat, giving it reduced range.

Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat with wings folded. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat with wings folded, 20 March 1945. (Northrop Grumman)

The production F8F-1 Bearcat was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 10 inches (4.216 meters) (to tip of propeller, in three-point position). With its wings folded, the width of the Bearcat was reduced to 23 feet, 9½ inches (7.252 meters).

The Bearcat’s wings are sharply tapered. Their angle of incidence is −1½°, and there is 5° 30′ dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 5° 5′. The chord decreases from 9 feet, 7.87 inches (2.943 meters) at the root to 4 feet, 3.5 inches (1.308 meters) at a point 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) inboard from the tip. The total wing area is 244 square feet (22.7 square meters).

The fighter’s horizontal stabilizer has a span of 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters) and a total area of 52.2 square feet (4.85 square meters). Its angle of incidence is +½°. The rudder has a height of 6 feet, 1–13/16 inches (1.875 meters). The vertical tail has a total area of 20.8 square feet (1.93 square meters), and is offset 2° left.

The F8F-1’s empty weight was 7,070 pounds (3,207 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 12,947 pounds (5,873 kilograms). The F8F-2’s empty weight increased to 7,650 pounds (3,470 kilograms), and its maximum takeoff weight was 13,460 pounds (6,105 kilograms).

Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat prototype at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, 5 February 1945. (NASA)

The production F8F-1 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC14-G (R-2800-34W) engine which had the same Sea Level power ratings as the R-2800-22. It produced 1,500 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters) and had a Military Power rating of 1,700 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). The gear reduction drive ratio was also 0.45:1. A slightly larger Aero Products propeller with a diameter of 12 feet, 7 inches (5.835 meters) was installed. The R-2800-34W was 6 feet, 2.134 inches (1.883 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.80 inches (1.341 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,358.5 pounds (1,069.8 kilograms).

The F8F-2 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-30W. The Normal Power rating increased to 1,720 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,450 horsepower at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Takeoff and Military Power also increased: 2,250 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,600 horsepower at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). The R-2800-30W also drove an Aero Products propeller. The gear reduction ratio was the same. Its dimensions were slightly different than the -34W: 7 feet, 8.75 inches (2.356 meters) long, and 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter. The engine’s weight increased to 2,560 pounds (1,161 kilograms).

Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat Bu. No. 90448 in the Full Scale Tunnel at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA EL-2003-00320)

The Bearcat had a top speed of 336 knots (387 miles per hour/622 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 388 knots (447 miles per hour/719 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). The airplane had initial rate of climb at Sea Level of 4,465 feet per minute (22.68 meters per second) and it could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8.4 minutes. Its ceiling was 38,200 feet (11,643 meters).

Fuel capacity is 185 U.S. gallons (700 liters). The fighter’s range could be extended with a jettisonable centerline and two underwing tanks. The Bearcat’s combat radius was 235 nautical miles (270 statute miles/435 kilometers). Its maximum range, with three external tanks (350 gallons/1,325 liters), was 1,595 nautical miles (1,835 statute miles/2,954 kilometers).

The F8F-1 Bearcat was armed with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Inboard guns were provided with 325 rounds of ammunition, each, while the outboard guns had 200 rounds per gun. The F8F-2 replaced these with four M3 20 mm autocannon. Each inboard cannon had 325 rounds per gun, and the outboard guns had 188 rounds each. The F8F could also be armed with up to three 11.75-inch (29.845 centimeters) Tiny Tim air-to-ground rockets, or four 5-inch (12.7 centimeter) High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVAR). For bombing missions, the Bearcat could carry one 1,600 pound (726 kilograms) bomb on the centerline and two 1,000 pounders (454 kilograms, each) under the wings.

The first prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat, Bu. No. 90460, crashed into Chesapeake Bay during gunnery tests at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, 18 March 1945. Its pilot was missing, presumably killed. The airplane has recently–probably—been located.²

“Multi-beam echo image of the aircraft at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay believed to be the XF8F-1 Bearcat lost out of NAS Patuxent River March 18, 1945.” (NOAA/Naval Aviation News)

Between 1945 and 1949, Grumman produced 1,265 F8F Bearcats, including a civilian G-58A and a G-58B. A number of American test pilots and astronauts flew the Bearcat in naval service, and several, including Neil Armstong, described it as their all-time favorite airplane.

Grumman F8F bearcat fighters aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Tarawa (CV-40) circa 1948. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F8F Bearcat fighters ready for takeoff aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Tarawa (CV-40) circa 1948. (U.S. Navy)

Robert Leicester Hall was born at Taunton, Massachussetts, 22 August 1905. He was the son of Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.

Robert L. Hall (Michiganesian of 1927)

Hall attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1927 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.). He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta (ΦΓΔ) fraternity and the glee club. While at the University, Hall became a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie Therese Zeller, a 1928 graduate of Cornell University, and a secretary at the plant. They were married in 1930, and lived in a rented home on St. James Avenue, Chicopee City, Massachusetts. Their son, Robert Jr., was born 5 November 1931. They later divorced.

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Z

Also in 1931, Hall began working for Granville Brothers Aircraft at Springfield, Massachusetts. He designed the Gee Bee Model Z Super Sportster air racer. He left Granville Brothers in 1933 to go to work for the Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio. There he designed the Stinson Reliant.

Stinson Reliant (NASA)

In 1936, Bob Hall became the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. He designed the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, and F8F Bearcat fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. As corporate vice president, he supervised the design of the F9F Panther and Cougar jet fighters.

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat in non-specular blue-gray over light-gray scheme in early 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)
Ensign Neil A. Armstrong, as wingman to Lieutenant (j.g.) Ernie Moore, is flying the second Grumman F9F-2 Panther, Bu. No. 125122 (marked S 116), assigned to VF-51, USS Essex (CV-9), 1951. (Naval Aviation Museum)

Hall married his second wife, Rhoda C. Halvorsen, 18 January 1939, at New York City, New York.

Robert Hall retired from Grumman in 1970. Two of his sons, Eric and Ben Hall, founded Hall Spars and Rigging of Bristol, Rhode Island.

Robert Leicester Hall died at Newport, Rhode Island, 25 February 1991 at the age of 85 years.

¹ Some sources give 31 August 1944 as the date of the first flight.

² Naval Aviation News, 31 August 2017:

http://navalaviationnews.navylive.dodlive.mil/2017/08/31/lost-bearcat-found-or-still-missing/

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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