14 February 2012

Boeing YAL-1A, 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test aircraft, departing Edwards AFB, 14 February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YAL-1A, 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, departing Edwards AFB, 14 February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)
Terrier Black Brant IX two-stage sounding rocket. (NASA)
Terrier Black Brant IX two-stage sounding rocket. (NASA)

14 February 2012: Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Bed, serial number 00-0001, departed Edwards AFB for the last time as it headed for The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona.

The Boeing YAL-1A was built from a 747-4G4F, a converted 747-400F freighter, serial number 30201, formerly operated by Japan Air Lines and registered JA402J. It carried two solid state lasers and a megawatt-class oxygen iodine directed energy weapon system (COIL).

On 3 February 2010, it destroyed a Terrier Black Brant two-stage sounding rocket in the boost phase as it was launched from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of Southern California.

Boeing YAL-1A 00-0001, Airborne Laser test aircraft, in flight. The laser aiming turret is directed toward the photo aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, 00-0001, in flight. The laser aiming turret is directed toward the photo aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The 747-400 was a major development of the 747 series. It had many structural and electronics improvements over the earlier models, which had debuted 18 years earlier. New systems, such as a “glass cockpit”, flight management computers, and new engines allowed it to be flown with a crew of just two pilots, and the position of Flight Engineer became unnecessary.

The most visible features of the –400 are its longer upper deck and the six-foot tall “winglets” at the end of each wing, which improve aerodynamic efficiency be limiting the formation of wing-tip vortices.

Japan Air Lines’ Boeing 747-400F, JA402J. (Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Wikimedia)

The Boeing 747-400F is the freighter version of the 747-400 airliner. It has a shorter upper deck, no passenger windows and the nose can swing upward to allow cargo pallets or containers to be loaded. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.663 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.440 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.406 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,761 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,893 kilograms).

Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, 00-0001, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

The YAL-1A was powered by four General Electric CF6-80C2B5F turbofan engines, producing 62,100 pounds of thrust (276.235 kilonewtons), each. The CF6-80C2B5F is a two-spool, high-bypass-ratio turbofan engine. It has a single-stage fan section, 18-stage compressor (4 low- and 14 high-pressure stages) and 7-stage turbine section (2 high- and 5 low-pressure stages). The fan diameter is 7 feet, 9.0 inches (2.362 meters). The engine is 13 feet, 4.9 inches (4.087 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 8 feet, 10.0 inches (2.692 meters). It weighs 9,760 pounds (4,427 kilograms).

It had a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (608 miles per hour, 978 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,446 kilometers).

Boeing YAL-1A in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, 27 August 2014. The airframe was disassembled and finally broken up 25 September 2014. (Soracat)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 February 1991

McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, U.S.Air Force.)
McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, U.S.Air Force.)

14 February 1991: An unusual incident occurred during Desert Storm, when Captains Tim Bennett and Dan Bakke, United States Air Force, flying the airplane in the above photograph, McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle, 89-0487, used a 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bomb to “shoot down” an Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter. This airplane is still in service with the Air Force, and on 16 August 2016 logged its 12,000th flight hour.

Captain Bennett (Pilot) and Captain Bakke (Weapons Systems Officer) were leading a two-ship flight on a anti-Scud missile patrol, waiting for a target to be assigned by their Boeing E-3 AWACS controller. 89-0487 was armed with four laser-guided GBU-10 bombs and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles. Their wingman was carrying twelve Mk. 82 500-pound (227 kilogram) bombs.

The AWACS controller called Bennett’s flight and told them that a Special Forces team on the ground searching for Scud launching sites had been located by Iraqi forces and was in need of help. They headed in from 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away, descending though 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) of clouds as the went. They came out of the clouds at 2,500 feet (762 meters), 15–20 miles (24– 32 kilometers) from the Special Forces team.

With the Strike Eagle’s infrared targeting pod, they picked up five helicopters and identified them as enemy Mi-24s. It appeared that the helicopters were trying to drive the U.S. soldiers into a waiting Iraqi blocking force.

Iraqi Army Aviation Mil Mi-24 Hind (helis.com)
Iraqi Army Aviation Mil Mi-24 Hind (helis.com)

Their Strike Eagle was inbound at 600 knots (1,111 kilometers per hour) and both the FLIR (infrared) targeting pod and search radar were locked on to the Iraqi helicopters. Dan Bakke aimed the laser targeting designator at the lead helicopter preparing to drop a GBU-10 while Tim Bennett was getting a Sidewinder missile ready to fire. At four miles (6.44 kilometers) they released the GBU-10.

Mission count for the 10,000+ flight hours of F-15E 89-0487. The green star indicates the Iraqi Mi-24 helicopter destroyed 14 February 1991. (U.S. Air Force)

At this time, the enemy helicopter, which had been either on the ground or in a hover, began to accelerate and climb. The Eagle’s radar showed the helicopter’s ground speed at 100 knots. Bakke struggled to keep the laser designator on the fast-moving target. Bennett was about to fire the Sidewinder at the helicopter when the 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) bomb hit and detonated. The helicopter ceased to exist. The other four helicopters scattered.

Soon after, additional fighter bombers arrived to defend the U.S. Special Forces team. They were later extracted and were able to confirm the Strike Eagle’s kill.

A Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot checks a GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb on an F-18 Hornet. This is the same type of bomb used by Captains and Bakke to destroy an Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter.(RAAF)
A Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot checks a GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) laser-guided bomb on an F-18 Hornet. This is the same type of bomb used by Captains Bennett and Bakke to destroy an Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter. (RAAF)

The Strike Eagle was begun as a private venture by McDonnell Douglas. Designed to be operated by a pilot and a weapons system officer (WSO), the airplane can carry bombs, missiles and guns for a ground attack role, while maintaining its capability as an air superiority fighter. It’s airframe was a strengthened and its service life doubled to 16,000 flight hours. The Strike Eagle became an Air Force project in March 1981, and went into production as the F-15E. The first production model, 86-0183, made its first flight 11 December 1986.

The prototype McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle (modified from F-15B-4-MC 71-0291) is parked on the ramp at the McDonnell Douglas facility at St. Louis. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is a two-place twin-engine multi-role fighter. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¾ inches (13.049 meters) and height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). It weighs 31,700 pounds (14,379 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds (36,741 kilograms).

The F-15E is powered by two Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofan engines which produce 17,800 pounds of thrust (79.178 kilonewtons) each, or 29,100 pounds (129.443 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The Strike Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.54 (1,676 miles per hour, (2,697 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and is capable of sustained speed at Mach 2.3 (1,520 miles per hour, 2,446 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). The fighter-bomber has a combat radius of 790 miles (1,271 kilometers) and a maximum ferry range of 2,765 miles (4,450 kilometers).

Though optimized as a fighter-bomber, the F-15E Strike Eagle retains an air-to-air combat capability. The F-15E is armed with one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon with 512 rounds of ammunition, and can carry four AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and four AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided missiles, or a combination of Sidewinders, Sparrows and AIM-120 AMRAAM long range missiles. It can carry a maximum load of 24,500 pounds (11,113 kilograms) of bombs and missiles for ground attack.

A McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch, 1999. (U.S. Air Force)
A McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch, 1999. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mil Mi-24 (NATO reporting name “Hind”) is a large, heavily-armed attack helicopter that can also carry up to eight troops. It is flown by a pilot and a gunner.

It is 57 feet, 4 inches (17.475 meters) long and the five-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 56 feet, 7 inches (17.247 meters). The helicopter has an overall height of 21 feet, 3 inches (6.477 meters). The empty weight is 18,740 pounds (8,378 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 26,500 pounds (12,020 kilograms).

The helicopter is powered by two Isotov TV3-117 turboshaft engines which produce 2,200 horsepower, each. The Mil-24 has a maximum speed of 208 miles per hour (335 kilometers per hour) and a range of 280 miles (451 kilometers). Its service ceiling is 14,750 feet (4,496 meters).

The helicopter is armed with a 12.7 mm Yakushev-Borzov Yak-B four-barreled Gatling gun with 1,470 rounds of ammunition; a twin-barrel GSh-30K 30 mm autocannon with 750 rounds; a twin-barrel GSh-23L 23 mm autocannon with 450 rounds. The Mi-24 can also carry a wide range of bombs, rockets and missiles.

The Mil Mi-24 first flew in 1969 and is still in production. More than 2,300 have been built and they have served the militaries of forty countries.

A Russian-built Mil Mi-24P Hind-F at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Center, Threat Support Activity, NAS Fallon, Nevada. (U.S. Army)
A Russian-built Mil Mi-24P Hind-F at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Center, Threat Support Activity, NAS Fallon, Nevada. (United States Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 February 1979

Sabrina Jackintell (FAI)
Sabrina Patricia Jackintell (FAI)

14 February 1979: Flying her Grob G102 Astir CS glider from the Black Forest Gliderport, north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sabrina Patricia Jackintell soared to an altitude of 12,637 meters (41,460 feet) over Pikes Peak, setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record and Soaring Society of America National Record for Absolute Altitude.¹ This record still stands. The duration of this flight was 3 hours, 18 minutes.

Pike’s Peak is the highest mountain in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The 14,115 foot (4,267 meters) summit is located 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) west of Colorado Springs.

Pike's Peak (Wikipedia)
Pike’s Peak. (Viewfromthepeak)

Sabrina Jackintell’s aircraft was a 1976 Grob G102 Astir CS glider (or sailplane), serial number 1171, FAA registration N75SW. The Astir CS is registered in the experimental category. It is approved for Day VFR Flight and may perform simple aerobatics: loop, chandelle, steep turn and lazy 8.

Dipl.-Ing. Dr, Burhart Grob
Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Burkhart Grob

The Astir CS (“Club Standard”) is a single-seat performance sailplane, designed by Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Burkhart Grob e.K. and built by Burkhart Grob Flugzeugbau, Tussenhausen-Mattsies, Germany. The glider is built primarily of fiberglass. It has retractable landing gear and a T-tail.

The Astir CS was produced from 1974 to 1977. The current production variant of the G102 is the Astir III.

The Astir CS is 6,470 meters (21 feet, 2.7 inches) long with a wingspan of 15,000 meters (49 feet, 2.6 inches) and height of 1,26 meters (4 feet, 1.6 inches). The glider’s empty weight is approximately 255 kilograms (562 pounds). The maximum flying weight, with water ballast, is 450 kilograms, or 990 pounds. The minimum pilot weight is 70 kilograms, (154 pounds.) (Lighter pilots must carry ballast.) The Astir CS has a maximum speed (VNE) of 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour). The glider is restricted to a maximum of +5.3 gs. Negative gs are prohibited.

Three-view illustration of the Grob Aster CS (serial numbers 1438–1536), with dimensions. (Burkhart Grob Flugzeugbau)

N75SW was recently sold. It is currently registered to an individual in Southern California.

Grob G102 Astir CS N75SW at Black Forest Gliderport, near Colorado Springs, Colorado,
Grob G102 Astir CS N75SW at Black Forest Gliderport, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The mountain at the upper right of the image Pikes Peak. (Jim Freeman via “Abandoned & Little Known Airfields”)
Sadie Paluga (The 1957 Orion)

Sabrina Jackintell (née Sadie Patricia Paluga) was born at Youngstown, Ohio, 31 January 1940, the second child of John and Sadie M. Skvarka Paluga. Her father was a steel worker who had emigrated from Chekoslovakia. She attended Wilson High School in Youngstown. Miss Paluga was a member of the Art Students League at the school. One of her paintings was exhibited at the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Ohio, in 1956. She was voted “Best Dancer” in 1957.

Miss Paluga graduated from the University of Florida, Gainesville, in 1960. While in college she began modeling and was featured on the cover of the fashion magazine, VOGUE.

In 1965 she drove Art Arfon’s jet-powered Green Monster land speed record car at the Bonneville Salt Flats, exceeding 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). Mechanical problems prevented the LSR machine from making a second pass in the opposite direction within the required time limit, so an official Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Land Speed Record was not set.

Art Arfons’ General Electric J79-powered land speed record car, Green Monster.

During her life, she lived in Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Southern California. She was married to Jerry E. Jackintell, also from Youngstown, and a fellow student at the University of Florida. They had a son, Jerry, and daughter, Lori. They divorced in El Paso County, Colorado, 9 June 1982.

Sabrina Jackintell died at Sebring, Florida, 15 January 2012 at the age of 71 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 348

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Read the article about Sabrina Jackintell on Jonathan Turley’s Internet blog:

Remarkable People: Sabrina Jackintell, a Woman for all Seasons

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14 February 1932

Ruth Rowland Nichols (FAI)

14 February 1932: Taking off from Floyd Bennett Field, Ruth Rowland Nichols flew Miss Teaneck, a Lockheed Vega 1 owned by Clarence Duncan Chamberlin, to an altitude of 19,928 feet (6,074 meters). This set a National Aeronautic Association record.

The airplane’s owner had flown it to 19,393 feet (5,911 meters) on 24 January 1932.

A contemporary newspaper reported:

RUTH NICHOLS SETS NEW ALTITUDE RECORD

     Ruth Nichols’ flight in a Lockheed monoplane powered with a 225 horsepower Packard Diesel motor to an altitude of 21,350 feet [6,507 meters] Friday had been credited to the Rye girl unofficially as a new altitude record for Diesel engines. A sealed barograph, removed from the plane, has been sent to Washington to the Bureau of Standards to determine the exact altitude figure.

The Bronxville Press, Vol. VIII, No. 14, Tuesday, February 15, 1932, Columns 1 and 2

—The Stanford Daily, Volume 81, Issue 13, Thursday 25 February 1932, Page 4, Columns 1 and 2

RUTH NICHOLS SETS AIR MARK

Aviatrix Beats Chamberlain [sic] Altitude Record

Sails 21,300 Feet High in Flying Furnace

Temperature Found to Be 15 Deg. Below Zero

     NEW YORK, Feb. 14.  (AP)—Ruth Nichols, society aviatrix, flew Clarence Chamberlin’s “Flying Furnace” to a new altitude record, on the basis of an unofficial reading of her altimeter.

     When she landed it registered 21,300 feet, while Chamberlin’s official record for the Diesel-motored craft was 19,363 feet.

     Miss Nichols took off at 4:15 p.m. from Floyd Bennett airport and landed an hour and one minute later after an exciting flight.

     She encountered temperatures of 15 degrees below zero, she said, and at 20,000 feet two of her cylinders blew out. At that height, too, she was forced to the use of her oxygen tank.

ENJOYED HER FLIGHT

     In addition to the sealed barograph, which was taken from the plane at once to be sent to Washington for official calibration, Miss Nichols had three altimeters, two of which went out of commission in the upper atmosphere. The unofficial reading was taken from the third altimeter.

     Despite her crippled engine and the fact that she had no brakes, she made a perfect landing and announced she had enjoyed the flight.

     He unofficial altimeter reading was greater than that of Chamberlin after his flight and it is believed the official calibration would establish the new record for planes of this type.

ADVISED BY CHAMBERLIN

     Chamberlin was present as her technical advisor, and he gave last-minute instructions as she stepped into the cockpit, wearing a heavy flying suit, lined boots, and a purple scarf wound about her head instead of a helmet.

     The plane carried 13 gallons of furnace oil, and one tank of oxygen. The regular wheels were changed smaller, lighter ones before the flight.

     Miss Nichols hold several records and has reached an altitude of 28,743 feet in a gasoline plane.

Los Angeles Times, Volume LI. Monday, 15 February 1932, Page 3 at Column 3

Ruth Nichols’ Flight Record Confirmed

     Rye, N. Y., March 2—Miss Ruth Nichols, aviatrix, received notice from Washington today that her altitude flight from Floyd Bennett Airport, Barren Island, on Feb. 14 last in a Diesel-powered airplane to a height of 19,928 feet has set a new American Altitude record for that type of plane.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Vol. XCI, No, 61, Page 2, Column 2

Miss Teaneck had been modified. The original engine Wright Whirlwind engine had been replaced by an air-cooled, 982.26-cubic-inch-displacement (16.096 liter) Packard DR-980 nine-cylinder radial diesel-cycle (or “compression-ignition”) engine. The DR-980 had one valve per cylinder and a compression ratio of 16:1. It had a continuous power rating of 225 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., and 240 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The DR-980 was 3 feet, ¾-inch (0.933 meters) long, 3 feet, 9-11/16 inches (1.160 meters) in diameter, and weighed 510 pounds (231 kilograms). The Packard Motor Car Company built approximately 100 DR-980s, and a single DR-980B which used two valves per cylinder and was rated at 280 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. The Collier Trophy was awarded to Packard for its work on this engine.

Three-view drawing of the Lockheed Vega from a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics publication. (NASA)

The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California.

The Vega was very much a state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of strips of vertical-grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and bonded together with cassein glue. These were then attached to former rings. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them. They were built of spruce spars and ribs, covered with 3/32-inch (2.4 millimeters) spruce plywood.

The Lockheed Vega 1 was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could carry up to four passengers in the enclosed cabin. It was 27.5 feet (8.38 meters) long with a wingspan of 41.0 feet (12.50 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.59 meters). The total wing area (including ailerons) was 275 square feet (25.55 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The leading edges were swept slightly aft, and the trailing edges swept forward. The Vega 1 had an empty weight of 1,650.0 pounds (748.4 kilograms) and a gross weight of 3,200 pounds (1,452 kilograms).

The early Vegas were powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind Five (J-5C) nine-cylinder radial engine. This was a direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. It was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long, 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter, and weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The Vega had a cruising speed of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour) with the engine turning 1,500 r.p.m., and a top speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour)—very fast for its time. The airplane had a rate of climb of 925 feet per minute (4.7 meters per second) at Sea Level, decreasing to 405 feet per minute (2.1 meters per second) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its service ceiling was 15,900 feet (4,846 meters), and the absolute ceiling was 17,800 feet (5,425 meters). The airplane had a fuel capacity of 100 gallons (379 liters), giving it a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) at cruise speed.

Twenty-eight Vega 1 airplanes were built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at the factory on Sycamore Street, Hollywood, California, before production of the improved Lockheed Vega 5 began in 1928 and the company moved to its new location at Burbank, California.

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

The first Lockheed Vega 1, NX913, Golden Eagle. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

 

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13 February 1950

A flight of two Consolidated-Vultee B-36B Peacemaker strategic bombers. (LIFE Magazine)

13 February 1950: Two Consolidated-Vultee B-36B Peacemaker long-range strategic bombers of the 436th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy), Strategic Air Command, departed Eielson Air Force Base (EIL), Fairbanks, Alaska, at 4:27 p.m., Alaska Standard Time (01:27 UTC), on a planned 24-hour nuclear strike training mission.

B-36B-15-CF 44-92075 was under the command of Captain Harold Leslie Barry, United States Air Force.¹ There were a total of seventeen men on board.

Also on board was a Mark 4 nuclear bomb.

The B-36s were flown to Alaska from Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, by another crew. The surface air temperature at Eielson was -40 °F. (-40 °C.), so cold that if the bomber’s engines were shut down, they could not be restarted. Crews were exchanged and the airplane was serviced prior to takeoff for the training mission. In addition to the flight crew of fifteen, a Bomb Commander and a Weaponeer were aboard.

Consolidated-Vultee B-36 44-92027. (LIFE Magazine)

After departure, 44-92075 began the long climb toward 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The flight proceeded along the Pacific Coast of North America toward the practice target city of San Francisco, California. The weather was poor and the bomber began to accumulate ice on the airframe and propellers.

About seven hours into the mission, three of the six radial engines began to lose power due to intake icing. Then the #1 engine, outboard on the left wing, caught fire and was shut down. A few minutes later, the #2 engine, the center position on the left wing, also caught fire and was shut down. The #3 engine lost power and its propeller was feathered to reduce drag. The bomber was now flying on only three engines, all on the right wing, and was losing altitude. When the #5 engine, center on the right wing, caught fire, the bomber had to be abandoned. It was decided to jettison the atomic bomb into the Pacific Ocean.

Consolidated-Vultee B-36B-1-CF Peacemaker of the 7th Bombardment Wing. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mark 4 did not have the plutonium “pit” installed, so a nuclear detonation was not possible. The conventional explosives would go off at a pre-set altitude and destroy the bomb and its components. This was a security measure to prevent a complete bomb from being recovered.

The bomb was released at 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), north-northwest of Princess Royal Island, off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. It was fused to detonate 1,400 feet (427 meters) above the surface, and crewmen reported seeing a large explosion.

Consolidated-Vultee B-36B-1-CF Peacemaker, 44-92033, of the 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy). This bomber is similar to 44-92075. (U.S. Air Force)

Flying over Princess Royal Island, Captain Barry ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. He placed the B-36 on autopilot. Barry was the last man to leave 44-92075. Descending in his parachute, he saw the bomber circle the island once before being lost from sight.

Consolidated-VulteeB-36B-1-CF Peacemaker, 44-92033, of the 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy). This bomber is similar to 44-92075. (U.S. Air Force)

Twelve of the crew survived. Five were missing and it is presumed that they landed in the water. Under the conditions, they could have survived only a short time. The survivors had all been rescued by 16 February.

It was assumed that 44-92075 had gone down in the Pacific Ocean.

Approximate path of B-36B 44-92075, 13 February 1950. (Royal Aviation Museum of British Columbia)

On 20 August 1953, a Royal Canadian Air Force airplane discovered the wreck of the missing B-36 on a mountain on the east side of Kispiox Valley, near the confluence of the Kispiox and Skeena Rivers in northern British Columbia.

The U.S. Air Force made several attempts to reach the crash site, but it wasn’t until August 1954 that they succeeded. After recovering sensitive equipment from the wreckage, the bomber was destroyed by explosives.

Bomb, Mark 4. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)
Bomb, Mark 4. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)

The Mark 4 bomb was designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). It was a development of the World War II implosion-type Mark 3 “Fat Man.” The bomb was 10 feet, 8 inches (3.351 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). Its weight is estimated at 10,800–10,900 pounds (4,899–4,944 kilograms).

The core of the bomb was a spherical composite of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium. This was surrounded by approximately 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms) of high explosive “lenses”—very complex-shaped charges designed to focus the explosive force inward in a very precise manner. When detonated, the high explosive “imploded” the core, crushing it into a smaller, much more dense mass. This achieved a “critical mass” and a fission chain reaction resulted.

The Mark 4 was tested during Operation Ranger at the Nevada Test Site, Frenchman Flat, Nevada, between 27 January and 6 February 1951. Five bombs were dropped from a Boeing B-50 Superfortress of the 4925th Special Weapons Group from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The first four bombs were dropped from a height of 19,700 feet (6,005 meters) above ground level (AGL) and detonated at 1,060–1,100 feet (323–335 meters) AGL. Shot Fox was dropped from 29,700 feet (9,053 meters) AGL and detonated at 1,435 feet (437 meters) AGL. (Ground level at Frenchman Flat is 3,140 feet (957 meters) above Sea Level).

Operation Ranger, Shot Able, 5:45 a.m., 27 January 1951. Mark 4 bomb with Type D pit, 1,060 foot (323 meters) air burst. Yield, 1 kiloton. This was the first nuclear test in the continental United States since Trinity, 16 July 1945.

The Mark 4 was produced with explosive yields ranging from 1 to 31 kilotons. 550 were built.

Consolidated-Vultee B-36B-15-CF Peacemaker 44-92075 was completed at Air Force Plant 4, Fort Worth, Texas, on 31 July 1949. It had been flown a total of 185 hours, 25 minutes.

The B-36B is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 8 inches (14.224 meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 15° 5′ 39″. Their angle of incidence was 3°, with -2° twist and 2° dihedral. The empty weight is 140,640 pounds (63,793 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 328,000 pounds (148,778 kilograms).

With a wing area of 4,772 square feet (443 square meters) and 21,000 horsepower, the B-36 could fly far higher than any jet fighter of the early 1950s.

A Pratt & Whitney R-4360-41 Wasp Major aircraft engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This engine weighs 3,404 pounds (1,544 kilograms). Wikipedia
A Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B4 (R-4360-41) aircraft engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This engine is 9 feet, 1¾-inch (2.788 meters) long and 4 feet, 6 inches (1.372 meters) in diameter. It weighs 3,567 pounds (1,618 kilograms). Wikipedia

The B-36B was powered by six air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B4 (R-4360-41) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. Each engine was equipped with two General Electric BH-1 turbochargers. The R-4360-41 had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. Its Takeoff/Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., with water/alcohol injection. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-41 is 9 feet, 1.75 inches (2.788 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.00 inches (1.372 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,567 pounds (1,618 kilograms).

The B-36B Peacemaker had a cruise speed of 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 338 knots (389 miles per hour/626 kilometers per hour) at 34,500 feet (10,516 meters). The service ceiling was 43,500 feet (13,259 meters) and its combat radius was 3,740 nautical miles (4,304 statute miles/6,926 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 7,659 nautical miles (8,814 statute miles/14,184 kilometers).

The B-36 was defended by sixteen M24A-1 20 mm automatic cannons. Six retractable gun turrets each each had a pair of 20 mm cannon, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun (400 r.p.g.for the nose guns). These turrets were remotely operated by gunners using optical sights. Two optically-sighted 20 mm guns were in the nose, and two more were in a tail turret, also remotely operated and aimed by radar.

In this photograph, two of the B-36's retractable gun turrets are visibile behind the cockpit, as well as the nose gun turret. (Unattributed)
In this photograph, two of the B-36’s retractable gun turrets are visible behind the cockpit, as well as the nose gun turret. The plexiglas “blister” just ahead and below the dorsal turrets is a gunner’s sighting station. The bomb bay doors are open. (Unattributed)

The B-36 was designed during World War II and nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidate-Vultee Aircraft Corporation engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in the four-section bomb bay. It could carry two 43,600 pound (19,777 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmakers, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb. When armed with nuclear weapons, the B-36 could carry several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 25-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built by Convair. 73 of these were B-36Bs, the last of which were delivered to the Air Force in September 1950. By 1952, 64 B-36Bs had been upgraded to B-36Ds.

The B-36 Peacemaker was never used in combat. Only four still exist.

¹ Captain Barry was killed along with other 11 crewmen, 27 April 1951, when the B-36D-25-CF on which he was acting as co-pilot, 49-2658, crashed following a mid-air collision with a North American F-51-25-NT Mustang, 44-84973, 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma, City, Oklahoma, U.S.A. The Mustang’s pilot was also killed.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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