21 February 1961

Project Mercury astronauts with Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart 59-0158. (NASA)
Project Mercury astronauts with Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart 59-0158. (NASA)

21 February 1961: Final training begins for Mercury 7 astronauts. Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn are selected for the initial flights. Left-to-Right: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.

The aircraft in the photograph is a Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart, 59-0158, a two-place supersonic interceptor trainer.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes
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Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar (February 21, 1910 – September 5, 1982)

Group Captain Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. (Paul Laib)

21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS, DL, the legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He was the son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and Jessie Scott MacKenzie Bader.

Bader attended Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, East Sussex, and St. Edward’s School in Oxford. After graduating in 1928, he joined the Royal Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Bader was granted a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer, “with effect from and with seniority of 26th July 1930.”

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson, of No. 23 Squadron, during training for the 1931 Hendon Airshow, with a Gloster Gamecock. (RAF Museum)

Bader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired, 30 April 1933.

Following his medical retirement, Douglas Bader joined the Asiatic Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Petroleum Company) and the Shell Transport and Trading Company.

Mrs. Douglas R. S. Bader, 1942

On 5 October 1933, Mr. Bader married Miss Olive Thelma Exley Edwards at the registry office of Hampstead Village, London. Miss Edwards was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Arthur Exley Edwards, R.A.F. On their fourth anniversary, 5 October 1937, a formal wedding ceremony took place at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, London.

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, and on 26 November 1939, he was sent to refresher flight training at the Central Flying School where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “exceptional”evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Flying Officer Bader was posted to No. 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, 7 February 1940. The squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. In April, he was reassigned as flight leader of A Flight, No. 222 Squadron, also flying Spitfires from Duxford. On 24 June 1940, Bader took command of No. 242 Squadron at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in East Anglia. No. 242 operated the Hawker Hurricane.

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Colitshall, Norfolk, East Anglia, September 1940. (Royal Air Force)

On 24 September 1940, Flying Officer Bader was granted the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Distinguished Service Order

On 1 October 1940, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, appointed Acting Squadron Leader Douglas R. S. Bader a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The notice in The London Gazette reads,

“This officer has displayed gallantry and leadership of the highest order. During three recent engagements he has led his squadron with such skill and ability that thirty-three enemy aircraft have been destroyed. In the course of these engagements Squadron Leader Bader has added to his previous successes by destroying six enemy aircraft.”

Acting Squadron Leader Bader, D.S.O., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 7th January, 1941: “Squadron Leader Bader has continued to lead his squadron and wing with the utmost gallantry on all occasions. he has now destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft and damaged several more.”

In March 1941, Acting Squadron Bader was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and assigned as Wing leader of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” at RAF Tangmere, just east of Chichester, in West Sussex. The Big Wings were large formations of three to five fighter squadrons acting together to intercept enemy bomber formations.

Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, 15 July 1941: “This officer has led his wing on a series of consistently successful sorties over enemy territory during the past three months. His qualities of leadership and courage have been and inspiration to all. Wing Commander Bade has destroyed 15 hostile aircraft.”

Douglas Bader climbing into the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire.

On 9 August 1941, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “DB”, along the coast of France. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Transcript of message giving status of Bader and requesting a replacement prosthetic leg. (from Bader’s Last Flight: An In-Depth Investigation of a Great WWII Mystery, by Andy Saunders, Frontline Books, 2007, Appendix L at Page 214)

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped.

Adolph Galland arranged for a replacement prosthetic leg for Bader to be airdropped at a Luftwaffe airfield at St. Omer, in occupied France.

On 9 September 1941, Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. “This fearless pilot has recently added a further four enemy aircraft to his previous successes; in addition he has probably destroyed another four and damaged five hostile aircraft. By his fine leadership and high courage Wing Commander Bader has inspired the wing on every occasion.”

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.

He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Schloss Colditz near Leipzing, Germany, where he was held for three years. Units of the United States Army 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and the Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, liberated the prison 15 April 1945 after a two-day battle.

Schloss Colditz, April 1945. (United States Army)

Douglas Bader was repatriated to England. On 28 August 1945, Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader, DSO, DFC (Ret) was promoted to Wing Commander (temp), and in September Wing Commander Bader was assigned as commanding officer of the R.A.F. Fighter Leaders School. On 1 December 1945, Wing Commander (temporary) D.R.S. Bader DSO DFC (Ret.) is granted the rank of Wing Commander (War Substantive).

On 21 July 1946, Wing Commander Bader reverted to the retired list, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

During World War II, Group Captain Bader was officially credited with 22 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared credit for another 4; 6 probably destroyed, shared credit for another probable; and 11 damaged. (26–7–11). Group Captan Bader was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur by France in 1945, and awarded the Croix d’ Guerre.

Group Captain Bader’s medals at the RAF Museum: Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-1945 Star with clasp BATTLE OF BRITAIN; Air Crew Europe Star with clasp ATLANTIC; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45 with Mention in Despatches; Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier, badge; and Croix de Guerre 1939-1940

Bader received civil aviator’s license 3 July 1946. He returned to work for Shell in a management position which involved considerable travel. He flew the company’s Percival Proctor around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He remained with Shell until 1969, having risen to managing director of Shell Aircraft International.

Bader with a Percival Proctor which he flew while working for Shell.

In the years following World War II, he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them,

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.

In the New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1956, Douglas Bader was appointed an Ordinary Commander of the Most Excellent Order (C.B.E.), by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to the disabled.

He was the subject of Reach For The Sky, (Collins, London, 1954) a biography written by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. (Brickhill had been a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III.) In 1956, a movie of the same name was released, starring Kenneth More as Bader. Bader was the author of Fight For The Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1973).

Bader and companion in his 1938 MG TA Midget roadster, circa 1945. He was the original owner, but sold it in 1948. This car was recently offered for sale by Bonham’s.(Getty Images)

Thelma Bader died in 1971 at the age of 64 years. The couple had been married for 38 years.

Bader later married Mrs. Joan Eileen Hipkiss Murray. She had three children from a previous marriage, Wendy, Michael and Jane Murray.

4 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”

Sir Douglas Bader, Knight Bachelor, and Lady Bader, 1976. (Daily Mail)

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19–20 February 1979

Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the Iniversity of Cincinatti College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Informaton Office)
Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Information Office)

19–20 February 1979: Professor Neil Alden Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, a member of the Board of Directors of Gates Learjet Corporation, former United States Navy fighter pilot, NACA/NASA research test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and The First Man To Set Foot On The Moon, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and National Aeronautics Association class records for time to climb to an altitude and altitude while flying the prototype Learjet 28, serial number 28-001.

Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28, March 1979.
Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28.

Armstrong, with Learjet program test pilot Peter Reynolds as co-pilot, and with NAA observer Don Berliner aboard, flew the Learjet 28 to 15,000 meters (49,212.598 feet) in 12 minutes, 27 seconds over Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on 19 February.¹

On the same day, during a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Armstrong flew the Learjet to 15,584.6 meters (51,130.577 feet), setting records for altitude, and for sustained altitude in horizontal flight.²  ³

The following day, 20 February 1979, flying from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to Florence, Kentucky, Armstrong again set altitude and sustained altitude in horizontal flight, in a different class, by taking the Learjet to 15,585 meters (51,131.89 feet).⁴ ⁵

Learjet 28, serial number 28-001
Learjet 28, serial number 28-001. (NASA)

The Learjet 28 was a development of the Learjet 25 twin-engine business jet. It is operated by two pilots and can carry 8 passengers. The Model 28 used a new wing design. It was the first civil aircraft to be certified with winglets. The prototype first flew 24 August 1977, and it received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration 29 July 1979.

The Learjet 28 is 47 feet, 7.5 inches (14.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 9½ inches (13.348 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area is 264.5 square feet (24.6 square meters) It has an empty weight of 7,895 pounds (3,581 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,000 pounds (6,804 kilograms).

Gates Learjet 28 three-view illustration. (FLIGHT International, No. 3647, Vol. 115, 10 February 1979, Page 402)

The Learjet 28 is powered by two General Electric CJ610-8A turbojet engines. This is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet, developed from the military J85. It has an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The CJ610-8A is rated at 2,850 pounds of thrust (12.68 kilonewtons) at 16,500 r.p.m., and 2,950 pounds (13.12 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, for takeoff (five minute limit).

The business jet has a cruise speed of 464 knots (534 miles per hour (859 kilometers per hour) at 51,000 feet (15,544.8 meters). The Learjet 28 has a maximum range of 1,370 nautical miles (1,577 statute miles/2,537 kilometers). The airplane’s maximum operating altitude is 51,000 feet (15,545 meters), the same as the record altitude. It can reach that altitude in less than 35 minutes.

The aircraft was limited by its older technology turbojet engines, and only five Learjet 28s were built.

gates Learjet 28 N128LR. (Business Aviation Online)

The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, has been re-registered several times. At the time of its FAI record-setting flights, it carried FAA registration N9RS. Later it was registered as N3AS. The most recent information shows it currently registered as N128LR.

Neil Alden Armstrong, one of America’s most loved heroes, passed away 25 August 2012.

A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.
A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.

¹ FAI Record File Number 2652

² FAI Record File Number 8670

³ FAI Record File Number 8657

⁴ FAI Record File Number 2653

⁵ FAI Record File Number 2654

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1966

Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream.

A Boeing B-52F-65-BW Stratofortress, 57-0144, drops bombs during an Arc Light strike. (U.S. Air Force)

The aircraft commander was Captain Bob Amos, and co-pilot, Captain Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Captain Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Captain Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sergeant Demp Johnson, gunner.

Brigadier General James M. ("Jimmy") Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General James M. (“Jimmy”) Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Jimmy Stewart was a successful Hollywood actor. He had an interest in aviation since childhood, and he earned a private pilot license in 1935, then upgraded to a commercial license in 1938. He owned his own airplane, a Stinson 105, and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family.

Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army 22 March 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.” Military records show that he had brown hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighed 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms).

James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)

Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Corporal Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, 19 January 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, near Sacramento, California.

Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)

Stewart was promoted to first lieutenant 7 July 1942. Stewart was next assigned as a pilot at the Bombardier School at Kirtland Army Air Field, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirkland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirtland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force) Update: The first student on the left has been identified as John M. “Jack” Drenan. 1st Lieutenant Drenan, a B-24 bombardier, was listed as Missing in Action on a mission to the Marshall Islands, 2 January 1944. Thanks to Mr. Patrick E. Freudenthal for the information.

After transition training in the B-17 Flying Fortress, Lieutenant Stewart was assigned as as an instructor at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. On 9 July 1943, Stewart was promoted to captain and given command of a training squadron.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England on 23 November 1943, and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group.

Ford B-24H-1-FO Liberator 42-7563, “Hell’s Warrior,” 701st Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Captain James M. Stewart, 8th Air Force, circa December 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

On 20 January 1944, Stewart was promoted to major, and served as deputy commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing during a series of missions known as “Big Week.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.
Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.

Major Stewart was next assigned as Group Operations Officer of the 453rd Bombardment Wing at RAF Old Buckenham. He assigned himself to fly the lead B-24 in the group’s missions against Germany until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, 3 June 1944, and assigned as executive officer of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In this position he flew missions with the 445th, 453rd, 389th Bomb Groups, and with units of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing.

After being promoted to the rank of Colonel on 29 March 1945, he was given command of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. He had risen from Private to Colonel in four years. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross and was presented the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by France.

Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 29 January 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. Colonel Stewart commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his wartime rank of colonel was made permanent, and on 23 July 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.

During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

"Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber." (©Bettman/CORBIS)
“Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber.” (Bettman/CORBIS)

James Stewart was one of America’s most successful film actors. He made a number of aviation films , such as “No Highway in the Sky,” “Strategic Air Command,” “The Spirit of St. Louis”and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

James Stewart on te set of "Strategic Air Command" at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in teh U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed "Colonel Dutch Holland" a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
James Stewart on the set of “Strategic Air Command” at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed “Colonel Dutch Holland,” a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.

During his military service, Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Service Medal; and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (France).

General Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 June 1968 after 27 years of service.

Arc Light. (United States Air Force 110310-F-XN622-001)

Jimmy Stewart died of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, 2 July 1997, at the age of 89 years. He is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC

Launch of Friendship 7 from Launch Complex 14, Kennedy Space Center, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

20 February 1962: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

In his post-flight mission report, Glenn wrote,

When the countdown reached zero, I could feel the engines start. The spacecraft shook, not violently but very solidly. There was no doubt when lift off occurred, When the Atlas was released there was an immediate gentle surge to let you know you were on your way.

Results of the First United States Orbital Space Flight (NASA-TM-108606), Manned Spacecraft Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Page 120, Column 1

2 minutes, 9.6 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:01.4. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:03.6 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster. During the climb to orbit, John Glenn experienced a maximum acceleration of 7.7 gs.

Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.

Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.

This photograph of Friendship 7’s cockpit was taken in orbit around the Earth, 20 February 1962. Astronaut John Glenn’s hands and legs are visible at the lower edge of the image. (Ohio State University)

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.  (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

Friendship 7 is hoisted aboard USS Noa (DD-841). (U.S. Navy)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

Mercury spacecraft profile with dimensions. (NASA)

The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 7 feet, 2.83 inches (2.206 meters) long, not including its retro rocket pack. The spacecraft was generally conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.885 meters). It weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

Diagram of Atlas LV-3B (Space Launch Report)

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the  Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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