11 September 1953: At Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake, the experimental Philco/General Electric XAAM-N-7 “Sidewinder” heat-seeking air-to-air missile scored its first “hit” when it passed within 2 feet (0.6 meters) of a radio-controlled Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat. The missile was fired from a Douglas AD-4 Skyraider flown by Lieutenant Commander Albert Samuel Yesensky, United States Navy, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61).
The Sidewinder was later redesignated AIM-9. It entered service in 1956 as the AIM-9B and has been a primary fighter weapon for 60 years.
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a Mach 2.5+ missile, equipped with an infrared seeker to track the heat signature of the target aircraft. (The Hellcat drones used in the early test had flares mounted on the wingtips to give the experimental missile a target).
The current production version, AIM-9X Block II, is produced by Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Arizona. It is 9 feet, 11 inches long (3.023 meters), 5 inches in diameter (12.70 centimeters), and weighs 188 pounds (85 kilograms). The warhead weighs 20.8 pounds (9.4 kilograms). The missile’s range and speed are classified. At current production levels, the average cost of each AIM-9X is $420,944 (FY 2015 cost). Block III development was cancelled for FY 2106.
Future Astronaut Wally Schirra flew many of the early test flights at NOTS China Lake. On one occasion, a Sidewinder came back at him, and only by skill and luck was he able to evade it.
NOTC China Lake is now designated as Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake. It is located approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.
9 September 1972: Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, United States Air Force, a Weapons System Officer flying on F-4D and F-4E Phantom II fighters, became the high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Captain John A. Madden, Jr., shot down two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19¹ fighters of the Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam (Vietnam People’s Air Force), west of Hanoi.
Captain DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. With Captain Richard S. Ritchie, he had previously shot down four MiG 21 fighters using AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. Then while flying a combat air patrol in support of Operation Linebacker, he and Captain Madden, aboard F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, call sign OLDS 01, used two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles to destroy the MiG 19s. These were Madden’s first two aerial victories, but for DeBellevue, they were number 5 and 6.
Madden and DeBellevue had fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles at a MiG-21 which was on approach to land at the Phúc Yên Yen air base northwest of Hanoi, but both missiles missed. The MiG was then shot down by gunfire from an F-4E flown by Captain Calvin B. Tibbett and 1st Lieutenant William S. Hargrove (after two of their missiles also missed). The flight of Phantoms was then attacked by MiG 19s. DeBellevue reported:
We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually. We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him.
I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiG’s impact.
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III at Pages 104–105.
The first MiG-19, damaged by the Sidewinder’s close detonation, crashed on the runway at Phuc Yen.
After becoming the war’s highest-scoring American ace, Chuck DeBellevue was sent to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, for pilot training. He became an aircraft commander of F-4E Phantom IIs. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1998, after 30 years of service.
DeBellevue’s F-4D, 66-0267, was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was reassembled with parts from other damaged Phantoms and is on display as a “gate guard” at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida.
F-4D-29-MC 66-7463, in which he scored his first and fourth kills with Steve Ritchie, is on display at the United States Air Force Academy. Like DeBellevue, this airplane is also credited with 6 victories. DeBellevue’s F-4E-36-MC, 67-0362, in which he and Ritchie shot down their second and third MiG 21s, was sold to Israel in 1973.
¹ Many VPAF MiG 19s were the Chinese-built Shenyang J-6 variant.
27 July 1972: McDonnell Douglas Chief Experimental Test Pilot Irving L. Burrows made the first flight of the prototype YF-15A-1-MC Eagle, 71-0280, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
The F-15A Eagle is a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter, built by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. The fighter has outstanding acceleration and maneuverability. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long, with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.75 inches (13.049 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 7.5 inches (5.677 meters).
The wings’ leading edges are swept to 45°. The angle of incidence is 0°. The wings have 1° anhedral. The total wing area is 608 square feet (56.5 square meters).
The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,780 pounds (11,694 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).
The fighter was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow afterburning turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The F100-PW-100 has a maximum continuous power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.20 kilonewtons) and intermediate rating of 14,690 pounds (65.34 kilonewtons), (30 minute limit). Its maximum power rating is 23,840 pounds (106.05 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5 minute limit). The F100-PW-100 is 16 feet, 4.3 inches (4.986 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,179 pounds (1,442 kilograms).
The Eagle is a Mach 2.5+ fighter. The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters)—Mach 2.503. The service ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters). It can climb 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second), and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, the fighter could climb straight up.
The The F-15A’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182 kilometers). Its maximum ferry range is 2,362 nautical miles (2,718 statute miles/4,374 kilometers).
The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7F Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9E/L Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles. The fighter could also carry a variety of bombs.
There were 12 pre-production F-15 aircraft, serial numbers 71-0280–71-0291. 384 F-15A fighters were built from 1972 to 1979, before production switched to the improved F-15C. The last F-15A Eagle in U.S. Air Force service, F-15A-19-MC 77-0098, was retired from the Oregon Air National Guard, 16 September 2009.
The first YF-15A, 71-0280, is on display at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
22 May 1958: At NAS Point Mugu, a naval air weapons test center on the southern California shoreline, Major Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude with a Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bureau of Aeronautics (“Bu. No.”) serial number 130745.
Runway 21 at Point Mugu (NTD) has a slight downhill gradient and the departure end is very near the shoreline, with an elevation of just 9 feet (2.7 meters). This runway has been used for time-to-altitude records on several occasions.
Major LeFaivre’s Skyray climbed from the runway to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 44.392 seconds¹; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), 1:06.095 ²; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet), 1:30.025 ³; 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), 1:51.244 ⁴; and 15,000 meters (49,213 feet), 2:36.233.⁵ This was the first time that a 15,000 meter had been set.
F4D-1 Bu. No. 130745 was the fifth production Skyray. The Douglas Aircraft Company F4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine, transonic all-weather interceptor, designed to operated from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. It had a tailless delta configuration with rounded wing tips. The Skyray was 45 feet, 7-7/8 inches (13.916 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and height of 12 feet, 11-7/8 inches (3.959 meters). The span with wings folded for storage on flight and hangar decks was 26 feet, 1-7/8 inches (7.972 meters), The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 52.5°. The total wing area was 557 square feet (51.747 square meters).
The interceptor had an empty weight of 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum weight of 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms).
Early production F4D-1s were powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-8 had a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons) at 5,750 r.p.m. , N1. The military power rating was 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1. Maximum power was 14,500 pounds of thrust (64.50 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1, with afterburner. The engine was 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 20 feet, 10 inches (6.35 meters) long.
The cruise speed of the F4D-1 was 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour, or 0.95 Mach) at Sea Level, and 695 miles per hour (1,118 kilometers, or Mach 1.05) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). The Skyray had a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters), and maximum range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).
The F4D-1 was armed with four 20 mm Colt Mark 12 autocannon with 70 rounds per gun. The Mark 12 had a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute. Four AAM-N-7 (AIM-9) Sidewinder infrared-homing air to air missiles could be carried under the wings, or various combinations of 2.75 inch rocket pods, up to a maximum of 76 rockets.
The Skyray had very unpleasant handling characteristics. It was used to teach pilots how to handle unstable aircraft. Bu. No. 130745 was used as a flight test aircraft at NOTS China Lake, a Naval Ordnance Test Station near Ridgecrest, in the high desert of southern California. (China Lake, NID, is about 55 miles/89 kilometers north-northwest of Edwards AFB, EDW).
On 21 October 1960, Lieutenant Jan Michael (“Black Jack”) Graves, United States Naval Reserve, was flying 130745, simulating aircraft carrier takeoffs from Runway 21 at China Lake. The F4D-1 had just taken off when, at approximately 100 feet (30.5 meters), it slowly rolled upside down and then crashed on to the runway. It slid about 1.14 miles (1.83 kilometers) before coming to stop. Lieutenant Graves was killed.
Accident investigators found that a broken wire in the rudder feedback system had allowed the rudder to go to its maximum deflection.
Edward Norris LeFaivre was born at Baltimore, Maryland, 11 October 1924. He attended the University of Maryland, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree. He was then employed at the Glenn L. Martin Company.
LeFaivre joined the United States Marine Corps in 1942. Trained as a Naval Aviator, he was assigned as a night fighter pilot with VMF(N)-533 at Yontan, Airfield, Okinawa. On 18 May 1945, Lieutenant LeFaivre shot down two enemy bombers with his Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat, for which he was awarded the Silver Star.
Captain LeFaivre continued as a night fighter pilot during the Korean War. Flying a Grumman F7F Tigercat assigned to VMF(AW)-513, on 21 October 1951, he repeatedly attacked a heavy concentration of enemy vehicles, LeFaivre’s airplane was shot down. He was rescued by helicopter, but his observer was listed as missing in action. Captain LeFaivre was awarded two additional Silver Stars for his actions on that night.
From 8 August to 31 December 1967, Colonel LeFaivre commanded Marine Air Group 13 (MAG-13), based at Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. The group’s three squadrons were equipped with the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II.
Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre retired from the Marine Corps in 1972. He died 28 June 1992 at the age of 68 years, and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
20 May 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, commanding officer of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant Stephen B. Croker, destroyed two Vietnam People’s Air Force MiG-17 fighters with AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided and AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles while flying McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0829, named SCAT XXVII.
An official U.S. Air Force history publication describes the air battle:
Two other MiG-17s became the victims of Col. Robin Olds and his pilot, 1st. Lt. Stephen B. Croker. [Note: at this point in time, the WSOs of USAF F-4Cs were a fully-rated pilots.—TDiA]These were aerial victories three and four for Olds, making him the leading MiG-killer at that time in Southeast Asia. An ace from World War II, the 8th TFW commander was battle-tested and experienced. Olds termed the events of 20 May “quite a remarkable air battle.” According to his account:
“F-105s were bombing along the northeast railroad; we were in escort position, coming in from the Gulf of Tonkin. We just cleared the last of the low hills lying north of Haiphong, in an east-west direction, when about 10 or 12 MiG-17s came in low from the left and, I believe, from the right. They tried to attack the F-105s before they got to the target.
“We engaged MiG-17s at approximately 15 miles short of the target. The ensuing battle was an exact replica of the dogfights in World War II.
“Our flights of F-4s piled into the MiGs like a sledge hammer, and for about a minute and a half or two minutes that was the most confused, vicious dogfight I have ever been in. There were eight F-4Cs, twelve MiG-17s, and one odd flight of F-105s on their way out from the target, who flashed through the battle area.
“Quite frankly, there was not only danger from the guns of the MiGs, but the ever-present danger of a collision to contend with. We went round and round that day with the battles lasting 12 to 14 minutes, which is a long time. This particular day we found that the MiGs went into a defensive battle down low, about 500 to 1,000 feet. In the middle of this circle, there were two or three MiGs circling about a hundred feet—sort of in figure-eight patterns. The MiGs were in small groups of two, three, and sometimes four in a very wide circle. Each time we went in to engage one of these groups, a group from the opposite side would go full power, pull across the circle, and be in firing position on our tails almost before we could get into firing position with our missiles. This was very distressing, to say the least.
“The first MiG I lined up was in a gentle left turn, range about 7,000 feet. My pilot achieved a boresight lock-on, went full system, narrow gate, interlocks in. One of the two Sparrows fired in ripple guided true and exploded near the MiG. My pilot saw the MiG erupt in flame and go down to the left.
“We attacked again, trying to break up that defensive wheel. Finally, once again, fuel considerations necessitated departure. As I left the area by myself, I saw that lone MiG still circling and so I ran out about ten miles and said that even if I ran out of fuel, he is going to know he was in a fight. I got down on the deck, about 50 feet, and headed right for him. I don’t think he saw me for quite a while. But when he did, he went mad, twisting, turning, dodging and trying to get away. I kept my speed down so I wouldn’t overrun him and I stayed behind him. I knew he was either going to hit that ridge up ahead or pop over the ridge to save himself. The minute he popped over I was going to get him with a Sidewinder.
“I fired one AIM-9 which did not track and the MiG pulled up over the ridge, turned left and gave me a dead astern shot. I obtained a good growl. I fired from about 25 to 50 feet off the grass and he was clear of the ridge by only another 50 to 100 feet when the Sidewinder caught him.
“The missile tracked and exploded 5 to 10 feet to the right side of the aft fuselage. The MiG spewed pieces and broke hard left and down from about 200 feet. I overshot and lost sight of him.
“I was quite out of fuel and all out of missiles and pretty deep in enemy territory all by myself, so it was high time to leave. We learned quite a bit from this fight. We learned you don’t pile into these fellows with eight airplanes all at once. You are only a detriment to yourself.”
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 59–60.