Tag Archives: Air Force Cross

14 March 1968

Retired Brig. Gen. Frank Cardile (left) awards retired Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Richardson the Air Force Cross April 5, 2008 at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in New York. (Staff Sgt. David J. Murphy, U.S. Air Force)

AIR FORCE CROSS

SERGEANT DENNIS M. RICHARDSON

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Chief Master Sergeant (Retired), [then Sergeant] Dennis M. Richardson, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Flight Engineer of an HH-3E Jolly Green rescue helicopter of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action in Southeast Asia on 14 March 1968. On that date, Sergeant Richardson flew two sorties in an effort to rescue United States Air Force pilots who were surrounded by enemy troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the initial rescue attempt another helicopter had been driven off and Sergeant Richardson’s helicopter had itself sustained significant battle damage. Despite their situation, and with complete disregard for their own safety, Sergeant Richardson and his crew elected to return and make a second rescue attempt. Coming to a hover 10 feet above the survivor’s position, Sergeant Richardson stood fully exposed in the helicopter door and began lowering the jungle penetrator with one hand while gripping his M-60 machine gun with the other. Unknown to anyone, the enemy had occupied the area but held their fire, waiting to ambush the helicopter. Suddenly intense enemy fire erupted from all quadrants, resulting in additional damage to “Jolly Green 22” and wounding Sergeant Richardson. In an extraordinary display of courage and valor, Sergeant Richardson, despite his wounds, leaned far outside the door and neutralized charging enemy combatants who appeared intent on boarding the helicopter. Sergeant Richardson continued to lay down an effective blanket of defensive fire which enabled the pilot to maneuver safely out of the area. The selfless actions of Sergeant Richardson undoubtedly saved his helicopter and crew from certain disaster. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of a determined enemy, Sergeant Richardson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Action Date: March 14, 1968

Service: Air Force

Battalion: 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron

Regiment: 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group

Division: DaNang Air Base, Vietnam

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) ot the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

Dennis Martin Richardson was born 29 December 1945 at Queens, New York. He was the son of John Joseph (“Jack”) Richardson and Nora Elizabeth Tuohy Richardson.

Richardson enlisted in the United States Air Force, 12 November 1964. He was trained as a helicopter mechanic, and was assigned as crew chief of a Bell UH-1F Iroquois (“Huey”) at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. During 1966, he served in Thailand with the 606th Air Commando Squadron. He was next assigned as flight engineer on the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant with the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam.

Richardson returned to the United States and on 11 October 1968, left active duty.

On 30 January 1970, Richardson married Miss Deidre A. O’Brien at the Sacred Heart Church, Staten Island, New York. They would have five children.

Dennis Richardson joined the New York Air National Guard in 1975, serving as a helicopter flight engineer with the 106th Rescue Wing. He retired in 2005.

In addition to the Air Force Cross, during his service in the Vietnam War, Sergeant Richardson was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.

Chief Master Sergeant Dennis Martin Richardson, United States Air Force, died at Carmel, New York, 1 June 2016 at the age of 70 years. He was buried at the Long Island National Cemetery, East Farmingdale, New York.

This was the helicopter on which Sergeant Richardson served, 14 March 1968. The restored Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 67-14709, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NMUSAF)

The SH-3A Sea King (Sikorsky S-61) first flew 11 March 1959, designed as an anti-submarine helicopter for the U.S. Navy. The prototype was designated XHSS-2 Sea King. In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft were upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) is a development of the SH-3A. It earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant refuels in flight from a Lockheed MC-130 Combat Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.

Beginning in 1928, an American food company began using a cartoon figure to advertise its "Green Giant" brand of canned peas. Eventually the mascot represented The Green Giant Company's other canned and frozen vegetables. The character is now owned by General Mills.
Beginning in 1928, an American food company began using a cartoon figure to advertise its “Green Giant” brand of canned peas. Eventually the mascot represented The Green Giant Company’s other canned and frozen vegetables. The character is now owned by General Mills.

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es. Many CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1967

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy

MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR MERLYN H. DETHLEFSEN, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Merlyn H. Detlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, near Thai Nguyen, North Vietnam, on 10 March 1967. Major Dethlefsen was one of a flight of F-105 aircraft engaged in a fire suppression mission designed to destroy a key anti-aircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles (SAM), an exceptionally heavy concentration of anti-aircraft artillery, and other automatic weapons. The defensive network was situated to dominate the approach and provide protection to an important North Vietnam industrial center that was scheduled to be attacked by fighter bombers immediately after the strike by Major Dethlefsen’s flight. In the initial attack on the defensive complex the lead aircraft was crippled, and Major Dethlefsen’s aircraft was extensively damaged by the intense enemy fire. Realizing that the success of the impending fighter bomber attack on the center now depended on his ability to effectively suppress the defensive fire, Major Dethlefsen ignored the enemy’s overwhelming firepower and the damage to his aircraft and pressed his attack. Despite a continuing hail of anti-aircraft fire, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Major Dethlefsen flew repeated close range strikes to silence the enemy defensive positions with bombs and cannon fire. His action in rendering ineffective the defensive SAM and anti-aircraft artillery sites enabled the ensuing fighter bombers to strike successfully the important industrial target without loss or damage to their aircraft, thereby appreciably reducing the enemy’s ability to provide essential war material. Major Dethlefsen’s consummate skill and selfless dedication to this significant mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

General Orders: GB-51, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN KEVIN A. GILROY, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Kevin A. Gilroy (AFSN: 0-3109656), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission against the Thai Nguyen Steel Works in North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Captain Gilroy guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation protecting one of the most important industrial complexes in North Vietnam. He accomplished this feat even after formidable hostile defenses had destroyed the lead aircraft and had crippled a second. Though his own aircraft suffered extensive battle damage and was under constant attack by MiG interceptors, anti-aircraft artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire, Captain Gilroy aligned several ingenious close range attacks on the hostile defenses at great risk to his own life. Due to his technical skill, the attacks were successful and the strike force was able to bomb the target without loss. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness, Captain Gilroy has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-297 (August 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base

SILVER STAR

MAJOR KENNETH HOLMES BELL, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen's wingman at Thuy Nyugen, 10 March 1967.
Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen’s wingman at Thai Nyugen, 10 March 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major Kenneth Holmes Bell (AFSN: FR-25966), United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, PACIFIC Air Forces, in Southeast Asia on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Bell was a member of a surface-to-air missile suppression flight in support of a strike against a large industrial complex. Major Bell and his flight, with great courage, flew through anti-aircraft defenses which were so dense that the flight leader was downed, and all three of the remaining flight members’ aircraft were damaged. Major Bell’s aircraft was damaged to the extent that aircraft control was marginal. However, he elected to remain in the target area flying through the hail of flak three more times until he had the key missile installation shattered and burning from a series of vicious attacks. Throughout the entire flight, Major Bell exhibited complete disregard for his personal welfare in the face of overwhelming odds. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Bell has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Headquarters, Pacific Air Force, Special Orders No. G-1014 (July 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

A Republic F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)
A Republic F-105G Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a Mach 2+ tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape. The F-105F was a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. Its high speed, low radar cross-section, and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission: locating and attacking enemy radar and surface-to-air missile installations.

The F-105F/G Thunderchief was 67 feet (20.422 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). Its wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no twist. The wings had 3° 30′ anhedral. The total wing area was 385 square feet (35.8 square meters). Modified to the Wild Weasel III configuration, it had an empty weight of 31,279 pounds (14,188 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight of 54,580 pounds (24,757 kilograms).

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel III 63-8320. (U.S. Air Force)

The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 14,300 pounds of thrust (63.61 kilonewtons), continuous power; 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons), Military Power (30-minute limit); and Maximum Power rating of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15-minute limit). The engine could produce 26,500 pounds of thrust (117.88 kilonewtons) with water injection, for takeoff. The J75-P-19W is 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The F-105G Wild Weasel III had a cruising speed of 514 knots (592 miles per hour/952 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 681 knots at Sea Level—0.78 Mach—and 723 knots (832 miles per hour/1,339 kilometers per hour) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters)—Mach 1.23. It could climb to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 28.0 minutes. The F-105G’s combat ceiling was 43,900 feet (13,381 meters), and it had a combat radius of 391 nautical miles (450 statute miles/724 kilometers). The maximum ferry range, with external fuel tanks, was 1,623 nautical miles (1,868 statute miles/3,006 kilometers).

The Wild Weasel III was armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 581 rounds of ammunition, one AGM-78 Standard High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), and two AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.
Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.

The Wild Weasel III was armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 581 rounds of ammunition, one AGM-78 Standard High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), and two AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief photographed in Southeast Asia, circa 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Major James L. Davis and Captain Phillip Walker with Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief 63-8352 (F-105G Wild Weasel III), photographed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 12 February 1968, after they completed their 100th combat mission. The F-105 is now carrying the tail code RM, indicating the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (From the collection of Colonel James L. Davis, United States Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 February 1967

General Howell M. Estes, Jr., presents the Air Force Cross to Airman 1st Class Duane D. Hackney, 9 September 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
General Howell M. Estes, Jr., presents the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Duane D. Hackney, 9 September 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

heroism046 February 1967: That Others May Live. Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, U.S. Air Force, 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, rescued the pilot of a downed aircraft and earned the Air Force Cross. He was the first living recipient of the Air Force Cross.

With more than 70 individual medals, Chief Master Sergeant Hackney was the most highly decorated enlisted man in United States Air Force history.

His citation reads:

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Airman Second Class Duane D. Hackney (AFSN: 16827003), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving with the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, as a Paramedic (Pararescueman) on an unarmed HH-3E Rescue Helicopter near Mu Gia Pass, North Vietnam, on 6 February 1967. On that date, Airman Hackney flew two sorties in a heavily defended hostile area. On the first sortie, despite the presence of armed forces known to be hostile, entrenched in the vicinity, Airman Hackney volunteered to be lowered into the jungle to search for the survivor. He searched until the controlling Search and Rescue agency ordered an evacuation of the rescue crew. On the second sortie, Airman Hackney located the downed pilot, who was hoisted into the helicopter. As the rescue crew departed the area, intense and accurate 37-mm. flak tore into the helicopter amidships, causing extensive damage and a raging fire aboard the craft. With complete disregard for his own safety, Airman Hackney fitted his parachute to the rescued man. In this moment of impending disaster, Airman Hackney chose to place his responsibility to the survivor above his own life. The courageous Pararescueman located another parachute for himself and had just slipped his arms through the harness when a second 37-mm. round struck the crippled aircraft, sending it out of control. The force of the explosion blew Airman Hackney through the open cargo door and, though stunned, he managed to deploy the unbuckled parachute and make a successful landing. He was later recovered by a companion helicopter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Airman Hackney reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) ot the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) of the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

The following is excerpted from Chief Master Sergeant Hackney’s U.S. Air Force biography:

Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, USAF, with jungle penetrator, aboard a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Southeast Asia, 1967 (U.S. Air Force)
Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, USAF, with jungle penetrator, aboard a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Southeast Asia, 1967 (U.S. Air Force)

“. . . His pararescue career began quickly. Three days after reporting for duty, Hackney, now an airman second class, flew his first combat mission. On his 10th mission, in April 1966, he was hit by enemy fire while pulling a wounded Marine pilot aboard his HH-3E Jolly Green Giant. Five times in the months ahead his helicopter was shot down. He earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 Air Medals for single acts of heroism. Then came Feb. 6, 1967 and the mission that would lead to the second highest award for heroism given by the U.S. Air Force.

“That morning he descended from his HH-3E to look for a downed pilot near Mu Gia pass, North Vietnam. He searched for two hours until bad weather forced a return to base. A few hours later, radio contact with the pilot was re-established and another rescue was attempted. This time, the severely wounded pilot was found. The wounded pilot hugged Hackney and said, ‘You’re beautiful.’

” ‘Hey man,’ said Hackney, ‘I’m not the stewardess.’

“Hackney carried the pilot back to the helicopter to begin their retreat. They had to hurry because it was rapidly becoming dark. Before they could clear enemy air space, anti-aircraft artillery struck the helicopter, filling the compartment with smoke and fire. Hackney strapped his own parachute on the pilot’s back and helped him get out the door. He found a spare, oil-stained parachute just as a second 37-mm antiaircraft shell ripped into the helicopter. Before he could buckle the chute, the Jolly Green Giant’s fuel line exploded, blasting Hackney through the door. Holding on to the chute with his arms, he managed to pull the cord before plummeting into the forest 250 feet below. The chute slowed his fall, but he still plunged 80 more feet to a rock ledge.

“Severely burned and pierced by shrapnel, Hackney managed to evade capture. When an A-1 Skyraider passed overhead, he fired a flare. A chopper mission was sent in and the rescuer was rescued. When he got back to Da Nang Air Base, he was told that he was the only survivor of the thwarted mission. Four other crew members and the pilot they had gone to save had died.

“For giving up his parachute and risking his own life, Hackney received the Air Force Cross. Hackney was presented the medal by Gen. Howell M. Estes Jr., the commander of Military Airlift Command.

“Hackney continued his distinguished Air Force career, retiring in 1991 as a chief master sergeant. In 1993, he died of a heart attack in his Pennsylvania home. He was 46 years old.”

Chief Master Sergeant Duane D. Hackney, United States Air Force (195x–1993)
Technical Sergeant Duane D. Hackney, United States Air Force (1947–1993)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 December 1919

Captain Sir Ross Macpherson Smith K.B.E., M.C., D.F.C., A.F.C., and his brother, Lieutenant Sir Keith Macpherson Smith K.B.E. (State Library of South Australia)
Captain Sir Ross Macpherson Smith K.B.E., M.C. and Bar, D.F.C. and Two Bars, A.F.C., and his brother, Lieutenant Sir Keith Macpherson Smith K.B.E. (State Library of South Australia)

10 December 1919: Captain Ross Macpherson Smith, M.C. and Bar, D.F.C. and Two Bars, A.F.C., and his brother, Lieutenant Keith Macpherson Smith, arrived at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, aboard a Vickers Vimy. Also aboard were Sergeant James Mallett Bennett and Sergeant Walter Henry Shiers. The four had departed Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, London, England, on 12 November, in response to the offer of a £10,000 prize offered by the government of Australia to the first Australian airmen to fly from England to Australia aboard a British airplane.

The flight crew readies the Vickers Vimy for the long-distance flight. (History Trust of South Australia)

The Smith’s airplane, a Vickers F.B.27A Vimy IV, registration G-EAOU, was built for the Royal Air Force, and given serial number F8630. It was too late to serve in combat and was not delivered to the RAF. Vickers modified it for the flight to Australia, adding additional fuel tanks. Total duration of the flight was 28 days, 17 hours, 40 minutes. The journey required 135 hours, 55 minutes of flying time. The distance flown was estimated to be 11,123 miles (17,901 kilometers). The Vimy averaged 81.84 miles per hour (131.71 kilometers per hour).

Ross and Keith Macpherson Smith, left of center, wearing khakis and slouch hats, on their arrival at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 10 December 1919. (Sotheby’s AU0772)

The route of the flight was London, England to Lyon, France; Rome, Italy; Cairo, Egypt; Damascus, French Mandate of Syria; Basra, Kingdom of Iraq; Karachi, Delhi, and Calcutta, British India; Akyab, and Rangoon, Burma; Singora, Siam; Singapore, Straits Settlements; Batavia and Surabaya, Dutch East Indies; arriving at Darwin at 4:10 p.m. local time, 10 December 1919 (0140, 11 December, GMT).

The flight crew of Vickers Vimy G-EAOU, left to right, Sergeant James Mallett Bennett, Lieutenant Keith Macpherson Smith, Captain Ross Macpherson Smith, M.C. and Bar, D.F.C. and Two Bars, A.F.C., and Sergeant Walter Henry Shiers, at the Sydney Town Hall steps, 14 February 1920. (State Library New South Wales FL3254227)

The Smith brothers were both invested Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.) by George V. Sergeants Bennett and Shiers received commissions as officers.The four airmen divided the £10,000 prize money. (This would be equivalent to £486,460.36, or $651,175.84, in 2017.)

Vickers F.B.27A Vimy IV, G-EAOU.
Vickers F.B.27A Vimy IV, G-EAOU, photographed 31 August 1920. (Museums Victoria Collections)

The Vickers Vimy F.B.27 (named after the World War I Battle of Vimy Ridge) was designed and built by Vickers Ltd. (Aviation Department) at Weybridge, Surrey, England. It was a twin-engine, three-bay biplane night bomber built for the Royal Air Force. The Vimy’s construction was typical of the time: a wooden framework covered with doped fabric. The engines were placed in individual nacelles, midway between the upper and lower wings. Each nacelle was supported by four vertical struts. The horizontal stabilizer/elevator were also biplane, and it had two vertical fins/rudders.

The Vimy was 43 feet, 6½ inches (13.272 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 2 inches (20.472 meters) and height of 15 feet, 8 inches (4.775 meters). The upper and lower wings had a chord of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). The total wing area was 1,330 square feet (123.6 square meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters) and there was no stagger. Both wings had and angle of incidence of 3½° and 3° dihedral.

The bomber weighed 6,700 pounds (3,039 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 12,500 pounds (5,670 kilograms), though on the intercontinental flight, G-EAOU was routinely operated at a gross weight of 13,000 pounds (5,897 kilograms).

The Vimy was powered by two water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,240.5-cubic-inch-displacement (20.3 liter) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.9:1. These engines were rated at 350 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 360 horsepower at 2,035 r.p.m. (five minute limit). They turned four-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propellers through a 1.60:1 gear reduction. The Eagle VIII used four Rolls-Royce/Claudel Hobson carburetors and four Watford magnetos with two spark plugs per cylinder. Fuel consumption at normal power at Sea Level was 23 gallons (87 liters) per hour. The engine weighed 847 pounds (384 kilograms).

Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII aircraft engine. (NASM)

The Vimy had a maximum speed of 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). In standard configuration, the bomber had a range of 835 miles (1,344 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 10,500 feet (3,200 meters). This is the same type airplane flown across the North Atlantic ocean by Alcock and Brown six months earlier.

Vickers gave the Vimy IV bomber to the Australian government. G-EAOU is on display at Adelaide Airport, Adelaide, South Australia.

Vickers Vimy, G-EAOU. (John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)
Vickers Vimy, G-EAOU. (John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1963

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)

6 December 1963: Air Force test pilot Major Robert W. Smith takes the Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 56-0756, out for a little spin. . .

Starting at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Bob Smith turned toward Edwards Air Force Base and accelerated to Military Power and then lit the afterburner, which increased the General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter accelerated in level flight. At Mach 2.2, Smith ignited the Rocketdyne LR121 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide. The LR121 was throttleable and could produce from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons).

When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Smith began a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), the test pilot shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. He gradually reduced the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), then shut it off.  Without the engine running, cabin pressurization was lost and the pilot’s A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit inflated.

The NF-104A continued to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by the reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. 756 reached a peak altitude of 120,800 feet (36,820 meters), before reentering the atmosphere in a 70° dive. Major Smith used the windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes to restart the jet engine.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer zoom-climb profile. (U.S. Air Force via NF-104.com)

Major Smith had set an unofficial record for altitude. Although Lockheed had paid the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license fee, the Air Force had not requested certification in advance so no FAI or National Aeronautic Association personnel were on site to certify the flight.

For this flight, Robert Smith was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”

Major Robert W. Smith, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Wilson Smith was born at Washington, D.C., 11 December 1928. He was the son of Robert Henry Smith, a clerk (and eventually treasurer) for the Southern Railway Company, and Jeanette Blanche Albaugh Smith, a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1947. Smith studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University.

Robert W. Smith joined the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1949. He trained as a pilot at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 23 June 1950.

Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson Smith married Ms. Martha Yacko, 24 June 1950, at Phoenix, Arizona.

Lieutenant Robert W. Smith and his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Jackson, with Lady Lane, Smith’s North American F-86 Sabre. (Robert W. Wilson Collection)

He flew the F-86 Sabre on more than 100 combat missions with the 334th and 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War. he named one of his airplanes Lady Lane in honor of his daughter. Smith was credited with two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and three more damaged.

Smith graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952 and flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing at Edwards Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He was later assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards Air Force Base for training as an astronaut candidate for Project Gemini.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Smith, United States Air Force

After the NF-104A project was canceled, Lieutenant Colonel Smith volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War. He commanded the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. Bob Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” while leading an attack at Thuy Phoung, north of Hanoi, 19 November 1967.

He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, and five times was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Colonel Smith retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1969 after twenty years of service.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson Smith died at Monteverde, Florida, 19 August 2010. He was 81 years old.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-756 following a landing accident at Edwards AFB, 21 November 1961. (U.S. Air Force via the International F-104 Society)

56-756 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter. Flown by future astronaut James A. McDivitt, it had been damaged in a landing accident at Edwards following a hydraulic system failure, 21 November 1961. It was one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs). These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the control system for flight outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wingspan was increased to 25 feet, 11.3 inches (7.907 meters) for installation of the hydrogen peroxide Reaction Control System thrusters. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The fuselage “buzz number” was changed from FG-756 to NF-756.

The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne LR121 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons) with a burn time of 105 seconds.

56-756 was damaged by inflight explosions in 1965 and 1971, after which it was retired. It is mounted for static display at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, marked as 56-760.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer 56-756, marked as 56-760, on display at Edwards Air Force Base. (Kaszeta)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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