Tag Archives: Air Force Plant 42

11 May 1964

XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 rollout at Air Force Plant 42, 11 May 1964. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

11 May 1964: At Air Force Plant 42 near Palmdale, a small city in the high desert of southern California, the first prototype North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, 62-0001, was rolled out. More than 5,000 people were there to watch.

In August 1960, the U.S. Air Force had contracted for one XB-70 prototype and 11 pre-production YB-70 development aircraft. By 1964, however, the program had been scaled back to two XB-70As and one XB-70B. Only two were actually completed.

"Ride of the Valkyrs" by John Charles Dollman, 1909.
“Ride of the Valkyrs” by John Charles Dollman, 1909. In Norse mythology, the valkyries were immortal female figures who chose who among those who had died in battle were worthy of being taken to Valhalla.

The B-70 was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber capable of flying higher than 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). Like its contemporaries, the Lockheed Blackbirds, the Valkerie was so advanced that it was beyond the state of the art. New materials and processes had to be developed, and new industrial machinery designed and built.

The XB-70A is a very large aircraft with a canard-delta configuration, built primarily of stainless steel and titanium. It has twin vertical fins combining the functions of stabilizers and rudders. The XB-70A Valkyrie prototype is 193 feet, 5 inches (58.953 meters) long, including the pitot boom, with a wingspan of 105 feet, 0 inches (32.004 meters) and overall height of 30 feet, 9 inches (9.373 meters). The canard span is 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters). The canard has flaps, while the delta wing used multiple separate elevons for pitch and roll control.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, 17 August 1965. (NASA)

The delta wing has an angle of incidence of 0° and its leading edges are swept to 65.57°, with 0° sweep at the trailing edge. The wings have a maximum of -2.60° of twist. The wings of 62-001 have no dihedral, but the second B-70, 62-0207, had 5° dihedral. The total wing area is 6,297.8 square feet (585.1 square meters).

The canard also has 0° of incidence and dihedral. Its leading edge is swept aft 31.70°, while the trailing edge sweeps forward 14.91°. The canard has a total area of 415.59 square feet (38.61 square meters). The canard flaps can be lowered to 20°.

The vertical fins have a height of 15 feet (4.572 meters). The leading edges are swept 51.77° and the trailing edges, 10.89°.

The B-70 was designed to “surf” on its own supersonic shock wave (this was called “compression lift”). The outer 20 feet (6.096 meters) of each wing could be lowered to a 25° or 65° angle for high speed flight. Although this did provide additional directional stability, it actually helped increase the compression lift, which supported up to 35% of the airplane’s weight in flight.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001. (U.S. Air Force)

The first prototype, 62-001, had an empty weight of 231,215 pounds (104,877 kilograms), an its maximum takeoff weight was 521,056 pounds (236,347 kilograms).

The XB-70A is powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 engines, grouped together in the tail. These are single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engines, which have an 11-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The YJ93-GE-3 has a normal power rating of 17,700 pounds of thrust (78.734 kilonewtons); military power, 19,900 pounds (88.520 kilonewtons); and maximum power, 28,000 pounds (124.550 kilonewtons). All ratings are at 6,825 r.p.m. and are continuous. A special high-temperature fuel, JP-6, is required. The engine is 19 feet, 8.3 inches (6.002 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.15 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,220 pounds (2,368 kilograms).

Test firing one the 62-001’s General Electric YJ93-GE-3 afterburning turbojet engines. (LIFE Magazine)

62-0001 had a cruise speed of 1,089 knots (1,253 miles per hour/2,016 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,688 meters), and maximum speed of 1,721 knots (1,980 miles per hour/3,187 kilometers per hour) at 79,050 feet (24,094 meters)—Mach 2.97. During flight testing, the XB-70A reached a maximum of Mach 3.08 (1,777 knots) with a sustained altitude of 74,000 feet (22,555 meters).

Fuel was carried in 11 internal tanks in the wings and fuselage and the maximum capacity was 43,646 gallons (165,218 liters), giving the bomber a combat range of 3,786 nautical miles (4,357 statute miles/7,012 kilometers).

The B-70 was designed to carry two B-53 two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bombs in its internal bomb bay. A maximum of fourteen smaller weapons could be carried.

XB-70A-1 62-0001 first flew 21 September 1964, and exceeded Mach 3 for the first time on its 17th flight, 14 October 1965. Its final flight was 4 February 1969.

The second prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, was destroyed in a midair collision. The third Valkyrie, XB-70B-NA 62-0208, was cancelled before completion.

62-0001 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It has made 83 flights with just 160 hours, 16 minutes, total flight time.

XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 in cruise at very high altitude, 1968. (NASA)
XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 in cruise at very high altitude, 1968. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 April 1956

The first Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, i stowed out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, is towed out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed Martin)

17 April 1956: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation rolled out the very first production F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. This airplane, one of the original seventeen pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage.

Once the configuration was finalized, 55-2956 was the first YF-104A converted to the F-104A production standard. In this photograph, the F-104’s secret engine intakes are covered by false fairings.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 rollout at Palmdale, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed)
Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 rollout at Palmdale, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single-engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. The F-104A was 54 feet, 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). It had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms), combat weight of 17,988 pounds (8,159.2 kilograms), gross weight of 22,614 pounds (10,257.5 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 25,840 pounds (11,720.8 kilograms). Internal fuel capacity was 897 gallons (3,395.5 liters).

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Lockheed F-104A-5-LO Starfighter 56-737 launches two AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force)

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter 55-2956 at NOTS China Lake. (U.S. Navy)

This Starfighter, 55-2956, was converted to a JF-104A with specialized instrumentation. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy to test AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles at Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) China Lake, approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. 55-2956 was damaged beyond repair when it lost power on takeoff and ran off the runway at Armitage Field, 15 June 1959.

While on loan to teh U.S. Navy for testing the Sidewinder missile, Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 crashed on takeoff at NAS China Lake. Damaged beyond economic repair, the Starfighter was written off. (U.S. Navy)
While on loan to the U.S. Navy for testing the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter 55-2956, with Commander Herk Camp in the cockpit, crashed on takeoff at Armitage Field, NOTS China Lake. (U.S. Navy)

©2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 March 1990

Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.

Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.

The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).

Ben Rich, director of Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects ("Skunk Works") congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (Unattributed)
Ben Rich, director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“Skunk Works”), congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding  (center) and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (© Tony Landis)

Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h  (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).

Flight record data for 972's record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, ADP, LASC.
Flight record data for 972’s record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, Advanced Development Projects, Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.20.01Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.21.35Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.22.43Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.23.55This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).

This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.

61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM
Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 2012

Boeing 747-100SR, N911NA, NASA 911, Space Shuttle Carrier makes its last landing, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)
NASA 911, a modified Boeing 747-146 transport, FAA registration N911NA, one of two NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, makes its final landing at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)

8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-146 that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.

NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service with Japan Air Lines for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Japan Air Lines’ Boeing 747-146 JA8112, sister ship of NASA 911. (Michael Gilliland/Wikimedia)

The 747-146 SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975.

It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).

NASA's fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911, (background). NASA)
NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911. (NASA)

NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695  kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).

A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)
A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)

NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 January 1956

Lieutenant Barty R. Brooks, USAFR, standing on the wing of a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, Korea, 1954. (U.S. Air Force)

10 January 1956: First Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks, United States Air Force Reserve, a pilot assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing, Detachment 12, at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, along with two other pilots from the same unit, Captain Rusty Wilson and Lieutenant Crawford Shockley, picked up three brand new F-100C Super Sabre fighters at the North American Aviation Inc. assembly plant at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. It was to be a short flight, as these three jets were being taken to nearby George Air Force Base, Adelanto, California, only 42.5 miles (68.4 kilometers) to the east. Brooks was flying F-100C-20-NA, serial number 54-1907.

This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors ling is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at teh center hinge. Thi spin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been reinstalled before Lt. Brooks' flight.
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors link is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at the center hinge. This pin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been secured with a safety pin when it was reinstalled before Lt. Brooks’ flight. (Michael Benolkin)

The brief flight was uneventful until the pilots lowered the landing gear to land at George AFB. One of the other pilots saw that the scissors link joining the upper and lower sections of the nose gear strut on Brooks’ Super Sabre was loose. Concerned that he would not be able to steer the fighter after touching down, Brooks diverted to Edward Air Force Base, 36 miles (57 kilometers) to the northwest, where a larger runway and more emergency equipment was available. Captain Wilson escorted Lieutenant Brooks to Edwards.

The F-100C Super Sabre had no flaps and required a high speed landing approach. Lieutenant Brooks had only 674 total flight hours as a pilot, and just 39 hours in the F-100.

During his final approach to the runway Brooks allowed the fighter to slow too much and the outer portion of the wings stalled and lost lift. This shifted the wings’ center of lift forward, which caused the airplane to pitch up, causing even more of the outer wing to stall.

Lieutenant Brooks fought to regain control of the airplane, but he was unable to. At 4:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, the F-100 crashed on the runway and exploded. Barty Ray Brooks was killed.

Edwards Air Force Base is the center of flight testing for the U.S. Air Force. In preparation for a test later that afternoon, the base film crews had their equipment set up along the runway and captured the last seconds of Brook’s flight on film. This is the most widely seen crash footage, and is still in use in pilot training. It is named “The Sabre Dance.”

Still image from cine film of Barty Brooks’ F-100C Super Sabre just before it crashed at Edwards Air Force Base, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Barty Ray Brooks was born in Martha Township,  Oklahoma, 2 December 1929. He was the third child of Benjamin Barto Brooks, a farmer, and Maye Henry Brooks. The family later moved to Lewisville, Texas. Brooks graduated from Lewisville High School in 1948, then studied agriculture at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Barty Ray Brooks, 1950. (Aggieland ’50)

While at Texas A&M, Brooks was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.). On graduation, 30 May 1952, Brooks was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve.

Lieutenant Brooks was trained as a pilot at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, and Laredo Air Force Base, Texas. In 1954, he was assigned to the 311th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 58th Fighter Bomber Group, Taegu Air Base (K-2), Republic of South Korea. Brooks flew the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. When he returned to the United States he was assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing.

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks were interred at the Round Grove Cemetery, Lewisville, Texas.

The article, “The Deadly Sabre Dance,” by Alan Cockrell is highly recommended:

http://www.historynet.com/deadly-sabre-dance.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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