Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

19 April 2006

Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., with the Victor Black Edition Continental engine overhauled by Victor Aviation of Palo Alto, California.
Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., with the Victor Black Edition Continental IO-470-E engine installed in his Cessna 210A, N6579X. The engine was overhauled by Victor Aviation of Palo Alto, California. (Victor Aviation)

19 April 2006: Former experimental test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., was enroute from Prattville, Alabama, to Manassas, Virginia. Scott Crossfield¹ was flying his personal Cessna 210A, N6579X. The Cessna was cruising at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), under the control of the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).

During the flight, he encountered a Level 6 thunderstorm.

Scott Crossfield requested to deviate from his planned course to avoid the severe turbulence. Atlanta Center authorized his request and he began to turn. Approximately 30 seconds later, at 11:10 a.m., radar contact was lost near Ludville, Georgia. The last indication was that the Cessna was descending through 5,500 feet (1,676 meters).

The wreckage of N6579X was located the following day by a Civil Air Patrol search team, 3.3 nautical miles (6.1 kilometers) northwest of Ludville at an elevation of 1,269 feet (386.8 meters) above Sea Level. [N. 34° 30.767′, W. 84° 39.492′] The airplane had descended through the forest canopy nearly vertically and created a crater approximately 4½ feet (1.4 meters) deep and 6 feet (1.8 meters) across. Albert Scott Crossfield’s body was inside.

Scott Crossfield’s 1962 Cessna 210A Centurion, photographed at Santa Monica Airport, California, 26 September 1999. (AirNikon Collection, Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona via airliners.net)

N6579X was a Cessna Model 210A, serial number 21057579, built in 1960 by the Cessna Aircraft Company, Inc., of Wichita Kansas. It was a six-place, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with external struts to brace the wings, and retractable, tricycle landing gear. The airplane was certified for instrument flight by a single pilot. At the time of the crash, N6579X had been flown 4,987.4 hours, total time since new (TTSN).

The Cessna 210A was 28 feet, 2 inches (8.585 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 1,839 pounds (834.2 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 2,900 pounds (1,315.4 kilograms). It had a fuel capacity of 65 gallons (246 liters), with 10 gallons (37.9 liters) unusable, and 12 quarts of engine oil (11.4 liters).

N6579X was powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected, 471.239-cubic-inch-displacement (7.722 liters) Teledyne Continental IO-470-E horizontally-opposed six-cylinder direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 8.6:1. The engine was rated at 260 horsepower at 2,625 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100LL aviation gasoline. It weighed 429 pounds (195 kilograms). This engine, serial number 77583-0-E, was original to the airplane and accumulated 4,987.4 hours, total time since new (TTSN). It had been overhauled by Victor Aviation, Palo Alto, California, 1,259.8 hours prior to the accident (TSO). A three-bladed McCauley constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) was installed in 2005.

The Cessna Model 210A has a maximum structural cruise speed of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers), and maximum speed (Vne) of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). Maneuvering speed, which should be used in turbulent conditions, is 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour). The 210A has a maximum rate of climb of 1,300 feet per minutes (6.6  meters per second) and service ceiling of 20,700 feet (6,309 meters). Its maximum range is 1,284 miles (2,066 kilometers).

Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., aeronautical engineer and test pilot, 1921-2006. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., was born 2 October 1921 at Berkeley, California. He was the second of three children of Albert Scott Crossfield, a chemist who was employed as the superintendant of the Union Oil Company refinery in Wilmington, California, and Lucia M. Dwyer Crossfield.

When he was five years old, young “Scotty” contracted pneumonia. He was comatose for a while and was not expected to survive, but after several weeks he began to recover. A year later, he again became seriously ill, this time with rheumatic fever. He was confined to total bed rest for four months, and continued to require extensive bed rest until he was about ten years old. It was during this time that he became interested in aviation.

Scott Crossfield attended Boistfort Consolidated School, southwest of Chehalis, Washington, graduating in 1939, and then studied engineering at the University of Washington until taking a job at Boeing in late 1941. During this time, Scotty learned to fly in the Civilian Aviation Training Program.

The week following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Scott Crossfield enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps. After numerous delays, he joined the United States Navy on 21 February 1942, and resigned from the Air Corps. He began aviation cadet training at NAS Sand Point, near Seattle, and then was sent to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. In December 1942, he graduated, received his gold Naval Aviator wings and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Naval Reserve.

Ensign Crossfield was assigned to NAS Kingsville as an advanced bombing and gunnery instructor. He was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 March 1944. He continued as a gunnery instructor for two years before being transferred to Air Group 51 in the Hawaiian Islands, which was preparing for the invasion of Japan. He was promoted to Lieutenant, 1 August 1945, while serving aboard the Independence-class light aircraft carrier USS Langley (CVL-27). With the end of World War II, though, the Navy was cutting back. Lieutenant Crossfield was released from active duty 31 December 1945.

In April 1943 at Corpus Christi, Texas, Ensign A. Scott Crossfield married Miss Alice Virginia Knoph of Seattle. They would have five children.

Following the War, Scotty returned to the University of Washington to complete his degree. He took a part time job operating the University’s wind tunnel. At the same time, he remained in the Naval Reserve, assigned to VF-74, a fighter squadron which flew both the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Chance Vought F4U Corsair out of NAS Sand Point, back where his naval career began.

Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair, Bu. No. 82034, assigned to Fighter Squadron 74 (VF-74). (United States Navy)

Crossfield graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in June 1949, and a master’s degree in 1950.

In 1950 Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as a research test pilot at the High-Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He flew the Republic YF-84, F-84F Thunderstreak, and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. Crossfield made 25 flights in the delta-winged Convair XF-92A, which he described as “the worst flying airplane built in modern times.” He also flew the Northrop X-4 and Bell X-5. He made 17 flights conducting stability tests in the Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak. Scotty made 65 flights in the North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre, including a test series which discovered a fatal flaw which led to the death of North American’s chief test pilot, George S. Welch.

NACA Research Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket after exceeding Mach 2, 20 November 1953. (NASA)

Crossfield is known as a rocketplane pilot. He made 10 flights in the Bell X-1, and 89 in the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. He became the first pilot to exceed Mach 2 when he flew the Skyrocket to Mach 2.005, 20 November 1953.

Scott Crossfield discusses the X-15 with North American Aviation engineers Edmond R. Cokeley and Charles H. Feltz. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Crossfield flew for NACA for approximately five years. During that time, approximately 500 flights were made at Edwards by NACA test pilots. Scott Crossfield flew 181 of them.

Scott Crossfield left NACA in 1956 to join North American Aviation, Inc., as chief engineering test pilot for the X-15 project. Between 8 June 1959 and 6 December 1960, he made fourteen flights in the X-15. He reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.97 and altitude of 88,116 feet (26,858 meters). Once the contractor’s flight tests were completed and the rocketplane turned over to the U.S. Air Force and NACA, the customers’ test pilots, Joe Walker and Major Robert M. White, took over.

Albert Scott Crossfield made 114 flights in rocket-powered aircraft, more than any other pilot.

After completing his work on the X-15, Crossfield followed Harrison (“Stormy”) Storms, who had been the Chief Engineer of North American’s Los Angeles Division (where the X-15 was built) to the Space and Information Systems Division in Downey, California, where he worked in quality assurance, reliability engineering and systems testing for the Apollo Command and Service Modules and the Saturn S-II second stage.

Crossfield left North American at the end of 1966, becoming Vice President for Technological Development for Eastern Air Lines. In this position, he flew acceptance tests for new Boeing 720 and 727 airliners at Boeing in Seattle.

In The X-15 Rocket Plane, author Michelle Evans quoted Crossfield as to why he had not entered NASA’s space program as an astronaut:

     One question that pressed was, with his love of flight and the early responsibility of going into space with the X-15, why would Scott not apply to the NASA astronaut office? He explained, “[Dr.] Randy Lovelace and General [Donald] Flickinger were on the selection board. They took me to supper one night and asked me not to put in for astronaut. I asked them, ‘Why  not?’ and they said, ‘Well, we’re friends of yours. We don’t want to have to turn you down.’ I asked, ‘Why would you have to turn me down?’ and they said, ‘You’re too independent.’ “

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space, by Michelle, Evans, University of Nebraska Press, 2013, Chapter 1 at Page 33.

The remains of Albert Scott Crossfield are interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of X-15 56-6670, under the right wing of NB-52A 52-003. (NASA)

¹ “Scott Crossfield” is the family name, going back for several generations.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1955

Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter 083-1002, serial number 53-7787, the second prototype, in flight near Edwards AFB. (Lockheed Martin/Code One Magazine)

19 April 1955¹: Lockheed test pilot Herman Richard (“Fish”) Salmon was flying the second prototype Lockheed XF-104 interceptor, 53-7787, conducting tests of the General Electric T171 Vulcan gun system.

At 47,000 feet (14,326 meters), Salmon fired two bursts from the T171. On the second burst, vibrations from the gun loosened the airplane’s ejection hatch, located beneath the cockpit, resulting in explosive decompression.

Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Anthony W. LeVier (left) and Test Pilot Herman R. Salmon. An F-104 Starfighter is behind them. (Lockheed)
Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Anthony W. LeVier (left) and Test Pilot Herman R. Salmon. An F-104 Starfighter is behind them. (Lockheed Martin)

The Associated Press reported:

Test Pilot Leaps From New Jet

     INYOKERN, Calif., April 20 (AP)—Herman R. (Fish) Salmon, former racing pilot and now a top test pilot, bailed safely from one of the Air Force’s hot new F104 jet fighters over the Mojave dessert [sic] Tuesday.

He was  spotted on the desert after a two-hour search by military planes and brought to the Naval ordinance [sic] test station here for a physical examination. A preliminary checkup indicated he was not injured.

     Salmon, 41, was on a routine test flight when he hit the silk. Authorities gave no hint what happened to the supersecret plane to make the bailout necessary. The craft’s height at the time it was abandoned was not given. The plane’s top speed has been unofficially estimated at 1,200 m. p. h.

     Wreckage of the F104, one of two prototypes now being tested by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. for the Air Force, was found several miles south of the China Lake area.

     A Lockheed spokesman said Salmon, of Van Nuys, Calif., was spotted by a search plane and apparently picked up by a Navy helicopter and flown here. Salmon took off on the test flight from Palmdale, about 70 miles south of here.

Reno Evening Gazette, Volume LXXIX, Number 21, Wednesday, 20 April 1955, Page 24 at Columns 5–7.

Fish Salmon was wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation (I.L.C. Dover) K-1 helmet for protection in just such an emergency. The capstans are pneumatic tubes surrounded by fabric lacings, running along the arms, torso and legs. As the tubes inflated, the lacings pulled the fabric of the suit very tight and applied pressure to his body as a substitute for normal atmospheric pressure. The partial-pressure garment also enclosed his head, with a fiberglass helmet and a clear visor or face plate providing for vision.

Test pilot Herman R. Salmon with a prototype Lockheed XF-104 parked on Rogers Dry Lake. (Lockheed Martin)
Test pilot Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon with a prototype Lockheed XF-104, parked on Rogers Dry Lake. (Lockheed Martin)

The sudden loss of cabin pressure and drop to subfreezing temperatures caused Salmon’s face plate to fog over. Inflating air bladders pushed his helmet high on his head.  The cockpit was filled with dust, fiberglass insulation and other debris. All this restricted his visibility, both inside and outside the airplane. The very tight pressure suit restricted his movements.

Fish Salmon cut the throttle, opened the speed brakes and began a descending turn to the left to reach a lower altitude. By the time he had reached 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) he had been unable to find a place on the desert floor to make an emergency landing. It was time to leave the crippled XF-104.

At 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour) the ejection seat fired Salmon out of the bottom of the cockpit. He had to open his parachute manually (the seat timer did not operate) and he made a safe landing.

The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, intended to avoid the airplane's tall vertical tail. Production aircraft used an upward-firing seat. (Lockheed)
The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, built by Stanley Aviation Inc. It was intended to avoid the airplane’s tall vertical tail. Later production aircraft used an upward-firing Martin-Baker seat. This airplane is the second prototype XF-104, 53-7787. (Lockheed Martin)

The prototype XF-104 impacted the desert approximately 73 miles (117 kilometers) east-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base. It was completely destroyed. Fish Salmon landed about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away. He was found two hours later and rescued by an Air Force helicopter.

Occasionally, a satisfied user thanked the researchers at the Aero Medical Laboratory. One of these was Lockheed test pilot Herman R. “Fish” Salmon. On April 14, 1955,¹ Salmon was flying the second XF-104 (53-7787) at 47,500 feet while wearing a T-1 suit, K-1 helmet, and strap-fastened boots. As he triggered the General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon for a test firing, severe vibrations loosened the floor-mounted ejection hatch and the cockpit explosively depressurized at the same time as the engine flamed out. The suit inflated immediately. Repeated attempts to restart the engine failed, and Salmon ejected at 15,000 feet. Fish reported, “I landed in a field of rocks ranging from one foot to five feet in diameter. My right arm was injured and my head struck a rock. The K-1 helmet hard shell was cracked, but there was no injury to my head. It took me 10 to 15 minutes to get out of the suit with my injured arm. Rescue was effected [sic] by helicopter approximately two hour after escape.” Salmon reported that the K-1 helmet was excellent for rugged parachute landings, and his only complaint was that the visor may impair vision at extreme altitudes.”

Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits—Wiley Post to Space Shuttle, by Dennis R., Jenkins, National Aeronautics and Space Administration SP–2011–595, Washington, D.C., 2012, Chapter 4 at Page 141.

Lockheed's Chief Test Pilot, Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier, is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet. The first prototype XF-104, 53-7786, is behind him. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed’s Chief Test Pilot, Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier, is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation K-1 helmet. The first prototype XF-104, 53-7786, is behind him. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptors. The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).

The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. XF-104 53-7787 had been built with an afterburning Wright J65-W-7 turbojet, rated at 7,800 pounds of thrust, and 10,200 pounds of thrust with afterburner.

The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters).

The General Electric T171 Vulcan was a prototype 6-barrelled 20 mm “Gatling Gun” automatic cannon. The barrels were rotated at high speed by a hydraulic drive. The gun is capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. The initial production version was designated M61. The cannon system was installed in a weapons bay on the left side of the F-104, between the cockpit and engine intakes.

The first prototype Lockheed XF-104, 53-7786, was also destroyed, 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.

¹ Reliable sources give the date of this incident as both 14 April and 19 April. Contemporary news reports, published Wednesday, 20 April 1955, say that the accident took place “yesterday” and “Tuesday,” suggesting that the correct date is 19 April.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1968

Barbara Jane Harrison, GC
Barbara Jane Harrison GC
This photograph shows Speedbird 712 over Thorpe, Surrey. The Number two Engine is circled at the lower right.

8 April 1968: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 712, call sign Speedbird 712, a Boeing 707-465 Intercontinental, registered G-ARWE, departed London Heathrow for Sydney, Australia, with 116 passengers and 11 crew. Approximately 20 seconds after takeoff, there was a loud bang and severe shudder as the Number Two jet engine failed catastrophically. The flight crew started through emergency procedures while calling MAYDAY and turning back toward the airport. The failed engine fell off the left wing which then caught fire as fuel continued to flow. Three minutes, thirty-two seconds after takeoff, Speedbird 712 touched down on Runway 05 and rapidly came to a stop. Fuel continued to burn, and the airliner’s cabin crew began evacuating passengers.

Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison was among the crew members who helped passengers escape from the burning Boeing 707. The exit slide had not deployed correctly and Miss Harrison was encouraging passengers to jump to the runway surface, and in some cases, even pushed them out. She was seen standing in a doorway as the flames and smoke spread, and people below, including the airplane’s captain, shouted at her to jump. Instead, she turned away and went back inside, presumably to help a disabled passenger in a wheelchair. She gave her life to help others. Later, the bodies of Miss Harrison and the disabled passenger were found together in the burned out wreck. Four other passengers also died.

For her gallantry in saving the lives of others at the cost of her own, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Barbara Jane Harrison was 22 years old.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1

8th August 1969.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

George Cross
George Cross

     On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

—Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969, Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8211, Column 1.

BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.
BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1954

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)

8 April 1954: South African Airways Flight 201, a chartered British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, aircraft registration G-ALYY, departed Rome at 1832 UTC, bound for Cairo. The Comet was under the command of Captain Wilhelm K. Mostert, with First Officer Barent J. Grove, Navigator Albert E. Sissing, Radio Officer Bertram E. Webstock, and Flight Engineer August R. Lagesen. Air Hostess Pamela L. Reitz and Flight Steward Jacobus B. Hok were in the passenger compartment with the 14 passengers.

As the airliner climbed toward 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), they made several position reports. Last heard from at 1907 UTC, radioing an expected arrival time at Cairo, the Comet disintegrated in flight and fell into the Mediterranean Sea. Searchers found a debris field and floating bodies the next day near the volcanic island of Stromboli. All 21 persons aboard were killed.

This was the second catastrophic failure of a DH.106 in just three months. BOAC immediately grounded its entire Comet fleet, and the British Air Ministry revoked the airliner’s certificate of airworthiness. Production of the airliner at de Havilland was halted.

The first crash had been presumed to be a result of an in-flight fire, and the second, an uncontained turbine engine failure. But an extensive investigation eventually determined that the cause of both crashes was the in-flight break up of the fuselage pressure hull. Metal fatigue of the fuselage was caused by the repeated expansion and contraction of pressurization cycles. Cracks in the aluminum skin formed at corners of the passenger compartment windows and then spread outward. This resulted in catastrophic explosive decompression.

The DH.106 Comet 1 was the first production version and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows. It was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers.

The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters). The Comet 1 had a maximum takeoff weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895 kilograms). It was powered by four de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 50 centrifugal flow turbojet engines, producing 5,000 pounds of thrust, each. This gave it a cruising speed of 460 miles per hour (740 kilometers per hour) and cruise altitude of 42,000 feet (12,802 meters). The airliner’s range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).

Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.

The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry. The two disasters were a blow from which the company never really recovered.

The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)
The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 April 1961

Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-380. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-380. (U.S. Air Force)

7 April 1961: Boeing B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-380, assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing and named Ciudad Juarez, departed Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas on a training mission. The aircraft commander was Captain Donald C. Blodgett.

The flight took Ciudad Juarez over New Mexico where they were intercepted by a flight of two North American F-100A Super Sabres of the New Mexico Air National Guard, also on a training flight.

A North American Aviation F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5756, assigned to the New Mexico Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Dale Dodd and 1st Lieutenant James W. van Scyoc had departed Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each of their Super Sabres were armed with two GAR-8 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (later redesignated AIM-9B Sidewinder). Their assignment was to practice ground-controlled intercepts of the B-52.

Each F-100 made five passes at the B-52, flying at 34,000 feet (10,363 meters) over central New Mexico. Their Sidewinder infrared-seeking sensors would lock on to the heat of the B-52’s engines and give an audible signal to the fighter pilot that the target had been acquired. Safety precautions required that a circuit breaker be pulled and a firing switch be left in the off position. Before each pass, ground controllers had the pilots verify that the missiles were safed.

Flight of four North American F-100A Super Sabres of the 188th FIS, NMANG. (New Mexico Air National Guard)
Flight of four North American F-100A Super Sabres of the 188th FIS, NMANG. (New Mexico Air National Guard)

As the training session came to an end, Lieutenant van Scyoc, flying F-100A-20-NA Super Sabre 53-1662, announced, “OK, Wing, one more run then we’ll go home.” The seeker heads of his Sidewinders locked on to the B-52, but then one of the missiles fired.

Van Scyoc radioed, “Look out! One of my missiles is loose!” Captain Blodgett heard the warning, but before he could begin evasive maneuvering, the Sidewinder impacted the inboard engine nacelle under the bomber’s left wing, blowing the wing completely off. The B-52 immediately rolled over and went into a spin.

The co-pilot of Ciudad Juarez, Captain Ray C. Obel, immediately ejected. His ejection seat was thrown through a hatch opening in the cockpit ceiling. Because of the high altitude, this sudden opening in the fuselage resulted in explosive decompression. The crew chief, Staff Sergeant Manuel A. Mieras, had been standing on a crew ladder behind the pilots which led to the lower deck where the navigator and bombardier were located. Sergeant Mieras was sucked up through the hatch. His legs were so badly injured that they later required amputation.

When 53-380 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, it was named Ciudad Juarez. (Unattributed)
When 53-380 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, it was named Ciudad Juarez. (Unattributed)

Captain Blodgett was pinned against the cockpit side by the g forces of the rapidly spinning bomber. He later reported:

“I heard van Scyoc call “Look out! My missile’s fired.” We were on autopilot and I grabbed the controls just as the missile hit. There was a tremendous shudder and the aircraft banked left steeply. Electrical equipment in the right side of the cockpit caught fire. My copilot ejected with the aircraft in a 90° bank and in all the confusion I didn’t realize he had gone. I tried to reach the alarm bell control between the two seats to order the crew to bail out, while holding the controls with my left hand to maintain full right aileron and rudder. I didn’t realize the wing had gone and the aircraft wasn’t responding at all; it began to spin down into the clouds and I still wasn’t sure that I had hit the alarm. Later, my crew chief said he had seen the red light flashing as he sat on the steps to the lower cabin. With g-forces building up tremendously, pinning me to my seat I could not raise my right hand from its position near the bail-out alarm but could move it sideways to the ejection handle. The hatch fired and the seat threw me up fifty feet with the B-52 at 600 knots. The slipstream tore off my helmet as I left the aircraft. There was another explosion and I went through a ball of fire — it felt like being in an oven. Immediately after that I went through a “bath” of JP-4 fuel as the fuel tanks had broken up in this second explosion. At least this put out the fire but now I was soaking wet with fuel and still on the ejection seat. Assuming a seat malfunction (they told me afterwards I was holding on to it) I reached out to unfasten the lap belt when suddenly I flew out of the seat. However, the inter-phone cord wrapped around my leg so now I was going down through the clouds with a 650 pound seat hooked to my leg. I thought it would rip my leg off and I managed to claw the cord free. By now I was falling in a cloud of debris — and a blizzard. I released my survival gear pack, which also automatically released the survival raft. This was suspended about 40 feet below me and, with all the updrafts in the clouds due to the bad weather it acted like a sail, pulling me round in a 180° arc. I thought, ‘If I hit the ground sideways, this is it!’ I couldn’t get to my knife to cut it free but I soon got out of the turbulence and began to fall straight. 

“When I ejected, my left arm hit the hatch putting a big gash in it. The blood was pouring out of this and I was holding this with my right hand, trying to stop the bleeding. Suddenly I saw something white and I hit the ground in a downswing of the parachute and a 30 knot wind. It felt like jumping off a two-story building. I hit so hard that everything in my survival kit: the radio, mirrors, etc., was broken apart from the survival rifle. My original intentions were to get the radio going and tell that fighter pilot what I thought of him. . . .”

Ciudad Juarez impacted on Mount Taylor, an 11,305 foot (3,446 meter) mountain, and left a crater 75 feet (23 meters) deep. Captain Peter J. Gineris, navigator, Captain Stephen Carter, bombardier, and 1st Lieutenant Glenn V. Blair, electronic countermeasures, did not escape.

Captain Blodgett suffered a fractured pelvis, Captain Obel, a broken back. The tail gunner, Staff Sergeant Ray A. Singleton, was badly burned.

Sergeant Singleton located Captain Blodgett and they were both rescued by helicopter later that day. It would be two days before Captain Obel and Sergeant Mieras were located.

An investigation determined that moisture condensation inside a worn electrical plug had caused a short circuit which fired the Sidewinder. Lieutenant van Scyoc was completely cleared of any blame for the accident.

AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-seeking air-to-air missile. (Petey21)
AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-seeking air-to-air missile. (Petey21)

The AIM-9B Sidewinder was the first production version of the Raytheon Sidewinder 1A. It was 9 feet, 3.5 inches (2.832 meters) long with a diameter of 5 inches (12.7 centimeters). The span of the fins was 1 foot, 10 inches (55.9 centimeters). The AIM-9B weighed 155 pounds (70.3 kilograms). The missile was powered by a Thiokol Mk. 17 rocket engine which produced 4,000 pounds of thrust for 2.2 seconds. It could achieve a speed of Mach 1.7 over its launch speed, or about Mach 2.5. The maximum range was 2.9 miles (4.82 kilometers). It carried a 10 pound (4.54 kilogram) blast fragmentation warhead with an infrared detonator. The lethal range was approximately 30 feet (9.1 meters).

The Sidewinder is named after a species of rattlesnake, Crotalus cerastes, a pit viper common in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The snake uses a heat-sensing organ on top of its head to hunt.

Mount Taylor, near Grants, New Mexico. 11,305 feet (3,664 meters).
Mount Taylor, near Grants, New Mexico. 11,305 feet (3,664 meters).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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