Tag Archives: All-Weather Interceptor

16 April 1949

Tony Levier and  Glenn Fulkerson in the prototype Lockheed YF-94. (Lockheed Martin)

16 April 1949: At Van Nuys Airport, California, test pilot Tony LeVier and flight test engineer Glenn Fulkerson made the first flight of the Lockheed YF-94 prototype, serial number 48-356. The aircraft was the first jet-powered all-weather interceptor in service with the United States Air Force and was the first production aircraft powered by an afterburning engine.

Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)

Two prototypes were built at Lockheed Plant B-9, located on the east side of Van Nuys Airport. Two TF-80C-1-LO (later redesignated T-33A) Shooting Star two-place trainers, 48-356 and 48-373, were modified with the installation of air intercept radar, an electronic fire control system, radar gun sight, four Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) aircraft machine guns and a more powerful Allison J33-A-33 turbojet engine with water-alcohol injection and afterburner. The rear cockpit was equipped as a radar intercept officer’s station.

The prototype Lockheed YF-94 test fires its four .50-caliber guns at Van Nuys, California. (Lockheed Martin)

It was initially thought that the project would be a very simple, straightforward modification. However, the increased weight of guns and electronics required the installation of a more powerful engine than used in the T-33A. The new engine required that the aft fuselage be lengthened and deepened. Still, early models used approximately 80% of the parts for the F-80C fighter and T-33A trainer. The Air Force ordered the aircraft as the F-94A. Improvements resulted in an F-94B version, but the definitive model was the all-rocket-armed F-94C Starfire.

The Allison J33-A-33 was a single-shaft turbojet engine with a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 14 combustion chambers and, a single-stage axial flow turbine. The engine was rated at 4,600 pounds of thrust (20.46 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J33-A-33 was 17 feet, 11.0 inches (5.461 meters) long, 4 feet, 1.3 inches (1.252 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,390 pounds (1,084 kilograms).

Originally a P-80C Shooting Star single-place fighter, 48-356 had been modified at Lockheed Plant B-9 in Van Nuys to become the prototype TF-80C two-place jet trainer (the designation was soon changed to T-33A), which first flew 22 March 1948. It was then modified as the prototype YF-94. 48-356 was later modified as the prototype F-94B. It is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, and is in storage awaiting restoration.

Probably the best-known Lockheed F-94 variant is the all-rocket-armed F-94C Starfire. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 December 1956

Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

26 December 1956: Convair’s Chief Test Pilot, Richard Lowe Johnson (1917–2002,) made the first flight of the Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart, U.S. Air Force serial number 56-451, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. It reached 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and 0.8 Mach during the 20-minute flight, which had to be aborted due to mechanical problems.

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 makes its first flight at Edwards AFB 26 December 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Built at the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California, the delta-winged interceptor was trucked to Edwards on 14 December and prepared for its first flight.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-451 was loaded on a trailer at the Convair plant in San Diego, California, 14 December 1956, to be transported to Edwards Air Force Base for its first flight. (SDASM)

The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was the primary all-weather interceptor of the United States Air Force from 1959 to 1988, when it was withdrawn from service with the Air National Guard. It was a single-seat, single-engine delta-winged aircraft capable of speeds above Mach 2.

The airplane was a development of the earlier F-102A Delta Dagger, and was initially designated F-102B. However, so many changes were made that it was considered to be a new aircraft.

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 during a test flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. It is marked with high-visibility orange paint. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-106A is 70 feet, 8.78 inches (21.559 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 3.5 inches (11.671 meters). The total area of the delta wing is 697.83 square feet (64.83 square meters). The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 60°. The top of the vertical fin was 20 feet, 3.3 inches (6.180 meters) high. The Delta Dart weighs 23,646 pounds (10,726 kilograms) empty, and has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 38,729 pounds (17,567 kilograms).

Convair F-106A Delta Dart three-view illustration with dimensions. (SDASM)
Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451, at Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force via F-106DeltaDart.com)

The F-106 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-17 afterburning turbojet engine. The J75-P-17 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with afterburner. It used a 15-stage compressor section (8 high- and 7 low-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2-low pressure stages). The J75-P-17 had a maximum continuous power rating of 14,100 pounds of thrust (62.72 kilonewtons), and military power rating of 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). It produced a maximum of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 3 feet, 8.25 inches (1.124 meters) in diameter, 19 feet, 9.6 inches long (6.035 meters), and weighed 5,875 pounds (2,665 kilograms).

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The interceptor has a cruise speed of 530 knots (610 miles per hour/982 kilometers per hour). and a maximum speed of 1,153 knots 1,327 miles per hour/2,135 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The F-106A had a service ceiling is 53,800 feet (16,398 meters) and a rate of climb of 48,900 feet per minute (248 meters per second). Its combat radius was 530 nautical miles (610 statute miles/982 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 1,843 nautical miles (2,121 statute miles/3,413 kilometers).

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (SDASM)
Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 with a drag chute deployed to slow the airplane after landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (SDASM)

The Delta Dart was armed with four GAR-3A radar-homing, or -4A (AIM-4F, -4G) infrared-homing Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, and one MB-1 (AIM-2A) Genie unguided rocket with a 1.5 kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead. The missiles were carried in an internal weapons bay. In 1972, the General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon was added to the rear weapons bay with 650 rounds of ammunition. (The number of gun-equipped Delta Darts is uncertain.)

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force via F-106DeltaDart.com)

Convair built 342 F-106 interceptors. 277 were F-106As and the remainder were F-106B two-seat trainers.

56-451, the first F-106A to fly, was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 1960. In 1989, it was transferred to Selfridge Air Museum, near Mount Clemens, Michigan, marked as 59-0082 of the 171st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Michigan Air National Guard.

The first F-106, Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart, 56-451, in the markings of the 171st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Michigan Air National Guard, displayed at the Selfridge Military Air Museum, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mount Clemens, Michigan. (TSGT Robert Hanet/Air National Guard 121013-Z-NJ721-180)
Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson in the cockpit of an F-106A Delta Dart. (SDASM)

Richard Lowe Johnson ¹ was born at Cooperstown, North Dakota, 21 September 1917. He was the eighth of nine children of Swedish immigrants, John N. Johnson, a farmer, and Elna Kristina Helgesten Johnson, a seamstress.

Dick Johnson attended Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, as a member of the Class of 1943. He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ) fraternity. Johnson was a pitcher for the college baseball team, and later, played for the Boston Red Sox “farm” (minor league) system.

On 18 June 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. On 5 November, he was appointed an aviation cadet and assigned to flight training.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Juanita Blanche Carter, 17 April 1943, at Ocala, Florida. The civil ceremony was officiated by Judge D. R. Smith.

After completing flight training, on 1 October 1943, Richard L. Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Lieutenant Johnson was assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, in North Africa, Corsica, and Italy, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 August 1944, and just over three months later, 26 November 1944, to the rank of captain, A.U.S. On 14 May 1945, Captain Johnson was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (Major Johnson was assigned a permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 5 July 1946, with a date of rank retroactive to 21 September 1945.)

Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt 42-26421, assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter group, Twelfth Air Force. This airplane was purchased by the employees of Republic Aviation. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 25505)

During World War II, Major Johnson flew 180 combat missions with the 66th Fighter Squadron. He is officially credited with one air-to-air victory, 1 July 1944. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (3 awards), and the Air Medal with twelve oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards).

In 1946, was assigned to the Air Materiel Command Engineering Test Pilot School at the Army Air Forces Technical Base, Dayton, Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.”

A few weeks after arriving at Dayton, Major Johnson met Miss Alvina Conway Huester, the daughter of an officer in the U.S. Navy. Dick Johnson and his wife Juanita were divorced 8 January 1947, and he married Miss Huester in a ceremony in Henry County, Indiana, 10 January 1947. They would have three children, Kristie, Lisa and Richard.

Richard L. Johnson waves from the cockpit of the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, 47-611.

Dick Johnson set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,² flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

During the Korean War, Major Johnson was sent to the war zone to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86 Sabre. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger 52-7994. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for the Convair Division of General Dynamics. He made the first flights of the YF-102 Delta Dagger, 24 October 1953, and the F-106A Delta Dart, 26 December 1956. He also made the first flight of the General Dynamics F-111 on 21 December 1964.

In 1955, Johnson was one of the six founding members of the Society of Experimental test Pilots.

Dick Johnson made the first flight of the General Dynamics F-111A, 63-9766, from Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, 21 December 1964. (U.S. Air Force)

Dick Johnson was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the General Dynamics F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1967, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded Johnson its Iven C. Kincheloe Award for his work on the F-111 program. In 1977, Dick Johnson, then the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired.

In 1998, Dick Johnson was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor at Lancaster, California. His commemorative monument is located in front of the Lancaster Public Library on W. Lancaster Boulevard, just West of Cedar Avenue. ³

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force, (Retired), died 9 November 2002 at Fort Worth, Texas. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on 7 January 2003.

Chief Test Pilot Dick Johnson in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler. (Courtesy if Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

¹ Several sources spell Johnson’s middle name as “Loe.”

² FAI Record File Number 9866

³ Various Internet sources repeat the statement that “Richard Johnson has been honored with. . . the Thompson Trophy, Mackay Trophy, Flying Tiger Trophy, Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal and Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. . . .” TDiA has checked the lists of awardees of each of the appropriate organizations and has not found any support for the statement.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 December 1954

Captain Richard James Harer, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Captain Richard James Harer, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

22 December 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, test pilot Captain Richard James Harer was flying a Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, serial number 50-962.¹ Harer was accompanied by fellow test pilot Captain Milburn G. Apt in a chase plane.

Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-966, the same type airplane flown by Captain Richard Harer, 22 December 1954, is accompanied by Lockheed F-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-176 chase plane. (Lockheed)
Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-966, an all-weather interceptor of the same type flown by Captain Richard J. Harer, 22 December 1954. The Starfire is accompanied by a Lockheed F-80C-1-LO Shooting Star chase plane, 47-176. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-94 was the first U.S. production fighter aircraft to be equipped with a drag chute to provide aerodynamic braking on landing. (Drag chutes had been in use on larger aircraft since the 1930s.) There was speculation that the sudden deceleration provided by a drag chute might be useful during air-to-air combat.

Captain Harer’s test flight was to determine what would happen when the drag chute opened while the airplane was traveling at 600 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour).

In this scene from the motion picture "Toward The Unknown" (Toluca Productions, 1956) which starred William Holden and Lloyd Nolan in a story about test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, a Lockheed F-94C Starfire has released a drag chute in flight, simulating Captain Richard Harer's test flight of 22, December 1954.
In this scene from the motion picture “Toward The Unknown” (Toluca Productions, 1956) which starred William Holden and Lloyd Nolan in a story about test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, a Lockheed F-94C Starfire has released a drag chute in flight, simulating Captain Richard J. Harer’s test flight of 22 December 1954. (Toluca Productions)

 LIFE Magazine described the test in the following excerpt:

LIFE Magazine, 18 June 1956. . . A captain named Richard J. Harer was assigned to make the test in an F-94C, capable of flying 600 miles an hour. The plane was equipped with a manual release, so Harer could get rid of the parachute after the test. In the event that the manual release failed, Harer could get rid of the parachute by detonating a small explosive charge which was wired to the rope that secured the parachute to the plane. If both of these devices failed, Harer could still get rid of the parachute by going into a dive and maneuvering the parachute into the blast of flame from his afterburner. In sum, a thoughtful arrangement of affairs. Harer got into his plane and took it up to 20,000 feet, closely followed by a chase aircraft flown by another captain named Milburn Apt. Harer opened the parachute, began to tumble crazily across the sky and then—as far as anyone knows—must have tried the manual release. It failed. Then, because he was a cool, skillful pilot, Harer must have kept his head and tried the explosive charge, although no one is sure what he did. In any case, the charge did not explode. By this time Harer was plummeting out of control toward the dry lake bed at perhaps 500 miles an hour, with Captain Apt flying right beside him shouting advice over the radio. Harer’s plane continued down, wallowing, gyrating, the deadly parachute never quite getting into the flame of the afterburner. Harer crashed. His plane burst into flames.

Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1041 deploys its drogue chute on touchdown. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1041 deploys its drag chute on touchdown. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Apt landed on the lake bed at almost the instant of the crash. The two planes, one burning, one under control, skidded along beside each other. As soon as he came to a halt, Apt leaped out of his plane and ran over to Harer’s. “It was nothing but fire,” Apt remembers. “The only part of the plane I could see sticking out of the flames was the tip of the tail.”

Apt dashed around to the other side of Harer’s plane. Strangely, this side was not burning. Apt was able to climb up onto the plane and look through the Plexiglas canopy into the cockpit. It was filled with smoke, but he could see Harer inside, feebly, faintly moving his head. Apt grabbed the canopy release, a device on the outside of the plane designed for just such and emergency. It failed.

Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1034 with its drogue chute deployed for aerodynamic braking on landing. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1034 with its drag chute deployed for aerodynamic braking on landing. (U.S. Air Force)

The dry lake bed has absolutely nothing on its surface except the fine-grained sand of which it is composed. No sticks, no stones, nothing that Apt might have picked up to smash the canopy. He tried to pry it off with his bare hands, an effort that, had it not been for the circumstances, would have been ludicrous. He smashed it with his fists and succeeded only in injuring himself. Meanwhile he could see Harer inside, the fire beginning to get to him now.

Captain Richard J. Harer's Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, 50-962. The airplane has an air data boom mounted on teh nose for flight testing, and carries jettisonable fuel tanks under its wings. (U.S. Air Force photograph via Million Monkey Theatre)
Captain Richard J. Harer’s Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, 50-962. The airplane has an air data boom mounted on the nose for flight testing, and carries jettisonable fuel tanks under its wings. (U.S. Air Force photograph via Million Monkey Theater)

As Captain Apt smashed his fists on the canopy, a single jeep raced across the lake bed toward the plane at 70 miles an hour. Reaching the plane, the driver leaped out and ran over to it, carrying the only useful piece of equipment he had: a five-pound brass fire extinguisher, the size of a rolling pin. He could as well have tried to put out the fire by spitting on it. Apt and the jeep driver shouted contradictory instructions at each other above the growing roar of the fire. The jeep driver emptied his extinguisher on the forward part of the plane, then handed the empty container to Apt. Apt raised it above his head and smashed it down on the canopy. It bounced off. He pounded the canopy again and again, as hard as he could, and each time the extinguisher bounced off. “It was like hitting a big spring,” he says forlornly. “I couldn’t break it.”

Meanwhile, 9,950 men on the base quietly pursued their jobs, unaware of the accident. The obstetrician said, “Come back Thursday, Mrs. Smith,” Robert Hawn worked on his YAPS, and Smith, Douglas S., changed a tire. The only immediate spectators, aside from Apt and the jeep driver, were the Joshua trees growing all along the edge of the lake bed, very old and mournful.

By this time Captain Harer’s flesh was on fire. The jeep driver dashed back to his vehicle and returned with a five-gallon gasoline can. “My God.” Apt thought. “No, no,” the jeep driver cried, “it’s full of water. It’s all right.”

Apt hefted the can, which weighed nearly 50 pounds. He raised it high in the air and smashed it down. The canopy cracked. Apt hit it again, opening a hole in it, letting out the smoke inside. In a few seconds he had broken a large jagged opening through which Harer could be pulled out. “It was a tough job,” Apt says. “Harer was a very tall man.” Was a tall man. Not is, but was.

“He’s not tall now,” Apt says. “Both his feet were burned off.” Captain Harer lived. Today, he gets around very well on his artificial feet. He has been promoted to major and will soon be honorably retired from the Air Force with a pension. He has no memory whatever of the accident. He recalls flying at 20,000 feet and popping open the parachute, and his next memory is of awakening in a hospital two weeks later. . . .

Excerpted from “10,000 Men to a Plane,” LIFE Magazine, 18 June 1956.

Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, with a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star. (LIFE Magazine)
Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, with a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star at Edwards Air Force Base, 1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Soldier's Medal
The Soldier’s Medal

For his heroism in the face of great danger, Captain Mel Apt was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest award for valor in a non-combat mission for Army and Air Force personnel.  The regulation establishing the award states, “The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. Awards will not be made solely on the basis of having saved a life.”

Mel Apt would continue as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, and on 26 September 1956, he would be the first pilot to exceed Mach 3 when he flew the Bell X-2 rocketplane to Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,377 kilometers per hour) at 65,589 feet (19,992 meters). Just seconds later, the X-2 began uncontrolled oscillations and came apart. Mel Apt was unable to escape from the cockpit and was killed when the X-2 hit the desert floor. He was the thirteenth test pilot to be killed at Edwards since 1950.

Richard James Harer was born at Painesville, Ohio, 8 October 1924. He was the son of Otto H. Harer, a foundry manager, and Edith Mynchenberg Harer. He had a younger sister, Marilyn.

Harer graduated from Harvey High School in Painesville in 1941. He was a member of the debate club and the Hi-Y club. (Harer’s father was president of the Painesville Board of Education.)

In 1942, Harer was a student at the University of Ohio. A member of the Class of 1945, he studied engineering and was a member of the Phi Eta Sigma (ΦΗΣ) fraternity.

World War II interrupted Harer’s education. On 4 December 1942, he enlisted as a private in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve Corps. On 2 March 1943, Private Harer was selected as an Aviation Cadet and assigned to flight training. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 7 January 1944. On 6 November 1944, Harer was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S. On 25 September 1945, First Lieutenant Harer was transferred to the Air Corps Reserve. In 1947, the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service. Richard Harer was appointed a second lieutenant, U. S. Air Force, with his date of rank retroactive to 8 October 1945.

During World War II, Lieutenant Harer flew 31 combat missions in the European Theater of Operations. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Following the war, Richard Harer returned to his studies, now at the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio. He was a member of the Sigma Beta Phi (ΣΒΦ) fraternity, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Engine Club.

On 21 January 1948, Lieutenant Harer married Miss Barbara Alice Heesen at Lucas, Ohio. They would have four children.

After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Captain Harer was assigned as a test pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He conducted performance testing on the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Harer flew an F-84F in the Bendix Trophy Race, 4 September 1954. He made one flight in the Bell X-1B rocketplane, 4 November 1954.

1954 Bendix Trophy Race. Captain Richard J. Harer is second from left. (San Bernardino Sun. 4 September 1954, Page 1, Columns 5–7)

¹ Several sources list the U.S. Air Force serial number of the F-94C flown by Captain Harer as “50-692,” however that serial number is actually assigned to a Boeing C-97C-35-BO Stratofreighter four-engine medical transport. It is apparent that the numbers have been transposed.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 December 1949

North American Aviation YF-86D Sabre 50-577
North American Aviation YF-86D Sabre 50-577. (U.S. Air Force)

22 December 1949: North American Aviation, Inc., test pilot George S. Welch made the first flight of the YF-86D Sabre, 50-577 (c/n 164-1, at Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California.

Based on the F-86A day fighter, the F-86D (originally designated YF-95) was a radar-equipped, rocket-armed, all-weather interceptor. Its first flight took place only nine years after the first flight of North American’s prototype NA-73X, which would become the famous P-51 Mustang fighter of World War II. This was an amazing jump in technology in just a few years.

The interceptor was intended to be an improved variant of the F-86A Sabre day fighter. During development, though, so many changes became necessary that the F-86D shared only about 25% of its parts of the F-86A. Essentially an new airplane, the Air Force assigned it the designation YF-95. It would revert to the F-86D designation before it actually flew.

North American Aviation YF-86D Sabre 50-577, the first of two service test aircraft, at the North American Aviation flight line, Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation)
North American Aviation YF-86D Sabre 50-577, the first of two service test aircraft, at the North American Aviation flight line, Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The first YF-86D (still identified as YF-95) was rolled out at North American’s Inglewood plant in September 1949. In late November it was partially disassembled to be transported by truck to Edwards Air Force Base, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) away. The airplane was then reassembled and ground tested to prepare it for flight.

North American Aviation, Inc., F-86D-1-NA Sabre 50-456, the second production aircraft. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
North American Aviation, Inc., F-86D-1-NA Sabre 50-456, s/n 165-2, the second production aircraft (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
North American Aviation, Inc., F-86D-1-NA Sabre 50-458, s/n 165-4. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The first two test aircraft carried no armament or fire control/radar system and retained the sliding canopy of the F-86A. This would be replaced with a hinged “clamshell” canopy in production models. The airplane was 40 feet, 3.1 inches (12.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1 inch (11.294 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). Its empty weight was 12,470 pounds (5,656 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 18,483 pounds (8,384 kilograms).

The service test aircraft and early production airplanes were powered by a General Electric J47-GE-17 single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 5,425 pounds of thrust (24.132 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m., or 7,500 pounds (33.362 kilonewtons) with afterburner. This engine was equipped with an electronic fuel control system which substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. It was 226.0 inches (5.740 meters) long, 39.75 inches (1.010 meters) in diameters, and weighed 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

The first production aircraft, F-86D-1-NA Sabre, had a maximum speed of 614 knots (707 miles per hour/1,137 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 539 knots (620 miles per hour/998 kilometers per hour)at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). From a standing start, the interceptor could climb to 40,000 feet in 5 minutes, 54 seconds with a full combat load. The service ceiling was 54,000 feet (16,460 meters).

North American Aviation, Inc., F-86D-15-NA Sabre 50-574 (c/n 165-120), firing 2.75-inch FFAR rockets, circa 1950. (NASM)
A production North American Aviation F-86D-60-NA Sabre, 53-4061, firing a salvo of 2.75-inch FFAR rockets. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86D Sabre carried no guns. Instead, its armament consisted of twenty-four 2.75-inch (70 millimeter) Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with explosive warheads, carried in a retractable tray in the airplane’s belly. A Hughes electronic fire control computer was used to calculate an interception path and determine the firing point for the unguided rockets.

The single-seat F-86D Sabre was nearly 50 knots faster than the contemporary twin-engine Northrop F-89 Scorpion and Lockheed F-94 Starfire, both of which carried a two-man crew. North American Aviation built 2,504 F-86D Sabres, and these equipped nearly two-thirds of the Air Defense Command interceptor squadrons.

North American Aviation YF-86 Sabre 50-577, NACA 149. (NASA)
North American Aviation YF-86D Sabre 50-577, NACA 149, at the NACA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. (NASA)

After the Air Force service test program was completed, 50-577 was transferred to the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field, California, and designated NACA 149. It was used as a variable stability aircraft for flight testing various control configurations for feel, sensitivity and response.

NACA 149 remained at Ames from 26 June 1952 to 15 February 1960.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 December 1959

Major Joseph W. Rogers, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467, at Edwards AFB, 15 December 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Joseph W. Rogers, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467, at Edwards AFB, 15 December 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

15 December 1959: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Joseph William Rogers, United States Air Force, flew a Convair F-106A Delta Dart all-weather interceptor, serial number 56-0467, to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 15 Kilometer-to-25 Kilometer Straight Course, breaking the record set two years earlier by Major Adrian E. Drew with a modified McDonnell F-101A Voodoo.¹

At an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), Rogers made two passes over the straight 11 mile (17.7 kilometers) course, once in each direction, for an average speed of 2,455.736 kilometers per hour (1,525.924 miles per hour)—Mach 2.31. For his accomplishment, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the FAI’s Henry De La Vaulx Medal, and the Thompson Trophy.

Convair F-106A Delta dart 56-0467, FAI World Speed Record holder, parked on Rogers Dry lake at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467, FAI World Speed Record holder, parked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB. Note the jettisonable external fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
A copy of Joseph W. Rogers Diplôme de Record from the FAI. NOTE: The signature of LE PRESIDENT DE LA F.A.I. at the lower right of the document. (F-106DeltaDart.com)
A copy of Joseph W. Rogers’ Diplôme de Record from the FAI. NOTE: The signature of LE PRÉSIDENT DE LA F.A.I. at the lower right of the document. (f-106deltadart.com)
The Thompson Trophy
The Thompson Trophy

Major Rogers was the Air Force F-106 project officer assigned to Convair. He first attempted the record with another F-106A, 56-0459, but when that Delta Dart developed uncontrollable compressor stalls, 56-0467 was substituted. (This has led to confusion over which aircraft actually set the record, but in an interview, Colonel Rogers confirmed that it was 467.)

Joseph William Rogers was born at Chillicothe, Ohio, 28 May 1924. He grew up on a farm, and attended West High School, graduating in 1942. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and trained as a pilot. From 1944 he was assigned as a flight instructor in California. Rogers remained in the Air Force after World War II.

During the Korean War, Joe Rogers got the nickname “Whistlin’ Joe” when he put whistles on the wings of his North American Aviation F-51D Mustang in an effort to frighten enemy troops. 1st Lieutenant Rogers was awarded the Silver Star for his actions of 8 October 1950, in close support of a British infantry unit, which was surrounded on a hilltop by the enemy.

Though not officially credited, it is widely accepted that on 8 November 1950, with his Mustang Buckeye Blitz VI, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet fighter. An aerial victory of a piston-engine fighter over a jet fighter was a very rare occurrence. Rogers was one of a group of “The American Fighting Man” named Man of the Year by TIME Magazine. He flew 170 combat missions in the F-51 and another 30 in the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star.

Captain Joseph W. Rogers, U.S. Air Force, in teh cocpt of BUCKEY BLITZ VI, Korea, 1950. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Rogers in the cockpit of his North American F-51D Mustang, Buckeye Blitz VI, assigned to the 36th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter Bomber Group, Korea, 1950. Note the red dive bombing stripes on the upper surface of the Mustang’s left wing. (Photograph by Lieutenant Colonel William J. O’Donnell, commanding officer, 36th FBS, via ww2color.com)

Rogers was a 1954 graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School and worked as a test pilot on the North American Aviation F-86D Sabre radar-equipped interceptor, and then the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart.

From 1960 to 1964 Rogers commanded the 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, which was, at that time, the largest squadron in the United States Air Force. In 1963, he flew a F-102 in the annual William Tell competition at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, which he won, and was named the Air Force’s “Top Gun.”

Colonel Joseph W. Rogers with a Lockheed SR-71A. (U.S. Air Force)

Next, Rogers he commanded the Lockheed SR-71A and F-12A Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base. He is one of the few pilots to have ejected from an SR-71A, when 61-7953 went out of control, 18 December 1969. Both he and Radar Intercept Officer Lieutenant Colonel Gary Heidelbaugh safely escaped the doomed Blackbird.

Colonel Rogers was Vice Commander of the 3d Fighter Wing, flying the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II during the Vietnam War. After serving as Assistant Deputy Commander of the 7th and 13th Air Forces, he was appointed Chief of Staff for Operations at the Aerospace Defense Command Headquarters, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Rogers retired from the Air Force in 1975 after 32 years of service.

Joe Rogers worked for Northrop Aerospace for the next 13 years, marketing the company’s F-5 and F-20 fighters.

During his service in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Colonel Rogers was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and Air Medal with thirteen Oak Leaf Clusters.

Joe Rogers was married to the former Charis Tate. They had three children. Mrs. Rogers passed away in 2003.

Colonel Joseph W. Rogers died at Healdsburg, California, 6 August 2005, at the age of 81 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his wife.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 after setting World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 after setting World Speed Record. Note the missing paint on vertical fin as a result of the high speed flight. (U.S. Air Force)

The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was the primary all-weather interceptor of the United States Air Force from 1959 to 1988, when it was withdrawn from service with the Air National Guard. It was a single-seat, single engine delta-winged aircraft capable of speeds above Mach 2. The airplane was a development of the earlier F-102A Delta Dagger, and was initially designated F-102B. However, so many changes were made that it is considered to be a new aircraft.

The F-106A is 70 feet, 8¾ inches (21.558 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 4 inches (11.684 meters). The total area of the delta wing is 697.83 square feet (64.83 square meters). The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 60°. The top of the vertical fin was 20 feet, 3¼ inches (6.179 meters) high. The Delta Dart weighs 23,646 pounds (10,726 kilograms) empty, and has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 38,729 pounds (17,567 kilograms).

The F-106 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-17 afterburning turbojet engine. The J75-P-17 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with afterburner. It used a 15-stage compressor section (8 high- and 7 low-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2-low pressure stages. The J75-P-17 had a maximum continuous power rating of 14,100 pounds of thrust (62.72 kilonewtons), and military power rating of 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). It produced a maximum of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 3 feet, 8.25 inches (1.124 meters) in diameter, 19 feet, 9.6 inches long (6.035 meters), and weighed 5,875 pounds (2,665 kilograms)

The interceptor has a cruise speed of 530 knots (610 miles per hour/982 kilometers per hour). and a maximum speed of 1,153 knots 1,327 miles per hour/2,135 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The F-106A had a service ceiling is 53,800 feet (16,398 meters) and a rate of climb of 48,900 feet per minute (248 meters per second). Its combat radius was 530 nautical miles (610 statute miles/982 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 1,843 nautical miles (2,121 statute miles/3,413 kilometers).

The Delta Dart was armed with four GAR-3A radar-homing, or -4A (AIM-4F, -4G) infrared-homing Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, and one MB-1 (AIM-2A) Genie unguided rocket with a 1.5 kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead. The missiles were carried in an internal weapons bay. In 1972, the General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon was added to the rear weapons bay with 650 round of ammunition. (The number of gun-equipped Delta Darts is uncertain.)

Convair built 342 F-106 interceptors. 277 were F-106As and the remainder were F-106B two-seat trainers.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight. Because of the filter used by the photographer, areas that are actually painted bright “day-glow” orange appear to be  white. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight, seen from left rear quarter. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 in flight, seen from left rear quarter. (U.S. Air Force)

F-106A 56-0467 was built in April 1958 and was the eighteenth production aircraft. After being used for flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base it was converted back to an operational interceptor and assigned to the 329th Tactical Fighter Squadron at nearby George Air Force Base.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 on display at at Edwards AFB, May 1961.
Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0467 on display at Edwards AFB, May 1961. (Gary Abel from Marty Isham Collection via f-106deltadart.com)

On 14 August 1961, while taking off from George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, on a routine training mission, 56-0467’s right tire blew out. The pilot, James Wilkinson, flew until most of the airplane’s fuel had been exhausted, and then landed at Edwards Air Force Base because of its longer runway and available emergency equipment. After touching down, the right wheel and brake assembly caught fire. The flames quickly spread to the wing and fuselage. The aircraft slid to a stop and the pilot safely escaped. 467 was totally destroyed.

56-0459, which had been scheduled to make the speed record flights, is on display at the McChord Air Force Base Museum.

Major Joe Rogers with Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0459 at Edwards Air Force Base before a speed record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Joe Rogers with Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-0459 at Edwards Air Force Base before a speed record attempt. This airplane was originally scheduled for the speed record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force public relations photograph.
U.S. Air Force public relations photograph.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9064

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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