Tag Archives: Anthony W. LeVier

5 October 1954

Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter 083-1002, serial number 53-7787, the second prototype, in flight near Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

5 October 1954: Chief Engineering Test Pilot Tony LeVier made the first flight in the second prototype Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7787, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. This was the armament test aircraft and was equipped with a General Electric T171 Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun. This six-barreled gun was capable of firing at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute.

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).

While the first prototype, 53-7776, was equipped with a Buick J65-B-3 turbojet engine, the second used a Wright Aeronautical Division J65-W-6 with afterburner. Both were improved derivatives of the Armstrong Siddely Sa.6 Sapphire, built under license. The J65 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The J65-B-3 was rated at 7,330 pounds of thrust, and the J65-W-6, rated at 7,800 pounds (34.70 kilonewtons), and 10,500 pounds (46.71 kilonewtons) 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 YF-104A pre-production aircraft and subsequent F-104A production aircraft had many improvements over the two XF-104 prototypes. The fuselage was lengthened 5 feet, 6 inches (1.68 meters). The J65 engine was replaced with a more powerful General Electric J79-GE-3 turbojet. There were fixed inlet cones added to control airflow into the engines. A ventral fin was added to improve stability.

53-7787 was lost 19 April 1955 when it suffered explosive decompression at 47,000 feet (14,326 meters) during a test of the T171 Vulcan gun system. The lower escape hatch had come loose due to an inadequate latching mechanism. Lockheed test pilot Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon was unable to find a suitable landing area and ejected at 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour) and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The XF-104 crashed 72 miles (117 kilometers) east-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base. Salmon was found two hours later, uninjured, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from the crash site.

Tony LeVier with the XF-104 armament test prototype, 53-7787, at Edwards AFB, 1954. LeVier is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with K-1 helmet. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 August 1955

Right profile illustration of the first Lockheed U-2. Image courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging, © 2015
Right profile illustration of the first Lockheed U-2, Article 341. Image courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging, © 2015

1 August 1955: Test pilot Anthony W. LeVier made the first flight flight of the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance airplane at Groom Lake, Nevada. LeVier was conducting taxi tests in preparation for the planned first flight a few days away, when at 70 knots the U-2 unexpectedly became airborne.

LeVier later said, “I had no intentions whatsoever of flying. I immediately started back toward the ground, but had difficutly determining my height because the lakebed had no markings to judge distance or height. I made contact with the ground in a left bank of approximately 10 degrees.”

On touching down on the dry lake, the U-2’s tires blew out and the brakes caught fire. A landing gear oleostrut was leaking. Damage was minor and the airplane was soon ready to fly. Tony LeVier was again in the cockpit for the first actual test flight on 4 August.

The Lockheed U-2A is a single-place, single-engine aircraft powered by a turbojet engine, intended for very high altitude photographic reconnaissance. Thirty U-2A aircraft were designed and built for the Central Intelligence Agency by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s secret “Skunk Works” under the supervision of Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The company designation for the proposed aircraft was CL-282. Its fuselage was very similar to the XF-104 Starfighter and could be built using the same tooling. The reconnaissance airplane was produced under the code name Operation AQUATONE.

The U-2A was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet (24.384 meters). Its empty weight was 10,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms) and the gross weight was 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms). The engine was a Pratt and Whitney J57-P-37A which produced 10,200 pounds of thrust. This gave the U-2A a maximum speed of 528 miles per hour (850 kilometers per hour) and a ceiling of 85,000 feet (25,908 meters). It had a range of 2,200 miles (3,541 kilometers).

Because of the very high altitudes that the U-2 was flown, the pilot had to wear a David Clark Co. MC-3 partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation  MA-2 helmet and faceplate. The partial-pressure suit used a system of capstans and air bladders to apply pressure to the body as a substitute for a loss of atmospheric pressure. Each suit was custom-tailored for the individual pilot.

Robert Sieker
Robert Sieker

On 4 April 1957, Article 341 was flown by Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker. At 72,000 feet (21,946 meters) the engine flamed out and the cockpit pressurization failed. Parts of the U-2 had been coated with a plastic material designed to absorb radar pulses to provide a “stealth” capability. However, this material acted as insulation, trapping heat from the engine inside the fuselage. This lead to a number of engine flameouts.

Sieker’s partial-pressure suit inflated, but the helmet’s faceplate did not properly seal. He lost conciousness and at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) the U-2 stalled, then entered a flat spin. Sieker eventually regained consciousness at lower altitude and bailed out. He was struck by the airplane’s tail and was killed. The first U-2 crashed northwest of Pioche, Nevada and caught fire. Robert Sieker’s body was found approximately 200 feet (61 meters) away.

Because of the slow rate of descent of the airplane while in a flat spin, the impact was not severe. Portions of Article 341 that were not damaged by fire were salvaged by Lockheed and used to produce another airframe.

The first Lockheed U-2A, Article 341. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed U-2A, Article 341. (Lockheed)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 March 1948

Tony LeVier in the cockpit of Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356, the prototype T-33A Shooting Star two-place trainer.
Tony LeVier in the cockpit of Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356, the prototype T-33A Shooting Star two-place trainer. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

22 March 1948: Just over one year since being injured when the prototype P-80A was cut in half by a disintegrating turbojet engine, Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier made the first flight of the prototype TP-80C-1-LO, serial number 48-356, a two-place jet trainer. The airplane was redesignated TF-80C Shooting Star on 11 June 1948 and to T-33A, 5 May 1949.

Adapted from a single-seat P-80C Shooting Star jet fighter, Lockheed engineers added 38.6 inches (0.980 meter) to the fuselage forward of the wing for a second cockpit, instrumentation and flight controls, and another 12 inches (0.305 meter) aft. A more powerful engine, an Allison J33-A-23 with 4,600 pounds of thrust, helped offset the increased weight of the modified airplane. Internal fuel capacity decreased 72 gallons (273 liters) to 353 (1,336 liters). While the P-80 fighter was armed with six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose, the trainer was unarmed, though two machine guns could be installed for gunnery training.

In production for 11 years, 5,691 T-33As were built by Lockheed, with licensed production of another 656 by Canadair Ltd., and 210 by Kawasaki Kokuki K.K. For over five decades, the “T-Bird” was used to train many tens of thousands of military pilots worldwide.

Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356 prototype, with P-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-173, at Van Nuys Airport, California
Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356 prototype, with P-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-173, at Van Nuys Airport, California. (Lockheed Martin)

TF-80C 48-356 was rebuilt as the prototype for Lockheed’s YF-94A interceptor, and then modified further to the F-94B. Sources have reported it as being stored at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

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

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 March 1945

Tony LeVier and the first prototype Lockheed XP-80A, 44-83021, in flight over southern California’s high desert, 1945. (Lockheed Martin)
Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier

20 March 1945: Tony LeVier was conducting a test flight of the first prototype Lockheed XP-80A, 44-83021, near Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base).

The XP-80A was developed from the original XP-80 prototype, but was larger to incorporate a more powerful General Electric I-40 turbojet engine in place of the original Allis-Chalmers J36 (a license-built version of the British Halford H.1B). The I-40 was a single-shaft turbojet which used a double-inlet, single-stage, centrifugal-flow compressor, fourteen straight-through combustors and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The engine had a maximum speed of 11,500 r.p.m. and produced 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.79 kilonewtons). The I-40 was 48 inches (1.2 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms). The I-40 would be produced by Allison as the J33-series.

General Electric I-40 turbojet engine cross section. (NASA)

At 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), LeVier put the XP-80A into a dive, intending to level off at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) for a high-speed run. However, at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), the single-stage axial-flow turbine inside the jet engine failed and fragments tore through the prototype’s fuselage. The tail section of the airplane was cut off and the XP-80A went out of control.

An example of a turbine failure in a Lockheed P-80. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The XP-80A was not equipped with an ejection seat and LeVier had difficulty getting out, but finally escaped at about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

44-83021 crashed near the town of Rosamond and was completely destroyed. Tony LeVier’s parachute was swinging and he was severely injured when he hit the ground. His injuries kept him from flying for the next six months.

Lockheed XP-80A 44-83021 (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XP-80A 44-83021 (U.S. Air Force)

The Lockheed XP-80A was a single-place, single engine prototype fighter. It was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 0 inches (11.887 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It had an empty weight of 7,225 pounds (3,277 kilograms) and gross weight of 9,600 pounds (4,354 kilograms).

Armament consisted of six Browning .50-caliber AN-M2 (12.7 × 99 NATO) machine guns with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Two XP-80As were built. These were followed by twelve YP-80A Shooting Star service test aircraft. The Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star was ordered into production with an initial contract for 500 aircraft. This was soon followed by a second order for 2,500 fighters.

Wreckage of XP-80A 44-83021 loaded on a flat bed trailer. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of XP-80A 44-83021 loaded on a flat bed trailer. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 March 1954

Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter 53-7786, the first prototype, in flight near Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

4 March 1954: Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. LeVier takes the prototype XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7786, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. The airplane’s landing gear remained extended throughout the flight, which lasted about twenty minutes.

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 rolling out on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. This photograph shows how short the XF-104 was in comparison to the production F-104A. Because of the underpowered J65-B-3 engine, there are no shock cones in the engine inlets. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson, the XF-104 was a prototype Mach 2+ interceptor and was known in the news media of the time as “the missile with a man in it.”

Tony LeVier was a friend of my mother’s family and a frequent visitor to their home in Whittier, California.

Legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson shakes hands with test pilot Tony LeVier after the first flight of the XF-104 at Edwards Air Force Base. (Lockheed via Mühlböck collection)

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 interceptor prototypes.

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 afterburning 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. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2 stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons) at 8,200 r.p.m. The J65-B-3 was 9 feet, 7.0 inches (2.921 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.5 inches (0.953 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms).

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

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

Lockheed XF-104 55-7786. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 with wingtip fuel tanks. (Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin has an excellent color video of the XF-104 first flight on their web site at:

http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/100years/stories/f-104.html

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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