Tag Archives: Armitage Field

11 September 1953

A Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat drone awaits its fate on “death row” at Armitage Field, NOTS China Lake, California. (U.S. Navy)

11 September 1953: At Naval Ordinance Test Station China Lake, the experimental Philco/General Electric XAAM-N-7 “Sidewinder” heat-seeking air-to-air missile scored its first “hit” when it passed within 2 feet (0.6 meters) of a radio-controlled Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat. The missile was fired from a Douglas AD-4 Skyraider flown by Lieutenant Commander Albert Samuel Yesensky, United States Navy, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61).

XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder mounted under the right wing of Douglas AD-4 Skyraider Bu. No. 123920 (U.S. Navy)
XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder mounted under the right wing of Douglas AD-4 Skyraider Bu. No. 123920 (U.S. Navy)

The Sidewinder was later redesignated AIM-9. It entered service in 1956 as the AIM-9B and has been a primary fighter weapon for 60 years.

A Raytheon XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder I missile mounted under the left wing of a Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, Bu. No. 123920, circa 1952. (U.S. Navy)
This black-and-white photograph of a Philco/General Electric Sidewinder I missile shows better detail. It is mounted under the left wing of Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, Bu. No. 123920, circa 1952. (U.S. Navy)

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a Mach 2.5+ missile, equipped with an infrared seeker to track the heat signature of the target aircraft. (The Hellcat drones used in the early test had flares mounted on the wingtips to give the experimental missile a target).

The current production version, AIM-9X Block II, is produced by Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Arizona. It is 9 feet, 11 inches long (3.023 meters), 5 inches in diameter (12.70 centimeters), and weighs 188 pounds (85 kilograms). The warhead weighs 20.8 pounds (9.4 kilograms). The missile’s range and speed are classified. At current production levels, the average cost of each AIM-9X is $420,944 (FY 2015 cost). Block III development was cancelled for FY 2106.

Future Astronaut Wally Schirra flew many of the early test flights at NOTS China Lake. On one occasion, a Sidewinder came back at him, and only by skill and luck was he able to evade it.

This sequence shows the effects of a hit on an F6F-5K drone by an experimental XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder missile. (U.S. Navy)
This sequence shows the effects of a hit on an F6F-5K drone by an experimental XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder missile. (U.S. Navy)

NOTC China Lake is now designated as Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) China Lake. It is located approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.

© 2016, 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).

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)

©2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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