Tag Archives: B-50A-5-BO

27 June 1952

Jean L. Ziegler in the cockpit of Bell X-2 46-675 after landing on Rogers Dry Lake, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 27 June 1952. (NASA)

27 June 1952: The Bell X-2 research rocketplane, with company test pilot Jean Leroy (“Skip”) Ziegler at the controls, was airdropped from a “mothership,” a Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress, 46-011, over Edwards Air Force Base, California. This was the first flight of the X-2 Program, and was an unpowered glide flight for pilot familiarization.

On touch down, the nose wheel collapsed and the aircraft slid across the dry lake bed, but was not seriously damaged.

Two X-2 rocketplanes, serial numbers 46-674 and 46-675, were built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation, which has also built the X-1 series. The second X-2 was the first one to fly.

Bell Aircraft Corporation standing next to the Bell X-2 rocket plane on Rogers Dry Lake, California, after the first glide flight, 27 June 1952. The nose wheel collapsed on landing. (NASM)

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket. In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from Stainless Steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, california, 1952. (NASA)
Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

A four-engine Boeing B-50A Superfortress bomber, serial number 46-011, was modified as the ”mothership.” A second Superfortress, B-50D-95-BO 48-096, was also modified to carry the X-2, and was redesignated EB-50D. During the flight test program, the X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour, 3,370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

On 12 May 1953, less than one year after the first glide flight, Skip Ziegler was in the cockpit of 46-675 while it was being carried on a captive test flight aboard the B-50A Superfortress. An internal explosion destroyed the X-2 and killed Ziegler and another crewman aboard the mothership. The rocketplane fell into Lake Ontario and neither it nor Ziegler’s body were ever recovered. The Superfortress was able to land, but was so badly damaged that it never flew again.

Jean L. "Skip" Ziegler, with the Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.
Jean Leroy “Skip” Ziegler, with the Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 May 1953

Jean L. "Skip" Ziegler, with the Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.
Jean L. “Skip” Ziegler, with a Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

12 May 1953: A Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress, 46-011, modified to carry a Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, was engaged in a captive test flight at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) over Lake Ontario, between Canada and the United States. The number two X-2, 46-675, was in the bomb bay.

The bomber was equipped with a system to keep the X-2’s liquid oxygen tank filled as the cryogenic oxidizer boiled off. With Bell’s Chief of Flight Research, test pilot Jean Leroy (“Skip”) Ziegler, in the bomb bay above the X-2, the system operation was being tested.

There was an explosion. The X-2 fell from the bomber and dropped into Lake Ontario, between Trenton, Ontario, Canada, and Rochester, New York, U.S. A. Skip Ziegler and an engineer aboard the bomber, Frank Wolko, were both lost. A technician, Robert F. Walters, who was in the aft section of the B-50 with Wolko, was badly burned and suffered an injured eye.

The B-50’s pilots, William J. Leyshon and David Howe, made an emergency landing at the Bell Aircraft Corporation factory airport at Wheatfield, New York (now, the Niagara Falls International Airport, IAG). The bomber was so heavily damaged that it never flew again.

Heavy fog over the lake hampered search efforts. Neither the bodies of Ziegler and Wolko or the wreckage of the X-2 were found.

A Bell X-2 rocketplane is loaded aboard the Boeing B-50A Superfortress "mothership," 46-011. (U.S. Air Force)
A Bell X-2 rocketplane is loaded aboard the Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress “mothership,” 46-011. (U.S. Air Force)

After a series of explosions of early rocketplanes, the X-1A, X-1-3, X-1D and the X-2,  investigators discovered that leather gaskets which were used in the fuel system had been treated with tricresyl phosphate (TCP). When this was exposed to liquid oxygen an explosion could result. The leather gaskets were removed from the other rocketplanes and the explosions stopped.

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. Two X-2s were built.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

The X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,370 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)
Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 February–2 March 1949: B-50 Lucky Lady II

Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress 46-010, Lucky Lady II, lands at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth Texas, at 10:31 a.m., 2 March 1949. (LIFE Magazine)
Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress 46-010, Lucky Lady II, lands at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth Texas, at 10:31 a.m., 2 March 1949. (LIFE Magazine)

26 February–2 March 1949: A Boeing B-50A Superfortress, Air Force serial number 46-010, named Lucky Lady II, flew from Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, and with inflight refueling, circumnavigated the Earth non-stop, landing back at Carswell after 94 hours, 1 minute. The bomber had traveled 23,452 miles (37,742 kilometers).

Lucky Lady II was the backup aircraft for this flight, but became primary when the first B-50, Global Queen, had to abort with engine problems. It was a standard production B-50A-5-BO (originally designated B-29D) with the exception of an additional fuel tank mounted in its bomb bay.

The aircraft commander was Captain James G. Gallagher, with 1st Lieutenant  Arthur M. Neal as second pilot. Captain James H. Morris was the copilot. In addition to the three pilots, the flight was double-crewed, with each man being relieved at 4-to-6 hour intervals. The navigators were  Captain Glenn E. Hacker and 1st Lieutenant Earl L. Rigor, and the radar operators were 1st Lieutenant Ronald B. Bonner and 1st Lieutenant William F. Caffrey. Captain David B. Parmalee was project officer for this flight and flew as chief flight engineer, with flight engineers Technical Sergeant Virgil L. Young and Staff Sergeant Robert G. Davis. Technical Sergeant Burgess C. Cantrell and Staff Sergeant Robert R. McLeroy were the radio operators. Gunners were Technical Sergeant Melvin G. Davis and Staff Sergeant Donald G. Traugh Jr.

Four inflight refuelings were required using the looped hose method. Two KB-29M tankers of the 43d Air Refueling Squadron were placed at air bases along the Lucky Lady II‘s route, at the Azores, Saudi Arabia, the Philippine Islands and Hawaiian Islands. The KB-29 flew above the B-50 and lowered a cable and drogue. This was captured by equipment on the bomber and then reeled in, bringing along with it a refueling hose. The hose was attached to the B-50’s refueling manifold and then fuel was transferred from the tanker to the bomber’s tanks by gravity flow.

Each refueling occurred during daylight, but weather made several transfers difficult. One of the two tankers from Clark Field in The Philippines, 45-21705, crashed in bad weather when returning to base, killing the entire 9-man crew.

A Boeing KB-29M tanker refuels B-50A Superfortress Lucky Lady II during its around-the-world-flight, February–March 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing KB-29M tanker, possibly 45-21702, refuels B-50A Superfortress Lucky Lady II during its around-the-world-flight, February–March 1949. (U.S. Air Force)

On their arrival at Carswell, the crew of Lucky Lady II was met by Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington, Jr., General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Roger M. Ramey, commanding 8th Air Force, and Lieutenant General Curtis E. LeMay, Strategic Air Command. Each member of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They also were awarded the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year.

The arrival of Lucky Lady II and its crew was met by the Secretary of the Air Force. (LIFE Magazine)
The arrival of Lucky Lady II and its crew at Carswell AFB, Fort Worth, Texas, was observed by the senior civilian and military members of the United States Air Force.. (LIFE Magazine)
Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress 46-010, now named "KENSMEN," circa 1950. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress 46-010, now named “KENSMEN,” circa 1950. (U.S. Air Force)

At 11:25 a.m., 13 August 1950, B-50A 46-010, under the command of  Captain Warren E. Griffin, was on a maintenance test flight and returning to its base, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona  when all four engines failed. Unable to reach the runways, Captain Griffin landed in the desert approximately two miles southeast. Though the landing gear were down, the bomber was severely damaged with all four propellers bent, the belly dented and its tail breaking off. The 11-man crew were uninjured except for the bombardier, 1st Lieutenant Theodore Hastings, who was scratched by cactus which entered the cockpit through the broken Plexiglas nose.

The Superfortress was damaged beyond economical repair and was stricken from the Air Force inventory (“written off”). The unrestored fuselage of Lucky Lady II is at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, Chino, California.

The unrestored fuselage of Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress 46-010 at Planes of Fame, Chino, California. (Stefan Semerdjiev)
The unrestored fuselage of Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress 46-010 at Planes of Fame, Chino, California. (Stefan Semerdjiev)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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