Tag Archives: Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

10 March 1959

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 carried aloft by Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. The absence of frost on the fuselage of the X-15 shows that no cryogenic propellants are aboard for this captive flight. The chase plane is a Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter, 56-0768. This Starfighter suffered an engine failure on take off at Edwards AFB, crashed and was destroyed, 30 June 1959. (NASA)

10 March 1959: With North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in its cockpit, the X-15 high speed research rocket plane was airborne for the first time. X-15A 56-6670 was carried aloft under the wing of the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress mother ship, 52-003, for a series of captive flights. The purpose was to verify that all the systems on both the X-15 and the mothership were properly functioning up to the point that the drop would occur.

The NB-52A Stratofortress flight crew, left to right: Harry W. ("Bill") Berkowitz, NAA, Launch Panel Operator; Captain John E. ("Jack") Allavie, USAF, Pilot; Captain Charles C. Bock, Jr., USAF, Aircraft Commander, at Edwards AFB, 7 February 1959. (U.S. Air Force)
The NB-52A Stratofortress flight crew, left to right: Harry W. (“Bill”) Berkowitz, NAA, Launch Panel Operator; Captain John E. (“Jack”) Allavie, USAF, Pilot; Captain Charles C. Bock, Jr., USAF, Aircraft Commander, at Edwards AFB, 7 February 1959. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 carried aloft by Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. The absence of frost on the fuselage of the X-15 shows that no cryogenic propellants are aboard for this captive flight. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 carried aloft by Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. The absence of frost on the fuselage of the X-15 shows that no cryogenic propellants are aboard for this captive flight. (NASA)

Fully settled in my tiny flight office, I could speak by radio to the B-52 pilot, Charlie Bock, who was about thirty feet away in the nose of the mother plane, out of sight. . . .

As we sat, waiting at the end of the long runway while chase planes took off and circled, the clock on the instrument panel of the X-15 showed 0955. . . On signal, B-52 pilot Charlie Bock cobbed the eight engines, standing hard on the brake pedal. As the engines wound up to full military power, the X-15 trembled and the noise was tremendous. Through my radio earphones I heard Bock call a countdown for the benefit of the official movie cameramen who would record  every inch of the takeoff:

“Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one. BRAKE RELEASE.”

One hundred thirty tons of aluminum, fuel, Inconel X, five men and the hope of a nation began rolling down the long runway. . .

As we rolled, the huge runway distance markers flashed by, clocking our path: 14,000 . . . 13,000 . . . 12,000 . . . 8,000. When the X-15 air-speed indicator reached 170 knots, I noted only a minor vibration. We would continue the takeoff. 6,000 . . . 5,000 . . . 4,000, and we broke ground. It was smooth and gentle, like the take-off of an airliner. The air-speed indicator crept up to 260 knots. The parched brown desert fell away. . . .

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960, Chapters 34 and 35 at Pages 316–321.

X-15A 56-6670 under the wing of NB-52A 52-003 at high altitude. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocketplane. Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)
X-15A 56-6670 under the wing of NB-52A 52-003 at high altitude. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocketplane. (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)

The gross weight of the combined aircraft was 258,000 pounds (117,000 kilograms). After a takeoff roll of 6,200 feet (1,890 meters) the B-52/X-15 lifted of at 168 knots (193 miles per hour/311 kilometers per hour). During the 1 hour, 8 minute flight the the B-52 climbed to 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and reached a speed of 0.83 Mach (548 miles per hour/881 kilometers per hour).

The X-15A rocketplane was designed and built for the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the predecessor of NASA) by North American Aviation, Inc., to investigate the effects of hypersonic flight (Mach 5+). Design work started in 1955 and a mock-up had been completed after just 12 months. The three X-15s were built at North American’s Los Angeles Division, at the southeast corner of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), on the shoreline of southern California.

Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)

The first flight took place 8 June 1959, again, with Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Number 1 ship, 56-6670.

While earlier rocketplanes, the Bell X-1 series, the the Douglas D-558-II, and the Bell X-2, were airplanes powered by rocket engines, the X-15 was a quantum leap in technology. It was a spacecraft.

Like the other rocketplanes, the X-15 was designed to be carried aloft by a “mothership,” rather than to takeoff and climb to the test altitude under its own power. The carrier aircraft was originally to be a Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber but this was soon changed to a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Two B-52s were modified to carry the X-15: NB-52A 52-003, The High and Mighty One, and NB-52B 52-008, Balls 8.

From 8 June 1959 to 24 October 1968, the three X-15s were flown by twelve test pilots, three of whom would qualify as astronauts in the X-15. Two would go on to the Apollo Program, and one, Neil Alden Armstrong, would be the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969. Joe Engle would fly the space shuttle. Four of the test pilots, Petersen, White, Rushworth, and Knight, flew in combat during the Vietnam War, with Bob White being awarded the Air Force Cross. Petersen, Rushworth and White reached flag rank.

One pilot, John B. (“Jack”) McKay, was seriously injured during an emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada, 9 November 1962. Michael James Adams, was killed when the Number 3 ship, 56-6672, went into a hypersonic spin and broke up on the program’s 191st flight, 15 November 1967.

Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A. Crossfield is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit and MA-3 helmet, which he helped to develop. (NASA)

Flown by a single pilot/astronaut, the X-15 is a mid-wing monoplane with dorsal and ventral fin/rudders and stabilators. The wing had no dihdral, while the stabilators had a pronounced -15° anhedral. The short wings have an area of 200 square feet (18.58 square meters) and a maximum thickness of just 5%. The leading edges are swept to 25.64°. There are two small flaps but no ailerons. The entire vertical fin/rudder pivots for yaw control.

Above 100,000 feet (30,840 meters) altitude, conventional aircraft flight control surfaces are ineffective. The X-15 is equipped with a system of reaction control jets for pitch, roll and yaw control. Hydrogen peroxide was passed through a catalyst to produce steam, which supplied the control thrusters.

The forward landing gear consists of a retractable oleo strut with steerable dual wheels and there are two strut/skids at the rear of the fuselage. The gear is retracted after the X-15 is mounted on the NB-52 and is extended for landing by its own weight.

X-15A cockpit with original Lear Siegler instrument panel. (NASA)

The rocketplane’s cockpit featured both a conventional control stick as well as side-controllers. It was pressurized with nitrogen gas to prevent fires. The pilot wore an MC-2 full-pressure suit manufactured by the David Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, with an MA-3 helmet. The suit was pressurized below the neck seal with nitrogen, while the helmet was supplied with 100% oxygen. This pressure suit was later changed to the Air Force-standardized A/P22S.

The X-15 is 50.75 feet (15.469 meters) long with a wing span of 22.36 feet (6.815 meters). The height—the distance between the tips of the dorsal and ventral fins—is 13.5 feet (4.115 meters). The stabilator span is 18.08 feet (5.511 meters). The fuselage is 4.67 feet (1.423 meters) deep and has a maximum width of 7.33 feet (2.234 meters).

North American Aviation, Inc. X-15A 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)

Since the X-15 was built of steel rather than light-weight aluminum, as are most aircraft, it is a heavy machine, weighing approximately 14,600 pounds (6,623 kilograms) empty and 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) when loaded with a pilot and propellants. The X-15s carried as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of research instrumentation, and the equipment varied from flight to flight. The minimum flight weight (for high-speed missions): 31,292 pounds (14,194 kilograms) The maximum weight was 52,117 pounds (23,640 kilograms) at drop (modified X-15A-2 with external propellant tanks).

Initial flights were flown with a 5 foot, 11 inch (1.803 meters)-long air data boom at the nose, but this would later be replaced by the “ball nose” air sensor system. The data boom contained a standard pitot-static system along with angle-of-attack and sideslip vanes. The boom and ball nose were interchangeable.

The X-15s were built primarily of a nickel/chromium/iron alloy named Inconel X, along with corrosion-resistant steel, titanium and aluminum. Inconel X is both very hard and also able to maintain its strength at the very high temperatures the X-15s were subjected to by aerodynamic heating. It was extremely difficult to machine and special fabrication techniques had to be developed.

Two Reaction Motors Division XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines installed on an X-15. (NASA)

Delays in the production of the planned Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine forced engineers to adapt two vertically-stacked Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines to the X-15 for early flights. This was a well-known engine which was used on the previous rocketplanes. The XLR-11 burned a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Each of the engines’ chambers could be ignited individually. Each engine was rated at 11,800 pounds of thrust (58.49 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

The Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine was throttleable by the pilot from 28,500 to 60,000 pounds of thrust. The engine was rated at 50,000 pounds of thrust (222.41 kilonewtons) at Sea Level; 57,000 pounds (253.55 kilonewtons) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters), the typical drop altitude; and 57,850 pounds (257.33 kilonewtons) of thrust at 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). Individual engines varied slightly. A few produced as much as 61,000 pounds of thrust (271.34 kilonewtons).

The XLR99 burned anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen. The flame temperature was approximately 5,000 °F. (2,760 °C.) The engine was cooled with circulating liquid oxygen. To protect the exhaust nozzle, it was flame-sprayed with ceramic coating of zirconium dioxide. The engine is 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and 3 feet, 3.3 inches (0.998 meters) in diameter. It weighs 910 pounds (413 kilograms). The Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is 1 hour of operation, or 100 starts.

Thiokol Reaction Motors Division XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)

The XLR99 proved to be very reliable. 169 X-15 flights were made using the XLR99. 165 of these had successful engine operation. It started on the first attempt 159 times.

The highest speed achieved during the program was with the modified number two ship, X-15A-2 56-6671, flown by Pete Knight to Mach 6.70 (6,620 feet per second/4,520 miles per hour/ kilometers per hour) at 102,700 feet (31,303 meters). On this flight, the rocketplane exceeded its maximum design speed of 6,600 feet per second (2,012 meters per second).

The maximum altitude was reached by Joe Walker, 22 August 1963, when he flew 56-6672 to 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).

The longest flight was flown by Neil Armstrong, 20 April 1962, with a duration of 12 minutes, 28.7 seconds.

North American Aviation X-15A-1 56-6670 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. X-15A-2 56-6671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1966

Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream. The aircraft commander was Captain Bob Amos, and co-pilot, Captain Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Captain Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Captain Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sergeant Demp Johnson, gunner.

Brigadier General James M. ("Jimmy") Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General James M. (“Jimmy”) Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Jimmy Stewart was a successful Hollywood actor. He had an interest in aviation since childhood, and he earned a private pilot license in 1935, then upgraded to a commercial license in 1938. He owned his own airplane, a Stinson 105, and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family.

Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army 22 March 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.”

James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)

Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps on 19 January 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, California. Stewart was next assigned as a pilot at the Bombardier School at Kirtland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico. After transition training in the B-17 Flying Fortress he was assigned as as an instructor at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. On 9 July 1943, Stewart was promoted to captain and given command of a training squadron.

First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirkland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirtland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force) Update: The first student on the left has been identified as John M. “Jack” Drenan. 1st Lieutenant Drenan, a B-24 bombardier, was listed as Missing in Action on a mission to the Marshall Islands, 2 January 1944. Thanks to Mr. Patrick E. Freudenthal for the information.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group.

Captain James M. Stewart, 8th Air Force. (Imperial War Museum)

On 7 January 1944, Stewart was promoted to major, and served as deputy commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing during a series of missions known as “Big Week.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.
Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.

Major Stewart was next assigned as Group Operations Officer of the 453rd Bombardment Wing at RAF Old Buckenham. He assigned himself to fly the lead B-24 in the group’s missions against Germany until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned as executive officer of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In this position he flew missions with the 445th, 453rd, 389th Bomb Groups, and with units of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing. After being promoted to the rank of Colonel on 29 March 1945, he was given command of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. He had risen from Private to Colonel in four years. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross and was presented the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by France.

Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Air Corps as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. He commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his rank of colonel was made permanent, and in 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General. During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

"Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber." (©Bettman/CORBIS)
“Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber.” (Bettman/CORBIS)

James Stewart was one of America’s most successful film actors. He made a number of aviation films , such as “No Highway in the Sky,” “Strategic Air Command,” “The Spirit of St. Louis”and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

James Stewart on te set of "Strategic Air Command" at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in teh U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed "Colonel Dutch Holland" a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
James Stewart on the set of “Strategic Air Command” at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed “Colonel Dutch Holland,” a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
Boeing B-52F-70-BW Stratofortress 57-162, dropping Mk. 117 750-pound bombs on a target in Vietnam. This bomber is the same type flown by Brigadier General Stewart on his last combat mission, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52F-70-BW Stratofortress 57-162, dropping Mk. 117 750-pound bombs on a target in Vietnam. This bomber is the same type flown by Brigadier General Stewart on his last combat mission, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1968. He died of a heart attack 2 July 1997 at the age of 89 years.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 December 1972

TSGT Samuel O. Turner, U.S. Air Force, rests his hand on one of four air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns of a B-52 tail turret. (“Bulldog Bulletin, Fall 1985”)

18 December 1972: On the first night of  Operation Linebacker II, Staff Sergeant Samuel Olin Turner, United States Air Force, the gunner aboard Boeing B-52D-35-BW Stratofortress 56-676 (call sign “Brown 3”), saw a supersonic Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptor approaching the bomber from below and behind, with a second interceptor following at a distance.

As the Mach 2 fighter made a firing pass, Turner directed the four Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber machine guns of the bomber’s tail turret at the enemy fighter and opened fire. In a single 6–8 second burst, he expended 694 rounds of ammunition. He saw “a gigantic explosion to the rear of the aircraft.”

Master Sergeant Louis E. LeBlanc, the gunner on another B-52, “Brown 2,” had also seen the MiG 21 and confirmed Turner’s kill.

Staff Sergeant Turner was the first B-52 gunner to be officially credited with shooting down an enemy fighter, and the first aerial gunner to shoot down an enemy aircraft since the Korean War. He was awarded the Silver Star.

The citation reads,

Silver Star

“Staff Sergent Samuel O. Turner distinguished himself by gallantry in connections with military operations against an opposing armed force as a B-52 Fire Control Operator near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 18 December 1972. On this mission, Sergeant Turner’s aircraft was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. During these attacks he skillfully operated his gunnery radar equipment to train his guns on the attackers and destroyed one of them. By his courage in the face of hazardous combat conditions and outstanding professional skill, he successfully defended his aircraft and its crew and enabled it to complete its mission and return safely to base. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Turner has reflected great credit upon himself and to the United States Air Force.”

Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner is awarded the Silver Star by General John C. Meyer, Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command, for his actions in combat over Hanoi during Linebacker II. (U.S. Air Force)
The tail gun turret of B-52D 56-676. (U.S. Air Force)
The tail gun turret of Boeing B-52D Stratofortress 56-676. (U.S. Air Force)

Samuel Olin Turner was born at Atlanta, Georgia, 15 August 1942. He was the son of William Edgar Turner and Beatrice Honnicutt Turner. Sam Turner attended Russell High School at East Point, Georgia, then studied at David Lipscomb College, Nashville, Tennessee.

Turner enlisted in the United States Air Force, 13 January 1970, and was trained as a gunner on Boeing B-52s. He served in Southeast Asia for two years. In 1977, Technical Sergeant Turner transitioned to the B-52H Stratofortress, which was equipped with a remotely-operated M61A1 20 mm six-barreled rotary cannon.

The gunner's position in the tail of a Boeing B-52D Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)
The gunner’s position in the tail of a Boeing B-52D Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)

Senior Master Sergeant Samuel O. Turner was released from the U.S. Air Force 31 January 1982. In addition to the Silver Star, during his military career Turner had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and a number of Air Medals. He died at Stockbridge, Georgia, 9 April 1985, at the age of 42 years.

The Samuel O. Turner Airman Leadership School at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, South Dakota, is named in his honor.

56-676 was the last Boeing B-52D Stratofortress in service. It is on display at Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington.

A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress of the 307th Strategic Wing over Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II, December 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress of the 307th Strategic Wing over Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II, December 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1965

After decades sitting outside, the Strategic Air Command’s very first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, is now in a protected environment.

29 September 1965: Ten years after it entered service, the first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was retired to the Strategic Aerospace Museum, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

52-8711 had arrived at Castle Air Force Base, California, 29 June 1955, and was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy). It later served with the 22nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at March Air Force Base, California.

Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), March AFB, 1965. Compare this photograph to the image above. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 August 1967

Major William J. Knight, U.S. Air Force, with the modified X-15A-2, 56-6671, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Major William J. Knight, U.S. Air Force, with the modified X-15A-2, 56-6671, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

21 August 1967: On the 186th flight of the X-15 program, the modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, made the first of two flights with a heat-protective ablative coating, designed to protect the steel structure of the rocketplane from the extreme heat of flight at high Mach numbers.

After a landing accident which caused significant damage to the Number 2 X-15, it was rebuilt by North American. A 28-inch (0.71 meter) “plug” was installed in the fuselage forward of the wings to create space for a liquid hydrogen fuel tank which would be used for an experimental “scramjet” engine that would be mounted the the ventral fin. The modified aircraft was also able to carry two external fuel tanks. It was hoped that additional propellant would allow the X-15A-2 to reach much higher speeds. The external tanks were not carried on the 21 August 1967 flight.

With Major William J. (“Pete”) Knight, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit, the X-15A-2 was airdropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, known as Balls 8, over Hidden Hills Dry Lake, just on the California side of the border with Nevada. This was Knight’s 11th X-15 flight, and the 52nd flight for 56-6671. The launch time was 10:59:16.0 a.m., PDT. Knight fired the 57,000-pound-thrust Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and accelerated for 82.2 seconds. The purpose of this flight was to attain a high speed rather than altitude. The X-15A-2 reached Mach 4.94 (3,368 miles per hour, 5,420 kilometers per hour) at 85,000 feet (25,908 meters) and reached a peak altitude of 91,000 feet (27,737 meters). Pete Knight touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, just 7 minutes, 40.0 seconds after launch.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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