Tag Archives: Clarence L. Johnson

3 February 1946

Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation. (TWA)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049 Constellation. (TWA)

3 February 1946: Transcontinental and Western Airlines (“The Trans World Airline”) inaugurated non-stop passenger service from Los Angeles to New York with it’s Lockheed L-049A Constellation, Navajo Skychief, NC86503.

Jack Frye
William John (“Jack”) Frye

Captain William John (“Jack”) Frye, president of the airline, and his co-pilot, Captain Lee Flanagin, T&WA’s Western Region Operations Manager, were at the controls with Captain Paul S. Frederickson and Captain A.O. Lundin aboard as relief pilots. Flight Engineers Paul Henry and E.T. Greene completed the flight crew. In the passenger cabin were flight attendants Dorraine Strole and Rita P. Crooks. The 44 passengers were primarily news reporters.

Navajo Skychief departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 12:59:12 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, and flew across the country at an altitude of 15,000–17,000 feet (4,572–5,182 meters), taking advantage of tailwinds throughout the flight. The Constellation crossed over LaGuardia Airport, New York, at 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) at 11:27 a.m., Eastern Standard Time.

The 2,474-mile (3,954.2 kilometer) Great Circle flight took 7 hours, 27 minutes, 48 seconds, averaging 329 miles per hour (529.5 kilometers per hour), setting a National Aeronautic Association transcontinental speed record for transport aircraft.

With 52 persons aboard, this was the largest number carried in commercial passenger service up to that time.

The four Duplex-Cyclone engines burned 450 gallons (1,703.4 liters) of gasoline per hour. On landing, 610 gallons (2,309.1 liters) of fuel remained.

A TWA stewardess. (LIFE Magazine)
A TWA stewardess. (LIFE Magazine)

Navajo Skychief (c/n 2024) had been delivered to Transcontinental and Western on 20 December 1945. It remained in service with TWA until March 1962. During that time it was also named Star of the Nile and Star of California. The Constellation was scrapped in May 1964.

The Lockheed Constellation first flew in 1942, and was produced for the U.S. Army Air Corps as the C-69. With the end of World War II, commercial airlines needed new airliners for the post-war boom. The Constellation had transoceanic range and a pressurized cabin for passenger comfort.

The Lockheed L-049 Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 3 inches (29.032 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.490 meters) and an overall height of 23 feet, 8 inches (7.214 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Navajo Skychief, Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049A Constellation, NC 86503. (Ed Coates Collection)

The L-049 was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 745C18BA3 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff, (five minute limit) and drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289.11 kilograms).

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (503.72 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429.3 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

22 C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were built. Designed by the famous Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

TWA Lockheed Constellation.
TWA Lockheed Constellation.

Jack Frye had founded the Aero Corporation of California, which would later become Transcontinental and Western, on 3 February 1926. He died at Tucson, Arizona on 3 February 1959 at the age of 55 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 January 1946

Colonel William H. Council, U.S. Army Air Corps, in teh cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Colonel William H. Councill, U.S. Army Air Forces, in the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

26 January 1946: Colonel William Haldane Councill, U.S. Army Air Forces, a test pilot at the Flight Test Division, Wright Field, Ohio, made a record-breaking flight from Daugherty Field (Long Beach Airport), California, to overhead LaGuardia Airport, New York, in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds. He was piloting a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, serial number 44-85123. This flight set a new transcontinental speed record for the 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers), averaging 584.82 miles per hour (941.18 kilometers per hour).

Colonel Councill was accompanied by two other P-80s flown by Captain John S. Babel and Captain Martin I. Smith. This was the longest non-stop flight by a jet aircraft up to that time.

Colonel Councill’s P-80A had been modified with the installation of a 100-gallon (379 liters) fuel tank in the nose. Along with 300-gallon (1,135 liters) wing tip tanks, the Shooting Star’s maximum fuel load had been increased to 1,165 gallons (4,410 liters).¹

The P-80s flown by Captains Babel and Smith also had the nose fuel tank installed, but carried 150-gallon wing tip tanks. They had to stop at Topeka, Kansas to refuel. Ground crews met them with four fuel trucks, and they were airborne in 4 minutes and 6 minutes, respectively.

Colonel William H. Councill, U.S. Air force, waves from the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85123. (AP Wirephoto, Oklahoma Historical Society)
Colonel William H. Councill, U.S. Air Force, waves from the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85123. (AP Wirephoto, Photograph 2012.201.B0243.0237, Oklahoma Historical Society)

William Haldane Councill was born 5 October 1911 at Bellevue, Pennsylvania. He was the second of four children of William Mansfield Councill, a manager for a fireproofing company, and Bertha Etta Wing Councill.

William H. Councill. (The Thistle of 1933)

Bill Councill studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), and the Delta Upsilon (ΔΥ) fraternity. He was also a member of the Scabbard and Blade, and co-chairman of the Military Ball. Councill graduated in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree (B.S.M.E.).

William H. Councill was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Engineer Reserve, 1 June 1933. He was appointed a flying cadet and trained as a pilot, 1 October 1933 to 14 October 1935. He then received a commission as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve.

Lieutenant Councill married Miss Lillie Louise Slay at Wahiawa Heights, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 18 April 1936. They would have one daughter, Frances, born in 1943.

On 1 October 1938, Councill’s reserve commission was converted to second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army. Councill was promoted to first lieutenant, 1 October 1941.

During this time William Councill held a parallel commission in the Army of the United States. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 September 1940, and captain, A.U.S., 1 February 1942. On 1 March 1942, he was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (A.C.), and to lieutenant colonel, 19 December 1942. On 3 July 1945, Councill advanced to the rank of colonel, A.U.S.

Colonel Councill was rated as a command pilot. During World War II, he flew 130 combat missions with the 13th Air Force in the southwest Pacific area. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.

At 10:54 a.m., 5 April 1954, Colonel Councill took off from Farmingdale, New York, in a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star, enroute to Langley Field, Virginia. He never arrived. An extensive search was unsuccessful. It was presumed that Councill went down in the Atlantic Ocean.

According to his commanding officer, Major General Earl W. Barnes,

“. . . He was a most capable, dependable and responsible officer who was concientiously devoted to his tasks. His opinions on military matters were highly regarded by his superior officers. His pleasant personality, genial manner, and dry wit endeared him to the hearts of the many friends he had won during approximately twenty-one years of service in the United States Air Force. He was greatly beloved by those with whom he associated. . . I feel that our Country and the Air Force have lost an irreplaceable asset and a great leader.”

Wing Family Annals, Wing Family of America, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa. Vol. 54, No. 1, at Pages 7 and 8

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson’s “Skunk Works” also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company)

The Lockheed P-80-1-LO was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was a single-seat, single engine airplane, designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base) 8 January 1944.

The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10.5 inches (11.849 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It weighed 7,920 pounds empty (3,592.5 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms).

Early production P-80As were powered by either an Allison J33-A-9 or a General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet engine. The J33 was a licensed version of the Rolls-Royce Derwent. It was a single-shaft turbojet with a 1-stage centrifugal compressor section and a 1-stage axial-flow turbine. The -9 and -11 engines were rated at 3,825 pounds of thrust (17.014 kilonewtons). The were 8 feet, 6.9 inches (2.614 meters) long, 4 feet, 2.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,775 pounds (805 kilograms).

Colonel Council's record-setting P-80A-1-LO in squadron markings. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Councill’s record-setting P-80A-1-LO 44-85123, in squadron markings at the National Air Races, Cleveland, Ohio, September 1946. (Unattributed)

The P-80A had a maximum speed of 558 miles per hour (898 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 492 miles per hour (801 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Several hundred of the early production P-80 Shooting stars had all of their surface seams filled, and the airplanes were primed and painted. Although this process added 60 pounds (27.2 kilograms) to the empty weight, the decrease in drag allowed a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) increase in top speed. The painted surface was difficult to maintain in the field and the process was discontinued.

The P-80A Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber (12.7×99 NATO) machine guns mounted in the nose.

Lieutenant Howard A. Johnson, USAAF, with Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123. (FAI)

On 3 June 1946, Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123, flown by Lieutenant Henry A. Johnson, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 1,000 Kilometers with an average speed of 745.08 kilometers per hour (462.97 miles per hour).²

On 2 September 1946, Major Gustav Lindquist won the Thompson Trophy Race, J Division, at the National Air Races, Cleveland, Ohio, 1946, with the same airplane, averaging 515.853 miles per hour (830.185 kilometers per hour) over a 180-kilometer (111.85-mile) course.

Today, 44-85123 is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base. It is currently undergoing restoration.

Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A Shooting Star 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)

¹ Thanks to Jeffrey P. Rhodes of Lockheed Martin for additional information on Colonel Councill’s Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star.

² FAI Record File Number 10973

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 January 1944

Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
The Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Milo Burcham
Milo Garrett Burcham

8 January 1944: At Muroc Army Air Field (later to become Edwards Air Force Base), Lockheed’s chief engineering test pilot, Milo Garrett Burcham, took the prototype Model L-140, the Army Air Forces XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, for its first flight.

Tex Johnston, who would later become Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, was at Muroc testing the Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-59 Airacomet. He wrote about the XP-80’s first flight in his autobiography:

Early on the morning of the scheduled first flight of the XP-80, busload after busload of political dignitaries and almost every general in the Army Air Force arrived at the northwest end of the lake a short distance from our hangar. Scheduled takeoff time had passed. I was afraid Milo was having difficulties. Then I heard the H.1B fire up, and he taxied by on the lake bed in front of our ramp. What a beautiful bird—another product of Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s famed chief design engineer—tricycle gear, very thin wings, and a clear-view bubble canopy. Milo gave me the okay sign.

This was the initial flight of America’s second jet fighter, and what a flight it was. Milo taxied along in front of generals and politicians, turned south and applied full power. I could see the spectators’ fingers going in their ears. The smoke and sand were flying as the engine reached full power, and the XP-80 roared down the lake. Milo pulled her off, retracted gear and flaps, and held her on the deck. Accelerating, he pulled up in a climbing right turn, rolled into a left turn to a north heading, and from an altitude I estimated to be 4,000 feet [1,219 meters] entered a full-bore dive headed for the buses. He started the pull-up in front of our hangar and was in a 60-degree climb when he passed over the buses doing consecutive aileron rolls at 360 degrees per second up to 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]. He then rolled over and came screaming back. He shot the place up north and south, east and west, landed and coasted up in front of the spectators, engine off and winding down. I have never seen a crowd so excited since my barnstorming days. I returned to the office and dictated a wire to [Robert M.] Stanley [Chief Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation] “WITNESSED LOCKHEED XP-80 INITIAL FLIGHT STOP VERY IMPRESSIVE STOP BACK TO DRAWING BOARD STOP SIGNED, TEX” I knew he would understand.

Tex Johnston: Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1 June 1992, Chapter 5 at Pages 127–128.

A few minor problems caused Burcham to end the flight after approximately five minutes but these were quickly resolved and flight testing continued.

The XP-80 was the first American airplane to exceed 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour) in level flight.

Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson's "Skunk Works" also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson’s “Skunk Works” also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The Lockheed XP-80 was designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and a small team of engineers that would become known as the “Skunk Works,” in response to a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal to build a single-engine fighter around the de Havilland-built Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. This engine used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It had a straight-through configuration rather than the reverse-flow of the Whittle turbojet from which it was derived. It produced 2,460 pounds of thrust (10.94 kilonewtons) at 9,500 r.p.m., and 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) at 10,500 r.p.m.

Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed)
Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 was a single-seat, single-engine airplane with straight wings and retractable tricycle landing gear. Intakes for engine air were placed low on the fuselage, just forward of the wings. The engine exhaust was ducted straight out through the tail. For the first prototype, the cockpit was not pressurized but would be on production airplanes.

As was customary for World War II U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft, the prototype was camouflaged in non-reflective Dark Green with Light Gull Gray undersides. The blue and white “star and bar” national insignia was painted on the aft fuselage, and Lockheed’s winged-star corporate logo was on the nose and vertical fin. Later, the airplane’s radio call, 483020 was stenciled on the fin in yellow paint. The number 20 was painted on either side of the nose in large block letters. Eventually the tip of the nose was painted white and a large number 78 was painted just ahead of the intakes in yellow block numerals. Early in the test program, rounded tips were installed on the wings and tail surfaces. This is how the XP-80 appears today.

Lockheed XP-80 parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed)
The highly-polished Dark Green and Light Gull Gray Lockheed XP-80 prototype parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 is 32 feet, 911/16 inches (9.9997 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, ⅞-inch (11.2998 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 21/16 inches (3.1004 meters). It had a Basic Weight for Flight Test of 6,418.5 pounds (2,911.4 kilograms) and Gross Weight (as actually weighed prior to test flight) of 8,859.5 pounds (4,018.6 kilograms).

The XP-80 has a maximum speed of 502 miles per hour (808 kilometers per hour) at 20,480 feet (6,242 meters) and a rate of climb of 3,000 feet per minute (15.24 meters per second). The service ceiling is 41,000 feet (12,497 meters).

Unusual for a prototype, the XP-80 was armed. Six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns were placed in the nose. The maximum ammunition capacity for the prototype was 200 rounds per gun.

The Halford engine was unreliable and Lockheed recommended redesigning the the fighter around the larger, more powerful General Electric I-40 (produced by GE and Allison as the J33 turbojet). The proposal was accepted and following prototypes were built as the XP-80A.

Lockheed built 1,715 P-80s for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. They entered combat during the Korean War in 1950. A two-seat trainer version was even more numerous: the famous T-33A Shooting Star.

Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star 44-83020 was used as a test aircraft and jet trainer for several years. In 1949, it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. 44-83020 is on display at the Jet Aviation exhibit of the National Air and Space Museum. It was restored beginning in 1976, and over the next two years nearly 5,000 man-hours of work were needed to complete the restoration.

The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, at teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, s/n 140-1001, 44-83020, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1962

This is one of the reconnaissance photographs taken by Major Richard S. Heyser  from his Lockheed U-2, flying at 72,500 feet over Cuba, 14 October 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1962: Major Richard Stephen (“Steve”) Heyser, a pilot with the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, United States Air Force, boarded Item 342, his Top Secret reconnaissance airplane, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Over the next seven hours he flew from Edwards to McCoy AFB, near Orlando, Florida, landing there at 0920 EST.

Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)

But first, Steve Heyser and Item 342 flew over the island of Cuba at an altitude of 72,500 feet (22,098 meters). Over the island for just seven minutes, Heyser used the airplane’s cameras to take some of the most important photographs of the Twentieth Century.

Item 342 was a Lockheed U-2F. Designed by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson at the “Skunk Works,” it was a very high altitude, single-seat, single-engine airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency. Item 342 carried a U.S. Air Force number on its tail, 66675. This represented its serial number, 56-6675.

It had been built at Burbank, then its sub-assemblies were flown aboard a C-124 Globemaster transport to a secret facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, called “The Ranch,” where it was assembled and flown.

Originally a U-2A, Item 342 was modified to a U-2C, and then to a U-2F, capable of inflight refueling.

Major Heyser had been at Edwards AFB to complete training on the latest configuration when he was assigned to this mission.

A Lockheed U-2A, 56-6708, “Item 375”. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Heyser’s photographs showed Russian SS-4 Sandal intermediate range nuclear-armed missiles being placed in Cuba, with SA-2 Guideline radar-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile sites surrounding the nuclear missile sites.

President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba and demanded that Russia remove the missiles. Premier Nikita Khrushchev refused. The entire U.S. military was brought to readiness for immediate war. This was The Cuban Missile Crisis. World War III was imminent.

(Left to Right) Major Richard S. Heyser, General Curtis E. LeMay and President John F. Kennedy, at the White House, October 1962. (Associated Press)

Richard S. Heyser died 6 October 2008.

© 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
Anthony M. “Tony” LeVier.

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.

Lockheed U-2, “Article 341,” at Groom Lake, Nevada, 1955. (Lockheed Martin)

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-2, “Article 341.” (Lockheed Martin)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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