Tag Archives: Convair Division of General Dynamics

6 April 1955, 18:00:04.1 UTC

Operation Teapot HA fireball, 6 April 1955. (U.S. Air Force)
Operation Teapot HA fireball, 6 April 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

6 April 1955: At 10:00:04.1 a.m. local time (1800 GMT), a Convair B-36H assigned to the 4925th Test Group (Atomic) at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico dropped an atomic weapon from 42,000 feet (12,802 meters) over the Nevada Test Site, Area 1. The bomb was parachute-retarded to slow its fall so that the bomber could escape its blast effects.

The weapon was a test device produced by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory to investigate its use as an air-to-air anti-aircraft missile warhead. The bomb detonated at 36,620 feet (11,162 meters) with an explosive force of 3.2 kilotons. Because of the altitude of the explosion, there was no significant fallout.

“All test observers (with goggles) agreed that the fireball appeared more intensely bright than in events of similar yield fired at lower altitude.”

United States High-Altitude Test Experiences by Herman Hoerlin, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, June 1976, at Page 12.

Captain William L. Hickey, USAF, pilot of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker very long-range heavy bomber during Operation Teapot, 1955. Captain Hickey is wearing a David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet for protection at high altitude. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Captain William L. Hickey, USAF, pilot of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker very long-range heavy bomber during Operation Teapot, 1955. Captain Hickey is wearing a David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet for protection at high altitude. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The warhead was designed at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) in New Mexico and was similar to the Wasp Prime device, which had been detonated earlier in the Operation Teapot test series. It used a spherical implosion device. The warhead was a 17-inch (43.2 centimeters) diameter sphere weighing approximately 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms). It was placed inside a Mark 5 bomb case which weighed 1,085 pounds (492.2 kilograms).

This was the only bomb dropped by parachute at the Nevada Test Site.

Flight crew of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker, 4925th Test Group (Atomic) during Operation Teapot, 1955. The crewmen are wearing David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suits for protection at high altitude. The two white helmets are early K-1 "split shell" 2-piece helmets, while the green helmets are later K-1 1-piece models. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Flight crew of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker, 4925th Test Group (Atomic) during Operation Teapot, 1955. The crewmen are wearing David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suits for protection at high altitude. The two white helmets are early K-1 “split shell” two-piece helmets, while the green helmets are later K-1 one-piece models. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Convair B-36H Peacemaker was the definitive version of the ten engine bomber, with 156 B-36H/RB-36H built out of the total production of 383 Peacemakers. It is similar to the previous B-36F variant, though with a second flight engineer’s position, a revised crew compartment, and improved radar controlling the two 20 mm autocannons in the tail turret.

The B-36H was 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 8 inches (14.224 meters). The total area of its wings was 4,772 square feet (443.3 square meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 15° 5′ 39″. Their angle of incidence was 3°, with -2° twist and 2° dihedral. The empty weight of the B-36H was 165,887pounds (75,245 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 357,500 pounds (162,159 kilograms).

Three flight crewmen don their parachutes before boarding the B-36H Peacemaker for Operation Teapot HA, 5 April 1955. The automobile behind them is a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 4-door sedan. (U.S. Air Force)
Three flight crewmen don their parachutes before boarding the B-36H Peacemaker for Operation Teapot HA, 5 April 1955. The automobile behind them is a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 4-door sedan. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-36H has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).

A smoke ring formed following the detonation of the Operation Teapot HA test. Contrails of the test aircraft are visible. (U.S. Air Force)

Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a  single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).

The B-36H was the fastest variant of the Peacemaker series, with a cruise speed of  216 knots (249 miles per hour/400 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 382 knots (440 miles per hour/707 kilometers per hour) at 35,500 feet (10,820 meters). The service ceiling was 47,000 feet (14,326 meters) and its combat radius was 3,190 nautical miles (3,671 statute miles/5,908 kilometers). The ferry range was 7,120 nautical miles (8,194 statute miles/13,186 kilometers).

Convair RB-36H-40-CF 51-13741 Featherweight III. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-36H has six remotely-controlled retractable gun turrets mounting two M24A1 20 mm autocannon, each, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. The tail turret was radar-controlled, and another 2 guns were mounted in the nose.

The B-36 was designed during World War II, when nuclear weapons were unknown to the manufacturer. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in fours bomb bays. It could carry two 43,000 pound ( kilogram) T-12 Cloudmakers, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb, or several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 25-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

This Convair RB-36D-5-CF, 49-2686, is similar in appearance to the B-36H used in Operation Teapot HA. (U.S. Air Force)
This Convair RB-36D-5-CF, 49-2686, is similar in appearance to the B-36H used in Operation Teapot HA. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 March 1962

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458, Cowtown Hustler, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458, Cowtown Hustler, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

5 March 1962: Operation Heat Rise. Two Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bombers from the 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bombardment Wing, Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, took off at sunrise and headed west to Los Angeles, California. Off the Pacific coast they refueled from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, then headed east at maximum speed. They were to enter a radar starting gate at Los Angeles, but the radar did not pick them up so they returned to the tanker, topped off the fuel tanks again, then proceeded east once again. This time their entry was visually confirmed.

The crew of Cowtown Hustler checks the weather and files their flight plan at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, before taking off on Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
The crew of Cowtown Hustler checks the weather and files their flight plan at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, before taking off on Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. From center, right, 1st Lieutenant John T. Walton, Captain Robert G. Sowers and Captain Robert MacDonald. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Both B-58s had been assigned a block altitude of Flight Level 250 to Flight Level 500 (between 25,000 and 50,000 feet, or 7,620 to 15,240 meters) by the Federal Aviation Administration, and all other aircraft were cleared from those altitudes along the course. The flight outbound from Los Angeles was at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) at speeds above Mach 2.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2485 in flight. (General Dynamics)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2458 in flight. (General Dynamics)

Under normal conditions, the maximum speed of the B-58 was limited to a skin temperature of 115 °C. (239 °F.) to prevent the aluminum honeycomb skin panels from delaminating. For this speed run, Convair engineers had authorized a temperature of 125 °C. (257 °F.), which would allow the two bombers to exceed 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour). Sensors were placed in the skin to monitor the temperature rise (which gave the operation its name: “Heat Rise”).

The first B-58, call sign “Tall Man Five-Five,” had a problem with the navigation radar and had some difficulty locating their tanker, but finally were able to. The B-58s descended to 25,000 feet over Kansas for the third refueling and over a 21-minute period, took on 85,000 gallons (321,760 liters) of fuel, climbed back to 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and then continued on to New York.

One of the two B-58 bombers refuels from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker over Kansas during Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
One of the two B-58 bombers refuels from a Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker over Kansas during Operation Heat Rise, 5 March 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The Cowtown Hustler ¹ crossed the radar gate at New York with an elapsed time of 2:00:58.71 for the West-to-East flight, averaging 1,214.65 miles per hour (1,954.79 kilometers per hour). The second B-58, Tall Man Five-Six, was one minute behind.

Passing New York, the two B-58 Hustlers proceeded over the Atlantic Ocean and rendezvoused with tankers for a fourth aerial refueling, then headed back west to Los Angeles. Shortly after passing New York, Tall Man Five-Six developed mechanical troubles and had to withdraw from the round-trip record attempt.

Once again over Kansas, Cowtown Hustler refueled for a fifth time then continued back to Los Angeles. The East-to-West leg from New York to Los Angeles was completed in an elapsed time of 2:15:50.08, averaging 1,081.81 miles per hour (1,741.00 kilometers per hour).

General Thomas Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, congratulates Captain Rober G. Swoers and his crew after Operation Heat Rise.
General Thomas S. Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, congratulates Captain Robert G. Sowers and his crew at Los Angeles Airport after Operation Heat Rise. The three airmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Power. John T. Walton is wearing his new captain’s bars.

The total elapsed time, Los Angeles–New York–Los Angeles, was 4 hours, 41 minutes, 14.98 seconds (4:41:14.98), for an average speed of 1,044.97 miles per hour (1,681.71 kilometers per hour). The crew and the airplane established three National Aeronautic Association U.S. national records for Speed Over A Recognized Course.

At Los Angeles, the flight crew, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Pilot, Captain Robert MacDonald, Navigator, and Captain John T. Walton, were congratulated by General Thomas S. Power, Chief of Staff, Strategic Air Command, and each airman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

For the eastbound transcontinental flight, the crew won the Bendix Trophy, and for “the most meritorious flight of the year,” they were also awarded the Mackay Trophy. Their records still stand.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.33.18Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.34.10Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.34.37Reportedly, the U.S. Air Force received more than 10,000 damage claims for windows that were broken by the sonic booms created by the two B-58 Hustlers as they flew across the country.

Today, the record-setting, trophy-winning airplane, Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2458, the Cowtown Hustler, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Bendix and macKay Trophy-winning flight crew of Operation Heat Rise, left to right, Captain Robert G. Sower, pilot; Captain Robert MacDonald, navigator; First Lieutenent John Walton, Defense Systems. behind them is another B-58A, 59-2447.(U.S. Air Force)
The Bendix and Mackay Trophy-winning flight crew of Operation Heat Rise, left to right, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Pilot; Captain Robert MacDonald, Navigator; First Lieutenent John Walton, Defense Systems Operator. Behind them is another B-58A, 59-2447. Rapid Rabbit, flown by another crew, was destroyed 15 February 1962, three weeks before Operation Heat Rise. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Convair B-58A Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator, located in individual cockpits. The aircraft is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder, and there are no flaps.

The B-58’s delta wing has a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters) and the leading edges are swept back at a 60° angle. The wing has an angle of incidence of 3° and 2° 14′ dihedral (outboard of Sta. 56.5).

The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23161 kilograms), or 53,581 pounds (24,304 kilograms) with the MB-1 pod. The maximum takeoff weight was 158,000 pounds (71,668 kilograms).

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. It had a Normal Power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons). The Military Power rating was 10,000 pounds (44.482 kilonewtons), and it produced a maximum 15,600 pounds (69.392 kilonewtons) at 7,460 r.p.m., with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.0 inches (5.131 meters) long and 2 feet, 11.2 inches (0.894 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).

The bomber had a cruise speed of 544 knots (626 miles per hour/1,007 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,147 knots (1,320 miles per hour/2,124 kilometers per hour) at 67,000 feet (20,422 meters). The B-58A had a combat radius of 4,225 nautical miles (4,862 statute miles/7,825 kilometers). Its maximum ferry range was 8,416 nautical miles (9,685 statute miles/15,586 kilometers).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of Mark 39, B43 or B61 thermonuclear bombs. The weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel. The four of the smaller bombs could be carried on underwing hardpoints. There was a General Electric M61 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of ammunition, and controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

116 were built and they served the Strategic Air Command until January 1970 when they were sent to Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona for long-term storage.

The crew of Cowtown Hustler is presented the Bendix Trophy by A.P. Fontaine of the Bendix Corporation. Left to right, Sowers, MacDonald, Walton, Fontaine and Crew Chief, Master Sergeant Cockrell.
The crew of Cowtown Hustler is presented the Bendix Trophy by A.P. Fontaine, Director of Engineering, and later CEO, of the Bendix Corporation. Left to right, Captain Robert MacDonald, Captain John T. Walton, Captain Robert G. Sowers, Mr. Fontaine and 59-2458’s Crew Chief, Master Sergeant Cockrell.

The 19 minute, 38 second video below is a General Dynamics informational film about Operation Heat Rise. This video clip is longer than the time it took Cowtown Hustler to fly from Los Angeles, California, to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

¹ “Cowtown” is a nickname for Fort Worth, Texas, where the B-58s were based, as well as several other American cities.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC

Launch of Friendship 7 from Launch Complex 14, Kennedy Space Center, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

20 February 1962: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

In his post-flight mission report, Glenn wrote,

When the countdown reached zero, I could feel the engines start. The spacecraft shook, not violently but very solidly. There was no doubt when lift off occurred, When the Atlas was released there was an immediate gentle surge to let you know you were on your way.

Results of the First United States Orbital Space Flight (NASA-TM-108606), Manned Spacecraft Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Page 120, Column 1

2 minutes, 9.6 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:01.4. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:03.6 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster. During the climb to orbit, John Glenn experienced a maximum acceleration of 7.7 gs.

Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.

Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.

This photograph of Friendship 7’s cockpit was taken in orbit around the Earth, 20 February 1962. Astronaut John Glenn’s hands and legs are visible at the lower edge of the image. (Ohio State University)

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.  (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

Friendship 7 is hoisted aboard USS Noa (DD-841). (U.S. Navy)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

Mercury spacecraft profile with dimensions. (NASA)

The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 7 feet, 2.83 inches (2.206 meters) long, not including its retro rocket pack. The spacecraft was generally conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.885 meters). It weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

Diagram of Atlas LV-3B (Space Launch Report)

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the  Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 February 1959

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)

The Last Peacemaker: This gigantic airplane, a Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, serial number 52-2827, was the very last of the ten-engine strategic bombers built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at Fort Worth, Texas. It was completed 1 July 1954. On 14 August, it was delivered to the Strategic Air Command, 92nd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. In April 1957, 52-2827 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas.

The last one built, 52-2827 was also the last operational B-36.

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker 52-2827 at Amon Carter Field, Fort Worth, Texas, 12 February 1959. (Unattributed)
Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker 52-2827, City of Fort Worth, at Amon Carter Field, Fort Worth, Texas, 12 February 1959. (Unattributed)

On 12 February 1959, after 4 years, 5 months, 30 days service, the Air Force returned the bomber to Fort Worth. 52-2827 departed Biggs Air Force Base at 11:00 a.m., under the command of Major Frederick J. Winter. Other pilots were Colonel Gerald M. Robinson, commanding the 95th Wing, and Captain Wilson P. Smith. (Colonel Robinson flew as first pilot during the takeoff, while Major Winter flew the landing.) The bomber’s crew were hand-picked, and included two navigators, two flight engineers, an observer, two radio operators, two gunners and a crew chief. Ten newspaper, radio and television reporters were on board as well.

Crew of City of Fort Worth

The B-36 touched down at Amon Carter Field at 2:55 p.m. The Peacemaker’s log book was closed out with a total of 1,414 hours, 50 minutes, flight time.

After a ceremony attended by thousands, the bomber was officially retired. A bugler blew “Taps,” and then the Peacemaker was towed away.

It was put on display at Amon Carter Field. After decades of neglect, the bomber was placed in the care of the Pima Air and Space Museum at Tucson for restoration and display.

The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)
The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-75-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)

Convair B-36J 52-2827 is one of 14 “Featherweight III” high altitude variants. It was built without the six retractable defensive gun turrets of the standard B-36, retaining only the two M24A1 20 mm autocannons in the tail. This reduced the crew requirement to 13. It is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 166,125 pounds (75,353 kilograms) and loaded weight is 262,500 pounds (119,068 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).

The B-36J has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).

Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a  single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).

The B-36J Featherweight III had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 418 miles per hour (673 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 43,600 feet (13,289 meters) and its combat radius was 3,985 miles (6,413 kilometers). The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).

The B-36 was designed during World War II and nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in the four-section bomb bay. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,777 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb. When armed with nuclear weapons, the B-36 could carry several Mk.15 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

Bomb, Mark 17, displayed with Convair B-36J Peacemaker at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Bomb, Mark 17 Mod 2, displayed with Convair B-36J Peacemaker at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only four still exist.

Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827 at the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona. (B-36 Peacemaker Museum)
Convair B-36J-75-CF 52-2827 at the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona. (B-36 Peacemaker Museum)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1960

Delta Air Lines’ Convair 880-22-M, N8802E, Delta Queen, retracting its landing gear on takeoff from Atlanta, 15 April 1972. (RuthAS)

10 February 1960: Delta Air Lines’ Superintendant of Flight Operations, Captain Thomas Prioleau Ball, Jr., made the delivery flight of Delta’s first Convair 880 jet airliner, Ship 902, named Delta Queen, FAA registration N8802E, from San Diego, California, to Miami, Florida. Other members of the flight crew were Captain James H. Longing, co-pilot, and First Officer Richard E. Tidwell, flight engineer.

Newspapers reported that Delta Queen‘s wheels started rolling on the runway at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field (SAN) at 10:11:46 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (18:11:46 UTC). The airplane took of and climbed to its cross-country cruising altitude of 33,000 feet (10,058 meters). The Convair 880 landed at Miami International Airport (MIA) at 4:42:08 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (21:42:08 UTC). The official flight time was 3 hours, 31 minutes, 54 seconds, for an average speed of 641.77 miles per hour (1,032.83 kilometers per hour) over the 2,266 mile (3,647 kilometers) route. This was a new United States National Record for Speed Over a Commercial Airline Route. The 880 cut 27 minutes, 1 second, off the time of an Eastern Air Lines Douglas DC-8B over the same route, 4 January 1960.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.40.18Delta Queen was placed in scheduled service 15 May 1960.

The Convair 880 was a four-engine, swept-wing turbojet-powered commercial airliner. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 110 passengers. The Convair 880-22-M was a modified version of the standard 880-22, intended for shorter range operations. It had leading-edge slats, a higher maximum takeoff weight, stronger landing gear, a tail skid and an improved anti-lock braking system. The Convair 880 was so-named because its design top speed was 880 feet per second (600 miles per hour, or 966 kilometers per hour), faster than its Boeing 707 or Douglas DC-8 rivals.

Miss San Diego, Leona McCurdy, christens Convair 880 Delta Queen with river water collected from around the Delta Air Lines system. (Delta)
Miss San Diego, Leona McCurdy, christens Delta Queen with water collected from rivers around the Delta Air Lines system. (Delta Air Lines)

The airplane was 129 feet, 4 inches (39.421 meters) long with a wingspan of 120 feet (36.576 meters) and overall height of 36 feet, 3.75 inches (11.068 meters). The 880 had an empty weight of 94,000 pounds (42,638 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 191,000 pounds (86,636 kilograms).

The Convair 880-22-M was powered by four General Electric CJ805-3B turbojet engines. The CJ805-3B is a single-shaft, axial-flow turbojet with a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine, based on the military J79. The engine has a maximum continuous power rating of 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.593 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 11,650 pounds (51.822 kilonewtons) for Takeoff. The CJ805-3B is 9 feet, 2.4 inches (2.804 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.9 inches (1.013 meters) wide and 4 feet, 0.8 inches (1.240 meters) high. It weighs 2,875 pounds (1,304 kilograms).

The 880-22-M had a cruise speed of 0.82 Mach (556 miles per hour/895 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 41,000 feet (12,497 meters). Maximum range was 5,056 miles (8,137 kilometers).

The Convair Division of General Dynamics built 65 Convair 880 airliners at San Diego, California, between 1959 and 1962. Delta Air Lines retired its last one in January 1974.

Delta Queen, Convair 880-22-M N8802E. (Delta Air Lines)
Delta Queen, Convair 880-22-M N8802E. (Delta Air Lines)
Captain Thomas P. Ball

Thomas Prioleau (“Pre”) Ball, Jr., was a legendary airline captain. He was born 6 September 1906 at Norfolk, Virginia, the second son of Thomas Prioleau Ball, a bookkeeper, and Agnes Mae Bell Ball. He grew up in Florida. Ball learned to fly in 1928, soloing in a World War I Curtiss “Jenny” biplane.

Thomas P. Ball, Jr., married Miss Theresa Augusta Daniel at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Jacksonville, Florida, 27 December 1930. They would have to sons, Thomas Prioleaux Ball III and Espy Daniel Ball.

Ball worked as a station manager for Delta Air Lines at Charleston, South Carolina, and was hired as a copilot by the airline in 1936.

Soon after the United States entered World War II, Ball was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of colonel, serving as the Chief of the Prevention and Investigation Division of the Army’s Office of Flying Safety.

After the War, Ball returned to Delta Air Lines as a captain and soon became the chief pilot, dedicated to the meticulous training of the company’s pilots. In 1969, Ball became Delta’s Vice President of Flight Operations. On 25 May 1970, Ball was aboard Delta Flight 199, a Convair 880 under the command of Captain Harris B. Wynn, when it was hijacked to Cuba.

Four U.S. National Speed Records which were set by Captain Ball remain current. In addition to the record set with the Convair 880, on 6 November 1948, Ball flew a Delta Air Lines Douglas DC-6 from Los Angeles, California, to Charleston, South Carolina, in 6 hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds, at an average speed of 344.19 miles per hour (553.92 kilometers per hour). On 18 March 1954, he flew a Douglas DC-7 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, in 05:29:33, averaging 392.25 miles per hour (631.27 kilometers per hour). Finally, on 24 February 1962, Captain Ball flew a Douglas DC-8 from Miami, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia, in 01:28:11, for an average of 406.1 miles per hour (653.56 kilometers per hour).

After making the delivery flight of the company’s first Boeing 747, Ball grounded himself when he noticed a deterioration in his eyesight. Thomas Prioleau Ball retired from Delta in 1971. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 99 years.

Convair 880 N55NW in Bahama Air livery, circa 1976. (Captain Charles Lindberg)
The world record-setting Convair 880-22-M, c/n 7, now registered N55NW, in Bahamas World livery, circa 1976. (Captain Charles Lindberg)

Convair 880-22-M N8802E, Delta Queen, (c/n 7) remained in service with Delta Air Lines until 1973 when it was sold to Boeing as part of exchange for an order of new Boeing 727-200 airliners. It was then sold to Transexecutive Aviation in 1974 and reregistered as N55NW. In 1976, the 880 flew as a charter airliner for Bahama World. It was then converted to a cargo freighter operating in the Caribbean. In 1979 the Convair was transferred to Groth Air Service, Inc., Castalia, Iowa, and assigned a new FAA registration, N880SR. The record-setting airliner was damaged beyond repair in a fire at Licenciado Benito Juarez International Airport, Mexico City, in May 1983.

Converted Convair 880 N880SR. (Captain Charles Lindberg)
Former Delta Air Lines Convair 880, N880SR. (Captain Charles Lindberg)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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