Tag Archives: Convair Division of General Dynamics

27 August 1962, 06:53:14 UTC, T minus Zero

Engine ignition of Mariner 2 Atlas Agena B at LC-12, Cape Canaveral AFS, 2:53 a.m., EST, 27 August 1962. (NASA)

27 August 1962: At 06:53:14 UTC (2:53 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time), Mariner 2 lifted off from Launch Complex 12 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard an Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle. This was the second space probe to be sent to Venus.

Mariner 1 and 2 were identical space probes built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, California. The spacecraft were designed to obtain radiometric temperatures of Venus, and to measure the Interplanetary Magnetic Field.

The Mariner 1 mission failed when the launch vehicle veered off course and was destroyed by the Range Safety Officer, 4 minutes, 53 seconds into its flight, 22 July 1962.

Mariner 2 under final inspection. (NASA)

The Atlas Agena B combined an Atlas LV-3A rocket with an Agena B upper stage. The Atlas was derived from the U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California.

The height of the total vehicle, including the protective shroud encasing Mariner, 103 feet, 5 inches (31.70 meters). The Atlas Agena B first stage was 20.70 meters (67 feet, 11 inches) long, with a maximum diameter of 3.05 meters (10 feet). The maximum width across the booster section was 4.88 meters (16 feet).

The LV-3A is a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled rocket with three engines. The “half-stage,” was a booster section consisting of two LR89-NA-5 rocket engines. This stage produced approximately 369,800 pounds of thrust (1,645 kilonewtons). The center, or “sustainer,” engine is a LR105-NA-5, rated at 86,800 pounds of thrust (386 kilonewtons). Both engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The Atlas rocket used liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a highly-refined kerosene) propellant. The LV-3A had a total thrust of 456,587 pounds (2,031 kilonewtons).

The second stage was an Agena B, built by Lockheed Missiles and Space Systems, Sunnyvale, California. This engine was capable of being restarted in orbit. The Agena B was 7.20 meters (23 feet, 7 inches) long and had a maximum diameter of 1.50 meters (4 feet, 11 inches). It was also liquid fueled, but used a hypergolic mixture of nitric acid and UDMH. The single engine was a Bell Aerosystems Company LR81-BA-7, with 16,000 pounds of thrust (71.1 kilonewtons).

The Mariner probe was mounted atop the Agena second stage, enclosed in a protective shroud. Mariner had a gross weight of 447 pounds (202.8 kilograms). The probe was 9 feet, 11 inches long (3.02 meters) long, folded for launch, and 5 feet (1.52 meters) wide. When antennas and the solar panels were fully expanded, the spacecraft was 11 feet, 11 inches (3.63 meters) long and had a span of 16 feet, 6 inches (5.03 meters).

Artist's conception of Mariner 2 in interplanetary space. (NASA)
Artist’s conception of Mariner 2 in interplanetary space. (NASA)

At liftoff, all three main engines were burning. After 2minutes, the two-engine booster assembly was jettisoned and the vehicle continued with the center LR105 sustainer. After 4 minutes, 25 seconds, this engine shut down and the Agena second stage separated. At this point, guidance was lost and the vehicle began to roll, but did not deviate significantly from the planned trajectory. About a minute later, guidance was restored and the mission continued.

The Agena B second stage placed the Mariner in a parking orbit at about 118 kilometers (73.3 miles) altitude. 16 minutes, 20 seconds later, the Agena engine was reignited and  Mariner 2 was then placed on a trajectory planned to take it to Venus.

After 3 months, 17 days, at 19:59:28 UTC, 14 December 1962, the probe passed within 34,773 kilometers (21,607 miles) of Venus and measured the planet’s surface and cloud temperatures. It continued inward across the solar system and came within 105,464,560 kilometers (65,432,640 miles) of the sun.

The last transmission was received at 07:00 UTC, 3 January 1963, 129 days into the mission. Mariner 2 remains in orbit around the sun, circling every 292 days.

Mariner 2, carried alloft by Atlas LV3 179D, accelerates past the gantry, 06:53 UTC, 26 August 1962 (NASA)
The Atlas Agena B, carrying Mariner 2, accelerates toward orbit, 06:53 UTC, 27 August 1962 (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 July 1955

Convair NB-36 Nuclear Test Aircraft
Convair NB-36H Nuclear Test Aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

20 July 1955: At Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, the Convair NB-36H Nuclear Test Aircraft, serial number 51-5712, made its first flight.

In the late 1940s engineers began working on an aircraft that could be powered by a nuclear reactor. The reactor would heat air to provide jet thrust, rather than burning fuel and air to do so. A 60 megawatt reactor was envisioned.

The NB-36 was built to test the shielding requirements of an airborne nuclear reactor and to determine the effects of radiation on aircraft systems.

The Nuclear Test Aircraft was built from a Convair B-36H-20-CF Peacemaker strategic bomber, one of 61 that had been destroyed or damaged by a tornado that struck Carswell AFB in 1952. 51-5712 was so heavily damaged that the airframe was written off, but it was rebuilt with a completely new nose section with a shielded cockpit, and was otherwise  very heavily modified by Convair.

The shielded cockpit unit of the NB-36H (U.S. Air Force)
The shielded cockpit unit of the NB-36H. This assembly weighed 11 tons. (U.S. Air Force)

A one-megawatt Aircraft Shield Test Reactor developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, weighing approximately 35,000 pounds (15,875 kilograms), was installed in the bomber’s aft bomb bay. Though the reactor was fully operational, it did not power the airplane.

As with other B-36s, a combination of six Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major R-4360-53 air-cooled, 28-cylinder radial engines, and four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines, powered the NB-36.

The modified bomber could reach a maximum speed of 420 miles per hours at 47,000 feet. It had a maximum gross weight of 357,500 pounds.

During the test program, the NB-36 made 47 flights with a total of 215 hours flight time.

Based on the test results, the entire project was cancelled, and 51-5712 was scrapped at Fort Worth in 1958.

Convair NB-36H Nuclear Test Aircraft 51-5712. (Convair)
Convair NB-36H Nuclear Test Aircraft 51-5712, 6 August 1956. (Convair)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1961

Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. “Gene” Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. All three airmen were killed when their B-58 crashed at the Paris Air Show, 3 June 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)

3 June 1961: At the Paris Air Show, Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, France, the Blériot, Harmon and Mackay Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 58-2451, The Firefly, crashed, killing the aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.

Only days earlier, The Firefly—with a different aircrew—had set a new speed record for its flight from New York to Paris.

On leaving Le Bourget for the return trip to the United States, Major Murphy engaged in low-altitude aerobatics. There are reports that while performing a slow roll, the bomber entered a cloud bank. The pilot lost visual reference, but the roll caused the attitude indicator to exceed its limits. Disoriented and without instrument flight capability, the B-58 crashed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 59-2451, The Firefly.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 May 1961

The flight crew of the Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, "The Firefly," planning the Washington, D.C.-to-Paris flight, 26 May 1961. Left to right, Captain William L. Polhemus, Captain Raymond R. Wagener and Major William R. Payne. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
The flight crew of the Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, “The Firefly,” planning the Washington, D.C.-to-Paris flight, 26 May 1961. Left to right, Captain William L. Polhemus, Captain Raymond R. Wagener and Major William R. Payne. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

26 May 1961: The Firefly, the Blériot Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Wing, Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course by flying from Washington, D.C. to Paris in 3 hours, 39 minutes, 49 seconds, for an average speed of 1,687.69 kilometers per hour (1,048.68 miles per hour).¹

During the same flight, the B-58 flew the New York to Paris segment in 3 hours, 14 minutes, 44.53 seconds, at an average speed of 1,753.16 kilometers per hour (1,089.36 miles per hour).

The aircrew, Major William R. Payne, Aircraft Commander, Captain William L. Polhemus, Navigator, and Captain Raymond R. Wagener, Defensive Systems Officer, won the Harmon and Mackay Trophies for this flight.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly, lands at le Bourget, Paris, after the record-setting transatlantic flight, 26 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly, lands at Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, after the record-setting transatlantic flight, 26 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. “Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome.” (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Mackay Trophy.
The Mackay Trophy
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

On 3 June 1961, while enroute home, The Firefly crashed only 5 miles from Paris, killing the Blériot Trophy-winning  aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.

The 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, each located in individual cockpits. The aircraft had a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors. 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. There are no flaps.

The “Hustler” was 96.8 feet (29.5 meters) long, with a wing span of 56.8 feet (17.3 meters) and an overall height of 31.4 feet (9.6 meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept back at a 60° angle. The wings had a 3°0′ angle of incidence, 2°14′ dihedral, and a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters).

The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23,161 kilograms). Its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) was 90,000 pounds (40,823 kilograms), but once airborne, it could take on additional fuel from a tanker, raising the bomber’s maximum weight to 125,147 pounds (56,766 kilograms).

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. These were single-shaft axial-flow engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-5 had a continuous power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.15 kilonewtons), Military Power, 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.49 kilonewtons), and Maximum Power, 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. (All ratings at 7,460 r.p.m.) The engine was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.131 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.889 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).

The bomber had a cruise speed of 626 miles per hour (1,007 kilometers per hour) from 30,000 to 50,000 feet (9,144–15,240 meters), and a maximum speed of 1,319 miles per hour (2,124 kilometers per hour) at 56,100 feet (17,099 meters). The B-58’s service ceiling was 67,200 feet (20,483 meters).

Jet fuel (JP-4) was carried in three tanks inside the airplane’s fuselage, and two tanks in a streamlined drop tank. The total capacity of the five tanks was 15,369 gallons (58,178 liters). Its combat radius was 2,589 miles (4,167 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 6,483 miles (10,434 kilometers).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39, B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 was carried in the centerline pod. (A two-component mission pod was also available.) The W-39 was the same warhead used on the PGM-11 Redstone intermediate range ballistic missile and the SM-62 Snark intercontinental cruise missile. It was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear warhead with an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons. The warhead weighed 6,230 pounds (2,826 kilograms). The B-43 and B-61 bombs were carried on four hardpoints under the fuselage.

There was a defensive General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the bomber’s tail, with a maximum 1,040 rounds of ammunition. The gun was remotely-controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with weapons load. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with weapons load. (U.S. Air Force)

The Convair Division of General Dynamics built 116 B-58s at Forth Worth, Texas. The first XB-58 flew on 11 November 1956. Production aircraft entered service with the Strategic Air Command in 1960 and were retired in 1970. Only eight aircraft remain in existence.

Convair B-58A strategic bombers in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona. (Aviation Explorer)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4855

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 May 1963, 13:04:13.106 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.106

Leroy Gordon Cooper (March 6, 1927 – October 4, 2004). NASA photograph.
Major L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., United States Air Force. NASA Astronaut. (March 6, 1927 – October 4, 2004). Major Cooper is wearing a modified U.S. Navy Mark IV full-pressure suit produced by B.F. Goodrich. (NASA photograph)

15 May 1963: At 8:04:13.106 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Mercury-Atlas 9, carrying NASA astronaut, L. Gordon Cooper aboard Faith 7, lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Florida. Cooper reported, “The liftoff was smooth, but very definite, the acceleration was very pleasant. The booster had a very good feel to it and it felt like we were real on the go, there.” The maximum acceleration experienced during launch was 7.6 gs.

Faith 7 separated from the Atlas booster at T+00:05:05.5.3 and entered low Earth orbit with an apogee of 165.9 statute miles (267.0 kilometers) and perigee of 100.3 statute miles (161.4 kilometers). The orbital period was 88 minutes, 45 seconds. The spacecraft’s velocity was 25,714.0 feet per second (7,837.6 meters per second), or 17,532.3 miles per hour (28,215.5 kilometers per hour).

MA-9 was the final flight of Project Mercury. Gordon Cooper flew 22.5 orbits. Due to electrical system problems that began on the 21st orbit, he had to fly a manual reentry which resulted in the most accurate landing of the Mercury program.

The spacecraft’s three retrorockets fired 5 second intervals beginning at T+33:59:30. 34 hours, 19 minutes, 49 seconds after lift off, Faith 7 “splashed down” approximately 70 miles (112.7 kilometers) southeast of Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, just 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) from the primary recovery ship, the United States Navy Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CV-33).

The Mercury spacecraft, which Cooper named Faith 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was the 20th and final Mercury capsule to be built, and was one of four which were modified to support a day-long mission. Some items considered unnecessary were deleted and extra oxygen and battery capacity was added.

Designed to carry one pilot, the Mercury space craft could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). Faith 7 weighed 4,330.82 pounds (1,964.43 kilograms) at liftoff.

During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.

The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. Gordon Cooper wore a modified  B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost. Cooper’s suit varied considerably from those worn by previous Mercury astronauts.

Mercury-Atlas 9 at Laucnh Complex 14. The gantry has been pulled back, but the rocket has not been filled with propellants. (NASA)
Mercury-Atlas 9 at Launch Complex 14. The gantry has been pulled back, but the rocket has not been filled with propellants. Two men at the lower right of the image provide scale.(NASA)

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 (117,934 kilograms).

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.

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

Faith 7 is displayed at the Space Center Houston, the visitor center for the Johnson Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas.

Faith 7 and Atlas 130_D lift off from Launch Complex 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 13:04:13 UTC, 13 May 1963. (NASA)
Mercury Atlas 9 (MA-9), consisting of  Faith 7 and Atlas 130-D, lifts off from Launch Complex 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 13:04:13 UTC, 15 May 1963. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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