Tag Archives: Convair Division of General Dynamics

18 April 1952

Consolidated-Vultee YB-60-1-CF 49-2676. (U.S. Air Force)
Consolidated-Vultee YB-60-1-CF 49-2676. (U.S. Air Force)

18 April 1952: Piloted by Chief Test Pilot Beryl A. Erickson, and Arthur S. Witchell, the prototype Consolidated-Vultee YB-60-1-CF, serial number 49-2676, made its first takeoff at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas.

As a proposed competitor to Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress, the YB-60 (originally designated B-36G) was developed from a B-36F fuselage by adding swept wings and tail surfaces and powered by eight turbojet engines. Its bomb load was expected to be nearly double that of the B-52 and it would have been much cheaper to produce since it was based on an existing operational bomber.

Test pilot Beryl A. Erickson waves from the cockpit of the YB-60. (Convair, via Jet Pilot Overseas.)
Test pilot Beryl A. Erickson waves from the cockpit of the YB-60. (Jet Pilot Overseas.)

The Associated Press reported:

New Jet ‘Rides Like Cadillac’, Crew Says After Test Flight

     FORT WORTH, April 18 (AP)—The all-jet YB-60 bomber “rides like a Cadillac” and “touched at fighter speed,” crew members said Friday after the ultra-secret global bomber completed its first test flight.

   “I came back with very little perspiration, B.A. Erickson, chief test pilot for Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp. said. “That’s the answer to any pilot.”

  Erickson tried the YB-60’s performance and capabilities only “modestly,” he said. The flight was made at a moderate altitude—”a couple of Texas miles,” Erickson said.

Rides Like Cadillac

     “The YB-60 rode like a Cadillac with no noise like a B-36—no prop noise or vibration,” Arthur S. Witchell Jr., the co-pilot, said.

“This is the Queen Mary coming in gracefully,” Erickson said.

     The YB-60, an eight-jet bomber sometimes called a jet version of the B-36, was in the air one hour and six minutes. Erickson said it “touched at fighter speed.”

The plane is about the same size as the B-36, Erickson said. “Most any B-36 pilot would feel right at home,” he said.

Higher Speed Tests

     Witchell said tests would probably be made soon at higher speeds and higher altitudes.

The plane took off with a deep roar, with a shrill, whining overtone. Several thousand spectators, including Air Force personnel from Carswell Air Force Base, home of the B-36, lined the left side of the Carswell runway and stood on rooftops.

     The spectators were able to distinguish little more than the YB-60’s extreme, almost-triangular swept-back shape.

     The YB-60 made a rendezvous in the air with a B-25 Air Force camera plane from which highly secret photographs were taken.

Valley Morning Star, Volume XLII, No. 271, Saturday 19 April 1952, Page 1 at Columns 3 and 4.

Consolidated-Vultee YB-60 (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Consolidated-Vultee YB-60 49-2676. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The YB-60’s first flight was three days after that of the Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress. In testing, it was 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers) slower than the B-52 prototype, despite using the same engines. A second B-60 prototype was cancelled before completion, and after 66 flight hours the YB-60 test program was cancelled. Both airframes were scrapped in 1954, with the second prototype never having flown.

The Convair YB-60 was 171 feet (52.121 meters) long with a wingspan of 206 feet (62.789 meters) and overall height of 60 feet, 6 inches (18.440 meters). The wings were swept at a 37° angle. It had an empty weight of 153,016 pounds (69,407 kilograms) and gross weight of 300,000 pounds (136,078 kilograms).

The prototype jet bomber was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet developed from an experimental turboprop engine. It had 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages), 8 combustors and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The YJ57-P-3s were rated at 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons), each. The YJ57-P-3 was 183.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 41.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms). These were the same engines used in the YB-52, and were similarly mounted in four 2-engine nacelles below the wings.

Right profile of the first prototype YB-60. Note the tail landing gear strut. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Right profile of the first prototype YB-60. Note the tail landing gear strut. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

Maximum speed was 0.77 Mach (508 miles per hour, 818 kilometers per hour) at 39,250 feet (11,963 meters) and the combat ceiling was 44,650 feet (13,609 meters). The YB-60 could reach 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in just over 28 minutes. Takeoff required 6,710 feet (2,045 meters) and 8,131 feet (2478 meters) were required to clear a 50-foot (15.24 meters) obstacle. Maximum range was 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers) but the combat radius was 2,920 miles (4,699 kilometers) with a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilograms) bomb load.

The maximum bomb load was 72,000 pounds (32,659 kilograms). Defensive armament consisted of two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in a remote-controlled tail turret. The second YB-60 retained the upper forward and lower aft retractable gun turrets of the B-36, adding eight more 20 mm cannon.

Chief Test Pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson. (Convair)
Chief Test Pilot Beryl Arthur Erickson. (Convair)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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