Tag Archives: Douglas Aircraft Company

28 October 1952

Douglas XA3D-1 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 125412. (U.S. Navy)
George R. Jansen, 1921–1991. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

28 October 1952: The prototype Douglas XA3D-1 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 125412, made its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Douglas test pilot George R. Jansen was in the cockpit. The Skywarrior was a carrier-based, twin-engine, swept-wing strategic bomber, designed to carry a 12,000 pound (5,443 kilogram) bomb load. The prototype was equipped with two Westinghouse XJ40-WE-12 turbojet engines producing 7,000 pounds of thrust (31.138 kilonewtons), each.

Designed to be launched from an aircraft carrier, fly 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers), deliver a 3.8 megaton Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb on target, then return to the carrier, the Skywarrior was a considerable challenge for its designers. It was operated by a three man crew: pilot, navigator/bombardier and gunner.

Douglas XA3D-1 Bu. No. 125412 during its first flight, 28 October 1952. (U.S. Navy))

The production A3D-1 was 74 feet, 5 inches (22.682 meters) long with a wingspan of 72 feet, 6 inches (22.098 meters) and overall height of 22 feet, 10 inches (6.960 meters). The shoulder-mounted wings were swept back at a 36° angle and the wings and vertical fin were hinged so that they could be folded for storage aboard the aircraft carrier. The bomber’s empty weight was 35,900 pounds (16,284 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 70,000 pounds (31,752 kilograms).

When the two prototypes’ Westinghouse JX40 engines proved to be underpowered, they were replaced with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1 turbojets, rated at 9,000 pounds of thrust (40.034 kilonewtons). The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section and a 3-stage turbine. (Both had high- and low-pressure stages.) The engine was 15 feet, 3.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms). Production models were equipped with the J57-P-6, rated at 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons).

Douglas XA3D-1 Bu. No. 125412. (U.S. Navy)

The A3D-1 had a cruise speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 621 miles per hour (999 kilometers per hour) at 1,000 feet (305 meters). The combat ceiling was 40,500 feet (12,344 meters). It had a range of 2,100 miles (3,380 kilometers). The combat radius was 1,150 miles (1,851 kilometers).

The Skywarrior could carry 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of conventional or Special Weapons (MK 43 or MK 57 nuclear bombs) in its internal bomb bay. A remotely-operated turret in the tail was armed with two An-M3 20 mm cannon with 500 rounds per gun.

The first A3D-1 production aircraft were painted a glossy sea blue. This was soon changed to a flat light gray for the sides and upper surfaces with gloss white underneath. This provided better camouflage as well as thermal protection from nuclear blast.

A Douglas A3D-2 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 138974, redesignated A-3B after 1962, launches from the angled flight deck of a United States Navy aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)
A Douglas A3D-2 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 138974, (redesignated A-3B after 1962) launches from the angled flight deck of a United States Navy aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)

Douglas built 282 A3D Skywarriors between 1956 and 1961. They remained in service as late as 1991. The U.S. Air Force ordered 294 B-66 Destroyer medium bombers, which were developed from the A3D. The first XA3D-1, Bu. No. 125412, was used as a ground trainer after the test flight program was completed.

Major George R. Jansen, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)
Major George R. Jansen, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

George R. Jansen was the Director of Flight Operations for the Douglas Aircraft Company. He had been a bomber pilot flying the B-24 Liberator during World War II. After one mission, his bomber, Margaret Ann, returned to base in England with more than 750 bullet and shrapnel holes, and one crewman dead and another wounded. He twice flew missions from North Africa against the refineries at Ploesti, Romania. At the age of 22, Jansen was a major in command of the 68th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 44th Bombardment Group (Heavy). He had been awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Air Medals.

After the war, George Jansen went to work for Douglas as a production test pilot. He graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1952. He flew many of Douglas’s new prototype aircraft, and also flew the modified Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mother ship to carry the D-558-II Skyrocket to altitude. He made many of the first flights for Douglas, both military and civil. He passed away at the age of 70 years.

A Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior is launched from a steam catapult aboard USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) while a second is readied for launch. (U.S. Navy)
A Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior is launched from a steam catapult aboard USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) while a second is readied for launch. (U.S. Navy)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 1954

NACA's chief project test pilot for the Douglas X-3, in the cockpit of the research aircraft, circa 1954-1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
NACA’s chief project test pilot for the Douglas X-3, Joe Walker, in the cockpit of the research aircraft, circa 1954-1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

October 27, 1954: between August 1954 and May 1956, Joseph A. Walker, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ chief project test pilot for the Douglas X-3 supersonic research aircraft, made twenty research flights in the “Stiletto.”

On the tenth flight, 27 October, Walker took the X-3 to an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). With the rudder centered, he put the X-3 into abrupt left aileron rolls, first at 0.92 Mach and then at Mach 1.05. Both times, the aircraft violently yawed to the right and then pitched down. Walker was able to recover before the X-3 was completely out of control.

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The Douglas X-3 during NACA flight testing, 1954-1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

This was a new and little understood condition called inertial roll coupling. It was a result of the aircraft’s mass being concentrated within its fuselage, the gyroscopic effect of the turbojet engines and the inability of the wings and control surfaces to stabilize the airplane and overcome its rolling tendency. (Just two weeks earlier, North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch had been killed when the F-100A Super Sabre that he was testing also encountered inertial roll coupling and disintegrated.)

A post-flight inspection found that the X-3 had reached its maximum design load. The airplane was grounded for the next 11 months.

Unlike its predecessors, the Bell Aircraft Corporation's X1 and and X-2 rocketplanes, teh turbojet-powered Douglas X-3 took off under its own power. here, its two Westinghouse J37 engines are stirring up teh sand on Runway 35 at Rogers Dry Lake. (LIFE Magazine via jet Pilot Overseas)
Unlike its predecessors, the Bell Aircraft Corporation’s X1 and and X-2 rocketplanes, the turbojet-powered Douglas X-3 took off under its own power. Here, its two Westinghouse J37 engines are stirring up the sand on Runway 35 at Rogers Dry Lake. (LIFE Magazine via jet Pilot Overseas)

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and NACA to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J37 engines, and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. The X-3′s highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. It was therefore never able to be used in flight testing the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics, though, it was very useful in exploring stability and control in the transonic range.

At one point, replacing the X-3’s turbojet engines with two Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engines was considered. Predictions were that a rocket-powered X-3 could reach Mach 4.2. However, with Mach 2 Lockheed F-104 becoming operational and North American Aviation’s X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane under construction, the idea was dropped. Technology had passed the X-3 by.

In addition to Douglas Aircraft test pilot Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest and Major Chuck Yeager and  NACA pilot Joe Walker.

Joe Walker resumed flight testing the X-3 in 1955. Its final flight was 23 May 1956. After the flight test program came to an end, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

NACA test pilot Joe Walker with the Douglas X-3. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
NACA test pilot Joe Walker with the Douglas X-3. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1952

Douglas X-3 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 49-2892. Rogers Dry Lake is in the background. (NASA)

20 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman made the first test flight of the X-3 twin-engine supersonic research airplane. During a high-speed taxi test five days earlier, Bridgeman and the X-3 had briefly been airborne for approximately one mile over the dry lake bed, but on this flight he spent approximately 20 minutes familiarizing himself with the new airplane.

William Barton “Bill” Bridgeman, 1916–1968. (LIFE Magazine)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.”

Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot. He checked out new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards AFB.) With the Skyrocket, he flew higher—79,494 feet (24,230 meters)—and faster—Mach 1.88—than any pilot had up to that time.

Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and NACA to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)
This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J34 engines and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. Its highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. The research airplane was therefore never able to be used in flight testing in the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics, though, it became useful in exploring stability and control problems encountered in the transonic range.

Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA High Speed Flight Station research pilot Joseph A. Walker.

NACA flight testing began in August 1954. On the tenth flight, 27 October, Joe Walker put the X-3 into abrupt left aileron rolls at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), first at 0.92 Mach and then at Mach 1.05. Both times, the aircraft violently yawed to the right and then pitched down.

This was a new and little understood condition called inertial roll coupling. It was a result of the aircraft’s mass being concentrated within its fuselage, the torque reactions and gyroscopic effect of the turbojet engines and the inability of the wings and control surfaces to stabilize the airplane and overcome its rolling tendency. (Just two weeks earlier, North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch had been killed when the F-100A Super Sabre that he was testing also encountered inertial roll coupling and disintegrated.) A post-flight inspection found that the X-3 had reached its maximum design load. The X-3 was grounded for the next 11 months.

Joe Walker resumed flight testing the X-3 in 1955. It’s last flight was 23 May 1956. After the flight test program came to an end, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Douglas X-3 49-2892 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 October 1955

Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., United States Navy, with record-setting Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, at Edwards Air Force Base, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., United States Navy, with record-setting Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, at Edwards Air Force Base, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

15 October 1955: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Lieutenant Gordon L. (“Gordo”) Gray, Jr., United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record For Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers when he flew a pre-production Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk light attack bomber, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 137820, to an average speed of 1,118.7 kilometers per hour (695.128 miles per hour).¹

Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

The Douglas A4D-1 Skyhawk is a single-place, single-engine, delta-winged light attack bomber designed for operation from aircraft carriers. It is 39 feet, 4 inches (11.989 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) and overall height of 15 feet (4.572 meters). Its empty weight is 8,400 pounds (3,810.2 kilograms). It was powered by a Curtiss-Wright J65-W-2, a licensed-production version of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire axial flow turbojet engine, which had a 13-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons).

The A4D was in production from 1956 to 1979. 2,960 one- and two-place aircraft were built. The Skyhawk remained in service with the United States Navy until 2003.

Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., U.S. Navy (thrid from left) with the Douglas Aircraft Company A4D team at Edwards AFB, California, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Gordon L. Gray, Jr., U.S. Navy (third from left) with the Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk team at Edwards AFB, California, 15 October 1955. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8859

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 October 1952

William Barton Bridgeman
William Barton Bridgeman. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

15 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman, while conducting high speed taxi tests, took a short flight in the new Douglas X-3. The experimental airplane flew about one mile (1.6 kilometers) over the dry lake bed before touching down. The official first flight would come five days later on 20 October.

In his biography, The Lonely Sky, Bill Bridgeman discussed his concerns about taking on the new project:

Then one morning Johnny called me to his office. "Bill, we would like you to take a look at the X-3. Maybe you would like to test her. She's in the final stages over in Hangar Three. Go over and take a look at the mock-up. See what you think. . ." On the ground floor in front of a door marked KEEP OUT. SECRET PROJECT MX656. . . . — The Lonely Sky, by William Bridgeman and Jacqueline Hazard, Cassell and Company Limited, London, 1956, Chapter XXIII at Page 276.
Mock-up of the Douglas X-3 (U.S. Air Force)
William B. Bridgeman with the Douglas X-3.
William B. Bridgeman with the Douglas X-3.

“Then one morning Johnny called me to his office. ‘Bill, we would like you to take a look at the X-3. Maybe you would like to test her. She’s in the final stages over in Hangar Three. Go over and take a look at the mock-up. See what you think. . . ‘ On the ground floor in front of a door marked KEEP OUT. SECRET PROJECT MX656. . .

“I climbed aboard. In order to get into the cockpit, the seat was mechanically lowered to the ground. There was a button to raise the elevator. It buzzed ominously as it very slowly lifted me into the nose. Visibility was extremely poor from her windows, they were faired-in exaggerations of the Skyrocket slits. It was impossible to see the ground. The thin, insecure looking wings were so far behind me that they were out of sight. It would take some weighing to decide whether or not I wanted to bet my life on the integrity of this ship. . .

“I was afraid to take on this airplane. I was also afraid someone else would accept the challenge. And I was afraid that I would decide to accept it.”

The Lonely Sky, William Bridgeman with Jacqueline Hazard, Cassell and Company Limited, London, 1956, Chapter XXIII at Page 276–278.

Douglas X-3 Stilleto

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

Three-view drawing of the Douglas X-3. (NASA)
Three-view drawing of the Douglas X-3. (NASA)

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J34 engines, and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. The X-3′s highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. It was therefore never able to be used in flight testing the supersonic speed range for which it was designed.

The X-3 was prone to Inertial Roll Coupling, a newly discovered and very dangerous situation in which an aircraft goes out of control in all three axes. Because of its design characteristics—a very long, thin, fuselage, small wings and tail surfaces, and concentrated mass—the X-3 was very useful in exploring stability and control in the transonic range.

At one point, replacing the X-3’s turbojet engines with two Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engines was considered. Predictions were that a rocket-powered X-3 could reach Mach 4.2. However, with Mach 2 Lockheed F-104 becoming operational and North American Aviation’s X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane under construction, the idea was dropped. Technology had passed the X-3 by.

Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed. In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA test pilot Joseph A. Walker.

After the flight test program came to an end in May 1956, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Douglas X-3 in flight, just a few feet above the dry lake bed at Edwards AFB, California. (Cropped from a LIFE Magazine image at Jet Pilot Overseas)
The Douglas X-3 in flight, just a few feet above the dry lake bed at Edwards AFB, California. (Cropped detail from a LIFE Magazine image at Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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