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
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.
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. . .
“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.
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).
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.
3 October 1953: Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, a test pilot assigned to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flew the second prototype of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 124587, over a three kilometer course at the Salton Sea, California. Flying at approximately 150 feet (46 meters), Commander Verdin made four passes, with two in each direction. He set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 3-kilometer course, averaging 1,211.75 kilometers per hour (752.95 miles per hour).¹
The runs were measured at 746.075, 761.414, 746.053 and 759.498 miles per hour (1,200.691, 1,225.377, 1,200.656, and 1,222.294 kilometers per hour). The total elapsed time for the flight, from take off to landing at NAS El Centro, was 20 minutes, 25 seconds. The XF4D-1 burned 575 gallons (2,177 liters) of fuel.
In an interview with famed writer Bob Considine for his newspaper column, Verdin said,
“Douglas had its high priced help there at the course, and they iced my fuel for the Skyray while I took a look at the course from a Grumman Cougar,” he remembered. “They ice the fuel because that shrinks it and you can pack more in.
“We towed her out to the starting line to save the stuff. Didn’t even use blocks on the wheels after the engine was started. Just started rolling. I was in the air a little over a minute after the engine started, and headed for the measured course, 40 miles away.
“It was marked for me by smudge pots and burning tires, and orange-red markers to tell me when to turn off my afterburner, which eats fuel like crazy. About five miles short of the line I was doing 620 and turned on the afterburner. It gave me another hundred miles an hour right away, and I held her steady and low over the course. It doesn’t take long. . . about nine seconds for the just under two miles.”
—Bob Considine, On the Line—By Considine, International News Service, published in The Daily Review, Hayward, California, Vol. 62, No. 21, 20 October 1953, Page 14 at Columns 1–3
The Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine delta-winged fighter powered by a turbojet engine. It had retractable tricycle landing gear and was to operate off of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers as a high altitude interceptor. The Skyray was designed by the legendary Ed Heinemann, for which he was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1954. Two prototypes were built (Bu.Nos. 124586, 124587). It was a delta-winged aircraft, though the wingtips were significantly rounded.
The Douglas F4D-1 Skyray was 45 feet, 4¾ inches (13.837 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters). The empty weight was 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,116 pounds (12,300 kilograms).
Originally built with Allison J35-A-17 turbojet engines, both prototypes later had a Westinghouse J40-WE-8 afterburning turbojet installed. The Skyray was equipped with the Westinghouse engine when it set the speed record. Production Skyrays used a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 afterburning turbojet.
The Westinghouse J40-W-8 was a single-shaft, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. It produced 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons) at 7,600 r.p.m. The engine was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) long, 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).
The F4D-1 was the first U.S. Navy fighter able to reach supersonic speeds in level flight. The production aircraft had a maximum speed of 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour), and service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16.764 meters). Its rate of climb was 18,300 feet per minute (92.97 meters per second) and the maximum range was 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).
The Skyray was armed with four Colt Mk 12 20 mm autocannon, with 65 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could also carry 2.75-inch FFAR rockets, four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, or two 2,000 pound (1,588 kilogram) bombs.
The Douglas Aircraft Company built 420 F4D-1 Skyrays. They were in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps from 1956 until 1964.
The record-setting XF4D-1 was transferred to General Electric in July 1955 and used to test GE’s J79 afterburning turbojet engine and the commercial CJ805.
XF4D-1 Bu. No. 124587 was returned to the Navy in May 1960. It is on display at the U.S. Navy Museum of Armament and Technology, NAWS China Lake, California.
James Bernard Verdin was born in Montana, 23 February 1918, the son of James Harris Verdin, a farmer, and Nellie Cambron Verdin. He entered the United States Navy as a Seaman, 2nd Class, 11 July 1941. His enlistment was terminated 7 January 1942 and he was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. He was assigned to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, for flight training. Verdin was commissioned as an Ensign, 18 June 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade), 1 May 1943, and then promoted to Lieutenant, 1 July 1944.
During World War II, Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, U.S.N., was a fighter pilot flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, assigned to VF-20 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6). He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while service as a Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY (VF-20), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), on a strike against the Japanese Fleet during the Battle for Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944, in the Philippine Islands. With complete disregard for his own personal safety and in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, Lieutenant Verdin attacked and scored a direct bomb hit on an enemy battleship. His outstanding courage and determined skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 046. 31 January 1945
Lieutenant Verdin flew more than 100 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In addition to the Navy Cross, Lieutenant Commander Verdin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one gold star, and the Air Medal with five gold stars.
Verdin left the Navy in 1954 and joined Douglas as a test pilot, June 1954.
He married Miss Kathryn and they lived in Coronado, California, near NAS North Island. They had one child. They divorced in 1948. Later, he married his second wife, Miss Muriel Carolyn Larson. They had three children and lived in Brentwood, California.
While testing a Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137815, 13 January 1955, Lieutenant Commander Verdin encountered violent vibrations during a high speed run near Victorville, California. He was forced to eject, but his parachute failed to open and he was killed. His body was not found until the following day, located 2½ miles from the crash site. Verdin was 37 years old. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.
The Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949, after fifteen months. In total the United States Air Force, United States Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force delivered 2,334,374 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 280,290 flights to Berlin.
At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.
1 September 1968: Two U.S. Air Force McDonnell F-4D Phantom II fighters were on a pre-dawn strike against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, near the Ban Karai Pass. Both Phantoms, call signs CARTER 01 and CARTER 02, were hit by anti-aircraft gunfire and their crews had to eject. Both pilots from CARTER 01 were quickly picked up, but the aircraft commander of CARTER 02 was hidden by the jungle. The Weapons System Officer was never seen again.
A Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission was immediately sent out to locate and rescue the missing airmen. Two Sikorsky HH-3 Jolly Green Giant helicopters, the recovery team, were escorted by four Douglas A-1 Skyraiders to help in the search and to suppress any enemy gunfire that was trying to shoot down the rescue helicopters.
The Skyraider was a Korean War era carrier-based attack airplane originally in service with the U.S. Navy. It had been replaced by modern jet aircraft, but the Air Force found that its slow flight and ability to carry a heavy fuel and weapons load were ideal for the CSAR escort mission.
The four Skyraiders were from the 602nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhom Phanom, Thailand. They operated with the call sign SANDY. Lieutenant Colonel William A. Jones III, the squadron commanding officer, on his 98th combat mission, was the on-scene commander flying SANDY 01, an A-1H, serial number 52-139738.
MEDAL OF HONOR JONES, WILLIAM A., III
Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Air Force, 602d Special Operations Squadron, Nakon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand
Place and date: Near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam, 1 September 1968
Entered service at: Charlottesville, Virginia
Born: 31 May 1922, Norfolk, Virginia
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Col Jones distinguished himself as the pilot of an A-1H Skyraider aircraft near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. On that day, as the on-scene commander in the attempted rescue of a downed U.S. pilot, Col. Jones aircraft was repeatedly hit by heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. On 1 of his low passes, Col. Jones felt an explosion beneath his aircraft and his cockpit rapidly filled with smoke. With complete disregard of the possibility that his aircraft might still be burning, he unhesitatingly continued his search for the downed pilot. On this pass, he sighted the survivor and a multiple-barrel gun position firing at him from near the top of a karst formation. He could not attack the gun position on that pass for fear he would endanger the downed pilot. Leaving himself exposed to the gun position, Col. Jones attacked the position with cannon and rocket fire on 2 successive passes. On his second pass, the aircraft was hit with multiple rounds of automatic weapons fire. One round impacted the Yankee Extraction System rocket mounted directly behind the headrest, igniting the rocket. His aircraft was observed to burst into flames in the center fuselage section, with flame engulfing the cockpit area. He pulled the extraction handle, jettisoning the canopy. The influx of fresh air made the fire burn with greater intensity for a few moments, but since the rocket motor had already burned, the extraction system did not pull Col. Jones from the aircraft. Despite searing pains from severe burns sustained on his arms, hand, neck, shoulders, and face, Col. Jones pulled his aircraft into a climb and attempted to transmit the location of the downed pilot and the enemy gun position to the other aircraft in the area. His calls were blocked by other aircraft transmissions repeatedly directing him to bail out and within seconds his transmitters were disabled and he could receive only on 1 channel. Completely disregarding his injuries, he elected to fly his crippled aircraft back to his base and pass on essential information for the rescue rather than ball out. Col. Jones successfully landed his heavily damaged aircraft and passed the information to a debriefing officer while on the operating table. As a result of his heroic actions and complete disregard for his personal safety, the downed pilot was rescued later in the day. Col. Jones’ profound concern for his fellow man at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of this country.
The United States Navy and Marine Corps adopted the Douglas Aircraft Company AD-1 Skyraider just after the end of World War II. The U.S. Air Force recognized its value as a close air support attack bomber, but it wasn’t until the early months of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War that a number of Skyraiders were transferred to the U.S.A.F. These aircraft were identified by Department of the Navy, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers, commonly referred to as “bureau numbers,” or “bu. no.” Once acquired by the Air Force, the two-digit fiscal year number in which the airplane was contracted was added to the bureau number, resulting in a serial number with a format similar to a standard U.S.A.F. serial number. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Jones’ Skyraider, A-1H 52-139738, was originally U.S. Navy AD-6 Skyraider Bu. No. 139738, authorized in 1952. (The Douglas AD series was redesignated A-1 in 1962.)
The Douglas AD-6 (A-1H) Skyraider is a single-place, single-engine attack aircraft. A low-wing monoplane with conventional landing gear, it has folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers. The A-1H Skyraider is 39 feet, 3 inches long (11.963 meters) with a wingspan of 50 feet, ¼ inch (15.246 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 8 inches (4.775 meters). Its empty weight is 12,070 pounds (5,475 kilograms) and the maximum weight is 24,000 pounds (10,886 kilograms).
The A-1H is powered by a 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-26WA Duplex-Cyclone (Cyclone 18 836C18CA1) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine, with water/alcohol injection. This engine has a normal power rating of 2,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m at 6,200 feet (1,890 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 2,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. to 3,700 feet (1,128 meters). The engine drives a 13 foot, 6 inch (4.115 meters) diameter, four-bladed Aeroproducts constant-speed propeller though a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The engine is 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 6.81 inches (2.002 meters) long. It weighs 2,848 pounds (1,292 kilograms), dry.
The A-1H Skyraider has a cruise speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour), a maximum speed of 319 miles per hour (513 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 342 miles per hour (550 kilometers per hour) at 15,400 feet (4,694 meters). The ceiling is 29,400 feet (8,961 meters). Carrying a 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bomb load, its combat radius is 275 miles (443 kilometers).
The A-1H is armed with four 20 mm M2 autocannon, with two in each outboard wing. The Skyraider can carry a combination of external fuel tanks, gun pods, bombs or rockets on 15 hardpoints.
Douglas built 713 AD-6 Skyraiders at Santa Monica, California.