Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

14 January 1962

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner. (U.S. Air Force)

14 January 1961: Lt. Col. Harold E. Confer, Lt. Col. Richard Weir and Major Howard Bialas, flying Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Roadrunner, obliterated the FAI closed-course speed records established only two days earlier by another B-58 crew flying 59-2442. They averaged 2,067.58 kilometers per hour (1,284.73 miles per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer closed circuit, more than 200 miles per hour faster, and set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale records. They were awarded the Thompson Trophy.

59-2441 was sent to The Boneyard in 1970, and along with its sister, 59-2442, scrapped in 1977.

Colonel Harold E. Confer, U.S. Air Force
Colonel Harold E. Confer, U.S. Air Force

FAI Record File Num #4565 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 2 067.58 km/h
Date: 1961-01-14
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Harold E. Confer (USA)
Aeroplane: Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF 92-441)
Engines: 4 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #4566 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 1 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 067.58 km/h
Date: 1961-01-14
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Harold E. Confer (USA)
Aeroplane: Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF 92-441)
Engines: 4 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #4567 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 2 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 067.58 km/h
Date: 1961-01-14
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Harold E. Confer (USA)
Aeroplane: Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF 92-441)
Engines: 4 G E J79

Thompson Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Thompson Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

The B-58 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 wing’s leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and 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. Four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, producing 15,000 pounds of thrust, each, are suspended under the wings from pylons. The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

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

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner, at Davis-Monthan AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner, at Davis-Monthan AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 January 1956

Lieutenant Barty R. Brooks, USAFR, standing on the wing of a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, Korea, 1954. (U.S. Air Force)

10 January 1956: First Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks, United States Air Force Reserve, a pilot assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing, Detachment 12, at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, along with two other pilots from the same unit, Captain Rusty Wilson and Lieutenant Crawford Shockley, picked up three brand new F-100C Super Sabre fighters at the North American Aviation Inc. assembly plant at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. It was to be a short flight, as these three jets were being taken to nearby George Air Force Base, Adelanto, California, only 42.5 miles (68.4 kilometers) to the east. Brooks was flying F-100C-20-NA, serial number 54-1907.

This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors ling is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at teh center hinge. Thi spin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been reinstalled before Lt. Brooks' flight.
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors link is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at the center hinge. This pin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been secured with a safety pin when it was reinstalled before Lt. Brooks’ flight. (Michael Benolkin)

The brief flight was uneventful until the pilots lowered the landing gear to land at George AFB. One of the other pilots saw that the scissors link joining the upper and lower sections of the nose gear strut on Brooks’ Super Sabre was loose. Concerned that he would not be able to steer the fighter after touching down, Brooks diverted to Edward Air Force Base, 36 miles (57 kilometers) to the northwest, where a larger runway and more emergency equipment was available. Captain Wilson escorted Lieutenant Brooks to Edwards.

The F-100C Super Sabre had no flaps and required a high speed landing approach. Lieutenant Brooks had only 674 total flight hours as a pilot, and just 39 hours in the F-100.

During his final approach to the runway Brooks allowed the fighter to slow too much and the outer portion of the wings stalled and lost lift. This shifted the wings’ center of lift forward, which caused the airplane to pitch up, causing even more of the outer wing to stall.

Lieutenant Brooks fought to regain control of the airplane, but he was unable to. At 4:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, the F-100 crashed on the runway and exploded. Barty Ray Brooks was killed.

Edwards Air Force Base is the center of flight testing for the U.S. Air Force. In preparation for a test later that afternoon, the base film crews had their equipment set up along the runway and captured the last seconds of Brook’s flight on film. This is the most widely seen crash footage, and is still in use in pilot training. It is named “The Sabre Dance.”

Still image from cine film of Barty Brooks’ F-100C Super Sabre just before it crashed at Edwards Air Force Base, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Barty Ray Brooks was born in Martha Township,  Oklahoma, 2 December 1929. He was the third child of Benjamin Barto Brooks, a farmer, and Maye Henry Brooks. The family later moved to Lewisville, Texas. Brooks graduated from Lewisville High School in 1948, then studied agriculture at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Barty Ray Brooks, 1950. (Aggieland ’50)

While at Texas A&M, Brooks was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.). On graduation, 30 May 1952, Brooks was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve.

Lieutenant Brooks was trained as a pilot at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, and Laredo Air Force Base, Texas. In 1954, he was assigned to the 311th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 58th Fighter Bomber Group, Taegu Air Base (K-2), Republic of South Korea. Brooks flew the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. When he returned to the United States he was assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing.

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks were interred at the Round Grove Cemetery, Lewisville, Texas.

The article, “The Deadly Sabre Dance,” by Alan Cockrell is highly recommended:

http://www.historynet.com/deadly-sabre-dance.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 December 1956

Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

26 December 1956: Convair’s Chief Test Pilot, Richard Lowe Johnson (1917–2002,) made the first flight of the Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart, U.S. Air Force serial number 56-451, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. It reached 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and 0.8 Mach during the 20-minute flight, which had to be aborted due to mechanical problems.

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 makes its first flight at Edwards AFB 26 December 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Built at the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California, the delta-winged interceptor was trucked to Edwards on 14 December and prepared for its first flight.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart 56-451 was loaded on a trailer at the Convair plant in San Diego, California, 14 December 1956, to be transported to Edwards Air Force Base for its first flight. (SDASM)

The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was the primary all-weather interceptor of the United States Air Force from 1959 to 1988, when it was withdrawn from service with the Air National Guard. It was a single-seat, single-engine delta-winged aircraft capable of speeds above Mach 2.

The airplane was a development of the earlier F-102A Delta Dagger, and was initially designated F-102B. However, so many changes were made that it was considered to be a new aircraft.

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 during a test flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. It is marked with high-visibility orange paint. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-106A is 70 feet, 8.78 inches (21.559 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 3.5 inches (11.671 meters). The total area of the delta wing is 697.83 square feet (64.83 square meters). The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 60°. The top of the vertical fin was 20 feet, 3.3 inches (6.180 meters) high. The Delta Dart weighs 23,646 pounds (10,726 kilograms) empty, and has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 38,729 pounds (17,567 kilograms).

Convair F-106A Delta Dart three-view illustration with dimensions. (SDASM)
Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451, at Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force via F-106DeltaDart.com)

The F-106 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-17 afterburning turbojet engine. The J75-P-17 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with afterburner. It used a 15-stage compressor section (8 high- and 7 low-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2-low pressure stages). The J75-P-17 had a maximum continuous power rating of 14,100 pounds of thrust (62.72 kilonewtons), and military power rating of 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). It produced a maximum of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 3 feet, 8.25 inches (1.124 meters) in diameter, 19 feet, 9.6 inches long (6.035 meters), and weighed 5,875 pounds (2,665 kilograms).

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The interceptor has a cruise speed of 530 knots (610 miles per hour/982 kilometers per hour). and a maximum speed of 1,153 knots 1,327 miles per hour/2,135 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The F-106A had a service ceiling is 53,800 feet (16,398 meters) and a rate of climb of 48,900 feet per minute (248 meters per second). Its combat radius was 530 nautical miles (610 statute miles/982 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 1,843 nautical miles (2,121 statute miles/3,413 kilometers).

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (SDASM)
Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 with a drag chute deployed to slow the airplane after landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (SDASM)

The Delta Dart was armed with four GAR-3A radar-homing, or -4A (AIM-4F, -4G) infrared-homing Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, and one MB-1 (AIM-2A) Genie unguided rocket with a 1.5 kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead. The missiles were carried in an internal weapons bay. In 1972, the General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon was added to the rear weapons bay with 650 rounds of ammunition. (The number of gun-equipped Delta Darts is uncertain.)

Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart 56-451 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force via F-106DeltaDart.com)

Convair built 342 F-106 interceptors. 277 were F-106As and the remainder were F-106B two-seat trainers.

56-451, the first F-106A to fly, was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 1960. In 1989, it was transferred to Selfridge Air Museum, near Mount Clemens, Michigan, marked as 59-0082 of the 171st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Michigan Air National Guard.

The first F-106, Convair F-106A-1-CO Delta Dart, 56-451, in the markings of the 171st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Michigan Air National Guard, displayed at the Selfridge Military Air Museum, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mount Clemens, Michigan. (TSGT Robert Hanet/Air National Guard 121013-Z-NJ721-180)
Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson in the cockpit of an F-106A Delta Dart. (SDASM)

Richard Lowe Johnson ¹ was born at Cooperstown, North Dakota, 21 September 1917. He was the eighth of nine children of Swedish immigrants, John N. Johnson, a farmer, and Elna Kristina Helgesten Johnson, a seamstress.

Dick Johnson attended Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, as a member of the Class of 1943. He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ) fraternity. Johnson was a pitcher for the college baseball team, and later, played for the Boston Red Sox “farm” (minor league) system.

On 18 June 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. On 5 November, he was appointed an aviation cadet and assigned to flight training.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Juanita Blanche Carter, 17 April 1943, at Ocala, Florida. The civil ceremony was officiated by Judge D. R. Smith.

After completing flight training, on 1 October 1943, Richard L. Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Lieutenant Johnson was assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, in North Africa, Corsica, and Italy, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 August 1944, and just over three months later, 26 November 1944, to the rank of captain, A.U.S. On 14 May 1945, Captain Johnson was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (Major Johnson was assigned a permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 5 July 1946, with a date of rank retroactive to 21 September 1945.)

Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt 42-26421, assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter group, Twelfth Air Force. This airplane was purchased by the employees of Republic Aviation. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 25505)

During World War II, Major Johnson flew 180 combat missions with the 66th Fighter Squadron. He is officially credited with one air-to-air victory, 1 July 1944. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (3 awards), and the Air Medal with twelve oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards).

In 1946, was assigned to the Air Materiel Command Engineering Test Pilot School at the Army Air Forces Technical Base, Dayton, Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.”

A few weeks after arriving at Dayton, Major Johnson met Miss Alvina Conway Huester, the daughter of an officer in the U.S. Navy. Dick Johnson and his wife Juanita were divorced 8 January 1947, and he married Miss Huester in a ceremony in Henry County, Indiana, 10 January 1947. They would have three children, Kristie, Lisa and Richard.

Richard L. Johnson waves from the cockpit of the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, 47-611.

Dick Johnson set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,² flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

During the Korean War, Major Johnson was sent to the war zone to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86 Sabre. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger 52-7994. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for the Convair Division of General Dynamics. He made the first flights of the YF-102 Delta Dagger, 24 October 1953, and the F-106A Delta Dart, 26 December 1956. He also made the first flight of the General Dynamics F-111 on 21 December 1964.

In 1955, Johnson was one of the six founding members of the Society of Experimental test Pilots.

Dick Johnson made the first flight of the General Dynamics F-111A, 63-9766, from Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, 21 December 1964. (U.S. Air Force)

Dick Johnson was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the General Dynamics F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1967, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded Johnson its Iven C. Kincheloe Award for his work on the F-111 program. In 1977, Dick Johnson, then the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired.

In 1998, Dick Johnson was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor at Lancaster, California. His commemorative monument is located in front of the Lancaster Public Library on W. Lancaster Boulevard, just West of Cedar Avenue. ³

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force, (Retired), died 9 November 2002 at Fort Worth, Texas. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on 7 January 2003.

Chief Test Pilot Dick Johnson in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler. (Courtesy if Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

¹ Several sources spell Johnson’s middle name as “Loe.”

² FAI Record File Number 9866

³ Various Internet sources repeat the statement that “Richard Johnson has been honored with. . . the Thompson Trophy, Mackay Trophy, Flying Tiger Trophy, Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal and Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. . . .” TDiA has checked the lists of awardees of each of the appropriate organizations and has not found any support for the statement.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 December 1974

The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, takes off at AF Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 23 December 1974. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, takes off at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 23 December 1974. (U.S. Air Force)

23 December 1974: The first of four prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer Mach 2.2 strategic bombers, serial number 74-0158, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. The aircraft commander was company test pilot Charles C. Bock, Jr. (Colonel, U.S. Air Force, retired) with pilot Colonel Emil Sturmthal, U.S. Air Force, and flight test engineer Richard Abrams. After basic flight evaluation, the B-1A landed at Edwards Air Force Base, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) to the northeast of Palmdale.

Rockwell B-1A 74-0158 with a General Dynamics F-111 chase plane, landing at Edwards Air Force base. (U.S. Air Force)
Rockwell B-1A 74-0158 with a General Dynamics F-111 chase plane, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The Rockwell International B-1A Lancer was designed to operate with a flight crew of four. It was 150 feet, 2.5 inches (45.784 meters) long. With the wings fully swept, the span was 78 feet, 2.5 inches (23.838 meters), and extended, 136 feet, 8.5 inches (41.669 meters). The tip of the vertical fin was 33 feet, 7.25 inches (10.243 meters) high. The wings have an angle of incidence of 2°,  with 1° 56′ anhedral and -2° twist. The leading edges were swept to 15° when extended, and 67½°, fully swept. The total wing area is 1,946 square feet (180.8 square meters).

The empty weight of the B-1A was approximately 173,000 pounds (78,472 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 389,800 pounds (176,810 kilograms), but once airborne it could take on additional fuel up to a maximum weight of 422,000 pounds (191,416 kilograms).

The Lancer was powered by four General Electric F101-GE-100 afterburning turbofan engines. This is an axial-flow engine with a 2-stage fan section, 9-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It is rated at 16,150 pounds of thrust (71.839 kilonewtons), and 29,850 pounds (132.779 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The F101-GE-100 is 15 feet, 0.7 inches (4.590 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.2 inches (1.402 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms).

The bomber’s maximum speed was 1,262 knots 1,452 miles per hour/2,337 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.2—at an optimum altitude of 53,000 feet (16,154 meters), its combat ceiling. The B-1A’s combat range was 5,675 nautical miles (6,531 statute miles/10,510 kilometers) The maximum ferry range was 6,242 nautical miles (7,183 statute miles/11,560 kilometers).

The B-1A was designed to carry 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms) of bombs in an internal bomb bay. It could carry a maximum of 84 MK-82 conventional explosive bombs. For a nuclear attack mission, the Lancer could carry 12 B43 free-fall bombs, or 24 B61 or B77 bombs. For a stand-off attack, the bomber could carry 24 AGM-69 SRAM (Short Range Attack Missile) nuclear missiles.

Each of the four prototypes served its own role during testing. 74-0158 was the flight evaluation aircraft.

By the time that the B-1A program was cancelled, 74-0158 had made 79 flights totaling 405.3 hours. It was dismantled and used for weapons training at Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado.

The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, at Edwards AFB. Visual differences of the B-1A that distinguish it from the later B-1B are the long drag link on the nose landing gear, the vertical inlet splitter vanes, black wheels and a long tail cone. On the upper fuselage behind the cockpit are the "elephant ears" intended to stabilize the crew escape capsule. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, at Edwards AFB. Visual differences of the B-1A that distinguish it from the later B-1B are the long drag link on the nose landing gear, the vertical inlet splitter vanes, black wheels and a long tail cone. On the upper fuselage behind the cockpit are the “elephant ears” intended to stabilize the crew escape capsule. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 December 1964

The first Lockheed SR-71A, 61-7950, takes of fo rthe first time at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed SR-71A, 61-7950, takes off for the first time at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. An F-104 Starfighter follows as chase. (Lockheed Martin via habu.org)

22 December 1964: Lockheed test pilot Robert J. “Bob” Gilliland made a solo first flight of the first SR-71A, 61-7950, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. The “Blackbird” flew higher than 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and more than 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 kilometers per hour) before landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 22 miles (35 kilometers) northeast, to begin the flight test program.

Bob Gilliland made the first flight of many of the Lockheed SR-71s. It is reported that he has logged more flight time in excess of Mach 3 than any other pilot.

Robert J. Gillilan (Lockheed)
Blackbird test pilot Robert J. Gilliland, with a Lockheed SR-71A. Gilliland is wearing an S901J full-pressure suit made by “Northeast Manufacturing” (the David Clark Co.) (Lockheed Martin)

The SR-71A Blackbird is a Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft designed and built by Lockheed’s famous (but Top Secret) “Skunk Works” for the United States Air Force. It was developed from the Central Intelligence Agency’s A-12 Oxcart program.

The SR-71A is a two-place aircraft, operated by a Pilot and a Reconnaissance Systems Officer (“RSO”). It uses electronic and optical sensors. The fuselage has a somewhat flattened aspect with chines leading forward from the wings to the nose. The wings are a modified delta, with integral engine nacelles. Two vertical stabilizers are mounted at the aft end of the engine nacelles and cant inward toward the aircraft centerline.

The SR-71A is 107 feet, 5 inches (32.741 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 7 inches (16.942 meters), and overall height of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters). Its empty weight is 67,500 pounds (30,620 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 172,000 pounds (78,020 kilograms).

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7950 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed SR-71A 61-7950 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

The Blackbird is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20 (J58-P-4) turbo-ramjet engines, rated at 25,000 pounds of thrust (111.21 kilonewtons) and 34,000 pounds of thrust (151.24 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The exhaust gas temperature is approximately 3,400 °F. (1,870 °C.). The J58 is a single-spool, axial-flow engine which uses a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J58 is 17 feet, 10 inches (7.436 meters) long and 4 feet, 9 inches (1.448 meters) in diameter. It weighs approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms).

The SR-71A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.3 at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters)—2,199 miles per hour (3,539 kilometers per hour). Its maximum rate of climb is 11,810 feet per minute (60 meters per second), and the service ceiling is 85,000 feet (25,908 meters). The Blackbird’s maximum unrefueled range is 3,680 miles (5,925 kilometers).

Lockheed built 32 SR-71As. They entered service with the 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (later redesignated the 9th SRW) in 1966 and were initially retired in 1989. Several were reactivated in 1995, but finally retired in 1999.

Lockheed SR-71A-LO 61-7950 was lost to fire during a brake system test at Edwards AFB, 10 January 1967.
Lockheed SR-71A-LO 61-7950 was lost to fire during a brake system test at Edwards AFB, 10 January 1967. (Lockheed Martin via habu.org)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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