Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

11 May 1964

Jackie Cochran and Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran and Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)

11 May 1964: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline Cochran flew a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 62-12222, to 2,300.23 kilometers per hour (1,429.30 miles per hour)—Mach 2.16—over a straight 15 to 25 kilometer course. She was the first woman to fly faster than Mach 2 and she set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record. ¹

Jackie Cochran taxiing Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran taxiing Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)

Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 15/25 kilometer straight course in her autobiography:

Picture in your mind a rectangular tunnel, 300 feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, and extending 20 miles long through the air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I had to fly through that tunnel at top speed without touching a side. There were no walls to see but radar and ground instruments let me know my mistakes immediately. Up there at 35,000 feet the temperature would be about 45 degrees below zero. Not pleasant but perfect for what I was doing. Inside the plane you are hot because of the friction of speeding through the air like that. The cockpit was air-conditioned, but when you descend, things happen so fast the plane’s air-cooling system can’t keep up with it. I was always hot and perspiring back on the ground.

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.

Cochran set three speed records with this F-104G in May and June 1964. Under the Military Assistance Program, the U.S. Air Force transferred it to the Republic of China Air Force, where it was assigned number 4322. It crashed 17 July 1981.

The record-setting Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, USAF serial number 62-12222, in service with the Republic of China Air Force as 4322.
The record-setting Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, USAF serial number 62-12222, in service with the Republic of China Air Force as 4322.

The F-104G was the final production version of the Lockheed Starfighter. Rather than an interceptor, the G-model was a fighter bomber, with a strengthened fuselage and wings, and hardpoints for carrying bombs and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.

The F-104G was a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).

The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).

The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers) The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)
General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)

Armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition. Up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles can be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles, two wingtip fuel tanks and another two under wing tanks could be carried.

On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb mounted on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton.

Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)
Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13041

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

1 May 1963

Jackie Cochran with the Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, N104L. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with the Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, N104L. (FAI)

1 May 1963: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, Colonel, U.S. Air Force Reserve, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record when she flew this two-place Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, FAA registration N104L, named Free World Defender, over a 100-kilometer (62.137-mile) closed circuit at an average speed of 1,937.15 kilometers per hour (1,203.69 miles per hour).¹

Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 100-kilometer course in her autobiography:

The 100 kilometer closed course was so damn difficult. Imagine an absolutely circular racetrack, about a quarter of a mile wide, on the ground with an inner fence exactly 63 miles long. Now, in your mind’s eye, leave the track and get into the air at 35,000 feet. Fly it without touching the fence in the slightest. It’s tricky because if you get too far away from the inner fence, trying not to touch, you won’t make the speed you need to make the record. And if you get too close, you’ll disqualify yourself.

Eyes are glued to the instrument panel. Ears can hear the voice of the space-positioning officer. You are dealing in fractions of seconds. And your plane isn’t flying in flat position. It’s tipped over to an 80-degree bank to compensate for the circle. That imaginary inner fence may be to your left, but you don’t head your plane left. That’d lose altitude. Instead, you pull the nose up a bit and because the plane is so banked over, you move closer to the fence. You turn.

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.

She had flown this same F-104 to an earlier speed record at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 April 1963.

N104L was retained by Lockheed for use as a customer demonstrator to various foreign governments. In 1965 Lockheed sold N104L to the Dutch Air Force, where it served as D-5702 until 1980. It next went to the Turkish Air Force until it was retired in 1989.

Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter N104L, World Speed Record holder. (Lockheed)
Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter N104L, World Speed Record holder. (Lockheed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12390

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

30 April 1962

Joseph A. Walker, NASA Chief Research Test Pilot

30 April 1962: The Chief Research Test Pilot at NASA’s High Speed Flight Station, Joseph Albert Walker, flew the first North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research aircraft, 56-6670, on its twenty-seventh flight. This was Flight 52 of the NASA X-15 Hypersonic Research Program. The purpose of this test flight was to explore aerodynamic heating and stability at very high altitudes.

At an altitude of approximately 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) over Mud Lake, Nevada, the X-15 was released from Balls 8, the NB-52B drop ship, at 10:23:20.0 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time.

This NASA image depicts three X-15 flight profiles. Mud Lake, Nevada, is near the right edge of the image. (NASA)

Walker started the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. The planned burn time was 81.0 seconds, but the engine ran slightly longer: 81.6 seconds. Even with the longer burn, the X-15 undershot the planned speed of Mach 5.35 and peak altitude of 255,000 feet (77,724 meters). The actual maximum speed for this flight was Mach 4.94, and maximum altitude, 246,700 feet (75,194 meters). Walker landed on Rogers Dry Lake. The total duration of Flight 52 was 9 minutes, 46.2 seconds.

Even though the peak altitude reached by the X-15 was 8,300 feet (2,530 meters) lower than expected, Joe Walker established a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude Gain, Aeroplane Launched from a Carrier Aircraft, of 61,493 meters (201,749 feet).¹

Joe Walker with the Number 2 North American Aviation X-15, 56-6671, on Rogers Dry Lake. Walker is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit (NASA)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10356

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

30 April 1953

North American Aviation YF-86H-1-NA Sabre 52-1975 during a test flight. A long pitot boom is used for initial instrument calibration. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-86H-1-NA Sabre 52-1975 fighter bomber at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

30 April 1952, the first North American Aviation F-86H Sabre fighter bomber, YF-86H-1-NA 52-1975, made its first flight with test pilot Joseph A. Lynch, Jr., in the cockpit. It was flown from the Inglewood, California, factory to Edwards Air Force Base for evaluation and testing.

While the F-86A, E and F Sabres were air superiority fighters and the F-86D and L were all-weather interceptors, the F-86H was a fighter bomber, designed to attack targets on the ground with guns, bombs and rockets.

Larger and with a maximum gross weight nearly 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) heavier than an F-86F, the H model’s J73 engine provided almost 40% more thrust. The engine was larger that the J47 used in previous F-86 models, and this required a much larger air intake and airframe modifications. The fuselage was 6 inches deeper and two feet longer than the F-86F. This accommodated the new engine and an increase in fuel load. The tail surfaces were changed with an increase in the height of the vertical fin and the elevators were changed to an “all-flying” horizontal stabilizer. Though it’s top speed was only marginally faster, the F-86H could take off in a shorter distance and climb faster with a higher service ceiling than the earlier models.

Joseph Lynch
Joseph A. Lynch, Jr.

The two pre-production aircraft were built at Inglewood, California, but all production airplanes were built at Columbus, Ohio. The serial numbers of those F-86H Sabres have the suffix -NH.

The North American Aviation F-86H Sabre was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters). Empty weight was 13,836 pounds (6,276 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,296 pounds (11,021 kilograms).

The F-86H was powered by a General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, turbojet engine, which used a 12-stage compressor section with variable inlet vanes, 10 combustion chambers and 2-stage turbine section. It produced 8,920 pounds of thrust (39.68 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m.  (5-minute limit). The J73 was 12 feet, 3.2 inches (3.739 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.8 inches (0.935 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,650 pounds (1,656 kilograms).

North American Aviation F-86H-10-NH Sabre 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86H had a maximum speed of 601 knots (692 miles per hour/1,113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 536 knots (617 miles per hour (993 kilometers) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The fighter bomber had an initial rate of climb of 12,900 feet per minute (65.53 meters per second) and it could reach 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 5.7 minutes. The service ceiling was 50,800 feet (15,484 meters). With a full load of bombs, the F-86H had a combat radius of 350 nautical miles (402 statute miles/648 kilometers) at 470 knots (541 miles per hour (870 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range was 1,573 nautical miles (1,810 statute miles/2,913 kilometers).

The two pre-production YF-86Hs were unarmed. The first ten production airplanes were built with six .50 caliber Browning machine guns, the same as the F-86F Sabre, but the remaining F-86H Sabres were armed with four M39 20 mm revolver autocannon with 600 rounds of ammunition. In ground attack configuration, a maximum bomb load of 2,310 pounds (1,048 kilograms) could be carried, or one 12–24 kiloton Mark 12 “Special Store” that would be delivered by “toss bombing.”

The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954. 473 F-86H Sabres were built before production ended. By 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard. The last one was retired in 1972.

North American Aviation F-86H Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

26 April 1948

est Pilot George Welch flying the prototype North American Aviation XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation test pilot George S. Welch, flying the first of three XP-86 prototypes, serial number 45-59597. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

26 April 1948: At Muroc Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base), in the high desert of southern California, North American Aviation test pilot George Welch put the prototype XP-86 Sabre, 45-59597, into a 40° dive and broke the Sound Barrier. It is only the second U.S. aircraft to fly supersonic. The first was the Bell X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, only a few months earlier.

Or, maybe not.

In his book, Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, fellow North American Aviation test pilot Albert W. Blackburn makes the case that George Welch had taken the prototype XP-86 Sabre supersonic on its first flight, 1 October 1947, and that he had done so three times before Chuck Yeager first broke the Sound Barrier with the Bell X-1 rocketplane, 14 October 1947. Blackburn described two runs through the NACA radar theodolite with speeds of Mach 1.02 and 1.04 on 13 November 1947.

Mr. Blackburn speculates—convincingly, in my opinion—that Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington, Jr., ordered that Welch’s excursions beyond Mach 1 were to remain secret. However, during a radio interview, British test pilot Wing Commander Roland Prosper (“Bee”) Beamont, C.B.E, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, stated that he had flown through the Sound Barrier in the number two XP-86 Sabre prototype (45-59598). Once that news became public, the U.S. Air Force released a statement that George Welch had flown beyond Mach 1 earlier, but gave the date as 26 April 1948.

Test pilot George S. Welch, wearing his distinctive orange helmet, in the cockpit of the prototype XP-86. This photograph was taken 14 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilot George S. Welch, wearing his distinctive orange helmet, in the cockpit of the prototype XP-86. This photograph was taken 14 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)

It wasn’t long after the first flight of the XP-86 on October 1, 1947, that Welch dropped into Horkey’s [Edward J. Horkey, an aerodynamicist at North American Aviation] office at the Inglewood plant. He wanted to talk about his recent flight and some “funny” readings in the airspeed indicator. He had made a straight-out climb to more than 35,000 feet. Then, turning back toward Muroc Dry Lake, he began a full-power, fairly steep descent.

“I started at about 290 knots,” Welch was explaining to Horkey. “In no time I’m at 350. I’m still going down, and I’m still accelerating but the airspeed indicator seems stuck like there’s some kind of obstruction in the pitot tube. I push over a little steeper and by this time I’m through 30,000 feet. All of a sudden, the airspeed indicator flips to 410 knots. The aircraft feels fine, no funny noises, no vibration. Wanted to roll off to the left, but no big deal. Still, I leveled out at about 25,000 and came back on the power. The airspeed flicked back to 390. What do you think?”

“. . . You may be running into some Mach effects. . . .”

— Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, 1999, at Pages 147–148.

The “funny” reading of the airspeed indicator became known as the “Mach jump.” George Welch was the first to describe it.

The Sabre became a legendary jet fighter during the Korean War. 9,860 were built by North American, as well as by licensees in Canada, Australia and Japan.

George Welch had been recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions as a P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot in Hawaii, December 7, 1941. He was killed while testing a North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

Test pilot George S. Welch with a North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes