Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

14 December 1959

Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed F-104C Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed F-104C Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

14 December 1959: Air Force test pilot Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in a Turbojet Aircraft, breaking a record set only 8 days before by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, flying the number two prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260.¹

Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter 56-885. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter 56-885. (U.S. Air Force)

Flying a slightly modified Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter, 56-885, (the aft fuselage had been replaced by one from a two-place F-104B, which had larger tail surfaces), Jordan released the brakes at Edwards Air Force Base, and 15 minutes, 4.92 seconds later he reached 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) establishing an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for time-to-altitude.² The Starfighter continued the zoom climb profile, peaking at 103,389 feet (31,513 meters) ³ and going over the top at 455 knots (843 kilometers per hour). While accelerating for the zoom maneuver, Jordan’s F-104 reached Mach 2.36

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules required that a new record must exceed the previous record by 3%. The Starfighter beat the Phantom II’s peak altitude by 4.95%. Captain Jordan was credited for his very precise flying and energy efficiency. For this flight, Captain Jordan was awarded the Harmon International Trophy.

Flying a slightly modified Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter, 56-885, (the aft fuselage had been replaced by one from a two-place F-104B, which had larger tail surfaces), Jordan released the brakes at Edwards Air Force Base, and 15 minutes, 4.92 seconds later he reached 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) establishing an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for time-to-altitude.² The Starfighter continued the zoom climb profile, peaking at 103,389 feet (31,513 meters) ³ and going over the top at 455 knots (843 kilometers per hour). While accelerating for the zoom maneuver, Jordan’s F-104 reached Mach 2.36

The Harmon International Trophy (NASM)

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules required that a new record must exceed the previous record by 3%. The Starfighter beat the Phantom II’s peak altitude by 4.95%. Captain Jordan was credited for his very precise flying and energy efficiency. For this flight, Captain Jordan was awarded the Harmon International Trophy.

Joe Bailey Jordan was born at Huntsville, Texas, 12 June 1929, the son of James Broughtan Jordan, a track foreman, and Mattie Lee Simms Jordan. He entered the Air Force in 1949, trained as a pilot and received his pilot’s wings 15 September 1950. He flew the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star during the Korean War, and served as a flight instructor after his return to the United States. He was a graduate of both the Air Force Test Pilot School and the Air Force Fighter Weapons School. He became a project test pilot on the F-104 in 1956.

Jordan married Dolores Ann Craig of Spokane, Washington, 8 February 1958, at Santa Monica, California. They had two children, Carrie and Ken.

Colonel Jordan was the first Western pilot to fly the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 interceptor and his evaluations allowed U.S. pilots to exploit the MiG’s weaknesses during the Vietnam War.

While testing General Dynamics F-111A 65-5701, Jordan and his co-pilot were forced to eject in the fighter’s escape capsule when the aircraft caught fire during a gunnery exercise at Edwards AFB, 2 January 1968. His back was injured in the ejection.

After Jordan retired from the Air Force in 1972, he became an engineering test pilot for the Northrop Corporation’s YF-17 flight test program.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bailey Jordan died at Oceanside, California, 22 April 1990, at the age of 60 years. His ashes were spread at Edwards Air Force Base. Jordan Street on the air base is named in his honor.

Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The Lockheed F-104C Starfighter was a tactical strike variant of the F-104A interceptor. The F-104C shared the external dimensions of the F-104A, but weighed slightly less.

The F-104C was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-7 engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-7 is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.482 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.282 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,575 pounds (1,622 kilograms).

The F-104C could carry a 2,000 pound weapon on a centerline hardpoint. It could carry up to four AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles.

On 9 May 1961, near Moron AFB, Spain, Starfighter 56-885 had a flight control failure with stick moving full aft. The pilot was unable to move it forward, resulting in an initial zoom climb followed by unrecoverable tumble. The pilot safely ejected but the airplane crashed and was destroyed.

Captain Joe B. Jordan, USAF, is congratulated by Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier. Captain Bailey is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a ILC Dover MC-2 helmet. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Captain Joe B. Jordan, USAF, is congratulated by Lockheed Chief Engineering Test Pilot Tony LeVier. Captain Bailey is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an ILC Dover MC-2 helmet. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

A short Air Force film of Joe Jordan’s record flight can be seen at:

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352

² FAI Record File Number 9065

³ FAI Record File Number 10354

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 December 1957

Major Adrian E. Drew, U.S. Air Force, 1920–1985. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

12 December 1957: Major Adrian Eason Drew, U.S. Air Force, commanding officer, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) absolute speed record over the 15/25 kilometer course at Edwards Air Force Base, California.¹ Major Drew flew a modified McDonnell F-101A-5-MC Voodoo, serial number 53-2426.

The Voodoo, the ninth production F-101A, had been bailed to Pratt & Whitney by the Air Force to test a new J57-P-55 afterburning turbojet engine intended for the F-101B Voodoo, and it was redesignated JF-101A. The new engine produced 16,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner. The modified aircraft had longer jet exhaust tubes, and air scoops were installed in the belly to provide additional cooling air for the afterburners.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Thompson Trophy. (NASM)

At 39,000 feet (11,887 meters), Major Drew accelerated for 65 miles (105 kilometers) before entering the 10.1 statute mile (16.25 kilometers) course. He made one pass in each direction. Actual time on course, each way, was 29.8 seconds. The official average speed for the two passes is 1,943.5 kilometers per hour (1,207.64 miles per hour). Although the air temperature was -79 °F. (-62 °C.), frictional heating brought the Voodoo’s skin temperature to 190 °F. (88 °C.), high enough to blister the airplane’s paint.

Major Drew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Thompson Trophy for 1957.

Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. [TDiA speculates that the man on the right is Major Drew’s younger brother, Bobby R. Drew.] (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Adrian Eason Drew was born 8 October 1920 in Georgia, the first of six children of John Robert Drew, a farmer, and Ada Elma Eason Drew.

After one year of college, Adrian Drew enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 March 1942, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (1.73 meters) tall and weighed 143 pounds (64.9 kilograms).

On 14 November 1942, Drew married Miss Sarah B. Kaylor in Pinellas County, Florida. They would have three daughters, Nancy, Bonnie and Jo Anne.

Colonel Drew was a combat pilot during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He commanded the 309th Strategic Fighter Squadron from January to October 1955, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. In August 1957, he became the first commanding officer of the 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron at Bergstom Air Force Base,  Austin, Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Drew commanded the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California, from 1962 to 1964, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief, and briefly commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Two weeks before a scheduled promotion to Brigadier General, Colonel Drew suffered a major heart attack and was forced to retire from the Air Force. He died 27 July 1985 at the age of 64 years. He was buried at Shawnee View Gardens Cemetery, Cumming, Georgia.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, holder of the World Absolute Speed Record, 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was originally designed as a single-seat, twin-engine long range bomber escort, or “penetration fighter” for the Strategic Air Command, but was developed as a fighter bomber and reconnaissance airplane. The Voodoo first flew 29 September 1954, and the first F-101A was delivered to the Air Force 2 May 1957.

The F-101A was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). It was 18 feet (5.486 meters) high. The Voodoo weighed 24,970 pounds (11,245 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms).

The standard F-101A was equipped with two Pratt and Whitney J57-P-13 afterburning turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 was rated at 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37, and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The J57-P-55 engines installed in the JF-101A were rated at 10,700 pounds of thrust (49.60 kilonewtons), and 16,900 pounds (75.18 kilonewtons) with afterburner. They were 20 feet,  11.93 inches (6.399 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,215 pounds (2,365 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-101A was 1,009 miles per hour (1,624 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 55,800 feet (17,008 meters). It carried 2,341 gallons (8,862 liters) of fuel internally. With external tanks, the fighter bomber had a maximum range of 2,925 miles (4,707.3 kilometers).

The F-101A was armed with four 20mm Pontiac M39 single-barreled revolver cannon, with 200 rounds per gun. It could carry a Mark 28 bomb on a centerline mount.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426 is on static display at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

A McDonnell Aircraft Corporation film about Operations Sun Run and Fire Wall is available of YouTube:

¹ FAI Record File Number 9064

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 December 1953

Bell X-1A 48-1384 in flight. The frost band on the fuselage shows the location of the cryogenic propellant tank. (U.S. Air Force)

12 December 1953: On its tenth flight, U.S. Air Force test pilot Major Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1A rocket plane to Mach 2.44 (1,621 miles per hour/2,609 kilometers per hour) at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters), faster than anyone had flown before.

After the rocket engine was shut down, the X-1A tumbled out of control—”divergent in three axes” in test pilot speak—and fell out of the sky. It dropped nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in 70 seconds. Yeager was exposed to accelerations of +8 to -1.5 g’s. The motion was so violent that Yeager cracked the rocketplane’s canopy with his flight helmet.

Yeager was finally able to recover by 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.

Yeager later remarked that if the X-1A had an ejection seat he would have used it.

Bell Aircraft Corporation  engineers had warned Yeager not to exceed Mach 2.3.

Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, seated in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A, 48-1384, circa 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

The following is from Major Charles E. Yeager’s official post-flight report:

“After a normal drop at 31,000 feet, chambers #4, #2, and #1 were ignited and [the] airplane was accelerated up to .8 Mach number. A flight path was formed holding .8 Mach number up to 43,000 feet where chamber #3 was ignited and the airplane accelerated in level flight to 1.1 Mach number. A climb was again started passing through 50,000 feet at 1.1 Mach number, 60,000 feet at 1.2 Mach number and a push-over was started at 62,000 feet. The top of the round-out occurred at 76,000 feet and 1.9 Mach number. The airplane was accelerated in level flight up to 2.4 [2.535 indicated] Mach number where all of the rocket chambers were cut. The flight path was very normal and nothing uneventful [sic] happened up to this point. After the engine was cut, the airplane went into a Dutch roll for approximately 2 oscillations and then started rolling to the right at a very rapid rate of roll. Full aileron and opposite rudder were applied with no effect on the rate of roll of the airplane. After approximately 8 to 10 complete rolls, the airplane stopped rolling in the inverted position and after approximately one-half of one second started rolling to the left at a rate in excess of 360 degrees per second, estimated by the pilot. At this point the pilot was completely disoriented and was not sure what maneuvers the airplane went through following the high rates of roll. Several very high ‘g’ loads both positive and negative and side loads were felt by the pilot. At one point during a negative ‘g’ load, the pilot felt the inner liner of the canopy break as the top of his pressure suit helmet came in contact with it. The first maneuver recognized by the pilot was an inverted spin at approximately 33,000 feet. The airplane then fell off into the normal spin from which the pilot recovered at 25,000 feet.”

Flight test data from Yeager's 12 December 1953 flight superimposed over a photograph of the bell X-1A. (NASA)
Flight test data from Yeager’s 12 December 1953 flight superimposed over a photograph of the Bell X-1A. (NASA)

The following is a transcript of radio transmissions during the flight:

Yeager: Illegible [inaudible]—gasping—I’m down to 25,000 over Tehachapi. Don’t know
whether I can get back to the base or not.
Chase (Ridley): At 25,000 feet, Chuck?
Yeager: Can’t say much more, I got to (blurry—save myself).
Yeager: I’m—(illegible)—(Christ!)
Chase (Ridley): What say, Chuck?
Yeager: I say I don’t know if I tore anything up or not but Christ!
Chase (Murray): Tell us where you are if you can.
Yeager: I think I can get back to the base okay, Jack. Boy, I’m not going to do that any more.
Chase (Murray): Try to tell us where you are, Chuck.
Yeager: I’m (gasping)…I’ll tell you in a minute. I got 1800 lbs [nitrogen] source pressure.
Yeager: I don’t think you’ll have to run a structure demonstration on this damned thing!
Chase (Murray): Chuck from Murray, if you can give me altitude and heading, I’ll try to check you from outside.
Yeager: Be down at 18,000 feet. I’m about—I’ll be over the base at about 15,000 feet in a minute.
Chase (Murray): Yes, sir.
Yeager: Those guys were so right!
Yeager: Source pressure is still 15 seconds, I’m getting OK now.
Yeager: I got all the oscillograph data switches off. 4 fps camera off, it’s okay.
Bell Truck: Jettison and vent your tanks.
Yeager: I have already jettisoned. Now I’m venting both lox and fuel. Leaving hydrogen peroxide alone.
Bell Truck: Roger.
Yeager: I cut it, I got—in real bad trouble up there.
Yeager: Over the base right now, Kit, at 14,500 feet.
Chase (Murray): I have you.

A North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre chase plane, 51-2848, follows the Bell X-1A as it glides toward Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
A North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre chase plane, 51-2848, follows the Bell X-1A as it glides toward Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

In his autobiography, Always Another Dawn, NACA test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield wrote:

Probably no other pilot could have come through that experience alive. Much later I asked Yeager, as a matter of professional interest, exactly how he regained control of the ship. He was vague in his reply, but he said he thought that after he reached the thick atmosphere, he had deliberately put the ship into a spin.

“A spin is something I know how to get out of,” he said. “That other business— the tumble—there is no way to figure that out.”

. . . Yeager received many accolades. I didn’t begrudge him one of them. If ever a pilot deserved praise for a job well done, it was Yeager. After that X-1A episode, he never flew a rocketplane again.

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield with Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, Chapter 19 at Pages 183–184.  

Bell X-1A 48-1384 (U.S. Air Force)

The Bell X-1A, 48-1384, was an experimental rocket-powered high-speed, high-altitude research aircraft. It was one of four second-generation X-1s (including the X-1B, X-1D and X-1E), specifically designed to investigate dynamic stability at speeds in excess of Mach 2 and altitudes greater than 90,000 feet. It was a mid-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was 35 feet, 6.58 inches (10.835 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 2.37 inches (3.261 meters). The wheelbase, measured from the nose wheel axle to the main wheel axle, was  13 feet, 5.13 inches. (4.093 meters). The main wheel tread was 4 feet, 3 inches (1.295 meters). The X-1A design gross weight was 10,668 pounds (4,839 kilograms).

The X-1A was powered by a single Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 rocket engine with four independent combustion chambers. The XLR11 was fueled with ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.689 kilonewtons).

The Bell X-1A made its first flight 14 February 1953 with Bell test pilot Jean Ziegler in the cockpit. It reached its highest speed, Mach 2.44 on Flight 10. Its highest altitude was 90,440 feet (27,566 meters) on its 24th flight. On 8 August 1955, while still on board its B-50 drop ship, the X-1A suffered an external explosion. The rocketplane was jettisoned and destroyed when it hit the desert floor.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1959

Lieutenant General Joseph H. Moore (1914–2007)
Lieutenant General Joseph H. Moore, United States Air Force

11 December 1959: Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore, U.S. Air Force, Wing Commander, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record when he flew a Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief, serial number 57-5812, over a closed 100-kilometer (62.137 miles) closed course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Thunderchief averaged 1,878.67 kilometers per hour (1,167.35 miles per hour).¹ General Moore’s fighter bomber was a standard production aircraft and it was armed with a full load of ammunition for the M61 cannon.

FAI Record File Num #8873 [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 100 km without payload
Performance: 1 878.67 km/h
Date: 1959-12-11
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Joseph H. Moore (USA)
Aeroplane: Republic F-105B
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney J-75

Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept to 45° and the fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape. The Thunderchief was 63 feet, 1 inch (19.228 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters). It was 19 feet, 8 inches high (5.994 meters). The F-105 had an empty weight of 27,500 pounds (12,474 kilograms) and a maximum weight of 46,998 pounds (21,318 kilograms).

Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Early production F-105Bs had the Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5 axial-flow turbojet engine. Beginning with the Block 20 aircraft, the more powerful J75-P-19 was installed. The -19 engine was retrofitted to the earlier aircraft. The J75-P-19 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 2-stage turbine section. The J75-P-19 was rated at 16,200 pounds of thrust (72.06 kilonewtons), and 25,000 pounds (111.21 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

Armament consisted of one 20 mm General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun with 1,028 rounds of ammunition. The F-105 could carry up to 8,000 pounds (3,628.7 kilograms) of bombs in an internal bomb bay, or a total of 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) of bombs, rockets or guided missiles on centerline or underwing pylons.

The F-105B had a maximum speed of 1,375 miles per hour (2,213 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 48,100 feet (14,661 meters). Maximum range was 2,200 miles (3,541 kilometers).

Republic Aircraft Corporation built 833 Thunderchiefs for the U.S. Air Force. 75 of those were F-105Bs. 372 F-105s were lost to enemy action in South East Asia.

Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812 served with the 119th Tactical Fighter Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard and was later assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 508th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. One source indicates that the the record-setting F-105B was used as a battle damage repair trainer at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, from October 1980.

Six F-105B-10-REs (6 of 9 block 10 aircraft built) of General Moore's 4th Tactical Fighter Wing parked on the ramp. The stripes on the nose and vertical fin are green. Aircraft are (nearest to farthest) S/N 57-5779, -5780, -5782, -5784, -5781, -5778. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Six F-105B-10-REs (6 of 9 block 10 aircraft built) of General Moore’s 4th Tactical Fighter Wing parked on the ramp. The stripes on the nose and vertical fin are green. Aircraft are (nearest to farthest) 57-5779, -5780, -5782, -5784, -5781, -5778. (U.S. Air Force)
Three Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchiefs, serial numbers 57-5815, 57-5807 and 57-5822, begin their takeoff roll. This is the same block number as the F-105B flown by General Moore for the FAI World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Three Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchiefs, serial numbers 57-5815, 57-5807 and 57-5822, begin their takeoff roll. These are from the same production block as the F-105B flown by General Moore for the FAI World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812, assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (Million Monkey Theater)
The World Speed Record holder, Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812, assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 508th Tactical Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (Million Monkey Theater)

¹ Many sources cite General Moore’s World Record Speed for the 100-kilometer closed course at 1,216.48 miles per hour (1,957.745 kilometers per hour). The FAI’s official web site gives General Moore’s speed as 1,878.67 kilometers per hour (1,167.35 miles per hour). (See above.) Also, many sources (including General Moore’s official Air Force biography) state that General Moore won the Bendix Trophy for this flight. The Bendix Trophy was awarded to the winner of an annual West-to-East transcontinental air race. The Smithsonian Institution indicates that the Bendix Trophy was not awarded for the years 1958, 1959 or 1960.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 December 1963

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, wearing a David Clark Co. A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit, accompanied by Major Ralph N. Richardson of the Aviation Physiology Laboratory, Richardson, walks to a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer at Edwards Air Force base. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, wearing a David Clark Co. A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit, accompanied by Major Ralph N. Richardson of the Aviation Physiology Laboratory, walks to a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer at Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

10 December 1963: In an attempt to set a world absolute altitude record, Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, took a Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter Aerospace Trainer, 56-0762, on a zoom climb profile above 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) at Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California. This was Colonel Yeager’s fourth attempt at the record.

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1963. (U.S. Air Force)

The zoom climb maneuver was planned to begin with the NF-104A in level flight at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The pilot would then accelerate in Military Power and light the afterburner, which increased the J79 turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter was to continue accelerating in level flight. On reaching Mach 2.2, the Colonel Yeager would ignite the Rocketdyne AR2–3 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide to produce 6,600 pounds of thrust (29.36 kilonewtons).

When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Yeager was to begin a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), he would shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. Yeager would then gradually reduce the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), and then shut it down. Without the engine running, cabin pressurization would be lost and his A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit would inflate.

One of the three Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter Aerospace Trainers, 56-756, in a zoom-climb with the rocket engine firing. (U.S. Air Force)
One of the three Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter Aerospace Trainers, 56-756, in a zoom-climb with the rocket engine firing. (U.S. Air Force)

The NF-104A would then continue to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. The pilot had to use the reaction control thrusters to pitch the AST’s nose down before reentering the atmosphere, so that it would be in a -70° dive. The windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes was used to restart the jet engine.

Yeager’s NF-104A out of control. This is a still frame from cine film shot at a distance of 20 miles (32 kilometers). (U.S. Air Force)

The 10 December flight did not proceed as planned. Chuck Yeager reached a peak altitude of approximately 108,000 feet (32,918 meters), nearly two miles (3.2 kilometers) lower than the record altitude set by Major Robert W. Smith just four days earlier.

On reentry, Yeager had the Starfighter incorrectly positioned with only a -50° nose-down pitch angle, rather than the required -70°.

The Starfighter entered a spin.

Without air flowing through the engine intakes because of the spin, Yeager could not restart the NF-104’s turbojet engine. Without the engine running, he had no hydraulic pressure to power the aerodynamic flight control surfaces. He was unable to regain control the airplane. Yeager rode the out-of-control airplane down 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before ejecting.

The data recorder would later indicate that the airplane made fourteen flat spins from 104,000 until impact on the desert floor.  I stayed with it through thirteen of those spins before I punched out. I hated losing an expensive airplane, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. . . I went ahead and punched out. . . .”

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Pages 279–281.

NF-104A 56-762 crashed at N. 35° 7′ 25″,  W. 118° 8′ 50″, about one mile (1.6 kilometers) north of the intersection of State Route 14 and State Route 58, near California City. The airplane was completely destroyed.

Chuck Yeager was seriously burned by the ejection seat’s internal launch rocket when he was struck by the seat which was falling along with him.

This incident was dramatized in the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff,” (based on Tom Wolfe’s book of the same title), with Yeager portrayed by actor Sam Shepard.

Actor Sam Shepard portrayed Colonel Charles E. Yeager in the 1983 movie, "The Right Stuff", written and directed by Philip Kaufman for The Ladd Company, and based on the book by Tom Wolfe. The airplane behind Mr. Shepard is a Fokker-built F-104G Starfighter, 63-13269.
Actor Sam Shepard portrayed Colonel Charles E. Yeager in the 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff”, written and directed by Philip Kaufman for The Ladd Company, and based on the book by Tom Wolfe. The airplane behind Mr. Shepard is a Fokker-built F-104G Starfighter, 63-13269. (Warner Bros.)

56-762 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs).

These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the reaction control system for flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wings were lengthened for installation of the Reaction Control System. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne AR2–3 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 6,600 pounds of thrust for up to 100 seconds.

On 13 December 1958, prior to its modification to an AST, Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 was flown by 1st Lieutenant Einar K. Enevoldson, USAF, to seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Californa (NTD).

Wreckage of Lockheed NF-104A 56-762, 10 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of Lockheed NF-104A 56-762, 10 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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