Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

18 September 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

18 September 1961: Jackie Cochran, acting as a test pilot and consultant for Northrop Corporation, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance when she flew the Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, from Palmdale, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a distance of 2,401.780 kilometers (1,492.397 miles).¹

Jacqueline Cochran's Diplôme de Record in teh San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:

September 18: Jackie took off from Palmdale at 10:00 am for attempt to set records from points to points. I took off from Edwards with 275-gallon [1,041 liter] drop tanks. During climb Jackie reported rough engine and poor performance. Also the fuel flow was inoperative. Jackie returned to the field where I finally found her takeoff flaps were still down. Also her navigation lights and beacon were on. I was rather disappointed. She’s a little cocky in the airplane. She landed back there at Palmdale with 1500 pounds [680 kilograms] of fuel in each side and made a good heavy-weight landing. The aircraft refueled and another takeoff was made at 12:30 pm. Everything went smooth this flight. We ran into clouds at the edge of Utah which lasted until Cheyenne, Wyo. Clear the rest of the way. Jackie landed with 250 pounds of fuel in each side. Made a beautiful landing and turned off after a 4000 foot [1,220 meters] ground roll. Bob White returned the F-100 to Edwards.

—  Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force) 

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)
Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12383

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 September 1959

X-15 56-6670 is carried under the right wing of NB-52A 52-003. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocket plane. (NASA)

17 September 1959: After previously making one glide flight, North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight of an X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane.

Carried aloft under the right wing of an eight-engine Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress bomber, USAF serial number 52-003, the first of three North American Aviation X-15s, 56-6670, was airdropped from 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over Rosamond Dry Lake, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Edwards Air Force Base. Launch time was 08:08:48.0 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (15:08.48.0 UTC).

Scott Crossfiled prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A
Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A. Crossfield is wearing a conformal (face seal) helmet with his David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (NASA/North American Aviation, Inc.)

The X-15 was designed to use the Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine, but early in the test program that engine was not yet available so two smaller XLR-11 engines were used. This was engine the same type used in the earlier Bell X-1 rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier in 1948. Though producing just one-fourth the thrust of the XLR-99, it allowed the functional testing of the X-15 to proceed.

The X-15’s two Reaction Motors XLR11 engines. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield wrote:

     Two minutes after launch I reached 50,000 feet and pushed over in level flight. Then I dropped the nose slightly for a speed run, meanwhile maneuvering the ship through a series of turns and rolls, conscious of a deep rumbling noise of the rocket and a great rush of wind on the fuselage. It was obvious the black bird was in her element at supersonic speeds. She responded beautifully. I stared in fascination at the Mach meter which climbed from 1.5 Mach to 1.8 Mach and then effortlessly to my top speed for this flight of 2.3 Mach or about 1,500 miles and hour. Then, because I was under orders not to take the X-15 wide open, I shut off three of the rocket barrels. As I slowed down, I recalled the agony at Edwards many years before when we had worked for months pushing, calculating, polishing and who knows what else to achieve Mach 2 in the Skyrocket. Now with the X-15 we had reached that speed in three minutes on our first powered flight and I had to throttle back.

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, 1960. Chapter 39 at Pages 362.

X-15A 56-6670 drops from the wing of the B-52 mothership. The vapor trail is from hydrogen peroxide that powers the aircraft power systems. Note the roll to the right as the X-15 drops from the pylon. (NASA)

The X-15 dropped 2,000 feet (610 meters) while Scott Crossfield ignited the two XLR-11 engines and then started “going uphill.” During the 224.3 seconds burn duration, the X-15 reached Mach 2.11 (1,393 miles per hour/2,242 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 52,300 feet (15,941 meters), both slightly higher than planned.

Problems developed when the rocket engine’s turbo pump case failed, and fire broke out in the hydrogen peroxide compartment, engine compartment and in the ventral fin. Crossfield safely landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of the flight was 9 minutes, 11.1 seconds. Damage to the rocket plane was extensive but was quickly repaired. 56-6670 flew again 17 October 1959.

Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield climbs out of the cockpt of a North American Aviation X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane. (Getty Images)

Over the next nine years the three X-15s would make 199 flights, setting speed and altitude records nearly every time they flew, and expanding NASA’s understanding of flight in the hypersonic range. The first two X-15s, 56-6670 and 56-6671, survived the program. 670 is at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space museum and 671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)
Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 September 1999

NASA 008, known as “Balls 8,” a modified Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress, serial number 52-008, with NASA 824, a Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, N824NA. The DAST 1 drone is under the bomber’s right wing. (NASA)

16 September 1999: 44 years, 3 months and 6 days after its very first flight, NASA’s airborne launch aircraft, or “mothership,” Balls 8, completed its 1,000th flight.

Balls 8, so-called because of the double zeros in it U.S. Air Force serial number, 52-008, is a Boeing NB-52, modified as a drop ship from its original configuration as an RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress reconnaissance bomber assigned to the Strategic Air Command. It made its first flight 11 June 1955 and was reassigned from SAC to Edwards Air Force Base to support NASA flight testing operations, 8 June 1959. Balls 8 served NASA until 17 December 2004, when it was replaced by a newer NB-52H Stratofortress.

52-008 was altered at the North American Aviation facility at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. A pylon was mounted under the bomber’s right wing. A large notch was cut into the trailing edge of the inboard flap for the X-15’s vertical fin. A 1,500 gallon (5,678 liter) liquid oxygen tank was installed in the bomb bay. A station for a launch operator was installed on the upper deck of the B-52 at the former electronic countermeasures position. A series of control panels allowed the panel operator to monitor the X-15’s systems, provide electrical power, and to keep the rocketplane’s liquid oxygen tank full as the LOX boiled off during the climb to launch altitude. The operator could see the X-15 through a plexiglas dome, and there were two television monitors.

The NB-52B was used during the X-15 Program and carried the three hypersonic research aircraft aloft on 159 of their 199 flights. (NB-52A 52-003, The High and Mighty One, made the other 40 launches.) It has also been used to carry the X-24 and HiMat lifting body research aircraft and to launch Pegasus research rockets.

At the time of its retirement, Balls 8 was the oldest B-52 in service, and also the lowest time B-52. It is on display near the north gate at Edwards Air Force Base.

Balls 8, Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008, as seen from a KC-135A Stratotanker. (NASA)
Balls 8, NASA’s Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008 “mothership”, as seen from a KC-135A Stratotanker. (NASA)

Of the 744 B-52 Stratofortresses built by Boeing, 50 were B-52Bs and 27 of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers.

The airplane was 156 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept 35°. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.

The B-52B/RB-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).

Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the range was essentially world-wide.

This "score board" painted on the side of Balls 8 shows many of the missions that it flew as a "mothership" for NASA. (NASA)
This “score board” painted on the side of Balls 8 shows many of the missions that it flew as a “mothership” for NASA. (NASA)

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. (Eighteen RB-52Bs were equipped with two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in the tail turret in place of the standard four .50-caliber machine guns.)

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 megatons.

Balls 8 lands on a runway marked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The drogue parachute helps to slow the airplane. (NASA)
Balls 8 lands on a runway marked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The drogue parachute helps to slow the airplane. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 September 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-25-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards AFB, 1961. (U.S. Air force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

15 September 1961: As a consultant to Northrop Corporation, Jackie Cochran flew a T-38A-30-NO Talon to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Over a Closed Course of 2,166.77 kilometers (1,346.37 miles).¹ During August and September 1961, she set series of speed, altitude and distance records with the T-38.

Jacqueline Cochran's Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager kept notes during these record runs:

September 13: Jackie landed at 4:15 am. We flew the T-38 on the closed course distance. Takeoff at 2:15 pm and climbed to 40,500 feet [12,344 meters] for initial cruise. Fuel checked out very good. I was amazed at the way Jackie handled the aircraft at high altitude. Everything looked good on the entire flight. Landed a little short of oil in the left engine. Weather was bad over Kingman, Arizona. Cruise climbed at 96% rpm and .87 IMN to 46,500 [14,173 meters] at the end of run. We were in the air 2 ½ hours.

September 14: We tried cold fuel today. It gave us an additional 170 pounds [77 kilograms] at the end. Was a very good flight. We talked with the NAA [National Aeronautic Association] about tomorrow’s run.

September 15: Flew closed course distance for record today and had a good run. Jackie did an excellent job even with bad weather. I chased her in an F-100 all the way.

Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 305–306.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Colonel Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty years old, sits on the ramp at teh Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 15 May 1982. Jackie Cochran set nine world speed, distance and altitude records while flying this airplane. (© Gary Chambers, used with permission)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12384

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 September 1962

Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler Mach 2+ strategic bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

14 September 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., United States Air Force, with Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines, flew a Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2456, to a record 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) while carrying a 5,000 kilogram payload. This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in both the 2,000 kilogram (4,409.25 pounds) ¹ and 5,000 kilogram (11,023.11 pounds) ² classes.

Left to right, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., USAF, Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines. (FAI)
Left to right, Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., USAF, Captain William R. Payne, USAF, and civilian flight test engineer C.R. Haines. (FAI)
Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., 1942.

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born 6 June 1925 at Blakeley, Georgia. He was the son of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton and Manila T. Fulton. He graduated from Columbus High School, Columbus, Georgia, in 1942. He later studied at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma (just south of Oklahoma City). he graduated from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fitz Fulton married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945.

He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. He flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport during the Berlin Airlift and Douglas B-26 Invaders during the Korean War. Fulton graduated from the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber. At Edwards AFB, he flew the B-52 “motherships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie to more than Mach 3. When Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966, he was a lieutenant colonel assigned as Chief of Bomber and Transport Test Operations.

Fitz Fulton continued as a test pilot for NASA, flying as project pilot for the YF-12A and YF-12C research program. He flew all the early test flights of the NASA/Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and carried the space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. By the time he had retired from NASA, Fulton had flown more than 16,000 hours in 235 aircraft types.

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2456 with a full weapons load. Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, U.S. Air Force, flew this Mach 2+ strategic bomber to an altitude of 16.2 miles (26 kilometers) over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 September 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine, rated at 10,300 pounds of thrust (45.82 kilonewtons), and 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.136 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.965 meters) in diameter.

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 a W-39 warhead, and/or Mk.43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 warhead, the same used with the Redstone IRBM or Snark cruise missile, was carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel for the aircraft. The smaller bombs were carried on underwing hardpoints. For defense, there was a General Electric M61 Vulcan 20×102 mm six-barreled rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of linked ammunition, controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456 was assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Wing at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas until 1969 when it was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 9 December 1969. The record-setting strategic bomber was scrapped 1 June 1977.

FAI altitiude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber's weapons capability. (U.S. Air Force)
FAI altitude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber’s weapons capability. Major Fitzhugh L. Fulton, U.S. Air Force, flew this Mach 2+ strategic bomber to an altitude of 16.2 miles (26 kilometers) over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 September 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14656

² FAI Record File Number 14652

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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