Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

16 May 1958

CAPT Walter W. Irwin lands at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 16 May 1958. The airplane is Lockheed F-104A-1-LO 55-2969. (U.S. Air Force)

16 May 1958: At Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, Captain Walter W. Irwin, U.S. Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course when he flew a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2969, to 2,259.538 kilometers per hour (1,404.012 miles per hour). ¹ He made two runs over the course at an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).

On the same day, Captain Irwin set two U.S. National Aeronautic Association time-to-altitude records by flying -969 to 3,000 meters in 41.8 seconds, and to 25,000 meters in 4 minutes, 26.03 seconds. It reached a peak altitude of 27,813 meters (91,246 feet).

Captain Irwin was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon presents the Collier Trophy. Left to right, Major Walter W. Irwin and Lieutenant Colonel Howard C. Johnson; Nixon; Neil Burgess and Gerhard Neumann, designers of the General Electric J79 engine; and Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. 15 December 1959. (NASM-00142388)
Captain Walter W. Irwin, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 16 May 1958. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Walter Wayne Irwin was born 21 August 1924 in Washington. He was the son of John Harvey Irwin, a shoe store clerk, and Stella Mildred Barron. He enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Seattle, Washington, 6 January 1942. Trained as a fighter pilot, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant 3 November 1942. Lieutenant Irwin flew 88 combat missions in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt with the Ninth Air Force in Europe during World War II. He was shot down, captured and held as a prisoner of war for a week before he escaped and made his way to friendly forces.

Captain Irwin married Lieutenant Christine Ann Stevens, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, in a Catholic ceremony at Arlington, Virginia, 4 December 1954. Lieutenant Stevens was assigned to the base hospital at Travis Air Force Base in California. They would have four children.

At the time he set the record, Captain Irwin had just returned from an overseas assignment in Taiwan. He was a flight commander with the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, based at Hamilton Air Force Base, Novato, California.

In addition to the Collier Trophy, Major Irwin won the Thompson Trophy for his F-104 speed record.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2969. The prototype Lockheed Model 188 Electra is in the photograph behind the interceptor.

Walter Irwin retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel following thirty years of service. In retirement, he was owner of a realty company in Sebastopol, California.

On 17 April 1978, Colonel Irwin was flying a rented Piper PA-28-161 Cherokee Warrior near Occidental, California. Witnesses saw the airplane maneuvering at low altitude. A wing clipped an oak tree. The airplane crashed and caught fire. Walter Wayne Irwin was killed. His ashes were spread at sea.

Formation of two Lockheed F-104A-15-LO (S/N 56-0769 and 56-0781). (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The F-104A is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.

Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.

Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter three-view illustration with dimensions.

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

55-2969 in General Electric colors (Pinterest)
55-2969 in General Electric colors. (Pinterest)

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second). The combat ceiling was 55,200 feet (16,825 meters) and the service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

55-2969 was one of the original pre-production Lockheed YF-104As, completed 20 August 1956. It was modified to the F-104A standard configuration and assigned to the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base, near Novato, California.

On 22 August 1957 the Starfighter was damaged at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. It was returned to Lockheed for repair and upgraded to F-104A-1. In May 1958, -969 and another Starfighter were sent to Edwards to attempt setting several speed and altitude records. They were both then returned to the 83rd FIS.

Lockheed F-104A-1-L) Starfighter 55-2969 with a General Electric J79 turbojet engine, circa 1960. General Electric)
Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 with a General Electric J79 turbojet engine, circa 1960. (General Electric)

From August 1958 to August 1961, -969 was loaned to General Electric to test improvements to the J79 turbojet engine. While there, it was given the name Queenie, which was painted on the nose along with three playing cards.

In 1964 55-2969 was again returned to Lockheed for conversion to a QF-104A remote-controlled target drone. It was damaged by a AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on 28 September 1968, but was recovered, repaired and returned to service. On its 25th drone mission, 26 January 1971, Queenie was shot down by an experimental XAIM-4H Falcon air-to-air missile fired by an F-4E Phantom II.

Lockheed QF-104A 55-2969
Lockheed QF-104A 55-2969 at Eglin Air Force Base circa 1969

¹ FAI Record File Number 9063

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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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

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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

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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

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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. he 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 ofbombs, 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 M-39 20 mm autocannon with 600 rounds of ammunition. In ground attack configuration,a maximum bomb load of 2,310 pounds (1,048 kilograms), 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

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