Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

1 December 1984

NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The "X" is the planned touchdown point. The "rhino" barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)
NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The “X” is the planned touchdown point. The “rhino” barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)

After four years of planning and preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intentionally crashed a Boeing 720 airliner to test an experimental fuel additive intended to reduce post-crash fires, and to assess passenger survivability. An anti-misting agent was added to standard commercial JP-5 jet fuel to create AMK, or “Anti-Misting Kerosene.” The airliner’s fuel tanks were filled with the AMK mixture, totaling 16,060 gallons (10,794 liters). Instrumented crash test dummies were placed in the passengers seats.

Passengers relaxing before a flight aboard NASA’s Boeing 720, N833NA. (NASA ECN-28307)

NASA 833, the Boeing 720-027 airliner, FAA registration N833NA, was a remotely-piloted aircraft. NASA test pilot Fitzhugh Lee (“Fitz”) Fulton, Jr., flew NASA 833 from a ground station, the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility. More than 60 flights had been made prior to the actual test.

Fitz Fulton in the CID.
Fitz Fulton in the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility

The test was planned so that the airliner would make a shallow 3.8° approach to a prepared runway on the east side of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. It was to land on its belly in a wings-level attitude, then slide into a group of barriers, called “rhinos,” which would slice open the wing tanks. The fuselage and passenger cabin would remain intact. NASA and the FAA estimated that this would be “survivable” for all occupants.

Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a "Dutch roll." The airliner's nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)
Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a “Dutch roll.” The airliner’s nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)

As the Boeing 720 descended on its Final Approach, its nose yawed to the right and the airplane went to the right of the runway center line. It then yawed back to the left and entered an out-of-phase oscillation called a “Dutch roll.” The decision height to initiate a “go-around” was 150 feet (45.7 meters) above the surface of the lake bed. Fitz Fulton thought he had enough time to get NASA 833 back on the center line and committed to the test landing. However, the Dutch roll resulted in the airliner’s left wing impacting the ground with the inboard engine on the left wing (Number Two) just to the right of the center line.

NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)
NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)

According to the test plan, all four of the airliner’s engines should have been brought to idle, but they remained at full throttle. The left wing’s impact yawed the airliner to the left and, rather than the fuselage passing through the rhino barriers undamaged, the passenger compartment was torn open. Another rhino sliced into the Number Three engine (inboard, right wing), opening its combustion chamber. With the fuel tanks in the wings ruptured, raw fuel was sprayed into the engine’s open combustion chamber which was still at full throttle.

 As the airliner slides through the "rhino" barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)
As the airliner slides through the “rhino” barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)

The raw fuel ignited and exploded into a fireball. Flames immediately entered the passenger compartment. As the 720 slid on the runway it continued to rotate left and the right wing broke off though the fuselage remained upright.

NASA 833's right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)
NASA 833’s right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)

As the right wing came off the ruptured fuel tanks emptied most of the raw fuel directly into the fireball.

The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)
The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)

Over an hour was required to extinguish the flames. The test of the flame-reducing fuel additive was a complete failure. Test engineers estimated that 25% of the occupants might have survived the crash, however, it was “highly speculative” that any could have escaped from the burning, smoke-filled passenger compartment.

Fithugh L. "Fitz" Fulton, Jr. (NASA)
Fitzhugh Lee “Fitz” Fulton, Jr., with NASA 905, a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and Enterprise (OV-101). (NASA)
Fitz Fulton, 1942 (The Cohiscan)

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born at Blakely, Georgia, 6 June 1925, the first of two sons of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, a merchant seaman, and Manila Fulton. He attended Columbus High School, Columbus Georgia, graduating in 1942. He entered College at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University) and the University of Oklahoma. He was awarded a bachelor of arts degree from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fulton entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, and was trained as a pilot. He married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945. They would have three children.

Following World War II, participated in Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, July 1946. Lieutenant Fulton flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster four-engine transport during the Berlin Airlift, making 225 sorties, and then the Douglas B-26 Invader light attack bomber during the Korean War.

Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in teh cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)
Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)

Fulton graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber and flew the B-58 to a World Record Altitude of 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) on 14 September 1962.¹

Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

At Edwards Air Force Base, he flew the B-52 “mother ships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie faster 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 research 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 L. Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years..

Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.
Colonel Joseph Frederick Cotton and Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.

NASA 833 (c/n 18066) was ordered by Braniff Airways, Inc., as N7078, but the sale was not completed. The airplane first flew 5 May 1961 and it was delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration as a test aircraft one week later, 12 May 1961, registered N113. A few years later the identification was changed to N23, then back to N113, and then once again to N23. In 1982, the Boeing 720 was transferred to NASA to be used in the Controlled Impact Demonstration. At this time it was registered as N2697V. A final registration change was made to N833NA.

NASA 833 at Edwards Air Force Base, prior to the Controlled Impact Demonstration. (Paul)

The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements were made to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag, though it retained the span of the 707.

The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff. The JT3D-1 was a dual axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The maximum cruise speed of the Boeing 720 was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). The range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).

Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 14652 and 14656

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 November 1957

Boeing NB-52A 52-003 with a North American Aviation X-15 56 under its right wing at Edwards Air Force Base. (NASA DFRC EC62 0099)
Boeing NB-52A 52-003 with a North American Aviation X-15 under its right wing, at Edwards Air Force Base, 31 December 1961. (NASA)

29 November 1957: The third production Boeing B-52A-1-BO Stratofortress strategic bomber, 52-003, was flown from Boeing’s Seattle plant to the North American Aviation facility at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, to be modified to carry the new X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane.

Modifications began on 4 February 1958. 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.

The X-15 was attached to this underwing pylon by three standard Air Force bomb shackles. (NASA)
The X-15 was attached to this underwing pylon by three remotely-actuated standard Air Force bomb shackles. (NASA)
To allow clearance for teh X-15's vertical fin, a notch had to be cut in the trailing edge of the inboard right flap. (NASA)
To allow clearance for the X-15’s vertical fin, a notch had to be cut in the trailing edge of the inboard right flap. (NASA)

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.

NB-52 liquid oxygen panel. (NASA)
NB-52 liquid oxygen panel. (NASA)

After modifications were completed at Palmdale, 52-003 was flown to Edwards Air Force Base, 14 November 1958.

NB-52A 52-003 is on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona.

A North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre chase plane follows NB-52A 52-003 prior to launch of an X-15. (NASA)
A North American Aviation F-100F Super Sabre chase plane checks an X-15 as its APUs are activated just prior to being released from NB-52A 52-003. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 November 1983, 16:00:00.84 UTC

Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) launches from LC-39A, Kennedy Space center, 16:00:00 UTC, 28 November 1983. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) launches from LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, 16:00:00 UTC, 28 November 1983. (NASA)

28 November 1983, 16:00:00.84 UTC, T minus Zero: Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) lifted of from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Florida on its sixth space flight.

On board was the largest flight crew for a manned space mission up to that time:  Mission Commander John W. Young (Captain, United States Navy, Retired), Pilot; Lieutenant Colonel Brewster H. Shaw, Jr., United States Air Force; Mission Specialists Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., and Robert A.R. Parker, Ph.D.; and Payload Specialists Ulf Dietrich Merbold, Dr. rer. nat, of the European Space Agency (ESA); and Lieutenant Colonel Byron K. Lichtenberg, D.Sc., USAF (Massachusetts Air National Guard).

The flight crew of Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9), left to right, Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., NASA; LCOL Byron K. Lichtenberg, D.Sc., USAF; LCOL Brewster H. Shaw, Jr., USAF; CAPT John Watts Young, USN (Ret.); Dr. Ulf D. Merbold, ESA; Robert A.R. Parker, Ph.D., NASA.
The flight crew of Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9), left to right, Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., NASA; LCOL Byron K. Lichtenberg, D.Sc., USAF; LCOL Brewster H. Shaw, Jr., USAF; CAPT John Watts Young, USN (Ret.); Dr. Ulf D. Merbold, ESA; Robert A.R. Parker, Ph.D., NASA.

Columbia carried the NASA/ESA Spacelab module in the cargo bay. The mission was primarily to carry out 72 scientific experiments in astronomy, physics, biology, as well as to make observations of the Earth.

Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California at 23:47:24 UTC (3:47 p.m., PST), 8 December 1983. At 10 days, 7 hours, 47 minutes, 24 seconds, STS-9 was the longest space shuttle mission up to that time.

Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-9) lands at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 November 1961

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. Colonel Robinson is wearing a Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Navy)

22 November 1961: In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation, a number of speed and altitude record attempts were planned, using the U.S. Navy’s new McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II fighter. On the morning of 22 November, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., United States Marine Corps, took off from Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Skyburner, an attempt to set a new World Absolute Speed Record. He was flying the second Phantom II built, Bu. No. 142260.

The Phantom carried three external fuel tanks for this flight. It had a 600-gallon (2,271.25 liter) centerline tank and two 370-gallon (1,400.6 liter) wing tanks. Robinson flew southeast toward NAS El Centro, then turned back to the northwest. Over the Salton Sea, he began to accelerate the YF4H-1 to build up speed for the record run over a measured twenty-mile course back at Edwards AFB. The Phantom’s two General Electric J79-GE-3A afterburning turbojets used a tremendous amount of fuel at full throttle and the centerline fuel tank was quickly emptied. Robinson jettisoned the empty tank over the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range. Continuing to accelerate, the two wing tanks were next jettisoned as they ran dry, this time at Bristol Dry Lake.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

The Phantom entered the east end of the speed course in full afterburner. Having burned off more than 1,300 gallons of fuel, 142260 was much lighter now, and aerodynamically cleaner after dropping the external tanks. Robinson exited the west end of the 20-mile (32.2 kilometer) course in less than one minute.

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules require that a speed record must be made with two passes in opposite directions. The average speed of the two runs is the record speed. The Phantom was flying so fast that it covered another 105 miles (169 kilometers) before it could turn around. During the turn, it was still traveling at 0.9 Mach.

Robinson again put the engines in afterburner as he approached the course from the west. On the second run, the fighter was even lighter and its recorded speed was more than 1,700 miles per hour (2,736 kilometers per hour). The average of the two runs was calculated at 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour.) This was the new FAI Absolute World Speed Record.¹

For his accomplishment, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally. The presentation took place on 25 November 1961 at Newport News, Virginia, during the commissioning of USS Enterprise CVA(N)-65.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260 during Operation Skyburner, 1961. (U.S. Navy via FFRC Photo Collection)

In the next few weeks, the same YF4H-1 would establish a world record for sustained altitude—20,252 meters (66,444 feet).² Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, in Operation Top Flight, 142260 had established a world record for absolute altitude when it zoom-climbed to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters).³

Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., was born at Orange, California, 22 October 1923. He was the second of four children of Robert Bradford Robinson, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, and Golda Leutha Nordeen Robinson.

Robert B. Robinson. (Orange and White 1941)

Bob Robinson attended Orange Union High School, graduating in 1941. He participated in all varsity sports, and was selected to attend the Boys’ State leadership program. He earned a bachelor of science degree at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Robinson entered the United States Marine Corps on 26 August 1942. He received the wings of a Naval Aviator and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 1 December 1943.

2nd Lieutenant Robinson married Miss Lavonne Jean David at Nueces, Texas, 23 December 1943. They would later have a son, Robert Bradford Robinson III (and a grandson, Robert Bradford Robinson IV)

During the Battle of Okinawa, Lieutenant Robinson flew the radar-equipped Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter with VMF(N)-543.

A Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter of VMF(N)-543, circa 1944. The radome is at the far end of the airplane’s right wing. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 31 March 1945. Following World War II, Lieutenant Robinson was assigned to VMF-311, and became one of the first Naval Aviators to qualify in turbojet-powered aircraft. The squadron initially flew the Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star (P-80), and later transitioned to the Grumman F9F Panther.

A Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star  Bu. No. 33822 (P-80C 47-219) of VMF-311, circa 1948. (NNAM.1996.488.163.012)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of captain 1 April 1950. VMF-311 was sent to the Korean war zone in November 1950, initially operating from Yokosuka Air Base in Japan. The squadron flew close air support missions in support of the amphibious assault of Inchon, and at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Captain Robinson returned to night fighter operations when he joined Marine All-Weather Squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513) on 13 January 1951. The unit which was equipped with Grumman F7F-3N Tigercats and Chance Vought F4U-5N Corsairs.

Two Grumman F9F-2 Panthers of VMF-311 being refueled at K-3, Republic of South Korea, circa 1951. The aircraft closest to the camera is an F9F-2B, Bu. No. 123602. (Department of Defense HD-SN-99-03071)

Captain Robinson was promoted to the rank of major, 31 December 1954. He completed the six-month course at the Naval Test Pilot School, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, graduating in March 1959 (Class 21).

In 1963, lieutenant Colonel Robinson retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years’ service. He was then employed as a test pilot for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. He remained with the company for 30 years.

Mrs. Robinson died 7 February 1997, after 53 years of marriage. Bob Robinson later married Mrs. Julian Brady (née Elizabeth Catchings), the widow of a long-time friend.

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., died 28 September 2005 at McComb, Mississippi. He was buried at the Hollywood Cemetery in McComb.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9060

² FAI Record File Number 8535

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 November 1953

NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket after his record-setting flight, 20 November 1953. (NASA) 20 November 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, NACA’s High Speed Flight Station research test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., rode behind the flight crew of the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress as it carried the Douglas Aircraft Company D-558-II Skyrocket supersonic research rocketplane to its launch altitude. As the four-engine bomber climbed through 18,000 feet (5,486 meters), Crossfield headed back to the bomb bay to enter the Skyrocket’s cockpit and prepare for his flight.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The Douglas D-558-II was Phase II of a United States Navy/Douglas Aircraft Company/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics joint research project exploring supersonic flight. It was a swept-wing airplane powered by a single Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine. The Skyrocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

There were three Phase II aircraft. Originally, they were also equipped with a Westinghouse J34-W-40 turbojet engine which produced 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.35 kilonewtons). The Skyrockets took off from the surface of Rogers Dry Lake. Once the D-558-II reached altitude, the rocket engine was fired for the speed runs.

As higher speeds were required, the program shifted to an air launch from a B-29 (P2B-1S) drop ship. Without the need to climb to the test altitude, the Skyrocket’s fuel load was available for the high speed runs.

NACA 144. a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The D-558-II was 42.0 feet (12.80 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25.0 feet (7.62 meters). The leading edge of the wing was swept at a 35° angle and the tail surfaces were swept to 40°. The aircraft weighed 9,421 pounds (4,273 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 15,787 pounds (7,161 kilograms). It carried 378 gallons (1,431 liters) of water/ethyl alcohol and 345 gallons (1,306 liters) of liquid oxygen.

The mothership, NACA 137, was a Boeing Wichita B-29-95-BW Superfortress, U.S. Air Force serial number 45-21787. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy, redesignated P2B-1S and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics number 84029. Douglas Aircraft modified the bomber for its drop ship role at the El Segundo plant.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

Going above the planned launch altitude, the Superfortress was placed in a slight dive to build to its maximum speed. At the bomber’s critical Mach number (Mcr), the Skyrocket was just above its stall speed. At 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), Crossfield and the Skyrocket were released. The rocketplane fell for about 400 feet (122 meters) until the rocket engine ignited and then it began to accelerate.

Crossfield climbed at a steep angle until he reached 72,000 feet (21,946 meters), and then leveled off. Now in level flight, the D-558-II accelerated, quickly passing Mach 1, then Mach 1.5. Crossfield pushed the nose down and began a shallow dive. The Skyrocket, still under full power, built up speed. As it passed through 62,000 feet (18,998 meters) the Skyrocket reached its maximum speed, Mach 2.005, or 1,291 miles per hour (2,078 kilometers per hour).

Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)
Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield was the first pilot to fly an aircraft beyond Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. During his career as a test pilot, he flew the Douglas D-558-II, the Bell X-1, Bell X-2 and North American X-15. He made 112 flights in rocket-powered aircraft, more than any other pilot.

NACA Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., Aeronautical Engineer and Test Pilot, 1921–2006. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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