Tag Archives: Fighter Pilot

Medal of Honor, Major James Howell Howard, Air Corps, United States Army.

Lieutenant Colonel James Howell Howard, United States Army Air Corps, with his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, “DING HAO!” at RAF Boxted, 25 April 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

11 January 1944: Major James Howell Howard, Air Corps, United States Army, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, led fifty P-51 Mustangs escorting three divisions of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a raid against Oschersleben, near Berlin, Germany.

As defending Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bomber formation, Major Howard immediately went on the offensive and shot down a twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer long range fighter. During this engagement, Howard became separated from his group, but climbed back to rejoin the bombers.

More than thirty German fighters were attacking the bomber formation and Major Howard single-handedly went after them. He shot down two, probably shot down two more and damaged at least another two. He continued to attack even after he had run out of ammunition and was low on fuel. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang had just a single bullet hole.

For this action, James H. Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz in June 1944. He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to have received this Medal. Howard was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to

HOWARD, JAMES H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944. Entered service at: St. Louis, Missouri. Birth: Canton, China. G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany, on 11 January 1944. On that day Col. Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. As Col. Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Col. Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME. 110. As a result of this attack Col. Howard lost contact with his group, and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Col. Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack singlehanded a formation of more than 30 German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some thirty minutes, during which time he destroyed 3 enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Col. Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Lieutenant Colonel James Howell Howard, United States Army Air Forces, wearing the Medal of Honor, June 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Major James H. Howard, center, with a group of pilots of the 354th Fighter Group, with a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1943. (American Air Museum in Britain)

James Howell Howard was born 8 April 1913 at Canton (Guangzhou), China. He was the second of three children of Dr. Harvey James Howard, an ophthalmologist at the University Medical School in Canton China (formerly, the Canton Christian College), and later, chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing. His mother was the former Maude Irene Strobel.

When James was 11 years old, he and his father were kidnapped by Manchurian bandits and held for ten weeks before they were able to escape. The family left Shaghai aboard the 535-foot Pacific Mail cargo liner S.S. President Lincoln on 21 July 1923 and sailed for San Francisco, California, arriving there on 8 August 1923.

Ensign James H. Howard USNR, with  VF-6 Grumman F3F 6-F-12.

Howard graduated from Pomona College in southern California in 1937. He had blond hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88 meters) tall and weighed 160 pounds (72.6 kilograms). He enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Naval Reserve, and began flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida, 29 December 1937. He graduated as a Naval Aviator, 1 February 1939, and was commissioned an ensign, USNR.

In 1939, Ensign Howard served with Fighting Squadron SIX (VF-6) aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6) In 1940, he was assigned to the Naval Air Station San Diego San Diego on the southern coast of California.

In June 1941, Ensign Howard resigned from the Navy and went to Burma as an employee of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, which was a cover operation for the 1st American Volunteer Group, better known as the “Flying Tigers.” He commanded the AVG 2nd Pursuit Squadron. Flying the Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3, Howard was credited with six Imperial Japanese Army Nakajima Ki-27 Army Type 97 fighters destroyed.

Five AVG pilots with a Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3. James Howell Howard is at right, wearing an overseas cap with USN insignia.

Commissioned as a captain, United States Army Air Corps, 31 January 1943. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, February 1944, Colonel, 25 November 1945, and released from active duty, 30 November.

Promoted to brigadier general, United States Air Force Reserve, 22 March 1948.

Brigadier General James Howell Howard, United States Air Force Reserve.

MoH, DFC x 2, BSM, AM x 10

He was the author of Roar of the Tiger (Orion Books, New York, 1991).

General Howard died at Bay Pines, Florida, 18 March 1995. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

 

North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, AJ A, 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, at RAF Boxted, 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

James Howard’s P-51 Mustang was named DING HAO! and carried the victory marks from his AVG combat missions.¹ [“Ding Hao” was an American World War II slang term based on the Chinese phrase, 挺好的 (“ting hao de“) meaning “very good” or “number one”.]

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

North American Aviation P-51B Mustang with identification stripes. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas. plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

DING HAO!, James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. At the time of this photo, the Mustang had been modified with a sliding, blown-plexiglas “Malcom hood” canopy. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Major Howard may have flown a different airplane on 11 January 1944. A handwritten caption of the reverse of the top photograph reads, “Howard in own P-51B at Boxted, 25/4/44 not AC in which he won MOH, lt Col James Howard was awarded only Medal of Honour (highest US Award) to go to a fighter pilot flying in the ETO. Action on 11/1/44.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 January 1956

Lieutenant Barty R. Brooks, USAFR, standing on the wing of a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, Korea, 1954. (U.S. Air Force)

10 January 1956: First Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks, United States Air Force Reserve, a pilot assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing, Detachment 12, at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, along with two other pilots from the same unit, Captain Rusty Wilson and Lieutenant Crawford Shockley, picked up three brand new F-100C Super Sabre fighters at the North American Aviation Inc. assembly plant at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. It was to be a short flight, as these three jets were being taken to nearby George Air Force Base, Adelanto, California, only 42.5 miles (68.4 kilometers) to the east. Brooks was flying F-100C-20-NA, serial number 54-1907.

This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-100C-25-NA Super Sabre, serial number 54-2099, is similar to the fighter flown by Lieutenant Brooks, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors ling is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at teh center hinge. Thi spin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been reinstalled before Lt. Brooks' flight.
This photograph shows the lower section of the nose gear strut of an F-100 Super Sabre. The scissors link is the hinged assembly. A red pin is visible at the center hinge. This pin had been removed by ground handlers to tow the fighter, but had not been secured with a safety pin when it was reinstalled before Lt. Brooks’ flight. (Michael Benolkin)

The brief flight was uneventful until the pilots lowered the landing gear to land at George AFB. One of the other pilots saw that the scissors link joining the upper and lower sections of the nose gear strut on Brooks’ Super Sabre was loose. Concerned that he would not be able to steer the fighter after touching down, Brooks diverted to Edward Air Force Base, 36 miles (57 kilometers) to the northwest, where a larger runway and more emergency equipment was available. Captain Wilson escorted Lieutenant Brooks to Edwards.

The F-100C Super Sabre had no flaps and required a high speed landing approach. Lieutenant Brooks had only 674 total flight hours as a pilot, and just 39 hours in the F-100.

During his final approach to the runway Brooks allowed the fighter to slow too much and the outer portion of the wings stalled and lost lift. This shifted the wings’ center of lift forward, which caused the airplane to pitch up, causing even more of the outer wing to stall.

Lieutenant Brooks fought to regain control of the airplane, but he was unable to. At 4:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, the F-100 crashed on the runway and exploded. Barty Ray Brooks was killed.

Edwards Air Force Base is the center of flight testing for the U.S. Air Force. In preparation for a test later that afternoon, the base film crews had their equipment set up along the runway and captured the last seconds of Brook’s flight on film. This is the most widely seen crash footage, and is still in use in pilot training. It is named “The Sabre Dance.”

Still image from cine film of Barty Brooks’ F-100C Super Sabre just before it crashed at Edwards Air Force Base, 10 January 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Barty Ray Brooks was born in Martha Township,  Oklahoma, 2 December 1929. He was the third child of Benjamin Barto Brooks, a farmer, and Maye Henry Brooks. The family later moved to Lewisville, Texas. Brooks graduated from Lewisville High School in 1948, then studied agriculture at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Barty Ray Brooks, 1950. (Aggieland ’50)

While at Texas A&M, Brooks was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.). On graduation, 30 May 1952, Brooks was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve.

Lieutenant Brooks was trained as a pilot at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, and Laredo Air Force Base, Texas. In 1954, he was assigned to the 311th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 58th Fighter Bomber Group, Taegu Air Base (K-2), Republic of South Korea. Brooks flew the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. When he returned to the United States he was assigned to the 1708th Ferrying Wing.

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Barty Ray Brooks were interred at the Round Grove Cemetery, Lewisville, Texas.

The article, “The Deadly Sabre Dance,” by Alan Cockrell is highly recommended:

http://www.historynet.com/deadly-sabre-dance.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 January 1973

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

8 January 1973: Captain Paul D. Howman and First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman, 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796, were leading a flight of two fighters on combat air patrol in Route Pack III. Their call sign was CRAFTY ONE. A U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, call sign RED CROWN, was steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, providing radar coverage for the fighters.

The following is a recount of the last USAF MiG kill in Southeast Asia; it occurred on 8 January 1973.

Crafty, a flight of two F-4s from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was assigned a night MiGCAP mission in support of B-52 strikes. They ingressed North Vietnam through the “Gorilla’s Head” and established their CAP about 70 miles southwest of Hanoi. The pilot of Crafty One was Captain Paul D. Howman. His backseater was First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman. The following is Captain Howman’s description of the kill.

Because of its advanced air search radars and digital computers, the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9) frequently served as RED CROWN. (U.S. Navy)

“About five minutes after arriving on station, we were advised by Red Crown that a MiG was airborne out of Phuc Yen and was heading southwest toward the inbound strike force. They vectored us northwest and told us he had leveled at 13,000 feet. Passing through [a heading of] north, we picked him up on radar at about 60 miles. We were able to follow him most of the way in as the range decreased. At about 30 miles, I called 02 and we jettisoned our centerline tanks.”

Crafty One and Two descended to 12,000 feet at 400 knots, still taking vectors. Red Crown turned them to a northeasterly heading. At 16 miles, Red Crown cleared Crafty to fire. Captain Howman’s account continues.

“At 10 miles I got a visual on an afterburner plume 20 degrees right and slightly high. I called him out to the backseater and put the pipper on him. At 6 miles Lt. Kullman got a good full-system radar lock-on. Range was about 4 miles and overtake 900+ knots when I squeezed the trigger. The missile came off, did a little roll to the left, and tracked toward the “burner plume.” It detonated 50 feet short of his tail.

“I squeezed another one off at 2 miles range. This one just pulled some lead, then went straight for the MiG. It hit him in the fuselage and the airplane exploded and broke into three big flaming pieces.”

"Craft 01", McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)
“Crafty 01”, McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)

After determining there were no more MiGs in the area, Crafty returned to orbit for their remaining CAP period. They returned to base without further incident.

 The Tale of Two Bridges ; and The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, by Major A. J. C. Lavalle, USAF, editor, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1985, Chapter VI at Page 187–188.

The MiG 21 that Howman and Kullman shot down was the last air-to-air victory by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Both men were awarded the Silver Star.

Their airplane, 65-0796, served another seventeen years before being retired. Today, it is on display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas.

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
An Aero Vodochody-built MiG 21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 January 1967

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, Wing Commander, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force)
MiG Sweep, by Keith Ferris.
“MiG Sweep,” by Keith Ferris. Colonel Robin Olds uses a Vector Roll to gain firing position on a MiG-21 fighter. “I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn. . . .”

2 January 1967: This painting, MiG Sweep, by aviation artist Keith Ferris, depicts “Olds 01” during OPERATION BOLO. The twin-engine all-weather jet fighter, a McDonnell F-4C -21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7680, was flown by Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, with First Lieutenant Charles C. Clifton, USAF, as the Weapons System Operator.

In this painting by Keith Ferris, the Phantom is  shown inverted as Colonel Olds maneuvers to fire an AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missile at a North Vietnamese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 over Hanoi. Robin Olds was the only U.S. Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

The area around Hanoi, North Vietnam, was the most heavily defended target area ever encountered by the United States Air Force. A combination of radar-directed anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air guided missiles, and fighter interceptors made every mission very dangerous. Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers were taking heavy losses to the Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFL fighters. When escorting F-4C Phantoms would try to engage the MiGs, they would return to their bases which were safe from attack under the American rules of engagement.

Colonel Robin Olds with Captain John (“J.B.”) Stone, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, one of the planners of OPERATION BOLO. (U. S. Air Force)

OPERATION BOLO was a complex plan to lure the ground-controlled MiG 21s into an air battle by having the Phantoms simulate a Thunderchief attack. Colonel Olds led 48 McDonnell F-4Cs of the 8th and 366th Tactical Fighter Wings on the same type of attack that would have been used by the Thunderchiefs, but rather than carrying a full load of bombs, the F-4s were armed with AIM-7E Sparrow radar-guided missiles and AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (The F-4C was not armed with a gun.)

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
An Aero Vodochody-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

As the Mach 2+ MiG 21s started coming up through the clouds, their pilots quickly realized that instead of the vulnerable targets of F-105s on a bomb run, they were faced with air superiority fighters.

In the official after action report, Colonel Olds said,

“At the onset of this battle, the MiGs popped up out of the clouds. Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at my 6 o’clock position. I think this was more by chance than by design. As it turned out, within the next few moments, many others popped out of the clouds in varying positions around the clock.

“This one was just lucky. He was called out by the second flight that had entered the area, they were looking down on my flight and saw the MiG-21 appear. I broke left, turning just hard enough to throw off his deflection, waiting for my three and four men to slice in on him. At the same time I saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about my 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away. I went after him and ignored the one behind me. I fired missiles at him just as he disappeared into the clouds.

“I’d seen another pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just about across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG. I pulled the nose up high about 45 degrees, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll. I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn and I timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him, I’d be about 20 degrees angle off and about 4,500 to 5,000 feet behind him. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind, and he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off”

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 39.

The F-4Cs succeeded in shooting down seven MiG 21s, with another two probably destroyed. This accounted for about half of the VPAF’s MiG 21 complement.

With another flight crew, the Phantom flown by Robin Olds on 2 January 1967, McDonnell F-4C-21-MC 63-7680, shot down a MiG 17 on 13 May 1967. It was itself shot down by antiaircraft fire while attacking a SAM site, 20 November 1967. The Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant James L. Badley, bailed out and was rescued, but the pilot, Captain John M. Martin, was not seen to leave the aircraft and is listed as Missing in Action.

Colonel Robin Olds shot down two MiG-17 fighters with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds shot down a MiG 21 interceptor with this McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, 63-7680, at Ubon RTAFB, sometime between March and November 1967. (Photograph by Frank R. MacSorley, Jr.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 January 1954

Brigadier General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force.
Brigadier General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force.
Colonel Willard W. Millikan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his F-86F Sabre, "Minuteman." (Unattributed)
Colonel Willard W. Millikan, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of his F-86F Sabre, “Minuteman.” (Associated Press)

2 January 1954: Colonel Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force, flew a North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre, 51-13393, named Minuteman, from Los Angeles International Airport to New York in 4 hours, 6 minutes, 16 seconds,¹ averaging 595.91 mph (959.02 kilometers per hour).

Colonel Millikan departed Los Angeles International Airport at 10:10:55 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, and flew most of the route at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). After expending the fuel in his two 670-gallon (2,536 liter) wing tanks, he dropped them over the southwest desert.

The Sabre crossed over Colorado Springs, Colorado, at 11:28 a.m., EST. At 12:26 p.m., Millikan made a refueling stop at Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska (OFF), where a waiting 20-man crew attached two full wing tanks to the Sabre and he was airborne after only 6 minutes, 28 seconds on the ground.

(The Des Moines Register, Vol. 105, No. 197, Sunday, 3 January 1954, Section 4, Page 3-L, Columns 3–6)

Cruising at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), he reported 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Youngstown, Ohio, at 1:47 p.m. EST. Millikan dropped the second set of tanks over Lake Michigan.

Colonel Millikan crossed the finish line at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:19 p.m. EST. His engine flamed out as the aircraft ran out of fuel at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Colonel Millikan made a “dead stick” landing at Idlewild Airport, New York City (IDL) at 2:23 p.m., EST.

“My tank was dry,” he said. “I had to glide in. When I arrived on the ground I did not have a drop of fuel.” After refueling at Idlewild, Colonel Millikan took off at 3:57 p.m., and flew back to Mitchel Field, landing there at 4:07 p.m., EST.

Lieutenant Willard W. Millikand, 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Force, stands in the cockpit of his Republic P-47C Thunderbolt 41-6180. (American Air Museum in Britain, Object Number UPL 18911)
Lieutenant Willard W. Millikan, 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces, stands in the cockpit of his Republic P-47C-2-RE Thunderbolt 41-6180. (American Air Museum in Britain, Object Number UPL 18911)

Willard Wesley “Millie” Millikan was a fighter ace in World War II, officially credited with having destroyed enemy 13 Messerschmitt Bf-109s and Focke-Wulf Fw-190s.

Millie Millikan was born 4 December 1919 at Hamburg, Iowa. He was the second of five children of John Reily Millikan, a farm laborer, and Hattie Mae Moore Millikan. After graduating from high school, Millikan studied at the Nebraska State Teachers College at Peru, in Peru, Nebraska.

Willard W. Millikan enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, 16 August 1941, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He had brown hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 0 inches (1.829 meters) tall and weighed (161 pounds (73 kilograms).

After failing his flight checks as an Aviation Cadet, he went to England and joined the Royal Air Force, serving as a Flying Sergeant in the No. 133 Squadron (one the three Eagle Squadrons) and piloting Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires.

While stationed in England, Captain Millikan married Miss Ruby Samantha Wesson. They would later have a daughter, Patricia.

After the United States entered the war, Millikan was transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and commissioned as a second lieutenant. Millikan served with the 4th Fighter Group and was eventually promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded the 336th Fighter Squadron and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt and North American Aviation P-51B Mustang.

Lieutenant Millikan’s Republic P-47C-2-RE Thunderbolt 41-6180, “Missouri Mauler.” (American Air Museum in Britain, Object Number UPL 14289)

On 22 April 1944, during a 25-minute air battle, Millikan shot down four Messerschmitt Bf 109s with just 666 rounds of ammunition from his Mustang’s four .50-caliber machine guns.

On 30 May 1944, he had to bail out of his North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, 43-24769, Missouri Mauler, near Wittenberg, Germany, after colliding with his wingman, Lieutenant Sam Young, who was evading anti-aircraft fire.

Captain Millikan’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang 43-24769, “Missouri Mauler.” (American Air Museum in Britain, Object Number UPL 21818)

Captain Millikan was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He later escaped and returned to friendly lines.

Major Millikan was released from active duty in 1946. He then joined the District of Columbia Air National Guard. In civilian life he worked for the the Norair Division of Northrop Corporation, and the aviation products division of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

Millikan served during the Korean War, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter bomber. At the time of his record-setting flight, he was commanding officer of the 113th Fighter Interceptor Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard.

Major General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with one silver oak leaf cluster (six awards), Air Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters (four awards), and the Purple Heart.

He died at Alexandria, Virginia, 20 October 1978 at the age of 59 years. Cremated, his ashes were scattered over England.

Morth American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre, Minuteman, right profile. (Million Monkey Theater)
North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre 51-13393, Minuteman, right profile. (Million Monkey Theater)

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The F-86F was the third variant, with improvements over the earlier F-86A and F-86E. Colonel Millikan’s Minuteman was a Block 25 F-86F Sabre built at Columbus, Ohio. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

The F-86F was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,890 pounds (4,939.6 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 20,357 pounds (9,233.8 kilograms).

The F-86F was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-27 single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. It produced 5,910 pounds of thrust (26.289 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (5 minute limit).

A General Electric J47-GE-27 turbojet engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The airplane in the background is a North American Aviation RF-86F Sabre, 52-4492. (U.S. Air Force)

Minuteman was one of the first Block 25 fighters built with the “6–3 wing,” which deleted the leading edge slats of the earlier variants, and moved the wings’ leading edges forward 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) at the root and 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) at the tip. A boundary layer fence was also added. This change increased the Sabre’s maximum speed to 695 miles per hour (1,118.49 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and improved high altitude maneuvering. This came with a 16 mile per hour (25.75 kilometers per hour) increase in the stall speed, to 144 miles per hour (231.75 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling with this wing was 48,000 feet (14,630 meters).

The F-86F-25 carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,525 miles (2,454.25 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684.

¹ In an e-mail, Mr. A.W. Greenfield, Director, Contests and Records, National Aeronautic Association, confirmed Colonel Millikan’s transcontinental speed record was certified by the N.A.A. and stated that the time was adjusted.

North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, circa 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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