Tag Archives: Fighter Pilot

14 July 1922–14 June 2007

Major Robin Olds, United States Army Air Forces. 1946. (LIFE Magazine)
Brigadier General Robert Olds, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1942.

14 July 1922: Brigadier General Robin Olds, United States Air Force, was a fighter pilot and triple ace with 17 official aerial victories in two wars. Robin Olds was born Robert Oldys, Jr., at Luke Field Hospital, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii. He was the first son of Captain Robert Oldys, Air Service, United States Army, and Eloise Wichman Nott Oldys. In 1931, the family name was legally changed from Oldys to Olds. As a child, Robert, Jr., was known as “Robin,” a dimunuitive of Robert.

Robin Olds entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on 1 July 1940. During the summer months, he received primary, basic and advanced pilot training. With training at West Point accelerated because of wartime needs, Cadet Olds and his class graduated one year early, 1 June 1943. Olds was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, (number 589 of 620 on the Air Corps list of second lieutenants), and was assigned to fighter training in the Lockheed P-38 Lightning at Williams Field, Arizona. On 1 December 1943, Second Lieutenant Olds was appointed to the rank of First Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). (His permanent rank remained Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, until after the War.)

On completion of all phases of training, Lieutenant Olds was assigned to the 434th Fighter Squadron, 479th Fighter Group, and deployed to England aboard the former Moore-McCormack Lines passenger liner S.S. Argentina, which had been converted to a troop transport.

Lieutenant Robin Olds with "SCAT II," A lockheed P-38 Lightning.
Lieutenant Robin Olds with “SCAT II,” a Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 43-28707. (Imperial War Museum)

The 434th Fighter Squadron was based at RAF Wattisham in East Anglia. First Lieutenant Olds was promoted to Captain (A.U.S.) on 24 July 1944. He became an ace during his first two combat missions, shooting down 2 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters on 14 August 1944 and 3 Messerschmitt Bf 109s on August 23.

The squadron re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and Captain Olds continued to destroy enemy fighters. On 9 February 1945, just 22 years old, he was promoted to Major. On 25 March 1945, Major Olds was placed in command of the 434th Fighter Squadron. Major Olds completed the war with a record of 13 aerial victories,¹ and another 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground. He had flown 107 combat missions.

Major Robin Olds with “SCAT VI,” a North American Aviation P-51K-5-NT Mustang, 44-11746, in England during World War II. (U.S. Air Force via Crazy Horse Aviation)
Robin Olds’ Mustang, “SCAT VII” (P-51D-25-NA 44-44729), escorts a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber during World War II. This airplane still exists. (U.S. Air Force)

When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service on 18 September 1947, Major Olds (along with hundreds, if not thousands of other officers) reverted to their permanent rank of First Lieutenant, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 June 1946. Olds retained the temporary rank of Major.

After World War II, Major Olds transitioned to jet fighters with the Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star at March Field, near Riverside, California. He flew in an aerobatic demonstration team, and on 1 September 1946, flew a Lockheed P-80A to second place in the Thompson Trophy Race, Jet Division, at Cleveland, Ohio. Olds averaged 514.715 miles per hour (828.354 kilometers per hour) over ten laps around the 30-mile (48.3 kilometers), four pylon course.

Major Robin Olds was scheduled to fly this Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, “SCAT X,” serial number 44-85027, in the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race. It had to be replaced shortly before the race. This fighter was damaged beyond repair and written off at Long Beach Army Airfield, California, 14 September 1946. (Kevin Grantham Collection via airrace.com)
Ella Raines (Universal Pictures)

While stationed at March Field, Olds met his future wife, actress Ella Wallace Raines (formerly, Mrs. Kenneth William Trout). They married on 6 February 1947 at the West Hollywood Community Church, just south of the Sunset Strip in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles County, California. Rev. Gordon C. Chapman performed the ceremony. They would have two daughters, Christina and Susan. They divorced 15 November 1976.

In October 1948, Major Olds returned to England as an exchange officer in command of No. 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, at RAF Tangmere. He was the first non-Commonwealth officer to command a Royal Air Force squadron. The squadron flew the Gloster Meteor F. Mk.IV jet fighter.

Following the tour with the R.A.F., Olds returned to March Air Force Base as operations officer of the 94th Fighter Squadron, Jet, 1st Fighter-Interceptor Group, which had been equipped with the North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre. Soon after, he was placed in command of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, another squadron within the 1st Fighter-Interceptor Group.

North American Aviation F-86A Sabres of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor squadron at George AFB, California, 1950. The Sabre closest to the camera is F-86A-5-NA 48-214. (U.S. Air Force)

Olds was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 20 February 1951, and to colonel 15 April 1953. From 8 October 1955 to 10 August 1956 he commanded the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Group based at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany. The group flew the rocket-armed North American Aviation F-86D Sabre. The 86th was inactivated 10 August 1956. Colonel Olds then was assigned as chief of the Weapons Proficiency Center for the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) at Wheelus Air Base, near Tripoli, Libya.

After assignment as Deputy Chief, Air Defense Division, Headquarters USAF, from 1958 to 1962, Colonel Olds attended the National War College, graduating in 1963. From 8 September 1963 to 26 July 1965, Colonel Olds commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, at RAF Bentwaters, England.

Colonel Olds with a McDonnell F-101C Voodoo at RAF Bentwaters. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Olds with a McDonnell F-101C Voodoo at RAF Bentwaters. (U.S. Air Force)

Robin Olds returned to combat as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, in September 1966. Flying the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, Colonel Olds scored victories over two Vietnam Peoples Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s and two MiG-21s, bringing his official score to 17 ² aerial victories. ³ He was the only Air Force fighter ace with victories in both World War II and the Vietnam War. (There have been rumors that he actually shot down seven MiGs, but credited those to other pilots to avoid being pulled out of combat and sent back to the United States.)

For his actions during the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967, Colonel Olds was awarded the Air Force Cross. He flew 152 combat missions during the Vietnam War. His final combat mission was on 23 September 1967.

Coloenl Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB, 1967. U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon RTAFB, May 1967. U.S. Air Force)

On 1 June 1968, Robin Olds was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and assigned as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. In February 1971, he was appointed Director of Aerospace Safety in the Office of the Inspector General at Norton Air Force Base, near San Bernardino, California. He retired from the Air Force 31 May 1973.

During his military career, Brigadier General Robin Olds had been awarded the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), Air Medal with 39 oak leaf clusters (40 awards), Air Force Commendation Medal, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross of the United Kingdom, the Croix de Guerre (France), and the Republic of Vietnam’s Distinguished Service Medal, Air Gallantry Medal with Gold Wings, Air Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, United States Air Force

In 1978, Robin Olds married his second wife, Abigail Morgan Sellers Barnett. They were divorced in 1993.

Brigadier General Robin Olds passed away 14 June 2007 at the age of 84 years. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Brigadier General Robin Olds next assignment was as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of serving under his command. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Robin Olds’ next assignment was as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of serving under his command. (Bryan R. Swopes) (U.S. Air Force photograph)

Note: Thanks to Ms. Christina Olds and Lieutenant Colonel R. Medley Gatewood, U.S. Air Force (Retired), for correcting a number of errors in the previous version of this article.

¹ Source: Air Force News Agency

² Ibid.

³ Under the rules in effect at the time, a pilot and WSO shared credit for an enemy aircraft destroyed, with each being credited 0.5 kills. Colonel Olds was officially credited with 2.0 kills. The rules were changed in 1971, retroactive to 1965. This gave Olds an official score of 4.0. —Source: To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam 1966–1973, by Wayne Thompson. Air Force History Office, 2000. Chapter 4 at Page 11.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 July 1943

Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Forces
Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Corps

2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Army Air Corps, of the 99th Fighter Squadron (which was briefly attached to the 324th Fighter Group) was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield on the coast of Tunisia and was patrolling the island of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.

On 2 July, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano,  in western Sicily. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.

“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”

Lieutenant Hall was officially credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II. Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first for the squadron, but it was also the only enemy airplane to have been shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1943.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190¹ that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Blakesly Hall was the second child of Franklin Hall, a 30-year-old kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, 25 years old, and also from Mississippi. Charles was born 25 August 1920 at his parents home, 742 N. Columbia Street, Brazil, Indiana. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1938 and then attended Eastern Illinois University. He majored in Pre-Med, and was active in sports. Hall worked as a waiter while attending college.

After three years of college, on 12 November 1941, Hall enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. Military records indicate that he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall (170 centimeters) and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).

Aviation Cadet Charles B. Hall, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1941 (NASM)

Charles Hall was part of a group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which had been established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away, and the cadets transitioned into operational aircraft at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Additional flight trained took place at Cochran Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.

On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on 3 July 1942. (Serial number 0790457)

Lieutenant Charles B. Hall married Miss Maxine Jessie Parish, a stenographer, in Vigo County, Indiana, 14 December 1942.

Captain and Mrs. Charles B. Hall (Maxine Parrish Hall), circa 1945. (William R. Thompson Digital Collection, Illinois Heartland Library System 2007-1-526-27)

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major General John K. Cannon, Commanding General, Twelfth Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Hall was the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.

Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major Hall transferred to the Air Force Reserve. He worked at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, as a civil service employee from 1949 until retiring in 1967. He then worked at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Hall later married Miss Lola Delois Miles of Oklahoma City. They had two children and remained together until his death, 22 November 1971.

Major Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Air Force (Retired), was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, flew this Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895, when he shot down an enemy airplane, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L (Curtiss-Wright Model 87-B3) differed from the majority of P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine instead of the Allison V-1710.

The P-40L was a lightened version of the P-40F, with fuel tanks removed from the wings, and armament reduced from six to four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with only 201 rounds of ammunition per gun. Identifying features of the P-40F and P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk was a lightened version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered P-40F. This P-40F is armed with six .50-caliber machine guns, while the P-40L carried just four. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40L was 33 feet, 3-23/32 inches (10.15286 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 3½ inches (11.36650 meters) and height of 10 feet, 7-25/32 inches (3.24564 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,870 pounds (3,116 kilograms) and the gross weight was 9,416 pounds (4,271 kilograms).

The V-1650-1 was the first version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin to be built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was developed from the Merlin XX and designated Merlin 28. The Packard V-1650-1 was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine. It had a compression ratio of 6.0:1, and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m., and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The Military Power rating was 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters), and 1,120 horsepower at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters). The engine drove an 11-foot (3.353 meter) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-1 weighed 1,512 pounds (686 kilograms).

The P-40L had a maximum speed of 368 miles per hour (592 kilometers per hour).

Curtiss-Wright built 13,738 P-40-series aircraft. 3,866 of these were the P-40L variant.

This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Sculptor Joel Randall)

¹ A study of U.S. Army Air Force claims of enemy aircraft destroyed (Andrew Arthy and Morten Jessen, 2013) indicates that no Focke Wulf Fw 190s were present at the time, however, Messerchmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 were defending the target against B-25s and P-40s. Two were lost on that day. The authors suggest that opposing aircraft were often misidentified.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1915

Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, Luftstreitkräfte, wearing the Pour le Mérite (the “Blue Max”) (Postkartenvertrieb W. Sanke)

1 July 1915: German Luftstreitkräfte fighter pilot Leutnant Kurt Wintgens was flying a pre-production Fokker M.5K/MG, number E.5/15, (designated Eindecker III when placed in production), which was equipped with a single fixed, forward-firing machine gun. An interrupter gear driven off the engine stopped the machine gun momentarily as the propeller blades crossed the line of fire. This was known as synchronization.

Leutnant Wintgens' Fokker M.5K/MG Endecker fighter, E.5/15.
Leutnant Wintgens’ Fokker M.5K/MG Eindecker fighter, E.5/15. (Peter M. Grosz Collection)

At approximately 1800 hours, Leutnant Wintgens engaged a French Morane-Saulnier Type L two-place observation airplane east of Lunéville in northeastern France. The French airplane’s observer fired back with a rifle. Eventually, the Morane-Saulnier was struck by bullets in its engine and forced down.

Wintgens is believed to have achieved the first aerial victory using a synchronized machine gun, though because his victim went down inside Allied lines, the victory was not officially credited.

Closeup of a Fokker E.I’s Oberursel U.0 seven cylinder rotary engine, and Stangensteuerung synchronizer gear drive cam/rod unit behind engine crankcase.

The Fokker prototype was armed with an air-cooled 7.9 mm Parabellum MG14 aircraft machine gun made by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken Aktien-Gesellschaft. This gun fired ammunition from a cloth belt which was contained inside a metal drum. It had a rate of fire of 600–700 rounds per minute. The synchronization mechanism had been designed by Anton Herman Gerard Fokker, who was also the airplane’s designer.

A Fokker advertisement in Motor, 1917.

The Fokker Aviatik GmbH M.5K/MG Eindecker III was a single-place, single-engine monoplane fighter constructed of a steel tubing fuselage with a doped fabric covering. It had a length of 6.75 meters (22.15 feet), a wingspan of 8.95 meters (29.36 feet) and height of 2.40 meters (7.87 feet). The airplane had an empty weight of 370 kilograms (815.7 pounds) and gross weight of 580 kilograms (1,278.7 pounds).

It was powered by an 11.835 liter (722.2 cubic inch) air-cooled Motorenfabrik Oberursel U.0 seven-cylinder rotary engine which produced 80 Pferdestärke (78.9 horsepower). This engine was a German-built version of the French Société des Moteurs Gnome 7 Lambda engine.

The M.5K/MG had a maximum speed of 130 kilometers per hour (80.8 miles per hour) and a service ceiling of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet). Its range was 200 kilometers (124.3 miles).

Type L
Morane Saulnier Type L (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

The Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier Type L was a single-engine two-place monoplane used as a scouting aircraft. The single wing is mounted above to fuselage on struts. This type is called a “parasol wing.” The airplane is 6.88 meters (22.57 feet) long with a wingspan of 11.20 meters (36.75 feet) long and height of 3.93 meters (12.89 feet). Its empty weight is 393 kilograms (866 pounds) and gross weight is 677.5 kilograms (1,494 pounds).

The Type L was powered by a 10.91 liter (665.79 cubic inch) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine-cylinder rotary engine which produced 83 horsepower at 1,285 r.p.m.

The Morane Salunier Type L had a maximum speed of 125 kilometers per hour (78 miles per hour). It could be armed with one .303-caliber Lewis light machine gun on a flexible mount.

Kurt Hermann Fritz Karl Wintgens was born 1 August 1894 at Neustadt in Oberschlesien, Prussia. He was the son of Lieutenant Paul Wingens, a cavlary officer, and Martha gb. Bohlmann.

Wintgens entered a military academy as an officer cadet in 1913, but with the outbreak of World War I, he was appointed a lieutenant and sent to the Eastern Front. He earned the Iron Cross.

Leutnant Wintgens was transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte as an observer, but then trained as a pilot.

Wintgens was officially credited with 19 aerial victories, with three more unconfirmed. After his eighth victory he was awarded “the Blue Max,” (Pour le Mérite).

Kurt Wintgens was shot down near Viller-Carbonnel, Somme, France, 25 September 1916. He was killed in the crash.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 June 1976

BADER, Douglas, London Gazette, 4 June 197612 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”

Pilot Officer Douglas Bader had lost both of his legs in an airplane crash, 14 December 1931. He was medically retired from the Royal Air Force as medically unfit for service.

With World War II approaching, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement but was initially refused. Later, after revaluation, Bader was accepted, sent to refresher flight training, and then on to a fighter squadron.

Bader quickly rose to Section Leader, Flight Commander, Squadron Leader and  Wing Commander. Flying Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, he shot down at least 20 enemy airplanes. He had twice been awarded the Distinguished Service Order and twice, the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Douglas Bader with a Hawker Hurricane of No. 242 Squadron, September 1940. Photograph by F/O S. A. Devon, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 1406)
Douglas Bader with a Hawker Hurricane of No. 242 Squadron, September 1940. Photograph by F/O S. A. Devon, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 1406)

On 9 March 1941, Douglas Bader was himself shot down over France. With difficulty he was able to parachute from his Spitfire, and was quickly captured. Initially held in a hospital, Bader escaped. Recaptured, he was taken to a series of prisoner of war camps, where he continued his escape attempts. Finally the Germans imprisoned him in the notorious Colditz Castle where he remained for the rest of the war. He retired from the Royal Air Force in 1946 with the rank of Group Captain.

After the war, Douglas Bader flew for the Shell Oil Company. But he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.

For his services to the disabled, Group Captain Bader received the honor, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). Twenty years later he was invested Knight Bachelor.

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.

Sir Douglas Robert Stewart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1946

Lieutenant Howard A. Johnson, USAAF, with Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123. (FAI)
Lieutenant Henry A. Johnson, USAAF, with Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123. (FAI)

3 June 1946: Lieutenant Henry A. Johnson, U.S. Army Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 1,000 Kilometers Without Payload flying a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, serial number 44-85123, at Dayton, Ohio. The average speed was 745.08 kilometers per hour (462.97 miles per hour). The elapsed time was 1 hour, 20 minutes, 31 seconds.¹

This airplane had earlier set a transcontinental speed record when Colonel William H. Councill flew it from Daugherty Field, Long Beach, California to La Guardia Field, New York, in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds on 26 January 1946. It would go on to win the Thompson Trophy Race J Division, 2 September 1946, when Major Gustav E. Lundquist flew it to an average speed of 515.853 miles per hour (830.185 kilometers per hour) over the 180-kilometer course.

Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123, World Speed Record Holder. (FAI)
Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123, World Speed Record Holder. (FAI)

The Lockheed P-80-1-LO was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was a single-seat, single engine airplane, designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards AFB) 8 January 1944.

The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10.5 inches (11.849 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It weighed 7,920 pounds empty (3,593 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms).

Early production P-80As were powered by either an Allison J33-A-9 or a General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet engine. The J33 was a licensed version of the Rolls-Royce Derwent. It was a single-shaft turbojet with a 1-stage centrifugal compressor section and a 1-stage axial-flow turbine. The -9 and -11 engines were rated at 3,825 pounds of thrust (17.014 kilonewtons) at 11,500 r.p.m. They were 8 feet, 6.9 inches (2.614 meters) long, 4 feet, 2.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,775 pounds (805 kilograms).

The P-80A-1 had a maximum speed of 510 miles per hour (821 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 495 miles per hour (797 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Several hundred of the early production P-80 Shooting stars had all of their surface seams filled, and the airplanes were primed and painted. Although this process added 60 pounds (27 kilograms) to the empty weight, the decrease in drag allowed a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) increase in top speed. The painted surface was difficult to maintain in the field and the process was discontinued.

The P-80A Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber  aircraft machine guns mounted in the nose, with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun.

44-85123 is undergoing restoration at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10973

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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