Tag Archives: Fighter

14 February 1991

McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, U.S.Air Force.)
McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle 89-0487 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom, U.S.Air Force.)

14 February 1991: An unusual incident occurred during Desert Storm, when Captains Tim Bennett and Dan Bakke, United States Air Force, flying the airplane in the above photograph, McDonnell Douglas F-15E-47-MC Strike Eagle, 89-0487, used a 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bomb to “shoot down” an Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter. This airplane is still in service with the Air Force, and on 13 January 2012 became the first F-15E to have logged over 10,000 flight hours.

Captain Bennett (Pilot) and Captain Bakke (Weapons Systems Officer) were leading a two-ship flight on a anti-Scud missile patrol, waiting for a target to be assigned by their Boeing E-3 AWACS controller. 89-0487 was armed with four laser-guided GBU-10 bombs and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles. Their wingman was carrying 12 Mk. 82 500 pound (227 kilogram) bombs.

The AWACS controller called Bennett’s flight and told them that a Special Forces team on the ground searching for Scud launching sites had been located by Iraqi forces and was in need of help. They headed in from 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away, descending though 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) of clouds as the went. They came out of the clouds at 2,500 feet (762 meters), 15–20 miles (24.1– 32.2 kilometers) from the Special Forces team. With the Strike Eagle’s infrared targeting pod they picked up five helicopters and identified them as enemy Mi-24s. It appeared that the helicopters were trying to drive the U.S. soldiers into a waiting Iraqi blocking force.

Iraqi Army Aviation Mil Mi-24 Hind (helis.com)
Iraqi Army Aviation Mil Mi-24 Hind (helis.com)

Their Strike Eagle was inbound at 600 knots (1,111.2 kilometers per hour) and both the FLIR (infrared) targeting pod and search radar were locked on to the Iraqi helicopters. Dan Bakke aimed the laser targeting designator at the lead helicopter preparing to drop a GBU-10 while Tim Bennett was getting a Sidewinder missile ready to fire. At four miles (6.44 kilometers) they released the GBU-10. At this time, the helicopter, which had been either on the ground or in a hover, began to accelerate and climb. The Eagle’s radar showed the helicopter’s ground speed at 100 knots. Bakke struggled to keep the laser designator on the fast-moving target. Bennett was about to fire the Sidewinder at the helicopter when the 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) bomb hit and detonated. The helicopter ceased to exist. The other four helicopters scattered. Soon after, additional fighter bombers arrived to defend the U.S. Special Forces team. They were later extracted and were able to confirm the Strike Eagle’s kill.

A Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot checks a GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb on an F-18 Hornet. This is the same type of bomb used by Captains and Bakke to destroy an Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter.(RAAF)
A Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot checks a GBU-10 Paveway II 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) laser-guided bomb on an F-18 Hornet. This is the same type of bomb used by Captains Bennett and Bakke to destroy an Iraqi Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter. (RAAF)
Mission count for the 10,000+ flight hours of F-15E 89-0487. (U.S. Air Force)
Mission count for the 10,000+ flight hours of F-15E 89-0487. The green star indicates the Iraqi Mi-24 helicopter destroyed 14 February 1991. (U.S. Air Force)

The Strike Eagle was begun as a private venture by McDonnell Douglas. Designed to be operated by a pilot and a weapons system officer (WSO), the airplane can carry bombs, missiles and guns for a ground attack role, while maintaining its capability as an air superiority fighter. It’s airframe was a strengthened and its service life doubled to 16,000 flight hours. The Strike Eagle became an Air Force project in March 1981, and  went into production as the F-15E. The first production model, 86-0183, made its first flight 11 December 1986.

The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is a two-place twin-engine multi-role fighter. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¾ inches (13.049 meters) and height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). It weighs 31,700 pounds (14,379 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds (36,741 kilograms). The F-15E is powered by two Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofan engines which produce 17,800 pounds of thrust (79.178 kilonewtons) each, or 29,100 pounds (129.443 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The Strike Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.54 (1,676 miles per hour, (2,697 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and is capable of sustained speed at Mach 2.3 (1,520 miles per hour, 2,446 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). The fighter-bomber has a combat radius of 790 miles (1,271 kilometers) and a maximum ferry range of 2,765 miles (4,450 kilometers).

Though optimized as a fighter-bomber, the F-15E Strike Eagle retains an air-to-air combat capability. The F-15E is armed with one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon with 512 rounds of ammunition, and can carry four AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and four AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided missiles, or a combination of Sidewinders, Sparrows and AIM-120 AMRAAM long range missiles. It can carry a maximum load of 24,500 pounds (11,113 kilograms) of bombs and missiles for ground attack.

A McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch, 1999. (U.S. Air Force)
A McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch, 1999. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mil Mi-24 (NATO reporting name “Hind”) is a large, heavily-armed attack helicopter that can also carry up to eight troops. It is flown by two pilots and a gunner.

It is 57 feet, 4 inches (17.475 meters) long and the five-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 56 feet, 7 inches (17.247 meters). The helicopter has an overall height of 21 feet, 3 inches (6.477 meters). The empty weight is 18,740 pounds (8,378 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 26,500 pounds (12,020 kilograms).

The helicopter is powered by two Isotov TV3-117 turboshaft engines which produce 2,200 horsepower, each. The Mil-24 has a maximum speed of 208 miles per hour (335 kilometers per hour) and a range of 280 miles (451 kilometers). Its service ceiling is 14,750 feet (4,496 meters).

The helicopter is armed with a 12.7 mm Yakushev-Borzov Yak-B four-barreled Gatling gun with 1,470 rounds of ammunition; a twin-barrel GSh-30K 30 mm autocannon with 750 rounds; a twin-barrel GSh-23L 23 mm autocannon with 450 rounds. The Mi-24 can also carry a wide range of bombs, rockets and missiles.

The Mil Mi-24 first flew in 1969 and is still in production. More than 2,300 have been built and they have served the militaries of forty countries.

A Russian-built Mil Mi-24P Hind-F at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Center, Threat Support Activity, NAS Fallon, Nevada. (U.S. Army)
A Russian-built Mil Mi-24P Hind-F at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Center, Threat Support Activity, NAS Fallon, Nevada. (United States Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 February 1943

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stands on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

3 February 1943: North American Aviation test pilot Robert C. Chilton made the first flight of the first production P-51A Mustang, P-51A-1-NA, serial number 43-6003. A Model NA-99, the Mustang had manufacturer’s serial number 99-22106. This airplane was one of 1,200 which had been ordered by the United States Army Air Corps on 23 June 1942. (With the introduction of the Merlin-powered P-51B, the number of P-51A Mustangs was reduced to 310.)

The first production P-51A, 43-6006, shown with skis for winter operations testing. (U.S. Air Force)
The first production P-51A, 43-6003, shown with skis for winter operations testing. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mustang had been designed and built by North American Aviation, Inc., as a fighter for the Royal Air Force. Two Mustang Mk.I airplanes, the fourth and the tenth from the RAF production line, had been given to the Air Corps for evaluation as the XP-51, serial numbers 41-038 and 41-039.  Prior to this, the Air Corps had ordered 150 P-51 fighters, but these were Mustang Mk.I models to be turned over to England under Lend-Lease.

43-6003 was used for testing and was equipped with skis for takeoff and landing tests in New Hampshire and Alaska.

The second production P-51A Mustang, 43-6004, was used for high-speed testing. It was called slick Chick. (U.S. Air Force)
The second production P-51A-1-NA Mustang, 43-6004, was used for high-speed testing. It was called Slick Chick. (U.S. Air Force)

The North American Aviation P-51A Mustang was a single-seat, single-engine, long-range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. It was 32 feet, 2½ inches (9.817 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, ¼-inch (11.284 meters) and a height of 12 feet, 2-½ inches (3.721 meters) high. It had an empty weight of 6,451 pounds (2,926 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms).

The P-51A was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F20R (V-1710-81) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The V-1710-81 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 870 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 14,400 feet (4,389 meters). It was rated at 1,200 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The Military Power rating was 1,125 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., to an altitude of 14,600 feet (4,450 meters). War Emergency Power was 1,480 horsepower. The engine drove a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The engine was 7 feet, 1.87 inches (2.181 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high and 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,352 pounds (613 kilograms).

Maximum speed of the P-51A in level flight was 415 miles per hour (668 kilometers per hour) at 10,400 feet (3,170 meters) at War Emergency Power. It could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7 minutes, 3.6 seconds, and to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 15 minutes, 4.8 seconds. Its service ceiling was 35,100 feet (10,699 meters) and the absolute ceiling was 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). Maximum range on internal fuel was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

The third production North American Aviation P-51A Mustang, 43-6005. (North American)
The third production North American Aviation P-51A-1-NA Mustang, 43-6005. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The P-51A was armed with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with two mounted in each wing. The inner guns had 350 rounds of ammunition, each, and the outer guns had 280 rounds per gun.

Of the 1,200 P-51A Mustangs ordered by the Army Air Corps, 310 were delivered. The order was changed to the Packard V-1650 Merlin-powered P-51B Mustang.

The fourth production airplane, North American Aviation P-51A-1-NA Mustang 43-6006. This Mustang crashed in Alsaka in 1944 an dwas recovered in 1977, then restored. It has FAA registration N51Z. (Kogo via Wikipedia)
The fourth production airplane, North American Aviation P-51A-1-NA Mustang 43-6006. This Mustang crashed in Alaska in 1944 and was recovered in 1977, then restored. It has FAA registration N51Z. (Kogo)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 February 1974

General Dynamics YF-16 Fighting Falcon 72-1567, 2 February 1974. (U.S. Air Force)
General Dynamics YF-16 Fighting Falcon 72-1567, 2 February 1974. (U.S. Air Force)
Philip F. Oerstler, General Dynamics test pilot. (Photograph courtsey of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight test Engineers)
Philip F. Oestricher, General Dynamics test pilot. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight test Engineers)

2 February 1974: Test pilot Philip F. Oestricher made the first test flight of the General Dynamics YF-16 Light Weight Fighter prototype, 72-1567, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During the 90-minute flight the airplane reached 400 knots (740.8 kilometers per hour) and 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

Built at Fort Worth, Texas, the prototype rolled out 13 December 1973. It was loaded aboard a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy heavy-lift transport and was flown to Edwards. During high-speed taxi tests on 20 January 1974 the YF-16 began to oscillate in the roll axis, threatening to touch the wingtips to the ground.

To prevent damage, Phil Oestricher lifted off to regain control and after six minutes, touched down again.

The airplane had sustained damage to the right horizontal stabilizer. Engineers determined that the airplane’s roll control was too sensitive, and that the exhaust nozzle was improperly wired, resulting in too much thrust at low throttle settings. The YF-16 was repaired and was ready for its first test flight on 2 February.

A prototype YF-16 during a test flight, March 1973. Edwards Air Force Base is visible under the airplane's left wing. (Lockheed Martin)
The first prototype YF-16, 72-1567, during a test flight, March 1973. Edwards Air Force Base is visible under the airplane’s left wing. (Lockheed Martin)

The two YF-16 prototypes competed against the Northrop YF-17 for the role of the Air Force and NATO light weight fighter program. The YF-16 was selected and single-seat F-16A and two-seat F-16B fighters were ordered. The YF-17 was developed into the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet.

Phil Oestricher in the cockpit of the first General Dynamics YF-16 Light Weight Fighter prototype at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, December 1972.
Phil Oestricher in the cockpit of the first General Dynamics YF-16 Light Weight Fighter prototype at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, December 1973. (Lockheed Martin)

The F-16 was designed to be a highly-maneuverable, light weight air superiority day fighter, but it has evolved into a multi-role fighter/fighter bomber with all weather attack capability.

The F-16 (now, a Lockheed Martin product) remains in production, with more than 4,500 having been built in the United States and under license in Europe. The United States Air Force has more than 1,200 F-16s in service.

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Block 50D Fighting Falcon, serial number 91-0405, of the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. This F-16 is armed with four AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and two air-to-ground AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM). It carries external fuel tanks and an electronics countermeasures unit. (U.S. Air Force)
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Block 50D Fighting Falcon, serial number 91-0405, of the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. This F-16 is armed with four AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and two air-to-ground AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM). It carries external fuel tanks and an electronics countermeasures unit. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-16C is a single-seat, single-engine Mach 2+ fighter. It is 49.3 feet (15.03 meters) long with a wingspan of 32.8 feet (10.0 meters) and overall height of 16.7 feet (5.09 meters). It has an empty weight of 20,300 pounds (9,207.9 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 48,000 pounds (21,772 kilograms).

The fighter is powered by one Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 or General Electric F110-GE-129 afterburning turbofan engine which produces 17,800 pounds of thrust (79.178 kilonewtons) each, or 29,100 pounds (129.443 kilonewtons) with afterburner) (F100), or 29,500 pounds (131.223 kilonewtons) (F110).

General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 30H Fighting Falcon 87-0292, 121st Fighter Squadron, 113th Operations Group, District of Columbia Air National Guard (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin F-16C Block 30H Fighting Falcon 87-0292, 121st Fighter Squadron, 113th Operations Group, District of Columbia Air National Guard (Lockheed Martin)

The Fighting Falcon has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 (913 miles per hour, or 1,470 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 2+ at altitude. The fighter’s service ceiling is higher than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Maximum range is 2,002 miles (3,222 kilometers).

The F-16C is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm 6-barreled Gatling gun with 511 rounds of ammunition, and can carry a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and bombs.

The first prototype YF-16, 72-1567, is now on display at the Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton, Virginia.

The first of the two General Dynamics prototype YF-16 Fighting Falcon lightweight fighters, 72-1567, on display at the Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton, Virginia. (Rtphokie via Wikipedia)
The first of the two General Dynamics prototype YF-16 Fighting Falcon lightweight fighters, 72-1567, on display at the Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton, Virginia. (Rtphokie via Wikipedia)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 February 1975

Streak Eagle over St. Louis
Major Roger J. Smith, u.S. Air Force

1 February 1975: Major Roger J. Smith, United States Air Force, a test pilot assigned to the F-15 Joint Test Force at Edwards AFB, California, flew the  McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119, Streak Eagle, to its eighth Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and U.S. National Aeronautic Association time-to-altitude record.

From brake release at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, at 913 feet (278 meters) above Sea Level, the F-15 reached 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) in 3 minutes, 27.799 seconds.

This was the eighth time-to-altitude record set by Streak Eagle in 17 days.

FAI Record File Num #8520 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 30 000 m
Performance: 3 min 27.799s
Date: 1975-02-01
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant Roger J. Smith (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)

The flight profiles for the record attempts were developed by McDonnell Douglas Chief Developmental Test Pilot, Charles P. “Pete” Garrison (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired).

Streak Eagle carried only enough fuel for each specific flight. It was secured to the hold-back device on the runway and the engines were run up to full afterburner. It was released from the hold-back and was airborne in just three seconds.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 21.10.22When the F-15 reached 428 knots (793.4 kilometers per hour), the pilot pulled up into an Immelmann turn, holding 2.5 Gs. Streak Eagle would arrive back over the air base in level flight at about 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), but upside down. Rolling right side up, Streak Eagle continued accelerating to Mach 1.5 while climbing through 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). It would then accelerate to Mach 2.2 and the pilot would pull the fighter up at 4.0 Gs until it reached a 60° climb angle. He held 60° until he had to shut down the engines to prevent them from overheating in the thin high-altitude atmosphere.

After reaching a peak altitude and slowing to just 55 knots (63 miles per hour, 102 kilometers per hour), the airplane was pushed over into a 55° dive. Once it was below 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) the engines would be restarted and Streak Eagle returned to land at Grand Forks.

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119 Streak Eagle, Aquila Maxima, world record holder. (U.S. Air Force)

Streak Eagle is a very early production F-15A-6-MC Eagle, a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9½ inches (13.043 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 27,000 pounds (12,247 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 66,000 pounds (29,937 kilograms).

The F-15A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) afterburning turbofan engines capable of producing 14,670 pounds of thrust (65.255 kilonewtons), and 23,830 pounds (105.996 kilonewtons), each, with afterburner. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The F100-PW-100 is 191 inches (4.851 meters) long, 46.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,035 pounds (1,376.7 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 570 miles per hour (917 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 915 miles per hour (1,473 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 1,650 miles per hour (2,655 kilometers per hour) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). The service ceiling is 65,000 feet (19,812 meters). It can climb in excess of 50,000 feet per minute (254 meters per second), and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, could climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 1,222 miles (1,967 kilometers).

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 940 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

384 F-15A Eagles were built before production shifted to the improved F-15C version. As F-15Cs became operational, the F-15As were transferred to Air National Guard units assigned to defend continental U.S. airspace. The last F-15A was retired from service in 2009.

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC Streak Eagle 72-0119. (U.S. Air Force)

Streak Eagle was specially modified for the record attempts. Various equipment that would not be needed for these flights was eliminated: The flap and speed brake actuators, the M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm cannon and its ammunition handling equipment, the radar and fire control systems, unneeded cockpit displays and radios, and one generator.

Other equipment was added: A long pitot boom was mounted at the nose with alpha and beta vanes, equipment for the pilot’s David Clark Company A/P-225-6 full pressure suit, extremely sensitive accelerometers and other instrumentation, extra batteries, an in-cockpit video camera aimed over the pilot’s shoulder, and perhaps most important, a special hold-down device was installed in place of the fighter’s standard arresting hook.

These changes resulted in an airplane that was approximately 1,800 pounds (817 kilograms) lighter than the standard production F-15A. This gave it a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.4:1.

Because Streak Eagle was a very early production airplane its internal structure was weaker than the final production F-15A standard. It was considered too expensive to modify it to the new standard, so it was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in December 1980.

Streak Eagle, the record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, in “Compass Ghost” two-tone blue camouflage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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27 January 1939

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

27 January 1939: First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, United States Army Air Corps, made the first flight of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 Lightning, serial number 37-457, at March Field, Riverside County, California.

First Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey, USAAC, in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-36A Hawk, at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey, USAAC, in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-36A Hawk, at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

This was a short flight. Immediately after takeoff, Kelsey felt severe vibrations in the airframe. Three of four flap support rods had failed, leaving the flaps unusable.

Returning to March Field, Kelsey landed at a very high speed with a 18° nose up angle. The tail dragged on the runway. Damage was minor and the problem was quickly solved.

Designed by an engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard, which included the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the XP-38 was a single-place, twin-engine fighter designed for very high speed and long range. It was an unusual configuration with the cockpit and armament in a center nacelle, with two longitudinal booms containing the engines and propellers, turbochargers, radiators and coolers. The Lightning was equipped with tricycle landing gear. The nose strut retracted into the center nacelle and the two main gear struts retracted into bays in the booms. To reduce drag, the sheet metal used butt joints with flush rivets.

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Left profile, Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (U.S. Air Force)

The XP-38 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). Its empty weight was 11,507 pounds (5,219.5 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,904 pounds (6,306.75 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,416 pounds (6,992.6 kilograms).

The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. When installed on the P-38, these engines rotated in opposite directions. The XP-38 used a pair of experimental C-series Allisons, with the port V-1710-C8 (V-1710-11) engine being a normal right-hand tractor configuration, while the starboard engine, the V-1710-C9 (V-1710-15), was a left-hand tractor. Through a 2:1 gear reduction, these engines drove the two 11-foot (3.353 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers inward to counteract the torque effect of the engines and propellers. (Viewed from the front of the airplane, the XP-38’s starboard propeller turned clockwise, the port propeller turned counter-clockwise. The direction of rotation was reversed in the YP-38 service test prototypes and production P-38 models.) The engines have long propeller gear drive sections to aid in streamlining aircraft, and are sometimes referred to as “long-nose Allisons.”

The V-1710-11 and -15 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. They had a continuous power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for takeoff. The combination of a gear-driven supercharger and an exhaust-driven General Electric B-1 turbosupercharger allowed these engines to maintain their rated power levels to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The -11 and -15 were 7 feet, 10.46 inches (2.399 meters) long. The -11 was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.93 inches (0.7348 meters) wide. It weighed 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms). The -15 was 3 feet, 4.71 inches (1.034 meters) high, 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.7351 meters) wide, and weighed 1,305 pounds (591.9 kilograms).

A 1939 Allison Engine Company V-1710-33 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms) and produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. During World War II, this engine cost $19,000. (NASM)
A 1939 Allison Engine Company V-1710-33 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms) and produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. During World War II, this engine cost $19,000. (NASM)

The XP-38 had a maximum speed of 413 miles per hour (664.66 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582.4 meters).

The XP-38 was unarmed, but almost all production Lightnings carried a 20 mm auto cannon and four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose. They could also carry bombs or rockets and jettisonable external fuel tanks.

Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype XP-38 was damaged beyond repair when, on approach to Mitchel Field, New York, 11 February 1939, both engines failed due to carburetor icing. Lieutenant Kelsey crash landed on a golf course and was unhurt.

Testing continued with thirteen YP-38A pre-production aircraft and was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning. (Lockheed)
Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008. (Lockheed)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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