6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.
Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.
The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).
Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).
This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).
This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.
61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
1 March 2003: The Star of Abilene, the first operational Rockwell B-1B Lancer supersonic heavy bomber, serial number 83-0065, made its final flight at Dyess Air Force Base, Abilene, Texas. It was delivered to the 96th Bombardment Group, Heavy, Strategic Air Command at Dyess on 7 July 1985, and was retired after 17 years, 7 months, 23 days of service.
83-0065 is preserved at the Dyess Linear Air Park, which displays over 30 airplanes along the main road of the air base, showing a chronological progression of Air Power.
The B-1B is 147 feet, 2.61 inches (44.8719 meters) long, with the wing span varying from 86 feet, 8.00 inches (26.4160 meters) at 67.5° sweep to 136 feet, 8.17 inches (41.6603 meters) at when fully extended to 15° sweep. It is 33 feet, 7.26 inches (10.2428 meters) high to the top of the vertical fin. The bomber’s empty weight is approximately 180,500 pounds (81,873 kilograms). Its maximum weight in flight is 477,000 pounds (216,634 kilograms). The internal payload is up to 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms).
The bomber is powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines, mounted in two-engine nacelles under the wing roots. These are rated at 17,390 pounds of thrust (17.355 kilonewtons) and produce 30,780 pounds (136.916 kilonewtons) with “augmentation.” The engine has two fan stages, a 9-stage axial-flow compressor and a 3-stage turbine. The F101-GE-102 is 15 feet, 0.7 inches (4.590 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.2 inches (1.402 meters) in diameter and weighs 4,460 pounds (2,023 kilograms).
“The Bone” has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at Sea Level (913 miles per hour, or 1,470 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is “over 30,000 feet” (9,144 meters). The Lancer’s maximum range is “intercontinental, unrefueled.”
It can carry up to 84 Mk.82 500-pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs, 24 Mk.84 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) bombs or other weapons in three weapons bays. The B-1B was built with the capability to carry 24 B61 thermonuclear bombs, though, since 2007, the fleet no longer has this capability.
100 B-1B Lancers were built between 1983 and 1988. As of May 2018, 62 B-1B bombers are in the active Air Force inventory. The Air Force plans upgrades to the aircraft and plans to keep it in service until 2036.
25 February 1975: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty Air Force pilot, flying a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II 65-0713.¹
During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours.
General Yeager retired 1 March 1975 after 12,222 days of military service.
¹ 65-0713 was a McDonnell F-45D-28-MC Phantom II which had been modified as the prototype YF-4E, armed with an M61 rotary cannon. Later, 65-0713 was used as a test bed for the F-4G Wild Weasel. The airplane is on display at Edwards Air Force Base.
The Last Peacemaker: This gigantic airplane, a Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, serial number 52-2827, was the very last of the ten-engine strategic bombers built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at Fort Worth, Texas. It was completed 1 July 1954. On 14 August, it was delivered to the Strategic Air Command, 92nd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. In April 1957, 52-2827 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas.
The last one built, 52-2827 was also the last operational B-36.
On 12 February 1959, after 4 years, 5 months, 30 days service, the Air Force returned the bomber to Fort Worth. 52-2827 departed Biggs Air Force Base at 11:00 a.m., under the command of Major Frederick J. Winter. Other pilots were Colonel Gerald M. Robinson, commanding the 95th Wing, and Captain Wilson P. Smith. (Colonel Robinson flew as first pilot during the takeoff, while Major Winter flew the landing.) The bomber’s crew were hand-picked, and included two navigators, two flight engineers, an observer, two radio operators, two gunners and a crew chief. Ten newspaper, radio and television reporters were on board as well.
The B-36 touched down at Amon Carter Field at 2:55 p.m. The Peacemaker’s log book was closed out with a total of 1,414 hours, 50 minutes, flight time.
After a ceremony attended by thousands, the bomber was officially retired. A bugler blew “Taps,” and then the Peacemaker was towed away.
It was put on display at Amon Carter Field. After decades of neglect, the bomber was placed in the care of the Pima Air and Space Museum at Tucson for restoration and display.
Convair B-36J 52-2827 is one of 14 “Featherweight III” high altitude variants. It was built without the six retractable defensive gun turrets of the standard B-36, retaining only the two M24A1 20 mm autocannons in the tail. This reduced the crew requirement to 13. It is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 166,125 pounds (75,353 kilograms) and loaded weight is 262,500 pounds (119,068 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).
The B-36J has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).
Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).
The B-36J Featherweight III had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 418 miles per hour (673 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 43,600 feet (13,289 meters) and its combat radius was 3,985 miles (6,413 kilometers). The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).
The B-36 was designed during World War II and nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in the four-section bomb bay. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,777 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb. When armed with nuclear weapons, the B-36 could carry several Mk.15 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.
Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only four still exist.
8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-146 that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.
NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service with Japan Air Lines for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
The 747-146 SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975.
It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).
NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).
NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.