Tag Archives: Final Flight

26 November 2003

Concorde G-BOAF, the last Concorde to be built, makes its final landing, 26 November 2003. (photosreunited.blogspot.com)
Concorde G-BOAF, the last Concorde to be built, makes its final landing, 26 November 2003. (Concorde SST)

26 November 2003: Concorde 216, G-BOAF, made the final flight of the Concorde fleet when it flew from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Bristol Filton Airport (FZO) with 100 British Airways employees on board. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Les Brodie, with Chief Pilot Captain Mike Bannister and Captain Paul Douglas, with Senior Flight Engineers Warren Hazleby and Trevor Norcott. The duration of the flight was just over 1 hour, 30 minutes, and included both supersonic and low-altitude segments.

British Airways' Chief Concorde Pilot Mike Bannister (left) and Captain Les Brodie. (Concorde SST)
(Left to right) British Airways’ Chief Concorde Pilot, Captain  Michael Bannister, and Captain Les Brodie. (Concorde SST)

Concorde 216 was the last of twenty Concordes to be built. It was originally registered G-BFKX and made its first flight at Bristol Filton Airport, 20 April 1979. The new airliner was delivered to British Airways 9 June 1980 and was re-registered G-BOAF. “Alpha-Foxtrot” had flown a total of 18,257 hours by the time it completed its final flight. It had made 6,045 takeoffs and landings, and had gone supersonic 5,639 times.

G-BOAF was placed in storage at Filton. It is intended as the centerpiece of Bristol Aerospace Centre, scheduled to open in 2017.

The Concorde supersonic transport, known as an “SST,” was built by the British Aerospace Corporation and Sud-Aviation. There were six pre-production aircraft and fourteen production airliners. British Airways and Air France each operated seven Concordes. It was a Mach 2+ delta-winged intercontinental passenger transport, operated by a flight crew of three and capable of carrying 128 passengers.

The production airliners were 202 feet, 4 inches long (61.671 meters) when at rest. During supersonic flight the length would increase due to metal expansion from frictional heating. The wingspan was 83 feet, 10 inches (25.552 meters) and overall height was 40 feet (12.192 meters). The fuselage was very narrow, just 9 feet, 5 inches at the widest point. The Concorde has an empty weight of 173,500 pounds (78,698 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 408,000 pounds (185,066 kilograms).

The Concorde is powered by four Rolls-Royce/SNECMA Olympus 593 Mk.610 afterburning turbojet engines. The Olympus 593 is a two-shaft, axial-flow engine with a 14-stage compressor section (7 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), single combustion chamber and a two-stage turbine (1 low- and 1 high-pressure stage). The Mk.610 was rated at 139.4 kilonewtons (31,338 pounds of thrust), and 169.2 kilonewtons (38,038 pounds) with afterburner. During supersonic cruise, the engines produced 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), each. The Olympus 593 Mk.610 is 4.039 meters (13 feet, 3.0 inches) long, 1.212 meters (3 feet, 11.72 inches) in diameter, and weighs 3,175 kilograms (7,000 pounds).

The maximum cruise speed is Mach 2.05. Concorde’s operating altitude is 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). Maximum range is 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers).

Concorde G-BOAF makes a low pass over the Clifton Suspension Bridge on its way to Filton. Unattributed, locates at (http://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/1655160.jpg)
Concorde G-BOAF makes a low pass over the Clifton Suspension Bridge on its way to Filton, 26 November 2003. (Concorde SST)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

16 November 2004

Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008, Balls 8, escorted by two NASA F-18 chase planes, performs a farewell flyover during its final flight, 16 November 2004. (NASA)
Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008, Balls 8, escorted by two NASA F-18 chase planes, performs a farewell flyover during its final flight, 16 November 2004. (NASA)

16 November 2004: Balls 8, the Boeing NB-52B “mothership” at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (located at Edwards Air Force Base, California) performs a farewell flyover during its final flight. 52-008 was both the oldest airplane in the U.S. Air Force inventory and the lowest time B-52 Stratofortress still operational.

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-008 was built at Seattle, Washington and made its first flight 11 June 1955. It was turned over to NASA 8 June 1959 for use as a air launch vehicle for the X-15 rocketplane. North American Aviation modified the bomber for its new role at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. It was redesignated NB-52B.

NASA 008, known as “Balls 8”, a modified Boeing RB-52-10-BO Stratofortress, 52-008, with NASA 824, a Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter, N824NA. (NASA)

52-008 carried an X-15 for the first time 23 January 1960. Sharing the mothership responsibilities with the earlier NB-52A 52-003, Balls 8 carried the X-15s aloft on 159 flights, dropping them 106 times.

Balls 8 lands on a runway marked on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The drogue parachute helps to slow the airplane. (NASA)
A visual reminder of the missions flown by “mothership” Balls 8. (NASA)
A visual reminder of the missions flown by “mothership” Balls 8. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

11 November 1966, 20:46:33.419 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini XII lifts off from LC-19 at 2:21:04 p.m., EST, 11 November 1966. (NASA)
Gemini XII lifts off from LC-19 at 3:46:33 p.m., EST, 11 November 1966. (NASA)

11 November 1966: Gemini 12 lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 3:36.33.419 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. Two NASA Astronauts, Captain James A Lovell, Jr., United States Navy, and Major Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force, were the crew. This was the second space flight for Lovell, who had previously flown on Gemini VII, and would later serve as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and Mission Commander on Apollo 13. It was Aldrin’s first space flight. He would later be the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 11, and was the second human to set foot of the surface of the Moon.

The Gemini 12 mission was to rendezvous and docking with an Agena Target Vehicle, which had been launched from Launch Complex 14, 1 hour, 38 minutes, 34.731 seconds earlier by an Atlas Standard Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), and placed in a nearly circular orbit with a perigee of 163 nautical miles (187.6 statute miles/301.9 kilometers) and apogee of 156 nautical miles (179.5 statute miles/288.9 kilometers).

Artist’s concept of Gemini spacecraft, 3 January 1962. (NASA-S-65-893)

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship, but Spacecraft 12 weighed 8,296.47 pounds (3,763.22 kilograms) at liftoff.

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin Marietta’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons).¹ It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons).²

The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.³

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing in the open hatch of Gemini XII in Earth orbit. (NASA)

Gemini XII was the tenth and last flight of the Gemini program. The purpose of this mission was to test rendezvous and docking with an orbiting Agena Target Docking Vehicle and to test extravehicular activity (“EVA,” or “space walk”) procedures. Both of these were crucial parts of the upcoming Apollo program and previous problems would have to be resolved before the manned space flight projects could move to the next phase.

Buzz Aldrin had made a special study of EVA factors, and his three “space walks,” totaling 5 hours, 30 minutes, were highly successful. The rendezvous and docking was flown manually because of a computer problem, but was successful. In addition to these primary objectives, a number of scientific experiments were performed by the two astronauts.

Gemini XII is tethered to the Agena TDV, in Earth orbit over the southwest United States and northern Mexico. (NASA)
Gemini XII is tethered to the Agena TDV, in Earth orbit over the southwest United States and northern Mexico. (NASA)

Gemini XII reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, just 3.8 nautical miles (4.4 statute miles/7.0 kilometers) from the planned target point. Lovell and Aldrin were hoisted aboard a Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter and transported to the primary recovery ship, USS Wasp (CVS-18). The total duration of the flight was 3 days, 22 hours, 34 minutes, 31 seconds.

Gemini XII astronauts Major Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., USAF, and Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., USN, arrive aboard USS Wasp (CVS-18), 15 November 1966. (NASA)

¹ Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s first stage as 458,905 pounds of thrust (2,041.31 kilonewtons)

² Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s second stage as 99,296 pounds of thrust (441.69 kilonewtons)

³ Gemini XII/Titan II GLV (GLV-12) weighed 345,710 pounds (156,811 kilograms) at Stage I ignition.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

6 November 1958

Bell X-1E 46-063 on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Bell X-1E 46-063 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1955. (NASA)

6 November 1958: NASA Research Test Pilot John B. (Jack) McKay made the final flight of the X-1 rocketplane program, which had begun twelve years earlier.

Bell X-1E 46-063 made its 26th and final flight after being dropped from a Boeing B-29 Superfortress over Edwards Air Force Base on a flight to test a new rocket fuel.

John B. McKay, NACA/NASA Research Test Pilot. (NASA)
John B. McKay, NACA/NASA Research Test Pilot. (NASA)

When the aircraft was inspected after the flight, a crack was found in a structural bulkhead. A decision was made to retire the X-1E and the flight test program was ended.

The X-1E had been modified from the third XS-1, 46-063. It used a thinner wing and had an improved fuel system. The most obvious visible difference is the cockpit, which was changed to provide for an ejection seat. Hundreds of sensors were built into the aircraft’s surfaces to measure air pressure and temperature.

The Bell X-1E was 31 feet (9.449 meters) long, with a wingspan of 22 feet, 10 inches (6.960 meters). The rocketplane’s empty weight was 6,850 pounds (3,107 kilograms) and fully loaded, it weighed 14,750 pounds (6,690 kilograms). The rocketplane was powered by a Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 rocket engine which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.689 kilonewtons). The engine burned ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen. The X-1E carried enough propellants for 4 minutes, 45 seconds burn.

The Bell X-1E rocketplane being loaded into a Boeing B-29 Superfortress mothership for another test flight. (NASA)
The Bell X-1E rocketplane being loaded into NACA 800, a Boeing B-29-96-BW Superfortress mothership, 45-21800, for another test flight. (NASA)

The early aircraft, the XS-1 (later redesignated X-1), which U.S. Air Force test pilot Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager flew faster than sound on 14 October 1947, were intended to explore flight in the high subsonic and low supersonic range. There were three X-1 rocketplanes. Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis was 46-062. The X-1D (which was destroyed in an accidental explosion after a single glide flight) and the X-1E were built to investigate the effects of frictional aerodynamic heating in the higher supersonic ranges from Mach 1 to Mach 2.

Bell X-1E loaded aboard Boeing B-29 Superfortress, circa 1955. (NASA)
Bell X-1E 46-063 loaded aboard NACA 800, a Boeing B-29-96-BW Superfortress, 45-21800, circa 1955. (NASA)

The X-1E reached its fastest speed with NASA test pilot Joseph Albert Walker, at Mach 2.24 (1,450 miles per hour/2,334 kilometers per hour), 8 October 1957. Walker also flew it to its peak altitude, 70,046 feet (21,350 meters) on 14 May 1958.

NACA test pilot Joseph Albert Walker made 21 of the X-1E's 26 flights. In this photograph, Joe Walker is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a K-1 helmet for protection at high altitudes. (NASA)
NACA test pilot Joseph Albert Walker made 21 of the X-1E’s 26 flights. In this photograph, Joe Walker is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a K-1 helmet for protection at high altitudes. (NASA)

There were a total of 236 flights made by the X-1, X-1A, X-1B, X-1D and X-1E. The X-1 program was sponsored by the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, NACA, which became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, on 29 June 1958.

The X-1E is on display in front of the NASA administration building at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California.Bell X-1E 46-063 on display at Dryden Flight Research Center© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

24 October 1968

William Harvey Dana, NASA Research Pilot. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration E-5327)

24 October 1968: William Harvey Dana takes the first North America Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6670, for the 199th and final flight of the X-15 program.

Carried aloft by NASA’s Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress mothership, 52-003, the first X-15A was launched over Smith Ranch Dry Lake, about half-way between the city of Reno and the NASA High Range Tracking Station at Ely, Nevada, at 10:02:47.3 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time (17:02:47.3 UTC). Bill Dana started the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine for a planned 84 second burn. The flight plan called for the X-15 to reach Mach 5.45 and 250,000 feet (76,200 meters).

The rocketplane’s performance was very close to plan, a tribute to Dana’s piloting skill. The engine burned out after 83.8 seconds. The maximum speed was slightly lower than planned at Mach 5.38, while the peak altitude was a little higher, at 255,000 feet (77,724 meters).

Dana glided back to Edwards Air Force Base. The total duration of the flight was 11 minutes, 28.3 seconds.

Dana made his first flight in the North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane on 4 November 1965. He reached a maximum speed of Mach 4.22, and a peak altitude of 80,200 feet (24,445 meters). He made a total of sixteen flights in the X-15s. Dana’s highest speed was Mach 5.38, and his highest altitude, 306,900 feet, (93,543 meters), on 1 November 1966.

This had been 56-6670’s 81st flight, and the 141st time it had been carried aloft aboard a B-52.

A. Scott Crossfield, wearing a David Clark Co. XMC-2 full-pressure suit, which he helped to design and test, with the first of three North American X-15s, 56-6670. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

56-6670 is the first of three X-15s built by North American Aviation’s Los Angeles Division for NASA, the United States Air Force, and the United States Navy, to investigate the effects of hypersonic flight (Mach 5+). On 8 June 1959, North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot, and former NACA research test pilot, Albert Scott Crossfield, had made the first glide flight of 56-6670, also launched by 52-003.

NASA Research Pilot William H. Dana with North American X-15A 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

From 8 June 1959 to 24 October 1968, the three X-15s were flown by twelve test pilots, three of whom would qualify as astronauts in the X-15. Two would go on to the Apollo Program, and one, Neil Alden Armstrong, would be the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969. Joe Engle would fly the space shuttle. Four of the test pilots, Petersen, White, Rushworth, and Knight, flew in combat during the Vietnam War, with Bob White being awarded the Air Force Cross. Petersen, Rushworth and White reached flag rank.

Overhead view of X-15A-1 56-6670 shows the rocketplane’s overall fineness ratio and short wings. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Flown by a single pilot/astronaut, the X-15 is a mid-wing monoplane with dorsal and ventral fin/rudders and stabilators. The wing had no dihedral, while the stabilators had a pronounced 15° anhedral. The short wings have an area of 200 square feet (18.58 square meters) and a maximum thickness of just 5%. The leading edges are swept to 25.64°. There are two small flaps but no ailerons. The entire vertical fin pivots for yaw control.

Above 100,000 feet (30,840 meters) altitude, conventional aircraft flight control surfaces are ineffective. The X-15 is equipped with a system of reaction control jets for pitch, roll and yaw control. Hydrogen peroxide was passed through a catalyst to produce steam, which supplied the control thrusters.

The forward landing gear consists of a retractable oleo strut with steerable dual wheels and there are two strut/skids at the rear of the fuselage. The gear is retracted after the X-15 is mounted on the NB-52 and is extended for landing by its own weight.

The rocketplane’s cockpit featured both a conventional control stick as well as side-controllers. It was pressurized with nitrogen gas to prevent fires. The pilot wore an MC-2 full-pressure suit manufactured by the David Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, with an MA-3 helmet. The suit was pressurized below the neck seal with nitrogen, while the helmet was supplied with 100% oxygen. This pressure suit was later changed to the Air Force-standardized A/P22S.

North American Aviation, Inc. X-15A 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)

The X-15 is 50.75 feet (15.469 meters) long with a wing span of 22.36 feet (6.815 meters). The height—the distance between the tips of the dorsal and ventral fins—is 13.5 feet (4.115 meters). The stabilator span is 18.08 feet (5.511 meters). The fuselage is 4.67 feet (1.423 meters) deep and has a maximum width of 7.33 feet (2.234 meters).

The X-15s were built primarily of a nickel/chromium/iron alloy named Inconel X, along with corrosion-resistant steel, titanium and aluminum. Inconel X is both very hard and also able to maintain its strength at the very high temperatures the X-15s were subjected to by aerodynamic heating. It was extremely difficult to machine and special fabrication techniques had to be developed.

X-15 56-6670 with NB-52A 52-003, 13 April 1960. (NASA)

Since the X-15 was built of steel rather than light-weight aluminum, as are most aircraft, it is a heavy machine, weighing approximately 14,600 pounds (6,623 kilograms) empty and 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) when loaded with a pilot and propellants. The X-15s carried as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of research instrumentation, and the equipment varied from flight to flight. The minimum flight weight (for high-speed missions): was 31,292 pounds (14,194 kilograms) The maximum weight was 52,117 pounds (23,640 kilograms) at drop (modified X-15A-2 with external propellant tanks).

Initial flights were flown with a 5 foot, 11 inch (1.803 meters)-long air data boom at the nose, but this would later be replaced by the “ball nose” air sensor system. The data boom contained a standard pitot-static system along with angle-of-attack and sideslip vanes. The boom and ball nose were interchangeable.

Delays in the production of the planned Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine forced engineers to adapt two vertically-stacked Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines to the X-15 for early flights. This was a well-known engine which was used on the previous rocketplanes. The XLR11 burned a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Each of the engines’ four chambers could be ignited individually. Each engine was rated at 11,800 pounds of thrust (58.49 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

Thiokol Reaction Motors Division XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)

The Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine was throttleable by the pilot from 28,500 to 60,000 pounds of thrust. The engine was rated at 50,000 pounds of thrust (222.41 kilonewtons) at Sea Level; 57,000 pounds (253.55 kilonewtons) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters), the typical drop altitude; and 57,850 pounds (257.33 kilonewtons) of thrust at 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). Individual engines varied slightly. A few produced as much as 61,000 pounds of thrust (271.34 kilonewtons).

The XLR99 burned anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen. The flame temperature was approximately 5,000 °F. (2,760 °C.) The engine was cooled with circulating liquid oxygen. To protect the exhaust nozzle, it was flame-sprayed with ceramic coating of zirconium dioxide. The engine is 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and 3 feet, 3.3 inches (0.998 meters) in diameter. It weighs 910 pounds (413 kilograms). The Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is 1 hour of operation, or 100 starts.

The XLR99 proved to be very reliable. 169 X-15 flights were made using the XLR99. 165 of these had successful engine operation. It started on the first attempt 159 times.

The highest speed achieved during the program was with the modified number two ship, X-15A-2 56-6671, flown by Pete Knight to Mach 6.70 (6,620 feet per second/4,520 miles per hour/ kilometers per hour) at 102,700 feet (31,303 meters). On this flight, the rocketplane exceeded its maximum design speed of 6,600 feet per second (2,012 meters per second).

The maximum altitude was reached by Joe Walker, 22 August 1963, when he flew 56-6672 to 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).

The longest flight was flown by Neil Armstrong, 20 April 1962, with a duration of 12 minutes, 28.7 seconds.

The North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1, 56-6670, being brought into the Arts and Industries building, June 1969. (Smithsonian Institution Archives SI-A-4145-23-A)

North American Aviation X-15A-1 56-6670 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. X-15A-2 56-6671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670, hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes