Tag Archives: First Flight

18 July 1942

Test pilot Fritz Wendel with the Messerschmitt Me 262 V3 prototype, PC+UC. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Chief Test Pilot Fritz Wendel with the Messerschmitt Me 262 V3 prototype, PC+UC. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Test Pilot Fritz Wendel (L) talks with Willy Messerschmitt after the maiden flight of Me 262 V3.
Test Pilot Fritz Wendel (left) talks with Willy Messerschmitt after the maiden flight of Me 262 V3, 18 July 1942.

18 July 1942: (25 March 1942???) In the late 1930s, Germany began developing a fighter powered by a turbojet engine. In early 1942 the first two prototypes of the Messerschmitt Me 262 began flight testing. They had two BMW 003 jet engines mounted on the wings, but for safety, a piston engine and propeller were mounted in the nose.

At 8:40 a.m. on 18 July 1942, V3, the third prototype, call sign PC+UC, made the first pure-jet flight when it took off from Leipheim, Bavaria, with Messerschmitt’s Chief Test Pilot, Flugkapitän Fritz Wendel.

This prototype was powered by two Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engines. The Jumo 004 had an eight-stage axial flow compressor, six straight through combustion chambers and a single-stage turbine. It produced 1,850 pounds of thrust (8.23 kilonewtons).

Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC, takes off on its first flight at Leipheim, 18 July 1942.
Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC, takes off on its first flight at Leipheim, 18 July 1942.

There were problems created by the airplane’s use of a tailwheel configuration. Turbulence from the wings and reflected jet exhaust blanked out the tail surface. When the Me 262 prototype reached flying speed, Wendel tapped the brakes. The tail popped up, free of the turbulence, and the jet fighter took off. Beginning with the fifth prototype, V5, all Me 262s were built with tricycle landing gear.

Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC
Messerschmitt Me 262 V3, PC+UC

1,430 Me 262s were produced. They entered service during the summer of 1944. Luftwaffe pilots claimed 542 Allied airplanes shot down with the Me 262.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1989

Bruce J. Hinds and Richard Couch. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

17 July 1989: The first Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, took off from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on its first flight. The crew was Northrop Chief Test Pilot Bruce J. Hinds and Colonel Richard Couch, U.S. Air Force. The top secret “stealth bomber” prototype landed at Edwards Air Force Base 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

After completing the flight test program, -1066 was placed in storage until 1993, awaiting upgrade to the Block 10 operational configuration. In 2000 it was again upgraded to the Block 30 standard. It is now named Spirit of America and assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, the first “stealth bomber,” during a test flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1965

North American Aviation XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207 takes off for the first time at AF Plant 42, 17 July 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1965: At Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, the second North American Aviation B-70 Valkyrie prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, took off on its maiden flight enroute Edwards Air Force Base where it would continue the flight test program with its sister ship.

The Valkyrie was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber, capable of flight above 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), with intercontinental range. It’s altitude allowed it to avoid interceptors of the time, but improvements in radar-guided surface-to-air missiles increased its vulnerability. Ultimately, though, political decisions ended the B-70 program.

62-0207 was flown just 46 times, for a total of 92 hours, 22 minutes of flight. Changes to the aircraft corrected the deficiencies discovered in testing the Number 1 XB-70A, 62,-201. The most visible change was 5° dihedral added to the wings for improved stability. On 16 April 1966, 62-0207 reached its maximum design speed, Mach 3.08, which it sustained for 20 minutes.

Less than one year after its first flight, 8 June 1966, the Valkyrie was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N and crashed just north of Barstow, California. North American’s B-70 test pilot, Al White, was seriously injured and co-pilot, Major Carl Cross, USAF, was killed. NASA test pilot Joe Walker, flying the F-104, was also killed.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 July 1954

Boeing test pilot Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston in the cockpit of of the 367–80. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

15 July 1954: At 2:14 p.m., Boeing test pilots Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston and Richard L. “Dix” Loesch lifted off from Renton Field, south of Seattle, Washington, on the first flight of the Boeing 367–80, FAA registration N70700, a prototype military air tanker and commercial airliner. For the next 2 hours, 24 minutes they performed high- and low-speed handling tests before landing at Boeing Field, Seattle. When Johnston was asked how the “Dash 80” flew, he replied, “She flew like a bird, only faster.”

The prototype Boeing 367-80, N70700, takes off from Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington,15 July 1954. (Boeing)
The prototype Boeing 367-80, N70700, takes off from Renton Field, Seattle, Washington, 15 July 1954. (Boeing)

Boeing had risked $16,000,000 in a private venture to build the Dash 80 in order to demonstrate its capabilities to potential civilian and military customers, while rivals Douglas and Lockheed were marketing their own un-built jet airliners. Put into production as the U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling tanker and C-135 Stratolifter transport, a civil variant was also produced as the Boeing 707 Stratoliner, the first successful jet airliner. Though they look very similar, the 707 is structurally different than the KC-135 and has a wider fuselage.

The Boeing 707-320B Stratoliner airframe was used for the military E-3A Sentry AWACS command-and-control aircraft, the E-6 Mercury airborne command post, and other versions for reconnaissance, weather, and communications.

820 of the C-135 series and 1,010 Model 707 aircraft were built from 1957–1979.

Boeing 367-80 N70700. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Boeing 367-80 N70700, the “Dash 80”. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype Boeing Model 367-80 was operated by a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer. The airplane’s wing was mounted low on the fuselage and the engine nacelles were mounted on pylons under the wing, as they were on Boeing’s B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress. The wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35°. The Dash 80 was 127 feet 10 inches (38.964 meters) long with a wingspan of 129 feet, 8 inches (39.522 meters) and overall height of 38 feet (11.582 meters). Its empty weight was 92,100 pounds (41,775.9 kilograms) and loaded weight was 190,000 pounds (86,182.6 kilograms).

Boeing 367-80 N70700, photographed during its first flight, 15 July 1954. (The Boeing Company)
In tanker configuration, the Boeing 367-80 refuels a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The chase plane is a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star. (U.S. Air Force)
In tanker configuration, the Boeing 367-80 refuels a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The chase plane is a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star. (U.S. Air Force)

N70700 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C engines. This engine is a civil variant of the military J57 series. It is a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The JT3C-6 (used in the first production 707s) was rated at 11,200 pounds of thrust (49.82 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.05 kilonewtons) with water/methanol injection). The JT3C is 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

These gave the 367-80 a cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.84 Mach (582 miles per hour, 937 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 43,000 feet (13,106 meters). Its range was 3,530 miles (5,681 kilometers).

American Airlines Boeing 707-123 Astrojet, N7501A, Flagship Michigan. (American Airlines)
American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123 Astrojet N7501A, Flagship Michigan. (American Airlines)

Boeing continued to use the 367–80 for testing, finally retiring it 22 January 1970. At that time, its logbook showed 2,346 hours, 46 minutes of flight time (TTAF). It was flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and placed in storage. In 1990, Boeing returned it to flyable condition and flew it back it to Renton where a total restoration was completed. Many of those who had worked on the Dash 80, Including Tex Johnston, were aboard.

The Dash 80 sat in the Arizona desert for twenty years. (Goleta Air and Space Museum)
The Dash 80 sat in the Arizona desert for twenty years. (Goleta Air and Space Museum)

The pioneering airplane was presented to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Boeing 367-80 was designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

820 of the C-135 series and 1,010 Model 707 aircraft were built from 1957–1979.

(The Boeing Model 367-80 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Boeing Model 367-80 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution) 
Boeing 367–80 N70700 in flight. (Boeing)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 July 1968

General Dynamics FB-111A 67-0159, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

13 July 1968: The first production General Dynamics FB-111A supersonic strategic bomber successfully completed a 30-minute maiden flight at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas. The FB-111A differed from the F-111A fighter bomber with the substitution of a larger wing, originally designed for the F-111B, giving the bomber a 7 foot (2.134 meter) increase in wingspan. The landing gear was strengthened, the bomb bay enlarged, and it had more powerful engines.

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)

The airplane’s very long nose earned the nickname “Aardvark,” but this did not become official until 1996.

67-0159 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force 4 September 1968 and assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (The first six production airplanes were used for flight testing.)

67-0159 was later converted to the F-111G configuration. In 1980 it was sent to the Sacramento Air Logistics Center to test weapons modifications and received a spectacular white and orange paint scheme. It was retired in 1990. 67-0159 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It is on loan and now on display at the Aerospace Museum of California, Sacramento, California.

General Dynamics FB-111A-CF (F-111G) 67-159

The General Dynamics FB-111A is a two-place, twin-engine, strategic bomber with variable-sweep wings, assigned to the Strategic Air Command. It is 73.54 feet (22.415 meters) long. The wingspan varies from a maximum 70.0 feet (21.336 meters) when fully extended, and a minimum 33.96 feet (10.351 meters) when swept fully aft. Overall height is 17.04 feet (5.194 meters).

The wings of the FB-111A have a total area of 550 square feet (51.10 square meters). When fully extended, the wings’ leading edges are swept aft to 16.0°. The angle of incidence at the root is +1° and -3° at the tip. There is 1.0° dihedral.

The Aardvark’s empty weight is 47,481 pounds (21,537 kilograms). Normal maximum takeoff weight is 116,115 pounds (52,669 kilograms), and the maximum overload takeoff weight is or 119,243 pounds (54,088 kilograms).

The aircraft is powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-107 engines. This is a two-spool axial-flow turbofan engine with afterburner. It has a 3-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor section (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The -107 has a maximum continuous power rating of 10,800 pounds of thrust (48.041 kilonewtons) at 14,150 r.p.m., N2 (static thrust, at Sea Level), and a maximum power rating of 20,350 pounds (90.521 kilonewtons) at 14,550 r.p.m., N2 (45 minute limit) The T30-P-107 is 3 feet, 2.12 inches (0.968 meters) in diameter, 20 feet, 1.4 inches (6.132 meters) long,  and weighs 4,121 pounds (1,869 kilograms).

The FB-111A has an average cruise speed of 415–442 knots (478–509 miles per hour/769-819 kilometers per hour), depending on the mission profile. It’s maximum speed at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) is 1,262 knots (1,452 miles per hour/2,337 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.20. The bomber’s service ceiling varies from 50,390 feet to 56,380 feet (15,359–17,185 meters), again, depending on the mission profile. The maximum combat range is 4,920 nautical miles (5,662 statute miles/9,112 kilometers). The airplane can carry as many as six 600 gallon (2,271 liter) external tanks on underwing pylons. This gives the Aardvark a maximum ferry range of 4,313 nautical miles (4,963 statute miles/7,988 kilometers).

General Dynamics FB-111A 67-163, the fifth production airplane, loaded with four AGM-69 SRAM missiles. The dots on the missiles and airplane are for precise tracking from ground stations. (U.S. Air Force)

The FB-111A could carry weapons in an internal bomb bay or on underwing hardpoints. It could be armed with up to 37,500 pounds (17,010 kilograms) of conventional bombs; or six AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missiles (SRAM). The Aardvark could carry maximum of six nuclear weapons (B-43, B-57 or B-61).

General Dynamics YFB-111A 63-9783, the prototype strategic bomber variant. (U.S. Air Force)

In addition to a prototype (63-9783, which was converted from the last production F-111A) General Dynamics built 76 FB-111A strategic bombers. With the introduction of the Rockwell B-1B Lancer, the FB-111As remaining in service were converted to F-111G tactical fighter bombers. They were retired by 2003.

The Royal Australian Air Force bought 15 of the F-111Gs. By 2007, these had also been taken out of service.

Two General Dynamics FB-111As in formation, 1 December 1983. (MSGT Buster Kellum, U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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