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22 November 1961

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. Colonel Robinson is wearing a Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Navy)

22 November 1961: In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation, a number of speed and altitude record attempts were planned, using the U.S. Navy’s new McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II fighter. On the morning of 22 November, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., United States Marine Corps, took off from Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Skyburner, an attempt to set a new World Absolute Speed Record. He was flying the second Phantom II built, Bu. No. 142260.

The Phantom carried three external fuel tanks for this flight. It had a 600-gallon (2,271.25 liter) centerline tank and two 370-gallon (1,400.6 liter) wing tanks. Robinson flew southeast toward NAS El Centro, then turned back to the northwest. Over the Salton Sea, he began to accelerate the YF4H-1 to build up speed for the record run over a measured twenty-mile course back at Edwards AFB. The Phantom’s two General Electric J79-GE-3A afterburning turbojets used a tremendous amount of fuel at full throttle and the centerline fuel tank was quickly emptied. Robinson jettisoned the empty tank over the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range. Continuing to accelerate, the two wing tanks were next jettisoned as they ran dry, this time at Bristol Dry Lake.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

The Phantom entered the east end of the speed course in full afterburner. Having burned off more than 1,300 gallons of fuel, 142260 was much lighter now, and aerodynamically cleaner after dropping the external tanks. Robinson exited the west end of the 20-mile (32.2 kilometer) course in less than one minute.

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules require that a speed record must be made with two passes in opposite directions. The average speed of the two runs is the record speed. The Phantom was flying so fast that it covered another 105 miles (169 kilometers) before it could turn around. During the turn, it was still traveling at 0.9 Mach.

Robinson again put the engines in afterburner as he approached the course from the west. On the second run, the fighter was even lighter and its recorded speed was more than 1,700 miles per hour (2,736 kilometers per hour). The average of the two runs was calculated at 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour.) This was the new FAI Absolute World Speed Record.¹

For his accomplishment, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally. The presentation took place on 25 November 1961 at Newport News, Virginia, during the commissioning of USS Enterprise CVA(N)-65.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260 during Operation Skyburner, 1961. (U.S. Navy via FFRC Photo Collection)

In the next few weeks, the same YF4H-1 would establish a world record for sustained altitude—20,252 meters (66,444 feet).² Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, in Operation Top Flight, 142260 had established a world record for absolute altitude when it zoom-climbed to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters).³

Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., was born at Orange, California, 22 October 1923. He was the second of four children of Robert Bradford Robinson, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, and Golda Leutha Nordeen Robinson.

Robert B. Robinson. (Orange and White 1941)

Bob Robinson attended Orange Union High School, graduating in 1941. He participated in all varsity sports, and was selected to attend the Boys’ State leadership program. He earned a bachelor of science degree at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Robinson entered the United States Marine Corps on 26 August 1942. He received the wings of a Naval Aviator and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 1 December 1943.

2nd Lieutenant Robinson married Miss Lavonne Jean David at Nueces, Texas, 23 December 1943. They would later have a son, Robert Bradford Robinson III (and a grandson, Robert Bradford Robinson IV)

During the Battle of Okinawa, Lieutenant Robinson flew the radar-equipped Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter with VMF(N)-543.

A Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter of VMF(N)-543, circa 1944. The radome is at the far end of the airplane’s right wing. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 31 March 1945. Following World War II, Lieutenant Robinson was assigned to VMF-311, and became one of the first Naval Aviators to qualify in turbojet-powered aircraft. The squadron initially flew the Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star (P-80), and later transitioned to the Grumman F9F Panther.

A Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star  Bu. No. 33822 (P-80C 47-219) of VMF-311, circa 1948. (NNAM.1996.488.163.012)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of captain 1 April 1950. VMF-311 was sent to the Korean war zone in November 1950, initially operating from Yokosuka Air Base in Japan. The squadron flew close air support missions in support of the amphibious assault of Inchon, and at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Captain Robinson returned to night fighter operations when he joined Marine All-Weather Squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513) on 13 January 1951. The unit which was equipped with Grumman F7F-3N Tigercats and Chance Vought F4U-5N Corsairs.

Two Grumman F9F-2 Panthers of VMF-311 being refueled at K-3, Republic of South Korea, circa 1951. The aircraft closest to the camera is an F9F-2B, Bu. No. 123602. (Department of Defense HD-SN-99-03071)

Captain Robinson was promoted to the rank of major, 31 December 1954. He completed the six-month course at the Naval Test Pilot School, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, graduating in March 1959 (Class 21).

In 1963, lieutenant Colonel Robinson retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years’ service. He was then employed as a test pilot for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. He remained with the company for 30 years.

Mrs. Robinson died 7 February 1997, after 53 years of marriage. Bob Robinson later married Mrs. Julian Brady (née Elizabeth Catchings), the widow of a long-time friend.

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., died 28 September 2005 at McComb, Mississippi. He was buried at the Hollywood Cemetery in McComb.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9060

² FAI Record File Number 8535

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 July 1958

Captain Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

26 July 1958: United States Air Force test pilot Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., took off from Edwards Air Force Base in Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter 56-0772, acting as a chase plane for another F-104A which was flown by a Lockheed test pilot, Louis W. Schalk, Jr.

As the two supersonic interceptors began their climb out from the runway, a small control cable deep inside Kincheloe’s fighter failed, allowing the inlet guide vane of the F-104’s General Electric J79-GE-3 turbojet engine to close. With the suddenly decreased airflow the engine lost power and the airplane started to descend rapidly.

Captain Kincheloe radioed, “Edwards, Mayday, Seven-Seventy-Two, bailing out.”

Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter, 56-0772. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter 56-0772. (U.S. Air Force)

The early F-104 Starfighters had a Stanley Aviation Corporation Type B ejection seat that was catapulted or dropped by gravity from the bottom of the cockpit. 56-0772 was equipped with an improved Stanley Type C ejection seat. With the Starfighter well below 2,000 feet (610 meters), Kincheloe apparently thought that he needed to roll the airplane inverted before ejecting. This was actually not necessary and delayed his escape.

The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, intended to avoid the airplane's tall vertical tail. Production aircraft used an upward-firing seat. (Lockheed)
The early F-104s had a downward-firing Stanley B ejection seat, intended to avoid the airplane’s tall vertical tail. Later production aircraft used an upward-firing seat. (Lockheed Martin)

By the time he had separated from the seat and could open his parachute, he was below 500 feet (152 meters). The parachute did open, but too late. Iven Kincheloe was killed on impact. His airplane crashed into the desert floor just over 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) from the west end of Runway 22 and was totally destroyed. Today, a large crater scattered with fragments of Kincheloe’s F-104 is still clearly visible.

Iven Kincheloe was just 30 years old.

Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter 56-0772 is the interceptor closest to the camera in this photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter 56-0772 is the interceptor closest to the camera in this photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was a legendary test pilot. He was born 2 July 1928 in Wayne County, Michigan, the son of Iven Carl Kincheloe, a farmer, and Francis Emma Wilde. He started flying lessons when he was 14 years old, and by the time he was legally allowed to solo—on his 16th birthday—he had already accumulated over 200 flight hours. He entered the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, where he was an engineering student. While there, he met Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager and decided that test flying was the career area that he wanted to pursue.

Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., Purdue Class of 1949. (1949 Debris)

At Purdue, Kincheloe was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (ΣΦΕ) fraternity, played football and managed the track team. He was a member of a military honor society, the Scabbard and Blade, and the Gimlet Club, a booster organization supporting varsity sports at the university. Iven Kincheloe graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force Reserve, 17 June 1949.

On graduation, Kincheloe was sent to Arizona to begin his Air Force pilot training. After graduating, Second Lieutenant Kincheloe was sent to Edwards Air Force Base in southern California to work on the new North American Aviation F-86E Sabre.

Lieutenant Kincheloe deployed to Korea as a fighter pilot with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in August 1951, flying the F-86E Sabre as an escort for bomber formations. He was transferred to the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, and immediately began to shoot down enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighters. He was soon an “ace” with five confirmed kills.

Lieutenant Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr., in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86F-10-NA Sabre, 51-2731, named Ivan. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr., in the cockpit of his North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2731, named “Ivan,” Korea, circa 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

After his combat tour (131 missions) in Korea, Iven Kincheloe was assigned as an exchange student to the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAE Farnborough, England. After completing the ten-month British training program in 1955, Kincheloe was sent back to Edwards Air Force Base.

One of the most skilled test pilots at Edwards, Iven Kincheloe flew every type of fighter, as well as the Bell X-2 rocketplane, which he flew to 126,200 feet (38,465 meters), 7 September 1956. He was the first pilot to climb higher than 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and was considered to be “the first man in space.” For this flight, Kincheloe was awarded the Mackay Trophy, “For outstanding contributions to the science of aviation by flying the Bell X-2 to an altitude considerably higher than had ever been reached before by a piloted aircraft.”

Kincheloe was scheduled to become the primary Air Force pilot on the upcoming North American Aviation X-15 Program. That would have been followed by the Man In Space Soonest project, which would have launched Kincheloe into orbit with an X-15B second stage launched by an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile.

Captain Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr., with his son, Iven III, and Dorothy W. Heining Kincheloe. Captain Kincheloe is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and MA-3 helmet. The airplane is a Lockheed F-104A Startfighter. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Captain Kincheloe married Miss Dorothy W. Heining at Monterey, California, 20 August 1955. They had two children, Iven Carl Kincheloe III and Jeanine Kincheloe, who was born several months after her father’s death.

Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit (posthumous), the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three service stars, Air Force Longevity Service Award, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Korean Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea Korean War Service Medal. In 1959, Kincheloe Air Force Base, Michigan, was named in his honor.

Captain Kincheloe is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., United states Air Force. LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., United States Air Force. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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