4 July 1973: One of the last Grumman Albatross flying boats in service with the United States Air Force, HU-16B 51-5282, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record for amphibians (Class C-3) when, at 12:33 p.m. EDT, it reached 10,022 meters (32,881 feet).¹ This exceeded the previous record set 37 years earlier by 2,417 meters (7,930 feet).²
Flown by Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Manning, Major Paul M. Schaeffer and Technical Sergeant Emund K. Schindler, 51-5282 was assigned to the 301st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Homestead AFB, Florida. After the flight, Manning said, “It wasn’t very comfortable. The outside temperature was 25 below zero.” The Air Force Times reported that the cold caused the lens of Sergeant Schindler’s watch to pop out.
Originally built as an SA-16A, 51-5282 was modified to the SA-16B standard, increasing the wingspan to 96 feet, 8 inches (29.464 meters) and altering the leading edges. Larger tail surfaces were added. In 1962 the designation was changed from SA-16B to HU-16B.
The Albatross was operated by a crew of 4 to 6 airmen, and could carry up to 10 passengers. The amphibian was 62 feet, 10 inches (19.152 meters) long and had an overall height of 25 feet, 11 inches (7.899 meters). The airplane’s total wing area was 1,035 square feet (96.15 square meters). The HU-16B had an empty weight of 23,025 pounds (10,444 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 37,500 pounds (17,010 kilograms). For takeoff from water, the airplane’s weight was limited to 34,000 pound (15,422 kilograms), using rocket assist.
The SA-16A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 826C9HD3 and -D5 (R-1820-76A and -76B) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.80:1. 115/145 octane aviation gasoline was required. These engines were rated at 1,275 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and 1,425 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m for takeoff. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic full-feathering, reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 0 inches (3.353 meters) through a 0.666:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-76A and -76B were 3 feet, 11.69 inches (1.211 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.95 inches (1.396 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,380 pounds (626 kilograms).
The Albatross could be equipped with two or four Aerojet 14AS1000 RATO units, which produced 1,000 pounds of thrust (4.49 kilonewtons), each, for 15 seconds.
The flying boat had a cruise speed of 134 knots (154 miles per hour/248 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 204 knots (235 miles per hour/379 kilometers per hour) at 3,700 feet (1,128 meters). The service ceiling was 23,800 feet (7,254 meters) and its maximum range was 2,410 nautical miles (2,773 statute miles/4,463 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.
Two weeks after the record-setting flight, 51-5282 was flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, making the very last USAF HU-16 flight.
¹ FAI Record File Number 3208
² FAI Record File Number 11649, 11650: 7,605 meters (24,951 feet), 14 April 1936, by Boris Vasilievich Sergievsky, Chief Pilot, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, flying a Sikorsky S-43, with Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky and Michael Pravikov.
26 June 1942: The Grumman XF6F-1, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 02981, prototype for the Navy and Marine Corps F6F Hellcat fighter, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and Test Pilot Robert Leicester Hall flying, made a 25-minute first flight at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation plant, Bethpage, Long Island, New York.
The first Hellcat was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Twin Cyclone GR2600B676 (R-2600-10) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. This engine had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. The R-2600-10 was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. It turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-2600-10 was 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 2.91 inches (1.903 meters) long. It weighed 2,115 pounds (959 kilograms).
Beginning with the second prototype, Bu. No. 02982, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) 18-cylinder engine became the standard powerplant. The R-2800-10 was an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).
The first prototype was quickly re-engined to the Pratt & Whitney radial and redesignated XF6F-3. Bob Hall flew it with the new engine on 30 July 1942. A few weeks later, 17 August, the Hellcat’s new engine failed and Hall crash-landed at Crane’s Farm. The airplane was moderately damaged and Hall was seriously injured.
The airplane was rebuilt and continued in the test program. It was eventually converted to the XF6F-4 with a two-speed turbocharged Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-27) which produced 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. It was armed with four 20 mm cannon.
The Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook.
The F6F-3 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters) in three-point position. It has an empty weight of 9,207 pounds (4,176 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,575 pounds (5,704 kilograms).
The F6F-3 Hellcat was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) engine with water injection, rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The normal power rating was 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 22,500 feet (6,858 meters). The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).
In clean configuration, the F6F-3 had a maximum speed of 321 miles per hour (517 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). It could climb to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 3.2 minutes, and to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.0 minutes. The service service ceiling was 38,800 feet (11,826 meters). It had a combat radius of 335 nautical miles (386 miles/620 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 1,540 miles (2,478 kilometers).
The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 2,400 rounds of ammunition.
The Grumman Hellcat was the most successful fighter of the Pacific war, with a kill-to-loss ratio of 19:1. It was in production from 1942 to 1945 and remained in service with the United States Navy until 1956. A total of 12,275 were built by Grumman at Bethpage. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.
Robert Leicester Hall was born at Taunton, Massachussetts, 22 August 1905. He was the son of Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.
Hall attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1927 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.).
In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie, a secretary at the plant. They were married in 1930, and lived in a rented home on St. James Avenue, Chicopee City, Massachusetts. Their son, Robert Jr., was born 5 November 1931.
Also in 1931, Hall began working for Granville Brothers Aircraft at Springfield, Massachusetts. He designed the Gee Bee Model Z Super Sportster air racer. He left Granville Brothers in 1933 to go to work for the Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio. There he designed the Stinson Reliant.
In 1936, Bob Hall became the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. He designed the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, and F8F Bearcat fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. As corporate vice president, he supervised the design of the F9F Panther and Cougar jet fighters.
Hall married his second wife, Rhoda C. Halvorsen, 18 January 1939, at New York City, New York.
Hall retired from Grumman in 1970. Two of his sons, Eric and Ben Hall, founded Hall Spars and Rigging of Bristol, Rhode Island.
Robert Leicester Hall died at Newport, Rhode Island, 25 February 1991, at the age of 85 years.
15 June 1946: At Craig Field, Jacksonville Florida, the United States Navy’s Navy Flight Demonstration Team made its first public appearance at the municipal airport’s dedication ceremony. A flight of three lightened Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighters, led by Officer-in-Charge Lieutenant Commander Roy Marlin Voris, flew a fifteen minute aerobatic performance.
The team had been formed for the purpose of raising public political support for the Navy. Their fighters were painted overall glossy sea blue with “U.S. NAVY” on the fuselage in gold leaf. A single numeral, also gold leaf, on the vertical fin identified each individual airplane.
Five weeks later, 21 July, the team would first call themselves The Blue Angels.
In addition to Lieutenant Commander Voris, other pilots in the original demonstration team were Lieutenant Commander Lloyd G. Barnard, Lieutenant Melvin Cassidy, Lieutenant Alfred Taddeo, Lieutenant Maurice N. Wickendoll and Lieutenant (j.g.) Gale Stouse.
The Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook. The Hellcat became operational in 1944.
The F6F-5 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters). It has an empty weight of 9,238 pounds (4,190 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,300 pounds (6,940 kilograms).
The F6F-5 Hellcat is powered by a 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each.
The F6F-5 had a maximum speed of 276 knots (318 miles per hour/511 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 330 knots (380 miles per hour/611 kilometers per hour) at 23,400 feet (7,132 meters). The Hellcat’s service ceiling was 35,100 feet (10.698 meters) and it had a combat radius of 820 nautical miles (944 miles/1,519 kilometers). The maximum ferry range is 1,330 nautical miles (1,531 miles/2,463 kilometers).
The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.
Between 1942 and 1945, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, New York, built 12,275 F6F Hellcats. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.
19 April 1960: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation test pilot Robert K. Smyth made the first flight of the prototype YA2F-1 Intruder, Bu. No. 147864, at the Grumman Peconic River Airport (CTO), Calverton, Long Island, New York. During the flight, Smyth climbed to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The landing gear remained extended during the flight. At one point, Smyth attempted to retract it, but a malfunction was indicated, so they remained down and locked. The first flight lasted one hour.
During follow-on flights, Bob Smyth and project test pilot Ernie von der Heyden (who flew the photo-chase plane during the first flight) alternated left and right seats.
Bu. No. 147864 was painted gray with U.S. Navy markings before being accepted by the Navy on 29 April 1960. The airplane was lost 31 May 1960.
Eight Grumman YA2F-1 Intruders were built for the test program. They were redesignated A-6A Intruder in 1962.
The Grumman A-6A Intruder was a carrier-based, all-weather attack bomber powered by two turbojet engines. It was operated by a pilot and a bombardier/navigator, or “b/n,” in a side-by-side cockpit. The wings were slightly swept.
The A2F-1 was 53 feet, 3 inches (16.231 meters) long with a wing span of 53 feet, 0 inches (16.154 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). The wings had a total area of 528.9 square feet (49.14 square meters) and were swept aft to 25° at 25% chord. The aircraft had an empty weight of 23,412 pounds (10,620 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 53,278 pounds (24,166 kilograms).
The prototypes were powered by two Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6 turbojet engines which had previously been used on the North American Aviation AGM-28 Hound Dog cruise missile. The J52 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section (5 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 2-stage (1 high- and 1-low pressure stages). The engines had a normal power rating of 7,500 pounds of thrust (33.36 kilonewtons) at 11,400 r.p.m., and a maximum of 8,500 pounds (37.81 kilonewtons) at 11,650 r.p.m. The J52-P-6 was 31 inches (0.787 meters) in diameter, 127 inches (3.226 meters) long, and weighed 2,056 pounds (933 kilograms) The engine incorporated an exhaust nozzle that could be swiveled downward 23° to assist in short field takeoffs.
The A-6A had a cruise speed of 429 knots (493 miles per hour/795 kilometers per hour) at 44,450 feet (13,548 meters) and a maximum speed of 566 knots (651 miles per hour/1,048 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling was 48,250 feet (14,707 meters), and the maximum range was 2,061 nautical miles (2,372 statute miles/3,817 kilometers).
The initial production Intruders could carry 18,000 pounds ( kilograms) of bombs on hardpoints under the wings. It could also carry AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air, or AGM-12 Bullpup air to ground missiles. “Special Weapons” that could be carried included Mk. 28 or Mk. 43 thermonuclear bombs.
The Intruder was a very successful combat aircraft with 693 built in attack, tanker and electronic warfare variants. They remained in service with the United States Navy until 1997.
18 April 1958: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record of 23,449 meters (76,932 feet) ¹ with a Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 138647.
Lieutenant Commander Watkins wore a David Clark Co. C-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation (ILC Dover) K-1 helmet and face plate for protection at high altitudes.
The F11F-1F Tiger was a higher performance variant of the U.S. Navy F11F single-seat, single-engine swept wing aircraft carrier-based supersonic fighter. The last two regular production F11F-1 Tigers, Bu. Nos. 138646 and 138647 were completed as F11F-2s, with the standard Westinghouse J65-WE-18 turbojet engine replaced by a more powerful General Electric YJ79-GE-3, which produced 9,300 pounds of thrust (41.37 kilonewtons), or 14,350 pounds (63.83 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The air intakes on each side of the fuselage were longer and had a larger area to provide greater airflow for the new engine. After testing, the fuselage was lengthened 1 foot, 1½ inches (0.343 meters) and an upgraded J79 engine installed. The first “Super Tiger” was damaged beyond repair in a takeoff accident and was “expended” as a training aid for fire fighters.
The U.S. Navy determined that the F11F-2 was too heavy for operation aboard carriers and did not place any orders. The designation was changed from F11F-2 to F11F-1F, and later, to F-11B, although the remaining aircraft was no longer flying by that time.
The F11F-1F Tiger is 48 feet, 0.5 inches (14.643 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 7.5 inches (9.639 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 10 inches (4.216 meters). The Super Tiger has an empty weight of 16,457 pounds (7,465 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 26,086 pounds (11,832 kilograms).
The General Electric J79 is a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).
With the YJ79 engine, the F11F-1F has a maximum speed of 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 1,325 miles per hour (2,132 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). Cruise speed is 580 miles per hour (933 kilometers per hour). It had an initial rate of climb of 8,950 feet per minute (45.5 meters per second) and service ceiling of 50,300 feet (15,331 meters). Range with internal fuel was 1,136 miles (1,828 kilometers).
The Tiger’s armament consisted of four 20 mm Colt Mk 12 autocannon with 125 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.
The single remaining F11F-1F, Bu. No. 138647, is on static display at the Naval Air Weapons center, China Lake, California.
George Clinton Watkins was born at Alhambra, California, 10 March 1921, the third of seven children of Edward Francis Watkins, a purchasing agent for the Edison Company, and Louise Whipple Ward Watkins. (Mrs. Watkins was a candidate for election to the United States Senate in 1938.) George’s brother, James, would later serve as Chief of Naval Operations.
George was educated at the Army and Navy Academy, Carlsbad, California, and at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, before being appointed to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. He entered the Academy 3 July 1940. He graduated and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 9 June 1943. He was then assigned as a gunnery officer aboard the battleship, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). Ensign Watkins was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade), 1 September 1944.
Near the end of the war, Lieutenant (j.g.) Watkins entered pilot training. He graduated and was awarded the gold wings of a Naval Aviator in 1945. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, 1 April 1946. His first operational assignment was as pilot of a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber with VT-41. In 1950 Watkins attended the Navy’s test pilot school at NAS Patuxent River on the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. Among his classmates were future astronauts John H. Glenn and Alan B. Shepard. Lieutenant Watkins served as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, flying the Grumman F9F-6 with VF-24, aboard USS Yorktown (CVA-10)then returned to duty as a test pilot. On 1 January 1954, he was promoted to lieutenant commander.
George Watkins was the first U.S. Navy pilot to fly higher than 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), and 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). In 1956, he set a speed record of 1,210 miles per hour (1,947.3 kilometers per hour). Lieutenant Commander Watkins was promoted to the rank of commander, 1 March 1958. He was assigned as Comander Air Group 13 in August 1961. On 9 May 1962, Commander Watkins became the first U.S. Navy pilot to have made 1,000 aircraft carrier landings.
Commander Watkins was promoted to the rank of captain, 1 July 1964. Captain Watkins served in planning assignments at the Pentagon, and was an aide to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.
From 14 December 1965 to 12 December 1966, Captain Watkins commanded USS Mars (AFS-1), a combat stores ship. (Experience commanding a deep draft ship was a requirement before serving as captain of an aircraft carrier).
He later served as a technical adviser for the 1970 20th Century Fox/Toei Company movie, “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” about the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor which brought the United States of America into World War II.
By the time Captain Watkins retired from the Navy in 1973, he had flown more than 200 aircraft types, made 1,418 landings on 37 aircraft carriers, and logged more than 16,000 flight hours. He continued flying after he retired, operating sailplane schools at Santa Monica and Lompoc, California. He had flown more than 21,000 hours during 26,000 flights.
Captain Watkins married Miss Monica Agnes Dobbyn, 20 years his junior, at Virginia Beach, Virginia, 9 June 1979. Mrs. Watkins is the author of Cats Have Angels Too, Angelaura & Company, 1998.
Captain Watkins died 18 September 2005 at the age of 84 years. His ashes were spread at sea from the deck of a United States Navy aircraft carrier.