20 December 2004: The 20th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, the last operational squadron in the United States Air Force flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, was inactivated. The squadron’s F-4F fighters were sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona.
8 October 1958: At Holloman Air Force Base, southeast of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Project MANHIGH III balloon was launched at 6:51 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (13:51 UTC). The helium balloon lifted a 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) pressurized gondola. Inside was Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, U.S. Air Force.
Over the next three hours, the balloon ascended to an altitude of 99,700 feet (30,389 meters)¹ over the Tularosa Basin.
From this altitude, “Demi” McClure radioed to Dr. David G. Simon, who had flown a previous MANHIGH mission, “I see the most fantastic thing, the sky that you described. It’s blacker than black, but it’s saturated with blue like you said. . . I’m looking at it, but it seems more like I’m feeling it. . . I have the feeling that I should be able to see stars in this darkness, but I can’t find them, either—I have the feeling that this black is so black it has put the stars out.”
The purpose of the MANHIGH flights was to conduct scientific research through the direct observations of the pilot while in contact with ground-based scientists and engineers, and to gather physiological data about the stresses imposed on a human body during extreme high altitude flight.
Lieutenant McClure was born at Anderson, South Carolina, 8 November 1932, the son of Clfton M. McClure, Jr., a bookkeeper (who would serve as a U.S. Marine Corps officer during World War II) and Frances Melaney Allen McClure. He attended the Anderson High School, graduating in 1950. He earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in ceramic engineering from Clemson University. He had been an instructor pilot, flying the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star jet trainer, at air bases in Texas, but was then assigned to the Solar Furnace Project at Holloman AFB.
Prior high-altitude balloon flights had shown the need for extreme physiological fitness, and McClure was selected through a series of medical and physical evaluations similar to those that would later be used to select astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. He was considered to be physiologically and psychologically the best candidate for MANHIGH flights.
The MANHIGH III balloon was manufactured by Winzen Research, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota. It had a capacity of approximately 3,000,000 cubic feet (84,950 cubic meters) and was filled with helium.
The gondola was built of three cast aluminum cylindrical sections with hemispherical caps at each end. It was 9 feet (2.743 meters) high with a diameter of 3 feet (0.914 meters). Inside were cooling and pressurization equipment ,and equipment for various scientific experiments.
Lieutenant McClure wore a modified David Clark Company MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet for protection. He breathed a mixture of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium.
During the flight, Lieutenant McClure became dehydrated. Later, temperatures inside the gondola rose to 118 °F. (47.8 °C.). The cooling system was unable to dissipate heat from McClure’s body, and his body core temperature rose to 108.6 °F. (42.6 °C.). After twelve hours, it was decidede to end the flight. MANHIGH III touched down a few miles from its departure point at 2342 UTC, 9 October 1958.
After his participation in Project MANHIGH, Clifton McClure applied to become an astronaut in Project Mercury. He was turned down because his height—6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters)— exceeded the limits imposed by the small Mercury space capsule. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the MANHIGH III flight. He later flew Lockheed F-104 Starfighters with the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Clifton Moody McClure III died at Huntsville, Alabama, 14 January 2000, at the age of 67 years.
¹Sources vary. A NASA publication, Dressing For Altitude, cites McClure’s maximum altitude as 98,097 feet (29,900 meters) (Chapter 4, Page 162). The Albuquerque Tribune reported McClure’s altitude as 99,600 feet (30,358 meters), (Vol. 36, No. 163, Saturday, 11 October 1958, Page 7 at Column 6. The National Museum of the United States Air Force states 99,700 feet (30,389 meters). 99,700 feet is also cited in Office of Naval Research Report ACR-64, “Animals and Man in Space,” 1962.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain (Air Corps) George V. Holloman, U.S. Army Air Corps, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flights in connection with the design and development of the airplane automatic landing system which made possible the first complete automatic airplane landing in history. Over the period of two years during which this system was under development, Captain Holloman, with utter disregard of his personal safety, performed virtually all of the great amount of flight testing which was required for the numerous items of equipment which go to make up the complete automatic landing assembly, and when finally on 23 August 1937, the first experimental automatic landing flights were made, he was in the cockpit of the airplane used for this purpose. The engineering skill, judgment, and resourcefulness displayed by Captain Holloman, and his courage in performing hundreds of test flights with highly experimental equipment, contributed largely to the ultimate successful development of the automatic landing system.
General Orders: War Department: American Decorations, 1940 (Supplement IV-1940)
Mackay Trophy Capt. George Carl Crane, Capt. George V. Hollomam “For their successful development and demonstration flights of the Automatic Landing System
“After two years of research and preparation daring pilots and engineers of the Army Air Corps in 1937 began to make automatic “blind” landings without any control from the occupants of the airplane or observers on the surface. On Monday, August 23, a day when the air was bumpy and the wind decidedly adverse, a big Army plane swung over the horizon near Wright Field, at Dayton, O., and glided straight down on the runway, rolling a few yards and then coming to a stop as if it had been at all times in the hands of an expert pilot. But nobody had anything to do with this landing; There were three men in the Army’s cargo plane, and they were the three experts who had developed the apparatus. Like true scientists they had gone up and come down on this test to for themselves just how there creation would work. But let them tell the story of this amazing achievement. . . .
—The AIRCRAFT YEAR BOOK FOR 1938, Howard Mingos, Editor, Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc., New York, 1938, Chapter II at Pages 43–50