Tag Archives: Interceptor

31 December 1948

The first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

31 December 1948: One year and one day after the first flight of the MiG I-310 S01 prototype, the first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, serial number 101003, made its first flight. The production aircraft were based on the third I-310 prototype, S03. No. 101003 was designated МиГ-15(CB) (MiG-15 SV), and was retained by Mikoyan OKB for testing.

The MiG-15 is a single-seat, single-engine turbojet-powered fighter interceptor, designed to attack heavy bombers. Designed for high-subsonic speed, the leading edges of the wings were swept aft to 35° and had 2° anhedral. The wings were very thin to minimize aerodynamic drag and used “fences” to control air flow. The horizontal stabilizer was swept 40°, and the vertical fin, 55.7°.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

Rolls-Royce Nene Mk.I and Mk.II turbojet engines had been used in the three I-310 prototypes. The British engine was reverse-engineered by Vladimir Yakovlevich Klimov and manufactured at Factory No. 45 in Moscow as the RD-45F. The engine produced a maximum 22.26 kilonewtons of thrust (5,004 pounds of thrust). It was improved and designated VK-1. Most MiG-15s used this engine.

The production fighter was 10.10 meters (33 feet, 2 inches) long, with a wingspan of 10.08 meters (33 feet, 1 inch) and height of 3.17 meters (10 feet, 5 inches). The total wing area was 20.60 square meters (222 square feet). The interceptor’s empty weight was 3,247 kilograms (7,158 pounds), and its takeoff weight was 4,917 kilograms (10,840 pounds).

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

The MiG-15 had a cruise speed 974 kilometers per hour (605 miles per hour, 0.79 Mach). Its maximum speed was 1,047 kilometers per hour (565 knots, or 651 miles per hour)—0.99 Mach—at low altitude, and 1,031 kilometers per hour (557 knots, 641 miles per hour, 0.97 Mach) at 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). The maximum rate of climb was 2,520 meters per minute (8,268 feet per minute), and its service ceiling was 15,100 meters (49,541 feet). The fighter had a practical range of 1,335 kilometers (830 miles).

Armament consisted of one Nudelman NS-37 37 mm cannon with 40 rounds of ammunition, and two  Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon with 80 rounds per gun.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (SV), No. 101003. (Mikoyan Design Bureau)

The first MiG 15, 101003, was built at Factory No. 1. Full scale production was considered so important that four other aircraft types were discontinued so that their factories could be used to build MiG-15s. They were also license-built in Poland and Czechoslovakia. More than 18,000 MiG-15s have been built. It has served in the air forces of at least 44 countries.

The MiG-15 soon entered combat in the Korean War. It scored its first air-to-air victory, 1 November 1950, when First Lieutenant Fiodor V. Chizh shot down a U.S. Air Force F-51 Mustang.

Soviet technicians service a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis of the 351st Fighter Aviation Regiment at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 December 1958

NASA test pilot Einar K. Enevoldson in the cockpit of a NASA/Lockheed F-104N, N811NA, in 1984. (NASA)
NASA test pilot Einar K. Enevoldson in the cockpit of a NASA/Lockheed F-104N, N811NA, in 1984. (NASA)

13 December 1958: First Lieutenant Einar Knute Enevoldson, U.S. Air Force, set seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-climb records in a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, serial number 56-762,¹ at Naval Air Station Point Mugu (NTD) (located on the shore of southern California), including Sea Level to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 41.85 seconds; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 58.41 seconds; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) in 1 minute, 21.14 seconds; 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 1 minute, 39.90 seconds; 15,000 meters (49,213 feet) in 2 minutes, 11.1 seconds; 20,000 meters (65,617 feet) in 3 minutes, 42.99 seconds; and 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 4 minutes, 26.03 seconds.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-762 being prepared for a record attempt at NAS Point Mugu. (F-104 Society)
Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 being prepared for a record attempt at NAS Point Mugu, California. (International F-104 Society)

Lieutenant Enevoldson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for these accomplishments.

The Distinguished Flying Cross
The Distinguished Flying Cross

FAI Record File Num #9107 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 3 000 m
Performance: 41.85s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9106 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 6 000 m
Performance: 58.41s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9105 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 9 000 m
Performance: 1 min 21.14s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9104 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 12 000 m
Performance: 1 min 39.90s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9103 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 15 000 m
Performance: 2 min 11.1s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9102 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 20 000 m
Performance: 3 min 42.99s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #9080 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 25 000 m
Performance: 4 min 26.03s
Date: 1958-12-13
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant Einar Enevoldson (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed F-104A “Starfighter”
Engine: 1 G E J79

U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 on the runaway at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, December 1958. (International F-104 Society)
U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 on the runaway at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, December 1958. (International F-104 Society)

Einar Enevoldson later flew as a civilian test pilot for NASA from 1968 to 1986 and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He holds numerous FAI world records.

Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 climbing under Southern California's overcast coastal skies. (International F-104 Society)
Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter 56-762 climbing under Southern California’s overcast coastal skies. (International F-104 Society)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single-engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. The F-104A was 54 feet, 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). It had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms), combat weight of 17,988 pounds (8,159.2 kilograms), gross weight of 22,614 pounds (10,257.5 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 25,840 pounds (11,720.8 kilograms). Internal fuel capacity was 897 gallons (3,395.5 liters).

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. 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).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

The same type aircraft as that flown by Einar K. Enevoldson, this is a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, 56-761. It is carrying both wingtip and underwing fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
The same type aircraft as that flown by Einar K. Enevoldson, this is a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, 56-761. It is carrying both wingtip and underwing fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ 56-762 was one of three F-104As later converted to an NF-104A rocket/turbojet Advanced Aerospace Trainer. It is the same Starfighter that crashed when Chuck Yeager had to eject after it went into an uncontrolled spin during a zoom-climb altitude record attempt, 10 December 1963.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1963

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)

6 December 1963: Air Force test pilot Major Robert W. Smith takes the Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 56-0756, out for a little spin. . .

Starting at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Bob Smith turned toward Edwards Air Force Base and accelerated to Military Power and then lit the afterburner, which increased the General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter accelerated in level flight. At Mach 2.2, Smith ignited the Rocketdyne LR121 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide. The LR121 was throttleable and could produce from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons).

When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Smith began a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), the test pilot shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. He gradually reduced the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), then shut it off.  Without the engine running, cabin pressurization was lost and the pilot’s A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit inflated.

The NF-104A continued to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by the reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. 756 reached a peak altitude of 120,800 feet (36,820 meters), before reentering the atmosphere in a 70° dive. Major Smith used the windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes to restart the jet engine.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer zoom-climb profile. (U.S. Air Force via NF-104.com)

Major Smith had set an unofficial record for altitude. Although Lockheed had paid the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license fee, the Air Force had not requested certification in advance so no FAI or National Aeronautic Association personnel were on site to certify the flight.

For this flight, Robert Smith was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”

Major Robert W. Smith, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Wilson Smith was born at Washington, D.C., 11 December 1928. He was the son of Robert Henry Smith, a clerk (and eventually treasurer) for the Southern Railway Company, and Jeanette Blanche Albaugh Smith, a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1947. Smith studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University.

Robert W. Smith joined the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1949. He trained as a pilot at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 23 June 1950.

Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson Smith married Ms. Martha Yacko, 24 June 1950, at Phoenix, Arizona.

Lieutenant Robert W. Smith and his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Jackson, with Lady Lane, Smith’s North American F-86 Sabre. (Robert W. Wilson Collection)

He flew the F-86 Sabre on more than 100 combat missions with the 334th and 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War. he named one of his airplanes Lady Lane in honor of his daughter. Smith was credited with two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and three more damaged.

Smith graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1956. He flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing there and at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In 1962 he was assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards for training as an astronaut candidate for Project Gemini.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Smith, United States Air Force

After the NF-104A project was canceled, Lieutenant Colonel Smith volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War. He commanded the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. Bob Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” while leading an attack at Thuy Phoung, north of Hanoi, 19 November 1967.

He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, and five times was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Colonel Smith retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1969 after twenty years of service.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson Smith died at Monteverde, Florida, 19 August 2010. He was 81 years old.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-756 following a landing accident at Edwards AFB, 21 November 1961. (U.S. Air Force via the International F-104 Society)

56-756 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter. Flown by future astronaut James A. McDivitt, it had been damaged in a landing accident at Edwards following a hydraulic system failure, 21 November 1961. It was one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs). These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the control system for flight outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wingspan was increased to 25 feet, 11.3 inches (7.907 meters) for installation of the hydrogen peroxide Reaction Control System thrusters. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The fuselage “buzz number” was changed from FG-756 to NF-756.

The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne LR121 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons) with a burn time of 105 seconds.

56-756 was damaged by inflight explosions in 1965 and 1971, after which it was retired. It is mounted for static display at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, marked as 56-760.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer 56-756, marked as 56-760, on display at Edwards Air Force Base. (Kaszeta)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 October 1953

Convair YF-102 52-7994 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Convair YF-102 52-7994 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

24 October 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Richard Lowe Johnson, Chief Test Pilot for the Convair Division of the General Dynamics Corporation, took the first prototype YF-102 Delta Dagger, serial number 52-7994, for its first flight.

The YF-102 was a single-seat, single-engine, delta wing fighter designed as an all-weather, missile-armed, Mach 2 interceptor. It was developed from the earlier, experimental, Convair XF-92 Dart. The F-102 was planned for a Westinghouse XJ67-W-1 engine, but when that was not ready in time, a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-11 afterburning turbojet engine was substituted. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-11 was rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.482 kilonewtons), and 16,000 pounds (71.172 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The first prototype Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger, 52-7994, was completed at the Convair plant in San Diego, 2 October 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger, 52-7994, was completed at the Convair plant in San Diego, 2 October 1953. (Convair Division of General Dynamics)

The prototype had finished assembly at the Convair plant in San Diego, California, on 2 October 1953. It was then shipped by truck to Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California where final preparations and testing was carried out.

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) had tested scale models of the YF-102 in the 8-foot HST wind tunnel at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical laboratory and found that significant shock waves were produced at near-sonic speeds. Surprisingly, shock waves were created at the trailing edge of the delta wing. The shock waves caused very high drag that would keep the aircraft from reaching Mach 1, even with the more powerful engine planned for production models.

Convair YF-102 with the original fuselage. (NASA)
Convair YF-102 53-1785 with the original fuselage, photographed 31 December 1954. (NASA)

The Republic YF-105 fighter bomber had similar problems, though it did pass the speed of sound. Both aircraft were significantly redesigned to incorporate the “Area Rule,” developed by NACA aerodynamicist Richard T. Whitcomb. Rather than considering the aerodynamics of the fuselage independently, the frontal area of the wings and tail surfaces had to be included to reduce drag. This produced the “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape that the production models of these two fighters were known for.

Convair built two YF-102s before the design was changed, resulting in the YF-102A prototypes and the production F-102A Delta Dagger.

The first prototype Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger, 52-7994, on Rogers Dry Lake, October 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger, 52-7994, on Rogers Dry Lake, October 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

Several problems showed up on the YF-102’s first flight. Severe buffeting was encountered at high sub-sonic speed. As predicted by NACA, aerodynamic drag prevented the YF-102 from reaching Mach 1 in level flight. There were also problems with the landing gear, the fuel system, and the J57 engine did not produce the rated power.

The production F-102A was considerably larger than the YF-102. The fuselage was lengthened, the wing area and span were increased, and the vertical fin was taller. A more powerful J57-P-23 engine was used. These and other changes increased the F-102A’s gross weight by nearly 1,800 pounds (815 kilograms).

Convair YF-102 52-7994 parked on the dry lake bed, Edwards AFB, California. (U.S. Air Force)

On 2 November 1953, just nine days after the first flight, the Pratt & Whitney J57-P-11 engine flamed out during a test flight. Dick Johnson was unable to restart it and made a forced landing in the desert. The  YF-102 was severely damaged and Dick Johnson badly hurt. The flameout was traced to a problem with the the fuel control system. The prototype was written off.

Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger 52-7994. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair YF-102 Delta Dagger 52-7994 just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreck o fConvair YF-102 52-994 near Edwards Air focre Base, 2 Novemnber 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreck of Convair YF-102 52-7994 near Edwards Air Force Base, 2 November 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Lowe Johnson ¹ was born at Cooperstown, North Dakota, 21 September 1917. He was the eighth of nine children of Swedish immigrants, John N. Johnson, a farmer, and Elna Kristina Helgesten Johnson, a seamstress.

Dick Johnson attended Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, as a member of the Class of 1943. He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ) fraternity.

Dick Johnson was a pitcher for the college baseball team, and later, played for the Boston Red Sox “farm” (minor league) system.

On 18 June 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. On 5 November, he was appointed an aviation cadet and assigned to flight training.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Juanita Blanche Carter, 17 April 1943, at Ocala, Florida. The civil ceremony was officiated by Judge D. R. Smith.

After completing flight training, on 1 October 1943, Richard L. Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Lieutenant Johnson was assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, in North Africa, Corsica, and Italy, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 August 1944, and just over three months later, 26 November 1944, to the rank of captain, A.U.S. On 14 May 1945, Captain Johnson was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (Major Johnson was assigned a permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 5 July 1946, with a date of rank retroactive to 21 September 1945.)

Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt 42-26421, assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter group, Twelfth Air Force. This airplane was purchased by the employees of Republic Aviation. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 25505)

During World War II, Major Johnson flew 180 combat missions with the 66th Fighter Squadron. He is officially credited with one air-to-air victory, 1 July 1944. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (3 awards), and the Air Medal with twelve oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards).

In 1946, was assigned to the Air Materiel Command Engineering Test Pilot School at the Army Air Forces Technical Base, Dayton, Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.”

A few weeks after arriving at Dayton, Major Johnson met Miss Alvina Conway Huester, the daughter of an officer in the U.S. Navy. Dick Johnson and his wife Juanita were divorced 8 January 1947, and he married Miss Huester in a ceremony in Henry County, Indiana, 10 January 1947. They would have three children, Kristie, Lisa and Richard.

Richard L. Johnson waves from the cockpit of the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, 47-611.

Dick Johnson set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,² flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

During the Korean War, Major Johnson was sent to the war zone to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86 Sabre. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Convair Chief Test Pilot Richard Lowe Johnson. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for the Convair Division of General Dynamics. He made the first flights of the YF-102 and the F-106A Delta Dart, 26 December 1956. He also made the first flight of the F-111 on 21 December 1964.

In 1955, Johnson was one of the six founding members of the Society of Experimental test Pilots.

Dick Johnson was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the General Dynamics F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1967, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded Johnson its Iven C. Kincheloe Award for his work on the F-111 program. In 1977, Dick Johnson, then the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired.

In 1998, Dick Johnson was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor at Lancaster, California. His commemorative monument is located in front of the Lancaster Public Library on W. Lancaster Boulevard, just West of Cedar Avenue. ³

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force, (Retired), died 9 November 2002 at Fort Worth, Texas. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on 7 January 2003.

Chief Test Pilot Dick Johnson in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler. (Courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

¹ Several sources spell Johnson’s middle name as “Loe.”

² FAI Record File Number 9866

³ Various Internet sources repeat the statement that “Richard Johnson has been honored with. . . the Thompson Trophy, Mackay Trophy, Flying Tiger Trophy, Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal and Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. . . .” TDiA has checked the lists of awardees of each of the appropriate organizations and has not found any support for the statement.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 October 1954

Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter 083-1002, serial number 53-7787, the second prototype, in flight near Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

5 October 1954: Chief Engineering Test Pilot Tony LeVier made the first flight in the second prototype Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7787, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. This was the armament test aircraft and was equipped with a General Electric T171 Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun. This six-barreled gun was capable of firing at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute.

The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).

While the first prototype, 53-7776, was equipped with a Buick J65-B-3 turbojet engine, the second used a Wright Aeronautical Division J65-W-6 with afterburner. Both were improved derivatives of the Armstrong Siddely Sa.6 Sapphire, built under license. The J65 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The J65-B-3 was rated at 7,330 pounds of thrust, and the J65-W-6, rated at 7,800 pounds (34.70 kilonewtons), and 10,500 pounds (46.71 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters).

53-7787 was lost 19 April 1955 when it suffered explosive decompression at 47,000 feet (14,326 meters) during a test of the T171 Vulcan gun system. The lower escape hatch had come loose due to an inadequate latching mechanism. Lockheed test pilot Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon was unable to find a suitable landing area and ejected at 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour) and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The XF-104 crashed 72 miles (117 kilometers) east-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base. Salmon was found two hours later, uninjured, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from the crash site.

Tony LeVier with the XF-104 armament test prototype, 53-7787, at Edwards AFB, 1954. LeVier is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with K-1 helmet. (U.S. Air Force)

The YF-104A pre-production aircraft and subsequent F-104A production aircraft had many improvements over the two XF-104 prototypes. The fuselage was lengthened 5 feet, 6 inches (1.68 meters). The J65 engine was replaced with a more powerful General Electric J79-GE-3 turbojet. There were fixed inlet cones added to control airflow into the engines. A ventral fin was added to improve stability.

Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighters 56-0769 and 56-0781. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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