25 May 1953: North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch took the YF-100A Super Sabre, U.S. Air Force serial number 52-5754, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base. The airplane reached Mach 1.03.
Development of the Super Sabre began with an effort to increase the speed of the F-86D and F-86E Sabre fighters. The wings had more sweep and the airfoil sections were thinner. A much more powerful engine would be needed to achieve supersonic speed in level flight. As design work on the “Sabre 45” proceeded, the airplane evolved to a completely new design. Initially designated XF-100, continued refinements resulted in the first two aircraft being redesignated YF-100A.
The two YF-100As, 52-5754 and 52-5755, were 47 feet, 11¼ inches (14.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 7 inches (11.151 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). The wings were swept to 45° at 25% chord, and had 0° angle of incidence and 0° dihedral. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings to eliminate their twisting effects at high speed. The airplane had no flaps. The pre-production prototypes weighed 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 24,789 pounds (11,244 kilograms).
The new air superiority fighter was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (2 high- and 1 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-7 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 8,000 pounds of thrust (35.586 kilonewtons) at 5,875 r.p.m., N1, and 9550 r.p.m., N2. The engine’s Military Power rating was 9,700 pounds thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) at 6,275 r.p.m./9,900 r.p.m., for 30 minutes; and 14,800 pounds thrust (65.834 kilonewtons) at 6,275 r.p.m./9,900 r.p.m. with afterburner, limited to five minutes. The engine was 20 feet, 9.7 inches (6.342 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.9 inches (1.014 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,075 pounds (2,303 kilograms). Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine, which had the same ratings.
The YF-100A had a maximum speed of 660 miles per hour (1,062 kilometers per hour) at 43,350 feet (13,213 meters). The service ceiling was 52,600 feet (16,033 meters). Range with internal fuel was 422 miles (679 kilometers).
During testing, 52-5754 reached Mach 1.44 in a dive. On 29 October 1953, Colonel Frank K. Everest set a world speed record of 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour) with 754.¹
In service with the United States Air Force, the Super Sabre’s mission changed from air superiority fighter to fighter bomber. It was used extensively during the Vietnam War. North American Aviation, Inc., built 2,294 single and tandem-seat Super Sabres between 1954 and 1959.
George Welch was born George Lewis Schwartz, in Wilmington, Delaware, 10 May 1918. His parents changed his surname to Welch, his mother’s maiden name, so that he would not be effected by the anti-German prejudice that was widespread in America following World War I. He studied mechanical engineering at Purdue, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939.
George S. Welch is best remembered as one of the heroes of Pearl Harbor. He was one of only two fighter pilots to get airborne during the Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii, 7 December 1941. Flying a Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, he shot down three Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter. For this action, Lieutenant General H.H. “Hap” Arnold recommended the Medal of Honor, but because Lieutenant Welch had taken off without orders, an officer in his chain of command refused to endorse the nomination. He received the Distinguished Service Cross. During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.
Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat, and when North American Aviation approached him to test the new P-51H Mustang, General Arnold authorized his resignation. Welch test flew the P-51, FJ-1 Fury, F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre. He was killed 12 October 1954 when his F-100A Super Sabre came apart in a 7 G pull up from a Mach 1.5 dive.
17 April 1956: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation rolled out the very first production F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. This airplane, one of the original seventeen pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage.
Once the configuration was finalized, 55-2956 was the first YF-104A converted to the F-104A production standard. In this photograph, the F-104’s secret engine intakes are covered by false fairings.
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.
This Starfighter, 55-2956, was converted to a JF-104A with specialized instrumentation. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy to test AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles at Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) China Lake, approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. 55-2956 was damaged beyond repair when it lost power on takeoff and ran off the runway at Armitage Field, 15 June 1959.
4 March 1954: Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. LeVier takes the prototype XF-104 Starfighter, 53-7786, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. The airplane’s landing gear remained extended throughout the flight, which lasted about twenty minutes.
Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson, the XF-104 was a prototype Mach 2+ interceptor and was known in the news media of the time as “the missile with a man in it.”
Tony LeVier was a friend of my mother’s family and a frequent visitor to their home in Whittier, California.
There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptor prototypes.
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 wings had 10° anhedral. The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).
The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 afterburning turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons) at 8,200 r.p.m. The J65-B-3 was 9 feet, 7.0 inches (2.921 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.5 inches (0.953 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms).
On 15 March 1955, XF-104 53-7786 reached a maximum speed of Mach 1.79 (1,181 miles per hour, 1,900 kilometers per hour), at 60,000 feet (18,288 meters).
XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.
Lockheed Martin has an excellent color video of the XF-104 first flight on their web site at:
29 February 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly revealed the existence of the Top Secret Lockheed YF-12A, a Mach 3+ interceptor designed and built by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s “Skunk Works.” President Johnson referred to the interceptor as the “A-11.”
The following day, the Los Angeles Times ran two lengthy articles on its front page:
Johnson Discloses New Jet Secretly Developed by U.S.
Manned Aircraft Flies at 3 Times Speed of Sound; Military Potential Great
By ROBERT C. TOTH
Times National Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON—President Johnson disclosed Saturday the secret five-year development of an experimental jet aircraft whose performance “far exceeds that of any other aircraft in the world today.”
Several of the craft, designated A-11, have been “tested in sustained flight” at speeds greater than 2,000 m.p.h. and at heights over 70,000 ft., he said.
The craft has been made possible “by major advances in aircraft technology of great significance to both military and commercial application,” Mr. Johnson told a press conference.
Tests are under way at Edwards AFB, Cal., to determine the capability of the airplanes as long-range interceptors of enemy bombers. The plane was developed by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. of Burbank as a special project.
“Appropriate members of the Senate and the House have been kept fully informed on the program since its day of inception” in 1959, Mr. Johnson said.
Costs of the A-11 were not revealed, and the President said detailed performance information on the aircraft “will remain strictly classified.” Personnel working on the project have been told to keep quiet, he added.
Why the project has been wrapped in secrecy was not immediately clear. All that a White House spokesman would say, in answer to a question, was the A-11 represents “a new plateau in aircraft potential”—of such great potential that the military wanted to “explore it in secrecy.”
The A-11’s development also will aid in building a supersonic transport for commercial airlines, Mr. Johnson said. Like A-11, the transport would fly about Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.
One of the most important technological achievements of the A-11 project, the President said, has been the mastery of the problem of using titanium metal on aircraft.
The aluminum used in today’s airplanes wears out in sustained flight at speeds greater than about Mach 2.2. This is due to the great heats generated by friction as air rushes over the surfaces of the aircraft, particularly the leading edges of the wings.
“The existence of this (A-11) program is being disclosed today to permit the orderly exploitation of this advanced technology in our military and commercial planes,” Mr. Johnson said.
High performance aircraft like the controversial TFX multi-service airplane and the Navy’s Phantom fighter will have speeds up to about Mach 2.5—about 1,600 m.p.h. These high speeds are possible for relatively short duration, however.
Funds for the A-11 were presumably buried in other appropriations, conceivably in part in Air Force appropriations for the B-70.
Dimensions of the A-11 were not revealed although an in-flight picture of the side view of the plane was distributed. It suggests the A-11 is more than 100 ft. long, based on the size of the pilot’s head in the cockpit.
The front half of the A-11 looks very similar to that of the X-15 rocket plane which has flown at speeds over 4,000 m.p.h. The characteristic tail surfaces of the X-15, extending both above and below the fuselage, also were obvious.
The A-11’s engine, a J-58 from Pratt & Whitney, occupies the rear third of the vehicle.
The experimental fire control and air-to-air missile system was developed by the Hughes Aircraft Co. The “A” in the aircraft’s designation suggests an “attack” function.
Number of Questions
Announcement of the project raises a number of questions, some of which Presidential Press Secretary Pierre Salinger answered at a subsequent briefing.
For example, why did the Pentagon object to the Boeing Aircraft Co.’s proposal to use titanium in the TFX if the A-11 had proved that the metal can be used?
“The technical knowledge obtained in the A-11 program made it possible to evaluate Boeing’s proposal,” Mr. Salinger said, and the Pentagon concluded that the titanium in the TFX represented a “High development risk.”
This seemed to be further technical justification for the choice of General Dynamics over Boeing for the TFX, a choice which raised a political furor in Congress.
The economic meaning of the A-11 was another question put to Mr. Salinger. While the project makes a major contribution to Mach 3 flight, he replied, “It cannot be converted into a transport. A major independent development program is still necessary to produce a supersonic transport.”
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXXIII, Sunday, 1 March 1964, Page 1, Columns 7–8, and Page 6, Columns 3–4
The second Times article identifies the designer as Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson:
NEW PLANE GREAT FEAT OF SECURITY
BY MARVIN MILES
Times Aerospace Editor
President Johnson’s announcement of a new triple-sonic interceptor Saturday disclosed on of the best kept secrets in military annals, a security feat comparable in many ways to that achieved with the atomic bomb.
Apparently even the House Armed Services Committee didn’t know of the project for it recommended $40 million for an improved manned interceptor, a fund approved by the full House just 10 days ago.
The Senate, however, must have had more information, for it made no provision for the new interceptor studies in approving aircraft funding last Thursday, including $52 million for an advanced bomber.
The secret of Lockheed’s new A-11 interceptor was kept far better than that of the same company’s U-2 reconnaissance plane that was eventually shot down on a sky-spy flight over Russia.
Dozens of reports on the mysterious U-2 from various sections of the world had filtered into the news before the international incident over Russia.
The Times learned the new A-11 was spurred by the same aircraft genius who headed development of the U-2 and Lockheed’s famed F-104 Starfighter interceptor, Clarence (Kelly) Johnson, vice president for advanced development projects.
Johnson and his crew work in a carefully-guarded area at the Lockheed Burbank factory known as the “Skunk Works.”
Pierre Salinger, White House press officer, told newsmen the A-11 was funded and managed by the Air Force in the normal manner for a classified project.
Inasmuch as the new plane was started in 1959, this gave rise to speculation as to why a similar plane, the F-108, was canceled in that year.
The F-108 was a North American Aviation project in the same time era that the company’s triple-sonic B-70 bomber was started.
Like the A-11, it was to have had a speed of Mach 3 (about 2,000 m.p.h.) with a range of about 2,000 miles, plus combat time.
Reason for canceling the F-108 was largely budgetary, according to reports in 1959, with the Defense Department declaring that of the two North American projects, the B-70 bomber was a more urgent program than the F-108.
Some estimates of the A-11 can be drawn from the F-108. The North American plane was to have been powered by two engines, and one considered was the Pratt & Whitney J-58, the engine that will power the A-11.
This indicates the new Lockheed interceptor will have two engines also. The J-58 has never been used, either militarily or commercially, as far as The Times could determine. It has a thrust of about 30,000 lb.
Another indication from the F-108 relates to the armament of the A-11. The canceled North American interceptor was to have been armed with Hughes GAR-9 nuclear-tipped rockets.
The A-11 has a Hughes fire control system and its armament could well be the same guided, air-to-air rocket or an advancement of it.
The new interceptor will answer fears expressed by many military experts that Russia’s bomber fleet poses a greater threat to North America than her intercontinental missiles.
The A-11 will have the speed to intercept high speed bombers and shoot them down at ranges that would precluded their launching air-to-ground missiles against U.S. targets.
In appearance, the A-11 looks something like the X-15 rocket plane, a long, slim craft with sharp pointed nose section similar to that of the F-104 Starfighter.
It has both ventral and dorsal fins and appears to be about 90 ft. long over-all.
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXXIII, Sunday, 1 March 1964, Page 1, Columns 7–8 and Page 6, Column 5–6
The YF-12A first flew 7 August 1963.
Intended as a replacement for Convair’s F-106 Delta Dart, three pre-production YF-12As were built for testing. On 1 May 1965, a YF-12A set a speed record of 2,070.103 miles per hour (3,331.507 kilometers per hour) and reached an altitude of 80,259 ft (24,463 meters).
The reason for President Johnson’s announcement of the existence of the YF-12A prototypes was to conceal the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency’s fleet of Lockheed A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance aircraft based at Groom Lake, Nevada. Any sightings of these aircraft could be attributed to test flights of the YF-12As based at Edwards Air Force Base, 160 miles (258 kilometers) to the southwest.
The YF-12A interceptor is very similar to its A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird stablemates. It is a large twin-engine delta wing aircraft, flown by a pilot and weapons system operator. Because of the altitudes that the F-12 operates, the crew wears S901F full-pressure suits produced by the David Clark Company. The A-12 is 101.6 feet (30.97 meters) long with a wingspan of 55.62 feet (16.953 meters) and overall height of 18.45 feet (5.624 meters). It has a zero fuel weight of 54,600 pounds (24,766 kilograms) and a maximum ramp weight of 124,600 pounds (56,518 kilograms). ¹
The YF-12A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 (JT11D-20A) engines. These are single rotor bleed-bypass turbojets with a 9-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. They have a static thrust rating of 31,500 pounds (140.118 kilonewtons), each, at Sea Level with afterburning. The J58s use a unique JP-7 fuel.
The YF-12A has a maximum speed of Mach 3.35 (2,232 miles per hour/3,342 kilometers per hour) at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). The A-12 has a normal operating cruise speed of Mach 3.1. Its maximum operating altitude is 85,000 feet (25,908 meters) and it has a range of 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers). Unlike most fighters, the A-12 has a maximum load factor of 2.5 gs. Its maximum bank angle when above Mach 2.5 is 30°.
The United States Air Force ordered 93 production F-12B aircraft, which would have been armed with three Hughes AIM-47A Falcon air-to-air missiles in enclosed bays in the bottom of the fuselage. However, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds for the purchase for three consecutive years and eventually the project was cancelled.
The first YF-12A, 60-6934, seen in the top photograph, was extensively damaged by a brake system fire on landing at Edwards AFB, 14 August 1966. It was salvaged and rebuilt as SR-71C 61-7981. The third YF-12A, shown in the photograph below, was lost due to an inflight fire 24 June 1971. The crew safely ejected.
The only existing YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
¹ The Lockheed SR-71A has a length of 107.4 feet (32.74 meters). Wingspan and height are the same. Its zero fuel weight varied from 56,500–60,000+ pounds (25,628–27,216+ kilograms) and the gross weight had a range of approximately 135,000–140,000+ pounds (61,235–63,503+ kilograms).
2 February 1970: At approximately 9:50 a.m., three Convair F-106A Delta Dart supersonic interceptors of the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 24th Air Division, based at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, were engaged in an air combat training mission.
1st Lieutenant Gary Eugene Foust was flying F-106A-100-CO 58-0787, an airplane usually flown by the squadron’s maintenance officer, Major Wolford.
During the simulated combat, Lt. Foust entered into a vertical climb with his “opponent,” Captain Tom Curtis, who was also flying an F-106, and they both climbed to about 38,000 feet (11,600 meters) while using a “vertical rolling scissors” maneuver as each tried to get into a position of advantage.
Lt. Foust’s interceptor stalled and went in to a flat spin. Captain Curtiss described it: “The aircraft looked like the pitot tube was stationary with the aircraft rotating around it. Very flat and rotating quite slowly.”
Foust tried all the recovery procedures but could not regain control of the Delta Dart. With no options remaining, at about 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), Foust ejected from the apparently doomed airplane.
After the pilot ejected, the F-106 came out of the spin and leveled off. With its engine still running, -787 continued flying, gradually descending, until it slid in to a landing in a wheat field near Big Sandy, Montana. Eventually the airplane ran out of fuel and the engine stopped at about 12:15 p.m.
Lieutenant Foust safely parachuted into the mountains and was soon rescued.
58-0787 was partially disassembled by a maintenance team from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and loaded on to a rail car. It was then transported to the Sacramento Air Logistics Center at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, where it was repaired and eventually returned to flight status with the 49th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 21st Air Division, at Griffiss Air Force Base, New York.
After the Convair Delta Dart was retired from active service, 58-0787 was sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was the primary all-weather interceptor of the United States Air Force from 1959 to 1988, when it was withdrawn from service with the Air National Guard. It was a single-seat, single-engine delta-winged aircraft capable of speeds above Mach 2.
The airplane was a development of the earlier F-102A Delta Dagger, and was initially designated F-102B. However, so many changes were made that it was considered to be a new aircraft.
The F-106A is 70 feet, 8.78 inches (21.559 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 3.5 inches (11.671 meters). The total area of the delta wing is 697.83 square feet (64.83 square meters). The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 60°. The top of the vertical fin was 20 feet, 3.3 inches (6.180 meters) high. The Delta Dart weighs 23,646 pounds (10,726 kilograms) empty, and has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 38,729 pounds (17,567 kilograms).
The F-106 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-17 afterburning turbojet engine. The J75-P-17 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with afterburner. It used a 15-stage compressor section (8 high- and 7 low-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2-low pressure stages). The J75-P-17 had a maximum continuous power rating of 14,100 pounds of thrust (62.72 kilonewtons), and military power rating of 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). It produced a maximum of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 3 feet, 8.25 inches (1.124 meters) in diameter, 19 feet, 9.6 inches long (6.035 meters), and weighed 5,875 pounds (2,665 kilograms).
The interceptor has a cruise speed of 530 knots (610 miles per hour/982 kilometers per hour). and a maximum speed of 1,153 knots 1,327 miles per hour/2,135 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The F-106A had a service ceiling is 53,800 feet (16,398 meters) and a rate of climb of 48,900 feet per minute (248 meters per second). Its combat radius was 530 nautical miles (610 statute miles/982 kilometers) and the maximum ferry range was 1,843 nautical miles (2,121 statute miles/3,413 kilometers).
The Delta Dart was armed with four GAR-3A radar-homing, or -4A (AIM-4F, -4G) infrared-homing Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, and one MB-1 (AIM-2A) Genie unguided rocket with a 1.5 kiloton W-25 nuclear warhead. The missiles were carried in an internal weapons bay. In 1972, the General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon was added to the rear weapons bay with 650 rounds of ammunition. (The number of gun-equipped Delta Darts is uncertain.)
Convair built 342 F-106 interceptors. 277 were F-106As and the remainder were F-106B two-seat trainers.