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.
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.
3 October 1953: Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, a test pilot assigned to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flew the second prototype of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 124587, over a three kilometer course at the Salton Sea, California. Flying at approximately 150 feet (46 meters), Commander Verdin made four passes, with two in each direction. He set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 3-kilometer course, averaging 1,211.75 kilometers per hour (752.95 miles per hour).¹
The runs were measured at 746.075, 761.414, 746.053 and 759.498 miles per hour (1,200.691, 1,225.377, 1,200.656, and 1,222.294 kilometers per hour). The total elapsed time for the flight, from take off to landing at NAS El Centro, was 20 minutes, 25 seconds. The XF4D-1 burned 575 gallons (2,177 liters) of fuel.
Verdin had broken the record set 25 September 1953 by Michael J. Lithgow, chief test pilot for Vickers Supermarine, flying a Supermarine Swift F. Mk.4, WK198, at Castel Idris, Libya.²
In an interview with famed writer Bob Considine for his newspaper column, Verdin said,
“Douglas had its high priced help there at the course, and they iced my fuel for the Skyray while I took a look at the course from a Grumman Cougar,” he remembered. “They ice the fuel because that shrinks it and you can pack more in.
“We towed her out to the starting line to save the stuff. Didn’t even use blocks on the wheels after the engine was started. Just started rolling. I was in the air a little over a minute after the engine started, and headed for the measured course, 40 miles away.
“It was marked for me by smudge pots and burning tires, and orange-red markers to tell me when to turn off my afterburner, which eats fuel like crazy. About five miles short of the line I was doing 620 and turned on the afterburner. It gave me another hundred miles an hour right away, and I held her steady and low over the course. It doesn’t take long. . . about nine seconds for the just under two miles.”
—Bob Considine, On the Line—By Considine, International News Service, published in The Daily Review, Hayward, California, Vol. 62, No. 21, 20 October 1953, Page 14 at Columns 1–3
The Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine delta-winged fighter powered by a turbojet engine. It had retractable tricycle landing gear and was to operate off of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers as a high altitude interceptor. The Skyray was designed by the legendary Ed Heinemann, for which he was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1954. Two prototypes were built (Bu.Nos. 124586, 124587). It was a delta-winged aircraft, though the wingtips were significantly rounded.
The Douglas F4D-1 Skyray was 45 feet, 4¾ inches (13.837 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters). The empty weight was 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,116 pounds (12,300 kilograms).
Originally built with Allison J35-A-17 turbojet engines, both prototypes later had a Westinghouse J40-WE-8 afterburning turbojet installed. The Skyray was equipped with the Westinghouse engine when it set the speed record. Production Skyrays used a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 afterburning turbojet.
The Westinghouse J40-W-8 was a single-shaft, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. It produced 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons) at 7,600 r.p.m. The engine was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) long, 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).
The F4D-1 was the first U.S. Navy fighter able to reach supersonic speeds in level flight. The production aircraft had a maximum speed of 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour), and service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16.764 meters). Its rate of climb was 18,300 feet per minute (92.97 meters per second) and the maximum range was 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).
The Skyray was armed with four 20 mm Colt Mk 12 autocannon, with 65 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could also carry 2.75-inch FFAR rockets, four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, or two 2,000 pound (1,588 kilogram) bombs.
The Douglas Aircraft Company built 420 F4D-1 Skyrays. They were in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps from 1956 until 1964.
The record-setting XF4D-1 was transferred to General Electric in July 1955 and used to test GE’s J79 afterburning turbojet engine and the commercial CJ805.
XF4D-1 Bu. No. 124587 was returned to the Navy in May 1960. It is on display at the U.S. Navy Museum of Armament and Technology, NAWS China Lake, California.
James Bernard Verdin was born in Montana, 23 February 1918, the son of James Harris Verdin, a farmer, and Nellie Cambron Verdin. He entered the United States Navy as a Seaman, 2nd Class, 11 July 1941. His enlistment was terminated 7 January 1942 and he was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. He was assigned to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, for flight training. Verdin was commissioned as an Ensign, 18 June 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade), 1 May 1943, and then promoted to Lieutenant, 1 July 1944.
During World War II, Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, U.S.N., was a fighter pilot flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, assigned to VF-20 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6). He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while service as a Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY (VF-20), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), on a strike against the Japanese Fleet during the Battle for Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944, in the Philippine Islands. With complete disregard for his own personal safety and in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, Lieutenant Verdin attacked and scored a direct bomb hit on an enemy battleship. His outstanding courage and determined skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 046. 31 January 1945
Lieutenant Verdin flew more than 100 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In addition to the Navy Cross, Lieutenant Commander Verdin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one gold star, and the Air Medal with five gold stars.
Verdin left the Navy in 1954 and joined Douglas as a test pilot, June 1954.
He married Miss Kathryn and they lived in Coronado, California, near NAS North Island. They had one child. They divorced in 1948. Later, he married his second wife, Miss Muriel Carolyn Larson. They had three children and lived in Brentwood, California.
While testing a Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137815, 13 January 1955, Lieutenant Commander Verdin encountered violent vibrations during a high speed run near Victorville, California. He was forced to eject, but his parachute failed to open and he was killed. His body was not found until the following day, located 2½ miles from the crash site. Verdin was 37 years old. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.
29 September 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Robert C. Little made the first flight of the first F-101A-1-MC Voodoo, 53-2418. During this flight, the new interceptor reached 0.9 Mach at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).
The F-101A was a development of the earlier McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo and all were production aircraft. There were no prototypes.
Robert C. Little flew P-51 Mustang fighters during World War II. He joined McDonnell Aircraft Corporation as a test pilot in 1948. He flew the FH Phantom, and made the first flights of the F3H Demon, the F-101A Voodoo and the F-101B. He was next assigned as McDonnell’s chief test pilot and base manager at Edwards Air Force Base. He the made the first flight of the YF4H-1 Phantom II and conducted the early company tests of the airplane, then became the F4H program manager.
Outside the cockpit, Little rose through the company’s ranks and after the merger with Douglas, became a corporate vice president, overseeing the operations of McDonnell-Douglas at St. Louis and McDonnell-Douglas Helicopters at Mesa, Arizona.
The McDonnell F-101A Voodoo was a single-seat twin-engine supersonic interceptor. It was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters) and overall height of 18 feet (5.486 meters). The total wing area was 368 square feet (34.19 square meters). The wings’ sweep was 36° 36′ at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 1°. There was no twist or dihedral. The F-101A weighed 24,970 pounds (11,326 kilograms) empty and had maximum takeoff weight of 49,998 pounds (22,679 kilograms).
Power was supplied by two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 axial-flow turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 maximum continuous power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons); military power, 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit); and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5 minute limit). The -P-13 was 3 feet, 4.3 inches (1.024 meters) in diameter, 17 feet, 7.0 inches (5.359 meters) long, and weighed 5,025 pounds (2,279 kilograms).
The F-101A had a maximum speed of 866 knots (997 miles per hour/1,604 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 45,800 feet (13,960 meters). The airplane’s combat radius was 1,011 nautical miles (1,163 statute miles/1,872 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 2,541 nautical miles (2,924 statute miles/4,706 kilometers)
The Voodoo was armed with four 20mm M39 autocannons with 200 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could carry a single Mark 7, Mark 28 or Mark 43 tactical nuclear bomb.
Of 807 F-101 Voodoos built, 77 were F-101As.
F-101A 53-2418 was transferred to General Electric for testing the J79 afterburning turbojet engine which would later power the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. In this configration it was designated NF-101A. General Electric returned the Voodoo to the Air Force in 1959. By that time obsolete, it was used as a maintenance trainer at Shepard Air Force Base, Texas.
53-2418 was next turned over to a civilian aviation maintenance school and assigned a civil registration number by the Federal Aviation Administration, N9250Z. The airplane was sold as scrap, but was purchased by Mr. Dennis Kelsey. In 2009, Mrs. Kelsey had the airplane placed in the care of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. After being partially restored by Evergreen Air Center, Marana, Arizona, 53-2418 was placed on display at the Evergreen Museum.
16 September 1975: Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov, Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau’s chief test pilot, took the Product 83 prototype, E-155MP 83/1, for its first flight.
Project 83 was a two-seat, twin-engine, Mach 2.8+ interceptor, designed as a successor to the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 25 “Foxbat” and would be designated the MiG 31. The Soviet Ministry of Defense assigned odd numbered designators to fighter-type aircraft, while NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, gave them identifying names beginning with the letter F. NATO calls the MiG 31 “Foxhound.”
The E-155MP is 22.69 meters (77 feet, 5 inches) long with a wingspan of 13.46 meters (44 feet, 2 inches) and overall height of 5.15 meters (16 feet, 11 inches). Its empty weight is 20,800 kilograms (45,856 pounds), normal takeoff weight 40,600 kilograms (89,508 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 46,000 kilograms (101,413 pounds).
The aircraft is powered by two low-bypass-ratio Soloviev Design Bureau D-30 F6 turbofan engines, producing 91.00 kN (20,458 pounds of thrust), each, and 152.00 kN (34,171 pounds thrust), each, with afterburners.
The E-155MP had a maximum speed of Mach 2.82 (2,995 kilometers per hour/1,861 miles per hour) at 17,500 meters (57,415 feet) and 1500 (932 miles per hour) at low altitude. The prototype’s service ceiling was 20,000 meters (65,617 feet), and it had a range of 2,150 kilometers (1,336 miles).
The aircraft is unsuitable for air combat manuevering. The airframe is limited to a load factor of 5 Gs.
The production MiG 31 is armed with one Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-6 23 23mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 260 rounds of ammunition. Four Vympel R-33 long-range air-to-air missiles are carried in fuselage recesses, and various combinations of short and medium range missiles can be carried on pylons under the wings.
The MiG 31 was in production from 1979 until 1994. Beginning in 2010, a modernization program to bring the up to the MiG 31BM configuration. It is believed that approximately 400 MiG 31 interceptors are in service.
Alexander Vasilievich Fedotov born 23 June 1932 at Stalingrad, Russia (renamed Volgograd in 1961). He graduated from the Air Force Special School at Stalingrad, and in 1950, entered the Soviet Army. Fedotov attended the Armavir Military Aviation School of Pilots at Amravir, Krasnodar Krai, Russia, graduating in 1952, and then became a flight instructor. In 1958 he attended the Ministry of Indutrial Aviation Test Pilot School at Zhukovsky. He was a test pilot for the Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau from 1958 to 1984. In 1983, Alexander Fedotov was promoted to the rank of Major General in the Soviet Air Force.
On 22 July 1966, Fedotov was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union. He was named an Honored Test Pilot of the Soviet Union, 21 February 1969. He was qualified as a Military Pilot 1st Class. Fedotov was twice awarded the Order of Lenin, and also held the Order of the Red Banner and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.
During his career as a test pilot, Major General Fedotov had been forced to eject from an airplane three times. He had also set 15 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for speed, altitude and time to altitude. One of these, FAI Record File Number 2825, in which he flew a Mikoyan E-266M to 37,650 meters (123,534 feet), 31 August 1977, remains the current record. The FAI has also honored him three times with The De la Vaulx Medal (1961, 1973 and 1977), and in 1976 awarded him the FAI’s Gold Air Medal.
Major General Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov and his navigator, Valerie Sergeyvich Zaytevym, were killed when the second MiG 31 prototype, number 83/2, crashed during a test flight. Neither airman was able to eject.
16 August 1948: The prototype Northrop XF-89 all-weather interceptor, 46-678, made its first flight at Muroc Air Force Base (later, Edwards Air Force Base). Company test pilot Fred Charles Bretcher, Jr., was at the controls.
The Northrop XF-89 was a two-place, twin-engine, mid-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear, designed as an all-weather interceptor. The pilot and radar intercept officer sat in tandem in the pressurized cockpit. Similar to Northrop’s World War II-era P-61 Black Widow night fighter, the XF-89 was painted gloss black.
The XF-89 was 50 feet, 6 inches (15.392 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.847 meters). The wing had a 1.5° angle of incident, and1° dihedral. The total wing area was 606.2 square feet (56.32 square meters). The prototype had an empty weight of 23,010 pounds (10,437 kilograms), gross weight of 31,000 pounds (14,061 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms).
The XF-89 was powered by two Allison J35-A-9 single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines. The J35 had an 11-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-9 was rated at 3,750 pounds of thrust (16.68 kilonewtons). The engine was 12 feet, 1.0 inches (3.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,455 pounds (1,114 kilograms).
The prototype crashed during a demonstration flight, its 102nd, at Hawthorne Airport, 22 February 1950. Vibrations caused by the engines’ exhaust caused the tail to separate. The pilot, Charles Tucker, escaped, but flight test engineer Arthur Turton was killed.
The F-89 went into production as the F-89A Scorpion. 1,050 were produced in eight variants. The final series, F-89J, remained in service with the Air National Guard until 1969.
Fred Charles Bretcher, Jr., was born 22 September 1920, at Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the son of Fred Charles Bretcher, a pharmacist, and Frieda Juliana Emma Poggenbeck Bretcher. His father, Sergeant Bretcher (or Bretscher), had served in an ambulance company at Ypres and the Meuse-Argonne during World War I, and had been honorably discharged, 18 April 1919.
The younger Bretcher attended Western Hills High School in Cincinnati. He played with the golf team and worked on the school newspaper. Bretcher graduated in 1938. He then worked as a sales clerk while attending college.
Bretcher enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, 29 May 1941. He was sent to the Southeast Air Corps Training Center, Maxwell Field, Alabama, as a member of Class 42A. He graduated 8 January 1942, and was released from his enlistment to accept a commission as a second lieutenant, effective 9 January 1942. Lieutenant Bretcher was then assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, as a trainee test pilot. While at Wright, he flew every aircraft in the Air Corps inventory.
Lieutenant Bretcher flew combat missions in the European Theater in the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang. Temporarily assigned to the Royal Air Force, he flew the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Tempest fighters and the Avro Lancaster long-range heavy bomber. While serving in Europe, Bretcher was promoted to the rank of captain.
Captain Bretcher returned to Wright Field in May 1944. Promoted to major, he was assigned as the Chief of the Bomber Test Section, working on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and Consolidated B-32 Dominator heavy bomber projects.
Major Bretcher also flew at Muroc Army Airfield in California, testing the Bell YP-59 Airacomet, Lockheed YP-80A Shooting Star, and the experimental Northrop N-9M flying wing proof-of-concept airplane. Major Bretcher was released from active duty, 13 January 1946.
Fred Bretscher went to work for the Northrop Corporation, Hawthorne, California, as a civilian test pilot. He flew as co-pilot to Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley on the first flight of the Northrop YB-35, 15 May 1948.
In 1950, Bretcher was assigned to the flight test program of Northrop’s N-25 Snark cruise missile (which would be developed into the SM-62 Snark) at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Bretcher married Miss Jean Taylor at Albuquerque, New Mexico, 18 December 1951. He retired from the Northrop Corporation in 1952.
Fred Charles Bretcher, Jr., died at Sedona, Arizona, 2 June 2004. He was 83 years old.