Tag Archives: Kelly Johnson

9 January 1943

Lockheed L-049 Constellation NX25600 in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive)

9 January 1943: At the insistence of the United States Army Air Forces, Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot, Eddie Allen, made the first flight of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation prototype, NX25600, from Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, California, to Muroc Army Airfield (today known as Edwards Air Force Base). Lockheed’s Chief Test Pilot, Milo G. Burcham, was the co-pilot.

When the flight ended after 58 minutes, Allen said, “This machine works so well that you don’t need me anymore!” With that, Allen returned to Seattle.

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive)

When the flight ended after 58 minutes, Allen said, “This machine works so well that you don’t need me anymore!” With that, Allen returned to Seattle.

The Los Angeles Times reported:


Lockheed’s Air Marvel Makes First Flight; Believed to Be World’s Largest and Fastest; Built Like Fighter, Can Outspeed Jap Zero


     Into the winter sky yesterday swept a brilliant new star—Lockheed super-transport Constellation.

     First of a galaxy to come, the four-engine colossus sped down the long east-west runway at Lockheed Air Terminal, skipped nimbly off the concrete and boomed upward with the surging roar of 8000 unleashed horses.

     A few breath-taking seconds’ full throttle had written a matter-of-fact climax to two years of secret development that evolved a 60-passenger transport faster than a Jap Zero fighter.

     There were no fanfares, no speeches—simply an unvarnished war production takeoff, emphasizing as nothing else could the grim driving need for huge work planes to carry the battle swiftly to the ends of the earth.

     Yet it was the first significant aviation event of 1943.

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-30109 during its first flight, 9 January 1943. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

Built along the slim, graceful lines of a fighter the craft is faster than any four-engine bomber now in service. It can cross the continent in less than 9 hours,fly to Honolulu in 12. Even at half power its cruising speed is approximately 100 miles per hour faster than that of a standard airliner!

     Within its supercharged cabin, air-density will remain at the 8000-foot level when the Constellation is cruising at “over-the-weather” altitudes up to 35,000 feet. So great is its power that the monster can maintain 25,000 feet on three engines, 16,500 on two.

     As for economy of operation, the new sky queen can fly her full load hour after hour using but one gallon of gasoline per mile.

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at Lockheed Air Terminal, with engines running. Looking west-northwest across the San Fernando Valley. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive)


     At the controls when the super-transport lifted its tricycle gear in flight were Eddie Allen, Army pilot and veteran four-engine flyer, and Milo Burcham, Lockheed test pilot noted for his substratosphere testing of the P-38. Also in the ship were C.L. (Kelly) Johnson, chief research engineer for the aircraft company; Rudy Thoren, Johnson’s assistant, and Dick Stanton, chief mechanic.

Chief Research Engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson (left) and Chief Engineering Test Pilot Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

There was but one taxi test yesterday, highlighted by a brief blaze in one of the four engines following a backfire as the ship turned to roll back to the head of the runway.

     The fire was doused quickly and the Constellation stood ready for her maiden flight, he nose into a gentle breeze, the focal point of hundreds of eyes of workers, Army guards and officials watched expectantly.

     Each engine “revved up”in turn, sending deep-throated echoes over the sun-drenched terminal.

     Then the four black propellers whirled as one.

     The Constellation shot forward, the wind in her teeth, a hurtling, bellowing land monster—until her propellers plucked her from the earth in an incredibly short span of runway and sent her thundering triumphantly toward the sun.


In a moment she had almost vanished, only to bank in a wide turn and drone back over the terminal twice before leading her covey of lesser following craft off toward the desert to the Army airport at Muroc Dry Lake where she landed gracefully an hour later.

Prototype Lockheed Constellation at Muroc Dry Lake, 1942. (Unattributed)
Prototype Lockheed L-049 Constellation NX25600 at Muroc Dry Lake on the high desert of southern California, 9 January 1943. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive)

Shortly before dusk the giant craft returned to the Burbank terminal, slipped down the long “landing groove” of air and settled easily to the runway.

     Her debut was over.

Today she will begin the exhaustive test flights to determine her performance before she is turned over to T.W.A. and the Army for the grueling business of war. . . .

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXII, Sunday morning, 10 January 1943, Page 1, Columns 1 and 2; Page 2, Columns 2 and 3. The article continues in Column 4. (The photographs are not a part of the original article.)

The prototype Lockheed XC-69, 43-10309 (NX25600), landing at Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, 1943. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The Lockheed Model 49-46-10, company serial number 049-1961, was designated XC-69 by the U.S. Army Air Forces and assigned serial number 43-10309.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four: two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

The prototype was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 745C18BA3 (also referred to as the Duplex Cyclone), a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff, (five minute limit) burning 100/130 aviation gasoline, and drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289 kilograms). 41 of these engines were built by Wright.

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

In this photograph of the Lockheed XC-69 prototype, the civil experimental registration numbers, NX25600 are visible under the left wing. (Unattributed)
In this photograph of the Lockheed XC-69 prototype at Lockheed Air Terminal, the civil experimental registration numbers, NX25600, are visible on the rudder and under the left wing. Looking northeast, the Verdugo Mountains of Southern California are in the background. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archive)
This is a rare color photograph of the prototype Lockheed XC-69 Constellation, 43-10309, (L-049 NX-25600) with a Lockheed UC-101, 42-94148 (ex-Vega 5C NC14236) at Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank California. This picture represents 15 years of technological advancement. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The prototype XC-69 was later re-engined with Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC14-G (R-2800-83) engines and designated XC-69E. These had a Normal rating of 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., to 7,300 feet (2,225 meters), 1,500 horsepower at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters), and 2,100 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for Takeoff.

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

After the war, the Constellation prototype was sold to Howard Hughes’ Hughes Aircraft Company for $20,000 and registered as NX67900. In May 1950, Lockheed bought the prototype back from Hughes for $100,000 and it was again registered as NC25600. It had accumulated just 404 flight hours up to this time.

Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation prototype, NX6700, ex-L-049 NX25600. (Lockheed Martin)
The prototype Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation NX6700, formerly L-049 NX25600 (XC-69 43-10309), flying above an inversion layer. The San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California are in the background. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

Lockheed then converted 049-1961 to a prototype for the L-1049 Super Constellation with another registration, NX6700. In 1952, it was once again converted, this time as an aerodynamic test aircraft for the U.S. Navy PO-1W radar early warning aircraft (later redesignated WV-1 and EC-121 Warning Star). It was also used to test the Allison YT56 turboprop engine by placing it in the #4 position.

Lockheed L-1049 prototype NX6700 as an aerodynamics test aircraft for the U.S. Navy PO-1W airborne early warning Warning Star. (SDASM Archives)

Finally, in 1958, the first Constellation was purchased as a source of spare parts by California Airmotive Corporation and was dismantled.

Lockheed built two XC-69 prototypes. Twenty-two C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were produced. The Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

Your intrepid TDiA correspondent with “Bataan,” General Douglas MacArthur’s Lockheed VC-121A Constellation, 48-613, at Valle Airport, Arizona, 3 July 2012. (Photograph by Mrs. TDiA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 January 1944

Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
The Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Milo Burcham
Milo Garrett Burcham

8 January 1944: At Muroc Army Air Field (later to become Edwards Air Force Base), the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s chief engineering test pilot, Milo Garrett Burcham, took the prototype Model L-140, the Army Air Forces XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, for its first flight.

Tex Johnston, who would later become Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, was at Muroc testing the Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-59 Airacomet. He wrote about the XP-80’s first flight in his autobiography:

Early on the morning of the scheduled first flight of the XP-80, busload after busload of political dignitaries and almost every general in the Army Air Force arrived at the northwest end of the lake a short distance from our hangar. Scheduled takeoff time had passed. I was afraid Milo was having difficulties. Then I heard the H.1B fire up, and he taxied by on the lake bed in front of our ramp. What a beautiful bird—another product of Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s famed chief design engineer—tricycle gear, very thin wings, and a clear-view bubble canopy. Milo gave me the okay sign.

This was the initial flight of America’s second jet fighter, and what a flight it was. Milo taxied along in front of generals and politicians, turned south and applied full power. I could see the spectators’ fingers going in their ears. The smoke and sand were flying as the engine reached full power, and the XP-80 roared down the lake. Milo pulled her off, retracted gear and flaps, and held her on the deck. Accelerating, he pulled up in a climbing right turn, rolled into a left turn to a north heading, and from an altitude I estimated to be 4,000 feet [1,219 meters] entered a full-bore dive headed for the buses. He started the pull-up in front of our hangar and was in a 60-degree climb when he passed over the buses doing consecutive aileron rolls at 360 degrees per second up to 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]. He then rolled over and came screaming back. He shot the place up north and south, east and west, landed and coasted up in front of the spectators, engine off and winding down. I have never seen a crowd so excited since my barnstorming days. I returned to the office and dictated a wire to [Robert M.] Stanley [Chief Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation] “WITNESSED LOCKHEED XP-80 INITIAL FLIGHT STOP VERY IMPRESSIVE STOP BACK TO DRAWING BOARD STOP SIGNED, TEX” I knew he would understand.

Tex Johnston: Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1 June 1992, Chapter 5 at Pages 127–128.

A few minor problems caused Burcham to end the flight after approximately five minutes but these were quickly resolved and flight testing continued.

The XP-80 was the first American airplane to exceed 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour) in level flight.

Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson's "Skunk Works" also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson’s “Skunk Works” also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The Lockheed XP-80 was designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and a small team of engineers that would become known as the “Skunk Works,” in response to a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal to build a single-engine fighter around the de Havilland Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. (The Goblin powered the de Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 fighter.)

Lockheed Aircraft Corporation was given a development contract which required that a prototype be ready to fly within just 180 days.

Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed)
Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 was a single-seat, single-engine airplane with straight wings and retractable tricycle landing gear. Intakes for engine air were placed low on the fuselage, just forward of the wings. The engine exhaust was ducted straight out through the tail. For the first prototype, the cockpit was not pressurized but would be on production airplanes.

As was customary for World War II U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft, the prototype was camouflaged in non-reflective Dark Green with Light Gull Gray undersides. The blue and white “star and bar” national insignia was painted on the aft fuselage, and Lockheed’s winged-star corporate logo was on the nose and vertical fin. Later, the airplane’s radio call, 483020 was stenciled on the fin in yellow paint. The number 20 was painted on either side of the nose in large block letters. Eventually the tip of the nose was painted white and a large number 78 was painted just ahead of the intakes in yellow block numerals. Early in the test program, rounded tips were installed on the wings and tail surfaces. This is how the XP-80 appears today.

Lockheed XP-80 parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed)
The highly-polished Dark Green and Light Gull Gray Lockheed XP-80 prototype parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 is 32 feet, 911/16 inches (9.9997 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, ⅞-inch (11.2998 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 21/16 inches (3.1004 meters). It had a Basic Weight for Flight Test of 6,418.5 pounds (2,911.4 kilograms) and Gross Weight (as actually weighed prior to test flight) of 8,859.5 pounds (4,018.6 kilograms).

The Halford H.1B Goblin used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, sixteen combustion chambers, and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It had a straight-through configuration rather than the reverse-flow of the Whittle turbojet from which it was derived. The H.1B produced 2,460 pounds of thrust (10.94 kilonewtons) at 9,500 r.p.m., and 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) at 10,500 r.p.m. The Goblin weighed approximately 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms).

Cutaway illustration of the Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. (FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER)

The XP-80 has a maximum speed of 502 miles per hour (808 kilometers per hour) at 20,480 feet (6,242 meters) and a rate of climb of 3,000 feet per minute (15.24 meters per second). The service ceiling is 41,000 feet (12,497 meters).

Unusual for a prototype, the XP-80 was armed. Six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns were placed in the nose. The maximum ammunition capacity for the prototype was 200 rounds per gun.

The Halford engine was unreliable and Lockheed recommended redesigning the the fighter around the larger, more powerful General Electric I-40 (produced by GE and Allison as the J33 turbojet). The proposal was accepted and following prototypes were built as the XP-80A.

Lockheed built 1,715 P-80s for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. They entered combat during the Korean War in 1950. A two-seat trainer version was even more numerous: the famous T-33A Shooting Star.

Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star 44-83020 was used as a test aircraft and jet trainer for several years. In 1949, it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. 44-83020 is on display at the Jet Aviation exhibit of the National Air and Space Museum. It was restored beginning in 1976, and over the next two years nearly 5,000 man-hours of work were needed to complete the restoration.

The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, at teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, s/n 140-1001, 44-83020, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1962

This is one of the reconnaissance photographs taken by Major Richard S. Heyser  from his Lockheed U-2, flying at 72,500 feet over Cuba, 14 October 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1962: Major Richard Stephen (“Steve”) Heyser, a pilot with the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, United States Air Force, boarded Item 342, his Top Secret reconnaissance airplane, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Over the next seven hours he flew from Edwards to McCoy AFB, near Orlando, Florida, landing there at 0920 EST.

Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)

But first, Steve Heyser and Item 342 flew over the island of Cuba at an altitude of 72,500 feet (22,098 meters). Over the island for just seven minutes, Heyser used the airplane’s cameras to take some of the most important photographs of the Twentieth Century.

Item 342 was a Lockheed U-2F. Designed by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson at the “Skunk Works,” it was a very high altitude, single-seat, single-engine airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency. Item 342 carried a U.S. Air Force number on its tail, 66675. This represented its serial number, 56-6675.

It had been built at Burbank, then its sub-assemblies were flown aboard a C-124 Globemaster transport to a secret facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, called “The Ranch,” where it was assembled and flown.

Originally a U-2A, Item 342 was modified to a U-2C, and then to a U-2F, capable of inflight refueling.

Major Heyser had been at Edwards AFB to complete training on the latest configuration when he was assigned to this mission.

A Lockheed U-2A, 56-6708, “Item 375”. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Heyser’s photographs showed Russian SS-4 Sandal intermediate range nuclear-armed missiles being placed in Cuba, with SA-2 Guideline radar-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile sites surrounding the nuclear missile sites.

President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba and demanded that Russia remove the missiles. Premier Nikita Khrushchev refused. The entire U.S. military was brought to readiness for immediate war. This was The Cuban Missile Crisis. World War III was imminent.

(Left to Right) Major Richard S. Heyser, General Curtis E. LeMay and President John F. Kennedy, at the White House, October 1962. (Associated Press)

Richard S. Heyser died 6 October 2008.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1957

Flight and chase crew for the first flight of the Lockheed CL-329 Jetstar, N329J. Left to right: Robert Schumacher, copilot; Ernest L. Joiner, flight test engineer; Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, designer; Jim Wood (USAF Flight Test), Ray Jewett Goudey, Pilot, and Tony LeVier, Chief Test Pilot, chase plane for the first flight). (Lockheed Martin)

4 September 1957: 8:58 a.m., First Flight, Lockheed JetStar c/n 1001. EDW→EDW 39 minute flight. Test pilot Ray J. Goudey, pilot, with Bob Schumacher, co-pilot.

Two prototypes built at Lockheed Burbank; production aircraft built at Lockheed Marietta

Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. Orpheus BOr.3 Mk.803 (Wright TJ37A1) 4,130 pounds of thrust (18.37 kilonewtons), 4,850 (21.57 kN) @ SL for takeoff; later, BOr.3 Orpheus Mk.810D, 4,850 pounds (21.57 kN). Dry weight 990 lbs. (449 kg.)

Tony LeVier flew chase in a T2V-1 SeaStar

Length: 58′ 10″ ( 17.932 m.); wingspan: 53′ 8″ (16.3358 m.); Height: 20′ 6″ (6.248 m.). Wing area 523.00 square feet (48.59 m²)

JetStar I: leading edge 33° sweep, 30° sweep at ¼-chord; 2° dihedral aspect ratio 5.3. Leading edge flap; double-slotted trailing edge flap. Ailerons/no spoilers.

Vertical fin pivots fore-and-aft to change horizontal stabilizer angle of incidence

Empty weight: 15,139 pounds (6.867 kg.); Gross weight: 38,841 pounds (17,618 kg.)

Speed: 613 m.p.h. (987 km/h)

Range: 1,725 miles (2,776 km.)

Ceiling: 52,000′ (15,850 m.); 630 m.p.h. (1,014 km/h); 0.92 Mach (clean)

Performance, stability and control tests for the prototype Lockheed CL-329 JetStar began at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 27 February 1958. This aircraft is JetStar 6 N9202R, c/n 5002. (United States Air Force 170303-F-ZZ999-999)
Lockheed Model CL-329 JetStar prototype,  N329J, c/n 1001, forced landing, Northridge, California, 26 April 1962.
Ray Jewett Goudey, 1940

Ray Jewett Goudey was born at Los Angeles, California, 25 September 1921. He was the first of six children of Raymond Freeman Goudey, a municipal sanitation engineer, and Gladys Ellen Jewett Goudey. Ray attended John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, graduating in 1940.

Ray J. Goudey was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 22 June 1943. During World War II, he flew the Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Ray Goudey married Mrs. Crystal Relph Tanner 12 December 1945. They would have six children. They divorced in April 1966.

Lt. (j.g.) Goudey was promoted to lieutenant, 19 November 1948.

Goudey married Jeanette Nelson in Reno, Nevada, 29 September 1976.

Ray Goudey flew 258 different aircraft, including 74 Lockheed models. He had a total of 23,708 flight hours.

“The first three production JetStar executive transports, along with the second JetStar prototype (white tail, registered N329K) sit on the Lockheed-Georgia Company flightline in Marietta, Georgia, in 1960. Officially designated JetStar 6, a total of eighty aircraft were built, but many were later upgraded as JetStar 8s or JetStar 731s. After the test program was completed, the JetStar at the bottom (N9201R) was delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration while the aircraft next to it went to NASA. In the background at the left is the C-130B Hercules modified as a boundary layer air control test aircraft (US Air Force serial number 58-0712) while at right is the second US Marine Corps KC-130F tanker (US Navy Bureau Number 147573) built.” (Lockheed Martin/Code One Magazine)
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1 August 1955

Right profile illustration of the first Lockheed U-2. Image courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging, © 2015
Right profile illustration of the first Lockheed U-2, Article 341. Image courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging, © 2015
Anthony M. “Tony” LeVier.

1 August 1955: Test pilot Anthony W. LeVier made the first flight flight of the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance airplane at Groom Lake, Nevada. LeVier was conducting taxi tests in preparation for the planned first flight a few days away, when at 70 knots the U-2 unexpectedly became airborne.

LeVier later said, “I had no intentions whatsoever of flying. I immediately started back toward the ground, but had difficutly determining my height because the lakebed had no markings to judge distance or height. I made contact with the ground in a left bank of approximately 10 degrees.”

On touching down on the dry lake, the U-2’s tires blew out and the brakes caught fire. A landing gear oleostrut was leaking. Damage was minor and the airplane was soon ready to fly. Tony LeVier was again in the cockpit for the first actual test flight on 4 August.

The Lockheed U-2A is a single-place, single-engine aircraft powered by a turbojet engine, intended for very high altitude photographic reconnaissance. Thirty U-2A aircraft were designed and built for the Central Intelligence Agency by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s secret “Skunk Works” under the supervision of Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

Lockheed U-2, “Article 341,” at Groom Lake, Nevada, 1955. (Lockheed Martin)

The company designation for the proposed aircraft was CL-282. Its fuselage was very similar to the XF-104 Starfighter and could be built using the same tooling. The reconnaissance airplane was produced under the code name Operation AQUATONE.

The U-2A was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet (24.384 meters). Its empty weight was 10,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms) and the gross weight was 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms). The engine was a Pratt and Whitney J57-P-37A which produced 10,200 pounds of thrust. This gave the U-2A a maximum speed of 528 miles per hour (850 kilometers per hour) and a ceiling of 85,000 feet (25,908 meters). It had a range of 2,200 miles (3,541 kilometers).

Because of the very high altitudes that the U-2 was flown, the pilot had to wear a David Clark Co. MC-3 partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation  MA-2 helmet and faceplate. The partial-pressure suit used a system of capstans and air bladders to apply pressure to the body as a substitute for a loss of atmospheric pressure. Each suit was custom-tailored for the individual pilot.

Robert Sieker
Robert Sieker

On 4 April 1957, Article 341 was flown by Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker. At 72,000 feet (21,946 meters) the engine flamed out and the cockpit pressurization failed. Parts of the U-2 had been coated with a plastic material designed to absorb radar pulses to provide a “stealth” capability. However, this material acted as insulation, trapping heat from the engine inside the fuselage. This lead to a number of engine flameouts.

Sieker’s partial-pressure suit inflated, but the helmet’s faceplate did not properly seal. He lost conciousness and at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) the U-2 stalled, then entered a flat spin. Sieker eventually regained consciousness at lower altitude and bailed out. He was struck by the airplane’s tail and was killed. The first U-2 crashed northwest of Pioche, Nevada, and caught fire. Robert Sieker’s body was found approximately 200 feet (61 meters) away.

Because of the slow rate of descent of the airplane while in a flat spin, the impact was not severe. Portions of Article 341 that were not damaged by fire were salvaged by Lockheed and used to produce another airframe.

The first Lockheed U-2A, Article 341. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed U-2, “Article 341.” (Lockheed Martin)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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