Tag Archives: Lambert Field

27 May 1958

Robert C. Little with YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259. (McDonnell Douglas)
Robert C. Little with McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, the second prototype. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

27 May 1958: At Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s Chief Test Pilot (and future company president) Robert C. Little made the first flight of the YF4H-1 prototype. The twin-engine Mach 2+ airplane was the first pre-production model of a new U.S. Navy fleet defense interceptor that would be developed into the legendary F-4 Phantom II fighter bomber.

The flight lasted 22 minutes. Little had planned to go supersonic but a leak in a pressurized hydraulic line caused him to leave the landing gear extended as a precaution, should the back-up hydraulic system also have a problem. This limited the maximum speed of the prototype to 370 knots (426 kilometers per hour). A post-flight inspection found foreign-object damage to the starboard engine.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259 on its first flight 27 May 1958.
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, on its first flight, 27 May 1958. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

Initially designated XF4H-1 and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259, the identifier was changed to YF4H-1. It had been in development for over five years based on a company proposal to the Navy.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II was 56 feet, 7.9 inches (17.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 4.89 inches (11.707 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 3.0 inches (4.953 meters). With wings folded, the airplane’s span was narrowed to 27 feet, 6.6 inches (8.397 meters). The wings were swept 45°, measured at 25% chord. The inner wing had no dihedral, while the outer panels had 12° dihedral. The stabilator had a span of 16 feet, 5.0 inches (5.004 meters), with -23.25° anhedral. The wheelbase of Phantom II’s tricycle undercarriage was 23 feet, 3.25 inches (7.093 meters), with a main wheel tread of 17 feet, 10.46 inches (5.447 meters).

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)

The YF4H-1 prototype was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-2 engines. These were single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-2 was rated at 10,350 pounds of thrust (46.039 kilonewtons), and 16,150 pounds (71.389 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engines were 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches in diameter (0.973 meters), and each weighed 3,620 pounds (1,642 kilograms).

The production F4H-1 (F-4B) had a maximum speed of 845 miles per hour (1,360 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,485 miles per hour (2,390 kilometers per hour) at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters meters). (Mach1.11 and Mach 2.25, respectively). The service ceiling was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters) and maximum range with external fuel was 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers).

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu.No. 142259.
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259.

The second prototype YF4H-1, Bu. No. 142260, flown by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., USN, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude, 6 December 1959, when it zoom-climbed to 30,040 meters (98,556 feet).¹ On 22 November 1961, 142260, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, USMC, also set an FAI World Record for Speed over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, averaging 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour).² On 5 December 1961, the same Phantom set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight at 20,252 meters (66,444 feet) with Commander George W. Ellis, USN, in the cockpit.³

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)

The F-4A through F-4D Phantoms were armed with four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing air-to-air missiles, and could carry additional Sparrows or AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles on pylons under the wings. Up to 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs could be carried on five hardpoints.

McDonnell Aircraft built two YF4H-1 prototypes, followed by 45 F4H-1F (F-4A) Phantom IIs before the F-4B was introduced in 1961. 649 F-4Bs were produced. The initial U.S. Air Force variant was the F-110A Spectre (F-4C Phantom II). McDonnell Douglas delivered its last Phantom II, an F-4E-67-MC, on 25 October 1979. In 21 years, the company had built 5,057 Phantom IIs.

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78,0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas)
McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78,0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas)

After 11 test flights at St. Louis, Bob Little flew the YF4H-1 west to Edwards Air Force Base in California where more detailed flight testing and evaluation took place.

On 21 October 1959, a failure of an engine access door led to a cascading series of problems which resulted in the loss of the airplane and death of the pilot, Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck.

Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with a prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II. Huelsbeck is wearinga Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraaft Corporation)
Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with the first prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. “Zeke” Huelsbeck is wearing a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259, seen from above. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259, seen from above. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352

² FAI Record File Number 9060

³ FAI Record File Number 8535

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 May 1927

Charles A. Lindbergh at Louie’s Lunch Room, Lambert Field, 11 May 1927. (Mario Cavagnaro, St. Louis Star/Missouri Historical Museum)

11 May 1927: At 8:20 a.m., Central time, Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis touched down at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, and taxied to the National Guard hangars where he shut down the Wright J-5C Whirlwind engine. The overnight flight from Rockwell Field on North Island, San Diego, California, took 14 hours, 25 minutes, a new speed record.

It is just eighty days since Lindbergh left St. Louis by train to meet with Ryan Airlines Company to discuss designing and building an airplane that would become the Ryan NYP, N-X-211, the Spirit of St. Louis.

Though the members of the syndicate that is funding his New York-to-Paris flight have planned celebrations, Lindbergh is anxious to continue on to New York City.

Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, Lambert Field, 11 May 1927.
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, Lambert Field, 11 May 1927.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 February 1966

The Flight Crew of Gemini IX, left to right, Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy, and Captain Charles A. Bassett II, U.S. Air Force.

The primary and back up flight crews of Gemini IX flew from Houston to St. Louis where they planned to visit the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where the spacecraft was being built. They flew aboard two Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainers which NASA used for proficiency training.

The lead aircraft, NASA 901, was flown by Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy Reserve, designated as the Command Pilot for Gemini IX. Captain Charles Arthur (“Charlie”) Bassett II, U.S. Air Force, Pilot, Gemini IX, was in the rear cockpit. NASA 901 was a Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181 (Northrop serial number N.5528).

Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181

The second T-38, NASA 907, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Eugene A. Cernan, U.S. Navy.

A NASA Northrop T-38A-75-NO Talon, N864NA, similar to NASA 901. (NASA)

Weather at Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport was poor with low clouds and limited visibility in rain and snow. Lambert Field weather at 8:25 a.m. was: sky partially obscured, measured ceiling 800 feet (244 meters) broken, 1,500 feet (457 meters) overcast, visibility 1½ miles (2.4 kilometers) in light rain, light snow, and fog.

Elliot See flew an ILS instrument approach and broke out of the clouds properly aligned with the runaway, but was too high to make a landing. He requested a visual, circling approach. The T-38 entered a 360° turn to the southeast at approximately 500 feet (152 meters). During the circling approach, Stafford, in NASA 907, lost sight of See’s T-38 and executed a missed approach. As the airplane came around to line up for the runway, See radioed that he had the runway in sight, but, at 8:58 a.m., NASA 901 struck the top of McDonnell’s Building 101 and crashed.

The wreck immediately caught fire and both See and Bassett were killed. Sixteen people of the ground were injured.

The accident investigation board found that at approximately 3 seconds before the crash, Elliot See had apparently tried to climb away. The T-38’s angle of bank was significantly reduced and afterburner was selected.

Wreckage of NASA 901. (Scott Dine/St. Louis Post Dispatch)
Burned out wreckage of NASA 901 at Lambert Field, 28 February 1966. (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch)

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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