Tag Archives: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

4 November 1941

Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer's serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer’s serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed Martin)
Ralph Burwell. Virden (Los Angeles Times)

4 November 1941: Lockheed test pilot Ralph Burwell Virden was conducting high speed dive tests in the first Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, Air Corps serial number 39-689 (Lockheed’s serial number 122-2202).

As the airplane’s speed increased, it approached what is now known as its Critical Mach Number. Air flowing across the wings accelerated to transonic speeds and began to form shock waves. This interrupted lift and caused a portion of the wing to stall. Air no longer flowed smoothly along the airplane and the tail surfaces became ineffective. The YP-38 pitched down into a steeper dive and its speed increased even more.

Designed by famed aeronautical engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the YP-38 had servo tabs on the elevator that were intended to help the pilot maintain or regain control under these conditions. But they increased the elevator’s effectiveness too well.

The Los Angeles Times described the accident:

      Witnesses said the twin-engined, double-fuselaged ship was booming westward at near maximum speed (unofficially reported to be between 400 and 500 miles an hour) when the duralumin tail assembly “simply floated away.”

     A moment afterward the seven-ton craft seemed to put on a burst of speed, the the high whine of its engines rising.

     It then went into a downward glide to about 1500 feet, then into a flat spin, flipped over on its back and shot earthward.

     Several persons said that they thought they had heard an explosion during the dive, but qualified observers doubted it. . .

     . . . Fellow pilots at Lockheed said, “Ralph was the best we had, especially in power dives.”

      Robert E. Gross, president of Lockheed, said, “Ralph Virden was a great pilot but an even greater man. If anyone ever had national defense at heart it was he, who every day was carrying the science of aviation into new and higher fields.”

     Various witnesses said the ill-fated ship’s tail assembly could be followed easily as its bright surfaces glinted in the sun during its drop to earth. It landed several blocks from the scene of the crash.

     Mrs. Jack Davenport of 1334 Elm Ave., left her ironing board when she heard the unfamiliar roar of the plunging plane’s engines.

     “I ran out and saw it passing over us, very low. It disappeared among the trees and then zoomed back into sight just before crashing in the next block.,” she said. “It looked just like a toy airplane. I knew the pilot didn’t have a chance, as the ship was too low and going too fast.”

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LX, Wednesday, 5 November 1941, Page 1, Column 6, and Page 2, Column 5.

The YP-38 crashed into the kitchen of Jack Jensen’s home at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. Fire erupted. Ralph Virden was killed. The airplane’s tail section was located several blocks away.

Another view of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. It's factory serial number, "2202," is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)
Another photograph of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. The factory serial number, “2202,” is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)

39-689 was the first of thirteen YP-38 service test aircraft that had been ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after the XP-38 prototype, 37-457, had crashed on a transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. 39-689 made its first flight 16 September 1940 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls. With hundreds of production P-38s being built, Lockheed continued to use the YP-38 for testing.

Newspaper phototograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)
Newspaper photograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)

The YP-38s were service test prototypes of a single-place, twin engine long range fighter with a unique configuration. There was not a fuselage in the normal sense. The cockpit, nose landing gear, and armament were contained in a central nacelle mounted to the wing. Two engines and their turbochargers, cooling systems and main landing gear were in two parallel booms. The booms end with vertical fins and rudders, with the horizontal stabilizer and elevator between them. The P-38 was 37 feet, 9–15/16 inches (11.530 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.850 meters) and height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters).

The P-38’s wings had a total area of 327.50 square feet (30.43 square meters). Their angle of incidence was 2° and there was 5° 40′ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 5° 10′.

The YP-38 had an empty weight 11,171 pounds (5,067 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,500 pounds (6,123 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight 14,348 pounds (6,508 kilograms).

The YP-38 was powered by two counter-rotating, liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison V-1710-27 right-hand tractor and V-1710-29 left-hand tractor, single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines (Allison Engineering Co. Models F2R and F2L) with a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. In a change from the XP-38, the propellers rotated outboard at the top of their arc. The V-1710-27/-29 engines were 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 3 feet, 0-17/32 inches (0.928 meters) high. The V-1710-27/-29 weighed 1,305 pounds (592 kilograms)

The YP-38 had a maximum speed of 405 miles per hour (651.8 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and it could climb  from the surface to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in six minutes. Normal range 650 miles (1,046 kilometers).

Lockheed built one XP-38, thirteen YP-38s, and more than 10,000 production fighter and reconnaissance airplanes. At the end of World War II, orders for nearly 2,000 more P-38 Lightnings were cancelled.

Lockheed YP-38 39-692 in flight.(Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-HGC-967)

Ralph Burwell Virden was born 11 June 1898, at Audobon Township, Illinois. He was the second child of Hiram R. Virden, a farmer, and Nancy Carrie Ivy Virden.

Virden attended Bradley Polytechnic Institute at Peoria, Illinois. At the age of 17, 15 October 1918, Ralph Virden enlisted in the U.S. Army. With the end of World War I less than one month later, he was quickly discharged, 7 December 1918.

In 1919, Ralph Virden married Miss Florence I. McCullers. They would have two children, Kathryn and Ralph, Jr. Kathryn died in 1930 at the age of ten years.

Ralph Burwell Virden with a Boeing Model 40 mail plane, circa late 1920s. As a U.S. Air Mail pilot, Virden is armed with a .45-caliber Colt M1911 semi-automatic pistol. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Boeing Airplane Company President Clairmont L. Egvtedt and United Air Lines Captain Ralph B. Virden examine a scale model of the Boeing 247D airliner. (Boeing)

During the mid-1920s, Virden flew as a contract mail pilot. He held Airline Transport Pilot Certificate No. 628, and was employed by Gilmore Aviation and Pacific Air Transport. For thirteen years, Virden was a pilot for United Air Lines. He joined Lockheed Aircraft Company as a test pilot in 1939. He had flown more than 15,000 hours.

Virden lived at 4511 Ben Ave., North Hollywood, California, with his  family. Ralph, Jr., now 19 years of age, was also employed at Lockheed. (Following his father’s death, the younger Virden enlisted in the United States Navy.)

After the accident, Lockheed, the Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) undertook an extensive test program of the P-38.

The Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
The second Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Langley Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 #2 in the NACA full-scale wind tunnel at Langley, Virginia. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690 (122-2203), in the NACA Langley Research Center’s full-scale wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 November 1950

Mont Blanc, western face. The summit was most recently measured at 4,810.06meters. 18 meters of snow and ice cover the actual rock peak, at 4,792 meters.
Mont Blanc, western face. The summit was most recently measured at 4,810.06 meters (15,781.04 feet). 18 meters (59 feet) of snow and ice cover the actual rock peak, at 4,792 meters.

3 November 1950: Air India Flight 245, a Lockheed L-749A Constellation, VT-CQP, Malabar Princess, was on a flight from Bombay, India, to London, England, with intermediate stops at Cairo, Egypt and Geneva, Switzerland. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Alan R. Saint, with co-pilot Vijay Yeshwant Korgaokar, three navigators and a radio operator.

Air India’s Lockheed L-749A Constellation, VT-CQP, Malabar Princess. (ETH Zurich)

At 9:43 a.m., Malabar Princess crashed into the Rochers de la Tournette (Tournette Spur) on the west side of Mont Blanc at an approximate elevation of 15,344 feet (4,677 meters). All 48 persons on board were killed.

Air India International was the national airline of India, having been formed from Tata Airlines. On 8 June 1948, Air India’s first scheduled flight departed Bombay for Cairo, Geneva and London. The airliner was Malabar Princess.

On 24 January 1966, Air India Flight 101, a Boeing 707-437, VT-DMN, named Kanchenjunga,¹ crashed at almost the same location on Mount Blanc. All 117 persons on board were killed.

The Lockheed L-749A Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four, with two to four flight attendants. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 97 feet, 4 inches (29.667 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.490 meters) and an overall height of 22 feet, 5 inches (6.833 meters). It had an empty weight of 56,590 pounds (25,669 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 107,000 pounds (48,534 kilograms).

The L-749A was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 749C18BD1 two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They had a Normal Power rating of 2,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and Takeoff Power rating 2,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. (five minute limit). The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss-Electric propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. This engine featured “jet stacks” which converted the piston engines’ exhaust to usable jet thrust, adding about 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour) to the airplane’s speed. The 749C18BD1 was  6 feet, 6.52 inches (1.994 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,915 pounds (1,322 kilograms).

The L-749 had a cruise speed of 345 miles per hour (555 kilometers per hour) and a range of 4,995 miles (8,039 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).

A sister ship of Malabar Princess, this is Air India's Lockheed L-749A Constellation VT-CQS. (Lockheed via R.A. Schofield. Photograph used with permission.)
A sister ship of Malabar Princess, this is Air India’s Lockheed L-749A Constellation VT-CQS. (Lockheed via R.A. Schofield. Photograph used with permission.)

The Air India Flight 245 crash was the basis for a novel, La neige en deuil (“The Snow in Mourning”), written by Henri Troyat (née Lev Aslanovic Tarassov), which in turn inspired the 1956 Edward Dymtryk motion picture, “The Mountain.” The film starred Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner and Anna Kashfi.² Tracy was nominated by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for an award for his performance.

The great American actor Spencer Tracy starred as a mountain guide in Edward Dmytryk's 1956 motion picture, "The Mountain." (Paramount)
The great American actor Spencer Tracy starred as Alpine mountain guide “Zachary Teller” in Edward Dmytryk’s 1956 motion picture, “The Mountain.” (Paramount)

¹ Kanchenjunga is the name of the world’s third highest mountain, an “eight thousander” located 125 kilometers (78 miles) east-southeast of Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Its summit is 8,598 meters (28,209 feet) above Sea Level. It is considered to be a sacred mountain. Climbers are not allowed there.

² Anna Kashfi (née Joan O’Callaghan) was the first Mrs. Marlon Brando.

© 2018, 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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9 October 1999

9 October 1999: At a Saturday air show at Edwards Air Force Base, California, NASA Research Pilot Rogers E. Smith and Flight Test Engineer Robert R. Meyer, Jr., flew Lockheed SR-71A-LO 61-7980, NASA 844, on what would be the very last flight of a Blackbird. Although it was scheduled to fly again for the Sunday air show, a serious fuel leak prevented that flight.

61-7980 (Lockheed serial number 2031) was the final SR-71A to be built.

NASA 844 was retired after the final flight and placed in flyable storage, but in 2002, it was placed on static display at the Dryden Flight Research Center,¹ Edwards Air Force Base, California.EC92-02273 

¹ In 2014, DFRC was renamed the NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC).

© 2017, 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).

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.

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)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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