20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.
Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.
2 minutes, 10 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:20. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:24 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster.
Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.
Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.
During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)
After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).
The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2½ inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.
The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.
The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
24 January 1962: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the first F-110A Spectre to Colonel Gordon Graham and Colonel George Laven, United States Air Force, at the McDonnell plant at St. Louis, Missouri. The F-110A was soon redesignated as the F-4C Phantom II.
Two Phantoms were delivered to the Air Force for evaluation at Langley Field, Virginia. They were U.S. Navy F4H-1 Phantom IIs, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers 149405 and 149406. Initially the aircraft retained the Navy serial numbers but eventually were assigned Air Force numbers 62-12168 and 62-12169.
McDonnell built 5,057 Phantom IIs. They served with the United States Navy and Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force, and many allied nations. The last Phantom II, an F-4E, was completed 25 October 1979. The U.S. Air Force retired its last operational Phantoms from service 20 December 2004, 42 years, 10 months, 27 days after receiving the first F-110A.
8 January 1973: Captain Paul D. Howman and First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman, 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796, were leading a flight of two fighters on combat air patrol in Route Pack III. Their call sign was CRAFTY ONE. A U.S. Navy cruiser, call sign RED CROWN, was steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, providing radar coverage for the fighters.
The following is a recount of the last USAF MiG kill in Southeast Asia; it occurred on 8 January 1973.
Crafty, a flight of two F-4s from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was assigned a night MiGCAP mission in support of B-52 strikes. They ingressed North Vietnam through the “Gorilla’s Head” and established their CAP about 70 miles southwest of Hanoi. The pilot of Crafty One was Captain Paul D. Howman. His backseater was First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman. The following is Captain Howman’s description of the kill.
“About five minutes after arriving on station, we were advised by Red Crown that a MiG was airborne out of Phuc Yen and was heading southwest toward the inbound strike force. They vectored us northwest and told us he had leveled at 13,000 feet. Passing through [a heading of] north, we picked him up on radar at about 60 miles. We were able to follow him most of the way in as the range decreased. At about 30 miles, I called 02 and we jettisoned our centerline tanks.”
Crafty One and Two descended to 12,000 feet at 400 knots, still taking vectors. Red Crown turned them to a northeasterly heading. At 16 miles, Red Crown cleared Crafty to fire. Captain Howman’s account continues.
“At 10 miles I got a visual on an afterburner plume 20 degrees right and slightly high. I called him out to the backseater and put the pipper on him. At 6 miles Lt. Kullman got a good full-system radar lock-on. Range was about 4 miles and overtake 900+ knots when I squeezed the trigger. The missile came off, did a little roll to the left, and tracked toward the “burner plume.” It detonated 50 feet short of his tail.
“I squeezed another one off at 2 miles range. This one just pulled some lead, then went straight for the MiG. It hit him in the fuselage and the airplane exploded and broke into three big flaming pieces.”
After determining there were no more MiGs in the area, Crafty returned to orbit for their remaining CAP period. They returned to base without further incident.
—The Tale of Two Bridges ; and The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, by Major A. J. C. Lavalle, USAF, editor, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1985, Chapter VI at Page 187–188.
The MiG 21 that Howman and Kullman shot down was the last air-to-air victory by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Both men were awarded the Silver Star.
Their airplane, 65-0796, served another seventeen years before being retired. Today, it is on display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas.
2 January 1967: This painting, MiG Sweep, by aviation artist Keith Ferris, depicts “Olds 01” during Operation Bolo. The twin-engine all-weather jet fighter, a McDonnell F-4C -21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7680, was flown by Colonel Robin Olds, USAF, with First Lieutenant Charles C. Clifton, USAF, as the Weapons System Operator.
Here, the Phantom is inverted as Colonel Olds maneuvers to fire an AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missile at a North Vietnamese MiG-21 over Hanoi. Olds is the only Air Force ace with victories in both World War II and Vietnam.
(A lithograph of this painting is available for sale online at http://www.keithferrisart.com/korea-vietnam.asp)
The area around Hanoi, North Vietnam, was the most heavily defended target area ever encountered by the United States Air Force. A combination of radar-directed anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air guided missiles, and fighter interceptors made every mission very dangerous. Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers were taking heavy losses to the Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 fighters. When escorting F-4C Phantoms would try to engage the MiGs, they would return to their bases which were safe from attack under the American rules of engagement.
Operation Bolo was a complex plan to lure the ground-controlled MiG-21s into an air battle by having the Phantoms simulate a Thunderchief attack. Colonel Olds led 48 McDonnell F-4Cs of the 8th and 366th Tactical Fighter Wings on the same type of attack that would have been used by the Thunderchiefs, but rather than carrying a full load of bombs, the F-4s were armed with AIM-7E Sparrow radar-guided missiles and AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (The F-4C was not armed with a gun.)
As the Mach 2+ MiG-21s started coming up through the clouds, their pilots quickly realized that instead of the vulnerable targets of F-105s on a bomb run, they were faced with air superiority fighters.
In the official after action report, Colonel Olds said,
“At the onset of this battle, the MiGs popped up out of the clouds. Unfortunately, the first one to pop through came up at my 6 o’clock position. I think this was more by chance than by design. As it turned out, within the next few moments, many others popped out of the clouds in varying positions around the clock.
“This one was just lucky. He was called out by the second flight that had entered the area, they were looking down on my flight and saw the MiG-21 appear. I broke left, turning just hard enough to throw off his deflection, waiting for my three and four men to slice in on him. At the same time I saw another MiG pop out of the clouds in a wide turn about my 11 o’clock position, a mile and a half away. I went after him and ignored the one behind me. I fired missiles at him just as he disappeared into the clouds.
“I’d seen another pop out in my 10 o’clock position, going from my right to left; in other words, just about across the circle from me. When the first MiG I fired at disappeared, I slammed full afterburner and pulled in hard to gain position on this second MiG. I pulled the nose up high about 45 degrees, inside his circle. Mind you, he was turning around to the left so I pulled the nose up high and rolled to the right. This is known as a vector roll. I got on top of him and half upside down, hung there, and waited for him to complete more of his turn and I timed it so that as I continued to roll down behind him, I’d be about 20 degrees angle off and about 4,500 to 5,000 feet behind him. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever saw me. When I got down low and behind, and he was outlined by the sun against a brilliant blue sky, I let him have two Sidewinders, one of which hit and blew his right wing off”
—Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Page 39.
With another flight crew the Phantom flown by Robin Olds on 2 January 1967, McDonnell F-4C-21-MC 63-7680, shot down a MiG-17 on 13 May 1967. It was itself shot down by antiaircraft fire while attacking a SAM site, 20 November 1967. The Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant James L. Badley, bailed out and was rescued, but the pilot, Captain John M. Martin, was not seen to leave the aircraft and is listed as Missing in Action.
Brigadier General Robin Olds, United States Air Force, a fighter pilot and triple ace with 17 official victories in two wars, was born at Honolulu, Hawaii 14 July 1922. He was the first son of Captain Robert Olds, USAAC and Eloise Olds. He graduated from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, in 1942 and completed pilot training the following year.
Sent to Europe as pilot of a Lockheed P-38J Lightning assigned to the 479th Fighter Squadron, he became an ace in his first two missions, shooting down 2 Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighters on 14 August 1944 and 3 Messerschmitt Bf-109s on August 23. The squadron re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and Captain Olds continued to destroy enemy fighters. By early 1945, he had been promoted to major and commanded the squadron. He completed the war with a record of 13 aerial victories, with another 11.5 aircraft destroyed on the ground.
After World War II, Robin Olds transitioned to jet fighters, assigned to fly Lockheed P-80 Shooting Stars at March AFB, California. While there, he met his future wife, actress Ella Raines. They soon married and had two daughters.
In 1948, Robin Olds returned to England as the commanding officer of the Royal Air Force No. 1 Fighter Squadron at RAF Tangmere, the first non-Commonwealth officer to command a Royal Air Force squadron. From 1955 to 1965 he commanded two fighter wings in Europe.
He returned to combat as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB. Flying the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, Colonel Olds scored victories over two MiG-17s and two MiG-21s, bringing his confirmed score to 17 kills. (There have been rumors that he actually shot down as many as nine MiGs but that he credited those to other pilots in order to avoid being pulled out of combat and sent back to the United States.)
Robin Olds flew 107 combat missions during World War II and 152 during the Vietnam War.
In September 1968, Robin Olds was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and assigned as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. He retired from the Air Force in 1973. The General passed away in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 14 June 2008 at the age of 84. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy.
20 December 2004: The 20th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, the last operational squadron in the United States Air Force flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, was inactivated. The squadron’s F-4F fighters were sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona.