5 September 1960: Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Miller, United States Marine Corps, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 500 Kilometer Closed Course Without Payload with a McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, Bu.No. 145311. The fighter averaged 1,216.78 miles per hour (1,958.2 kilometers per hour)¹ over the triangular course in the California and Nevada desert.
Lieutenant Colonel Miller took off from Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. The McDonnell F4H-1F carried three external fuel tanks. Miller climbed in full Military Power to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters), then dropped the two wing tanks over the Salton Sea. The Phantom II continued to accelerate with both engines in afterburner while climbing to 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). At Mach 1.6, 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) from the starting gate over Edwards, Miller dropped the empty 600 gallon (2,271 liters) centerline tank. He crossed the gate at 42,200 feet (12,863 meters) at Mach 1.76 and continued to accelerate.
Miller entered the first turn near Lone Pine, California (just east of Mount Whitney) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) at Mach 2.04. The second turn was over Beatty, Nevada, the location of a radar and telemetry facility that was operated as part of the NASA High Speed Flight Station’s High Range. The F4H had descended slightly to 49,000 feet (14,935 meters) while accelerating to Mach 2.05.
Colonel Miller was now headed back toward Edwards and the gate on the longest leg of the triangular course. He crossed the finish line at 46,000 feet (14,021 meters) and Mach 2.10.
The total time on the course, gate to gate, was 15 minutes, 19.2 seconds. The Phantoms’ two engines were in afterburner for 25 minutes, 30 seconds. The duration of the flight, from takeoff to landing, was one hour.
When the airplane crossed the gate over Edwards, only 900 pounds (408 kilograms) of fuel remained. Later, Colonel Miller said, “The only way to get on the ground with the engines running was a split-S maneuver with a near-vertical dive, speed brakes out and engines at idle power. This provided positioning for a straight-in approach to the runway at Edwards AFB. Flaps and wheels were lowered at the last minute when I knew I had the runway made, even if the engines quit. Fortunately, they didn’t flame out until I touched down.”
While the FAI credited Tom Miller with a World Record speed of 1,958.2 kilometers per hour (1,216.769 miles per hour) for the 500 kilometer course, a McDonnell Aircraft Corporation publication points out that as the F4H actually flew outside the course lines to make the high-speed turns, it flew 23 miles (37 kilometers) farther than required, and therefore the actual average speed was 1,305 miles per hour (2,100.2 kilometers per hour).
Lieutenant General Thomas H. Mitchell flew combat missions in the Pacific with VMO-155, flying the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, and missions during the Korean War with VMFA-323 (Death Rattlers”), flying the Vought F4U-4 Corsair. During the Vietnam War, he commanded VMFA-513, flying the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II. Promoted to Brigadier General, he was Chief of Staff, III Amphibious Group, then Commander, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. In 1975, he took command of the Fleet Marine Force Pacific. After serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation, Headquarters, Marine Corps, Miller retired from active duty in 1979.
Lieutenant General Miller died in 2007 at the age of 84 years.
28 August 1961: Operation SAGEBURNER: To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Naval Aviation, Lieutenants Huntington Hardisty and Earl De Esch, United States Navy, flew a McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 1,452.777 kilometers per hour (902.714 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer (1.864 mile) course at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. They flew BELOW 125 feet (38.1 meters) above the ground.
An earlier speed record attempt, 18 May 1961, ended tragically when Commander Jack L. Felsman, and Ensign Raymond M. Hite, Jr., were killed and their F4H-1F Phantom II, Bu. No. 145316, destroyed when a pitch damper failed which resulted in Pilot Induced Oscillation. This became so severe that the Phantom’s airframe was subjected to 12 Gs, causing it to break apart in flight. Both engines were torn from the airframe.
The world-record-setting airplane, McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics Serial Number (Bu. No.) 145307, SAGEBURNER, is at the Paul Garber Restoration Facility of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Huntington Hardisty rose to the rank of admiral and served as Vice Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Command. He retired from the Navy in 1991 and died in 2003 at the age of 74.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Colonel Robin Olds (AFSN: 0-26046), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as Strike Mission Commander in the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, against the Paul Doumer Bridge, a major north-south transportation link on Hanoi’s Red River in North Vietnam, on 11 August 1967. On that date, Colonel Olds led his strike force of eight F-4C aircraft against a key railroad and highway bridge in North Vietnam. Despite intense, accurately directed fire, multiple surface-to-air missile attacks on his force, and continuous harassment by MiG fighters defending the target, Colonel Olds, with undaunted determination, indomitable courage, and professional skill, led his force through to help destroy this significant bridge. As a result the flow of war materials into this area was appreciably reduced. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Colonel Olds reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Action Date: 11-Aug-67
Service: Air Force
Regiment: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing
Division: Ubon-Rachitani Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand
21 July 1961: At 7:20:36 a.m. Eastern Time (12:20:36 UTC), NASA Astronaut, Captain Virgil Ivan (“Gus”) Grissom, United States Air Force, was launched from Launch Complex 5, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard Mercury-Redstone 4.
This was the second manned flight of Project Mercury. Grissom’s Mercury space craft was named Liberty Bell 7. The Mercury space craft was a one-man capsule built by McDonnell Aircraft. The Redstone launch vehicle was a highly-modified version of a liquid-fueled U.S. Army ballistic missile.
The Redstone rocket accelerated to Mach 6.97 (5,168 miles per hour, 8,317 kilometers per hour). Grissom experienced a maximum 6.3 gs of acceleration on climbout.When the booster engine shut down, the Mercury capsule was released and continued upward on a ballistic trajectory. The peak altitude reached by Liberty Bell 7 was 102.8 nautical miles (118.3 statute miles, or 190.4 kilometers). The maximum velocity, relative to Earth, was 6,618 feet per second (2,017 meters per second). Grissom was “weightless” for 5.00 minutes. The capsule traveled downrange and landed in the Atlantic Ocean 262.5 nautical (302.1 statute miles, or 486.2 kilometers) from Cape Canaveral. During the reentry phase, the maximum deceleration of Liberty Bell 7 reached 11.1 gs. Total duration of the flight was 15 minutes, 37 seconds.
Several minutes after landing in the ocean, the hatch of the spacecraft was jettisoned by explosive bolts¹ and the craft began to fill with water. Though one of the recovery helicopters, a Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse, Bu. No. 148755 ² (Call sign “Hunt Club 1”), piloted by Lieutenants James L. Lewis and John Reinhard, tried to recover Liberty Bell 7, it was too heavy and had to be released. The capsule sank to the ocean floor, 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) below. (The Mercury capsule was recovered from the sea 38 years later, 21 July 1999.) Grissom was picked up by the second helicopter, HUS-1 Bu. No. 148754, “Hunt Club 3.”
Virgil Ivan Grissom was born at Mitchell, Indiana, the second of five children. Upon graduation from high school during World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war, he went to Purdue University and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering, then joined the U.S. Air Force and was trained as a fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre during the Korean War. He attended a one year program at the Air Force Institute of Technology and earned a second Bachelor’s degree in aircraft engineering. Next he went to the test pilot school at Edwards AFB. After completion, he was assigned as a fighter test pilot at Wright-Patterson AFB.
One of 508 pilots who were considered by NASA for Project Mercury, Gus Grissom was in the group of 110 that were asked to attend secret meetings for further evaluation. From that group, 32 went on with the selection process and finally 18 were recommended for the program. Grissom was one of the seven selected.
Captain Grissom was the second American to “ride the rocket.” He named his space capsule Liberty Bell 7. Next he orbited Earth as commander of Gemini III along with fellow astronaut John Young. He was back-up commander for Gemini VI-A, then went on to the Apollo Program.
As commander of AS-204 (Apollo I), LCOL Virgil I. Grissom, USAF was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chafee in a disastrous launch pad fire, 27 January 1967.
Gus Grissom was an Air Force Command Pilot with over 4,600 hours flight time. He was the first American astronaut to fly into space twice.
Liberty Bell 7 (Mercury spacecraft number 11) differed from Alan Shepard’s Mercury capsule with the addition of a large viewing window and a side hatch equipped with explosive bolts. There were also differences in the capsule’s instrument panel, as well as other improvements. The MR-4 capsule was delivered to Cape Canaveral on 7 March 1961. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). At launch, Mercury 11 weighed approximately 2,835 pounds (1,286 kilograms), empty.
During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.
The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. The pilot wore a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV Model 3 Type I full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost.
The Redstone MRLV rocket was a redesigned, “man rated” version of the Chrysler-built, United States Army M8 medium-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It was lengthened to provide greater fuel capacity, a pressurized instrumentation section was added, the control systems were simplified for greater reliability, and an inflight abort sensing system was installed. The rocket fuel was changed from hydrazine to ethyl alcohol. The cylindrical booster was 59.00 feet (17.983 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. The rocket had four guidance fins with rudders mounted at the tail section. (Interestingly, the Redstone stood freely on the launch pad. No hold-downs were used. The guidance fins supported the entire weight of the vehicle.)
The Redstone MRLV was powered by a single NAA 75-110-A7 liquid-fueled engine built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The A7 produced 78,000 pounds of thrust (346.96 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 89,000 pounds (395.89 kilonewtons) in vacuum, burning ethyl alcohol with liquid oxygen.
The total vehicle height of Mercury-Redstone 4, including the booster, adapter, capsule and escape tower, was 83.38 feet (25.414 meters). The total vehicle launch weight was approximately 66,000 pounds (29,937 kilograms).
¹ “The mystery of Grissom’s hatch was never solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Among the favorite hypotheses were that the exterior lanyard might have become entangled with the landing bag straps; that the ring seal might have been omitted on the detonation plunger, reducing the pressure necessary to actuate it; or that static electricity generated by the helicopter had fired the hatch cover. But with the spacecraft and its onboard evidence lying 15,000 feet down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, it was impossible to determine the true cause.  The only solution was to draft a procedure that would preclude a recurrence: henceforth the astronaut would not touch the plunger pin until the helicopter hooked on and the line was taut. As it turned out, Liberty Bell 7 was the last manned flight in Project Mercury in which helicopter retrieval of the spacecraft was planned. In addition, Grissom would be the only astronaut who used the hatch without receiving a slight hand injury. As he later reminded Glenn, Schirra, and Cooper, this helped prove he had not touched his hatch plunger.”
—This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander. NASA Special Publication SP-4201, 1989
² After retiring from military service, Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse Bu. No. 147755 (redesignated UH-34D in 1962) was sold to the civil market, and was registered N4216H, 10 March 1981. It was owned by Orlando Helicopter Airways, Inc., Orlando, Florida. The FAA registration was cancelled in 2013. The status of the helicopter is not known.
7 July 1965: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the 1,000th production F-4 Phantom II, an F-4B, to the United States Navy. Phantom II MSN 1034 was an F-4B-23-MC Phantom II, assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 152276.
The fighter was assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VFMA-314), the “Black Knights,” at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. On the morning of 24 January 1966, Bu. No. 152276 was flown by Captain Doyle Robert Sprick, USMC, with Radar Intercept Officer 2nd Lieutenant Delmar George Booze, USMC, as one of a flight of four F-4s assigned to drop napalm on a target 7 miles (11 kilometers) southwest of Hue-Phu Bai.
At 10:05 a.m., Captain Albert Pitt, USMC, flying F-4B-22-MC Bu. No. 152265, with RIO 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Neal Helber, USMC, radioed that he, in company with Captain Sprick, was off the target and returning to Da Nang.
Neither airplane arrived. A search was started at 11:00 a.m. The two-day search was unsuccessful. It is presumed that the two Phantoms collided. All four aviators were listed as missing, presumed killed in action.