Tag Archives: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation

23 March 1965

Gemini III lifts off at Launch Complex 19, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 14:24:00 UTC, 23 March 1965. (NASA)
Gemini III lifts off at Launch Complex 19, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 14:24:00 UTC, 23 March 1965. (NASA)

23 March 1965: At 14:24:00 UTC, Gemini III was launched aboard a Titan II GLV  rocket from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Major Virgil I. (“Gus”) Grissom, United States Air Force, a Project Mercury veteran, was the Spacecraft Commander, and Lieutenant Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, was the pilot.

The purpose of the mission was to test spacecraft orbital maneuvering capabilities that would be necessary in later flights of the Gemini and Apollo programs. Gemini III made three orbits of the Earth, and splashed down after 4 hours, 52 minutes, 31 seconds. Miscalculations of the Gemini capsule’s aerodynamics caused the spacecraft to miss the intended splash down point by 50 miles (80 kilometers). Gemini III splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, north east of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The recovery ship was USS Intrepid (CV-11).

Gus Grissom would later command the flight crew of Apollo 1. He was killed with his crew during the tragic fire  during a pre-launch test, 27 January 1967.

John Young served as Spacecraft Commander for Gemini 10, Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10, back-up commander for Apollo 13, commander Apollo 16, and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Later, he was commander of the maiden flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS-1 and again for STS-9 and was in line to command STS-61J.

The flight crew of Gemini III, John W. Young and Virgil I. Grissom. (NASA)
The flight crew of Gemini III, Lieutenant Commander John W. Young, U.S. Navy, and Major Virgil I. Grissom, U.S. Air Force. (NASA)

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship but was approximately 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms)

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust. It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust.

The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.

The Gemini III spacecraft is displayed at the Grissom Memorial Museum, Spring Mill State Park, Mitchell, Indiana.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 March 1966, 17:41:02 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini VIII lifts off from Launch Complex 19, Kennedy Space Center, 17:41:02 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)
Gemini VIII lifts off from Launch Complex 19, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, 17:41:02 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)

16 March 1966: At 17:41:02 UTC (12:41:02 p.m. Eastern Standard Time) Gemini VIII, with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and David R. Scott, lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida, aboard a Titan II GLV booster. Their mission was to rendezvous and dock with an Agena Target Vehicle launched earlier aboard an Atlas rocket.

David R. Scott and Neil A. Armstrong, flight crew of Gemini VIII. (NASA)
David R. Scott and Neil A. Armstrong, flight crew of Gemini VIII. (NASA)

The docking, the first ever of two vehicles in Earth orbit, was successful, however after about 30 minutes the combined vehicles begin rolling uncontrollably. The Gemini capsule separated from the Agena, and for a few minutes all seemed normal. But the rolling started again, reaching as high as 60 r.p.m.

The astronauts were in grave danger. Armstrong succeeded in stopping the roll but the Gemini’s attitude control fuel was dangerously low. The cause was determined to be a stuck thruster, probably resulting from an electrical short circuit.

The mission was aborted and the capsule returned to Earth after 10 hours, 41 minutes, landing in the Pacific Ocean. U.S. Air  Force pararescue jumper (“PJs”) parachuted from a C-54 and attached a flotation collar to the Gemini capsule. The astronauts were recovered by the Gearing-class destroyer USS Leonard F. Mason (DD-852).

The Gemini VIII spacecraft is displayed at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum, Wapakoneta, Ohio.

Gemini VIII with flotation collar. (NASA)

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship but was approximately 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms)

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust. It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust.

The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.

The Atlas-Agena Target vehicle takes off at Launch Complex 14, 17:00:00 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)
The Atlas-Agena Target Vehicle takes off at Launch Complex 14, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, 15:00:03 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)

The docking, the first ever of two vehicles in Earth orbit, is successful, however after about 30 minutes the combined vehicles begin rolling uncontrollably. The Gemini capsule separates and for a few minutes all seems normal. But the rolling starts again, reaching as high as 60 r.p.m. The astronauts are in grave danger. Armstrong succeeds in stopping the roll but the Gemini’s attitude control fuel is dangerously low. The cause is determined to be a stuck thruster. The mission is aborted and the capsule returns to Earth after 10 hours, 41 minutes, landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Agena Target Vehicle as seen from Gemini VIII. (NASA)
Agena Target Vehicle as seen from Gemini VIII. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 March 1967

McDonnell F-4D Phantom II 66-7554. (Boeing)
McDonnell F-4D-30-MC Phantom II 66-7533, the 2,000th Phantom. (Boeing)

12 March 1967: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, delivered the 2,000th F-4 Phantom II to the United States Air Force. F-4D-30-MC 66-7533, c/n 2062, was assigned to the 40th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing, at  Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

On 26 May 1967, the personnel and equipment of the 40th TFS were transferred to the 8th Fighter Wing based in Thailand. The aircraft were deployed across the Pacific Ocean, 26–28 May, with flights to Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii; Anderson Air Force Base, Guam; and Ubon-Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. On 25 July 1967, an additional twenty F-4Ds arrived at Ubon RTAFB, having been transferred from the 4th TFS. 66-7533 was included in this later group of Phantoms.¹

On 19 September 1967, the 2,000th Phantom II was being flown by Major Lloyd Warren Boothby and 1st Lieutenant George H. McKinney, Jr., of the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Following a Rolling Thunder attack on railroad sidings at Trung Quang, about 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) north of Phúc Yên, 66-7533 was hit in the right wing by a 57 mm anti-aircraft cannon shell. The airplane was badly damaged but “Boots” Boothby fought to keep it under control for as long as possible. Finally, he and McKinney were forced to eject, having come within about 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) of their base.

At the time of its loss, 66-7533 had accumulated 155 flight hours on its airframe (TTAF).

Distinguished Flying Cross (U.S. Air Force)

For their airmanship in trying to save their airplane, Major Boothby and Lieutenant McKinney were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was presented to them by President Lyndon B. Johnson, 23 December 1967, in a pre-dawn ceremony at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base.

Lieutenant McKinney is quoted in USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killer 1965–1968:

“In the hail of AAA over the target seven miles north of Hanoi on that day was a ‘Golden BB’ which opened a three-foot hole in the Phantom II’s right wing, froze the right spoiler full up, immediately drained two of the three hydraulic systems and generally turned the day to crap! I mumbled an egress heading (and a few dozen prayers) while ‘Boots’ used every increment of incredible aviation instincts, honed by countless hours at the edge of the envelope, to keep the F-4 airborne and headed away from the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’ Doing so required full manual depression of the left rudder pedal, and holding the stick within one inch of the left limit of travel.

“Despite the physical exertion, coupled with the precise touch necessary to remain airborne as the Black River receded behind the crippled Phantom II and rescue became at least a possibility, ‘Boots” managed to announce to the world on ‘Guard’ channel that they had so many warning lights lit up that it ‘looks like we’ve won a free game at the arcade.’ “

USAF F-4 Phantom II MiG Killer 1965–1968, by Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, 2004, at Page 75.

[A number of sources state that Lt. McKinney did not survive the ejection, but this is incorrect. Both pilots were rescued by helicopter. McKinney went on to earn credit for 2.5 kills as a Weapons System Officer, and returned for another combat tour as an F-4 aircraft commander.]

Boothby
Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd Warren Boothby, United States Air Force

WASHINGTON (AFPN) — I’d hate to see an epitaph on a fighter pilot’s tombstone that says, “I told you I needed training”. . . How do you train for the most dangerous game in the world by being as safe as possible? When you don’t let a guy train because it’s dangerous, you’re saying, “Go fight those lions with your bare hands in that arena, because we can’t teach you to learn how to use a spear. If we do, you might cut your finger while you’re learning.” And that’s just about the same as murder. —Lt. Col. Lloyd “Boots” Boothby, April 17, 1931, to Nov. 26, 2006

That quote may seem a little extreme, but Colonel Boothby was referring to the Air Force’s urgent need to improve fighter tactics training, balanced against safety, but not at the expense of effectiveness.

Colonel Boothby, who passed away Nov. 26, was an experienced combat pilot and an academic instructor in the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing in the early 1970s. He looked at the Air Force’s declining kill ratio from Korea to Vietnam which was 2.4 to 1 in Vietnam compared to 8 to 1 in the Korean War. He led the effort to fix it. This involved several key steps, starting with a thorough analysis of the engagements over Vietnam.

Colonel Boothby led a series of studies at the Tactical Fighter Weapons Center, which were part of Project Red Baron, examining each of the war’s air-to-air battles. While the subsequent reports noted many accomplishments and even more lessons learned, they highlighted several significant trends. The colonel’s team discovered that pilots of multi-role fighters tended to have such a diverse range of missions that they seldom had a chance to master air combat tactics. They also noted pilots who were shot down rarely saw the enemy aircraft or even knew they were being engaged.

Additionally, few U.S. pilots, before flying into combat, had any experience against the equipment, tactics or capabilities of the enemy’s smaller, highly maneuverable fighters.

In short, the Red Baron Reports called for “realistic training (that) can only be gained through study of, and actual engagements with, possessed enemy aircraft or realistic substitutes.”

Based on this report and Colonel Boothby’s persuasiveness to get himself and Capt. Roger Wells access to an intelligence organization’s restricted collection of Soviet equipment, training manuals and technical data, they developed the dissimilar air combat training, or DACT, program to meet the Tactical Air Command’s initiative of “Readiness through Realism.”

Under the DACT program, Air Force officials had some T-38s painted with Soviet-style paint schemes and flew them based on adopted Soviet tactics.

Northrop F-5E Tiger II 74-01561 of the 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron, 57th Fighter Weapons Wing, in October 1976. (U.S. Air Force)

Because of his combat experience, academic instructor background, and involvement in Project Red Baron and in developing the DACT program, Colonel Boothby served as the first aggressor squadron’s commander when the 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron activated Oct. 15, 1972.

As an instructor, Colonel Boothby proved himself an effective teacher who relished the attention of his captive audience. Ever-animated and quick with a joke or “fighter” story to make a point, he told the pilots he was instructing what they needed to know to succeed. These qualities ensured his students’ attention remained spellbound and eager.

One former student recalled one of the colonel’s more popular attention steps. In typical fighter pilot stance, using his hands to represent a dogfight, he would spray lighter fluid from his mouth across his right hand (palming a lighter at the time) and literally flame the left hand and wristwatch bogie. He generally walked away with a few singed hairs on his hand, but his students received a magnificent visual demonstration of the seriousness of air combat.

Such object lessons ensured this charismatic instructor’s students learned and retained the knowledge they might need to save their lives one day.

Upon learning of Colonel Boothby’s death recently, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley noted:

“He. . . had an impact on how we do business and how we think about this air combat work. Folks out there like [Colonel Richard] Moody Suter and Boots Boothby have left a true legacy. I know one Texas public school-educated, land grant college graduate, F-15 weapons officer, Fighter Weapons Instructor Course instructor and ex-57th Wing commander who has certainly benefited from folks like this.”

—Ellery Wallwork, Air Force History Office, 5 December 2006

¹ Mr. F.C. Straile informed me that he crewed McDonnell F-4D Phantom II 66-7533 with the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and transferred along with it to the 435th TFS at Ubon RTAFB. Thanks, Mr. Straile!

Fred Straile (at far right) with the 2,000th Phantom, F-4D 66-7533. (Fred C. Straile collection)

© 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 Euegen 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. 16 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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20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC, T + 4 seconds

Launch of Friendship 7 from Launch Complex 14, Kennedy Space Center, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

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.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

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.

This photograph of Friendship 7’s cockpit was taken in orbit around the Earth, 20 February 1962. Astronaut John Glenn’s hands and legs are visible at the lower edge of the image. (Ohio State University)

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.

John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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