Tag Archives: McDonnell F-4 Phantom II

5 December 1961

Commander George W. Ellis, United States Navy, with his World Record-holding McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. (U.S. Navy)
Commander George W. Ellis, United States Navy, with his World Record-holding McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. Commander Ellis is wearing B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (U.S. Navy)

5 December 1961: Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight when he flew the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, to 20,252 meters (66,444 feet) ¹ over Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California. The Phantom II maintained this altitude while traveling at Mach 2.2 (1,452 miles per hour, or 2,236 kilometers per hour).

For this flight, Commander Ellis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral George Whelen Anderson, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

This was the same Phantom II which set a world speed record only 13 days earlier, when Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, U.S. Marine Corps, flew it to 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour) in Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961.²

Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, 142260 almost made it into space when Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, used a zoom climb maneuver to fly it to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters) in Operation Top Flight.³

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142260 was the second prototype of the Phantom II. The world record-holding aircraft is reported to be in storage at the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Gillespie Field Annex restoration facility, El Cajon, California.

Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy
Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy
George W. Ellis as a senior at Ardmore High School, circa 1941. (The Criterion)
George W. Ellis as a senior at Ardmore High School, circa 1941. (The Criterion)

George William Ellis was born at Ardmore, Oklahoma, 22 June 1924. He was the second of three children of Fred Roscoe Ellis, a corporate attorney, and Jeannette Manning Moore Ellis.

He attended Ardmore High School, participated in oratory and was a member of the honor society. After graduating from high school in 1941, Ellis attended the Marion Military Institute, Marion, Alabama. He entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, 11 July 1942, as a midshipman in the Class of 1945. (Because of the war, classes at Annapolis were accelerated.) George Ellis graduated and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 6 June 1945. (Signal No. 25000)

On the same day, Ensign Ellis married Miss Elizabeth Adelheid Schlack at Annapolis. They had one son, John Manning Ellis, who died in infancy. They divorced in 1970. Mrs. Ellis died in 1985.

Ensign and Mrs. George W. Ellis, 6 June 1945.
Ensign and Mrs. George W. Ellis, 6 June 1945.

Ensign Ellis served aboard USS Bataan (CVL-29), an Independence-class light aircraft carrier, which was part of Operation Magic Carpet, returning American soldiers home from Europe after the end of World War II, and then repatriating Italian prisoners of war from the United States to Italy. Ellis was then assigned to USS Duluth (CL-87), a Cleveland-class light cruiser, on a cruise to the Far East.

Ensign Ellis was promoted to the rank lieutenant, junior grade, effective 6 June 1948. He was trained as a pilot, and was designated as a Naval Aviator in January 1949. He was assigned to Anti-Submarine Squadron 22 (VS-22, “Checkmates”) at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, flying the TBF/TBM Avenger. Lieutenant (j.g.) Ellis also was assigned to the staff of a carrier division commander, and the went the Advanced Training Command as a flight instructor.

Ellis was promoted to lieutenant, 1 August 1951. He attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, 1954–55. His next operational assignment was to VF-211 (“Checkmates”) aboard USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31). The fighter squadron was transitioning from the North American Aviation FJ-3 Fury to the Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader. Ellis was promoted to lieutenant commander, 1 June 1957. He was assigned to VF-124 (“Gunfighters”) at NAS Moffett Field, California, as an instructor and maintenance officer for the F8U.

In June 1959, Lieutenant Commander Ellis attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduating, he was assigned as project pilot on the new McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. He was promoted to Commander with date of rank 1 July 1961.

McDonnell F-4B Phantom II Bu. No. 148381 of VF-74, assigned to USS Forrestal (CV-59). (United States Navy)
McDonnell F-4B-6-MC Phantom II Bu. No. 148381 of VF-74, assigned to USS Forrestal (CV-59). (United States Navy)

In August 1962, Commander Ellis was assigned as executive officer of Fighter Squadron 74 (VF-74, “Be-Devilers”) aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59), for the first operational deployment of the Phantom II (the F4H-1 was redesignated F-4B in 1962). He took command of VF-211 in May 1963, then in May 1964, took over VF-101 (“Grim Reapers”) at NAS Key West, Florida.

In 1965, Commander Ellis served as the Operations Officer of USS Forrestal, and became the aircraft carrier’s executive officer in 1966. Ellis was promoted to the rank of Captain, 1 October 1966. He was then assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer. After his tour at the Pentagon, Captain Ellis went to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at NAS Patuxent River as project manager for the F-8 Crusader Service Life Extension Program.

From 10 December 1968 to 21 January 1970, Captain Ellis commanded USS Arcturus (AF-52), an Alstede-class stores ship. (A “deep-draft command,” that is, command of a large naval ship, is generally considered a prerequisite to being selected for command of an aircraft carrier.)

USS Arcturus (AF-52)
USS Arcturus (AF-52) (BMCS Richard Miller, United States Navy)

After assignment as the head of the Fleet Operations Branch in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Captain Ellis retired from the Navy in 28 February 1973 after 31 years of service.

On 30 November 1974, Captain Ellis married Mrs. Barbara Young Clayton at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Captain Ellis died at Harrisonburg, Virginia, 6 July 2010, at the age of 86 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8535

² FAI Record File Number 9060

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 November 1961

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. Colonel Robinson is wearing a Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Navy)

22 November 1961: In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation, a number of speed and altitude record attempts were planned, using the U.S. Navy’s new McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II fighter. On the morning of 22 November, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., United States Marine Corps, took off from Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Skyburner, an attempt to set a new World Absolute Speed Record. He was flying the second Phantom II built, Bu. No. 142260.

The Phantom carried three external fuel tanks for this flight. It had a 600-gallon (2,271.25 liter) centerline tank and two 370-gallon (1,400.6 liter) wing tanks. Robinson flew southeast toward NAS El Centro, then turned back to the northwest. Over the Salton Sea, he began to accelerate the YF4H-1 to build up speed for the record run over a measured twenty-mile course back at Edwards AFB. The Phantom’s two General Electric J79-GE-3A afterburning turbojets used a tremendous amount of fuel at full throttle and the centerline fuel tank was quickly emptied. Robinson jettisoned the empty tank over the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range. Continuing to accelerate, the two wing tanks were next jettisoned as they ran dry, this time at Bristol Dry Lake.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

The Phantom entered the east end of the speed course in full afterburner. Having burned off more than 1,300 gallons of fuel, 142260 was much lighter now, and aerodynamically cleaner after dropping the external tanks. Robinson exited the west end of the 20-mile (32.2 kilometer) course in less than one minute.

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules require that a speed record must be made with two passes in opposite directions. The average speed of the two runs is the record speed. The Phantom was flying so fast that it covered another 105 miles (169 kilometers) before it could turn around. During the turn, it was still traveling at 0.9 Mach.

Robinson again put the engines in afterburner as he approached the course from the west. On the second run, the fighter was even lighter and its recorded speed was more than 1,700 miles per hour (2,736 kilometers per hour). The average of the two runs was calculated at 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour.) This was the new FAI Absolute World Speed Record.¹

For his accomplishment, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally. The presentation took place on 25 November 1961 at Newport News, Virginia, during the commissioning of USS Enterprise CVA(N)-65.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260 during Operation Skyburner, 1961. (U.S. Navy via FFRC Photo Collection)

In the next few weeks, the same YF4H-1 would establish a world record for sustained altitude—20,252 meters (66,444 feet).² Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, in Operation Top Flight, 142260 had established a world record for absolute altitude when it zoom-climbed to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters).³

Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., was born at Orange, California, 22 October 1923. He was the second of four children of Robert Bradford Robinson, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, and Golda Leutha Nordeen Robinson.

Robert B. Robinson. (Orange and White 1941)

Bob Robinson attended Orange Union High School, graduating in 1941. He participated in all varsity sports, and was selected to attend the Boys’ State leadership program. He earned a bachelor of science degree at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Robinson entered the United States Marine Corps on 26 August 1942. He received the wings of a Naval Aviator and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 1 December 1943.

2nd Lieutenant Robinson married Miss Lavonne Jean David at Nueces, Texas, 23 December 1943. They would later have a son, Robert Bradford Robinson III (and a grandson, Robert Bradford Robinson IV)

During the Battle of Okinawa, Lieutenant Robinson flew the radar-equipped Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter with VMF(N)-543.

A Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter of VMF(N)-543, circa 1944. The radome is at the far end of the airplane’s right wing. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 31 March 1945. Following World War II, Lieutenant Robinson was assigned to VMF-311, and became one of the first Naval Aviators to qualify in turbojet-powered aircraft. The squadron initially flew the Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star (P-80), and later transitioned to the Grumman F9F Panther.

A Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star  Bu. No. 33822 (P-80C 47-219) of VMF-311, circa 1948. (NNAM.1996.488.163.012)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of captain 1 April 1950. VMF-311 was sent to the Korean war zone in November 1950, initially operating from Yokosuka Air Base in Japan. The squadron flew close air support missions in support of the amphibious assault of Inchon, and at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Captain Robinson returned to night fighter operations when he joined Marine All-Weather Squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513) on 13 January 1951. The unit which was equipped with Grumman F7F-3N Tigercats and Chance Vought F4U-5N Corsairs.

Two Grumman F9F-2 Panthers of VMF-311 being refueled at K-3, Republic of South Korea, circa 1951. The aircraft closest to the camera is an F9F-2B, Bu. No. 123602. (Department of Defense HD-SN-99-03071)

Captain Robinson was promoted to the rank of major, 31 December 1954. He completed the six-month course at the Naval Test Pilot School, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, graduating in March 1959 (Class 21).

In 1963, lieutenant Colonel Robinson retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years’ service. He was then employed as a test pilot for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. He remained with the company for 30 years.

Mrs. Robinson died 7 February 1997, after 53 years of marriage. Bob Robinson later married Mrs. Julian Brady (née Elizabeth Catchings), the widow of a long-time friend.

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., died 28 September 2005 at McComb, Mississippi. He was buried at the Hollywood Cemetery in McComb.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9060

² FAI Record File Number 8535

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 October 1979

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 Corporation)

25 October 1979: The 5,057th and very last Phantom II—an F-4E-67-MC, U.S. Air Force serial number 78-0744—was rolled out at the McDonnell Douglas Corporation plant, Lambert Field (STL), St. Louis, Missouri, and the production line was closed.

78-0744 was transferred to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) under the Foreign Military Sales program Peace Pheasant II and assigned to the 17th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Cheongju International Airport (CJJ). One source says that it was “written off” but details are lacking.

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II 78-0744 in United States Air Force markings. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II 78-0744 in United States Air Force markings. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 October 1959

Gerald Huelsbeck
Gerald Huelsbeck

21 October 1959: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Gerald (“Zeke”) Huelsbeck was killed while test flying the first prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base during preparations for Operation Top Flight. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259 takes off at Edwards Air Force Base during preparations for Operation Top Flight. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

In October 1959 the Navy tried, a bit prematurely, for its first world record with the F4H. McDonnell test pilot Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck, flying near Edwards AFB, was testing various flight plans for a high-altitude zoom, looking for one to recommend to the Navy test pilot who would fly the record attempt. Huelsbeck was flying the very first F4H prototype when an engine access door blew loose, flames shot through the engine compartment, and the F4H crashed, killing Huelsbeck. (Over the next three years of the F4H-1 test program three aircraft were destroyed and three crew members died, all preparing for record flights.)

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 101.

Gerald Huelsbeck
Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with a prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II. Huelsbeck is wearing a Goodyear Mk. IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

The flight control system of the YF4H-1 was damaged by the fire and went it out of control at high speed and into a spin. Zeke Huelsbeck did eject but was too low. His parachute did not open. The prototype crashed in an open area near Mt. Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest,  Ventura County, California, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Edwards.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259 was the first prototype Phantom II. It had first been flown by Robert C. Little at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, 27 May 1958. The Phantom II was designed as a supersonic, high-altitude fleet defense interceptor for the United States Navy. It was a two-place twin engine jet fighter armed with radar- and infrared-homing air-to-air missiles.

Gerald Huelsbeck was born in Wisconsin, 16 April 1928, the third child of Walter Andrew Huelsbeck, a farmer, and Irene M. Voigt Huelsbeck. He attended Carroll College (now, Carroll University) in Waukesha, before joining the United States Navy as a midshipman. He completed flight training at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, and was commissioned as an ensign, 2 June 1950.

In 1950, Ensign Gerald Huelsbeck married Miss Mary Jean Hillary, who had also attended Carroll College. They would have two children.

Huelsbeck was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 2 June 1952. Assigned as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, he flew 54 combat missions in the McDonnell F2H Banshee.

While flying in the Navy, Huelsbeck experimented with helmet-mounted cine cameras:

. . . He took a standard gun camera, added a couple of gadgets, and attached it to his helmet, The camera is electrically driven and able to take about two minutes of film with a 50-foot magazine. . . “I spent some time doing ‘hand camera’ work in Korea,” he recalls. “You know, after 54 combat missions, you don’t like to think about crashing while trying to take a picture.”

The Indianapolis Star, Vol. 53, No. 116, Tuesday, 29 September 1955, Page 4 at Columns 2–4

Lt. (j.g.) Huelsbeck in teh cocpit of a Grumman F9F. A small motion picture camera is attached to his flight helmet (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lt. (j.g.) Huelsbeck in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy fighter. A small motion picture camera is attached to his flight helmet. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

He was serving with VF-11 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, when he was selected for the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in July 1953.

“Zeke” Huelsbeck left the Navy in 1955 to accept a position as a test pilot with the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. After several months, he was assigned as an experimental test pilot and project pilot of the F4H program.

At the time of the accident, Zeke Huelsbeck was the most experienced pilot flying the F4H.

Gerald Huelsbeck was 31 years old when he died. He is buried in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

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

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 September 1960

Commander John F. Davis, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. Note the F6F-5K drone “kill” mark under the windshield. (U.S. Navy)
Commander John F. Davis, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. Note the F6F-5K drone “kill” mark under the windshield. (U.S. Navy)

25 September 1960: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Commander John Franklin (“Jeff”) Davis, United States Navy, flew a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 2,237.37 kilometers per hour (1390.24 miles per hour).¹ Commander Davis flew the 62-mile circular course at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Diagram of the 100-kilometer closed circuit. (McDonnell)
Diagram of the 100-kilometer closed circuit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

“On 25 September 1960 Davis flew the shorter, 100-kilometer course at 1,390.24 miles per hour, roughly Mach 2.2. He went around the course in a continuous circle, at 70° of bank and three g’s. The heavy bank put the honeycomb structure of the right stabilator directly in the engine exhaust the entire way around, but it held on. These two flights demonstrated the brute strength of the airframe and the sophistication of the F4H navigation system around the curves.”

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: parts into systems, by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 104.

McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 145311. This probably the Phantom flown by Jeff Davis for the 100-kilometer record. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, Bu. No. 145311 (after 1962, redesignated as F-4A-2-MC). This is probably the Phantom flown by Jeff Davis for the 100-kilometer record. This airplane was damaged when the nose gear collapsed during an emergency landing at MCAS Cherry Point, 9 April 1964. (U.S. Navy)

John Franklin Davis was born at Chicago, Illinois, 4May 1921. He was the son of John E. Davis and Bernice B. McNair Davis.

On 11 July 1940, John Franklin Davis was admitted to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, as a Midshipman. He graduated and was commissioned an Ensign, United States Navy, 9 June 1943. Ensign Davis served aboard the battleship USS New York (BB-34). He was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 September 1944. He was promoted to Lieutenant, 1 April 1946.

Also in 1946, Lieutenant Davis qualified as a Naval Aviator. He was assigned as a pilot VF-74 aboard USS Midway (CVB-41). During the early 1950s, Lieutenant Davis served as operations officer for VF-191 aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34). The squadron was equipped with the swept-wing Grumman F9F-6 Cougar. He then commanded VF-191, flying the Chance Vought F8U Crusader. Commander Davis was then assigned to the Bureau of Weapons as project officer for the McDonnell F4H Phantom II.

Following that assignment, Commander Davis was selected as executive officer of the Midway-class aircraft carrier, USS Coral Sea (CVA-43).

Captain John Franklin Davis, United States Navy.

United States Navy aircraft carriers are traditionally commanded by Naval Aviators, but they usually are required to have experience commanding a “deep-draft” ship. Early in his career, Captain Davis had served aboard the 27,000-ton USS New York. He was given command of the Haskell-class attack transport USS Talladega (APA-208) from 10 April 1965 through 1966. From 30 September 1968 to 15 November 1969, Captain Davis commanded the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) during combat operations in Southeast Asia.

USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) (U.S. Navy)

Captain Davis was married to the former Miss Bonnie Adair of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. They had six children.

Captain John Franklin Davis, United States Navy (Retired), died at Marrero, Louisiana, 16 May 1993. His ashes were spread at sea from his last command, USS Kitty Hawk.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8898

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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