Tag Archives: Muroc Army Air Field

25 June 1946

Northrop XB-35 taking of at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop XB-35 taking off at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)

25 June 1946: Northrop Corporation experimental test pilot Max R. Stanley and flight engineer Dale Schroeder made the first flight of the Northrop XB-35 “Flying Wing,” serial number 42-13603, from the factory’s airfield at Hawthorne, California, to Muroc Army Air Field (now, Edwards Air Force Base). The initial flight lasted 55 minutes.

Max R. Stanley (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers))
Max R. Stanley (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

On June 25, 1946, Stanley piloted the first Flying Wing, the B-35, which was a four-engine 172-foot-long, boomerang-shaped craft, from Northrop’s Hawthorne Airport to what was then the Muroc Army airfield east of Palmdale.

Emerging from the cockpit after the 55-minute flight, Stanley told The Times: “She handled beautifully.”

But taxiing along the rabbit-infested Hawthorne runway, he had had momentary doubts, he conceded 50 years later: “I looked out and I was not gaining speed on this rabbit. I thought, either something’s wrong or that’s one hell of a fast rabbit.”

Flight test crew of Northrop's XB-35 at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, 1946.
The flight test crew of the Northrop XB-35 at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, 1946. Max Stanley is just to the left of center. (Unattributed)

The XB-35 was designed as an aerodynamically efficient heavy bomber. It had a length of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters), a wingspan of 172 feet (52.426 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 1 inch (6.121 meters). The wing was 37 feet 6 inches (11.430 meters), front to back, at the center, and tapered to 9 feet (2.743 meters) at the tips. The total wing area was 4,000 square feet (371.61 square meters). The prototype weighed 89,560 pounds (40,624 kilograms) empty, with a gross weight of 180,000 pounds (81,647 kilograms).

This view of the Northrop XB-35 Flying W 42-13603 on the ramp at Muroc Air Force Base shows the pusher arrangement of four-bladed contra-rotating propellers. In the background, a turbojet-powered YB-49 is in a right bank.. (U,S. Air Force)
This view of the first prototype Northrop XB-35, 42-13603, the “Flying Wing,” on the ramp at Muroc Air Force Base shows the pusher arrangement of four-bladed contra-rotating propellers. In the background, a turbojet-powered Northrop YB-49 is in a steep bank. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-35 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major TSB1P-RGD (R-4360-17 or  -21) four-row 28-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7:1. The R-4360-17 was rated at 2,500 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), and 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., for takeoff. It could maintain the takeoff rating to an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) for Military Power. The engines were mounted completely inside the wing and were connected to a remote propeller drive unit by drive shafts. The engines were direct drive, while the propeller gear boxes had a 0.381:1 reduction ratio. The R-4360-17 was 5 feet, 7.00 inches (1.702 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,306 pounds (1,499.6 kilograms).

Northrop XB-35 42-13603 in flight with early contra-rotating propellers. (U.S. Air Force)

The propellers were dual three-bladed contra-rotating assemblies located in pusher configuration at the wing’s trailing edge. (These were quickly changed to four-bladed propellers, which were smoother in operation and more efficient.)

Northrop XB-35 42-13603. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop XB-35 42-13603. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-35 had a cruising speed of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour) at 39,700 feet (12,100 meters) and maximum speed was 391 miles per hour (629 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). With a crew of nine, and another six relief crewmembers, the bomber had a range of 8,150 miles (13,116 kilometers).

The production Northrop B-35 would have been armed with twenty .50-caliber machine guns for defense and a maximum bomb load of 51,200 pounds (23,223 kilograms).

The XB-35 was plagued by unresolved problems with the propeller gear boxes which eventually forced Jack Northrop to ground the aircraft until the engine and propeller manufacturers could come up with a solution, which was to change from piston to turbojet engines. That version became the YB-49. Because of the continuing problems, though, 42-13603 was grounded after only 19 flights, and with its sister ship, XB-35 42-38323, was scrapped in August 1949.

Northrop XB-35 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
A Northrop XB-35 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

19 June 1947

P-80R speed run
Colonel Boyd flies the Lockheed XP-80R over the 3 kilometer course at Muroc Army Air Field, 19 June 1947. (U.S. Air Force)

19 June 1947: At Muroc Army Airfield (now, Edwards Air Force Base) Colonel Albert Boyd, United States Army Air Forces, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, with an average speed of 1,003.81 kilometers per hour (623.74 miles per hour).¹ This was not just a class record, but an absolute world speed record.

Col. Boyd flew the Lockheed P-80R Shooting Star, serial number 44-85200, four times over the course, twice in each direction. The record speed was the average of the two fastest consecutive runs. As can be seen in the above photograph, these runs were flown at an altitude of approximately 70 feet (21 meters).

Originally a production P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85200 had been converted to the XP-80B, a single prototype for the improved P-80B fighter.

Lockheed P-80A-1-LO shooting Star 44-85004, similar to the fighter being test flown by Richard I. Bong, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
A very early production Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85004. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-80A-1-LO was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane powered by a turbojet engine. It was a day fighter, not equipped for night or all-weather combat operations. The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10½ inches (11.849 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). The fighter had an empty weight of 7,920 pounds (3,592 kilograms) and a gross weight of 11,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms).

The P-80A-1 was powered by an Allison J33-A-9 or -11 turbojet, rated at 3,850 pounds of thrust. It had a maximum speed of 558 miles per hour (898 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and had a service ceiling of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

The P-80A was armed with six Browning .50-caliber machine guns placed together in the nose.

Lockheed P-80B-1-LO Shooting Star 45-8554, 1948. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed P-80B-1-LO Shooting Star 45-8554, 1948. (U.S. Air Force)

After modification to the XP-80B configuration, 44-85200 was powered by an Allison J33-A-17 with water/alcohol injection. It was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust. Fuel capacity was reduced by 45 gallons (170 liters) to allow for the water/alcohol tank. It was also the first American-built fighter to be equipped with an ejection seat. The XP-80B had a maximum speed of 577 miles per hour (929 kilometers) per hour at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), a 19 mile per hour (31 kilometers per hour) increase. The service ceiling increased to 45,500 feet (13,868 meters). The P-80B was heavier than the P-80A, with an empty weight of 8,176 pounds (3,709 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,200 pounds (5,534 kilograms). Visually, the two variants are almost identical.

This photograph of XP-80R shows the cut-down windscreen an canopy, recontoured leading edges and the NACA-designed engine intakes. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of XP-80R shows the cut-down windscreen and canopy, re-contoured wing leading edges and the low-drag, NACA-designed engine intakes. (U.S. Air Force)

44-85200 was next modified to the XP-80R high-speed configuration. The canopy was smaller, the wing tips were shorter and the leading edges were re-contoured. In its initial configuration, the XP-80R retained the J33-A-17 engine, and incorporated new intakes designed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

The initial performance of the XP-80R was disappointing. The intakes were returned to the standard shape and the J33-A-17 was replaced by a J33-A-35 engine. This improved J33 would be the first turbojet engine to be certified for commercial transport use (Allison Model 400). It was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust at 11,750 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 5,400 pounds of thrust with water/methanol injection. The J33 had a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 14 combustion chambers, and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The J33-A-35 had a maximum diameter of 4 feet, 1.2 inches (1.250 meters) and was 8 feet, 8.5 inches (2.654 meters) long. It weighed 1,795 pounds (814 kilograms).

Lockheed P-80R 44-85200 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
Lockheed P-80R 44-85200 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Technicians who modified the XP-80R at Lockheed Plant B-9 Production Flight Test Center, Metropolitan Airport, Van Nuys (just a few miles west of the main plant in Burbank). nicknamed the modified Shooting Star “Racey.”

Lockheed XP-80R 44-85200 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

DAYTON, Ohio -- Lockheed P-80R at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
DAYTON, Ohio — Lockheed P-80R at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

At the time of the speed record flight, Colonel Boyd was chief of the Flight Test Divison at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Albert Boyd was born 22 November 1906 at Rankin, Tennessee, the first of three sons of Kester S. Boyd a school night watchman, and Mary Beaver Boyd. Inn 1924, Boyd graduated from high school in Asheville, North Carolina, then attended Biltmore College.

Albert Boyd married Miss Anna Lu Oheim of Texas, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada (1907–1981).

Boyd was one of the most influential officers to have served in the United States Air Force. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet 27 October 1927. After completion of flight training Boyd was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 28 February 1929, and as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, 2 May 1929. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant 1 October 1934. On 24 July 1936, Boyd was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. This rank became permanent 2 May 1939. For the next five years, Lieutenant Boyd served as a flight instructor at Maxwell Field, Alabama, an then Brooks, Kelly and Randolph Fields in Texas.

In 1934, 1st Lieutenant Boyd was assigned as engineering and operations officer at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois. He completed the Air Corps technical School and the Engineer Armament Course. On 24 July 1936, Boyd was promoted to the temporary rank of captain. This rank became permanent 2 May 1939. In 1939 he was assigned to the Hawaiian Air Depot as assistant engineering officer, and was promoted to major (temporary), 15 March 1941. He and Mrs. Boyd lived in Honolulu. His Army salary was $3,375 per year. In December 1941, he became the chief engineering officer.

On 5 January 1942, Major Boyd was promoted to lieutenant colonel (temporary) and rated a command pilot. Following the end of World War II, Boyd reverted to his permanent rank of major, 2 May 1946.

In October 1945, Major Boyd was appointed acting chief of the Flight Test Division at Wright Field. He became chief of the division, October 1945, and also flew as an experimental test pilot. Boyd believed that it was not enough for Air Force test pilots to be superior pilots. They needed to be trained engineers and scientists in order to properly evaluate new aircraft. He developed the Air Force Test Pilot School and recommended that flight testing operations be centered at Muroc Field in the high desert of southern California, where vast open spaces and excellent flying conditions were available. He was the first  commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center.

Colonel Albert G. Boyd with XP-80R 44-85200 (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Albert G. Boyd with the Lockheed XP-80R, 44-85200. (U.S. Air Force)

When Brigadier General Boyd took command of Muroc Air Force Base in September 1949, he recommended that its name be changed to honor the late test pilot, Glen Edwards, who had been killed while testing a Northrop YB-49 near there, 5 June 1948. Since that time the airfield has been known as Edwards Air Force Base.

Major General Albert Boyd, United States Air Force
Major General Albert Boyd, United States Air Force

In February 1952, General Boyd was assigned as vice commander of the Wright Air Development Center, and commander, June 1952. His final assignment on active duty was as deputy commander of the Air Research and Development Command at Baltimore, Maryland, from 1 August 1955.

From 1947 until he retired in 1957 as a major general, Albert Boyd flew and approved every aircraft in use by the U.S. Air Force. By the time he retired, he had logged over 21,120 flight hours in more than 700 different aircraft. He had been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Major General Albert Boyd retired from the Air Force 30 October 1957 following 30 years of service. During his military career, he had been awarded the legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross. General Boyd died  at Saint Augustine, Florida, 18 September 1976 at the age of 69 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9863

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

14 April 1947

Douglas test pilot Gene May with a D-558-I Skystreak high-speed research airplane. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot Eugene Francis May. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

14 April 1947: Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot Eugene Francis (“Gene”) May took the Number 1  U.S. Navy/NACA/Douglas D-558-I Skystreak high-speed research aircraft, Bu. No. 37970, for its first flight at at Muroc Army Airfield. The aircraft had been transported from the Los Angeles factory to Muroc by truck.

The Skystreak was a joint United States Navy/National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) research aircraft designed to explore flight at high subsonic speed. The Phase I Skystreak was designed by a team led by Douglas Chief Engineer Edward Henry Heinemann. Flight testing was conducted at the NACA High Speed Flight Station at Muroc Army Airfield (later known as Edwards Air Force Base). Three D-558-Is were built, followed by the Phase II, swept-wing, Mach 2, D-558-II Skyrocket rocketplane.

The D-558-I carried extensive flight test instrumentation for its time. The wings had 400 orifices for air pressure sensors. During the test series, aircraft stability in the range of 0.82–0.99 Mach was investigated. One of the Skystreaks may have briefly exceeded Mach 1 as it came out of a dive.

Unlike some of the other experimental high speed aircraft of the time, it took off from the ground under its own power rather than being carried aloft by a mother ship. While those other aircraft could briefly reach much higher speeds, the D-558-I was able to fly for extended periods in the high-subsonic range, providing scientists and engineer with a tremendous amount of data.

The research airplane was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The fuselage of the D-558-I was constructed of an aluminum framework covered with sheet magnesium. It was designed for an ultimate load factor of 18 gs. The wings and tail surfaces were aluminum. The airplane was painted scarlet (not orange, like its contemporary, the Bell X-1) and was known as “the crimson test tube.” The D-558-I was 35 feet, 1.5 inches (10.706 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1.6 inches (3.698 meters). Gross weight 10,105 pounds (4,584 kilograms). It carried 230 gallons (871 liters) of kerosene in its wings.

A Douglas D-558-I Skystreak being inspected by U.S. Navy personnel at tehe Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Los Angeles, California. [Modelers: Note the GREEN anti-glare panel.] (Getty Imamages/Bettman)
The D-558-I was powered by a single Allison J35-A-11 turbojet engine. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-11 was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons). The engine was 12 feet, 1.0 inches (3.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,455 pounds (1,114 kilograms).

Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of the 228 Phase I flights. It set a world speed record 1,031.178 kilometers per hour (640.744 miles per hour), flown by Commander Turner F. Caldwell Jr., U.S. Navy,  20 August 1947.¹ (Major Marion E. Carl, U.S. Marine Corps, flew the second Skystreak, Bu. No. 37971, to 1,047.356 kilometers per hour (650.797 miles per hour),² breaking Caldwell’s record.)

After Douglas completed the contractor’s test series, the Number 1 Skystreak was turned over to the NACA High Speed Flight Station and designated NACA 140. It was not as highly instrumented as the Number 2 and Number 3 Skystreaks and was not flown, but was used as a source for spare parts for the other D-558-Is.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9864

² FAI Record File Number 9865

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 August 1947

Major Marion E. Carl, USN, with a Douglas D-558-I Skystreak at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, with a Douglas D-558-I Skystreak at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Navy)

25 August 1947: Major Marion Eugene Carl, United States Marine Corps, flying the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course, averaging 1,047.356 kilometers per hour (650.797 miles per hour). The Skystreak was flown over a course laid out on Muroc Dry Lake, site of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) in the high desert of Southern California.

FAI Record File Num #9865 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a 3 km course
Performance: 1 047.356 km/h
Date: 1947-08-25
Course/Location: Muroc, CA (USA)
Claimant E. Carl Marion (USA)
Aeroplane: Douglas D-558 “Skystreak”
Engine: 1 Allison J-35 (TG-180)

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet (61 meters) or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two best consecutive passes out of the four.

Major Carl’s record exceeded one set by Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., U.S. Navy, just five days earlier by 10.053 miles per hour (16.178 kilometers per hour).

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy) 

The D-558 Program was intended as a three phase test program for the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) to investigate transonic and supersonic flight using straight and swept wing aircraft powered by turbojet and/or rocket engines. The Douglas Aircraft Company designed and built three D-558-I Skystreaks and three D-558-II Skyrockets. The Phase I aircraft were flown by Douglas test pilot Gene May, and Navy Project officer Turner Caldwell and Marion Carl.

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC; Gene May, Douglas Aircraft Company; Commander Turner F. Caldwell, USN.
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC; Gene May, Douglas Aircraft Company; Commander Turner F. Caldwell, USN.

The D-558-I Skystreak (also referred to as the D-558-1) was a single-engine, straight winged, turbojet-powered airplane. It was built of magnesium and aluminum for light weight, but was designed to withstand very high acceleration loads. It was 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.62 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1¾ inches (3.702 meters). The airplane had retractable tricycle landing gear. Its empty weight was approximately 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms), landing weight at the conclusion of a flight test was 7,711 pounds (3,498 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 10,105 pounds (4,583.6 kilograms). The aircraft fuel load was 230 gallons (870.7 liters) of kerosene.

The Skystreak was powered by a General Electric TG-180 11-stage axial turbojet engine which produced 5,000 pounds of thrust. (This was the first widely-used American jet engine. For production, the TG-180 was built by Allison Engineering Company as the J35-A-11. It was also produced by Chevrolet.)

The D-558-I had a designed service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,930 meters). Intended for experimental flights of short duration, it had a very short range and took off and landed from the dry lake at Muroc. (After 1949, this would be known as Edwards Air Force Base.) The experimental airplane was not as fast as the more widely known Bell X-1 rocketplane, but rendered valuable research time in the high  transonic range. Gene May did reach Mach 1.0 in 37970, 29 September 1948, though he was in a 35° dive. This was the highest speed that had been reached up to that time by an airplane capable of taking off and landing under its own power.

The three D-558-I Skystreaks made a total of 229 flights and Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of them. After the Douglas test program was completed, -970 was turned over to NACA as NACA 140, but it was quickly grounded after the crash of the number two aircraft, and was used for spare parts for number three. Today, 37970 is in the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.

This painting depicts Major Marion E. Carl's speed record attempt over the 3 kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (Steve Cox, 24" x 30", acrylic on board)
This painting depicts Major Marion E. Carl’s speed record attempt over the 3 kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (Steve Cox, 24″ × 30″, acrylic on board)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

20 August 1947

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, makes a pass over the 3-kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

20 August 1947: At Muroc Dry Lake in the high desert of Southern California, Commander Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, flew the first of three Douglas D-558-I Skystreaks, Bu. No. 37970, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course. Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet (61 meters) or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two best consecutive passes out of the four.

Commander Caldwell’s average speed was 1,031.178 kilometers per hour (640.744 miles per hour). He was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.

Commander Turner F. Caldwell, jr., United States Navy with the number one Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at Muroc dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)
Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, with the number one Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)

FAI Record File Num #9864 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1d (Landplanes: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a 3 km course
Performance: 1 031.178 km/h
Date: 1947-08-20
Course/Location: Muroc, CA (USA)
Claimant Turner F. Caldwell (USA)
Aeroplane: Douglas D-558 “Skystreak”
Engine: 1 Allison J-35 (TG-180)

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, left, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, left, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

The D-558 Program was intended as a three phase test program for the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) to investigate transonic and supersonic flight using straight and swept wing aircraft powered by turbojet and/or rocket engines. The Douglas Aircraft Company designed and built three D-558-I Skystreaks and three D-558-II Skyrockets. The Phase I aircraft were flown by Douglas test pilot Gene May and Navy project officer Turner Caldwell.

The D-558-I Skystreak was a single-engine, turbojet-powered airplane. It was built of magnesium and aluminum for light weight, but was designed to withstand very high acceleration loads. It was 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.62 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1¾ inches (3.702 meters). The airplane had retractable tricycle landing gear. Its empty weight was approximately 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms), landing weight at the conclusion of a flight test was 7,711 pounds (3,498 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 10,105 pounds (4,583.6 kilograms). The aircraft fuel load was 230 gallons (870.7 liters) of kerosene.

This photograph shows two of the three D-558-I Skystreaks being inspected by U.S. navy officials at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. In the foreground is the number two aircraft, Bu. No. 37971, with the sections o fte hfuselage separted for better viewing. The entire nose section, including teh cockpit, coul dbe jettisoned in an emergency. The second aircraft is Bu. No. 37970, th eSkystrak flown by CDR Caldwell for his speed record. In the background is another Douglas airplane, the famous AD Skyraider. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
This photograph shows two of the three D-558-I Skystreaks being inspected by U.S. Navy officers at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. In the foreground is the number two aircraft, Bu. No. 37971, with the sections of the fuselage separated. The entire nose section, including the cockpit, could be jettisoned in an emergency. Just beyond that, two wing tip fuel tanks are displayed on a cart. The second aircraft is Bu. No. 37970. A GE TG-180 jet engine is shown between that and the last airplane, another Douglas product, the famous AD Skyraider. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The Skystreak was powered by a General Electric TG-180 11-stage axial turbojet engine which produced 5,000 pounds of thrust. (This was the first widely-used American jet engine. For production, the TG-180 was built by Allison Engineering Company as the J35-A-11. It was also produced by Chevrolet.)

The D-558-I had a designed service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,930 meters). Intended for experimental flights of short duration, it had a very short range and took off and landed from the dry lake at Muroc. (After 1949, this would be known as Edwards Air Force Base.) The experimental airplane was not as fast as the more widely known Bell X-1 rocketplane, but rendered valuable research time in the high  transonic range. Gene May did reach Mach 1.0 in 37970, 29 September 1948, though he was in a 35° dive. This was the highest speed that had been reached up to that time by an airplane capable of taking off and landing under its own power.

The three D-558-I Skystreaks made a total of 229 flights and Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of them. After the Douglas test program was completed, -970 was turned over to NACA as NACA 140, but it was quickly grounded after the crash of the number two aircraft, and was used for spare parts for number three. Today, 37970 is in the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. The other surviving Skystreak, Bu. No. 37972, is at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rear Admiral Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)
Rear Admiral Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)

Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1935. He was a dive bomber pilot with Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5) aboard U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5) and U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) during the early part of World War II. Between March and September 1942 he was three times awarded the Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy’s second-highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor.

Later he commanded a night fighter group, CVLG(N)-41, assigned to USS Enterprise. For his actions during that period he was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.

After the war Caldwell commanded Carrier Air Group 4 (CVG-4) aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). Captain Caldwell commanded USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), 1959–1960.  Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., rose to the rank of Vice Admiral, United States Navy and served as Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare Plans. He died in 1991.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather