Tag Archives: National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

20 October 1952

Douglas X-3 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 49-2892. Rogers Dry Lake is in the background. (NASA)

20 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman made the first test flight of the X-3 twin-engine supersonic research airplane. During a high-speed taxi test five days earlier, Bridgeman and the X-3 had briefly been airborne for approximately one mile over the dry lake bed, but on this flight he spent approximately 20 minutes familiarizing himself with the new airplane.

William Barton “Bill” Bridgeman, 1916–1968. (LIFE Magazine)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.”

Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot. He checked out new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards AFB.) With the Skyrocket, he flew higher—79,494 feet (24,230 meters)—and faster—Mach 1.88—than any pilot had up to that time.

Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and NACA to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)
This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J34 engines and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. Its highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. The research airplane was therefore never able to be used in flight testing in the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics, though, it became useful in exploring stability and control problems encountered in the transonic range.

Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA High Speed Flight Station research pilot Joseph A. Walker.

NACA flight testing began in August 1954. On the tenth flight, 27 October, Joe Walker put the X-3 into abrupt left aileron rolls at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), first at 0.92 Mach and then at Mach 1.05. Both times, the aircraft violently yawed to the right and then pitched down.

This was a new and little understood condition called inertial roll coupling. It was a result of the aircraft’s mass being concentrated within its fuselage, the torque reactions and gyroscopic effect of the turbojet engines and the inability of the wings and control surfaces to stabilize the airplane and overcome its rolling tendency. (Just two weeks earlier, North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch had been killed when the F-100A Super Sabre that he was testing also encountered inertial roll coupling and disintegrated.) A post-flight inspection found that the X-3 had reached its maximum design load. The X-3 was grounded for the next 11 months.

Joe Walker resumed flight testing the X-3 in 1955. It’s last flight was 23 May 1956. After the flight test program came to an end, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Douglas X-3 49-2892 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 October 1952

William Barton Bridgeman
William Barton Bridgeman. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

15 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman, while conducting high speed taxi tests, took a short flight in the new Douglas X-3. The experimental airplane flew about one mile (1.6 kilometers) over the dry lake bed before touching down. The official first flight would come five days later on 20 October.

In his biography, The Lonely Sky, Bill Bridgeman discussed his concerns about taking on the new project:

Then one morning Johnny called me to his office. "Bill, we would like you to take a look at the X-3. Maybe you would like to test her. She's in the final stages over in Hangar Three. Go over and take a look at the mock-up. See what you think. . ." On the ground floor in front of a door marked KEEP OUT. SECRET PROJECT MX656. . . . — The Lonely Sky, by William Bridgeman and Jacqueline Hazard, Cassell and Company Limited, London, 1956, Chapter XXIII at Page 276.
Mock-up of the Douglas X-3 (U.S. Air Force)
William B. Bridgeman with the Douglas X-3.
William B. Bridgeman with the Douglas X-3.

“Then one morning Johnny called me to his office. ‘Bill, we would like you to take a look at the X-3. Maybe you would like to test her. She’s in the final stages over in Hangar Three. Go over and take a look at the mock-up. See what you think. . . ‘ On the ground floor in front of a door marked KEEP OUT. SECRET PROJECT MX656. . .

“I climbed aboard. In order to get into the cockpit, the seat was mechanically lowered to the ground. There was a button to raise the elevator. It buzzed ominously as it very slowly lifted me into the nose. Visibility was extremely poor from her windows, they were faired-in exaggerations of the Skyrocket slits. It was impossible to see the ground. The thin, insecure looking wings were so far behind me that they were out of sight. It would take some weighing to decide whether or not I wanted to bet my life on the integrity of this ship. . .

“I was afraid to take on this airplane. I was also afraid someone else would accept the challenge. And I was afraid that I would decide to accept it.”

The Lonely Sky, William Bridgeman with Jacqueline Hazard, Cassell and Company Limited, London, 1956, Chapter XXIII at Page 276–278.

Douglas X-3 Stilleto

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

Three-view drawing of the Douglas X-3. (NASA)
Three-view drawing of the Douglas X-3. (NASA)

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J34 engines, and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. The X-3′s highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. It was therefore never able to be used in flight testing the supersonic speed range for which it was designed.

The X-3 was prone to Inertial Roll Coupling, a newly discovered and very dangerous situation in which an aircraft goes out of control in all three axes. Because of its design characteristics—a very long, thin, fuselage, small wings and tail surfaces, and concentrated mass—the X-3 was very useful in exploring stability and control in the transonic range.

At one point, replacing the X-3’s turbojet engines with two Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engines was considered. Predictions were that a rocket-powered X-3 could reach Mach 4.2. However, with Mach 2 Lockheed F-104 becoming operational and North American Aviation’s X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane under construction, the idea was dropped. Technology had passed the X-3 by.

Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed. In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA test pilot Joseph A. Walker.

After the flight test program came to an end in May 1956, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The Douglas X-3 in flight, just a few feet above the dry lake bed at Edwards AFB, California. (Cropped from a LIFE Magazine image at Jet Pilot Overseas)
The Douglas X-3 in flight, just a few feet above the dry lake bed at Edwards AFB, California. (Cropped detail from a LIFE Magazine image at Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1938

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype, 38-10, on its first flight, 14 October 1938. Test pilot Ed Elliot is in the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) 16_008532

14 October 1938: At Buffalo, New York, test pilot Everett Edward Elliot made the first flight in the new Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Model 75P, a prototype for a single-engine pursuit plane which had been designated XP-40 by the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Curtiss-Wright’s Chief Engineer, Donovan Reese Berlin, had taken the tenth production P-36A Hawk, Air Corps serial number 38-10, and had its air-cooled radial engine replaced with the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C13 (V-1710-19).

Donovan Reese Berlin. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The V-1710-19 was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6.65:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 910 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,060 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for Takeoff. At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), the V-1710-19 had Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. The engine required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. It drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-19 was 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.483 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.75 inches (1.035 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.735 meters) wide. It weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

Curtiss-Wright XP-40 38-10 (SDASM 16_008531)

At 1,829.39-cubic-inches (29.978 liters), the original Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C1-G (R-1830-17) 14-cylinder radial engine had greater displacement and produced 80 horsepower more for takeoff than the Allison V-12. The long, narrow V-12, though, allowed for a much more streamlined engine cowling for higher speed and greater efficiency.

XP-40 16_008533
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype. (SDASM 16_008534)
The Curtiss XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)
The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 in the original configuration at Langley Field. (NASA)
Everett Edward Elliot (1907–1981).

In the early testing, the XP-40 was much slower than expected, reaching only 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour). (The P-36A Hawk had a maximum speed of  313 miles per hour). Engineers experimented with different placement for the coolant radiator, oil coolers and the engine air intake. The Air Corps project officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, had the prototype sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia, where the full-size airplane was placed inside a wind tunnel.

Over a two-month period, NACA engineers made a number of improvements. The radiator was moved forward under the engine and the oil coolers utilized the same air scoop. The exhaust manifolds were improved as were the landing gear doors.

When they had finished, Lieutenant Kelsey flew the modified XP-40 back to Curtiss. Its speed had been increased to 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour), a 12% improvement.

By December 1939 the airplane had been further improved and was capable of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour).

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype in a wind tunnel at Langley Field, 24 April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. (NASA)

The Curtiss Hawk 75P, XP-40 38-10, was 31 feet, 1 inch (9.574 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.354 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.734 meters). It had an empty weight of 5,417 pounds (2,457.1 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 6,870 pounds (3,116.2 kilograms).

The prototype had a maximum speed of 342 miles per hour (550 kilometers per hour) at 12,200 feet (3,719 meters) with a gross weight of 6,260 pounds (2,839.5 kilograms). Its range was 460 miles (740 kilometers) flying at 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) with 100 gallons (378.5 liters) of fuel. With 159 gallons (601.9 liters) and with speed reduced to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour), the XP-40 had a maximum range of 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers).

The prototype was armed with two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted above the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

The Air Corps placed an initial order for 524 P-40s. This was the largest single order for airplanes by the U.S. military up to that time. The first production model was the P-40 Warhawk, armed with two .50-caliber machine guns. There was only one P-40A variant which was a P-40 modified as a camera aircraft. The definitive pursuit model was the P-40B Warhawk, which retained the two .50-caliber guns of the P-40 and added two Browning M2 .30-caliber machine guns to each of the wings.

A Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, Hamilton Field, California, 1940. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-40B was best known as the airplane flown by the American Volunteer Group fighting for China against the Japanese. They were called the “Flying Tigers”. Between 1939 and 1945, Curtiss built 13,738 P-40s in many configurations. They flew in combat in every theater of operations during World War II.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 (Tomahawk IIb) of the American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 October 1928

Captains Albert Wiliam Stevens (left) and St. Clair Streett, with the Engineering Division XCO-5, Steven’s camera, and two pressurized oxygen flasks. (National Air and Space Museum)

10 October 1928: Flying the Engineering Division-built XCO-5, serial number A.S. 23-1204, Captain St. Clair Streett and Captain Albert William Stevens, Air Service, United States Army, climbed toward the stratosphere.

Captain Stevens was experimenting with the use of photographs of the ground to determine the exact altitude of a high-flying aircraft. He asked Captain Streett to take him as high as possible. “Billy” Streett was Chief of the Flight Branch at Wright Field.

Dressed for the very cold temperatures, Streett and Stevens carried 6 quarts of liquid oxygen in two pressure flasks to breath as it “boiled off.” They started breathing oxygen as they passed 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Steven’s Fairchild camera was electrically heated. Streett had taken the precaution of drilling two holes in the lenses of his goggles, should they frost over in the extreme cold they would encounter.

It took 1 hour, 40 minutes for the XCO-5 to reach its maximum altitude, which was indicated by the airplane’s altimeter as 40,200 feet (12,253 meters).  The air temperature was -76 °F. (-60 °C.).

After Stevens finished his photography, the pair started their descent. Streett later said,

“Then a strange thing happened. As we coasted down on an easy glide, I started to slow down the motor so that we could keep on descending—and the motor wouldn’t slow! My controls seemed to be stuck, By diving I managed to get down a few thousand feet, but the plane, with its propeller whirring away full tilt, wanted to climb right back up again.

“I didn’t do any more diving. In a frail ship of this special type, the uprush of air in a forced dive would tear off the wings—and I didn’t want to lose them up there! There I was, trying to shut the motor off, and I couldn’t do it!”

Popular Science Monthly, May 1929, Vol. 114, No. 5, Page 23 at Columns 2 and 3

After about twenty minutes, the airplane’s fuel ran low and the engine lost power. It didn’t stop completely, but unable to deliver sufficient power for the XCO-5 to maintain altitude, Streett and Stevens were no longer trapped in the stratosphere.

During the descent, frost formed on Streett’s goggles and he was almost completely blinded, but he was able to something of the ground through the holes in his goggles.

Captain Albert William Stevens (left), and Captain St. Clair Streett, dressed for high-altitude flight. The airplane is the prototype Engineering Division XCO-5, A.S. 23-1204. Captain Stevens’ camera and the pressurized oxygen flask are in the foreground. (National Air and Space Museum/U.S. Air Force)

Streett landed in an open field near Rushville, Indiana. They borrowed some gasoline and flew back to Wright Field.

When flight data was analyzed using the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s Standard Atmosphere Method, Streett and Stevens’ maximum altitude was calculated at 37,854 feet (11,538 meters). Steven’s photographic method gave a value of 39,250 feet (11,963 meters). The United States’ National Bureau of Standards used a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) formula to analyze data from two barographs which were on board the XCO-5. This method included temperature and pressure of the atmosphere throughout the climb. The altitude was calculated at 39,606 feet (12,072 meters). This is probably the most accurate determination.

This flight did not set an FAI record. It was approximately 1,000 feet (305 meters) lower than the existing record, and the airplane did not return to the point of departure, a record requirement.

Engineering Division XCO-5, A.S. 23-1204. (U.S. Air Force)

The XCO-5 was a prototype two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane, a reconnaissance and observation variant of the prototype TP-1 fighter. It was built by the Engineering Division at McCook Field. The airplane carried project number P305 painted on its rudder.

The XCO-5’s wings were built specifically for flight at very high altitude, using an airfoil (Joukowsky StAe-27A) designed by Professor Nikolay Yegorovich Zhukovsky (Николай Егорович Жуковский), head of the Central AeroHydroDynamics Institute (TsAGI) at Kachino, Russia. The two-bay biplane wings had a significant vertical gap and longitudinal stagger. The lifting surface was 600 square feet (55.742 square meters). The upper wing had dihedral while the lower wing did not.

The XCO-5 was 25 feet, 1 inch long (7.645 meters) with a wingspan of 36 feet (10.973 meters) and height of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The empty weight was 2,748 pounds (1,246 kilograms) and the gross weight was 4,363 pounds (1,979 kilograms).

The XCO-5 was powered by a water-cooled, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty 12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 is a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. As installed on A.S. 23-1204, the engine turned a specially-designed, two-bladed, ground-adjustable, forged aluminum propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms). Also installed on A.S. 23-1204 was an experimental supercharger.

The XCO-5 has a maximum of 129 miles per hour (208 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a cruise speed of 117 miles per hour (188 kilometers per hour).

Liuetenant John A. Macready, USAAS, stands in front of the Engineering Division-built XCO-5. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant John A. Macready, U.S. Army Air Corps, stands in front of the Engineering Division-built XCO-5, A.S. 23-1204. (U.S. Air Force)
Major General St. Clair Streett, United States Air Force.

St. Clair Streett was born at Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, 6 October 1893. He was one of two children of Shadrach Watkins Streett, an owner of race horses, and Lydia Ann Coggins Streett.

Bill Streett enlisted as a sergeant, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps, 8 December 1916. On completion of flight training, Sergeant Streett was commissioned as a first lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 27 September 1917

Lieutenant Streett was assigned to active duty and sent to Issoudun, France, where he took charge of flight training, before joining the Fifth Pursuit Group at St. Remy, France. He was awarded the the Army Wound Ribbon and the Purple Heart. Following occupation duty in Germany, Lieutenant Streett returned to the United States in August 1919.

Streett was promoted to captain, Air Service, United States Army, 6 November 1918. He commanded the Alaskan Flying Expedition, 15 July to 20 October 1920. He flew one of four DH-4 biplanes from New York to Nome, Alaska, and return, covering a distance of 9,000 miles (14,484 kilometers). Streett and the other officers and enlisted men were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Mackay Trophy.

Officers of the 1920 Alaska Flying Expedition. Left to right, Captain St. Clair Streett, commanding the expedition; 1st Lieutenant Clifford C. Nutt; 2nd Lt. Eric C. Nelson; 2nd Lt. C.H. Crumrine; and 2nd Lt. Ross C. Kirkpatrick. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Streett’s commission was vacated 28 October 1920, and he received a commission as a first lieutenant, Air Service, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

First Lieutenant St. Clair Streett married Miss Mary Lois Williams at Washington, D.C., 17 January 1922. They would have a son, St. Clair Streett, Jr. (United States Military Academy, Class of 1949).

He was again promoted to captain, 28 January 1921. Captain Streett was then discharged and appointed first lieutenant, 18 November 1922. Lieutenant Streett attended the Air Service Tactical School, Langley, Virginia, in 1926. On 31 August 1927, Streett was promoted to captain, Air Corps, United States Army.

Captain Streett was appointed chief of the Flying Branch, Wright Field, Ohio, in March 1928.

Captain Streett attended the Chemical Warfare School Field Officers’ Course and the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from August 1932 to June 1934, and then went to the two-month Chemical Warfare School Field Officers’ Course, completed in August 1934. Captain Streett next was assigned to the Army War College, graduating in June 1935.

Streett was assigned to the War Plans Division of the General Staff, War Department, from 20 August 1935 to 26 June 1939. On 16 June 1936 Streett was promoted to (temporary) major. This rank was made permanent 1 December 1936.

Major Streett was promoted to (temporary) lieutenant colonel 1 March 1940. This rank became permanent 9 October 1940. He attended the Naval War College Senior Course at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1940.

Lieutenant Colonel Streett took command of the 11th Bombardment Group, Hickham Field, Hawaii in July 1940.

He was promoted to colonel 15 July 1941. He served in the War Plans Division of the War Department under Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Brigadier General Streett was assistant to Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Major General Streett commanded Third Air Force at Tampa, Florida, 12 December 1942  to 11 September 1943, then assumed command of the Second Air Force at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Major General Streett commanded Thirteenth Air Force in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippine Islands, from 15 June 1944 to 19 February 1945.

In 1946, Major General Streett became deputy commander, Continental Air Forces, Bolling Field. This soon became the Strategic Air Command.

Streett served in several staff positions before being assigned as deputy commander, Air Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in October 1949. He retired from the United States Air Force in February 1952.

During his military career, Major General St. Clair Streett had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Legion of Merit; Distinguished Flying Cross; Purple Heart; Air Medal (one of the first to be awarded); World War I Victory Medal with three campaign stars; Army of Occupation of Germany Medal; American Defense Service Medal with one service star; American Campaign Medal with one service star; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three campaign stars; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); and the Army Wound Ribbon.

Major General Streett died at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, 28 September 1970, at the age of 76 years. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Albert William Stevens (Belfast Historical Society and Museum)

Albert William Stevens (née Whitten) was born at Belfast, Maine, 13 March 1886, the third child of Nathan Whitten, a blacksmith and wagon builder, and Alice C. Anderson Whitten. His mother died of “consumption” (tuberculosis) when Albert was five months old. He was adopted by Albert J. Stevens and Nancy M. Trimble Stevens, and his name became Albert William Stevens.

Stevens attended the University of Maine at Orono, Maine. He graduated in 1907 with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. He earned a Masters degree in electrical engineering  from the university in 1909. He then worked as a mining engineer in Alaska, California, Idaho and Montana.

Stevens enlisted in the U.S. Air Service in Idaho, January 1918. Because of his experience in photography, which began while he was in college, Stevens was assigned to the Aerial Photography School at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 18 February 1918. Sent to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces, Stevens commanded the 6th Photo Section, 88th Aero Squadron. He flew in the major campaigns of the final months of the War.

He was an acknowledged expert in the field of aerial photography. Lieutenant Stevens was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. Following the War, he was promoted to Captain, Air Service, 21 February 1919. His commission was vacated 18 September 1920, and he was appointed a Captain, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920. On 18 November 1922, Stevens was discharged as a Captain, then re-appointed a First Lieutenant.

1st Lieutenant Albert William Stevens, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1921. Lieutenant Williams is wearing the badge of an aerial observer. The decoration beneath is the Victory Medal with four campaign stars. (Albert W. Stevens Collection)

He returned to the rank of Captain, Air Service, 10 February 1925. On 16 June 1936, he was promoted to the temporary rank of Major, Air Corps, United States Army. This rank became permanent 12 June 1939. In 1940, Major Stevens took command of the Photographer’s School, Air Corps Technical School, Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado. He advanced to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 30 December 1940. This rank became permanent 15 October 1941. He was retired from the Air Corps for medical reasons, 30 April 1942.

Stevens married Ruth E. Fischer at Rockville, Maryland, 8 August 1938.

Captain Stevens was a pioneering aviator, balloonist and aerial photographer. Using infrared film, he made the first photograph that showed the curvature of the Earth. He also took the first photograph of the Moon’s shadow on the surface of the Earth during an eclipse.

Stevens made a series of high-altitude balloon flights, and on 11 November 1935 he and Captain Orvil A. Anderson ascended to 22,066 meters (72,395 feet) aboard Explorer II, establishing a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record.¹

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew William Stevens, United States Army Air Forces (Retired), died at Redwood City, California, 26 March 1949, at the age of 63 years. He is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

Major Albert W. Stevens, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1936.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10654

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 October 1954

Captain Arthur W. Murray, U.S. Air Force (1918–2011). Murray is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with K-1 helmet for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Arthur W. Murray, U.S. Air Force (1918–2011). Murray is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit. (U.S. Air Force)

8 October 1954: After two earlier glide flights flown by test pilot Jack Ridley, Captain Arthur Warren (“Kit”) Murray, U.S. Air Force, made the first powered flight of the Bell Aircraft Corporation X-1B rocket-powered supersonic research aircraft, serial number 48-1385.

Five months earlier, Murray had flown the X-1A to an altitude of 90,440 feet (25,570 meters). He was the first pilot to fly high enough to see the curvature of the Earth and a dark sky at mid day.

The X-1B was the third in a series of experimental X-1 rocketplane variants built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation for the United States Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), for research into supersonic flight. It was fitted with 300 thermocouples to measure aerodynamic heating. It was the first aircraft equipped with a pilot-controlled reaction control system which allowed for maneuvering the aircraft at high altitudes where normal aerodynamic controls were no longer effective.

NACA 800, a modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 45-21800, with the Bell X-1B, at Edwards Air Force Base, 8 April 1958. (NASA)
NACA 800, a modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 45-21800, with the Bell X-1B, at Edwards Air Force Base, 9 April 1958. (NASA)

Like the X-1 and X-1A, the X-1B was carried by a modified four-engine B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber (B-29-96-BW 45-21800), before being airdropped at altitudes of 25,000 to 35,000 feet (7,620 to 10,668 meters) near Edwards Air Force Base, California. After its fuel was expended, the pilot would glide for a landing on Rogers Dry Lake.

The X-1B was 35 feet, 7 inches (10.846 meters) long with a wing span of 28 feet (8.53 meters). Its loaded weight was 16,590 pounds (7,520 kilograms). The X-1B was powered by a Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine, fueled with a mixture of water and alcohol with liquid oxygen. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.689 kilonewtons. The XLR11 was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters) long, 1 foot, 7 inches (0.483 meters) in diameter, and weighed 210 pounds (95 kilograms). Each of the four thrust chambers were 1 foot, 9¾ inches (0.552 meters) long and 6 inches (0.152 meters) in diameter.

The rocket plane was designed to reach 1,650 miles per hour (2,655 kilometers per hour) and 90,000 feet (27,432 meters).

Bell X-1B (Bell Aircraft Corporation)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 (U.S. Air Force)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 on Rogers Dry Lake (NASA E-2547)
Bell X-1B on Rogers Dry Lake (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 on Rogers Dry Lake (NASA)

This was Kit Murray’s only flight in the X-1B. After being flown by a number of other Air Force test pilots, including Stuart Childs and Frank Everest, the rocketplane was turned over to NACA for the continued flight test program. NACA research pilots John McKay and Neil Armstrong made those flights.

X-1B 48-1385 made 27 flights. It was retired in January 1958. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)
Bell X-1B 46-1385 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 30 July 1958. (NASA)

Arthur Warren Murray was born at Cresson, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, 26 December 1918. He was the first of two children of Charles Chester Murray, a clerk, and Elsie Espy Murray.

Arthur Murray attended Huntingdon High School, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, graduating 4 June 1936, and then studied Juniata College, also in Huntingdon, 1937–1938.

Kit Murray enlisted in the Field Artillery, Pennsylvania National Guard, 17 November 1939. (Some sources state that he served in the U.S. Cavalry.) Murray had brown hair and blue eyes, was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms). Following the United States’ entry into World War II, Sergeant Murray requested to be trained as a pilot. He was appointed a flight officer (a warrant officer rank), Army of the United States, on 5 December 1942. On 15 October 1943 Flight Officer Murray received a battlefield promotion to the commissioned rank of second lieutenant, A.U.S.

Between 6 January and 22 October 1943, Murray flew over 50 combat missions in the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk across North Africa. After about ten months in the Mediterranean Theater, he returned to the United States, assigned as an instructor flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bomber, stationed at Bradley Field, Hartford, Connecticut.

Lieutenant Murray married Miss Elizabeth Anne Strelic, who had immigrated from Czechoslovakia with her family as an infant, at Atlantic City, New Jersey, 29 December 1943. They would have six children, and foster a seventh. They later divorced. (Mrs. Murray died in 1980.)

Murray was promoted to 1st lieutenant, A.U.S., 8 August 1944. His next assignment was as a maintenance officer. He was sent to Maintenance Engineering School at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois, and from there to the Flight Test School at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Murray was the first test pilot to be permanently assigned to Muroc Army Air Field (later, Edwards Air Force Base). Other test pilots, such as Captain Chuck Yeager, were assigned to Wright Field and traveled to Muroc as necessary.

Murray’s A.U.S. commission was converted to first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 15 October 1946. The U.S. Air Force became a separate military service in 1947, and Lieutenant Murray became an officer in the new service.

Colonel Arthur Warren (“Kit”) Murray, U.S. Air Force.

Later, 1958–1960, Major Murray was the U.S. Air Force project officer for the North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane at Wright Field.

Colonel Murray retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1961. He next worked for Boeing in Seattle, Washington, from 1961 to 1969, and then Bell Helicopter in Texas.

On 4 April 1975, Kit Murray married his second wife, Ms. Ann Tackitt Humphreys, an interior decorator, in Tarrant County, Texas.

Colonel Arthur Warren Murray, United States Air Force (Retired), died at West, Texas, 25 July 2011, at the age of 92 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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