Tag Archives: North American Aviation Inc.

20 November 1940

North American Aviation's NA-73X fighter prototype, engine idling, with Vance Breese in the cockpit at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 October 1941. (North American Aviation Inc.)
North American Aviation’s NA-73X fighter prototype, engine idling, with Vance Breese in the cockpit at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 October 1940. (North American Aviation Inc.)

20 November 1940: North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, made his first flight in the NA-73X, NX19998, prototype for a Royal Air Force fighter, the Mustang Mk.I.

Vance Breese was the free-lance test pilot who made the first seven flights in the new airplane. Breese claimed to have made a bet with North American executives that Balfour would crash the prototype on his first flight.

Paul B. Balfour (1908–1951). This is Balfour’s NAA employee file card. (North American Aviation Inc.)

This flight was scheduled to be a high speed test. Edgar Schmued, the designer, offered to show Balfour around the airplane. “Before this flight, I asked Balfour to get into the airplane and go through the routine of a takeoff and flight. He responded that one airplane is like another and he would not need the routine checkout.”

The ground crew started the NA-73X’s 1,150 horsepower Allison V-1710-39 liquid-cooled V-12 engine at 5:40 a.m. and let it warm up to normal operating temperature. When it was restarted just prior to Paul Balfour’s flight, “it was a little hard to start,” according to Olaf Anderson, the airplane’s mechanic.

The prototype Mustang, NA-73X, lies upside down in a plowed field, 20 November 1941. (North American Aviation Inc.)
The prototype Mustang, NA-73X, lies upside down in a plowed field, 20 November 1940. (North American Aviation Inc.)

Balfour took off from Mines Field at about 7:10 a.m. After about twelve minutes of flight, the Allison stopped running. Balfour was too far from Mines Field to make it back to the runway. He landed in a plowed field west of Lincoln Boulevard. When the tires hit the soft surface, the prototype flipped over. Balfour was not hurt and was able to crawl out of the upside-down wreck.

The Civil Aeronautics Board report described the damage as “engine housing broken, both wingtips damaged, tail surfaces damaged, top of fuselage damaged, and other miscellaneous damage.” The NA-73X had accumulated just 3 hours, 20 minutes of flight.

Vance Breese won his bet.

Paul Balfour was not injured in the crash landing, but the NA-73X prototype was significantly damaged. (North American Aviation Inc.)
Paul Balfour was not injured in the crash landing, but the NA-73X prototype was significantly damaged. (North American Aviation Inc.)

According to the C.A.B. investigation, the engine had stopped due to fuel starvation when Balfour neglected to select another tank.

The prototype was taken back to the factory and rebuilt. It would become the famous Mustang, one of the most significant aircraft of World War II.

Damage to the wingtips, tail surfaces, fuselage. (North American Aviation Inc.)
Damage to the wingtips, tail surfaces, fuselage. (North American Aviation Inc.)

Robert C. Chilton was hired as the new Chief Test Pilot. He would continue testing the Mustang developments throughout the war. Chilton made his first flight in NA-73X on 3 April 1941.

The Mustang prototype was hoisted out of the plowed field and taken back to the factory where it was rebuilt. (North American Aviation Inc.)
The Mustang prototype was hoisted out of the plowed field and taken back to the factory where it was rebuilt. (North American Aviation Inc.)

Paul Balfour continued to work for North American Aviation, testing the NA-40 and NA-40B prototypes and the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. He later served in the United States Air Force.

Paul Baird Balfour was born 5 July 1908 in Washington State. He was the son of Fred Patrick Balfour and Edna May Baird Balfour. Balfour attended two years of college.

Paul Balfour entered the U.S. Army Air Corps (prior to 1930). He was stationed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California.

Balfour married Martha Lillette Cushman of Coronado, California, at Yuma, Arizona, 6 June 1930.

Balfour began working as a test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., 1 March 1936.

On 2 July 1938, he married Lois Tresa Watchman at Kingman, Arizona. They would have two children.

Paul B. Balfour, center, with a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Paul B. Balfour, center, with a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

On 9 November 1951, Major Paul B. Balfour, U.S. Air Force, attached to the 1002nd Inspector General Group at Norton Air Force Base, California, was flying a North American VB-25J, 44-30955, a transport conversion of a B-25J-30-NC Mitchell medium bomber.

Shortly after takeoff, at about 10:00 a.m., the airplane developed engine trouble. Unable to return to Norton, Balfour attempted a belly landing at a small private airfield. Witness saw that the airplane’s left engine was idling, and its propeller was feathered. As he approached, the airplane was blocked by a windbreak of eucalyptus trees bordering U.S. Route 66. Balfour banked away from the trees but the B-25 crashed in an orange grove along Bloomington Avenue in Rialto, approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Norton.

Balfour, still buckled in his seat, was thrown clear of the burning wreck and landed in the street. One man on board was killed and two others seriously injured. Balfour died in a hospital three hours later. He was 41 years old. Major Balfour was buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.

Burning wing of North American VB-25J 44-30955, near Rialto, California, 9 November 1951.
Burning wing of North American VB-25J 44-30955, near Rialto, California, 9 November 1951.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 November 1952

Captain J. Slade Nash, U.S. Air Force, with the record setting North American Aviation F-86D Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain J. Slade Nash, U.S. Air Force, with the record setting North American Aviation F-86D Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)
The Henry De la Vaulx Medal.
The Henry De la Vaulx Medal.

19 November 1952: Captain James Slade Nash, U.S. Air Force, a test pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, flew a North American Aviation F-86D-20-NA Sabre, 51-2945, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Absolute Speed Record at the Salton Sea, in the Colorado Desert of southeastern California.

Operating out of NAS El Centro, Captain Nash flew four passes over a 3-kilometer course at an altitude of 125 feet (38 meters). The official average speed was 1,124.14 kilometers per hour (698.508 miles per hour).¹ He was awarded the FAI’s Henry de la Vaulx Medal for achieving the World Absolute Speed Record.

North American Aviation F-86D-20-NA Sabre 51-2945, holder of the World Absolute Speed Record, 1952. This was the second of 188 Block 20 aircraft built. (U.S. Air Force) (U.S. Air Force)

The Desert Sun reported:

Sabre-Jet Sets new Wold Speed Mark at Salton Sea

Record of 699.9 Mile Per Hour Established in Four Flights over Below Sea Level Course

     The desert area,  few miles east of Palm Springs, was the setting for a new international airplane speed record last week when an F-86D Sabre jet roared over Salton Sea at 699.9 miles an hour. It was reported that in test runs previously the plane had exceeded 700 miles an hour.

     Risking his life to set the new record was Capt. Slade Nash, a 31-year-old Sioux City, Iowa man with three children. His wife, but not his three daughters, watched as Captain Nash barreled the swept-wing North American interceptor jet four times over the course, as close as 100 feet to the ground although he could have flown it at 328 feet.

      Nash had only to hit 676 miles an hour to shatter the previous world speed record set September 15, 1948, by Maj. Richard L. Johnson, air material command test pilot, at Edwards Air Force Base in an earlier Sabrejet—the F-86A. Johnson’s Mark was 670.981 m.p.h. and Nash was required to fly 5 m.p.h. faster to set a new record.

     NASH’S SABRE jet carried a full rocket load. Adding hazard to the inherent danger of gunning a plane to near 700 m.p.h. was the low altitude below sea level—at when the run for record was made.

     Fuel requirements are much higher at sea level than at high levels and air pressure on the plane is about four times greater. In addition, aerodynamic problems of drag, buffet, stability and structural strength are greatly increased at sea level. However, low altitude and higher temperatures make higher speeds possible.

     CONDITIONS WERE NOT ideal for the test. Officials had hopes for 85-degree temperatures, but, at approximately 1:45 p.m., when the speed runs were made, the reading was only 75.5 degrees.

     Nash came within shouting distance of the speed of sound—about 760 m.p.h. at sea level. The speed of sound—called MACH 1—has many times been surpassed by jet planes in dives at high altitudes—in fact, most jet pilots pass this barrier at some time or another—but never under the considerably more difficult conditions of an official attempt to break the world speed record.

     NASH ALSO SET another record—being the first pilot to break a world speed record at below-sea-level altitudes. The Salton Sea is 235 feet below sea level and Nash’s Sabre jet was not believed to have gone above the sea level mark during his speed runs.

     Scene of the run was a desolate, gully-slashed barren shore land about a mile and a half below Durmid, a railroad crossing, and just south of the Riverside-Imperial county lines.

     About 100 newsmen, cameramen, manufacturers’ representatives and Air Force members were present. Head timer was C.S. Logsdon of Washington, D.C., director of the NAA Contest Division. Rules of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and the Nationals Aeronautics [sic] Association (NAA) were followed.

     Official timing was made with high speed movie cameras. Processing of those films was necessary before the exact official speed of the run could be determined.

The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, California, Vol. XXVI, No. 17, Thursday, November 27, 1952, Page 2, Columns 1 and 2

The record-setting F-86D, 51-2945, was damaged in a ground collision with a Douglas RB-26C Invader, 44-35942, 29 October 1953, at K-14, Kinpo, Korea.

North American Aviation F-86D-1-NA Sabre 50-463, the eighth production aircraft. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The The North American Aviation, Inc. F-86D Sabre was an all-weather interceptor developed from North American Aviation F-86 fighter. It was the first single-seat interceptor, and it used a very sophisticated—for its time—electronic fire control system. It was equipped with search radar and armed with twenty-four unguided 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) rockets carried in a retractable tray in its belly.

The aircraft was so complex that the pilot training course was the longest of any aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory, including the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.

North American Aviation F-86D-20-NA Sabre 51-3045. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86D was larger than the F-86A, E and F fighters, with a longer and wider fuselage. It was also considerably heavier. The day fighter’s sliding canopy was replaced with a hinged “clamshell” canopy. A large, streamlined radome was above the reshaped engine intake.

The F-86D Sabre was 40 feet, 3¼ inches (12.275 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1½ inches (11.316 meters), and overal height of 15 feet, 0 inches (4.572 meters). The interceptor had an empty weight of 13,518 pounds (6,131.7 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 19,975 pounds (9,060.5 kilograms). It retained the leading edge slats of the F-86A, F-86E and early F-86F fighters. The horizontal stabilizer and elevators were replaced by a single, all-moving stabilator. All flight controls were hydraulically boosted. A “clamshell” canopy replaced the sliding unit of earlier models.

The F-86D was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-17 engine. This was a single-shaft, axial-flow turbojet with afterburner. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-17 was equipped with an electronic fuel control system which substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. It had a normal (continuous) power rating of 4,990 pounds of thrust (22.20 kilonewtons); military power, 5,425 pounds (24.13 kilonewtons) (30 minute limit), and maximum 7,500 pounds of thrust (33.36 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15 minute limit). (All power ratings at 7,950 r.p.m.) It was 18 feet, 10.0 inches (5.740 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.75 inches (1.010 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-86D was 601 knots (692 miles per hour/1,113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 532 knots (612 miles per hour/985 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), and 504 knots (580 miles per hour/933 kilometers per hour)at 47,800 feet (14,569 meters).

The F-86D had an area intercept range of 241 nautical miles (277 statute miles/446 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 49,750 feet (15,164 meters). The maximum ferry range with external tanks was 668 nautical miles (769 statute miles/1,237 kilometers). Its initial rate of climb was 12,150 feet per minute (61.7 meters per second) from Sea Level at 16,068 pounds (7,288 kilograms). From a standing start, the F-86D could reach its service ceiling in 22.2 minutes.

North American Aviation F-86D-60-NA Sabre 53-4061 firing FFARs
North American Aviation F-86D-60-NA Sabre 53-4061 firing FFARs. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86D was armed with twenty-four 2.75-inch (69.85 millimeter) unguided Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR) with explosive warheads. They were carried in a retractable tray, and could be fired in salvos of 6, 12, or 24 rockets. The FFAR was a solid-fuel rocket. The 7.55 pound (3.43 kilogram) warhead was proximity-fused, or could be set for contact detonation, or to explode when the rocket engine burned out.

The F-86D’s radar could detect a target at 30 miles (48 kilometers). The fire control system calculated a lead-collision-curve and provided guidance to the pilot through his radar scope. Once the interceptor was within 20 seconds of its target, the pilot selected the number of rockets to fire and pulled the trigger, which armed the system. At a range of 500 yards (457 meters), the fire control system launched the rockets.

Between December 1949 and September 1954, 2,505 F-86D Sabres (sometimes called the “Sabre Dog”) were built by North American Aviation. There were many variants (“block numbers”) and by 1955, almost all the D-models had been returned to maintenance depots or the manufacturer for standardization. 981 of these aircraft were modified to a new F-86L standard. The last F-86D was removed from U.S. Air Force service in 1961.

North American Aviation, Inc., F-86D-50-NA Sabre 52-10143.

James Slade Nash was born at Sioux City, Iowa, 26 June 1921. He was the older of two sons of Harry Slade Nash, a farmer, and Gertrude E. Parke Nash. He attended Iowa State University before entering the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, 1 July 1942. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 5 June 1945.

Slade Nash completed flight training and was promoted to First Lieutenant, 29 April 1947. He served as a pilot with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at Johnson Air Base, Sayama, Japan, and the 82nd Reconnaissance Squadron at Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo, Japan, flying the Northrop RF-61C Reporter.

Northrop RF-61C  Reporter reconnaissance aircraft.

Nash began training as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in September 1948. Captain Nash was then assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards Air Force Base, and remained in that assignment for six years. He was involved in testing the delta-wing Convair XF-92 and YF-102, and flew many operational U.S. fighters and bombers.

After overseas staff assignments, Nash attended the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama, graduating July 1960. He served in the office of the Secretary of the Air Force until 1963, and as a liaison officer to the United States Congress. From August 1964 to October 1965, Nash attended the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

McDonnell F-101C Voodoo 56-0014, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, RAF Bentwaters. circa 1965. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101C-45-MC Voodoo 56-0014, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, RAF Bentwaters. circa 1965. The three colors on the vertical fin identify this airplane as the wing commander’s aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Nash commanded the 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk, England, and next was the deputy wing commander of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Colonel Nash served as vice commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon-Rachitani RTAFB, and flew 149 combat missions in the new gun-equipped McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II.

MG James Slade, Nash, USAF, Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group, republic of China, 1973.
MG James Slade, Nash, USAF, Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Republic of China, 1973.

Nash was promoted to Brigadier General in 1969, serving as Vice Commander, Air Defense Weapons Center, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and next, Vice Commander, Defense Special Projects Group. He was promoted to Major General on 1 September 1973, with date of rank retroactive to 1 February 1971.

General Nash served as Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group to the Republic of China, and later, to Spain. From 1973 until 1976, Major General Nash was head of the Military Assistance Advisory Group to the United Kingdom. He retired from the Air Force in 1979.

During his military career, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster (two awards), and eight Air Medals. He was rated a command pilot with more than 6,000 flight hours.

Major General James Slade Nash died 19 March 2005 at the age of 84 years. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9867

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 November 1967

Major Michael J. Adams, United States Air Force, with an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Major Michael J. Adams, United States Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6670, on Rogers Dry Lake, after his third flight in the program, 22 March 1967. (NASA)

15 November 1967: Major Michael James Adams, United States Air Force, was killed in the crash of the number three North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6672.

Flight 191 of the X-15 program was Mike Adams’ seventh flight in the rocketplane. It was the 56-6672’s 65th flight. The flight plan called for 79 seconds of engine burn, accelerating the X-15 to Mach 5.10 while climbing to 250,000 feet (76,200 meters). Adams’ wife, Freida, and his mother, Georgia Adams, were visiting in the NASA control room at Edwards Air Force Base.

Balls 8, the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, flown by Colonel Joe Cotton, took off from Edwards at 9:12 a.m., carrying -672 on a pylon under its right wing, and headed north toward the drop point over Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada. The drop ship climbed to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

The X-15 launch was delayed while waiting for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules rescue aircraft to arrive on station. This required Adams to reset the Honeywell MH-96 Automatic Flight Control System to compensate for the changing position of the sun in the sky.

X-15A-3
North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 immediately after launch over Delamar Lake, Nevada. Date unknown. (U.S. Air Force)

56-6672 was launched by Balls 8 at 10:30:07.4 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. As it dropped clear of the bomber, the rocketplane rolled 20° to the right, a normal reaction. Within one second, Mike Adams had started the XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine while bringing the wings level. The engine ignited within one-half second and was up to its full 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.549 kilonewtons) one second later. The engine ran for 82.3 seconds, 3.3 seconds longer than planned, causing the X-15 to reach Mach 5.20 (3,617 miles per hour/5,821 kilometers per hour) and to overshoot the planned altitude to peak at 266,000 feet (81,077 meters).

A North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane leaves a contrail as it climbs toward the edge of space. (NASA)
A North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane leaves a contrail as it climbs toward the edge of space. (NASA)

With the X-15 climbing through 140,000 feet (42,672 meters), the Inertial Flight Data System computer malfunctioned. Adams radioed ground controllers that the system’s malfunction lights had come on.

The flight plan called for a wing-rocking maneuver at peak altitude so that a camera on board could scan from horizon to horizon. During this maneuver, the Reaction Control System thrusters did not respond properly to Adams’ control inputs. The X-15 began to yaw to the right.

As it reached its peak altitude, 56-6672 yawed 15° to the left. Going over the top, the nose yawed right, then went to the left again. By the time the aircraft has descended to 230,000 feet (70,104 meters), it had pitched 40° nose up and yawed 90° to the right its flight path. The X-15 was also rolling at 20° per second. The rocketplane went into a spin at Mach 5.

10:33:37 Chase 1: “Dampers still on, Mike?”

10:33:39 Adams: “Yeah, and it seems squirrelly.”

10:34:02 Adams: “I’m in a spin, Pete.” [Major William J. “Pete” Knight, another X-15 pilot, was the flight controller, NASA 1]

10:34:05 NASA 1: “Let’s get your experiment in and the cameras on.”

10:34:13 NASA 1: “Let’s watch your theta, Mike.”

10:34:16 Adams: “I’m in a spin.”

10:34:18 NASA 1: “Say again.”

10:34:19 Adams: “I’m in a spin.”

Adams fought to recover, and at 118,000 feet (35,967 meters) came out of the spin, but he was in an inverted 45° dive at Mach 4.7. The X-15’s MH-96 Automatic Flight Control System entered a series of diverging oscillations in the pitch and roll axes, with accelerations up to 15 gs. Dynamic pressures on the airframe rapidly increased from 200 pounds per square foot (9.576 kilopascals) to 1,300 pounds per square foot (62.244 kilopascals).

At 62,000 feet (18,898 meters), still at Mach 3.93, the aircraft structure failed and it broke apart.

10:34:59 X-15 telemetry failed. Last data indicated it was oscillating +/- 13 g. Radar altitude was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters). The aircraft was descending at 2,500 feet per second (762 meters per second) and broke into many pieces at this time.

10:35:42 NASA 1: “Chase 4, do you have anything on him?”

10:35:44 Chase 4: “Chase 4, negative.”

10:35:47 NASA 1: “OK, Mike, do you read?”

10:35:52 Chase 4: “Pete, I got dust on the lake down there.”

North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 crashed in a remote area, approximately 5½ miles (9 kilometers) north-northeast of Randsburg, California, a small village along U.S. Highway 395.

Major Michael James Adams was killed. This was the only pilot fatality of the entire 199-flight X-15 program.

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

An investigation by NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center determined that,

“. . . the root cause of the accident was an electrical disturbance originating from an experiment package using a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) component that had not been properly qualified for the X-15 environment. . .” and that there is “. . . no conclusive evidence to support the hypothesis that SD [spatial disorientation] was a causal factor. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that poor design of the pilot-aircraft interface and ineffective operational procedures prevented the pilot and ground control from recognizing and isolating the numerous failures before the aircraft’s departure from controlled flight was inevitable.”

A Comprehensive Analysis of the X-15 Flight 3-65 Accident, NASA/TM—2014-218538 (Corrected Copy)

Crushed forward fuseleage of X-15 56-6672. (NASA)
Crushed forward fuselage of North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672. (NASA)

Michael James Adams was born at Sacramento, California, 5 May 1930. He was the first of two sons of Michael Louis Adams, a telephone company technician, and Georgia E. Domingos Adams.

Michael Adams throws a javelin at Sacramento J.C. (1949 Pioneer)

After high school, Mike Adams attended Sacramento Junior College, graduating in 1949. He was an outfielder for the college baseball team, and threw the javelin in track & field.

Adams enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1950. He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. In  October 1951, he was selected as an aviation cadet and sent to Spence Air Force Base, near Moultrie, Georgia, for primary flight training. Cadet Adams completed flight training at Webb Air Force Base, Big Spring, Texas. He graduated 25 October 1952. Adams was one of two distinguished graduates in his class and received a commission as an officer in the regular Air Force.

Second Lieutenant Adams was assigned to advanced flight training at Nellis Air Force Base, where he flew the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre.

In April 1953, Lieutenant Adams joined the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at K-13, Suwon, Republic of Korea. He flew 49 combat missions.

Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. Adams, 15 January 1955. (Freida Adams Collection)

Following the Korean War, Lieutenant Adams was assigned to the 613th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 401st Fighter-Bomber Group, at England Air Force Base, Alexandria, Louisiana. The Squadron initially flew the F-86F Sabre and then transitioned to the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Adams deployed to Chaumont Air Base, France, for a six-month temporary assignment.

While stationed at England AFB, Lieutenant Adams met Miss Freida Beard. They were married in a ceremony at the Homewood Baptist Church in Alexandria, 15 January 1955. They would have three children, Michael James, Jr., Brent, and Liese Faye Adams.

Michael J. Adams, 1958

In 1958, Adams graduated from the University of Oklahoma at Norman, with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He was a member of the university’s Institute of Aeronautical Sciences. Adams was next assigned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he studied astronautics.

Adams’ next military assignment was as a maintenance officer course instructor at Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul, Illinois.

In 1962, Captain Adams entered an eight-month training program at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Class 62C, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California. He was awarded the A.B. Honts Trophy as the class’s outstanding graduate.

Captain Michael J. Adams with a Northrop F-5A. (NASA)

On 17 June 1963, Captain Adams entered the Aerospace Research Pilots School, which was also at Edwards. This was a seven-month course that taught flying skills in advanced vehicles, with an aim to prepare the graduates for space flight, and to create a pool of qualified military test pilots to be selected as astronauts. The Air Force estimated a need for 20 pilots a year for the upcoming X-20 Dyna-Soar and Manned Orbiting Laboratory (M.O.L.) programs. Adams graduated with the second of the four ARPS classes.

Adams then became an operational test pilot, conducting stability and control tests for the Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter. That was followed by an assignment as a project pilot for the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory.

On 13 November 1963, it was announced that Michael Adams was on of the selectees for the M.O.L. program. As a designated Air Force astronaut, Adams was involved in lunar landing simulations during the development of the Apollo Program lunar lander.

Artists conception of the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (M.O.L.)

Major Adams was selected as a pilot of the NASA/Air Force X-15 Hypersonic Research Flight Program. (He was the twelfth and final pilot to be accepted into the project.) He made his first X-15 flight on 6 October 1966. He flew the first X-15, 56-6770. A ruptured fuel tank forced him to make an emergency landing at Cuddeback Dry Lake, one of several pre-selected emergency landing sites, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Edwards. The duration of the flight was 8 minutes, 26.4 seconds. The X-15 had only reached an altitude of 75,400 feet (22,982 meters) and Mach 3.00.

A North American Aviation X-15 at Cuddeback Lake after an emergency landing. A Piasceki HH-21C is standing by. (U.S. Air Force)

His second flight took place on 29 November 1966. On this flight, he took the # 3 ship, 56-6672, to 92,100 feet (28,072 meters) and Mach 4.65. The flight lasted 7 minutes, 55.9 seconds.

For his third flight, Mike Adams was back in 56-6670, which had been repaired. He flew to an altitude of 133,100 feet (40,569 meters) and reached Mach 5.59 (3,822 miles per hour/6,151 kilometers per hour). This was Adams fastest flight. He landed at Edwards after 9 minutes, 27.9 seconds.

Flight number four for Adams took place on 28 April 1967. Again he flew the # 1 X-15. On this flight, he reached 167,200 feet (50,963 meters) and Mach 5.44. Elapsed time was 9 minutes, 16.0 seconds.

On 15 June 1967, Adams flew # 1 to 229,300 feet (69,891 meters) and Mach 5.14. Duration 9 minutes, 11.0 seconds.

On 25 August 1967, Adams made his sixth flight, his second in the third X-15, 56-6672. The rocket engine shut down after sixteen seconds and had to be restarted. The maximum altitude was 84,400 feet (25,725 meters) and Mach 4.63. The duration of this flight was 7 minutes. 37.0 seconds.

Mike Adams’ seventh flight in an X-15 took place 15 November 1967. This was the 191st X-15 flight, and the 65th for X-15 56-6672. Tests to be conducted were an ultraviolet study of the rocketplane’s exhaust plume; solar spectrum measurements; micrometeorite collection, and a test of ablative material for the Saturn rocket.

Adams reached 266,000 feet (81,077 meters) and Mach 5.20.

Having met the U.S. Air Force qualification for flight in excess of 50 miles (80.47 kilometers), Michael Adams was posthumously awarded the wings of an astronaut.

Major Michael James Adams, United States Air Force, was buried at Mulhearn Memorial Park, in Monroe, Louisiana.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 November 1967, 12:00:01.263 UTC, T plus 0.263

Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) on the launch pad at sunset, the evening before launch, 8 November 1967. (NASA)
Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) on the launch pad at sunset, the evening before launch, 8 November 1967. (NASA)

9 November 1967: The first flight of a Saturn V took place when the unmanned Apollo 4/Saturn V (AS-501) was launched from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket lifted off at 12:00:01.263 UTC.

AS-501 consisted of the first Saturn V launch vehicle, SA-501, with Apollo Spacecraft 017 (a Block I vehicle with Block II upgrades), and included the Launch Escape Tower, Command Module, Service Module, Lunar Module Adapter, and Lunar Module Test Article LTA-10R).

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet, 0.15 inches (110.64621 meters) tall, from the tip of the escape tower to the bottom of the F-1 engines. The first and second stages were 33 feet, 1.2 inches (10.089 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms).¹ It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level.² These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

A Rocketdyne F-1 engine is being installed on a Saturn S-IC first stage. (NASA)

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.³

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant.⁴ The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

Apollo 4 Saturn V AS-501 lifts off at 12:00:01 UTC, 9 November 1967. (NASA)
Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) lifts off at 12:00:01 UTC, 9 November 1967. (NASA)

¹ The AS-501 total vehicle mass at First Motion was 6,137,868 pounds (2,784,090 kilograms).

²  Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-IC stage as 7,728,734.5 pounds of thrust (34,379.1 kilonewtons).

³ Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-II stage as 1,086,396 pounds of thrust (4,832.5 kilonewtons).

⁴ Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-IVB stage as 222,384 pounds of thrust (989.2 kilonewtons) during the first burn; 224,001 pounds (996.4 kilonewtons) during the second burn.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 November 1962

McKAY, John B. (Jack) with X-15 56-6672, 13 March 19649 November 1962: Flight 74 of the X-15 Program was the Number Two aircraft’s 31st flight. X-15 56-6671 was carried aloft by Balls 8, the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 53-008, for launch over Mud Lake, Nevada. NASA test pilot John Barron (“Jack”) McKay was to take the rocketplane to 125,000 feet at Mach 5.5 to investigate the stability and handling of the X-15 with the lower half of the ventral fin removed, and to investigate aerodynamic boundary layer phenomena.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6671 under the right wing of a B-52 Stratofortress at 45,000 feet. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6671 under the right wing of a B-52 Stratofortress at 45,000 feet. (NASA)

The B-52 mothership dropped Jack McKay and the X-15 right on schedule at 10:23:07.0 a.m., local time, from an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and speed of approximately 450 knots (833 kilometers per hour). McKay advanced the throttle to ignite the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. It fired immediately but when McKay advanced the throttle for the full 57,000 pounds of thrust, the engine remained at just 30%.

The X-15 could have flown back to Edwards Air Force Base, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the south, but with the engine not responding to the throttle, it was uncertain that it would continue running. The decision was made to make an emergency landing at Mud Lake.

Having reached a peak altitude of 53,950 feet (16,444 meters) and Mach 1.49 (1,109 miles per hour/1,785 kilometers per hour), Jack McKay continued to circle the lake burning off propellants as he lost altitude. The engine was shut down at 70.5 seconds. McKay positioned the aircraft for landing as he continued to dump unused propellant and liquid oxygen, but a considerable amount remained on board.

As he neared touchdown, he tried to lower the flaps but they did not deploy. The X-15 touched down on the dry lake bed at 296 miles per hour (476.4 kilometers per hour), 66 miles per hour (106 kilometers per hour) faster than normal.

Duration of the flight from air launch to touchdown was 6 minutes, 31.1 seconds.

The high speed and extra weight caused the X-15’s rear skids to hit harder than normal. When the nose wheels hit, a rebound effect placed even higher loads on the rear struts. At the same time, with the elevators in an extreme nose-up position, the higher aerodynamic loads pushed the skids deeper into the lake bed. This higher loading caused the left rear strut to collapse. The X-15 rolled to the left and the left elevator dug into the lake bed. This caused the aircraft to start sliding to the left. Jack McKay jettisoned the canopy and as the right wing tip dug into the surface, the X-15 flipped over and came to rest upside down.

A Piasecki H-21 rescue helicopter lands near the overturned X-15 at Mud Lake, 9 November 1961. (NASA)
A Piasecki H-21 rescue helicopter lands near the overturned X-15 at Mud Lake, 9 November 1961. (NASA)
The X-15 rolled over when the left landing skid collapsed because of the high-speed, overweight emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada. Jack McKay was trapped in the cockpit and suffered serious spinal injuries. (NASA)
The X-15 rolled over when the left landing skid collapsed because of the high-speed, overweight emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada. Jack McKay was trapped in the cockpit and suffered serious spinal injuries. (NASA)
The Number Two X-15, 56-6671, lies upside down and severely damaged at Mud Lake, Nevada, 9 November 1962. (NASA)
The Number Two X-15, 56-6671, lies upside down and severely damaged at Mud Lake, Nevada, 9 November 1962. (NASA)

McKay was seriously injured. He was trapped in the upside down X-15 and was in danger from the vapors of the ammonia propellants and liquid oxygen. An H-21 rescue helicopter hovered overhead to blow the vapor away.

Prior to the flight, an Air Force C-130 had brought a fire engine and crew to standby at Mud Lake, returned to Edwards and picked up a second fire engine and its crew, then remained airborne should an emergency landing be made at another intermediate dry lake.

These propositioned emergency assets were able to rescue McKay and to transport him to the hospital back at Edwards.

McKay eventually recovered sufficiently to return to flight status, but ultimately his injuries forced him to retire.

The Number Two X-15 was severely damaged. It was taken back to North American and was rebuilt into the X-15A-2, intended to reach speeds up to Mach 8. It would be more than a year and a half before it flew again.

North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671, after a 19-month repair, redesign and modification program. The fuselage was lengthened, additional propellant and reaction control tanks installed internally, the nose wheel and rear landing skid struts lengthened, and external tanks installed. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671, after a 19-month repair, redesign and modification program. The fuselage was lengthened, additional propellant and reaction control tanks installed internally, the nose wheel and rear landing skid struts lengthened, and external tanks installed. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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