Tag Archives: North American Aviation Inc.

17 March 1947

North American Aviation XB-45 45-59479 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

17 March 1947: The prototype of the United States’ first jet-powered bomber, the North American Aviation XB-45 Tornado, 45-59479, made a one-hour first flight at Muroc Army Air Field (later known as Edwards Air Force Base) with company test pilot George William Krebs at the controls.

The photographs below show the XB-45 parked on Muroc Dry Lake. Notice that the windows over the bombardier’s compartment in the nose are painted on.

The North American Aviation XB-45 Tornado was a four-engine prototype bomber. It had a high-mounted straight wing and tricycle landing gear. It was 74 feet, 0 inches (22.555 meters) long with a wingspan of 89 feet, 6 inches (27.279 meters) and overall height of 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters). It had an empty weight of 41,876 pounds (18,995kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 82,600 pounds (37,467 kilograms).

North American Aviation XB-45 Tornado 45-59479 parked on the dry lake bed at Muroc Army Airfield, California. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB-45 Tornado 45-59479 parked on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB-45 45-59479 makes a low pass over the runway. (U.S. Air Force)

The three prototypes were powered by four Allison-built General Electric J35-A-4 turbojet engines, installed in nacelles which were flush with the bottom of the wings. The J35 was a single-shaft engine with an 11-stage axial-flow compressor section and a single-stage turbine. The J35-A-4 was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust (14.79 kilonewtons). The engine’s maximum speed was 8,000 r.p.m. The J35 was 14 feet, 0 inches (4.267 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the XB-45 was 494 miles per hour (795 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 516 miles per hour (830 kilometers per hour) at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The service ceiling was 37,600 feet (11,461 meters).

North American Aviation XB-45 45-59479 as a test bed for rocket assisted take-off, 24 September 1958. (U.S. Air Force)

The production B-45A Tornado was heavier and had better performance. It was operated by two pilots and carried a bombardier/navigator and a tail gunner. It was 75 feet, 4 inches (22.962 meters) long with a wingspan of 89 feet, 0 inches (27.127 meters) and overall height of 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters).

The B-45A had a total wing area of 1,175 square feet (109.2 square meters). The leading edges were swept aft 3° 30′. Their angle of incidence was 3° with -3° 30′ twist and 1° dihedral.

The bomber’s empty weight was 45,694 pounds (20,726 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 91,775 pounds (41,628 kilograms).

Cutaway illustration of the North American Aviation B-45 Tornado showing internal structure and arrangement. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-45A was powered by four General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engines. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. It had a normal power rating of 4,320 pounds of thrust (19.216 kilonewtons) at 7,370 r.p.m.; military power, 5,200 pounds (23.131 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (30-minute limit); and maximum power rating of 6,000 pounds(26.689 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m., with water/alcohol injection (5-minute limit). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds (1,145 kilograms).

The B-45A Tornado had a cruise speed of 393 knots (452 miles per hour/728 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 492 knots (566 miles per hour (911 kilometers per hour) at 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). Its service ceiling was 46,800 feet (14,265 meters) and it had a maximum range of 1,886 nautical miles (2,170 statute miles/3,493 kilometers).

The bomb load was 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms). (It was capable of carrying the Grand Slam bomb.) Two Browning .50-caliber AN-M3  machine guns were mounted in the tail for defense, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun.

41 B-45As were modified the the “Back Breaker” configuration, which enabled them to be armed with nuclear weapons.

The B-45 served with both the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force. 143 were built, including the three XB-45 prototypes.

On 20 September 1948, the first production B-45A-1-NA Tornado, 47-001, was put into a dive to test the airplane’s design load factor. During the dive, an engine exploded, which tore off several cowling panels. These hit the horizontal stabilizer, damaging it. The B-45 pitched up, and both wings failed due to the g load. The prototype had no ejection seats and test pilots George Krebs and Nicholas Gibbs Pickard, unable to escape, were both killed.

George William Krebs

George William Krebs was born in Kansas City, Missouri, 5 March 1918. He was the first of three children of William J. Krebs, an advertising executive, and Betty Schmitz Krebs. He attended Southwest High School, graduating in 1935.

Krebs studied at the Massachussetts Instititute of Technology (M.I.T.) at Cambridge, Massachussetts. He was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

In 1940, Krebs was the owner of a Luscombe airplane distributorship in Kansas City. He had brown hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. He was 5 feet, 9 inches tall (1.75 meters) and weighed 135 pounds (61 kilograms).

George Krebs married Miss Alice Bodman Neal at Kansas City, Missouri, 26 December 1942. They had one son, William John Krebs II, born 1944.

During World War II, Krebs was employed as a test pilot at the North American Aviation, Inc., B-25 Mitchell medium bomber assembly plant at Kansas City. Prior to taking over the XB-45 project, he was the chief test pilot at K.C.

North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near completion at the Kansas City, Missouri, bomber plant. (Alfred T. Palmer)
Nicholas Gibbs Pickard

Nicholas Gibbs Pickard was born at Brooklyn, New York, 5 November 1916. He was the second of three children of Ward Wilson Pickard, a lawyer, and Alice Rossington Pickard.

During World War II, Pickard served as a ferry pilot for the Royal Air Force Transport Command.

On 21 January 1944, Captain Pickard married Miss Kathleen Baranovsky at Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They had two daughters, Sandra and Manya.

Following the war, Pickard was employed as a test pilot by North American Aviation.

Nicholas Gibbs Pickard was buried at the Pacific Crest Cemetery, Redondo Beach, California.

The tenth production North American Aviation B-45A-1-NA Tornado, 47-011, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1959

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 carried aloft by Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. The absence of frost on the fuselage of the X-15 shows that no cryogenic propellants are aboard for this captive flight. The chase plane is a Lockheed F-104A-15-LO Starfighter, 56-0768. This Starfighter suffered an engine failure on take off at Edwards AFB, crashed and was destroyed, 30 June 1959. (NASA)

10 March 1959: With North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in its cockpit, the X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane was airborne for the first time. X-15A 56-6670 was carried aloft under the wing of the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress drop ship, 52-003, for a series of captive flights. The purpose was to verify that all the systems on both the X-15 and the B-52 were properly functioning up to the point that the drop would occur.

The NB-52A Stratofortress flight crew, left to right: Harry W. ("Bill") Berkowitz, NAA, Launch Panel Operator; Captain John E. ("Jack") Allavie, USAF, Pilot; Captain Charles C. Bock, Jr., USAF, Aircraft Commander, at Edwards AFB, 7 February 1959. (U.S. Air Force)
The NB-52A Stratofortress flight crew, left to right: Harry W. (“Bill”) Berkowitz, NAA, Launch Panel Operator; Captain John E. (“Jack”) Allavie, USAF, Pilot; Captain Charles C. Bock, Jr., USAF, Aircraft Commander, at Edwards AFB, 7 February 1959. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 carried aloft by Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress 52-003. The absence of frost on the fuselage of the X-15 shows that no cryogenic propellants are aboard for this captive flight. (NASA)

Fully settled in my tiny flight office, I could speak by radio to the B-52 pilot, Charlie Bock, who was about thirty feet away in the nose of the mother plane, out of sight. . . .

As we sat, waiting at the end of the long runway while chase planes took off and circled, the clock on the instrument panel of the X-15 showed 0955. . . On signal, B-52 pilot Charlie Bock cobbed the eight engines, standing hard on the brake pedal. As the engines wound up to full military power, the X-15 trembled and the noise was tremendous. Through my radio earphones I heard Bock call a countdown for the benefit of the official movie cameramen who would record  every inch of the takeoff:

“Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one. BRAKE RELEASE.”

One hundred thirty tons of aluminum, fuel, Inconel X, five men and the hope of a nation began rolling down the long runway. . .

As we rolled, the huge runway distance markers flashed by, clocking our path: 14,000 . . . 13,000 . . . 12,000 . . . 8,000. When the X-15 air-speed indicator reached 170 knots, I noted only a minor vibration. We would continue the takeoff. 6,000 . . . 5,000 . . . 4,000, and we broke ground. It was smooth and gentle, like the take-off of an airliner. The air-speed indicator crept up to 260 knots. The parched brown desert fell away. . . .

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960, Chapters 34 and 35 at Pages 316–321.

X-15A 56-6670 under the wing of NB-52A 52-003 at high altitude. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocketplane. Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)
X-15A 56-6670 under the wing of NB-52A 52-003 at high altitude. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocketplane. (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)

The gross weight of the combined aircraft was 258,000 pounds (117,000 kilograms). After a takeoff roll of 6,200 feet (1,890 meters) the B-52/X-15 lifted of at 168 knots (193 miles per hour/311 kilometers per hour). During the 1 hour, 8 minute flight the the B-52 climbed to 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and reached a speed of 0.83 Mach (548 miles per hour/881 kilometers per hour).

The X-15A rocketplane was designed and built for the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the predecessor of NASA) by North American Aviation, Inc., to investigate the effects of hypersonic flight (Mach 5+). Design work started in 1955 and a mock-up had been completed after just 12 months. The three X-15s were built at North American’s Los Angeles Division, at the southeast corner of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), on the shoreline of southern California.

Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air Force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)

The first flight took place 8 June 1959, again, with Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Number 1 ship, 56-6670.

While earlier rocketplanes, the Bell X-1 series, the the Douglas D-558-II, and the Bell X-2, were airplanes powered by rocket engines, the X-15 was a quantum leap in technology. It was a spacecraft.

Like the other rocketplanes, the X-15 was designed to be carried aloft by a “mothership,” rather than to takeoff and climb to the test altitude under its own power. The carrier aircraft was originally planned to be a Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber but this was soon changed to a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Two B-52s were modified to carry the X-15: NB-52A 52-003, The High and Mighty One, and NB-52B 52-008, Balls 8.

From 8 June 1959 to 24 October 1968, the three X-15s were flown by twelve test pilots, three of whom would qualify as astronauts in the X-15. Two would go on to the Apollo Program, and one, Neil Alden Armstrong, would be the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969. Joe Engle would fly the space shuttle. Four of the test pilots, Petersen, White, Rushworth, and Knight, flew in combat during the Vietnam War, with Bob White being awarded the Air Force Cross. Petersen, Rushworth and White reached flag rank.

One pilot, John B. (“Jack”) McKay, was seriously injured during an emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada, 9 November 1962. Michael James Adams, was killed when the Number 3 ship, 56-6672, went into a hypersonic spin and broke up on the program’s 191st flight, 15 November 1967.

Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A. Crossfield is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit and MA-3 helmet, which he helped to develop. (NASA)

Flown by a single pilot/astronaut, the X-15 is a mid-wing monoplane with dorsal and ventral fin/rudders and stabilators. The wing had no dihedral, while the stabilators had a pronounced 15° anhedral. The short wings have an area of 200 square feet (18.58 square meters) and a maximum thickness of just 5%. The leading edges are swept to 25.64°. There are two small flaps but no ailerons. The entire vertical fin/rudder pivots for yaw control.

Above 100,000 feet (30,840 meters) altitude, conventional aircraft flight control surfaces are ineffective. The X-15 is equipped with a system of reaction control jets for pitch, roll and yaw control. Hydrogen peroxide was passed through a catalyst to produce steam, which supplied the control thrusters.

The forward landing gear consists of a retractable oleo strut with steerable dual wheels and there are two strut/skids at the rear of the fuselage. The gear is retracted after the X-15 is mounted on the NB-52 and is extended for landing by its own weight.

X-15A cockpit with original Lear Siegler instrument panel. (NASA)

The rocketplane’s cockpit featured both a conventional control stick as well as side-controllers. It was pressurized with nitrogen gas to prevent fires. The pilot wore an MC-2 full-pressure suit manufactured by the David Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, with an MA-3 helmet. The suit was pressurized below the neck seal with nitrogen, while the helmet was supplied with 100% oxygen. This pressure suit was later changed to the Air Force-standardized A/P22S.

The X-15 is 50.75 feet (15.469 meters) long with a wing span of 22.36 feet (6.815 meters). The height—the distance between the tips of the dorsal and ventral fins—is 13.5 feet (4.115 meters). The stabilator span is 18.08 feet (5.511 meters). The fuselage is 4.67 feet (1.423 meters) deep and has a maximum width of 7.33 feet (2.234 meters).

North American Aviation, Inc. X-15A 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)

The X-15s were built primarily of a nickel/chromium/iron alloy named Inconel X, along with corrosion-resistant steel, titanium and aluminum. Inconel X is both very hard and also able to maintain its strength at the very high temperatures the X-15s were subjected to by aerodynamic heating. It was extremely difficult to machine and special fabrication techniques had to be developed.

Since the X-15 was built of steel rather than light-weight aluminum, as are most aircraft, it is a heavy machine, weighing approximately 14,600 pounds (6,623 kilograms) empty and 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) when loaded with a pilot and propellants. The X-15s carried as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of research instrumentation, and the equipment varied from flight to flight. The minimum flight weight (for high-speed missions): was 31,292 pounds (14,194 kilograms) The maximum weight was 52,117 pounds (23,640 kilograms) at drop (modified X-15A-2 with external propellant tanks).

Initial flights were flown with a 5 foot, 11 inch (1.803 meters)-long air data boom at the nose, but this would later be replaced by the “ball nose” air sensor system. The data boom contained a standard pitot-static system along with angle-of-attack and sideslip vanes. The boom and ball nose were interchangeable.

Two Reaction Motors Division XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines installed on an X-15. (NASA)

Delays in the production of the planned Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine forced engineers to adapt two vertically-stacked Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines to the X-15 for early flights. This was a well-known engine which was used on the previous rocketplanes. The XLR11 burned a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Each of the engines’ four chambers could be ignited individually. Each engine was rated at 11,800 pounds of thrust (58.49 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

The Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine was throttleable by the pilot from 28,500 to 60,000 pounds of thrust. The engine was rated at 50,000 pounds of thrust (222.41 kilonewtons) at Sea Level; 57,000 pounds (253.55 kilonewtons) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters), the typical drop altitude; and 57,850 pounds (257.33 kilonewtons) of thrust at 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). Individual engines varied slightly. A few produced as much as 61,000 pounds of thrust (271.34 kilonewtons).

The XLR99 burned anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen. The flame temperature was approximately 5,000 °F. (2,760 °C.) The engine was cooled with circulating liquid oxygen. To protect the exhaust nozzle, it was flame-sprayed with ceramic coating of zirconium dioxide. The engine is 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and 3 feet, 3.3 inches (0.998 meters) in diameter. It weighs 910 pounds (413 kilograms). The Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is 1 hour of operation, or 100 starts.

Thiokol Reaction Motors Division XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)

The XLR99 proved to be very reliable. 169 X-15 flights were made using the XLR99. 165 of these had successful engine operation. It started on the first attempt 159 times.

The highest speed achieved during the program was with the modified number two ship, X-15A-2 56-6671, flown by Pete Knight to Mach 6.70 (6,620 feet per second/4,520 miles per hour/ kilometers per hour) at 102,700 feet (31,303 meters). On this flight, the rocketplane exceeded its maximum design speed of 6,600 feet per second (2,012 meters per second).

The maximum altitude was reached by Joe Walker, 22 August 1963, when he flew 56-6672 to 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).

The longest flight was flown by Neil Armstrong, 20 April 1962, with a duration of 12 minutes, 28.7 seconds.

North American Aviation X-15A-1 56-6670 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. X-15A-2 56-6671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 March 1961

Major Robert M. White exits the cockpit of an X-15 at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, climbs out of the cockpit of an X-15 after landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

7 March 1961: Launched over Silver Lake, a dry lake bed near the California/Nevada border, at 10:28:33.0 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, test pilot Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, flew the number two North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6671, to Mach 4.43 (2,905 miles per hour/4,675 kilometers per hour) and 77,450 feet (23,607 meters), becoming the first pilot to exceed Mach 4.

This was the first flight for the number two X-15 with the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine, which was rated at 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.55 kilonewtons).

The flight plan called for a burn time of 116 seconds, an altitude of 84,000 feet (25,603 meters) and a predicted maximum speed of Mach 4.00. The actual duration of the engine burn was 127.0 seconds. Peak altitude was lower than planned, at 77,450 feet (23,607 meters). The longer burn and lower altitude translated into the higher speed.

The total duration of the flight, from the air drop from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress carrier, 52-008, to touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, was 8 minutes, 34.1 seconds.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with one of the three North American Aviation X-15s on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation, Inc., X-15 rocketplane on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. White is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit with an MA-3 helmet. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27–28 February 1947

North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, “Betty Jo,” takes off from Hickam Field, 27 February 1947. (Hawaii Aviation)

27–28 February 1947: At 3:05 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, (01:05 G.M.T.), Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, Lieutenant John M. Ard, took off from Hickam Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, enroute non-stop to LaGuardia Airport, New York City, New York.

Thacker and Ard were assigned to the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field, Daytion, Ohio. Their airplane was a North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168 (North American serial number 123-43754). The fighter had been named Betty Jo, in honor of Thacker’s wife. (The painter mistakenly applied the name as Betty Joe.)

North American Aviation P-82B-1 NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo, over Los Angeles, California. (U.S. Air Force)

Betty Jo had been modified by North American Aviation at El Segundo, California, in preparation for its long-distance flight. The fighter’s armor was removed, as were the six Colt MG 53-2 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns. Additional internal fuel capacity was added, and the P-82 was equipped with four large external fuel tanks. The Twin Mustang’s fuel capacity was 2,215 gallons (8,385 liters).

Planned route of Betty Jo. (NASM)

Thacker and Ard climbed to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) after takeoff. As the fuel was burned off, the P-82 was able to climb higher. Most of the flight was made between 19,000 and 22,000 feet (5,791–6,706 meters).

After burning off the fuel in the four external tanks, Thacker tried to jettison them, but a mechanical problem prevented three tanks from being released. This resulted in adverse yaw and excessive drag for the overland portion of the flight. Colonel Thacker used the weight of his leg on the control stick to counteract the yaw.

Betty Jo, flying at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), crossed the California coast near Point Arena at 12:34 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (08:34 G.M.T.), 6 hours, 59 minutes after takeoff. The P-82 passed north of Reno, Nevada, at 1:00 a.m. EST (09:00 G.M.T.), and Humboldt, Nevada, 23 minutes later.

North American Aviation P-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo (U.S. Air Force)

Thacker and Ard next flew over Ogden, Utah, at 3:12 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (10:12 G.M.T.), and Laramie, Wyoming, at 4:05 MST (10:05 G.M.T.). They reported over Chicago at 6:49 a.m., Central Standard Time (12:49 G.M.T.), and Detroit at 8:38 a.m., CST (14:38 G.M.T.).

Betty Jo crossed overhead at LaGuardia Airport at 11:06 a.m., Eastern time (16:06 G.M.T.) and landed there at 11:08:34 a.m. (16:08:34 G.M.T.) The elapsed time from take off at Hickam Field to overhead LaGuardia was 14 hours, 31 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 14 hours, 33 minutes, 34 seconds.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, left, and First Lieutenant John M. Ard, standing on the wing of the North American P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168, Betty Jo. (Unattributed)

On arrival at LaGuardia, only 60 gallons (227 liters) of fuel remained on board the Twin Mustang.

The Great Circle distance between Hickam and LaGuardia is s 4,324.32 nautical miles (4,976.34 statute miles/8,008.65 kilometers). Betty Jo averaged 297.89 knots (342.81 miles per hour/551.69 kilometers per hour) over the course.

North American Aviation XP-82 Twin Mustang prototype with 8-gun pod, rockets and bombs. (North American Aviation, Inc./Boeing Images)

Betty Jo is the ninth production North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang. The airplane was designed toward the end of World War II as a very long range escort fighter operated by two pilots. It was built using two lengthened P-51H Mustang fuselages and standard left and right wings. A center wing section and horizontal stabilizer joined the two fuselages.

The P-82B was 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) long, with a wingspan of 51 feet, 3 inches  (15.621 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 10 inches ( meters) in three-point position. The airplane’s empty weight is 13,405 pounds (6,080 kilograms), and maximum gross weight, 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms).

The P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang was powered by liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-19 and -21 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines. They drove counter rotating Aeroproducts four-bladed propellers. through a 0.479:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-19 was rated at 1,700 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 19¾ inches of boost for takeoff, with military power rating of 2,200 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,875 horsepower at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). At 1,770 pounds (803 kilograms), the V-1650-19 was the heaviest Packard Merlin variant produced.

The P-82B had a maximum speed of 482 miles per hour (776 kilometers per hour) at 25,100 feet (7,650 meters) and its service ceiling was 41,600 feet (12,680 meters). Its range was 1,390 miles (2,237 kilometers).

The P-82B was armed with six air-cooled Colt Automatic Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50,  MG 53-2, located in the center wing section, with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun. A pod containing eight additional .50-caliber machine guns could be installed under the center wing section. The Twin Mustang could also carry up to four 1,000 pound bombs, two 2,000 pound bombs, or twenty-five 5-inch rockets on underwing hard points.

After the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1947, many aircraft designations were changed. The P-82B was redesignated as F-82B.

North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168 at the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio, 1952. (NASA)

In September 1950, F-82B 44-65168 was transferred to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for use in testing ram jet engines at the Cleveland Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. It was damaged in June 1957. The airplane was retired and turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Robert E. Thacker was born 21 February 1918 in California. He was the second of four children of Percie C. Thacker and Margaret Eadie Thacker.

in 1939, Thacker was appointed an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, and trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 21 June 1940.

On 3 March 1941, 2nd Lieutenant Thacker married Miss Betty Jo Smoot at Yuma, Arizona. They would be married for 71 years until she died in 1992.

On 1 November 1941, Thacker was appointed a first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2443 over the Hawaiian Islands, circa 1941. This is the same type airplane as flown by Lt. Thacker, 6–7 December 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

In December 1941, Lieutenant Thacker was one of a group of pilots assigned to ferry new Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers from the United States to the Philippine Islands, with a stop at Hickam Field. The bombers took off from Hamilton Field in Marin County, California. on 6 December. Thacker’s airplane was B-17E 41-2432, named The Last Straw. The inbound Flying Fortresses arrived over Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2432, The Last Straw, undergoing maintenance in the South West Pacific Area, circa 1943. (David Vincent Collection/HistoryNet)

On 31 March 1942, Lieutenant Thacker was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. He flew over New Guinea during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 4–8 May 1942. On 15 February 1943, he was promoted to major, A.U.S. (A.C.).

Assigned as operations officer of the 384th Bombardment Group at Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England, Thacker was promoted to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S., 8 July 1944. He is credited with 28 combat missions flown over Europe, frequently as a group or wing leader.

Following World War II, Lt. Colonel Thacker reverted to his permanent rank, 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with his date of rank 7 December 1944. Thacker was transferred to the U.S. Air Force after its establishment, 18 September 1947. He retained his permanent rank.

Colonel Thacker also flew in combat during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Thacker was a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, and tested many aircraft at Muroc Army Air Field (Edwards Air Force Base), beginning with the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.

Colonel Thacker retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1970.

Robert E. Thacker with his North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang, Betty Jo, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Thacker celebrated his 100th Birthday at his home in San Clemente, California, 21 February 2018.

“Retired Air Force Col. Robert Thacker address his friends after they sang Happy Birthday to him during his 100th birthday party in San Clemente on Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)”

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 February 1955

North American Aviation production test pilot George Franklin Smith with a North American F-100A Super Sabre (NASM)

26 February 1955: Although it was his day off, North American Aviation production test pilot George Franklin Smith stopped by the office at Los Angeles Airport (today, known as Los Angeles International airport, or simply “LAX”, its international airport identifier). The company’s flight  dispatcher told him that a brand-new F-100A-20-NA Super Sabre, serial number 53-1659, was sitting on the flight line and needed to be test flown before being turned over to the Air Force.

North American Aviation production test pilot George F. Smith (left) walks away from an F-100 Super Sabre. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineeers)
North American Aviation production test pilot George F. Smith (left) walks away from an F-100 Super Sabre. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineeers)

Smith was happy to take the flight. He departed LAX in full afterburner and headed off shore, climbing to 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean to start the test sequence.

A North American F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5757 (the second production airplane) takes off at Los Angeles International Airport. (This airplane, flown by NAA test pilot Bob Hoover, crashed east of Palmdale, California, 7 July 1955, when he could not recover from a flat spin. Hoover safely ejected but the Super Sabre was destroyed.) (North American Aviation, Inc.)

But it was quickly apparent that something was wrong: The flight controls were heavy, and then there was a hydraulic system failure that caused the Super Sabre pitch down into a dive. Smith couldn’t pull it out of the dive and the airplane’s speed rapidly increased, eventually passing Mach 1.

Smith was unable to regain control of the F-100. He had no choice but to bail out. As he ejected, Smith read the instruments: the Mach meter indicated Mach 1.05—785 miles per hour (1,263 kilometers per hour)—and the altitude was only 6,500 feet (1,981 meters).

George F. Smith recovering in hospital after his supersonic ejection. (Getty Images)
Smith recovering in hospital after his supersonic ejection. (Getty Images)

The force of the wind blast hitting him as he came out of the cockpit knocked him unconscious. Estimates are that he was subjected to a 40 G deceleration. His parachute opened automatically and he came down approximately one-half mile off Laguna Beach. Fortunately he hit the water very close to a fishing boat crewed by a former U.S. Navy rescue expert.

The F-100 dived into the Pacific Ocean approximately ¼-mile (0.4 kilometers) offshore between Dana Point and Laguna Beach.

George Smith was unconscious for six days, and when he awoke he was blind in both eyes. After four surgeries and seven months in the hospital, he recovered from his supersonic ejection and returned to flight status.

North American Aviation, Inc. F-100A-20-NA Supre Sabre 53-1646. This fighter is from the same production block as the Super Sabre flown by George F. Smith, 53-1659, 26 February 1955. (Unattributed)

George F. Smith appears in this brief U.S. Air Force informational film:

The North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre was designed as a supersonic day fighter. Initially intended as an improved F-86D and F-86E, it soon developed into an almost completely new airplane. The fuselage incorporated the “area rule,” a narrowing in the fuselage width at the wings to increase transonic performance, similar to the Convair F-102A.

The Super Sabre had a 49° 2′ sweep to the leading edges of the wings and horizontal stabilizer. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings and there were no flaps, resulting in a high stall speed in landing configuration. The horizontal stabilizer was moved to the bottom of the fuselage to keep it out of the turbulence created by the wings at high angles of attack. The F-100A had longer wings and a distinctively shorter vertical fin than the YF-100A. The upper segment of the vertical fin was swept 49° 43′.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 lands on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

There were two service test prototypes, designated YF-100A, followed by the production F-100A series. The first ten production aircraft (all of the Block 1 variants) were used in the flight testing program.

The F-100A Super Sabre was 47 feet, 1¼ inches (14.357 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters). With the shorter vertical fin than the YF-100A, the initial F-100As had an overall height of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters), 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) less than the YF-100A.

The F-100A had an empty weight of 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms), and gross weight of 28,899 pounds (13,108 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight was 35,600 pounds (16,148 kilograms). It had an internal fuel capacity of 755 gallons (2,858 liters) and could carry two 275 gallon (1,041 liter) external fuel tanks.

Following North American Aviation test pilot George Welch’s fatal accident, 12 October 1954, NACA designed a new vertical fin for the F-100A. It was taller but also had a longer chord. This resulted in a 10% increase in area. (NASA E-1573)

The early F-100As were powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 afterburning turbojet engine. It was rated at 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) for takeoff, and 14,800 pounds (65.834 kilonewtons) with afterburner. Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor, and a 3-stage turbine. (Both had high- and low-pressure stages.) The engine was 15 feet, 3.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms).

Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield flew this F-100A-5-NA, 52-5778, in flight testing at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, October–December 1954. (NASA)

The Super Sabre was the first U.S. Air Force fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight. It could reach 760 miles per hour (1,223 kilometers) at Sea Level. (Mach 1 is 761.1 miles per hour, 1,224.9 kilometers per hour, under standard atmospheric conditions.) Its maximum speed was 852 miles per hour (1,371 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling was 44,900 feet (13,686 meters). Maximum range with external fuel was 1,489 miles (2,396 kilometers).

The F-100 was armed with four M-39 20 mm autocannons, capable of firing at a rate of 1,500 rounds per minute. The ammunition capacity of the F-100 was 200 rounds per gun.

North American Aviation built 199 F-100A Super Sabres at its Inglewood, California, plant before production shifted to the F-100C fighter bomber variant. Approximately 25% of all F-100As were lost in accidents.

This is the fifth production F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5760, in flight southeast of San Bernardino, California. In this photograph, FW-760 has the taller vertical fin that was designed to improve the Super Sabre’s controllability. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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