Tag Archives: North American Aviation Inc.

13 April 1960

X-15 56-6670 with NB-52A 52-003, 13 April 1960. (NASA)
X-15 56-6670 with NB-52A 52-003, 13 April 1960. (NASA)

13 April 1960: Major Robert M. White, USAF, was the first U.S. Air Force test pilot to fly an X-15.

Carried aloft by a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, serial number 52-003, the first of three X-15 hypersonic research aircraft, 56-6670, was airdropped at 0915 above Rosamond Dry Lake. Major White ignited the two Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engines and with a burn time of 4 minutes, 13.7 seconds, the X-15 accelerated to Mach 1.9 (1,254 miles per hour/2,018 kilometers per hour) and reached 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). Both numbers were slightly short of the planned Mach 2.0 (1,320 miles per hour/2,124 kilometers per hour) and 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

After 8 minutes, 52.7 seconds, Bob White and the X-15 touched down at Edwards Air Force Base.

This photograph shows the second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, flaring to land on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California The rear skids are just touching down. The white patches on the aircraft's belly is frost from residual cryogenic propellants remaining in its tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows the second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, flaring to land on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California The rear skids are just touching down. The white patches on the aircraft’s belly are frost from residual cryogenic propellants remaining in its tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

Over the next 32 months Bob White made 16 flights in the X-15. He was the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He flew it to Mach 6.04, 4,093 miles per hour (6,587  kilometers per hour) and 314,750 feet (95,936 meters), setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for an altitude gain of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet).¹

White was one of six pilots ² awarded astronaut wings for his flights in the X-15.

Major Robert M. White exits the cockpit of an X-15 at Edwards AFB. White is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Robert M. White exits the cockpit of an X-15 at Edwards AFB. White is wearing a David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9604

² Joe Henry Engle, William J. (“Pete”) Knight, Robert A. Rushworth, Joseph Albert Walker, Robert Michael White, and Michael James Adams (posthumous)

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

9 April 1951

Jackie Cochran with her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, circa December 1949. (FAI)

9 April 1951: Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record and National Aeronautic Association U.S. National Record on 9 April 1951, flying her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, to an average speed of 464.374 miles per hour (747.338 kilometers per hour) over a straight 16 kilometer (9.942 miles) high-altitude course at Indio, California.¹

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Thunderbird was Jackie Cochran’s third P-51 Mustang. She had purchased it from Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander James M. Stewart, 19 December 1949. It was painted cobalt blue with gold lettering and trim.

That same day, Jackie Cochran flew her new airplane to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a 500 kilometer Closed Circuit Without Payload, and a U.S. National Aeronautic Association record, with an average speed of  703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour).

Thunderbird had won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race from Rosamond Dry Lake, California, to Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio, with pilot Joe De Bona in the cockpit.

According to Civil Aviation Administration records, N5528N had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no USAAC serial number or North American Aviation serial number. The CAA designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.

Thunderbird, Jackie Cochran’s North American P-51C Mustang, N5528N, circa 1951. (FAI)

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)
Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin, liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang in flight. (Air Force Historical Research Agency)

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12491 at NACA Langley Field, Virginia, 1945. (NSAS)
North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12491 at NACA Langley Field, Virginia, 1945. (NASA)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4477

² FAI Record File Numbers 4476, 12323

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

3 April 1941

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

3 April 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton takes his first flight—a one hour familiarization—in the company’s prototype of a new fighter for the Royal Air Force, the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field. (Mines would later become Los Angeles International Airport, LAX.)

The airplane had first been flown by free-lance test pilot Vance Breese, 26 October 1940,  and he had flown it several times. North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, on his first flight in NX19998, ran out of fuel and crash landed in a plowed field 150 yards (137 meters) west of the airfield, 20 November 1940. The prototype had flown just 3 hours, 20 minutes.

The NA-73X was repaired and Bob Chilton was assigned to complete the testing program. The airplane would become the legendary P-51 Mustang, and Chilton would continue to conduct the majority of flight testing on its improvements and modifications.

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stands on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.

At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.

In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.

Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.

On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Repulic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.

From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.

Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.

In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.

Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

27 March 1942

North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell 40-2291 at Eglin Field, Florida, March 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

27 March 1942: After three weeks of intensive training at Eglin Field, Florida, twenty-two North American Aviation B-25B Mitchell twin-engine medium bombers of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), U.S. Army Air Force, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle, completed a two-day, low-level, transcontinental flight, and arrived at the Sacramento Air Depot, McClellan Field, California, for final modifications, repairs and maintenance before an upcoming secret mission: The Halsey-Doolittle Raid.

The B-25 had made its first flight 19 October 1940 with test pilot Vance Breese and engineer Roy Ferren in the cockpit. It was a mid-wing airplane with twin vertical tails and retractable tricycle landing gear. The first 8–10 production airplanes were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, using dihedral for the inner wing and anhedral in the wing outboard of the engines. This gave it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size.

A 34th Bombardment Squadron B-25B Mitchell bomber at Mid-Continent Airlines, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for modifications, January–February 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-25B Mitchell was operated by a crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, bombardier and radio operator/gunner.  It was 53 feet, 0 inch (16.154 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 7.7 inches (20.617 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters). The The B-25B had an empty weight of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) and the maximum gross weight was 28,460 pounds (12,909 kilograms).

The B-25B was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600B665 (R-2600-9) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.9:1. The engines had a Normal Power rating of 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic variable-pitch propellers through 16:9 gear reduction. The R-2600-9 was 5 feet, 3.1 inches (1.603 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms).

“On a low level training mission early in 1942 B-25 40-2297 would be airplane number 14 for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo — This image was taken before the modification to the troublesome ventral turret. Pilot Major J.A. Hilger, Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Jack A. Sims, Navigator 2nd Lt. James H. Macie, Jr., Bombardier S/Sgt. Jacob Eierman, Engineer/Gunner S/Sgt. Edwin V. Bain” —HISTORYNET

The medium bomber had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters).

It could carry a 3,000 pound (1,361 kilograms) bomb load 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers). Defensive armament consisted of a single Browning M2 .30-caliber machine gun mounted in the nose, two Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a power dorsal turret, and two more .50s in a retractable ventral turret. (The lower turrets were removed from all of the Doolittle B-25s.)

North American Aviation, Inc., built 9,816 B-25s at Inglewood, California, and Kansas City, Kansas. 120 of these were B-25Bs.

North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers being assembled at the Kansas City bomber plant, October 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer, Office of War Information)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

24 March 1960

Joseph Albert Walker in the cockpit of North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670, after a flight, 1960. (NASA)
Joseph Albert Walker in the cockpit of North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670, after a flight, 1960. (NASA)

24 March 1960: After North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, Albert Scott Crossfield, had made the first flights in the new X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane (one gliding, eight powered), NASA Chief Test Pilot Joseph Albert Walker made his first familiarization flight.

The X-15, 56-6670, the first of three built by North American Aviation, Inc., was carried aloft under the right wing of a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, flown by John E. Allavie and Fitzhugh L. Fulton.

Fitz Fulton and and Jack Allavie with a Boeing NB-52 drop ship. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The rocketplane was dropped from the mothership over Rosamond Dry Lake at 15:43:23.0 local time, and Joe Walker ignited the Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engine. The engine burned for 272.0 seconds, accelerating Walker and the X-15 to Mach 2.0 (1,320 miles per hour/2,124.3 kilometers per hour) and a peak altitude of 48,630 feet (14,822.4 meters). Walker landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base after a flight of 9 minutes, 8.0 seconds.

Joe Walker made 25 flights in the three X-15 rocket planes from 24 March 1960 to 22 August 1963. He achieved a maximum Mach number of 5.92, maximum speed of 4,104 miles per hour (6,605 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).

Joe Walker with the Number 2 North American Aviation X-15, 56-6671, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

Joe Walker was killed in a mid-air collision between his Lockheed F-104N Starfighter and a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie near Barstow, California, 1 June 1966.

The number one ship, 56-6670, made 81 of the 199 flights of the X-15 Program. It was the first to fly, and also the last, 24 October 1968. Today, it is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

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

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes