Tag Archives: Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon

28 February 1966

The Flight Crew of Gemini IX, left to right, Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy, and Captain Charles A. Bassett II, U.S. Air Force.

28 February 1966: The primary and back up flight crews of Gemini IX flew from Houston to St. Louis where they planned to visit the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, where the spacecraft was being built. They flew aboard two Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainers which NASA used for proficiency training.

The lead aircraft, NASA 901, was flown by Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr., United States Navy Reserve. See was designated as the Command Pilot for Gemini IX. Captain Charles Arthur (“Charlie”) Bassett II, U.S. Air Force, Pilot, Gemini IX, was in the rear cockpit. NASA 901 was a Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181 (Northrop serial number N.5528).

Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon 63-8181

The second T-38, NASA 907, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Eugene A. Cernan, U.S. Navy.

Weather at Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airport was poor with low clouds and limited visibility in rain and snow. Lambert Field weather at 8:25 a.m. was: sky partially obscured, measured ceiling 800 feet (244 meters) broken, 1,500 feet (457 meters) overcast, visibility 1½ miles (2.4 kilometers) in light rain, light snow, and fog.

Elliot See flew an ILS instrument approach and broke out of the clouds properly aligned with the runaway, but was too high to make a landing. He requested a visual, circling approach. The T-38 entered a 360° turn to the southeast at approximately 500 feet (152 meters). During the circling approach, Stafford, in NASA 907, lost sight of See’s T-38 and executed a missed approach. As his airplane came around to line up for the runway, See radioed that he had the runway in sight, but, at 8:58 a.m., NASA 901 struck the top of McDonnell’s Building 101 and crashed.

The wreck immediately caught fire and both See and Bassett were killed. Sixteen people on the ground were injured.

The accident investigation board found that at approximately 3 seconds before the crash, Elliot See had apparently tried to climb away. The T-38’s angle of bank was significantly reduced and afterburner was selected.

Wreckage of NASA 901. (Scott Dine/St. Louis Post Dispatch)
Burned out wreckage of NASA 901 at Lambert Field, 28 February 1966. (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch)

The T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. The Northrop T-38A Talon is a pressurized, two-place, twin-engine, jet trainer. Its fuselage is very aerodynamically clean and uses the “area-rule” (“coked”) to improve its supersonic capability. It is 46 feet, 4.5 inches (14.135 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10.5 inches (3.924 meters). The one-piece wing has an area of 170 square feet (15.79 square meters). The leading edge is swept 32°. The airplane’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is approximately 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-35-NO Talon 60-0582 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms)

The T-38A has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour/1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 1.3 (882 miles per hour/1,419 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It has a rate of climb of 33,600 feet per minute (171 meters per second) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters). Its range is 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers).

Between 1959 and 1972, 1,187 T-38s were built at Northrop’s Hawthorne, California, factory. As of 4 September 2018, 546 T-38s remained in the U.S. Air Force active inventory. The U.S. Navy has 10, and as of 30 October 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration reports 29 T-38s registered to NASA.

Northrop T-38 A Talon (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

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31 October 1964

Captain Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force. (NASA)

31 October 1964: Captain Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force, was a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps. He was one of fourteen pilots who had been selected for the third group of candidates in October 1963.

At 10:01 a.m., Saturday morning, Captain Freeman took off at 10:01 a.m. from Ellington Air Force Base, Houston, Texas. He was on the first of two planned training flights, flying a Northrop T-38A-50-NO Talon, 63-8188, Northrop serial number N.5535.  The weather was reported as scattered clouds at 2,000 feet (607 meters), with visibility 7 miles (11.3 kilometers) in haze. He returned to the airfield at 10:38 for touch and goes, but was instructed to exit traffic pattern because of arriving aircraft.

At 10:46, Freeman called Ellington Tower, reporting that he was 5 miles (8 kilometers) southwest, inbound. He received no response and 30 seconds later, reported that he was breaking out to the east. The tower acknowledged this transmission and instructed Freeman to make another approach. At 10:47, Freeman called, “Roger, be about two minutes.” There were no further transmissions.

Ted Freeman’s T-38 struck a Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) in the vicinity of the airport. These birds weigh between 4½ to 6 pounds (2.1–2.7 kilograms). The impact resulted in damage to the left side of the airplane’s forward canopy. Both engines flamed out.

Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens). (Gary Swant/Montana Standard)

Unable to reach runway at Ellington, Freeman turned away from the airfield to avoid buildings, lowered the landing gear and headed for an open field. At approximately 100 feet (30 meters), he fired his ejection seat. The altitude was too low to allow his parachute to open and Freeman was killed when he struck the ground.

The T-38 crashed at 10:48 a.m., 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) south of Ellington Air Force Base, between Highway 3 and the Gulf Freeway.)

(The Miami News, Sunday, 1 November 1964, Page 3A, Columns 1–3)
Wings of Lesser Snow Goose and fragments of Freeman’s T-38 canopy. (NASA S64-38117)

Investigators found blood and feathers in the cockpit. Suspecting a bird strike, a search was carried out and on 12 November, the remains of a snow goose along with fragments of the T-38’s canopy were found approximately 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) southeast of Ellington AFB, and about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from the crash site.

At 10:58 a.m., Charles Alden Berry, M.D., Chief of the Manned Space Flight Center Medical Operations Office, declared Captain Freeman dead at the scene. The Chief of the Astronaut Office, Deke Slayton, and Dr. Berry went to the Freeman home and made the formal notification to Mrs. Freeman.

Following an autopsy, Captain Freeman’s remains were transported to the Arlington National Cemetery, at Arlington, Virginia, for burial.

The marker for Captain Freeman’s grave, Section 4, Lot 3148, Grid AA-11. (Heroic Relics)
Midshipman Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Naval Academy. (1953 Lucky Bag)

Theodore Cordy Freeman was born 18 February 1930 at Haverford, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth child of John T. Freeman, a carpenter, and Catherine Thomas Wilson Freeman. Ted Freeman attended Lewes High School, in Lewes, Delaware. He graduated in 1948, and was ranked academically third in his class. While still in high school, Freeman qualified for a private pilot’s license. He then studied at the University of Delaware at Newark.

While at the University of Delaware, Freeman received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and entered as a midshipman, United States Navy, 17 June 1949. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree on 5 June 1953. Along with 129 of his classmates, Midshipman Freeman elected to be commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force.

Later that same afternoon, Second Lieutenant Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force, married Miss Faith Dudley Clark of Orange, Connecticut, at the First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis. They would have a daughter, Faith Huntington Freeman, born at Bryan, Texas, 18 July 1954.

Miss Faith Huntington Freeman and Mrs. Theodore Cordy Freeman (née Faith Dudley Clark), circa 1963. (Larry Clark/Valley Times TODAY)

Second Lieutenant Freeman trained as an Air Force pilot at Hondo and Bryan Air Bases in Texas. He was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in February 1955 and awarded his pilot’s wings. Freeman was then sent for fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1955, Lieutenant Freeman was stationed in Okinawa. On his return to the United States, he was assigned to George Air Force Base in California.

1st Lieutenant Theodore Cordy Freeman, United States Air Force, with a North American Aviation, Inc., F-100 Super Sabre, circa mid-1950s. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1960, Freeman earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of  Michigan at Ann Arbor. While there, he was promoted to the rank of captain.

Captain Freeman entered the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 3 January 1962 and graduated 17 August 1962. Next he attended the Aerospace Research Pilot School. After completing that course, Freeman remained at the school as an instructor and served as a flight test engineer at Edwards. By this time, Ted Freeman was an experienced pilot with over 3,300 flight hours.

Astronaut Group Three. Ted Freeman is standing, fourth from left. Front Row, left to right: Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., William A. Anders, Charles A. Bassett II, Alan L. Bean, Eugene A. Cernan and Roger B. Chaffee. Back Row, Michael Collins, R. Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, Theodore C. Freeman, Richard F. Gordon Jr., Russell L. Schweickart, David R. Scott, and Clifton C. Williams. (NASA)

In October 1963, Captain Freeman was selected as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Group Three. The Group was announced to the public on 18 October. Ted Freeman arrived at the Manned Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas, on 15 January 1964. He and his family resided on Blanchmont Lane in Nassau Bay, southeast of Houston.

Freeman was not assigned to a specific flight, but Group Three was intended for the Apollo Program. Ten of the fourteen astronauts went to The Moon.

Buzz Aldrin and Ted Freeman, Friday, 30 October 1964. (NASA)
Northrop T-38A-35-NO Talon 60-0582 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. The Northrop T-38A Talon is a pressurized, two-place, twin-engine, jet trainer. Its fuselage is very aerodynamically clean and uses the “area-rule” (“coked”) to improve its supersonic capability. It is 46 feet, 4.5 inches (14.135 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10.5 inches (3.924 meters). The one-piece wing has an area of 170 square feet (15.79 square meters). The leading edge is swept 32º. The airplane’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is approximately 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-55-NO Talon 64-13302 on takeoff at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

The T-38A has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour/1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 1.3 (882 miles per hour/1,419 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It has a rate of climb of 33,600 feet per minute (171 meters per second) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters). Its range is 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers).

Between 1959 and 1972, 1,187 T-38s were built at Northrop’s Hawthorne, California, factory. As of 4 September 2018, 546 T-38s remained in the U.S. Air Force active inventory. The U.S. Navy has 10, and as of 30 October 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration reports 29 T-38s registered to NASA.

Northrop T-38A-35-NO Talon 60-0582 rolls inverted, northeast of Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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