Tag Archives: Palmdale

17 July 1989

Bruce J. Hinds and Richard Couch. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

17 July 1989: The first Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, took off from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on its first flight. The crew was Northrop Chief Test Pilot Bruce J. Hinds and Colonel Richard Couch, U.S. Air Force. The top secret “stealth bomber” prototype landed at Edwards Air Force Base 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

After completing the flight test program, -1066 was placed in storage until 1993, awaiting upgrade to the Block 10 operational configuration. In 2000 it was again upgraded to the Block 30 standard. It is now named Spirit of America and assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, the first “stealth bomber,” during a test flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

17 July 1965

North American Aviation XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207 takes off for the first time at AF Plant 42, 17 July 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1965: At Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, the second North American Aviation B-70 Valkyrie prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, took off on its maiden flight enroute Edwards Air Force Base where it would continue the flight test program with its sister ship.

The Valkyrie was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber, capable of flight above 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), with intercontinental range. It’s altitude allowed it to avoid interceptors of the time, but improvements in radar-guided surface-to-air missiles increased its vulnerability. Ultimately, though, political decisions ended the B-70 program.

62-0207 was flown just 46 times, for a total of 92 hours, 22 minutes of flight. Changes to the aircraft corrected the deficiencies discovered in testing the Number 1 XB-70A, 62-0001. The most visible change was 5° dihedral added to the wings for improved stability. On 16 April 1966, 62-0207 reached its maximum design speed, Mach 3.08, which it sustained for 20 minutes.

Less than one year after its first flight, 8 June 1966, the Valkyrie was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N and crashed just north of Barstow, California. North American’s B-70 test pilot, Al White, was seriously injured and co-pilot, Major Carl Cross, USAF, was killed. NASA test pilot Joe Walker, flying the F-104, was also killed.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

11 May 1964

XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 rollout at Air Force Plant 42, 11 May 1964. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

11 May 1964: At Air Force Plant 42 near Palmdale, a small city in the high desert of southern California, the first prototype North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, 62-0001, was rolled out. More than 5,000 people were there to watch.

In August 1960, the U.S. Air Force had contracted for one XB-70 prototype and 11 pre-production YB-70 development aircraft. By 1964, however, the program had been scaled back to two XB-70As and one XB-70B. Only two were actually completed.

"Ride of the Valkyrs" by John Charles Dollman, 1909.
“Ride of the Valkyrs” by John Charles Dollman, 1909. In Norse mythology, the valkyries were immortal female figures who chose who among those who had died in battle were worthy of being taken to Valhalla.

The B-70 was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber capable of flying higher than 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). Like its contemporaries, the Lockheed Blackbirds, the Valkerie was so advanced that it was beyond the state of the art. New materials and processes had to be developed, and new industrial machinery designed and built.

The XB-70A is a very large aircraft with a canard-delta configuration, built primarily of stainless steel and titanium. It has twin vertical fins combining the functions of stabilizers and rudders. The XB-70A Valkyrie prototype is 193 feet, 5 inches (58.953 meters) long, including the pitot boom, with a wingspan of 105 feet, 0 inches (32.004 meters) and overall height of 30 feet, 9 inches (9.373 meters). The canard span is 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters). The canard has flaps, while the delta wing used multiple separate elevons for pitch and roll control.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, 17 August 1965. (NASA)

The delta wing has an angle of incidence of 0° and its leading edges are swept to 65.57°, with 0° sweep at the trailing edge. The wings have a maximum of -2.60° of twist. The wings of 62-001 have no dihedral, but the second B-70, 62-0207, had 5° dihedral. The total wing area is 6,297.8 square feet (585.1 square meters).

The canard also has 0° of incidence and dihedral. Its leading edge is swept aft 31.70°, while the trailing edge sweeps forward 14.91°. The canard has a total area of 415.59 square feet (38.61 square meters). The canard flaps can be lowered to 20°.

The vertical fins have a height of 15 feet (4.572 meters). The leading edges are swept 51.77° and the trailing edges, 10.89°.

The B-70 was designed to “surf” on its own supersonic shock wave (this was called “compression lift”). The outer 20 feet (6.096 meters) of each wing could be lowered to a 25° or 65° angle for high speed flight. Although this did provide additional directional stability, it actually helped increase the compression lift, which supported up to 35% of the airplane’s weight in flight.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001. (U.S. Air Force)

The first prototype, 62-001, had an empty weight of 231,215 pounds (104,877 kilograms), an its maximum takeoff weight was 521,056 pounds (236,347 kilograms).

The XB-70A is powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 engines, grouped together in the tail. These are single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engines, which have an 11-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The YJ93-GE-3 has a normal power rating of 17,700 pounds of thrust (78.734 kilonewtons); military power, 19,900 pounds (88.520 kilonewtons); and maximum power, 28,000 pounds (124.550 kilonewtons). All ratings are at 6,825 r.p.m. and are continuous. A special high-temperature fuel, JP-6, is required. The engine is 19 feet, 8.3 inches (6.002 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.15 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,220 pounds (2,368 kilograms).

Test firing one the 62-001’s General Electric YJ93-GE-3 afterburning turbojet engines. (LIFE Magazine)

62-0001 had a cruise speed of 1,089 knots (1,253 miles per hour/2,016 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,688 meters), and maximum speed of 1,721 knots (1,980 miles per hour/3,187 kilometers per hour) at 79,050 feet (24,094 meters)—Mach 2.97. During flight testing, the XB-70A reached a maximum of Mach 3.08 (1,777 knots) with a sustained altitude of 74,000 feet (22,555 meters).

Fuel was carried in 11 internal tanks in the wings and fuselage and the maximum capacity was 43,646 gallons (165,218 liters), giving the bomber a combat range of 3,786 nautical miles (4,357 statute miles/7,012 kilometers).

The B-70 was designed to carry two B-53 two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bombs in its internal bomb bay. A maximum of fourteen smaller weapons could be carried.

XB-70A-1 62-0001 first flew 21 September 1964, and exceeded Mach 3 for the first time on its 17th flight, 14 October 1965. Its final flight was 4 February 1969.

The second prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, was destroyed in a midair collision. The third Valkyrie, XB-70B-NA 62-0208, was cancelled before completion.

62-0001 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It has made 83 flights with just 160 hours, 16 minutes, total flight time.

XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 in cruise at very high altitude, 1968. (NASA)
XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 in cruise at very high altitude, 1968. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

17 April 1956

The first Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, i stowed out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, is towed out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed Martin)

17 April 1956: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation rolled out the very first production F-104A Starfighter, 55-2956, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. This airplane, one of the original seventeen pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage.

Once the configuration was finalized, 55-2956 was the first YF-104A converted to the F-104A production standard. In this photograph, the F-104’s secret engine intakes are covered by false fairings.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 rollout at Palmdale, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed)
Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 rollout at Palmdale, 17 April 1956. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single-engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. The F-104A was 54 feet, 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). It had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms), combat weight of 17,988 pounds (8,159.2 kilograms), gross weight of 22,614 pounds (10,257.5 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 25,840 pounds (11,720.8 kilograms). Internal fuel capacity was 897 gallons (3,395.5 liters).

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Lockheed F-104A-5-LO Starfighter 56-737 launches two AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force)

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter 55-2956 at NOTS China Lake. (U.S. Navy)

This Starfighter, 55-2956, was converted to a JF-104A with specialized instrumentation. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy to test AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles at Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) China Lake, approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California. 55-2956 was damaged beyond repair when it lost power on takeoff and ran off the runway at Armitage Field, 15 June 1959.

While on loan to teh U.S. Navy for testing the Sidewinder missile, Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2956 crashed on takeoff at NAS China Lake. Damaged beyond economic repair, the Starfighter was written off. (U.S. Navy)
While on loan to the U.S. Navy for testing the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, Lockheed JF-104A Starfighter 55-2956, with Commander Herk Camp in the cockpit, crashed on takeoff at Armitage Field, NOTS China Lake. (U.S. Navy)

©2019, Bryan R. Swopes

16 November 1970

Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, N1011. (Lockheed)
Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, N1011. (Lockheed Martin)

16 November 1970: At the Lockheed California Company Plant 10, just north of Palmdale in the high desert of Southern California, test pilot Henry Baird (“Hank”) Dees, co-pilot Ralph C. Cokely (formerly a Boeing 747 test pilot), with flight test engineers Glenn E. Fisher and Rod Bray, took the new prototype Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar, N1011, on its first flight.

During the 2½-hour test flight, the airliner reached 250 knots (288 miles per hour, 463 kilometers per hour) and 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).

The prototype Lockheed L-1011 Tristar parked inside the production hangar at Plant 10, Palmdale, California. (Lockheed)
The prototype Lockheed L-1011 TriStar parked inside the production hangar at Plant 10, Palmdale, California. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar is a three-engine wide body airliner designed to carry up to 400 passengers on medium or long distance routes. It is operated by a flight crew of three. The prototype, the L-1011-1 and L-1011-200 production aircraft were 177 feet, 8½ inches (54.166 meters) long with a wingspan of 155 feet, 4 inches (47.346 meters). The longer range, higher gross weight L-1011-500 variant was 164 feet, 2½ inches (50.051 meters) long with a wingspan of 164 feet, 4 inches (50.089 meters). All TriStars have an overall height of 55 feet, 4 inches (16.866 meters). The interior cabin width is 18 feet, 11 inches (5.766 meters). Empty weight ranges from 241,700 pounds (109,633 kilograms) to 245,400 pounds (111,312 kilograms), while the maximum takeoff weight varies from 430,000 pounds (195,045 kilograms) to 510,000 pounds (231,332 kilograms).

N1011, the prototype Lockheed L-10ll TriStar, taxis to the ramp at Plant 10, at Palmdale, California, 16 November 1970. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)
N1011, the prototype Lockheed L-10ll TriStar, taxis to the ramp at Plant 10, at Palmdale, California, 16 November 1970. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)

The L-1011-1 aircraft were powered by three Rolls Royce RB.211-22B-02 high bypass turbofan engines, producing 42,000 pounds of thrust (186.825 kilonewtons). The -200 and -500 variants used the more powerful RB.211-524B4 which produces 53,000 pounds (235.756 kilonewtons). The RB.211-22 is a “triple-spool” axial-flow turbine engine. It has a single fan stage, 13-stage compressor (7 intermediate- and 6 high-pressure stages), single combustion chamber, and 5 stage turbine section (1 high-, 1 intermediate- and three low-pressure stages). The -22B is 10 feet, 11.4 inches (3.033 meters) long and its fan diameter is 7 feet, 0.8 inches (2.154 meters). It weighs 9,195 pounds (4,171 kilograms).

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar N1011. (Jon Proctor via Wikipedia)
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar N1011 parked on the ramp at Plant 10, Palmdale, California, 16 November 1970. (Jon Proctor via Wikipedia)

Depending on the model, the L-1011 series had a cruise speed of 520–525 knots (598–604 miles per hour, 963–972 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.95 Mach. The service ceiling was 42,000–43,000 feet (12,802–13,106 meters). Maximum range for the long range -500 was 6,090 nautical miles (7,008 miles, 11,279 kilometers).

The prototype Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, N1011,with a North American Aviation Sabre chase. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was a very technologically advanced airliner for the time. It was the first to be certified for Category IIIc autolanding, in which the airplane’s automatic flight system could land the airplane in “zero-zero” weather conditions.

Lockheed built 250 L-1011s between 1970 and 1984. Sales were delayed because of problems with delivery of the Rolls-Royce turbofans, giving an early advantage to the competitor McDonnell DC-10, of which 446 were built.

Few TriStars remain in service. The prototype, N1011, was scrapped at Ardmore, Oklahoma, in August 1996. A portion of its fuselage, painted in Delta Air Lines livery, is on display at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia.

Lockheed L-1011 protoype during Mimum Unstick Speed (Vmu) speed test. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed L-1011 prototype during Minimum Unstick (VMU) speed test for FAA certification. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes