13 February 1923: Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Myra, West Virginia.
“Who is the greatest pilot I ever saw? Well, uh. . . Well, let me tell you. . . .”
The following is from the official U.S. Air Force biography: (Photographs from various sources)
“The world’s first man-made sonic boom told the story. On Oct. 14, 1947, over dry Rogers Lake in California, Chuck Yeager rode the X-1, attached to the belly of a B-29 bomber, to an altitude of 25,000 feet. After releasing from the B-29, he rocketed to an altitude of 40,000 feet. Moments later he became the first person to break the sound barrier, safely taking the X-1 he called Glamorous Glennis to a speed of 662 mph, faster than the speed of sound at that altitude. His first words after the flight were, ‘I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off neither.’
“Yeager was born in February 1923 in Myra, W. V. In September 1941, he enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps. He was soon accepted for pilot training under the flying sergeant program and received his pilot wings and appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 at Luke Field, Ariz.
“His first assignment was as a P-39 pilot with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, Tonopah, Nev. He went to England in November 1943 and flew P-51s in combat against the Germans, shooting down one ME-109 and an HE-111K before being shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944. He evaded capture by the enemy when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border. That summer, he was released to the British at Gibraltar and returned to England. He returned to his squadron and flew 56 more combat missions, shooting down 11 more enemy aircraft.
“Returning to stateside, Yeager participated in various test projects, including the P-80 Shooting Star and P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated all the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. This assignment led to his selection as pilot of the nation’s first research rocket aircraft, the Bell X-1, at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.). After breaking the sound barrier in 1947, Yeager flew the X-1 more than 40 times in the next two years, exceeding 1,000 mph and 70,000 feet. He was the first American to make a ground takeoff in a rocket-powered aircraft. In December 1953 he flew the Bell X-1A 1,650 mph, becoming the first man to fly two and one-half times the speed of sound.
“After a succession of command jobs, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School), where all military astronauts were trained.
“On Dec. 10, 1963, he narrowly escaped death while testing an NF-104 rocket-augmented aerospace trainer. His aircraft went out of control at 108,700 feet (nearly 21 miles up) and crashed. He parachuted to safety at 8,500 feet after battling to gain control of the powerless aircraft. He thus became the first pilot to make an emergency ejection in the full pressure suit needed for high altitude flights. Yeager has flown more than 200 types of military aircraft and has more than 14,000 hours, with more than 13,000 of them in fighter aircraft.
“Yeager retired from active duty in the U. S. Air Force in March 1975, after serving as the United States defense representative to Pakistan and director of the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, Calif.
“Retirement was never part of his plans. He remains an active aviation enthusiast, acting as adviser for various films, programs and documentaries on aviation. He has published two books, entitled Yeager, An Autobiography and Press On: Further Adventures in the Good Life.”
28 January 1919: Colonel Francis Stanley (“Gabby”) Gabreski, United States Air Force, was born at Oil City, Pennsylvania. He was the second child of Stanley Gabryszewski, a railroad car repairer, and Jozefa Kapica Gabryszewsky, both immigrants from Poland. He attended Oil City High School, graduating in 1938.
After two years of study at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a member of the Cracow Club, Francis S. Gabreski enlisted as a Flying Cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, 28 July 1940, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (172.7 centimeters) tall and weighed 146 pounds (66.2 kilograms). Gabreski was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps Reserve, 14 March 1941.
Lieutenant Gabreski was a fighter pilot assigned to the 45th Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, at Wheeler Army Airfield, Territory of Hawaii, flying Curtiss P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks, when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked there on 7 December 1941.
On 1 March 1942, he was promoted to First Lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States, and to Captain, 16 October 1942. He was sent to Britain with the 56th Fighter Group.
Because of his Polish lineage and his fluency in the language, Gabreski requested assignment to a Polish fighter squadron fighting with the Royal Air Force. His request was approved and he was assigned to No. 315 Squadron, based at RAF Northolt, London, England, where he flew the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX. One of those Spitfires, Spitfire Mk.IXc BS410, is currently under restoration at the Biggin Hill Herritage Hangar.
As American involvement in the European Theater increased, “Gabby” returned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 19 July 1943.
Major Gabreski took command of the 61st, 13 April 1944. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 23 January 1944.
By July 1944, he had shot down 28 enemy fighters in aerial combat and destroyed another three on the ground, making him the leading American fighter ace up to that time.
Having completed his combat tour and waiting transport to the United States, on 20 July 1944 Gabreski decided to take “just one more” combat mission. As he made a low strafing run across an enemy airfield near Bassenheim, Germany, the tips of his propeller blades hit the ground, causing a severe vibration. He put his Thunderbolt down on its belly, climbed out and ran to avoid being captured. He was caught after evading the enemy for five days, and was held as a Prisoner of War at Stalag Luft I until April 1945.
Gabreski was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 24 October 1945. He was released from active duty in September 1946. He then joined the Air National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 6 December 1946.
During the the Korean War, Lieutenant Colonel Gabreski served with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing and commanded the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. He is credited with shooting down 6.5 MiG 15 fighters with North American Aviation F-86A and F-86E Sabres. (The “.5” represents credit for one enemy airplane destroyed shared with another pilot.) He flew 100 combat missions over Korea.
After a staff assignment, Gabreski attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama. He was then assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff, 9th Air Force.
He went on to command two tactical fighter wings, the 354th and the 18th, flying North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabres.
Colonel Gabreski’s final fighter command was the 52nd Fighter Wing (Air Defense) based at Suffolk County Airport, New York, which was equipped with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptor.
Colonel Gabreski retired from the Air Force 1 November 1967 after 27 years of service and 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed. At the time of his retirement, he had flown more combat missions than any other U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.
Gabby Gabreski married Miss Catherine Mary (“Kay”) Cochran, 11 June 1945. They would have nine children. Two of their sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and became U.S. Air Force pilots. His daughter-in-law, Lieutenant General Terry L. Gabreski, USAF, was the highest-ranking woman in the United States Air Force at the time of her retirement. Mrs Gabreski died in a car accident in 1993.
Colonel Gabreski was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in combat on 26 November 1943, when he shot down two enemy Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters. His other decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster (two awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two silver and bronze oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards), Bronze Star, Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (seven awards), and Prisoner of War Medal. He was awarded the Royal Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, France’s Légion d’honneur and Croix de Guerre with Palm, Poland’s Krzyż Walecznych and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm.
In 1991, Suffolk County Airport, New York, was renamed Francis S. Gabreski Airport in his honor.
Colonel Gabreski died 31 January 2002 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Long Island, New York.
2 January 1954: Colonel Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force, flew a North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre, 51-13393, named Minuteman, from Los Angeles International Airport to New York in 4 hours, 6 minutes, 16 seconds,¹ averaging 595.91 mph (959.02 kilometers per hour).
Colonel Millikan departed Los Angeles International Airport at 10:10:55 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, and flew most of the route at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). After expending the fuel in his two 670-gallon (2,536 liter) wing tanks, he dropped them over the southwest desert.
Millikan made a refueling stop at Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska (OFF), where a waiting 20-man crew attached two full wing tanks to the Sabre and he was airborne after only 6 minutes, 28 seconds on the ground. Millikan dropped the second set of tanks over Lake Michigan.
Colonel Millikan crossed the finish line at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:19 p.m. EST. His engine flamed out as the aircraft ran out of fuel at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Colonel Millikan made a “dead stick” landing at Idlewild Airport, New York City (IDL).
“My tank was dry,” he said. “I had to glide in. When I arrived on the ground I did not have a drop of fuel.”
Willard Wesley “Millie” Millikan was a fighter ace in World War II, officially credited with having destroyed enemy 13 Messerschmitt Bf-109s and Focke-Wulf Fw-190s.
Millie Millikan was born 4 December 1919 at Hamburg, Iowa. He was the second of five children of John Reily Millikan, a farm laborer, and Hattie Mae Moore Millikan. After graduating from high school, Millikan studied at the Nebraska State Teachers College at Peru, in Peru, Nebraska.
Willard W. Millikan enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, 16 August 1941, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He had brown hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 0 inches (1.829 meters) tall and weighed (161 pounds (73 kilograms).
After failing his flight checks as an Aviation Cadet, he went to England and joined the Royal Air Force, serving as a Flying Sergeant in the No. 133 Squadron (one the three Eagle Squadrons) and piloting Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires.
While stationed in England, Captain Millikan married Miss Ruby Samantha Wesson. They would later have a daughter, Patricia.
After the United States entered the war, Millikan was transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and commissioned as a second lieutenant. Millikan served with the 4th Fighter Group and was eventually promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded the 336th Fighter Squadron and flew the Republic P-47C Thunderbolt and North American Aviation P-51B Mustang.
On 22 April 1944, during a 25-minute air battle, Millikan shot down four Fw 190s with just 666 rounds of ammunition from his Mustang’s four .50-caliber machine guns.
On 30 May 1944, he had to bail out of his North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, 43-24769, Missouri Mauler, near Wittenberg, Germany, after colliding with his wingman, Lieutenant Sam Young, who was evading anti-aircraft fire.
Captain Millikan was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He later escaped and returned to friendly lines.
Major Millikan was released from active duty in 1946. He then joined the District of Columbia Air National Guard. In civilian life he worked for the the Norair Division of Northrop Corporation, and the aviation products division of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
Millikan served during the Korean War, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter bomber. At the time of his record-setting flight, he was commanding officer of the 113th Fighter Interceptor Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard.
Major General Willard W. Millikan, United States Air Force, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with one silver oak leaf cluster (six awards), Air Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters (four awards), and the Purple Heart.
He died at Alexandria, Virginia, 20 October 1978 at the age of 59 years. Cremated, his ashes were scattered over England.
The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The F-86F was the third variant, with improvements over the earlier F-86A and F-86E. Colonel Millikan’s Minuteman was a Block 25 F-86F Sabre built at Columbus, Ohio. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.
The F-86F was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,890 pounds (4,939.6 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 20,357 pounds (9,233.8 kilograms).
The F-86F was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-27 single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine. The engine had a 12-stage compressor, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. It produced 5,910 pounds of thrust (26.289 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. (5 minute limit).
Minuteman was one of the first Block 25 fighters built with the “6–3 wing,” which deleted the leading edge slats of the earlier variants, and moved the wings’ leading edges forward 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) at the root and 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) at the tip. A boundary layer fence was also added. This change increased the Sabre’s maximum speed to 695 miles per hour (1,118.49 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and improved high altitude maneuvering. This came with a 16 mile per hour (25.75 kilometers per hour) increase in the stall speed, to 144 miles per hour (231.75 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling with this wing was 48,000 feet (14,630 meters).
The F-86F-25 carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,525 miles (2,454.25 kilometers).
The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.
6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684.
¹ In an e-mail, Mr. A.W. Greenfield, Director, Contests and Records, National Aeronautic Association, confirmed Colonel Millikan’s transcontinental speed record was certified by the N.A.A. and stated that the time was adjusted.
27 December 1951: The North American Aviation XFJ-2B Fury, Bu. No. 133756, made its first flight at Los Angeles International Airport with test pilot Robert Anderson Hoover at the controls.
The XFJ-2B was a prototype aircraft carrier-based fighter for the United States Navy and Marine Corps. It was modified from a standard production U.S. Air Force F-86E-10-NA Sabre day fighter. The primary difference was the substitution of four 20 mm Colt Mark 12 autocannon for the six .50-caliber Browning M-3 machine guns of the F-86E. 150 rounds per gun were carried. The aircraft was flown to the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Armitage Field, China Lake, California, for armament testing.
The second and third prototypes were unarmed but fitted with an arrestor hook, catapult points, folding wings and a lengthened nose gear strut to increase the fighter’s static angle of attack for takeoff and landings. These two prototypes were used for aircraft carrier trials.
Production FJ-2 Fury fighters were built at North American’s Columbus, Ohio plant, along with F-86F Sabres for the Air Force.
Robert A. Hoover was one of the world’s best known exhibition pilots. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. While flying a British Supermarine Spitfire with the 52nd Fighter Group based at Sicily, he was shot down, captured, and held as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I in Germany.
After 16 months in captivity, Hoover escaped, stole a Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and flew it to The Netherlands.
After the war, Bob Hoover trained as a test pilot at Wright Field, Ohio, and remained in the Air Force until 1948. He worked as a test pilot for the Allison Division of General Motors, and then went on to North American Aviation.
Bob Hoover was famous for flying aerobatic demonstrations around the world in his yellow P-51D Mustang and a twin-engine Shrike Commander, both built by North American Aviation.
Robert Anderson Hoover died 25 October 2016 at the age of 94 years.
“On 14 December 1931, Douglas Bader flew to Woodley airfield near Reading. After lunch someone said, ‘I bet you won’t roll at nought feet.’ Bader did, and the graceful little Bulldog ended up in a shapeless ball of twisted metal. After hovering at death’s door Bader lost both legs. At Cranwell he remembered the Commandant had admonished him, ‘The RAF needs men, not schoolboys.’ Now he was neither, and the RAF would not need him anymore.”
—Duel of Eagles by Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003. Chapter 6 at Page 82.
Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Royal Air Force, caught the wingtip of his Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA, K-1676, and crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, approximately four miles east of Reading, Berkshire, England. The airplane was damaged beyond repair. Bader suffered major injuries requiring amputation of his right leg, followed by amputation of his left leg several days later. He was fitted with prosthetic legs with which he was soon able to walk without assistance. Pilot Officer Bader was medically retired and received a 100% disability pension.
In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.
The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, he was sent to refresher flight training where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.
Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, Royal Air Force, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, a legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force in World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1930.
Credited with more than 20 aerial victories while flying Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “D B”. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.
Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped. He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Colditz Castle where he was held for three years.
Douglas Bader is the subject of Reach For The Sky, a biography by Paul Brickhill, and a movie based on that book which starred Kenneth More.
Sir Douglas was invested Knight Bachelor, 12 June 1976, for his service to the disabled. He died suddenly of a heart attack, 5 September 1982.
The Bristol Type 105 Bulldog was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter which served with the Royal Air Force from 1928 to 1938. It was constructed of a riveted framework of rolled steel strips. The forward fuselage was covered with light weight sheet metal, while the wings and aft fuselage were covered with doped fabric. The Bulldog Mk.IIA was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 10 inches (10.312 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters). It had and empty weight of 2,222 pounds (1,008 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,660 pounds (1,660 kilograms).
The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was powered by a 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Bristol Jupiter VIIF nine-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 440 horsepower up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). This was a left-hand tractor engine which drove a wooden two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction.
The airplane had a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and a service ceiling of 29,300 feet (8,931 meters).
The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was armed with two synchronized Vickers .303-caliber machine guns with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun.