Tag Archives: Robert C. Little

29 September 1954

McDonnell F-101A Voodoo 53-2418. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

29 September 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Robert C. Little made the first flight of the first F-101A-1-MC Voodoo, 53-2418. During this flight, the new interceptor reached 0.9 Mach at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).

The F-101A was a development of the earlier McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo and all were production aircraft. There were no prototypes.

This is an autographed photo of test pilot Robert C. Little standing in the cockpit of the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo, 53-2418, after its first flight, 29 September 1954. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers.)
This is an autographed photo of test pilot Robert C. Little standing in the cockpit of the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo, 53-2418, after its first flight, 29 September 1954. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers.)

Robert C. Little flew P-51 Mustang fighters during World War II. He joined McDonnell Aircraft Corporation as a test pilot in 1948. He flew the FH Phantom, and made the first flights of the F3H Demon, the F-101A Voodoo and the F-101B. He was next assigned as McDonnell’s chief test pilot and base manager at Edwards Air Force Base. He the made the first flight of the YF4H-1 Phantom II and conducted the early company tests of the airplane, then became the F4H program manager.

Outside the cockpit, Little rose through the company’s ranks and after the merger with Douglas, became a corporate vice president, overseeing the operations of McDonnell-Douglas at St. Louis and McDonnell-Douglas Helicopters at Mesa, Arizona.

mcDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right front quarter view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right front view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right profile. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right profile. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right rear quarter view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right rear view. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell F-101A Voodoo was a single-seat twin-engine supersonic interceptor. It was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters) and overall height of 18 feet (5.486 meters). The total wing area was 368 square feet (34.19 square meters). The wings’ sweep was 36° 36′ at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 1°. There was no twist or dihedral. The F-101A weighed 24,970 pounds (11,326 kilograms) empty and had maximum takeoff weight of 49,998 pounds (22,679 kilograms).

Power was supplied by two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 axial-flow turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 maximum continuous power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons); military power, 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit); and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5 minute limit). The -P-13 was  3 feet, 4.3 inches (1.024 meters) in diameter, 17 feet, 7.0 inches (5.359 meters) long, and weighed 5,025 pounds (2,279 kilograms).

The F-101A had a maximum speed of 866 knots (997 miles per hour/1,604 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 45,800 feet (13,960 meters). The airplane’s combat radius was 1,011 nautical miles (1,163 statute miles/1,872 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 2,541 nautical miles (2,924 statute miles/4,706 kilometers)

The Voodoo was armed with four 20mm M39 autocannons with 200 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could carry a single Mark 7, Mark 28 or Mark 43 tactical nuclear bomb.

Of 807 F-101 Voodoos built, 77 were F-101As.

McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2416 in flight, bottom view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 in flight, bottom view. (U.S. Air Force)

F-101A 53-2418 was transferred to General Electric for testing the J79 afterburning turbojet engine which would later power the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. In this configration it was designated NF-101A. General Electric returned the Voodoo to the Air Force in 1959. By that time obsolete, it was used as a maintenance trainer at Shepard Air Force Base, Texas.

53-2418 was next turned over to a civilian aviation maintenance school and assigned a civil registration number by the Federal Aviation Administration, N9250Z. The airplane was sold as scrap, but was purchased by Mr. Dennis Kelsey. In 2009, Mrs. Kelsey had the airplane placed in the care of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. After being partially restored by Evergreen Air Center, Marana, Arizona, 53-2418 was placed on display at the Evergreen Museum.

McDonnell JF-101A 53-2418, general Electric's test bed for the J79 turbojet engine. (Unattributed)
McDonnell NF-101A 53-2418, General Electric’s test bed for the J79-GE-1 turbojet engine. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 May 1958

Robert C. Little with YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259. (McDonnell Douglas)
Robert C. Little with McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, the second prototype. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

27 May 1958: At Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s Chief Test Pilot (and future company president) Robert C. Little made the first flight of the YF4H-1 prototype. The twin-engine Mach 2+ airplane was the first pre-production model of a new U.S. Navy fleet defense interceptor that would be developed into the legendary F-4 Phantom II fighter bomber.

The flight lasted 22 minutes. Little had planned to go supersonic but a leak in a pressurized hydraulic line caused him to leave the landing gear extended as a precaution, should the back-up hydraulic system also have a problem. This limited the maximum speed of the prototype to 370 knots (426 kilometers per hour). A post-flight inspection found foreign-object damage to the starboard engine.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259 on its first flight 27 May 1958.
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, on its first flight, 27 May 1958. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

Initially designated XF4H-1 and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259, the identifier was changed to YF4H-1. It had been in development for over five years based on a company proposal to the Navy.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II was 56 feet, 7.9 inches (17.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 4.89 inches (11.707 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 3.0 inches (4.953 meters). With wings folded, the airplane’s span was narrowed to 27 feet, 6.6 inches (8.397 meters). The wings were swept 45°, measured at 25% chord. The inner wing had no dihedral, while the outer panels had 12° dihedral. The stabilator had a span of 16 feet, 5.0 inches (5.004 meters), with -23.25° anhedral. The wheelbase of Phantom II’s tricycle undercarriage was 23 feet, 3.25 inches (7.093 meters), with a main wheel tread of 17 feet, 10.46 inches (5.447 meters).

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)

The YF4H-1 prototype was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-2 engines. These were single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-2 was rated at 10,350 pounds of thrust (46.039 kilonewtons), and 16,150 pounds (71.389 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engines were 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches in diameter (0.973 meters), and each weighed 3,620 pounds (1,642 kilograms).

The production F4H-1 (F-4B) had a maximum speed of 845 miles per hour (1,360 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,485 miles per hour (2,390 kilometers per hour) at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters meters). (Mach1.11 and Mach 2.25, respectively). The service ceiling was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters) and maximum range with external fuel was 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers).

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu.No. 142259.
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259.

The second prototype YF4H-1, Bu. No. 142260, flown by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., USN, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude, 6 December 1959, when it zoom-climbed to 30,040 meters (98,556 feet).¹ On 22 November 1961, 142260, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, USMC, also set an FAI World Record for Speed over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, averaging 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour).² On 5 December 1961, the same Phantom set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight at 20,252 meters (66,444 feet) with Commander George W. Ellis, USN, in the cockpit.³

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)

The F-4A through F-4D Phantoms were armed with four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing air-to-air missiles, and could carry additional Sparrows or AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles on pylons under the wings. Up to 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs could be carried on five hardpoints.

McDonnell Aircraft built two YF4H-1 prototypes, followed by 45 F4H-1F (F-4A) Phantom IIs before the F-4B was introduced in 1961. 649 F-4Bs were produced. The initial U.S. Air Force variant was the F-110A Spectre (F-4C Phantom II). McDonnell Douglas delivered its last Phantom II, an F-4E-67-MC, on 25 October 1979. In 21 years, the company had built 5,057 Phantom IIs.

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78,0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas)
McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78,0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas)

After 11 test flights at St. Louis, Bob Little flew the YF4H-1 west to Edwards Air Force Base in California where more detailed flight testing and evaluation took place.

On 21 October 1959, a failure of an engine access door led to a cascading series of problems which resulted in the loss of the airplane and death of the pilot, Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck.

Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with a prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II. Huelsbeck is wearinga Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraaft Corporation)
Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with the first prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. “Zeke” Huelsbeck is wearing a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259, seen from above. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259, seen from above. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352

² FAI Record File Number 9060

³ FAI Record File Number 8535

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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