Tag Archives: Test Flight

15 August 1951

William Barton Bridgeman (TIME Magazine)
William Barton Bridgeman (Boris Artzybasheff/TIME Magazine)

15 August 1951: Just 8 days after he set an unofficial world speed record of  Mach 1.88 (1,245 miles per hour; 2,033.63 kilometers per hour) Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman flew the rocket-powered United States Navy/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, to a world record altitude at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.

The Skyrocket was airdropped at 34,000 feet (10,363 meters) from a highly-modified U.S. Navy P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029. The mother ship was a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29-95-BW Superfortress, 45-21787, transferred to the Navy and flown by another Douglas test pilot, George R. Jansen.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

The flight plan was for Bridgeman to fire the rocket engine and allow the Skyrocket to accelerate to 0.85 Mach while climbing. The Skyrocket was powered by a Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 engine, which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. As the rocketplane continued to accelerate to Mach 1.12, the test pilot was to pull up, increasing the angle of climb while holding an acceleration rate of 1.2 Gs. This would result in a constantly increasing angle of climb. When it reached 50°, Bridgeman was to maintain that, climbing and accelerating, until the rocket engine ran out of fuel.

Initially, the plan was to continue climbing after engine shutdown until the D-558-II was approaching stall at the highest altitude it could reach while on a ballistic trajectory. There were differing expert opinions as to how it would behave in the ever thinner atmosphere. On the morning of the flight, Douglas’ Chief Engineer, Ed Heinemann, ordered that Bridgeman push over immediately when the engine stopped.

Bill Bridgeman stuck to the engineers’ flight plan. As the Skyrocket accelerated through 63,000 feet (19,200 meters), it started to roll to the left. He countered with aileron input, but control was diminishing in the thin air. The next time it began there was no response to the ailerons. Bridgeman found that he had to lower the Skyrocket’s nose until it responded, then he was able to increase the pitch angle again. At 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), travelling Mach 1.4, he decided he had to decrease the pitch angle or lose control. Finally at 76,000 feet (23,165 meters), the engine stopped. Following Heinemann’s order, Bridgeman pushed the nose down and the D-558-II went over the top of its arc at just 0.5 G.

Bill Bridgeman. (Unattributed)
Bill Bridgeman. (Unattributed)

“In the arc she picks up a couple of thousand feet. The altimeter stops its steady reeling and swings sickly around 80,000 feet. The altitude is too extreme for the instrument to function.

“Eighty thousand feet. It is intensely bright outside; the contrast of the dark shadows in the cockpit is extreme and strange. It is so dark lower in the cockpit that I cannot read the instruments sunk low on the panel. The dials on top, in the light, are vividly apparent. There seems to be no reflection. It is all black or white, apparent or non-apparent. No half-tones. It is a pure, immaculate world here.

“She levels off silently. I roll right and there it is. Out of the tiny windows slits there is the earth, wiped clean of civilization, a vast relief map with papier-mâché mountains and mirrored lakes and seas. . . .

“It is as if I am the only living thing connected to this totally strange, uninhabited planet 15 miles below me. The plane that carries me and I are one and alone.”

The Lonely Sky, William Bridgeman with Jacqueline Hazard, Castle and Company LTD, London, 1956, Chapter XXII at Page 268.

After the data was analyzed, it was determined that William Bridgeman and the Douglas Skyrocket had climbed to 79,494 feet (24,230 meters), higher than any man had gone before. This was the last flight that would be made with a Douglas test pilot. The rocketplane was turned over to NACA, which would assign it the number NACA 144.

A Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974. glides back toward Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air force Base. A North American Aviation F-86E-1-NA Sabre, 50-606, flies chase. Major Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager frequently flew as a chase pilot for both Bill Bridgeman and Scott Crossfield. (NASA)
A Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, glides back toward Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. A North American Aviation F-86E-1-NA Sabre, 50-606, flies chase. Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. “Pete” Everest and Major Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager frequently flew as chase pilots for both Bill Bridgeman and Scott Crossfield. (NASA)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.” Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot, testing new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base.

The D-558-II Skyrocket was Phase II of a planned three phase experimental flight program. It was designed to investigate flight in the transonic and supersonic range. It was 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters) long with a 25 foot (7.62 meter) wing span. The wings were swept back to a 35° angle. The Skyrocket was powered by a Westinghouse J34-WE-40 11-stage axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 3,000 pounds of thrust, and a Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine, which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket engine burned alcohol and liquid oxygen.

There were three D-558-2 Skyrockets. Between 4 February 1948 and 28 August 1956, they made a total of 313 flights. Bill Bridgeman’s speed and altitude record-setting Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 August 1976

The prototype Bell 222 hovering in ground effect during its first flight, 13 August 1976. (Bell Helicopter TEXTRON)

13 August 1976: At the Bell Helicopter facility at Arlington, Texas, the prototype Model 222 twin-engine helicopter, registration N9988K, made its first flight. During the 42-minute flight, test pilots Donald Lee Bloom and Louis William Hartwig flew the aircraft through a series of hovering maneuvers and transitions to forward flight. A Bell spokesperson described it as, “One of the most successful prototype flights we’ve ever had.”

The prototype Bell 222 in flight with landing gear retracted, 13 August 1976. (Bell Helicopter TEXTRON)

The Model 222 (“Two Twenty-Two”) was Bell Helicopter’s first completely new helicopter since the Model 206 JetRanger series. Classified as a light twin, the aircraft was originally powered by two Lycoming LTS101-650C-3 turboshaft engines. The two-blade main rotor was similar in design to that used on the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. The first four prototypes were built with a T-tail configuration, but problems discovered early in the test program resulted in a change to the arrangement used in the production version.

Bell Model 222 prototypye, N9988K, in flight. Note T-tail configuration. (Bell Helicopter)
Bell Model 222 prototype, N9988K, in flight. Note T-tail configuration. (Bell Helicopter TEXTRON)

The Bell 222 is used as an executive transport, a utility transport and an aeromedical helicopter. It can carry a maximum of ten persons, and is operated with either one or two pilots. The 222 is certified for Instrument Flight Rules. The standard aircraft has retractable tricycle landing gear but the Model 222UT replaces that with a lighter weight skid gear.

The Bell Model 222 is 47 feet, 6.16 inches (14.482 meters) long with rotors turning. The helicopter has a maximum height of 14 feet, 7.25 inches (4.451 meters) with the forward main rotor blade against its droop stop. The height from ground level to the top of the vertical fin is 11 feet, 0.56 inches (3.367 meters). The helicopter’s maximum width is 11 feet, 4.0 inches (3.454 meters). The empty weight is 4,555 pounds (2,066 kilograms), and the maximum gross weight is 7,848 pounds (3,560 kilograms).

The fifth prototype Bell 222, N222BX (c/n 47005), in the 40′ × 80′ (12.2 × 24.4 meters) wind tunnel at the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. The man at the lower left corner of the image shows scale. (NASA)

The 222’s main rotor mast is tilted 5° forward and 1° 15′ to the left. This contributes to a higher forward air speed and counteracts the helicopter’s translating tendency in a hover.

The two-bladed, underslung, semi-rigid main rotor system rotates counter-clockwise as seen from above (the advancing blade is on the right.)and turns 324 r.p.m at 100% NR. The main rotor has a diameter of 39 feet, 9.0 inches (12.116 meters). The blades have a chord of 2 feet, 4.6 inches (7.264 meters) and are pre-coned 3° 30′. The two-bladed tail rotor is positioned on the left side of the tail boom and turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left (the advancing blade is below the axis of rotation). The tail rotor’s diameter is 6 feet, 6.0 inches (1.981 meters). The blades’ chord is 10.0 inches (0.254 meters).

The Bell 222 was originally powered by two Lycoming LTS101-650C-3 engines. The LTS101 is a compact, light weight, turboshaft engine. The 2-stage compressor section has 1 axial-flow stage and 1 centrifugal-flow stage. The turbine section has 1 high-pressure gas generator stage and 1 low-pressure free power stage. The LTS101-650C-3 was has a maximum continuous power rating of 598 shaft horsepower (446 kilowatts at 49,159 r.p.m. (N1) at Sea Level, and 630 shaft horsepower (470 kilowatts) at 49,638 r.p.m. for takeoff (5-minute limit). The output shaft (N2) turns 9,545 r.p.m. With one engine inoperative (OEI), the -650C-3 is rated at 650 shaft horsepower (485 kilowatts) at 50,169 r.p.m. (30-minute limit), and a maximum 675 shaft horsepower at 50,548 r.p.m. N1/9,784 r.p.m. N2 (2½-minute limit). The LTS101-650C-3 is 1 foot, 10.6 inches (0.574 meters) in diameter, 2 feet,7.3 inches (0.795 meters) long, and has a dry weight of 241 pounds (109 kilograms).

The Bell 222 has a maximum speed of 130 knots. Its hover ceiling is approximately 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). The service ceiling is 12,800 feet (3,901 meters). The maximum range is 324 nautical miles (373 statute miles/600 kilometers).

During early production, problems were experienced with the LTS101 engines, which were also used on the Sikorsky S-76 and the Aérospatiale AS-350D A-Star. This seriously hurt the reputation and sales of all three helicopters. Bell Helicopter’s parent corporation, Textron, bought the Lycoming factory and modernized it in order to improve the engine. (The engine is now owned by Honeywell Aerospace.) Operators began to replace the two Lycoming engines with a pair of Allison 250-C30 turboshafts, and eventually Bell Helicopter modified the aircraft, marketing it as the Model 230. A four-bladed variant with a longer cabin is called the Model 430.

After the test program was completed, the first prototype, N9988K, was used as a static prop on the popular television series, “Airwolf.”

Bell 222 N34NR, an aeromedical helicopter operated by Air Angels, Inc., Bolingbrooke, Illinois. (Photograph courtesy of Chris Hargreaves)
Donald Lee Bloom

Donald Lee Bloom was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 23 April 1932. He was the son of Fred Miles Bloom, a telegraph operator for the Standard Oil Company, and Georgia Randolph Bloom.

Don Bloom attended the University of Houston as a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) midshipman. He graduated in 1955. Bloom was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Marine Corps, 15 September 1955. He was assigned to pilot training at NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Lieutenant Bloom was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 15 March 1957. He married Miss Anne Marie Carruthers in Los Angeles, California, 5 September 1958. They would have four children, Susan, Stacy, Robert and Todd.

Lieutenant Bloom was released from active duty in 1960, and joined the Kaman Aircraft Corporation as a test pilot. In 1961, began his 29-year career as an experimental test pilot with the Bell Helicopter Company.

The first production Bell OH-58A-BF Kiowa, 68-16687. Don Bloom flight-tested this type in his investigation of Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness. (U.S. Army)

In 1984 the Society of Experimental Test Pilots gave its Iven C. Kincheloe Award to Don Bloom for his experimental research into the Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness (LTE).

After flying as a test pilot on 187 projects, Don Bloom retired from the Bell Helicopter Corporation in 1990 as Senior Experimental Test Pilot. He then worked for the Federal Aviation Administration Southwest Region as its Designated Engineering Representative Flight Test Pilot, testing aircraft for government certification. During his aviation career, Bloom flew over 14,000 hours in 102 different aircraft.

In 2011, the Federal Aviation Administration presented its Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to Don Bloom.

Donald Lee Bloom died 18 July 2017 at Grapevine, Texas. He was buried at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, Dallas, Texas.

Don Bloom was a project development test pilot for the Bell AH-1G Cobra. (U.S. Army)

Louis William Hartwig was born at Sherman, Iowa, 26 July 1922. He was the son of Lawrence C. Harwig and Alta May Gaughey Hartwig. He attended Bowie High Schoo in Bowie, Texas.

Lou Hartwig enlisted in the United States Army 8 September 1942. (s/n 17119277) He was assigned to the 304th and 902nd Field Artillery Battalions, 77th Infantry Division.

Lou Hartwig married Miss Katherine Elizabeth Healzer, a school teacher, at Rustburg, Virginia, 19 February 1944. They would have a son, Ronald.

Piper L-4 Grasshopper. (Harry S. Truman Library & Museum)

Hartwig was deployed to the Pacific theater of operations, 24 March 1944. He flew a Piper L-4 Grasshopper as an artillery spotter at Guam and Okinawa. He was discharged from his enlistment 18 June 1944, and commissioned a second lieutenant, 19 June 1944 (s/n O-1821011). Lieutenant Hartwig returned to the United States on 21 November 1945. He was released from active duty 24 January 1946.

Lou Hartwig was one of the early students of the Bell Aircraft Corporation’s helicopter flight school at Niagara Falls Airport, New York. The school was for experienced pilots only, and required 10–15 days to complete. Each student received a minimum 22½ flight hours in a Bell Model 47. The cost of the course was $600. Hartwig was then employed as an agriculture “crop dusting” pilot in California.

While spraying insecticide in a field near Sacramento, California, Hartwig was overcome by the poisonous chemicals and lost consciousness. The helicopter struck power lines and crashed. Hartwig was thrown from the cockpit. Crash investigators described the accident as “unsurvivable.” He spent the next 11 months in hospital.

Lou Hartwig was a test pilot for the U.S. Navy’s HSL-1 ASW helicopter. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

The Bell Helicopter Company hired Hartwig as a test pilot on 15 February 1955. One of his first projects was flight testing the Model 61, the only tandem rotor helicopter ever produced by Bell. It was used as an anti-submarine warfare helicopter by the U.S. Navy, designated HSL-1.

On 31 January 1961, Hartwig set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, when he flew a Bell Model 47J Ranger at an average speed of 168.36 kilometer per hour (104.61 miles per hour).¹

On 2 February 1961, Lou Hartwig flew a Bell Model 47G, N967B, to set three more FAI world records: Distance in a Closed Circuit Without Landing, 1,016.20 kilometers (631.44 miles); ² Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 119.07 kilometers per hour (73.99 miles per hour); ³ and Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 1,000 Kilometers, 118.06 kilometers per hour (73.36 miles per hour.⁴ The Model 47G had been modified with an additional fuel tank from the earlier Model 47D-1, and curved landing skids from the Model 47J.

The Bell 533, 56-6723, in one of its many configurations. It was flown with two- and four-bladed main rotors, with and without wings, and with and without turbojet engines. (Bell Helicopter Corporation)

Lou Hartwig worked on the U.S. Army’s High Performance Helicopter project. A pre-production YH-40 Iroquois, serial number 56-6723, was modified into a winged and compound helicopter configuration, designated Model 533. Hartwig flew the helicopter to a speed of 274.6 knots (316.00 statute miles per hour/508.56 kilometers per hour). In 1971, the Vertical Flight Society gave its Frederick L. Feinberg Award to Hartwig.

Mrs. Hartwig died 10 February 1989, in San Diego, California. Lou Hartwig married his second wife, Joanne Dunning, in 1990.

Louis William Hartwig died 12 April 2016, at the age of 93 years. He was buried at the Dearborn Memorial Park, Poway, California.

¹ FAI Record File Number 986

² FAI Record File Number 983

³ FAI Record File Number 989

⁴ FAI Record File Number 990

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 August 1977

Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise separates from NASA 905 for its first free flight, 12 August 1977. (NASA)

12 August 1977: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the prototype Space Shuttle Oriter, Enterprise, (OV-101) was mated to the Boeing 747-100 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, N905NA, call sign NASA 905, for the first of five approach and landing test flights. On Enterprise‘ flight deck were astronauts Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton. The crew of NASA 905 were NASA test pilots Fitz Fulton and Tom McMurty with Vic Horton and Skip Guidry as flight engineers.

An estimated 65,000 people had come to Edwards to watch and at 8:00, Fitz Fulton began the take off roll down Runway 22. For the next 38 minutes the spacecraft/aircraft combination climbed together into the desert sky. After reaching an altitude of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters), Fulton put the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft into a shallow dive. At 8:48 a.m., Fred Haise fired the seven explosive bolts holding the two craft together. The 747 entered a descending left turn while Haise banked Enterprise away to the right.

Space Shuttle Orbiiter Enterprise during a glide test. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise during a glide test. (NASA)

As Enterprise made its gliding descent, Haise and Fullerton experimented with the prototype’s flight characterisics and handling. The Shuttle Orbiter touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour), and rolled for two miles (3.22 kilometers) before coming to a complete stop.

The first free flight of Enterprise lasted 5 minutes, 21 seconds.

Space Shuttle Enterprise banks to the left to line up with the runway on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Enterprise banks to the left to line up with the runway on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 August 1955

8 August 1955: While being carried aloft by a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, the Bell X-1A was being readied for it’s next high-altitude supersonic flight by NACA test pilot Joe Walker. During the countdown, an internal explosion occurred. Walker was not injured and was able to get out. The X-1A was jettisoned. It crashed onto the desert floor and was destroyed.

A number of similar explosions had occurred in the X-1, D-558-II and the X-2. Several aircraft had been damaged or destroyed, and Bell Aircraft test pilot Skip Ziegler was killed when an X-2 exploded during a captive flight. A flight engineer aboard the B-29 mothership was also killed. The B-29 was able to land but was so heavily damaged that it never flew again.

Debris from the X-1A crash site was brought back to Edwards AFB for examination. It was discovered that a gasket material used in the rocket engine fuel systems was reacting with the fuel, resulting in the explosions. The problem was corrected and the mysterious explosions stopped.

Test pilot Joe Walker “horsing around” with the Bell X-1A, 1955. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 June 1961

Bob White exits the cockpit of an X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

23 June 1961: Major Robert Michael White, United States Air Force, became the first pilot to exceed Mach 5 in an aircraft. This was the 38th flight of the X-15 Program. Flights during this phase incrementally increased the speed and altitude of the X-15 up to its design limits of Mach 6 and 250,000 feet (76,200 meters).

The second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, was air-dropped from the NB-52A Stratofortress mothership, 52-003, over Mud Lake, Nevada at 2:00:05.0 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time (21:00 UTC). White fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine for 78.7 seconds, reaching Mach 5.27 (3,603 miles per hour, 5,799 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 107,700 feet (32,827 meters). 10 minutes, 5.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52, White touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

Bob White was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He also flew an X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet (95,936 meters), qualifying for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.

After leaving the X-15 program, Major White flew 70 combat missions in the Republic F-105D Thunderchief fighter bomber during the Vietnam War. He lead the attack against the heavily-defended Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Major General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.

56-6671 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The mothership, 52-003, is on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona.

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6671. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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