Tag Archives: Test Pilot

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Astronaut (18 July 1921–8 December 2016)

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

John Glenn, one of the original seven astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury, was a personal hero of mine. As a young boy growing up in Southern California, less than three miles from Rocketdyne’s engine test stands in Santa Susana, I followed the progress of all the astronauts. I recall having a map pinned to my wall, showing the orbital path of Friendship 7 as Glenn made his historic three orbits of the Earth. All of the astronauts, and the X-15 test pilots at Edwards, were heroes to me, but for some reason, John Glenn was special.

John H. Glenn, Jr., Pilot. (John Glenn Archives, Ohio State University)

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., was born at Cambridge, Ohio, 18 July 1921, the first of four children of John Herschel Glenn, a plumber, and Clara Teresa Sproat Glenn. The Glenn family resided in New Concorde, Ohio. Glenn attended New Concord High School, graduating in 1939, and then enrolled at Muskingum College, also in New Concord, where he majored in engineering. While in college, he learned to fly.

Soon after the United States entered World War II, John Glenn enlisted in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviation Cadet, 28 March 1942. He transferred to the Marine Corps while still in flight training, and after qualifying as a Naval Aviator, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 16 March 1943.

On 6 April 1943, Lieutenant Glenn married Miss Anna Margaret Castor, also from New Concorde. They would have two children, Carolyn Ann Glenn and John David Glenn.

In October 1943, Glenn was promoted to First Lieutenant. Initially assigned as a transport pilot flying the Douglas R4D-1 Skytrain with Marine Utility Squadron 315 (VMJ-315) in the Pacific, he was transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 155 (VMF-155). He flew 59 combat missions with the Chance Vought F4U Corsair in the Marshall Islands.

Lieutenant John H. Glenn, Jr., USMCR, flying a Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair with VMF-155, 1943. (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/John Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University)

In 1945, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 218 (VMF-218), again flying an F4U-4 Corsair, patrolling China with the 1st Marine Division. Lieutenant Glenn was promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1945.

In 1946, Captain Glenn, was transferred from the USMCR to the regular Marine Corps, retaining his temporary rank. On 7 August 1947, the rank of Captain was made permanent.

Captain Glenn served as an advanced flight instructor at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, from June 1948 to December 1950. With the Korean War, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 311 (VMF-311), which flew the Grumman F9F-2 Panther.

Captain John H. Glenn, Jr., USMCR, a fighter pilot of VMF-311, examines some of the 714 holes in his Grumman F9F-2 Panther. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Glenn few 63 combat missions with VMF-311. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 28 June 1952. He served as an exchange officer with the U.S. Air Force, flying a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at K-13, an air base at Suwon, Republic of Korea. In July 1953, Glenn shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighters.

Major John H. Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, standing with his North American Aviation F-86-30-NA Sabre, 52-4584, “MiG Mad Marine,” at Suwon, Korea, July 1953. (John Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University)

Major Glenn trained at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1954, and from 1956 to 1959, was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Fighter Design Branch.

On 16 July 1957, Major Glenn flew a Chance Vought F8U-1P Crusader from NAS Los Alamitos, on the coast of southern California, to Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn, New York, in 3 hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds, averaging 725.25 miles per hour (1,167.18 kilometers per hour). Thomas S. Gates, Jr., Secretary of the Navy, presented Major Glenn the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major John H. Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, with his Vought F8U-1P Crusader, Bu. No. 144608, after his record-setting flight, 16 July 1957. (U. S. Navy)

Major Glenn was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 1 April 1959. He was selected as an Astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Project Mercury and joined the NASA Space Task group at the Langley Research Center. Lieutenant Colonel Glenn was the senior officer and the oldest member of “The Mercury 7.”

The Mercury 7. Front row, left to right, Walter H. Schirra, Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glen, Jr., and Scott Carpenter. Back row: Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper. (NASA)

At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (14:47:39 UTC), 20 February 1961, Mercury Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the Mercury was John Glenn, making his first space flight. He had named the capsule Friendship 7. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom had each made a suborbital flight, but Glenn was going into Earth orbit.

Each orbit took 88 minutes, 19 seconds. The spacecraft’s altitude ranged from 100 miles (161 kilometers) to 162.2 miles (261 kilometers).

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, Friendship 7 orbited the Earth three times, and traveled 75,679 miles (121,794 kilometers). John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, splashing down only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

Launch of Mercury-Atlas 6 from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

When the Space Task Group was moved to the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas, in 1962, John Glenn was involved in the layout and design of spacecraft cockpits and function of controls. On 16 January 1964, John Glenn resigned from NASA. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in October 1964, then he retired from the Marine Corps 1 January 1965, after 23 years of military service.

Glenn worked in private industry for several years before beginning a career in politics. In 1974, he was elected to the United States Senate, representing his home State of Ohio. He served in the United States Congress from 24 December 1974 to 3 January 1999.

John Glenn wasn’t finished with spaceflight, though. From 29 October to 7 November 1998, Senator Glenn served as a NASA Payload Specialist aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) during Mission STS-95. At the age of 77 years, John Glenn was the oldest person to fly in space.

During his two space flights, John Glenn orbited the Earth 137 times. His total time in space is 10 days, 49 minutes, 25 seconds (240:49:25).

In late November 2016, Glenn was admitted to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center at Columbus, Ohio. He died there, 8 December 2016, at the age of 95 years.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Naval Aviator, Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot, Record-setter, Astronaut. Colonel, United States Marine Corps. United States Senator. American Hero.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Senator John H. Glenn, Jr., NASA Payload Specialist, 1998. (NASA)

© 2016 Bryan R. Swopes

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8 December 1945

The second prototype Douglas XB-42, 43-50225, In this photograph, the dual bubble canopies have been replaced with a single canopy to improve flight crew communication. (U.S. Air Force)
The second prototype Douglas XB-42, 43-50225, In this photograph, the dual bubble canopies have been replaced with a single canopy to improve flight crew communication. (U.S. Air Force)

8 December 1945: Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden and Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Army Air Corps, flew the second prototype Douglas XB-42, serial number 43-50225, from Long Beach, California to Washington, D.C., in 5 hours, 17 minutes, 34 seconds, averaging 433.6 miles per hour (697.8 kilometers per hour).

The XB-42 (originally designated as an attack aircraft, XA-42) was as unusual design. It used two engines inside the fuselage to drive counter-rotating three-bladed propellers in a pusher configuration at the tail. This created a very low-drag aircraft that was much faster than similar sized and powered aircraft.

Douglas XB-42 43-50225, the second prototype. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas XB-42 43-50225, the second prototype. (U.S. Air Force)

A pilot and co-pilot sat side-by-side under separate bubble canopies. (This was later changed to improve communication between the crew.) The third crewman, a navigator/bombardier, occupied the nose. The co-pilot also served as a gunner and could operate four remotely-controlled .50-caliber machine guns located in two retractable power turrets inside the trailing edge of the wings. Another two .50-caliber machine guns were fixed, aimed forward. The bomber was designed to carry a 8,000 pound (3,629 kilogram) bomb load.

Douglas XB-42 43-50224 takes off from Palm Springs, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-42 was powered several variants of the Allison Engineering Company E-series V-1710 engines, confiured as combined power assembles, and driving a remote propeller gear box through five Bell P-39 Airacobra driveshafts. The starboard engine turned counter-clockwise and drove the rear propeller. The port engine turned clockwise and drove the forward propeller. These engines were the V-1710-E23 (V-1710-103), V-1710-E24 (V -1710-125) and V-1710-E23B (V-1710-129). The V-1710 was a liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 aircraft engine with four valves per cylinder. The engines used in the XB-42 had two-stage superchargers and turbosuperchargers.

The V-1710-129 was an experimental turbocompound engine, in which an exhaust-driven turbocharger is coupled to the drive shaft to provide a direct power input. It had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and required 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The V-1710-129 had a continuous power rating of 1,050 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and takeoff/military power rating of 1,675 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. (1,100 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) ). The engines turned three-bladed, counter-rotating, Curtiss Electric propellers through a 2.773:1 gear reduction. The forward propeller had a diameter of 13 feet, 2 inches (4.013 meters) and the rear diameter was 13 feet (3.962 meters). The difference was to prevent interference of the blade tip vortices.

Douglas XB-42 43-50224. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas XB-42 43-50224. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane was 53 feet, 8 inches long (16.358 meters), with a wingspan of 70 feet, 6 inches (21.488 meters). Empty weight was 20,888 pounds (9,475 kilograms), with a maximum gross weight of 35,702 pounds (16,194 kilograms). The prototype’s cruising speed was 310 miles per hour (499 kilometers per hour) and its maximum speed was 410 miles per hour (660 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). The service ceiling was 29,400 feet (8,961 meters). The XB-42’s normal range was 1,840 miles (2,961 kilometers).

Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Air Force (1918–1948)
Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Air Force (1918–1948)

Glen W. Edwards graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and soon after enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in February 1942 after completing flight training. Edwards flew 50 combat missions in the Douglas A-20 Havoc attack bomber during the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of World War II. He returned to the United States and was assigned to the Pilot Standardization Board, but was then sent to train as a test pilot at Wright Field. He tested the Northrop XB-35 flying wing and the Convair XB-46. He was recommended to fly the Bell X-1 rocket plane, but when that assignment went to Chuck Yeager, Edwards was sent to Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, to study aeronautical engineering.

Captain Edwards was killed along with four others while test flying the Northrop YB-49 “Flying Wing” in 1948. In 1949, Muroc Air Force Base, California, was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in his honor.

General Reuben C. Hood congratulates Captain Glen Edwards and Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Warden after their record-setting transcontinental flight, 8 December 1945. ( © Bettman/CORBIS.)
(Left to right) Brigadier General Reuben C. Hood, Jr., congratulates Captain Glen W. Edwards and Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Warden after their record-setting transcontinental flight, 8 December 1945. ( © Bettman/CORBIS.)

Colonel Henry E. (“Pete”) Warden (1915–2007) flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks with the 20th Pursuit Squadron in the Philippine Islands at the beginning of World War II. He  was evacuated from Bataan to Australia, where he set up and ran the air logistics system for several years, before being sent to Wright Field.

After World War II, Warden was responsible for the development of the Convair B-36, Boeing B-47 and the Boeing B-52. He was called the “Father of the B-52.” After retiring from the Air Force, Colonel Warden went to work for North American Aviation on the B-70 Valkyrie program.

XB-42 43-50224 flew for the first time 1 August 1944. On 16 December 1945, it was on a routine flight from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., with Lieutenant Colonel Fred J. Ascani in command, when a series of failures caused the crew to bail out. The XB-42 crashed at Oxon Hill, Maryland and was destroyed.

The second prototype, 43-50225, is in storage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The first prototype XB-42, 43-50224, at Palm Springs, California, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype XB-42, 43-50224, at Palm Springs, California, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1963

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)

6 December 1963: Air Force test pilot Major Robert W. Smith takes the Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 56-0756, out for a little spin. . .

Starting at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Bob Smith turned toward Edwards Air Force Base and accelerated to Military Power and then lit the afterburner, which increased the General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter accelerated in level flight. At Mach 2.2, Smith ignited the Rocketdyne LR121 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide. The LR121 was throttleable and could produce from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons).

When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Smith began a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), the test pilot shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. He gradually reduced the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), then shut it off.  Without the engine running, cabin pressurization was lost and the pilot’s A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit inflated.

The NF-104A continued to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by the reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. 756 reached a peak altitude of 120,800 feet (36,820 meters), before reentering the atmosphere in a 70° dive. Major Smith used the windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes to restart the jet engine.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer zoom-climb profile. (U.S. Air Force via NF-104.com)

Major Smith had set an unofficial record for altitude. Although Lockheed had paid the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license fee, the Air Force had not requested certification in advance so no FAI or National Aeronautic Association personnel were on site to certify the flight.

For this flight, Robert Smith was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”

Major Robert W. Smith, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Wilson Smith was born at Washington, D.C., 11 December 1928. He was the son of Robert Henry Smith, a clerk (and eventually treasurer) for the Southern Railway Company, and Jeanette Blanche Albaugh Smith, a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1947. Smith studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University.

Robert W. Smith joined the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1949. He trained as a pilot at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 23 June 1950.

Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson Smith married Ms. Martha Yacko, 24 June 1950, at Phoenix, Arizona.

Lieutenant Robert W. Smith and his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Jackson, with Lady Lane, Smith’s North American F-86 Sabre. (Robert W. Wilson Collection)

He flew the F-86 Sabre on more than 100 combat missions with the 334th and 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War. he named one of his airplanes Lady Lane in honor of his daughter. Smith was credited with two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and three more damaged.

Smith graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952 and flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing at Edwards Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He was later assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards Air Force Base for training as an astronaut candidate for Project Gemini.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Smith, United States Air Force

After the NF-104A project was canceled, Lieutenant Colonel Smith volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War. He commanded the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. Bob Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” while leading an attack at Thuy Phoung, north of Hanoi, 19 November 1967.

He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, and five times was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Colonel Smith retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1969 after twenty years of service.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson Smith died at Monteverde, Florida, 19 August 2010. He was 81 years old.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-756 following a landing accident at Edwards AFB, 21 November 1961. (U.S. Air Force via the International F-104 Society)

56-756 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter. Flown by future astronaut James A. McDivitt, it had been damaged in a landing accident at Edwards following a hydraulic system failure, 21 November 1961. It was one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs). These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the control system for flight outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wingspan was increased to 25 feet, 11.3 inches (7.907 meters) for installation of the hydrogen peroxide Reaction Control System thrusters. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The fuselage “buzz number” was changed from FG-756 to NF-756.

The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne LR121 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons) with a burn time of 105 seconds.

56-756 was damaged by inflight explosions in 1965 and 1971, after which it was retired. It is mounted for static display at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, marked as 56-760.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer 56-756, marked as 56-760, on display at Edwards Air Force Base. (Kaszeta)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1959

Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, with the World Record-setting McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. (U.S. Navy)
Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, with the World Record-setting McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. Commander Flint is wearing a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit for protection at high altitude. (U.S. Navy) 

6 December 1959: Project Top Flight. At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Commander Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude with McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260.

At 47,000 feet (14,326 meters), Commander Flint accelerated in level flight with  afterburner to Mach 2.5, then pulled up into a 45° climb and continued to 90,000 feet (27,432 meters). He had to shut down the Phantom’s two General Electric J79 jet engines to prevent them from overheating in the thin atmosphere. He continued on a ballistic trajectory to 30,040 meters (98,556 feet). This was just short of the arbitrary 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) that delineated the beginning of space at the time. Diving back through 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), Flint restarted the engines and flew back to Edwards.

This was the first of three FAI World Records set by 142260.¹

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, taxiing at Edwards Air Force Base, 6 December 1959. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, taxiing at Edwards Air Force Base, 6 December 1959. (U.S. Navy)

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Gerald (“Zeke”) Huelsbeck had been conducting test flights to determine the best profile for the record attempt.

“Huelsbeck was flying the very first F4H prototype when an engine access door blew loose, flames shot through the engine compartment, and the F4H crashed, killing Huelsbeck.”

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems, by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 101. (The accident occurred 21 October 1959.)

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. 142259, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. This airplane, the first prototype, was lost 21 October 1959. (U.S. Navy)

Commander Flint flew twelve zoom climbs between October and December, five times climbing past 95,000 feet (28,956 meters), but not exceeding the previous record, 28,852 meters, set by Vladimir Sergeyevich Ilyushin ² with a Sukhoi T 431 (a modified Su-9 interceptor), 14 July 1959, by the FAI-required 3% margin. During the first week of December, with National Aeronautic Association personnel at Edwards to monitor and certify the record for the FAI, he flew three flights each day.

Commander Flint was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.

Distinguished Flying Cross

General Orders: All Hands (August 1960)

Action Date: December 6, 1959

Service: Navy

Rank: Commander

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., United States Navy, for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight on 6 December 1959. As pilot of a Navy all-weather fighter aircraft, Commander Flint succeeded in establishing a new world jet aircraft altitude record of 98,560 feet. Exercising brilliant airmanship, initiative and planning ability, he clearly demonstrated the inherent capabilities and the maximum performance of an extremely important Naval aircraft, and was instrumental in focusing world attention on the continuing and significant development of the science of aviation in the United States.”

McDonnell YF4H-1, Phantom II Bu. No. 142260, Project Top Flight, 6 December 1959
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, Project Top Flight. This airplane, the first prototype, was lost 21 October 1965. (U.S. Navy)

Commander Flint’s world altitude record would fall 8 days later when Captain Joe B. Jordan, United States Air Force, flew a Lockheed F-104C Starfighter to 31,513 meters (103,389.11 feet ).³

Lawrence W. Flint, Jr., as a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, 1938. (The Echo)
Lawrence W. Flint, Jr., as a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, 1938. (The Senior Echo)

Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., was born at Sophia, West Virginia, 24 June 1920. He was the first of three children of Lawrence Earl Flint, a salesman, and Rosetta M. Richmond Flint. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School at Beckley, West Virginia, graduating in 1938. He then attended Beckley College (now, Mountain State University), and Emory & Henry College at Emory, Virginia.

Flint entered the United States Navy as an aviation cadet under the V-5 Program, 30 July 1940. He was trained as a pilot at NAS Pensacola and NAS Jacksonville. He was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Naval Reserve, 10 October 1941, and designated a Naval Aviator, 5 December 1941, two days before the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian Islands.

Ensign Flint was assigned to Scouting Squadron Two (VS-2), flying the Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber. He was promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade (j.g.), 1 October 1942. In 1943 he transitioned to the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat fighter with Fighting Squadron Eighteen (VF-18) aboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-18). Flint was promoted to Lieutenant (Temporary), 1 October 1943. This rank was made permanent on 30 October 1944.

A Gruman F6F-5 Hellcat prepares to take of from an aircraft carrier during World War II. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat prepares to take of from an aircraft carrier during World War II. (U.S. Navy)

In 1944, Lieutenant Flint was assigned to Flight Test and NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flying the earliest American jet aircraft. Flint was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy, 3 October 1945.

Lieutenant Commander Flint then attended the U.S. Navy General Line School at Newport, Rhode Island. In 1947, Flint went to Attack Squadron Fourteen (VA-14, “Tophatters) as the squadron’s executive officer. VA-14 flew the Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair.

In 1949, Lieutenant Commander Flint married Miss Betty Alice Noble of Salt Lake City, Utah. Mrs. Flint had served in the United States Navy during World War II.

After a staff assignment in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, in 1951, Lieutenant Commander Flint was sent to the Empire Test Pilot School at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, England.

Flint returned to combat operations during the Korean War, as executive officer, and then commanding officer, of Fighter Squadron Eleven (VF-11, “Red Rippers”), flying the McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee from USS Kearsarge (CVA-33 ).

A McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee, Bu. No. 125663, of VF-11 ("Red Rippers"), over Wanson Harbor, Korea, 20 October 1952. (U.S. Navy80-G-480436)
A McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee, Bu. No. 125663, of VF-11 (“Red Rippers”), over Wonson, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 20 October 1952. (U.S. Navy)

Following the Korean War, Flint was assigned as Assistant Experimental Officer at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, and then went back to sea as Air Operations Officer on board USS Lake Champlain (CVA-39 ). He was promoted to Commander, 1 January 1954.

Captain Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., United States Navy

From 1957 to 1959, Commander Flint was once again in flight test operations at NATC Patuxent River.  In 1959, he was assigned as Chief of Staff to the commanding officer of Readiness Air Wing Twelve (RCVW-12) at NAS Miramar, San Diego, California. It was while in this assignment that he set the World Altitude Record with the YF4H-1. On 1 July 1962, Flint was promoted to the rank of Captain and took command of RCVW-12.

Captain Flint took command of USS Merrick (AKA-97), an Andromeda-class attack cargo transport, 16 July 1966. (A “deep-draft command,” that is command of a large naval ship, is generally considered a prerequisite to being selected for command of an aircraft carrier.) Merrick was operating in the western Pacific and Vietnam. Captain Flint remained in command until 13 May 1967.

Captain Lawrence Earl Flint, Jr., retired from the United States Navy in March 1968. He and Mrs. Flint resided in La Jolla, a seaside community within the city of San Diego, California, until his death, 16 November 1993. She passed away 20 December 1996.

USS Merrick (AKA-97). (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352: 30,040 meters (98,557 feet), 6 December 1959; FAI Record File Number 9060: 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour), 22 November 1961; and FAI Record File Number 8535: 20,252 meters (66,444 feet), 5 December 1961.

² FAI Record File Number 10351

³ FAI Record File Number 10354

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 December 1963

RUSHWORTH, Robert H., Major General, USAF5 December 1963: On Flight 97 of the X-15 Program, Major Robert A. Rushworth flew the number one aircraft, Air Force serial number 56-6670, to an altitude of 101,000 feet 30,785 meters) and reached Mach 6.06 (4,018 miles per hour/6,466 kilometers per hour).

The rocketplane was dropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress “mother ship” 52-008, Balls 8, flying at 450 knots (833.4 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Rushworth ignited the Reaction Motors XLR-99-RM-1 rocket engine, which burned for 81.2 seconds before shutting down.

The flight plan had called for an altitude of 104,000 feet (31,699 meters), a 78 second burn and a maximum speed of Mach 5.70. With the difficulties of flying such a powerful rocketplane, Rushworth’s flight was actually fairly close to plan. During the flight the right inner windshield cracked.

Bob Rushworth landed the X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight of 9 minutes, 34.0 seconds.

Mach 6.06 was the highest Mach number reached for an unmodified X-15.

56-6670 flew 81 of the 199 flights of the X-15 Program. It is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

From 1960 to 1966, Bob Rushworth made 34 flights in the three X-15s, more than any other pilot.

North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
North American Aviation Inc./U.S. Air Force/NASA X-15A 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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