Tag Archives: Test Pilot

17 February 1956

Lockheed YF-104A, 55-2955. (AFFTC History Office)

17 February 1956: Test pilot Herman Richard (“Fish”) Salmon made the first flight of the Lockheed YF-104A service test prototype, Air Force serial number 55-2955 (Lockheed serial number 183-1001). This airplane, the first of seventeen pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage.

Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier, on the left, and Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon, circa 1957. An F-104 Starfighter is in the background. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

On 28 February 1956, YF-104A 55-2955 became the first aircraft to reach Mach 2 in level flight.

The YF-104A was later converted to the production standard and redesignated F-104A.

Lockheed XF-104. (Lockheed-Martin)
Lockheed YF-104A Starfighter 55-2955 (183-1001), right profile. Note the increased length of the fuselage and revised air intakes, compared to the XF-104, above. Also, the XF-104’s nose gear retracts backward, while the YF-104A’s gear swings forward. (U.S. Air Force)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter is a single-place, single-engine, Mach 2 interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. The F-104A is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.

The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.

Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter three-view illustration with dimensions. (Lockheed Martin)

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3B, -11A or -19 engine. The J79 is a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79GE-3B has a continuous power rating of 8,950 pounds of thrust (39.81 kilonewtons) at 7,460 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating is 9,600 pounds (42.70 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine is 17 feet, 3.2 inches (5.263 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.6 inches (0.828 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,225 pounds (1,463 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of  1,150 knots (1,323 miles per hour/2,130 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 59,600 feet (18,166 meters).

The Lockheed F-104 was armed with an electrically-powered General Electric T-171E-3 (later designated M61) Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon, or “Gatling Gun.” The technician has a belt of linked 20 mm cannon shells. (SDASM)

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition, firing at a rate of 4,000 rounds per minute. An AIM-9B Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip.

Lockheed YF-104A 55-2955 with landing gear retracting. (Lockheed Martin via International F-104 Society)

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.

While conducting flame-out tests in 55-2955, 25 April 1957, Lockheed  engineering test pilot John A. (“Jack”) Simpson, Jr., made a hard landing  at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Edwards Air Force Base. After a bounce, the landing gear collapsed, and the Starfighter skidded off the runway. 55-2955, nick-named Apple Knocker, was damaged beyond repair. “Suitcase” Simpson was not hurt.

Lockheed F-104A 55-2955 was damaged beyond repair, 25 April 1967. (U.S. Air Force photograph via International F-104 Society))

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 February 1967

Wilfried von Englehardt tests the Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-105 V-2, D-HECA in an out-of-ground effect hover, with engine cowlings removed, 16 February 1967. (Eurocopter)
Wilfried von Engelhardt tests the prototype Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-105 V-2, D-HECA, in an out-of-ground effect hover with engine cowlings removed, 16 February 1967. (Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH)
Wilfried von Englehardt (Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace)
Wilfried von Engelhardt (Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace)

16 February 1967: At Ottobrun, Germany, test pilot Wilfried von Engelhardt made the first flight of the Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-105 prototype V-2, D-HECA, a twin-engine, rigid rotor helicopter. Baron von Engelhardt took off at 5:04 p.m. The flight lasted 20 minutes. D-HECA was the second prototype. The first one was destroyed by ground resonance during pre-flight testing.

Messerschmitt AG merged with Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG in June 1968, becoming  Messerschmitt-Bölkow. The following year, the new company merged with Blohm & Voss to become Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm KG, or MBB. The Bo-105 A entered production in 1970. A number of civil and military variants followed.

The Bo-105 is a 5-place light helicopter powered by two turboshaft engines. It has a four-bladed rigid (or hingeless) main rotor. This gives it a high degree of maneuverability, and it is capable of performing aerobatic maneuvers. The two-bladed tail rotor is mounted high on a pylon and gives exceptional ground clearance for a helicopter of this size. There are two “clam shell” doors located at the rear of the cabin section, giving access to a large flat floor. The helicopter has been widely used by military, law enforcement and as an air ambulance.

Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo-105 V-2, D-HECA. (Eurocopter)
Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG prototype Bo-105 V-2, D-HECA, during flight testing. (Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH )

The Bo-105 is 11,86 meters (38 feet, 10.9 inches ) long with rotors turning. The fuselage is 8,81 meters (28 feet, 10.9 inches) long, with a maximum width of 1,58 meters (5 feet, 2.2 inches). The helicopter’s overall height is 3.00 meters (9 feet, 10 inches). The helicopter has an empty weight of approximately 1,276 kilograms (2,813 pounds), depending on installed equipment, and maximum takeoff weight of 2,100–2,500 kilograms (5,512 pounds), depending on variant.

The diameter of the main rotor is 9,84 meters (32 feet, 3.4 inches). The main rotor follows the American practice of turning counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) It operates at 416–433 r.p.m. (361–467 r.p.m. in autorotation). The tail rotor diameter is 1,90 meters (6 feet, 2.8 inches). It turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

Three-view illustration of the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo-105 LS (lengthened cabin section). (Nordic Helicopters)

The prototype was powered by two Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engines, with increasingly more powerful 250-C20, -C20B and C-28C engines being added through the production run. The Allison 250-C18 is a 2-spool, reverse-flow, gas turbine engine with a 6-stage axial-flow, 1-stage centrifugal-flow, compressor section, and a 4-stage axial-flow turbine (2-stage gas producer, and 2-stage power turbine). The 250-C18 is rated at 317 shaft horsepower at 51,600 r.p.m., N1 (6,000 r.p.m. N2).

The helicopter’s cruise speed is 127 miles per hour (204 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed (VNE) is 135 knots (155 miles per hour/250 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 17,000 feet (5,180 meters). The Bo-105 C has a maximum fuel capacity of 580.0 liters (153.22 U.S. gallons), of which 570.0 liters (150.58 U.S. gallons) are usable. The range is 691 miles (1,112 kilometers.

The original Type Certificate for the Bölkow Bo-105 A was issued 13 October 1970. Since then, the Bo-105 series has been produced in Germany, Canada, Spain, Indonesia and the Philippines. More than 1,500 were built.

Wilfried von Englehart tests the Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-105 V-2, D-HECA, at Ottobrun, Germany, 16 February 1967. (Eurocopter)
Wilfried von Engelhardt tests the Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-105 V-2, D-HECA, at Ottobrun, Germany, 16 February 1967. (Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH)
Charles (“Chuck”) Aaron demonstrates the aerobatic capability of the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo-105 CBS-4, N154EH. (Red Bull)
Baron von Engelhardt’s parents

Wilhelm Friedrich Franz Eugen Baron von Engelhardt was born at Schloss Liebenberg, north of Berlin, Germany, 11 September 1928. He was the son of the Rudolf Robert Baron von Engelhardt and Ingeborg Maria Alexandrine Mathilde Baroness Engelhardt (Gräfin zu Eulenbrug), and the grandson of Friedrich-Wend Fürst zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, Count of Sandels.

Wilhelm von Engelhardt had an early interest in aviation.  His stepfather, Generalmajor Carl-August von Schoenebeck, a World War I ace, commanded the Luftwaffe flight test agency at Flugplatz Rechlin-Lärz, Rechlin, Germany. Von Englehardt was able to meet a number of well known German pilots, some of whom were guests at the family home. At the age of 16, he began flight training in gliders.

With the approach of the Soviet Red Army, von Engelhardt and his family fled to Austria. (General Shoenebeck was held as a prisoner of war until 1948.) He trained in hotel management in Salzburg. Following his release from Allied custody, General Schoenebeck formed Luftfahrt-Technik, a distributor for several aircraft manufacturers, including Hiller Helicopters.

With the assistance of General Schoenebeck, in the early 1950s von Engelhardt went to Paris, France, to train as a helicopter mechanic. He next became a helicopter pilot, then flight instructor, in 1958. He flew the Hiller 12, the Bell 47, and the gas turbine-powered Sud-Ouest Djinn. Von Engelhardt flew the SNCASE SE.3130 Alouette II in Papua New Guinea, 1961–1962, then returned to France where he trained as a test pilot at École du personnel navigant d’essais et de réception (EPNER) at Istres.

Von Engelhardt was recommended as test pilot for the Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-46, by the helicopter’s rotor system designer, Hans Derschmidt. The Bo-46 was an experimental high-speed helicopter. Von Engelhardt made the first liftoff of the prototype aircraft 14 February 1964.

Bölkow-Entwicklungen Bo-46 V-1, D-9514, with the Derschmidt rotor system. (Johan Visschedijk Collection, No. 6705/1000aircraftphotos.com)

Wilhelm von Engelhardt served as Bölkow’s chief test pilot, from 1962 to 1973. He then became the company’s sales director and director of customer service training.

With the Soviet occupation of eastern Germany, the village where Baron von Engelhardt was born was seized. It later came under the jurisdiction of the German Democratic Republic. Following the reunification of East and West Germany, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany held control of Schloss Liebenberg.

Schloss Liebenberg is now a hotel. (Michelin)

In 1996, without informing the local population, the Federal Office for Special Tasks Related to Unification, government’s privatization agency, placed the entire village, including the castle, the 13th century church, all the homes, farm buildings and stable, for sale. The asking price was so high that it was impossible for the villagers to come up with enough money to buy their home town. There was considerable outcry from the villagers, who said that they felt as if they, too, had been put on sale.

Baron von Engelhardt, who was living in a rented coach house on the estate that his family had owned for more than 300 years, gained international recognition for his attempts to negotiate a reasonable outcome.

With his wife, Evamaria, he edited and published Brücke über den Strom, (“Bridge over the Stream”), the letters of his cousin, Sigwart Botho Philipp August zu Eulenburg, Count of Eulenburg, a musical composer who was killed during World War I.

Wilhelm Friedrich Franz Eugen Baron von Engelhardt died 24 January 2015, at the age of 86 years.

Wilfried Baron von Englehardt 1928-2015)
Wilhelm Friedrich Franz Eugen Baron von Engelhardt (11 September 1928–24 January 2015)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 February 1946

The prototype Sikorsky S-51 commercial helicopter, NX19800, in flight between Bridgeport and East Hartford, Connecticut, 1946. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)
The prototype Sikorsky S-51 commercial helicopter, NX92800, in flight between Bridgeport and East Hartford, Connecticut, 1946. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)

16 February 1946: The Sikorsky S-51 prototype, NX92800, made its first flight. The test pilot was Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner, who later made the first civilian rescue using a helicopter. The S-51 was the first helicopter intended for commercial use, though it was also widely used by military services worldwide. (The prototype was later delivered to Aéronavale, French Naval Aviation.)

Dimitry D. ("Jimmy") Viner with a Sikorsky S-51, the civil version of the R-5. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)
Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner with a Sikorsky S-51, the civil version of the R-5. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)

The S-51 was a commercial version of the Sikorsky R-5 series military helicopters. It was a four-place, single engine helicopter, operated by one pilot. The cabin was built of aluminum with Plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood, and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction.

The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of metal spars and plywood ribs and covered with two layers of fabric. (All metal blades soon became available.) The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

Sikorsky S-51 three-view illustration with dimensions. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 1¾ inches (12.541 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet, 0 inches (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.568 meters) giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, ½ inch (17.386 meters). It was 12 feet, 11-3/8 inches (3.947 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet, 0 inches (3.658 meters).

The S-51 had an empty weight of 4,050 pounds (1,837.05 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,500 pounds (2,494.76 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Sikorsky S-51 NC92813, Los Angeles Airways, departs on a commercial flight, Los Angeles, California, 1947. (LAT)
Sikorsky S-51 NC92813, Los Angeles Airways, departs on a commercial flight, Los Angeles, California, 1947. (Los Angeles Times)

The helicopter was powered by a 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive,  nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The S-51 had a maximum speed (VNE) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Of 220 helicopters in the S-51 series built by Sikorsky, 55 were commercial models. Westland built another 159 helicopters under license.

One of Los Angeles Airways' Sikorsky S-51 helicopters takes off from roof of the the Terminal Annex Post Office, Los Angeles, California, 1 October 1947. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library)
One of Los Angeles Airways’ Sikorsky S-51 helicopters takes off from roof of the the Terminal Annex Post Office, Los Angeles, California, 1 October 1947. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library)
Dimitry D. Viner, circa 1931

Дмитро Дмитрович Вінер (Dimitry Dimitry Viner) was born in Kiev, Ukraine, Imperial Russia, 2 October 1908. He was the son of Dimitry Nicholas Weiner and Helen Ivan Sikorsky Weiner, a teacher, and the sister of Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky.

At the age of 15 years, Viner, along with his mother and younger sister, Galina, sailed from Libau, Latvia, aboard the Baltic-American Line passenger steamer S.S. Latvia, arriving at New York City, 23 February 1923.

“Jimmy” Viner quickly went to work for the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company, founded by his uncle, Igor Sikorsky.

Dimitry Viner became a naturalized United States citizen  on 27 March 1931.

Viner married Miss Irene Regina Burnett. The had a son, Nicholas A. Viner.

On 29 November 1945, Jimmy Viner and Captain Jackson E. Beighle, U.S. Army, flew a Sikorsky YR-5A to rescue two seamen from an oil barge which was breaking up in a storm off of Fairfield, Connecticut. This was the first time that a hoist had been used in an actual rescue at sea.

A Sikorsky R-5 flown by Jimmy Viner with Captain Jack Beighle, lifts a crewman from Texaco Barge No. 397, aground on Penfield Reef, 29 November 1945. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)

In 1947, Viner became the first pilot to log more than 1,000 flight hours in helicopters.

Dimitry Dimitry Viner died at Stratford, Connecticut, 14 June 1998, at the age of 89 years.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 February 1923

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired), at Edwards AFB, 14 October 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of his Mach 1 flight. (Photograph © 2017 by Tim Bradley Imaging. Used with permission.)

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.’

Captain Chuck Yeager on Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.
Captain Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, at Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.

“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.

Aviation Cadet Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

“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.

Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Forces, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

“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.

Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (© Bettman/CORBIS)
Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (Bettman/CORBIS)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, USAF, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 1958. (Stars and Stripes)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, 413th Fighter Day Wing, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Yeager became Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, 23 July 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Stars and Stripes)

“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.

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)

“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.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force, July 1969. (Stars and Stripes)

“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.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard A McDonnell F-4C Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

“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.”

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 February 1995: 05:22:03.994 UTC

Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-63) lifts off from Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, 05:22:04 UTC, 3 February 1995. (NASA)

3 February 1995: At 12:22:03.994 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, STS-63, was a rendezvous with the Russian space station, Mir.

Commander James Donald Wetherbee, United States Navy, on his second space flight, was the mission commander. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her first space flight, was Discovery’s pilot. This was the first time in the NASA Space Shuttle Program that a woman had been assigned as pilot of a space shuttle.

Astronaut Eileen Collins aboard Discovery (STS-63). (NASA)

Also on board were Mission Specialists Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D.; Colin Michael Foale, Ph.D.; Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D.; and Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.

Flight crew of Space Shuttle Discovery, Mission STS-63. Seated, left to right: Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D., Mission Specialist; Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, U.S. Air Force, Pilot; Commander James Donald Weatherbee, U.S. Navy, Mission Commander; Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, Cosmonaut. Standing, Dr. Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D., Mission Spcialist; C. Michael Foale, Mission Spcialist. (NASA MSFC-9414225)

The primary purpose of the mission was to conduct a close approach and fly-around of Mir to demonstrate techniques prior to an actual docking, scheduled for a later flight. A number of scientific experiments and a space walk were carried out by the crew.

Space Station Mir imaged from Space Shuttle Discovery during Mission STS-63. Souz TM-20 is docked with the space station. (NASA)

Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Landing Facility at 11:50:19 UTC, 11 February, after completing 129 orbits. The total mission duration was 8 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds.

Eileen Collins was born at Elmira, New York, 19 November 1956, a daughter of Irish immigrants to the United States of America. She graduated from high school in 1974 then attended Corning Community College, Corning, New York, where she earned an associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science, 1976. She went on to Syracuse University at Syracuse, New York, graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in math and exonomics. In 1986 Collins earned a master of science degree in Operations Research from Stanford University, and three years later, received a second master’s degree in Space Systems Management from Webster University.

2nd Lieutenant Eileen M. Collins, USAF, with a Northrop T-38A Talon trainer at Vance AFB, September 1979. (U.S. Air Force)

Eileen Collins had expressed an interest in aviation and space flight from an early age. After graduating from Syracuse University, she was one of four women selected to attend U.S. Air Force pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She graduated in 1979, earning her pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She remained at Vance AFB as a pilot instructor, flying the Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainer.

Collins was next sent for pilot transition training in the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine transport. She served as a pilot at Travis Air Force Base, California.

From 1986–1989, Captain Collins was assigned as Assistant Professor in Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next, she became only the second woman to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating with Class 89B.

Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)
Eileen Collins (Irish America Magazine)

In 1990, Major Collins was accepted for the NASA astronaut program, and was selected as an astronaut in 1992.

Eileen Marie Collins was awarded the Harmon Trophy for her flight aboard Discovery (STS-63). In 1997, she flew as pilot for Atlantis (STS-84). She commanded Columbia (STS-93) in 1999, and Discovery (STS-114) in 2005.

Colonel Collins retired from the Air Force in January 2005, and from NASA in May 2006. With a remarkable record of four shuttle flights, she has logged 38 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes of space flight. During her career, she flew more than 30 aircraft types, and logged a total of 6,751 hours.

Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)
Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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