Tag Archives: Test Pilot

23 April 1941

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348, prior to camouflage paint. (North American Aviation Inc.)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345, c/n 73-3098, prior to camouflage paint. Note the short carburetor air intake compared to the photograph below. (North American Aviation Inc.)

23 April 1941: At North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California factory, test pilot Louis S. Wait takes the very first production Mustang Mk.I, AG345, (c/n 73-3098) for its first flight.

The Royal Air Force had contracted with NAA to design and build a new fighter with a 1,200 horsepower Allison V-1710 supercharged 12-cylinder engine. The first order from the British Purchasing Commission was for 320 airplanes, and a second order for another 300 soon followed.

The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single-engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches (11.373 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches (3.721 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds (2,849 kilograms) and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345 (North American Aviation Inc.)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345 (North American Aviation Inc.)

The Mustang Mk.I was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The -F3R had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea level, and 1,000 horsepower at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). It was rated at 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for Take Off and Military Power. The Allison V-12 drove a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-F3R was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.54 inches (0.928 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.734 meters) wide. It weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

The Mustang Mk.I had a cruise speed of 311 miles per hour (500.5 kilometers per hour) at 75% power, and a maximum speed of 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 19,000 feet (5,791 meters). The airplane could reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8.80 minutes. The service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and its range was 640 miles (1,030 kilometers).

The Mk.I was equipped with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with one in each wing and two mounted in the nose under the engine. Four Browning .303 Mk.II machine guns were also installed, with two in each wing.

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345 (c/n 73-3098), front. (North American Aviation Inc.)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345 (c/n 73-3098), front. (North American Aviation Inc.)

The Mk.I was 30 m.p.h. (48 kilometers per hour) faster than its contemporary, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, though both used the same engine. Below 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), the Mustang was also 30–35 m.p.h (48–56 kilometers per hour) faster than a Supermarine Spitfire, which had the more powerful Roll-Royce Merlin V-12.

Two Mustang Mk.Is, AG348 and AG354, were taken from the first RAF production order and sent to Wright Field for testing by the U.S. Army Air Force. These airplanes, assigned serial numbers 41-038 and 41-039, were designated XP-51. They would be developed into the legendary P-51 Mustang. In production from 1941 to 1945, a total of 16,766 Mustangs of all variants were built.

AG345 was retained by North American Aviation for long term testing. It was stricken off charge 3 December 1946.

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345, the first production airplane built for the Royal Air Force. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG345, the first production airplane built for the Royal Air Force. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 April 1962

E-334220 April 1962: “Neil’s Cross-Country.” NASA Research Test Pilot Neil Alden Armstrong conducts a flight to test the Minneapolis-Honeywell MH-96 flight control system installed in the third North American Aviation X-15, serial number 56-6672. The new system combined both aerodynamic and reaction thruster flight controls in one hand controller rather than the two used in X-15s -670 and -671, simplifying the tasks for the pilot.

On its fourth flight, -672 was air-dropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress drop ship, Balls 8, over Mud Lake, Nevada. Armstrong fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine and let it burn for 82.4 seconds. The X-15 accelerated to Mach 5.31 (3,789 miles per hour/6,098 kilometers per hour). After the engine was shut down, the rocketplane continued to its peak altitude on a ballistic trajectory, reaching 207,500 feet (63,246 meters) before going over the top and beginning its descent back toward the atmosphere. The test of the new flight control system went well.

E63-9834Neil Armstrong began to pull out of the descent at about 100,000 feet (30,480 meters), but the X-15 “ricocheted” off the top of the atmosphere and climbed back to 115,000 feet (35,052 meters) where the aerodynamic control surfaces could not function. He used the reaction thrusters to turn toward the dry lake landing area at Edwards Air Force Base, but although the X-15 rolled into a left bank, it would not change direction and still in ballistic flight, went zooming by Edwards at Mach 3 and 100,000 feet in a 90° left bank.

As the X-15 dropped back into the atmosphere, Armstrong was finally able to get it slowed down, but he was far south of his planned landing site. By the time he got -672 turned around he was 45 miles (72.4 kilometers) to the south, over the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and gliding through 45,000 feet (13,716 meters). There was real doubt that he would be able to make the X-15 stretch its glide to reach the dry lake.

E-7469In a masterful display of airmanship, Neil Armstrong was able to get the X-15 to reach the south end of the dry lake, 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) from the planned landing spot to the north. But it was a very close call. In debriefing, the pilots of the four F-104 chase planes were asked how much clearance Armstrong had as he crossed over the Joshua trees at the edge of the lake bed. One of them answered, “Oh, at least 100 feet—on either side.”

At 12 minutes, 28.7 seconds, this was the longest flight of the entire X-15 program. It is called “Neil’s cross-country flight.”

North American Aviation X-15 56-6670 with Neil A. Armstrong, Jr., NASA Research Test Pilot, Edwards AFB, 1960A U.S. Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions during the Korean War, Neil Armstrong became a civilian test pilot at NACA (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA) in 1955. He made 7 flights in the X-15 before transferring to NASA’s Project Gemini in 1962.

Armstrong was command pilot for Gemini 8 and Gemini 11, commander of the backup flight crew of the Apollo 8 mission, and was commander of Apollo 11.

On 20 July 1969, Neil Alden Armstrong was the First Man To Stand on the Surface of The Moon.

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© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 2006

Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., with the Victor Black Edition Continental engine overhauled by Victor Aviation of Palo Alto, California.
Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., with the Victor Black Edition Continental IO-470-E engine installed in his Cessna 210A, N6579X. The engine was overhauled by Victor Aviation of Palo Alto, California. (Victor Aviation)

19 April 2006: Former experimental test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., was enroute from Prattville, Alabama, to Manassas, Virginia. Scott Crossfield¹ was flying his personal Cessna 210A, N6579X. The Cessna was cruising at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), under the control of the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC).

During the flight, he encountered a Level 6 thunderstorm.

Scott Crossfield requested to deviate from his planned course to avoid the severe turbulence. Atlanta Center authorized his request and he began to turn. Approximately 30 seconds later, at 11:10 a.m., radar contact was lost near Ludville, Georgia. The last indication was that the Cessna was descending through 5,500 feet (1,676 meters).

The wreckage of N6579X was located the following day by a Civil Air Patrol search team, 3.3 nautical miles (6.1 kilometers) northwest of Ludville at an elevation of 1,269 feet (386.8 meters) above Sea Level. [N. 34° 30.767′, W. 84° 39.492′] The airplane had descended through the forest canopy nearly vertically and created a crater approximately 4½ feet (1.4 meters) deep and 6 feet (1.8 meters) across. Albert Scott Crossfield’s body was inside.

Scott Crossfield’s 1962 Cessna 210A Centurion, photographed at Santa Monica Airport, California, 26 September 1999. (AirNikon Collection, Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona via airliners.net)

N6579X was a Cessna Model 210A, serial number 21057579, built in 1960 by the Cessna Aircraft Company, Inc., of Wichita Kansas. It was a six-place, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with external struts to brace the wings, and retractable, tricycle landing gear. The airplane was certified for instrument flight by a single pilot. At the time of the crash, N6579X had been flown 4,987.4 hours, total time since new (TTSN).

The Cessna 210A was 28 feet, 2 inches (8.585 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 1,839 pounds (834.2 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 2,900 pounds (1,315.4 kilograms). It had a fuel capacity of 65 gallons (246 liters), with 10 gallons (37.9 liters) unusable, and 12 quarts of engine oil (11.4 liters).

N6579X was powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected, 471.239-cubic-inch-displacement (7.722 liters) Teledyne Continental IO-470-E horizontally-opposed six-cylinder direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 8.6:1. The engine was rated at 260 horsepower at 2,625 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100LL aviation gasoline. It weighed 429 pounds (195 kilograms). This engine, serial number 77583-0-E, was original to the airplane and accumulated 4,987.4 hours, total time since new (TTSN). It had been overhauled by Victor Aviation, Palo Alto, California, 1,259.8 hours prior to the accident (TSO). A three-bladed McCauley constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) was installed in 2005.

The Cessna Model 210A has a maximum structural cruise speed of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers), and maximum speed (Vne) of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). Maneuvering speed, which should be used in turbulent conditions, is 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour). The 210A has a maximum rate of climb of 1,300 feet per minutes (6.6  meters per second) and service ceiling of 20,700 feet (6,309 meters). Its maximum range is 1,284 miles (2,066 kilometers).

Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., aeronautical engineer and test pilot, 1921-2006. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., was born 2 October 1921 at Berkeley, California. He was the second of three children of Albert Scott Crossfield, a chemist who was employed as the superintendant of the Union Oil Company refinery in Wilmington, California, and Lucia M. Dwyer Crossfield.

When he was five years old, young “Scotty” contracted pneumonia. He was comatose for a while and was not expected to survive, but after several weeks he began to recover. A year later, he again became seriously ill, this time with rheumatic fever. He was confined to total bed rest for four months, and continued to require extensive bed rest until he was about ten years old. It was during this time that he became interested in aviation.

Scott Crossfield attended Boistfort Consolidated School, southwest of Chehalis, Washington, graduating in 1939, and then studied engineering at the University of Washington until taking a job at Boeing in late 1941. During this time, Scotty learned to fly in the Civilian Aviation Training Program.

The week following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Scott Crossfield enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps. After numerous delays, he joined the United States Navy on 21 February 1942, and resigned from the Air Corps. He began aviation cadet training at NAS Sand Point, near Seattle, and then was sent to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. In December 1942, he graduated, received his gold Naval Aviator wings and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Naval Reserve.

Ensign Crossfield was assigned to NAS Kingsville as an advanced bombing and gunnery instructor. He was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 March 1944. He continued as a gunnery instructor for two years before being transferred to Air Group 51 in the Hawaiian Islands, which was preparing for the invasion of Japan. He was promoted to Lieutenant, 1 August 1945, while serving aboard the Independence-class light aircraft carrier USS Langley (CVL-27). With the end of World War II, though, the Navy was cutting back. Lieutenant Crossfield was released from active duty 31 December 1945.

In April 1943 at Corpus Christi, Texas, Ensign A. Scott Crossfield married Miss Alice Virginia Knoph of Seattle. They would have five children.

Following the War, Scotty returned to the University of Washington to complete his degree. He took a part time job operating the University’s wind tunnel. At the same time, he remained in the Naval Reserve, assigned to VF-74, a fighter squadron which flew both the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Chance Vought F4U Corsair out of NAS Sand Point, back where his naval career began.

Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair, Bu. No. 82034, assigned to Fighter Squadron 74 (VF-74). (United States Navy)

Crossfield graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in June 1949, and a master’s degree in 1950.

In 1950 Crossfield joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as a research test pilot at the High-Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He flew the Republic YF-84, F-84F Thunderstreak, and North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. Crossfield made 25 flights in the delta-winged Convair XF-92A, which he described as “the worst flying airplane built in modern times.” He also flew the Northrop X-4 and Bell X-5. He made 17 flights conducting stability tests in the Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak. Scotty made 65 flights in the North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre, including a test series which discovered a fatal flaw which led to the death of North American’s chief test pilot, George S. Welch.

NACA Research Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket after exceeding Mach 2, 20 November 1953. (NASA)

Crossfield is known as a rocketplane pilot. He made 10 flights in the Bell X-1, and 89 in the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. He became the first pilot to exceed Mach 2 when he flew the Skyrocket to Mach 2.005, 20 November 1953.

Scott Crossfield discusses the X-15 with North American Aviation engineers Edmond R. Cokeley and Charles H. Feltz. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Crossfield flew for NACA for approximately five years. During that time, approximately 500 flights were made at Edwards by NACA test pilots. Scott Crossfield flew 181 of them.

Scott Crossfield left NACA in 1956 to join North American Aviation, Inc., as chief engineering test pilot for the X-15 project. Between 8 June 1959 and 6 December 1960, he made fourteen flights in the X-15. He reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.97 and altitude of 88,116 feet (26,858 meters). Once the contractor’s flight tests were completed and the rocketplane turned over to the U.S. Air Force and NACA, the customers’ test pilots, Joe Walker and Major Robert M. White, took over.

Albert Scott Crossfield made 114 flights in rocket-powered aircraft, more than any other pilot.

After completing his work on the X-15, Crossfield followed Harrison (“Stormy”) Storms, who had been the Chief Engineer of North American’s Los Angeles Division (where the X-15 was built) to the Space and Information Systems Division in Downey, California, where he worked in quality assurance, reliability engineering and systems testing for the Apollo Command and Service Modules and the Saturn S-II second stage.

Crossfield left North American at the end of 1966, becoming Vice President for Technological Development for Eastern Air Lines. In this position, he flew acceptance tests for new Boeing 720 and 727 airliners at Boeing in Seattle.

In The X-15 Rocket Plane, author Michelle Evans quoted Crossfield as to why he had not entered NASA’s space program as an astronaut:

     One question that pressed was, with his love of flight and the early responsibility of going into space with the X-15, why would Scott not apply to the NASA astronaut office? He explained, “[Dr.] Randy Lovelace and General [Donald] Flickinger were on the selection board. They took me to supper one night and asked me not to put in for astronaut. I asked them, ‘Why  not?’ and they said, ‘Well, we’re friends of yours. We don’t want to have to turn you down.’ I asked, ‘Why would you have to turn me down?’ and they said, ‘You’re too independent.’ “

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space, by Michelle, Evans, University of Nebraska Press, 2013, Chapter 1 at Page 33.

The remains of Albert Scott Crossfield are interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of X-15 56-6670, under the right wing of NB-52A 52-003. (NASA)

¹ “Scott Crossfield” is the family name, going back for several generations.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1955

Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter 083-1002, serial number 53-7787, the second prototype, in flight near Edwards AFB. (Lockheed Martin/Code One Magazine)

19 April 1955¹: Lockheed test pilot Herman Richard (“Fish”) Salmon was flying the second prototype Lockheed XF-104 interceptor, 53-7787, conducting tests of the General Electric T171 Vulcan gun system.

At 47,000 feet (14,326 meters), Salmon fired two bursts from the T171. On the second burst, vibrations from the gun loosened the airplane’s ejection hatch, located beneath the cockpit, resulting in explosive decompression.

Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Anthony W. LeVier (left) and Test Pilot Herman R. Salmon. An F-104 Starfighter is behind them. (Lockheed)
Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Anthony W. LeVier (left) and Test Pilot Herman R. Salmon. An F-104 Starfighter is behind them. (Lockheed Martin)

The Associated Press reported:

Test Pilot Leaps From New Jet

     INYOKERN, Calif., April 20 (AP)—Herman R. (Fish) Salmon, former racing pilot and now a top test pilot, bailed safely from one of the Air Force’s hot new F104 jet fighters over the Mojave dessert [sic] Tuesday.

He was  spotted on the desert after a two-hour search by military planes and brought to the Naval ordinance [sic] test station here for a physical examination. A preliminary checkup indicated he was not injured.

     Salmon, 41, was on a routine test flight when he hit the silk. Authorities gave no hint what happened to the supersecret plane to make the bailout necessary. The craft’s height at the time it was abandoned was not given. The plane’s top speed has been unofficially estimated at 1,200 m. p. h.

     Wreckage of the F104, one of two prototypes now being tested by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. for the Air Force, was found several miles south of the China Lake area.

     A Lockheed spokesman said Salmon, of Van Nuys, Calif., was spotted by a search plane and apparently picked up by a Navy helicopter and flown here. Salmon took off on the test flight from Palmdale, about 70 miles south of here.

Reno Evening Gazette, Volume LXXIX, Number 21, Wednesday, 20 April 1955, Page 24 at Columns 5–7.

Fish Salmon was wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation (I.L.C. Dover) K-1 helmet for protection in just such an emergency. The capstans are pneumatic tubes surrounded by fabric lacings, running along the arms, torso and legs. As the tubes inflated, the lacings pulled the fabric of the suit very tight and applied pressure to his body as a substitute for normal atmospheric pressure. The partial-pressure garment also enclosed his head, with a fiberglass helmet and a clear visor or face plate providing for vision.

Test pilot Herman R. Salmon with a prototype Lockheed XF-104 parked on Rogers Dry Lake. (Lockheed Martin)
Test pilot Herman R. (“Fish”) Salmon with a prototype Lockheed XF-104, parked on Rogers Dry Lake. (Lockheed Martin)

The sudden loss of cabin pressure and drop to subfreezing temperatures caused Salmon’s face plate to fog over. Inflating air bladders pushed his helmet high on his head.  The cockpit was filled with dust, fiberglass insulation and other debris. All this restricted his visibility, both inside and outside the airplane. The very tight pressure suit restricted his movements.

Fish Salmon cut the throttle, opened the speed brakes and began a descending turn to the left to reach a lower altitude. By the time he had reached 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) he had been unable to find a place on the desert floor to make an emergency landing. It was time to leave the crippled XF-104.

At 250 knots (288 miles per hour/463 kilometers per hour) the ejection seat fired Salmon out of the bottom of the cockpit. He had to open his parachute manually (the seat timer did not operate) and he made a safe landing.

The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, intended to avoid the airplane's tall vertical tail. Production aircraft used an upward-firing seat. (Lockheed)
The XF-104 had a downward-firing ejection seat, built by Stanley Aviation Inc. It was intended to avoid the airplane’s tall vertical tail. Later production aircraft used an upward-firing Martin-Baker seat. This airplane is the second prototype XF-104, 53-7787. (Lockheed Martin)

The prototype XF-104 impacted the desert approximately 73 miles (117 kilometers) east-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base. It was completely destroyed. Fish Salmon landed about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away. He was found two hours later and rescued by an Air Force helicopter.

Occasionally, a satisfied user thanked the researchers at the Aero Medical Laboratory. One of these was Lockheed test pilot Herman R. “Fish” Salmon. On April 14, 1955,¹ Salmon was flying the second XF-104 (53-7787) at 47,500 feet while wearing a T-1 suit, K-1 helmet, and strap-fastened boots. As he triggered the General Electric M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon for a test firing, severe vibrations loosened the floor-mounted ejection hatch and the cockpit explosively depressurized at the same time as the engine flamed out. The suit inflated immediately. Repeated attempts to restart the engine failed, and Salmon ejected at 15,000 feet. Fish reported, “I landed in a field of rocks ranging from one foot to five feet in diameter. My right arm was injured and my head struck a rock. The K-1 helmet hard shell was cracked, but there was no injury to my head. It took me 10 to 15 minutes to get out of the suit with my injured arm. Rescue was effected [sic] by helicopter approximately two hour after escape.” Salmon reported that the K-1 helmet was excellent for rugged parachute landings, and his only complaint was that the visor may impair vision at extreme altitudes.”

Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits—Wiley Post to Space Shuttle, by Dennis R., Jenkins, National Aeronautics and Space Administration SP–2011–595, Washington, D.C., 2012, Chapter 4 at Page 141.

Lockheed's Chief Test Pilot, Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier, is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet. The first prototype XF-104, 53-7786, is behind him. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed’s Chief Test Pilot, Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier, is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation K-1 helmet. The first prototype XF-104, 53-7786, is behind him. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

There were two Lockheed XF-104 prototypes. Initial flight testing was performed with 083-1001 (USAF serial number 53-7786). The second prototype, 083-1002 (53-7787) was the armament test aircraft. Both were single-seat, single-engine supersonic interceptors. The XF-104 was 49 feet, 2 inches (14.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 11 inches (6.680 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The prototypes had an empty weight of 11,500 pounds (5,216 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 15,700 pounds (7,121 kilograms).

The production aircraft was planned for a General Electric J79 turbojet but that engine would not be ready soon enough, so both prototypes were designed to use a Buick-built J65-B-3, a licensed version of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engine. XF-104 53-7787 had been built with an afterburning Wright J65-W-7 turbojet, rated at 7,800 pounds of thrust, and 10,200 pounds of thrust with afterburner.

The XF-104 had a maximum speed of 1,324 miles per hour (2,131 kilometers per hour), a range of 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 50,500 feet (15,392 meters).

The General Electric T171 Vulcan was a prototype 6-barrelled 20 mm “Gatling Gun” automatic cannon. The barrels were rotated at high speed by a hydraulic drive. The gun is capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. The initial production version was designated M61. The cannon system was installed in a weapons bay on the left side of the F-104, between the cockpit and engine intakes.

The first prototype Lockheed XF-104, 53-7786, was also destroyed, 11 July 1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot, William C. Park, safely ejected.

¹ Reliable sources give the date of this incident as both 14 April and 19 April. Contemporary news reports, published Wednesday, 20 April 1955, say that the accident took place “yesterday” and “Tuesday,” suggesting that the correct date is 19 April.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 April 1958

Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a World Altitude Record with a Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, 18 April 1958. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a World Altitude Record with a Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger, 18 April 1958. (U.S. Navy)

18 April 1958: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Lieutenant Commander George Clinton Watkins, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record of 23,449 meters (76,932 feet)¹ with a Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 138647.

Lieutenant Commander Watkins wore a David Clark Co. C-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation (ILC Dover) K-1 helmet and face plate for protection at high altitudes.

Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647, in flight near Edwards AFB, California. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647, in flight near Edwards AFB, California. (U.S. Navy)

The F11F-1F Tiger was a higher performance variant of the U.S. Navy F11F single-seat, single-engine swept wing aircraft carrier-based supersonic fighter. The last two regular production F11F-1 Tigers, Bu. Nos. 138646 and 138647 were completed as F11F-2s, with the standard Westinghouse J65-WE-18 turbojet engine replaced by a more powerful General Electric YJ79-GE-3, which produced 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons), or 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The air intakes on each side of the fuselage were longer and had a larger area to provide greater airflow for the new engine. After testing, the fuselage was lengthened 1 foot, 1½ inches (0.343 meters) and an upgraded J79 engine installed. The first “Super Tiger” was damaged beyond repair in a takeoff accident and was “expended” as a training aid for fire fighters.

The U.S. Navy determined that the F11F-2 was too heavy for operation aboard carriers and did not place any orders. The designation was changed from F11F-2 to F11F-1F, and later, to F-11B, although the remaining aircraft was no longer flying by that time.

The F11F-1F Tiger is 48 feet, 9 inches (14.859 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 7½ inches (9.639 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 4¾ inches (4.388 meters). The Super Tiger has an empty weight of 16,457 pounds (7,465 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 26,086 pounds (11,832 kilograms).

With the YJ79 engine, the F11F-1F has a maximum speed of 836 miles per hour (1,345 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 1,325 miles per hour (2,132 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 1,400 miles per hour (2,253 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). Cruise speed is 580 miles per hour (933 kilometers per hour). It had an initial rate of climb of 8,950 feet per minute (45.5 meters per second) and service ceiling of 50,300 feet (15,331 meters). Range with internal fuel was 1,136 miles (1,828 kilometers).

The Tiger’s armament consisted of four 20 mm Colt Mk 12 autocannon with 125 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

The single remaining F11F-1F, Bu. No. 138647, is on static display at the Naval Air Weapons center, China Lake, California.

Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman F11F-1F Tiger, Bu. No. 138647. (U.S. Navy)

George Clinton Watkins was born at Alhambra, California, 10 March 1921, the third of seven children of Edward Francis Watkins, a purchasing agent for the Edison Company, and Louise Whipple Ward Watkins.

Watkins graduated from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland in 1943, was commissioned an ensign and assigned as a gunnery officer aboard the battleship, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). Near the end of the war, he entered pilot training and won his naval aviator’s wings in 1945. In 1950 he attended the Navy’s test pilot school at NAS Patuxent River, along with classmates John H. Glenn and Alan B. Shepard. He served as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, then returned to duty as a test pilot.

George Watkins was the first U.S. Navy pilot to fly higher than 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) and 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). In 1956, he set a speed record of 1,210 miles per hour (1,947.3 kilometers per hour). In 1962, Commander Watkins was the first U.S. Navy pilot to have made 1,000 aircraft carrier landings.

Captain George C. Watkins, U.S. Navy (1921–2005)

Captain Watkins served in planning assignments at the Pentagon, and was an aide to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. He commanded a supply ship [experience commanding a deep draft ship was a requirement before serving as captain of an aircraft carrier] during the Vietnam War, and served as a technical adviser for the 1970 20th Century Fox/Toei Company movie, “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” about the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor which brought the United States of America into World War II.

By the time Captain Watkins retired from the Navy in 1973, he had flown more than 200 aircraft types, made 1,418 landings on 37 aircraft carriers, and logged more than 16,000 flight hours. He continued flying after he retired, operating sailplane schools at Santa Monica and Lompoc, California. By the time he passed away, 18 September 2005, he had flown more than 21,000 hours during 26,000 flights.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8596

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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