Tag Archives: Test Pilot

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 at Edwards Air Force Base in 1956. He flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing there and at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In 1962 he was assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards 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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3 December 1945

Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR. © IWM (A 31015)
Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., Royal Navy. © IWM (A 31015)

3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, R.N.

For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 19 February 1946.

LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.

The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.

LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.

The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.

LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.

Captain Eric ("Winkle") Brown, RNAS, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)
Lieutenant-Commander Eric (“Winkle”) Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR, with the second prototype de Havilland DH.100, LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)

HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s  flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.

HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.

Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
A landing signal officer guides Brown to land aboard HMS Ocean.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551/G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 lands aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 takes off from HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., KCVSA, Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland; Fettes College; and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.

This unidentified Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm petty officer appears to be Eric Brown.

Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Sub-Lieutenant Eric Melrose Brown, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, circa 1939.

Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys.

Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.

Ensign Eric M.Brown with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I
Sub-Lieutenant Eric M.Brown, R.N.V.R., Fleet Air Arm, with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I, circa 1941. (Unattributed)

Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.

Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Lieutenant Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.

In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.

Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949. Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft  carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.

Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)
Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)

In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.

From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.

From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.

Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC Hob FRAeS, RN
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., Royal Navy

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D. Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., retired from active duty 12 March 1970.

At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.

In 1982 and 1983, Captain Brown served as president of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.

Captain Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)
Captain Eric M. Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 December 1984

NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The "X" is the planned touchdown point. The "rhino" barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)
NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The “X” is the planned touchdown point. The “rhino” barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)

After four years of planning and preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intentionally crashed a Boeing 720 airliner to test an experimental fuel additive intended to reduce post-crash fires, and to assess passenger survivability. An anti-misting agent was added to standard commercial JP-5 jet fuel to create AMK, or “Anti-Misting Kerosene.” The airliner’s fuel tanks were filled with the AMK mixture, totaling 16,060 gallons (10,794 liters). Instrumented crash test dummies were placed in the passengers seats.

Passengers relaxing before a flight aboard NASA’s Boeing 720, N833NA. (NASA ECN-28307)

NASA 833, the Boeing 720-027 airliner, FAA registration N833NA, was a remotely-piloted aircraft. NASA test pilot Fitzhugh Lee (“Fitz”) Fulton, Jr., flew NASA 833 from a ground station, the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility. More than 60 flights had been made prior to the actual test.

Fitz Fulton in the CID.
Fitz Fulton in the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility

The test was planned so that the airliner would make a shallow 3.8° approach to a prepared runway on the east side of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. It was to land on its belly in a wings-level attitude, then slide into a group of barriers, called “rhinos,” which would slice open the wing tanks. The fuselage and passenger cabin would remain intact. NASA and the FAA estimated that this would be “survivable” for all occupants.

Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a "Dutch roll." The airliner's nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)
Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a “Dutch roll.” The airliner’s nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)

As the Boeing 720 descended on its Final Approach, its nose yawed to the right and the airplane went to the right of the runway center line. It then yawed back to the left and entered an out-of-phase oscillation called a “Dutch roll.” The decision height to initiate a “go-around” was 150 feet (45.7 meters) above the surface of the lake bed. Fitz Fulton thought he had enough time to get NASA 833 back on the center line and committed to the test landing. However, the Dutch roll resulted in the airliner’s left wing impacting the ground with the inboard engine on the left wing (Number Two) just to the right of the center line.

NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)
NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)

According to the test plan, all four of the airliner’s engines should have been brought to idle, but they remained at full throttle. The left wing’s impact yawed the airliner to the left and, rather than the fuselage passing through the rhino barriers undamaged, the passenger compartment was torn open. Another rhino sliced into the Number Three engine (inboard, right wing), opening its combustion chamber. With the fuel tanks in the wings ruptured, raw fuel was sprayed into the engine’s open combustion chamber which was still at full throttle.

 As the airliner slides through the "rhino" barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)
As the airliner slides through the “rhino” barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)

The raw fuel ignited and exploded into a fireball. Flames immediately entered the passenger compartment. As the 720 slid on the runway it continued to rotate left and the right wing broke off though the fuselage remained upright.

NASA 833's right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)
NASA 833’s right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)

As the right wing came off the ruptured fuel tanks emptied most of the raw fuel directly into the fireball.

The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)
The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)

Over an hour was required to extinguish the flames. The test of the flame-reducing fuel additive was a complete failure. Test engineers estimated that 25% of the occupants might have survived the crash, however, it was “highly speculative” that any could have escaped from the burning, smoke-filled passenger compartment.

Fithugh L. "Fitz" Fulton, Jr. (NASA)
Fitzhugh Lee “Fitz” Fulton, Jr., with NASA 905, a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and Enterprise (OV-101). (NASA)
Fitz Fulton, 1942 (The Cohiscan)

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born at Blakely, Georgia, 6 June 1925, the first of two sons of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, a merchant seaman, and Manila Fulton. He attended Columbus High School, Columbus Georgia, graduating in 1942. He entered College at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University) and the University of Oklahoma. He was awarded a bachelor of arts degree from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fulton entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, and was trained as a pilot. He married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945. They would have three children.

Following World War II, participated in Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, July 1946. Lieutenant Fulton flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster four-engine transport during the Berlin Airlift, making 225 sorties, and then the Douglas B-26 Invader light attack bomber during the Korean War.

Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in teh cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)
Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)

Fulton graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber and flew the B-58 to a World Record Altitude of 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) on 14 September 1962.¹

Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

At Edwards Air Force Base, he flew the B-52 “mother ships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie faster than Mach 3. When Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966, he was a lieutenant colonel assigned as Chief of Bomber and Transport Test Operations.

Fitz Fulton continued as a research test pilot for NASA, flying as project pilot for the YF-12A and YF-12C research program. He flew all the early test flights of the NASA/Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and carried the space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. By the time he had retired from NASA, Fulton had flown more than 16,000 hours in 235 aircraft types.

Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years..

Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.
Colonel Joseph Frederick Cotton and Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.

NASA 833 (c/n 18066) was ordered by Braniff Airways, Inc., as N7078, but the sale was not completed. The airplane first flew 5 May 1961 and it was delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration as a test aircraft one week later, 12 May 1961, registered N113. A few years later the identification was changed to N23, then back to N113, and then once again to N23. In 1982, the Boeing 720 was transferred to NASA to be used in the Controlled Impact Demonstration. At this time it was registered as N2697V. A final registration change was made to N833NA.

NASA 833 at Edwards Air Force Base, prior to the Controlled Impact Demonstration. (Paul)

The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements were made to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag, though it retained the span of the 707.

The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff. The JT3D-1 was a dual axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The maximum cruise speed of the Boeing 720 was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). The range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).

Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 14652 and 14656

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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