Tag Archives: Test Pilot

18 June 1981

Lockheed Full Scale Development YF-117A, 79-10780, in light, three-tone desert camouflage. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Full Scale Development YF-117A, 79-10780, in three-tone desert camouflage. (Lockheed Martin)

18 June 1981: At 6:05 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time (1305 UTC), the first Full Scale Development Lockheed YF-117A Nighthawk, 79-10780, made its first flight at Groom Lake, Nevada, with “Skunk Works” test pilot Harold C. (“Hal”) Farley, Jr. at the controls. The super-secret airplane was made of materials that absorbed radar waves, and built with the surfaces angled so that radar signals are deflected away from the source.

Harold "Hal" Farley, Jr., with a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk.
Harold “Hal” Farley, Jr., with a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk. (Lockheed Martin)

Hal Farley is a former U.S. Naval Aviator who spent eight years testing F-14 Tomcat fighters for Grumman before going to work at Lockheed’s “Skunk Works.” He flew the Have Blue proof-of-concept prototype and the Senior Trend F-117 program. When he retired from Lockheed, Farley had more that 600 flight hours in the F-117s. His call sign is “Bandit 117.”

Commonly called the “Stealth Fighter,” the Nighthawk is actually a tactical bomber. Five developmental aircraft and 59 operational F-117As were built. They were in service from 1983 until 2008, when the Lockheed F-22 Raptor was planned to assume their mission. They are mothballed and could be returned to service if needed.

A Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk takes off from Groom Lake, Nevada.
A Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk takes off from Nellis Air Force, Base, Nevada. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk is a single-seat, twin-engine tactical bomber with swept wings and tail surfaces. It is 65 feet, 11 inches (20.091 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 4 inches (13.208 meters) and height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The wings’ leading edges are swept aft to 67° 30′. The total wing area is 912.7 square feet ( square meters). The Nighthawk has an empty weight of 29,500 pounds (13,381 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 52,500 pounds (23,814 kilograms).

The F-117 is powered by two General Electric F404-F1D2 engines. These are two-spool axial-flow turbofan engines which have a 3-stage fan section, 7-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. They are rated at 10,540 pounds of thrust (46.88 kilonewtons), each. The -F1D2 is 2 feet, 10.8 inches (0.884 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 3.0 inches (2.210 meters) long and weighs 1,730 pounds (785 kilograms).

The F-117A has a maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (608 miles per hour, 978 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling is 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and range is 765 miles (1,231 kilometers), though inflight refueling capability gives it world-wide range.

F-117A drops GBU-28
A Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk drops a 2,000-pound GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bomb. (U.S. Air Force)

The Nighthawk has no defensive armament. It can carry two 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay.

Lockheed built 5 YF-117As and 59 production F-117As. The F-117s were retired and placed in climate-controlled storage in 2008.

Scorpion One, 79-10780, is now mounted on a pylon as a “gate guard” at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 June 1943

Vega Aircraft Corporation XB-38 41-2401 (ex-Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2401), circa May–June 1943. (Lockheed Martin)

16 June 1943: The Boeing B-17E, F and G Flying Fortress heavy bomber was produced by a consortium of three aircraft manufacturers: Boeing in Seattle, Washington; the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California; and the Vega Aircraft Corporation (a subsidiary of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation) at Burbank, California. Exemplars of production B-17s were provided to Douglas and Vega.

The Flying Fortress that was sent to Vega was the ninth production B-17E, serial number 41-2401.

The U.S. Army Air Corps asked Vega convert 41-2401 by installing liquid-cooled Allison V-12 engines. By replacing the air-cooled Wright Cyclone R-1820-65 nine-cylinder radial engines it was hoped that more streamlined configuration would produce better performance in the same way as had modifying the Curtiss P-36 to the Allison-powered P-40.

Engine coolant radiators were placed in the leading edge of each wing between the inboard and outboard engines. The engines were the same variant as used for the starboard engine of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

Allison V-1710-89 V-12 installed on XB-38 41-2401. (Lockheed Martin)

The Vega XB-38 was powered by four liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F-17R (V-1710-89) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines. These had a continuous power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,600 r,p.m., to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 1,425 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The engines drove three-bladed full-feathering constant-speed propellers through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The engines were 7 feet, 1.34 inches (2.168 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

The converted airplane was designated Vega XB-38. It made its first flight in the new configuration on 19 May 1943 with Vega’s Chief Pilot Bud Martin in the cockpit.

Vega XB-38 41-2401 (Lockheed Martin)

The XB-38 made its ninth test flight on 16 June 1943, with Bud Martin and former Naval Aviator George Archibald MacDonald on board. Flying over California’s San Joaquin Valley, the experimental bomber’s number three engine (inboard, starboard wing) caught fire.

When they were unable to extinguish the fire, Martin and MacDonald bailed out. MacDonald’s parachute failed to open and he was killed. Martin’s parachute opened improperly and he was severely injured when he hit the ground.

The Vega XB-38 crashed near Tipton, California, a small farming community on the valley floor, west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The bomber was destroyed.

Although the complete flight test program of the XB-38 was not completed, it was found that its performance increased only slightly over the B-17E. The project was cancelled.

Vega XB-38 41-2401 in flight, circa May–June 1943. Note the remotely-operated ventral turret. (Lockheed Martin)

George Archibald MacDonald was born 7 August 1901 at Anaconda, Montana. He was the second son of Erwin H. MacDonald, a mining engineer, and Shuberta M. Swan MacDonald.

MacDonald served as an ensign in the United States Navy. In 1926, Ensign MacDonald was designated Naval Aviator #4331.

George Archibald MacDonald was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

Bud Martin recovered from his injures and remained with Lockheed. On 3 December 1943, he took the PV-2 Harpoon for its first flight. He flew the first production C-130A Hercules at Marietta, Georgia, 7 April 1955.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 June 1994

Boeing test pilots John E. Cashman and Kenny Higgins with WA001 at Paine Field. (Boeing)
Boeing test pilots John E. Cashman and Kenny Higgins with WA001 at Paine Field. (Boeing)

12 June 1994: At 11:45 a.m., Boeing test pilots John E. Cashman and Kenny Higgins took the first Boeing 777-200 airliner, line number WA001, FAA registration N7771, on its first flight. Before taking off from Paine Field, Boeing’s president, Phil Condit, told Cashman, “Good luck, John. And no rolls!”, referring to the famous incident when Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston rolled the Model 367–80 prototype of the 707 airliner over Lake Washington, 6 August 1955.

The 777’s first test flight lasted 3 hours, 48 minutes. This was the longest first flight of any of Boeing’s airliners. It reached a maximum altitude of 19,000 feet (5,791 meters) and accomplished all tests on the flight plan, including shutting down and restarting an engine in flight.

Boeing 777-200 N7771, line number WA001, on its first flight, 12 June 1994. The chase plane is a Northrop T-38A Talon. (AP)
Boeing 777-200 N7771, line number WA001, on its first flight, 12 June 1994. The chase plane is a Northrop T-38A Talon. (AP)

The Boeing 777-200 is operated by two pilots and, depending on its configuration can carry 314 to 440 passengers. It is 209 feet, 1 inch (63.729 meters) long with a wingspan of 199 feet, 11 inches (60.935 meters) and overall height of 60 feet, 9 inches (18.517 meters). The fuselage has a diameter of 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters). The airliner has an empty weight of 297,300 pounds (134,853 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 545,000 pounds (247,208 kilograms).

WA001 was originally powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW4074 two-spool high-bypass-ratio turbofan engines which produce 77,000 pounds of thrust, each. Production airliners were equipped with PW4077 engines with the same thrust. General Electric and Rolls-Royce turbofans could also be ordered.

Boeing 777s have a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (560 miles per hour, 901 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 0.89 Mach (590 miles per hour, 950 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 43,100 feet (13,137 meters). The 777-200 has a maximum range of 6,027 miles (9,700 kilometers) with maximum payload aboard.

Boeing 777 WA001, N7771. (Boeing)
Boeing 777 WA001, N7771. (Boeing)

The 777 series was the most comprehensively tested airplane in history. Nine aircraft were used in the test program. WA001 was in testing until April 1997, by which time it had accumulated 1,729 flight hours and another 1,033 hours of ground testing.

Purchased by Cathay Pacific, the first “Triple Seven” was completely refurbished and equipped for passenger service, configured as a 777-267. The engines were replaced by two Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 884B-17 high-bypass turbofan engines. These engines are rated at 85,430 pounds of thrust for takeoff (5 minutes limit). Because of their lighter weight, the empty weight of the airliner was reduced approximately 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms). The airliner was rolled out of the factory for the second time 31 October 2000, and was delivered to the Cathay Pacific on 6 December, registered B-HNL. WA001 was retired 1 June 2018 and placed in storage at Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN), Xiamen, Fujian Province, People’s Republic of China. Reportedly, the first Triple-Seven will become part of the collection of the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington.

Cathay Pacific's Boeing 777-267, Bankok, Thailand, 1 January 2014. (Teeawut Wongdee)
Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-267, B-HNL, landing at Bankok, Thailand, 1 January 2014. (Teerawut Wongdee)

The 777 was produced in the 777-200 configuration, followed the 777-200ER (“extended range”) and 777-200LR (“longer range”) variants, a longer 777-300ER and a 777F freighter. A tanker version has been proposed. Eighty-eight 777-200 airliners were built before production halted in favor of the -200ER and -200LR models.

As of April 2018, 1,547 Boeing 777s of all models have been delivered. At that time, there were 60 777-300ER, 42 777F freighters, and 326 777Xs on order.

Boeing 777 final assembly line. (archive.com)
Boeing 777 final assembly line. (archive.com)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 June 1966

XB-70A-2-NA Valkyrie 62-0207 leading a formation of aircraft powered by General Electric engines. Joe Walker’s F-104 is just below the B-70’s right wing tip. (U.S. Air Force)

8 June 1966: During a publicity photo formation flight, a Lockheed F-104N Starfighter, N813NA, flown by NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker, was caught in the wingtip vortices of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie, 62-0207, the second prototype Mach 3+ strategic bomber. The Starfighter rolled up and across the Valkyrie. The two airplanes collided, with the F-104 taking off the Valkyrie’s vertical fins, then exploding.

Lockheed F-104N N813NA collided with North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 and exploded, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

The Valkyrie continued to fly straight and level for 16 seconds before it began to roll inverted. The B-70’s pilot, Alvin S. White, was able to eject, though he was severely injured. Joe Walker and B-70 co-pilot Major Carl S. Cross, United States Air Force, were killed.

The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. Fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. A large section of the left wing is missing. JP-8 fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

Still photographs and motion picture film of the formation were being taken from Clay Lacy’s Gates Lear Jet. The photos were for a General Electric publicity campaign showing U.S. military aircraft that were powered by GE engines. Air Force procedures for requesting and approval of publicity flights were not properly followed and it is likely this flight would not have been approved had they been.

XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. (U.S. Air Force)
The XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. The outer section of the left wing is missing. The trailing edge and tip tank of the Lear Jet photo plane’s right wing are in the foreground. (U.S. Air Force)

Reportedly, just prior to the collision, Walker radioed, “I’m opposing this mission. It is too turbulent and it has no scientific value.”

The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burnds on the desert floor, north of Barstow, california, 8 June 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burns on the desert floor at N. 35° 03′ 47″, W. 117° 01′ 27″, north of Barstow, California, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 June 1959, 16:38:40 GMT

Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A.

8 June 1959: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, A. Scott Crossfield, made the first flight of the X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane.

56-6670 was the first of three X-15s built for the U.S. Air Force and NASA. It was airdropped from a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, at 37,550 feet (11,445 meters) over Rosamond Dry Lake at 08:38:40 a.m, Pacific Daylight Time.

This was an unpowered glide flight to check the flying characteristics and aircraft systems, so there were no propellants or oxidizers aboard, other than hydrogen peroxide which powered the pumps and generators.

The aircraft reached 0.79 Mach (522 miles per hour, 840 kilometers per hour) during the 4 minute, 56.6 second flight.

North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of X-15A 56-670 before a flight. (NASA)
North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of an X-15 before a flight. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

In his autobiography, Scott Crossfield described the first flight:

“Three” . . . “Two” . . . “One” . . .

“DROP”

Inside the streamlined pylon, a hydraulic ram disengaged the three heavy shackles from the upper fuselage of the X-15. They were so arranged that all released simultaneously, and if one failed they all failed. The impact of the release was clearly audible in the X-15 cockpit. I heard a loud “kerchunk.”

X-15A 56-6670 under the wing of NB-52A 52-003 at high altitude. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocketplane. Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)
X-15A 56-6670 under the wing of NB-52A 52-003 at high altitude. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocketplane. (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office, U.S. Air Force)

The X-15 hung in its familiar place beneath the pylon for a split second. Then the nose dipped sharply down and to the right more rapidly than I had anticipated. The B-52, so long my constant companion, was gone. The X-15 and I were alone in the air and flying 500 miles an hour. In less than five minutes I would be on the ground. . . .

There was much to do in the first hundred seconds of flight. First I had to get the “feel” of the airplane, to make certain it was trimmed out for landing just as any pilot trims an airplane after take-off or . . . when dwindling fuel shifts the center of gravity. Then I had to pull the nose up, with and without flaps, to feel out the stall characteristics, so that I would know how she might behave at touchdown speeds . . . My altimeter unwound dizzily: from 24,000 to 13,000 feet in less than forty seconds. . . .

X-15A 56-6670 drops from the wing of the B-52 mothership. This is a glide flight as there is no frost from cryogenic propellants showing of the fuselage. The vapor trail is from hydrogen peroxide that powers the aircraft power systems. Note the roll to the right as the X-15 drops from the pylon. (NASA)
X-15A 56-6670 drops from the wing of the B-52 mothership, 8 June 1959. The vapor trail is from venting hydrogen peroxide used to power the aircraft pumps and generators. Note the roll to the right as the X-15 drops away from the Stratofortress. (NASA)

The desert was coming up fast. At 600 feet altitude I flared out. . . .

In the next second without warning the nose of the X-15 pitched up sharply. It was a maneuver that had not been predicted by the computers, an uncharted area which the X-15 was designed to explore. I was frankly caught off guard. Quickly I applied corrective elevator control.

The nose went down sharply. But instead of leveling out, it tucked down. I applied reverse control. The nose came up but much too far. Now the nose was rising and falling like a skiff in a heavy sea. Although I was putting in maximum control I could not subdue the motions. The X-15 was porpoising wildly, sinking toward the desert at 200 miles an hour. I would have to land at the bottom of an oscillation, timed perfectly; otherwise, I knew, I would break the bird. I lowered the flaps and the gear. . . .

. . . With the next dip I had one last chance and flared again to ease the descent. At that moment the rear skids caught on the desert floor and the nose slammed over, cushioned by the nose wheel. The X-15 skidded 5,000 feet across the lake, throwing up an enormous rooster tail of dust. . . .

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960, Chapter 37 at Pages 338–342.

This photograph shows the second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, flaring to land on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California The rear skids are just touching down. The white patches on the aircraft's belly is frost from residual cryogenic propellants remaining in its tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows the second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, flaring to land on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. The rear skids are just touching down. The white patches on the aircraft’s belly are frost from residual cryogenic propellants remaining in its tanks after a powered flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Before the drop, it was discovered that the aircraft’s Stability Augmentation System was inoperative in pitch mode. During the flight it was found that the hydraulic-assisted flight control system was responding too slowly to Crossfield’s inputs. Engineers analyzed the problem and increased the hydraulic system pressure. The problem never recurred.

Scott Crossfield was the world’s most experienced rocketplane pilot with 82 rocketplane flights before the X-15 program. “. . . he was intimately involved in the design of the aircraft and contributed immensely to the success of the design.”

At The Edge Of Space, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, Introduction, at Page 3.

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6670 made the first glide flight and the first and last powered flights of the X-15 Program. It made a total of 82 of the 199 X-15 flights. 56-6670 is in the collection of National Air and Space Museum at Washington, D.C.

Scott Crossfield in a David Clark Co. XMC-2 full-pressure suit with an MA-3 conformal helmet, and the first North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6670. (Scott Crossfield Foundation)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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