Tag Archives: Test Pilot

17 November 1954

Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Delta 2 WG774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Delta 2 WG774. (Wikipedia)
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, OBE, DSC and Bar. (The Telegraph)
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, OBE, DSC and Bar. (The Telegraph)

17 November 1954: Lionel Peter Twiss, Chief Test Pilot for Fairey Aviation Company Ltd., was flying the company’s experimental supersonic airplane, the Fairey Delta 2, WG774, from the aircraft test center at RAF Boscombe Down. This was the FD.2’s fourteenth flight.

When about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the airfield and climbing through 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the airplane’s fuel supply was interrupted and the engine flamed out.

Unwilling to lose a valuable research aircraft, Twiss decided to stay with the Delta 2 rather than ejecting, and he glided back to Boscombe Down. Without the engine running, the aircraft had insufficient hydraulic pressure to completely lower the landing gear and only the nosewheel strut locked in place. The FD.2 touched down at 170 miles per hour (274 kilometers per hour) and was seriously damaged. It was out of service for nearly a year. The wings had to be replaced and those which had originally been built for structural tests were used.

Damaged Fairey Delta 2 WG774 at Boscombe Down. (Prototypes.com)

For his effort to save a valuable research aircraft, Peter Twiss was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. Notice of the award was published in The London Gazette, 22 February 1955, at Page 1094:

Lionel Peter Twiss, Test Pilot, Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. (Hillingdon, Middlesex.)

     For services when an aircraft, undergoing tests, sustained damage in the air.

Her Majesty and Prince Phillip look over the Fairey Delta 2 with Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss.
Her Majesty and Prince Phillip look over a Fairey Delta 2 with Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss in 1956. (Daily Mail)

On 10 March 1956, Phillip Twiss flew WG774 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15km/25km Straight Course at an average speed over a 9-mile course, flown between Chichester and Portsmouth at and altitude of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Two runs over the course were made, with first averaging 1,117 miles per hour (1,798 kilometers per hour) and the second, in the opposite direction, was 1,147 miles per hour. (1,846 kilometers per hour). The FD.2 had averaged 1,822 Kilometers per hour (1,132 miles per hour)—Mach 1.731.¹

Twiss had broken the previous record of 1,323.312 kilometers per hour (822.268 miles per hour) which had been set by Colonel Horace A. Hanes, USAF, flying a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre over Edwards Air Force Base, California. (FAI Record File # 8867)

Test Pilot Peter Twist shakes hands with Robert L. Lickey, designer of the Fairey Delta 2. (The New York Times)
Test Pilot Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, DFC and Bar, shakes hands with Robert Lang Lickley, Chief Engineer of Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., and designer of the Fairey Delta 2. (The New York Times)

Peter Twiss was the first British pilot, and the FD.2 the first British airplane, to exceed 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 kilometers per hour) in level flight. Twiss is also the last British pilot to have held a World Absolute Speed Record.

For his services as a test pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, D.F.C. and Bar, was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 13 June 1957.

Fairey Delta 2 (FD.2) WG774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Delta 2 (FD.2) WG774, 13 March 1956. (Unattributed)

The Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., Delta 2 WG774 (c/n F9421) is the first of two single-place, single engine delta-wing research aircraft which had been designed and built to investigate transonic and supersonic speeds. It first flew 6 October 1953 with Chief Test Pilot Peter Twiss in the cockpit. In its original configuration, the FD.2 is 51 feet, 7½ inches (15.735 meters) long with a wingspan of 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) and overall height of 11 feet (3.353 meters). The wings’ leading edge were swept to 59.9° with an angle of incidence of +1.5°. Ailerons and flaps were at the trailing edge and acted in place of elevators. In its original configuration it had an empty weight of approximately 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and the all-up weight at takeoff was 14,109 pounds (6,400 kilograms).

The FD.2 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon RA.28R afterburning turbojet engine which produced 9,530 pounds of thrust (42.392 kilonewtons), or 11,820 pounds (52.578 kilonewtons) with afterburner (“reheat”). This was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 15-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The RA.28 was 10 feet, 3.0 inches (3.124 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,869 pounds (1,301 kilograms).

WG774 and its sistership, WG777, were used for flight testing throughout the 1960s. WG774 was modified as a test aircraft to study various features of the planned British Aerospace Concorde. The landing gear struts were lengthened and the fuselage extended by six feet. It received a “drooped” nose section for improved pilot visibility during takeoff and landings. New wings were installed which had an ogee-curved leading edge. With these modifications WG774 was redesignated BAC 221. In this configuration, WG774 was tested to Mach 1.65 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).

WG774 was retired in the early 1970s. It is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England.

Fairey Aviation FD.2 WG7774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Aviation FD.2 WG774, 2 September 1955. (Unattributed)

Lionel Peter Twiss was born 23 July 1921 at Lindfield, Sussex, England. He was educated at the Sherborne School, a prestigious boarding school for boys, in Dorset. He briefly worked as a tea taster following school, but in 1939 enlisted in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He was trained as a fighter pilot.

Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) Lionel Peter Twiss, R.N.V.R., was assigned as the pilot of a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. (Hurricanes could be launched by catapult from merchant ships to defend against Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor reconnaissance bombers.)

He next flew the Fairey Fulmar fighter from HMS Argus (I49) in support of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Twiss is credited with shooting down one enemy fighter and damaging a bomber. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 22 September 1942. He and his squadron transitioned to the Supermarine Seafire aboard HMS Furious (49) and were in action during the invasion of North Africa. He was awarded a Bar, denoting a second award, to his D.F.C.

After returning to England in 1943, Twiss was trained as a night fighter pilot and flew the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito with an RAF night fighter unit on intruder missions over France. In 1944 he shot down two more enemy airplanes.

Twiss was in the third class of the Empire Test Pilots’ School and after graduation was assigned to Fairey Aviation. With the end of World War II, Lieutenant-Commander Twiss left the Royal Navy and continued working as a test pilot at Fairey.

Peter Twiss ended his career testing aircraft in 1959, having flown more than 4,500 hours in nearly 150 different aircraft. His autobiography, Faster than the Sun, was published in 1963.

Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, O.B.E., D.F.C. and Bar, died 31 August 2011 at the age of 90 years.

Peter Twiss with a scale model of the Fairey Delta 2. (The Teegraph)
Peter Twiss with a scale model of the Fairey Delta 2. (The Telegraph)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8866

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 November 1970

Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, N1011. (Lockheed)
Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, N1011. (Lockheed Martin)

16 November 1970: At the Lockheed California Company Plant 10, just north of Palmdale in the high desert of Southern California, test pilot Henry Baird (“Hank”) Dees, co-pilot Ralph C. Cokely (formerly a Boeing 747 test pilot), with flight test engineers Glenn E. Fisher and Rod Bray, took the new prototype Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar, N1011, on its first flight.

During the 2½-hour test flight, the airliner reached 250 knots (288 miles per hour, 463 kilometers per hour) and 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).

The prototype Lockheed L-1011 Tristar parked inside the production hangar at Plant 10, Palmdale, California. (Lockheed)
The prototype Lockheed L-1011 TriStar parked inside the production hangar at Plant 10, Palmdale, California. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar is a three-engine wide body airliner designed to carry up to 400 passengers on medium or long distance routes. It is operated by a flight crew of three. The prototype, the L-1011-1 and L-1011-200 production aircraft were 177 feet, 8½ inches (54.166 meters) long with a wingspan of 155 feet, 4 inches (47.346 meters). The longer range, higher gross weight L-1011-500 variant was 164 feet, 2½ inches (50.051 meters) long with a wingspan of 164 feet, 4 inches (50.089 meters). All TriStars have an overall height of 55 feet, 4 inches (16.866 meters). The interior cabin width is 18 feet, 11 inches (5.766 meters). Empty weight ranges from 241,700 pounds (109,633 kilograms) to 245,400 pounds (111,312 kilograms), while the maximum takeoff weight varies from 430,000 pounds (195,045 kilograms) to 510,000 pounds (231,332 kilograms).

N1011, the prototype Lockheed L-10ll TriStar, taxis to the ramp at Plant 10, at Palmdale, California, 16 November 1970. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)
N1011, the prototype Lockheed L-10ll TriStar, taxis to the ramp at Plant 10, at Palmdale, California, 16 November 1970. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)

The L-1011-1 aircraft were powered by three Rolls Royce RB.211-22B-02 high bypass turbofan engines, producing 42,000 pounds of thrust (186.825 kilonewtons). The -200 and -500 variants used the more powerful RB.211-524B4 which produces 53,000 pounds (235.756 kilonewtons). The RB.211-22 is a “triple-spool” axial-flow turbine engine. It has a single fan stage, 13-stage compressor (7 intermediate- and 6 high-pressure stages), single combustion chamber, and 5 stage turbine section (1 high-, 1 intermediate- and three low-pressure stages). The -22B is 10 feet, 11.4 inches (3.033 meters) long and its fan diameter is 7 feet, 0.8 inches (2.154 meters). It weighs 9,195 pounds (4,171 kilograms).

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar N1011. (Jon Proctor via Wikipedia)
Lockheed L-1011 TriStar N1011 parked on the ramp at Plant 10, Palmdale, California, 16 November 1970. (Jon Proctor via Wikipedia)

Depending on the model, the L-1011 series had a cruise speed of 520–525 knots (598–604 miles per hour, 963–972 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.95 Mach. The service ceiling was 42,000–43,000 feet (12,802–13,106 meters). Maximum range for the long range -500 was 6,090 nautical miles (7,008 miles, 11,279 kilometers).

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was a very technologically advanced airliner for the time. It was the first to be certified for Category IIIc autolanding, in which the airplane’s automatic flight system could land the airplane in “zero-zero” weather conditions.

Lockheed built 250 L-1011s between 1970 and 1984. Sales were delayed because of problems with delivery of the Rolls-Royce turbofans, giving an early advantage to the competitor McDonnell DC-10, of which 446 were built.

Few TriStars remain in service. The prototype, N1011, was scrapped at Ardmore, Oklahoma, in August 1996. A portion of its fuselage, painted in Delta Air Lines livery, is on display at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia.

Lockheed L-1011 protoype during Mimum Unstick Speed (Vmu) speed test. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed L-1011 prototype during Minimum Unstick (Vmu) speed test for FAA certification. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 November 1967

Major Michael J. Adams, United States Air Force, with an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Major Michael J. Adams, United States Air Force, with an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane on Rogers Dry Lake, 22 March 1967. (NASA)

15 November 1967: Major Michael J. Adams, U.S. Air Force, was killed in the crash of the number three North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 56-6672.

Flight 191 of the X-15 program was Mike Adams’ seventh flight in the rocketplane. It was the 56-6672’s 65th flight. The flight plan called for 79 seconds of engine burn, accelerating the X-15 to Mach 5.10 while climbing to 250,000 feet (76,200 meters). Adams’ wife and mother were visiting in the NASA control room at Edwards Air Force Base.

Balls 8, the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, flown by Colonel Joe Cotton, took off from Edwards at 9:12 a.m., carrying -672 on a pylon under its right wing, and headed north toward the drop point over Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada. The drop ship climbed to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

The X-15 launch was delayed while waiting for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules rescue aircraft to arrive on station. This required Adams to reset the Honeywell MH-96 Automatic Flight Control System to compensate for the changing position of the sun in the sky.

X-15A-3
North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 immediately after launch over Delamar Lake, Nevada. Date unknown. (U.S. Air Force)

56-6672 was launched by Balls 8 at 10:30:07.4 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. As it dropped clear of the bomber, the rocketplane rolled 20° to the right, a normal reaction. Within one second, Mike Adams had started the XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine while bringing the wings level. The engine ignited within one-half second and was up to its full 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.549 kilonewtons) one second later. The engine ran for 82.3 seconds, 3.3 seconds longer than planned, causing the X-15 to reach Mach 5.20 (3,617 miles per hour/5,821 kilometers per hour) and to overshoot the planned altitude to peak at 266,000 feet (81,077 meters).

A North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane leaves a contrail as it climbs toward the edge of space. (NASA)
A North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane leaves a contrail as it climbs toward the edge of space. (NASA)

With the X-15 climbing through 140,000 feet (42,672 meters), the Inertial Flight Data System computer malfunctioned. Adams radioed ground controllers that the system’s malfunction lights had come on.

The flight plan called for a wing-rocking maneuver at peak altitude so that a camera on board could scan from horizon to horizon. During this maneuver, the Reaction Control System thrusters did not respond properly to Adams’ control inputs. The X-15 began to yaw to the right.

As it reached its peak altitude, 56-6672 yawed 15° to the left. Going over the top, the nose yawed back, then went to the left again. By the time the aircraft has descended to 230,000 feet (70,104 meters), it had pitched 40° nose up and yawed 90° to the right its flight path. The X-15 was also rolling at 20° per second. The rocketplane went into a spin at Mach 5.

10:33:37 Chase 1: “Dampers still on, Mike?”

10:33:39 Adams: “Yeah, and it seems squirrelly.”

10:34:02 Adams: “I’m in a spin, Pete.” [Major William J. “Pete” Knight, another X-15 pilot, was the flight controller, NASA 1]

10:34:05 NASA 1: “Let’s get your experiment in and the cameras on.”

10:34:13 NASA 1: “Let’s watch your theta, Mike.”

10:34:16 Adams: “I’m in a spin.”

10:34:18 NASA 1: “Say again.”

10:34:19 Adams: “I’m in a spin.”

Adams fought to recover, and at 118,000 feet (35,967 meters) came out of the spin, but he was in an inverted 45° dive at Mach 4.7. The X-15’s MH-96 Automatic Flight Control System entered a series of diverging oscillations in the pitch and roll axes,  with accelerations up to 15g. Dynamic pressures on the airframe rapidly increased from 200 pounds per square foot (9.576 kilopascals) to 1,300 pounds per square foot (62.244 kilopascals).

At 62,000 feet (18,898 meters), still at Mach 3.93, the aircraft structure failed and it broke up.

10:34:59 X-15 telemetry failed. Last data indicated it  was oscillating +/- 13 g. Radar altitude was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters). The aircraft was descending at 2,500 feet per second (762 meters per second) and broke into many pieces at this time.

10:35:42 NASA 1: “Chase 4, do you have anything on him?”

10:35:44 Chase 4: “Chase 4, negative.”

10:35:47 NASA 1: “OK, Mike, do you read?”

10:35:52 Chase 4: “Pete, I got dust on the lake down there.”

North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 crashed in a remote area approximately 5½ miles (9 kilometers) north-northeast of Randsburg, California, a small village along U.S. Highway 395.

Major Michael James Adams was killed. This was the only pilot fatality of the entire 199-flight X-15 program.

North American Aviation X-15A 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672 on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

An investigation by NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center determined that, “. . . the root cause of the accident was an electrical disturbance originating from an experiment package using a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) component that had not been properly qualified for the X-15 environment. . .” and that there is “. . . no conclusive evidence to support the hypothesis that SD [spatial disorientation] was a causal factor. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that poor design of the pilot-aircraft interface and ineffective operational procedures prevented the pilot and ground control from recognizing and isolating the numerous failures before the aircraft’s departure from controlled flight was inevitable.”

A Comprehensive Analysis of the X-15 Flight 3-65 Accident, NASA/TM—2014-218538 (Corrected Copy)

Crushed forward fuseleage of X-15 56-6672. (NASA)
Crushed forward fuselage of North American Aviation X-15A-3 56-6672. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 November 1942

Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)

13 November 1942: Lieutenants Harold E. Comstock and Roger B. Dyar were fighter pilots assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, at Bridgeport, Connecticut. They were often sent to test new P-47 Thunderbolt fighters at the Republic Aviation Corporation factory in nearby Farmingdale, New York:

Lieutenant Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Army Air Corps, with his P-47 Thunderbolt, 1943.

Because of the need to manufacture airplanes quickly and the close proximity to the Republic Aviation factory, active duty pilots were used for some of the test flights of the new P-47. On 13 November 1942, Lts. Comstock and Dyar were ordered to test a new type of radio antenna on the P-47C. Lt. Comstock climbed to an indicated altitude of 49,600 feet (15,118 meters) while trying to reach 50,000 feet. Due to poor response from the controls, he decided to let the aircraft fall off rather than risk a spin. He started to dive straight down and after passing below 40,000 feet he found that his controls had frozen. He then felt a bump and was unable to move the controls as the aircraft continued to dive. Even with maximum exertion, he was unable to move the control stick so he started to roll the trim tab back and after passing below 30,000 feet, the aircraft started to pull out of the dive and he recovered between 20,000 and 25,000 feet.

Lt. Dyar started his dive and encountered the same conditions. After landing, Lt. Comstock reported what happened and the chief designer of the P-47 Thunderbolt, Alexander Kartveli, questioned Lt. Comstock at length and made numerous calculations. Republic Aviation soon issued a press release claiming that Lts. Comstock and Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound. This was picked up in the national media and also drawn in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. Soon after the press release, the 56th Fighter Group received a telegram from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold that “there would be no more discussion about the dive.” The actual speed attained was probably less than the speed of sound but this speed which caused the flight controls to lock up was referred to as “compressibility.” This effect was encountered by many pilots flying in combat but training and proper procedures allowed them to recover from it. In 1959, the Air Force published “A Chronology of American Aerospace Events” and included an entry for 15 November 1942 which stated “Lts. Harold Comstock and Roger Dyar set a new speed record for airplanes when they power-dived their P-47 fighters at 725 mph from 35,000 feet over an east coast air base.” While the Air Force acknowledged the speed of 725 miles per hour, it is not known whether the P-47 could actually exceed the speed of sound in a dive. Capt. Roger Dyar was killed in action on 26 June 1943.Wikipedia

The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)
The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)

Almost certainly, the diving Thunderbolts did not exceed the speed of sound:

In July 1944 Major [Frederic Austin] Borsodi [Chief, Fighter Test Branch, Army Air Forces Material Command, Wright Field] made a number of full power vertical dives from 40,000 feet in a North American P-51D to assess the compressibility effects on the aircraft’s handling. He achieved a maximum Mach number of 0.86, at which point severe buffeting of the empennage was noted. . . many World War II pilots remained firmly convinced that they had taken their propeller-driven fighters supersonic in steep dives, often as local shock waves rattled their craft and caused the angle of those dives to become uncontrollably steeper. More often than not the center of lift moved aft on their wings, and Mach-induced turbulence blanketed the normal control surfaces on the tail. For the lucky ones, the descent into denser air slowed the airplane, while the higher temperatures at lower altitude meant that the Mach number for a given true airspeed was lower. Consequently, local shock waves tended to disappear. A normal recovery as from any steep dive, could usually be effected. . . the later [Supermarine] Spitfires, with a demonstrated ceiling of 45,000 feet, a much thinner wing of elliptical planform, and a lower profile liquid-cooled engine, could never register a maximum speed greater than 0.9 Mach number. That is the highest recorded speed, by a substantial margin of any propeller driven fighter. Oh yes, in the course of one such dive, on entering the denser air around 20,000 feet, the Spitfire’s propeller and much of the engine cowling parted company with the rest of the aircraft. Getting to 0.90 Mach number wasn’t easy. . . the speed of sound at sea level and 59° Fahrenheit is 761 miles per hour. At an altitude of 40,000 feet, where our standard atmosphere charts tell us that the temperature is -67° Fahrenheit, sound travels at 662 miles per hour.

Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, at Pages 6–7, 24–27.

Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Harold Comstock flew two combat tours in Europe with the 56th Fighter Group during World War II. He completed his second tour as commanding officer of the group’s 63rd Fighter Squadron. He flew 138 combat missions and is officially credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, with 2 probably destroyed and 3 damaged, and another 3 destroyed on the ground.

During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Comstock commanded the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 27th Tactical Fighter Wing from 1965 to 1968. He flew another 132 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-100D Super Sabre, and 38 as commander of an airborne command and control unit of the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron.

Colonel Comstock retired from the Air Force in 1971. He was twice awarded the Legion of Merit, and he held the Distinguished Flying Cross with six Oak Leaf Clusters, a Purple Heart, and 17 Air Medals.

Harold E. Comstock died at Clovis, California in 2009.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47C variant was completed 14 September 1942, only one month before Bunny Comstock’s famous dive. An early change (P-47C-1) was the addition of 8 inches (0.203 meters) to the forward fuselage for improved handling. The P-47C-5-RE was 36 feet, 1-3/16 inches (11.003 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-5/16 inches (12.429 meters) The overall height was 14 feet 3-5/16 inches (4.351 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 9,900 pounds (4,490.6 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 14,925 pounds (6,769.9 kilograms).

The P-47C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-21) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-21 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger and the supercharged air was then carried forward to supply the engine. The engine drove a 12 foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,265 pounds (1,027 kilograms). Approximately 80% of these engines were produced by the Ford Motor Company. It was also used as a commercial aircraft engine, with optional propeller gear reduction ratios.

The P-47C had a maximum speed in level flight of 433 miles per hour (697 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and it could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 7 minutes, 12 seconds. It had a maximum range of 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The maintenance technicians show the fighter's enormous size. (Daily Mail)
Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The four maintenance technicians show the fighter’s enormous size. (Daily Mail)

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored.

602 P-47Cs were built in the five months before the P-47D entered production. A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

UN Y, Bunny Comstock's P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326. (U.S. Air Force)
UN Y, Bunny Comstock’s Republic P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Comstock's Republic P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326 after a crash landing at Beccles, Suffolk, England, 3 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Low on fuel after a combat mission, Lieutenant Comstock’s Republic P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326  crashed at Lyons Farm, Mutford, Suffolk, England, 3 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 November 1995, 12:30:43.071 UTC, T minus Zero

Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-74) lifts off from Pad 39A, 7:30:43 a.m., EST, 12 November 1995. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-74) lifts off from Pad 39A, 7:30:43 a.m., EST, 12 November 1995. (NASA)

12 November 1995, 12:30:43.071 UTC, T minus Zero: Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-74) is launched from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.  The mission commander was Colonel Kenneth Donald Cameron, United States Marine Corps, and Colonel James Donald Halsell, Jr., United States Air Force, was the shuttle pilot. There were three mission specialists on this flight: Colonel Chris Austin Hadfield, Royal Canadian Air Force; Colonel Jerry Lynn Ross, U.S. Air Force; and Colonel William Suries McArthur, Jr., United States Army. Colonels Cameron, Halsell, Hadfield and McArthur had all been military test pilots before joining the space program. Colonel Ross was a flight test engineer.

Mission STS-74 was the second orbital docking with the Russian space station Mir. The astronauts installed a docking module which had been carried in Atlantis‘ cargo bay. This allowed the shuttle to dock with the space station, and supplies and equipment were transferred during the three days the two spacecraft were docked.

Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center on 20 November. The duration of the mission was  8 days, 4 hours, 31 minutes, 42 seconds.

Left to right: McArthur, Halsell (seated); Ross; Cameron (seated); Hadfield. (NASA)
Left to right: Colonel William S. McArthur, Jr., U.S. Army; Colonel James D. Halsell, Jr., U.S. Air Force (seated); Colonel Jerry L. Ross, U.S. Air Force; Colonel Kenneth D. Cameron, USMC (seated); Colonel Chris A. Hadfield, Royal Canadian Air Force/Canadian Space Agency. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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