Tag Archives: Test Pilot

20 August 1947

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 makes a pass over the 3 kilometer course on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, makes a pass over the 3-kilometer course at Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

20 August 1947: At Muroc Dry Lake in the high desert of southern California, Commander Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, flew the first of three Douglas D-558-I Skystreaks, Bu. No. 37970, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course.¹

Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet (61 meters) or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two fastest consecutive passes out of the four.

Commander Caldwell’s average speed was 1,031.178 kilometers per hour (640.744 miles per hour). He was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.

Commander Turner F. Caldwell, jr., United States Navy with the number one Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at Muroc dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)
Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, with the number one Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at Muroc Dry Lake, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The D-558 Program was intended as a three-phase test program for the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) to investigate transonic and supersonic flight using straight and swept wing aircraft powered by turbojet and/or rocket engines.

The Douglas Aircraft Company designed and built three D-558-I Skystreaks and three D-558-II Skyrockets. The Phase I aircraft were flown by Douglas test pilot Gene May and the Navy’s project officer, Commander Turner Caldwell.

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, left, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, left, and Commander Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, stand with the record-setting Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Navy)

The D-558-I Skystreak was a single-engine, turbojet-powered airplane. It was built of magnesium and aluminum for light weight, but was designed to withstand very high acceleration loads. It was 35 feet, 8 inches (10.871 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.62 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1¾ inches (3.702 meters). The airplane had retractable tricycle landing gear. Its empty weight was approximately 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms), landing weight at the conclusion of a flight test was 7,711 pounds (3,498 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 10,105 pounds (4,583.6 kilograms). The aircraft fuel load was 230 gallons (870.7 liters) of kerosene.

This photograph shows two of the three D-558-I Skystreaks being inspected by U.S. navy officials at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. In the foreground is the number two aircraft, Bu. No. 37971, with the sections o fte hfuselage separted for better viewing. The entire nose section, including teh cockpit, coul dbe jettisoned in an emergency. The second aircraft is Bu. No. 37970, th eSkystrak flown by CDR Caldwell for his speed record. In the background is another Douglas airplane, the famous AD Skyraider. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
This photograph shows two of the three D-558-I Skystreaks being inspected by U.S. Navy officers at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. In the foreground is the number two aircraft, Bu. No. 37971, with the sections of the fuselage separated. The entire nose section, including the cockpit, could be jettisoned in an emergency. Just beyond that, two wing tip fuel tanks are displayed on a cart. The second aircraft is Bu. No. 37970. An Allison J35-A-11 jet engine is shown between that and the last airplane, another Douglas product, the famous AD Skyraider. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The D-558-I was powered by a single Allison J35-A-11 turbojet engine. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-11 was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons). The engine was 12 feet, 1.0 inches (3.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,455 pounds (1,114 kilograms). The J35-A-11 was a production version of the General Electric TG-180, initially produced by Chevrolet as the J35-C-3. It was the first widely-used American jet engine.

The D-558-I had a designed service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,930 meters). Intended for experimental flights of short duration, it had a very short range and took off and landed from the dry lake at Muroc. (After 1949, this would be known as Edwards Air Force Base.) The experimental airplane was not as fast as the more widely known Bell X-1 rocketplane, but rendered valuable research time in the high transonic range.

Gene May did reach Mach 1.0 in 37970, 29 September 1948, though he was in a 35° dive. This was the highest speed that had been reached up to that time by an airplane capable of taking off and landing under its own power.

The three D-558-I Skystreaks made a total of 229 flights and Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of them. After the Douglas test program was completed, -970 was turned over to NACA as NACA 140, but it was quickly grounded after the crash of the number two aircraft, and was used for spare parts for number three.

Today, 37970 is in the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. The other surviving Skystreak, Bu. No. 37972, is at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rear Admiral Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., USN, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)
Rear Admiral Turner F. Caldwell, Jr., United States Navy, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)
Midshipman Turner F. Caldwell, jr., 1935. (U.S. Navy)

Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., was born 17 November 1913 at Narbeth, Pennsylvania. He was the first of four children of Lieutenant Turner Foster Caldwell and Eleanor Polk Owings Caldwell. The senior Caldwell was a graduate of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy, through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C). Commander Caldwell was assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 1 September 1930, and was promoted to the rank of captain, 1 October 1930. He retired from the Navy 1 August 1940.

Turner Foster Caldwell, Jr., entered the United States Naval Academy as a midshipman, 12 June 1931. He graduated and was commissioned an Ensign, United States Navy, 6 June 1935.

Ensign Caldwell was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade), with date of rank 6 June 1938. He was assigned as a flight instructor at NAS Pensacola, Florida. On that same day, Lieutenant (j.g.) Caldwell married Miss Helen Adele Glidden of Coronado, California, at Yuma, Arizona. They would have four children.

By 1940, Lieutenant (j.g.) Caldwell was assigned to Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5). On 7 December 1941, VS-5 was aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Norfolk Virginia.

Caldwell was promoted to Lieutenant, 1 January 1942. He was a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless scout bomber bomber pilot with Scouting Squadron Five (VS-5) aboard U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5) and commanded the squadron with its 18 SBD-3s aboard U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) during the occupation of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

Two Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers from VB-5, USS Yorktown, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

Between March and September 1942 he was three times awarded the Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy’s second-highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor. He was promoted to lieutenant commander (temporary) 1 May 1943, and to commander, 1 March 1944. (He retained the permanent rank of lieutenant until after the war.)

Later he commanded a night fighter group of F6F Hellcats and TBM Avengers, CVLG(N)-41, assigned to USS Enterprise (CV(N)-6). For his actions during that period he was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.

After the war, Caldwell commanded Carrier Air Group 4 (CVG-4) aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). He was promoted to the rank of captain, 1 July 1954. Captain Caldwell commanded the “long-hull” Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), from 5 September 1959 to 24 August 1960.

USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) underway off the Philippines, 24 May 1960. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Captain Caldwell was promoted to the rank of rear admiral, 1 April 1963. He rose to the rank of Vice Admiral, 1 November 1967, and served as Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare Plans. Admiral Caldwell retired from the Navy in May 1971. He died at Kilmarnock Hospital, Rappahannock, Virginia, 12 October 1991.

Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, Bu. No. 37970, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9864

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 August 1940

Vance Breese (SDA&SM)

19 August 1940: At Mines Field (now known as Los Angeles International Airport), the first North American Aviation B-25 twin-engine medium bomber, serial number 40-2165, took off on its first flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls and engineer Roy Ferren in the co-pilot’s position.

The airplane, North American model NA-62, serial number 62-2834, was developed from two earlier designs which had been evaluated by the U.S. Air Corps but rejected, and it was ordered into production without a prototype being built.

The first few B-25s built—sources vary, but 8–10 airplanes—were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, with the outer wing panels having very slight dihedral ¹ and giving it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size.

40-2165 was retained by North American for testing while the next several aircraft were sent to Wright Field.

Roy Ferren (SDA&SM)

The B-25 was named Mitchell in honor of early air power advocate Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. A total of 9,984 B-25s, F-10 reconnaissance variants and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps PBJ-1 patrol bombers were built by North American Aviation at Inglewood, California and Kansas City, Kansas. The last one, a TB-25J, remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 1960.

Twenty-three B-25s were built before the B-25A Mitchell went into production. The B-25 was operated by a crew of five. It was 54 feet, 1 inch (16.485 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 6.7 inches (20.592 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 4 inches (4.978 meters). The empty weight was 17,258 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum gross weight was 28,557 pounds (12,953 kilograms).

Scale model of a North American Aviation B-25 medium bomber being tested in a wind tunnel. (4″ × 5″ Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer)

The B-25 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600B665 (R-2600-9) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines which were rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic variable-pitch propellers through 16:9 gear reduction. The R-2600-9 was 5 feet, 3.1 inches (1.603 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms).

The medium bomber had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It could carry a 3,000 pound bomb load 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Defensive armament consisted of three air-cooled Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns and one Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine gun.

After testing was completed, B-25 40-2165 was retained by North American and modified as a company transport. On 8 January 1945, flown by Edgar A. Stewart, the airplane suffered an engine failure and made a forced landing at Mines Field—the location of its first flight. The prototype B-25 was damaged beyond repair.

Front view of the first North American B-25 Mitchell, 40-2165. The constant dihedral wing was used on the first nine airplanes built. (U.S. Air Force)
Front view of the first North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, 40-2165, at Mines Field, August 1940. The constant dihedral wing was used on the first nine airplanes built. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation NA-62, B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left front. (U.S. Air Force)
North American B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left rear. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left rear. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell medium bomber of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), based at McChord Field, south of Tacoma, Washington, and Pendleton Army Airfiled, northwest of Pendleton, Oregon, circa 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell medium bomber of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), based at McChord Field, south of Tacoma, Washington, circa 1941. (U.S. Army Air Corps 10822 AC)

¹ The wing center section of the B-25H and B-25J has 4° 38′ 23″ dihedral. The outer sections have 0° 21′ 39″. The wing has 2° 29′ 37″ negative twist.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1951

Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force
Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force

17 August 1951: In order to demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Colonel Fred J. Ascani, Vice Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, California, to the National Air Races at Detroit, Michigan. He was to attempt a new world speed record.

Colonel Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (FAI)
Colonel Fred J. Ascani with the Thompson Trophy, 1951. (AP)

Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Fred Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 1,023.04 kilometers per hour (635.69 miles per hour), and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers.¹

For his accomplishment, Colonel Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy.

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E Sabre was an improved F-86A. The most significant change was the incorporation of an “all flying tailplane” in which the entire horizontal tail moved to control the airplane’s pitch. The tailplane pivoted around its rear spar, allowing the leading edge to move up or down 8°. The elevators were mechanically linked to the tailplane and their movement was proportional to the tailplane’s movement. Control was hydraulic, and this provided improved handling at high speeds where compressibility could “freeze” control surfaces. There were systems improvements as well, with “artificial feel” to the hydraulic controls to improve feedback to the pilot and prevent over-controlling. Beginning with Block 10 aircraft, the “V”-shaped windscreen of the earlier models was replaced with an optically flat laminated glass windshield.

Fred Ascani in the cockpit of F-86E
Fred Ascani in the cockpit of North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2724. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,555 pounds (4,787.7 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 16,436 pounds (7,455.2 kilograms).

The F-86E was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engine. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. The J47-GE-13 was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust and 6,000 pounds (“wet”). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds ( kilograms).

The F-86E Sabre had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,092.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 601 miles per hour (967.2 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet (14,386.7 meters).

The F-86E carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,022 miles (1,645 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684. North American Aviation built 336 F-86Es and 60 more were built by Canadair (F-86E-6-CAN).

In order to emphasize that Colonel Ascani’s record-setting Sabre was a standard production airplane, it was immediately sent into combat with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, Korea. There, it was christened THIS’LL KILL YA. On 3 May 1953, 51-2721 was damaged during a landing accident at Kimpo Air Base, but it was repaired and returned to service.

The FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952.
A group of Allied pilots stand with the FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952. Its pilot, Lieutenant Jack L. Price, has named it THIS’LL KILL YA.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10429

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 August 1951

William Barton Bridgeman (TIME Magazine)
William Barton Bridgeman (Boris Artzybasheff/TIME Magazine)

15 August 1951: Just 8 days after he set an unofficial world speed record of  Mach 1.88 (1,245 miles per hour; 2,033.63 kilometers per hour) Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman flew the rocket-powered United States Navy/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, to a world record altitude at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.

The Skyrocket was airdropped at 34,000 feet (10,363 meters) from a highly-modified U.S. Navy P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029. The mother ship was a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29-95-BW Superfortress, 45-21787, transferred to the Navy and flown by another Douglas test pilot, George R. Jansen.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

The flight plan was for Bridgeman to fire the rocket engine and allow the Skyrocket to accelerate to 0.85 Mach while climbing. The Skyrocket was powered by a Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 engine, which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. As the rocketplane continued to accelerate to Mach 1.12, the test pilot was to pull up, increasing the angle of climb while holding an acceleration rate of 1.2 Gs. This would result in a constantly increasing angle of climb. When it reached 50°, Bridgeman was to maintain that, climbing and accelerating, until the rocket engine ran out of fuel.

Initially, the plan was to continue climbing after engine shutdown until the D-558-II was approaching stall at the highest altitude it could reach while on a ballistic trajectory. There were differing expert opinions as to how it would behave in the ever thinner atmosphere. On the morning of the flight, Douglas’ Chief Engineer, Ed Heinemann, ordered that Bridgeman push over immediately when the engine stopped.

Bill Bridgeman stuck to the engineers’ flight plan. As the Skyrocket accelerated through 63,000 feet (19,200 meters), it started to roll to the left. He countered with aileron input, but control was diminishing in the thin air. The next time it began there was no response to the ailerons. Bridgeman found that he had to lower the Skyrocket’s nose until it responded, then he was able to increase the pitch angle again. At 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), travelling Mach 1.4, he decided he had to decrease the pitch angle or lose control. Finally at 76,000 feet (23,165 meters), the engine stopped. Following Heinemann’s order, Bridgeman pushed the nose down and the D-558-II went over the top of its arc at just 0.5 G.

Bill Bridgeman. (Unattributed)
Bill Bridgeman. (Unattributed)

“In the arc she picks up a couple of thousand feet. The altimeter stops its steady reeling and swings sickly around 80,000 feet. The altitude is too extreme for the instrument to function.

“Eighty thousand feet. It is intensely bright outside; the contrast of the dark shadows in the cockpit is extreme and strange. It is so dark lower in the cockpit that I cannot read the instruments sunk low on the panel. The dials on top, in the light, are vividly apparent. There seems to be no reflection. It is all black or white, apparent or non-apparent. No half-tones. It is a pure, immaculate world here.

“She levels off silently. I roll right and there it is. Out of the tiny windows slits there is the earth, wiped clean of civilization, a vast relief map with papier-mâché mountains and mirrored lakes and seas. . . .

“It is as if I am the only living thing connected to this totally strange, uninhabited planet 15 miles below me. The plane that carries me and I are one and alone.”

The Lonely Sky, William Bridgeman with Jacqueline Hazard, Castle and Company LTD, London, 1956, Chapter XXII at Page 268.

After the data was analyzed, it was determined that William Bridgeman and the Douglas Skyrocket had climbed to 79,494 feet (24,230 meters), higher than any man had gone before. This was the last flight that would be made with a Douglas test pilot. The rocketplane was turned over to NACA, which would assign it the number NACA 144.

A Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974. glides back toward Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air force Base. A North American Aviation F-86E-1-NA Sabre, 50-606, flies chase. Major Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager frequently flew as a chase pilot for both Bill Bridgeman and Scott Crossfield. (NASA)
A Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, glides back toward Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. A North American Aviation F-86E-1-NA Sabre, 50-606, flies chase. Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. “Pete” Everest and Major Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager frequently flew as chase pilots for both Bill Bridgeman and Scott Crossfield. (NASA)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.” Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot, testing new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base.

The D-558-II Skyrocket was Phase II of a planned three phase experimental flight program. It was designed to investigate flight in the transonic and supersonic range. It was 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters) long with a 25 foot (7.62 meter) wing span. The wings were swept back to a 35° angle. The Skyrocket was powered by a Westinghouse J34-WE-40 11-stage axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 3,000 pounds of thrust, and a Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine, which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket engine burned alcohol and liquid oxygen.

There were three D-558-2 Skyrockets. Between 4 February 1948 and 28 August 1956, they made a total of 313 flights. Bill Bridgeman’s speed and altitude record-setting Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 August 1953

Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-26 Sabre A94-101 (Royal Australian Air Force)

14 August 1953: Near Avalon Field, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, Flight Lieutenant William H. Scott, Royal Australian Air Force, the 28-year-old Chief Test Pilot of the Government Aircraft Factories, put the new Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Pty. Ltd., prototype into shallow dive from 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Port Phillip Bay. This was the new airplane’s sixth test flight. Scott passed 670 miles per hour (1,078 kilometers per hour) and broke the “sound barrier.” A triple sonic boom was heard throughout the Melbourne area.

The aircraft was the CA-26 Sabre, A94-101. The Australian-built Sabre had made its first flight 1 August, also with Flt. Lt. Scott in the cockpit. After about a week there were reports of sonic booms in the area around Melbourne.

CAC Sabre A94-101
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-26 Sabre A94-101 (Royal Australian Air Force)

Based on the highly successful North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, the C.A.C. variant used a license-built Rolls-Royce Avon RA.7 turbojet with 7,350 pounds of thrust. The Sabre’s fuselage had to be extensively redesigned to allow installation of the new engine. Although it was about the same size as the J47 it replaced, the Avon needed a much larger intake duct. And because it weighed less than the J47, it had to be moved aft to maintain the Sabre’s center of gravity. Only about 40% of the original structure remained.

Other changes were replacing the fighter’s basic armament of six .50-caliber Browning machine guns with two 30 mm ADEN revolver cannon. In testing, it was found that the muzzle blast of the ADEN cannons could cause the engine to flame out. “Maxim” shock wave baffles were installed to eliminate the problem.

Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-26 Sabre A94-901. (Royal Australian Air Force)

The aircraft, often called the “Avon Sabre,” was put into production as the CA-27 Sabre Mk 30. Twenty-two aircraft were built in the version. With the introduction of the Mark 31, the original Sabres were upgraded to the new standard. Sixty-nine Sabre Mk 32 fighters were built with the Avon 25 engine and increased fuel capacity.

The CA-27 was in service with the Royal Australian Service from 1954 until 1971. Several were transferred to Malaysia and Indonesia and operated for those countries until 1982.

CAC CA-27 Sabre Mk 32 A94-901
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-27 Sabre Mk 32 A94-901 (RAAF)

The prototype CA-26 Sabre, A94-901, flew with several RAAF squadrons, including the 76 Squadron “Black Panthers” Aerobatic Team, 1961–1965. It was withdrawn from service in 1966. The Sabre was restored by Hawker de Havilland at Bankstown Airport, before being sent to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Museum (“HARS”) at Illawarra Regional Airport, south of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The airplane is again in the livery of the “Black Panthers.”

A94-901 ias it appeared when assigned to 76 Squadron “Black Panthers,” 1961–1965. (HARS Museum)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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