Tag Archives: Tex Johnston

15 April 1952

The Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress, 49-231, takes off from Boeing Field at 11:09 a.m., 15 April 1952. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)
The Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress, 49-231, takes off from Boeing Field at 11:09 a.m., 15 April 1952. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)

15 April 1952: At 11:09 a.m., Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, and Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force, ran all eight turbojet engines to full power and released the brakes on the YB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 49-231.

With an awesome eight-engine roar, the YB-52 sprang forward, accelerating rapidly, wings curving upward as they accepted the 235,000-pound initial flight gross weight. At V2 (takeoff speed) the airplane lifted off the runway, because of the 6-degree angle of incidence of the wing, and at 11:08 a.m. we were airborne. The initial flight of the YB-52 had begun.

Tex Johnston: Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1992, Chapter 13 at Pages 397–398.

Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston, test pilot, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, Boeing Chief of Flight Test, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The YB-52 remained over the Seattle area for approximately 40 minutes while Johnson and Townsend ran through a series of systems checks. When completed, they climbed to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and flew the new bomber to Larson Air Force Base at Moses Lake, Washington, where they stayed airborne for continued testing. The Stratofortress finally touched down after 3 hours, 8 minutes—the longest first flight in Boeing’s history up to that time. Johnston radioed that the airplane performed exactly as the engineers had predicted.

Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (Boeing)

The YB-52 had actually been ordered as the second of two XB-52s, but modifications and additional equipment installed during building resulted in enough differences to warrant a designation change. The first XB-52, 49-230, should have been the first to fly, but it was damaged during ground testing.

Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U. S. Air Force)

The Boeing XB-52 and YB-52 were prototypes for a very long range strategic bomber. Both were built with a tandem cockpit for the pilot and co-pilot, similar to the earlier B-47 Stratojet. The wings were swept and mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”). The eight turbojet engines were in in two-engine nacelles mounted on pylons, below and forward of the wings. This had the effect of preventing the airplane’s center of gravity from being too far aft, and also provided cleaner air flow across the wings. The B-52’s landing gear has four main struts with two wheels, each. They can turn to allow the airplane to face directly into the wind while the landing gear remain aligned with the runway for takeoff and landing. With the landing gear under the fuselage, the wings could be constructed with greater flexibility.

Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-52 was 152 feet, 8 inches (46.533 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters). The prototype’s overall height was 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The vertical fin could be folded over to the right so that the B-52 could fit into a hangar. The total wing area was 4,000 square feet (371.6 square meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept aft to 36° 54′. Their angle of incidence was 6° and there was 2° 30′ dihedral. The YB-52 had an empty weight of 155,200 pounds (70,398 kilograms) and gross weight of 405,000 pounds (183,705 kilograms).

The YB-52 was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet developed from an experimental turboprop engine. It had 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages), 8 combustors and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The YJ57-P-3s had a continuous power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons). The YJ57-P-3 was 183.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 41.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms).

The YB-52 had a cruise speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its range was 7,015 miles (11,290 kilometers).

The two prototypes were unarmed.

Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231

The B-52 was produced by Boeing at its plants in Seattle and Wichita from 1952 to 1962, with a total of 744 Stratofortresses built. The last version, the B-52H, entered service with the Strategic Air Command in 1960. The final B-52, B-52H-175-BW Stratofortress 61-0040, was rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 26 October 1962. This airplane remains in service with the United States Air Force. The newest B-52 in service, 61-0040 is 56 years old and has flown more than 21,000 hours.

All previous versions, B-52A through B-52G, have long been retired to The Boneyard and scrapped. Of the 102 Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bombers, 76 are still in the active inventory. One, 61-007, known as Ghost Rider, was recently taken from Davis-Monthan and after an extensive restoration and update, returned to service.

The YB-52 prototype was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in the late 1950s. By the mid-60s it was determined to be excess and was scrapped.

Captain William Magruder (standing) Boeing Chief Test Pilot Alvin M. Johnston (center) and Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend with the Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress 49-231. (Boeing)
Left to right: Captain William Magruder, USAF; Boeing Chief Test Pilot Alvin M. Johnston; and Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, USAF, with the Boeing YB-52 Stratofortress, 49-231. (Boeing)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 March 1957

The Boeing 367-80, prototype of the Model 707 airliner, being brepared for taakeoff on teh morning of 11 March 1957, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
The Boeing 367-80, N70700, prototype for the Model 707 airliner and KC-135 air tanker, being prepared for takeoff on the morning of 11 March 1957, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Pre-flight inspection at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. In the background are newly-built Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Pre-flight inspection at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. In the background are newly-built Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Tex Johnston checks that the ramp is clear for engine start. Ready to start number one. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Tex Johnston checks that the ramp is clear for engine start. Ready to start number one. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)

11 March 1957: The Boeing jet airliner prototype, the Model 367-80, N70700, made a transcontinental demonstration flight from Seattle’s Boeing Field (BFI) to Friendship National Airport (BWI), Baltimore, Maryland. The aircraft commander was Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin Melvin (“Tex”) Johnston. Test pilots James Russell (“Jim”) Gannett and Samuel Lewis (“Lew”) Wallick, Jr., completed the flight crew. The flight covered 2,350 miles (3,782 kilometers) and took 3 hours, 48 minutes.

Cruising at 0.86 Mach. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Cruising at 0.86 Mach. The four Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbojet engines are turning 100% r.p.m. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
The flight deck of the Boeing 367-80 during the transcontinental demonstration flight, 11 March 1957. (Leonard Mccombe, LIFE magazine)
The flight deck of the Boeing 367-80 during the transcontinental demonstration flight, 11 March 1957. The flight attendants are (left) Miss Shirlee Mae Adams of American Airlines, and Miss Jackee Gibson of Braniff International Airways.(Leonard Mccombe/LIFE magazine)
Reporters balance a pen and a coin in the Dash 80's vibration-free cabin. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Reporters balance a pen and a coin in the Dash 80’s vibration-free cabin. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
A news reporter types his story during the transcontinental flight. (Leonatd Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
A news reporter types his story during the transcontinental flight. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing test pilot S.L. "Lew" Wallick updates the chart with the Dash 80's present position. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing test pilot Samuel Lewis (“Lew”) Wallick, Jr., updates the chart with the Dash 80’s present position. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Flight attendants from Pan American World Airways, American Airlines and Trans World Airlines made up the cabin crew. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Flight attendants from three customer airlines made up the cabin crew of the Boeing 367-80. Left to right, they are: Miss Shirlee Mae Adams, American Airlines; Miss Jo Ann Reeber, Braniff International Airways; and Miss Jackee Gibson, Trans World Airways. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)

Jet Airliner Crosses U.S. At Record Clip

Seattle-To-Baltimore Flight Made In 3 Hours, 48 Minutes

WASHINGTON, March 12 (AP) A Boeing 707 jet passenger plane set a new transcontinental speed record for commercial aircraft yesterday, flying the 2,325 miles from Seattle to Baltimore in 3 hours and 48 minutes.

At one point it attained a speed of 698 miles an hour.

A.M. (Tex) Johnston, Boeing chief of flight tests, said he would fly back to Seattle tomorrow with stops at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and at Denver. He planned a series of local flights for congressmen, Pentagon officials and experts.

The big plane averaged 612 miles an hour for its Puget Sound-to-Chesapeake Bay flight, and sliced 10 minutes off the unofficial transport plane record it set between Seattle and Washington, D.C., in 1955.

There were 52 persons aboard, all but 20 of them newsmen.

‘Jet Stream’ Helps

The 707 left Boeing Field at 10:06 a.m., EST. East of Spokane at 31,000 feet, it hit the “jet stream,” a vast windstream with speeds of up to 125 miles an hour.

These winds enabled the plane to attain supersonic speeds in relation to the ground over northwestern Montana and northern Idaho. However, the plane was actually in subsonic flight and did not break the “sound barrier.”

While in the jet stream, the plane’s peak air speed was 596 miles an hour, but at one point the stream boosted this by 102 miles an hour, for a top speed of 698 in relation to the ground.

Fighter Holds Record

The official transcontinental speed record was set by a one-place F-84F jet fighter two years ago—652½ mph for the 2,446 miles from Los Angeles to New York City. [LCOL Robert R. Scott, USAF, 9 March 1955—TDiA]

The fastest unofficial transcontinental crossing listed by the Defense Department: 715 mph for the 2,700 miles from Riverside, Calif., to Boston last Jan. 25, by a Boeing B-47 bomber.

The 707 is to be delivered to its first airline buyers—Pan American and American—late next year and early in 1959.

The plane’s cost varies from 4½ to 5½ million dollars, depending on size and range, Various models will carry from 120 to 162 passengers.

Toledo Blade, Tuesday, 12 March 1957, Page 2 at Columns 2–4

Boeing's Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston updates a memeber of teh cabin crew on the progress of the flight. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, updates a member of the cabin crew, Miss Jackie Gibson of Braniff International Airways, on the progress of the Dash 80’s transcontinental flight. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing's Chief of Flight Test guides the Dash 80 to a touchdown on Runway 10, Friendship National Airport, (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston guides the Dash 80 to touchdown on Runway 10, Friendship National Airport, 2:02 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, 11 March 1957. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Tex Johnston with flight attendants from Boeing's customers: Pan American World Airways, American Airlines and Trans World Airways. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Tex Johnston with three flight attendants from Boeing’s customers: Miss Jackie Gibson, Braniff International Airways; Miss Shirlee Mae Adams, American Airlines; and Miss Jo Ann Reeber, Trans World Airways. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing 367-80 N70700 parked at teh international terminal, Friendship National Airport, Baltimore, Maryland. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
Boeing 367-80 N70700 parked at the international terminal, Friendship National Airport, Baltimore, Maryland. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
N70700's route of flight, 0706–1102, 11 March 1957. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)
N70700’s route of flight, 0706–1102, 11 March 1957. (Leonard Mccombe/LIFE Magazine)

Boeing had risked $16,000,000 in a private venture to build the Dash 80 in order to demonstrate its capabilities to potential civilian and military customers, while rivals Douglas and Lockheed were marketing their own un-built jet airliners. Put into production as the U.S. Air Force KC-135A Stratotanker air refueling tanker and C-135 Stratolifter transport, a civil variant was also produced as the Boeing 707 Stratoliner, the first successful jet airliner. Though they look very similar, the 707 is structurally different than the KC-135 and has a wider fuselage.

The prototype Boeing Model 367-80 was operated by a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer. The airplane’s wing was mounted low on the fuselage and the engine nacelles were mounted on pylons under the wing, as they were on Boeing’s B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress. The wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35° at 25% chord, and had 7° dihedral. The Dash 80 was 127 feet 10 inches (38.964 meters) long with a wingspan of 129 feet, 8 inches (39.522 meters) and overall height of 38 feet (11.582 meters). The tail span is 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). The empty weight of the 367-80 was 75,630 pounds (34,505 kilograms) and the gross weight, 190,000 pounds (86,183 kilograms).

Cutaway scale model of the Boeing 367-80 showing interior arrangement. (Boeing)

N70700 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C engines. This engine is a civil variant of the military J57 series. It is a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The JT3C-6 (used in the first production 707s) was rated at 11,200 pounds of thrust (49.82 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.05 kilonewtons) with water/methanol injection). The JT3C is 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

These gave the 367-80 a cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.84 Mach (582 miles per hour, 937 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 43,000 feet (13,106 meters). Its range was 3,530 miles (5,681 kilometers).

Boeing continued to use the 367–80 for testing, finally retiring it 22 January 1970. At that time, its logbook showed 2,346 hours, 46 minutes of flight time (TTAF). It was flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and placed in storage. In 1990, Boeing returned it to flyable condition and flew it back it to Renton where a total restoration was completed. Many of those who had worked on the Dash 80, including Tex Johnston, were aboard.

The pioneering airplane was presented to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Boeing 367-80 was designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

(The Boeing Model 367-80 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Boeing Model 367-80 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Highly recommended: Tex Johnston, Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1991

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1957

Boeing 707-121 N708PA, photographed during its second flight. (Boeing via Space.com)
Boeing 707-121 N708PA, photographed during its second flight on the afternoon of 20 December 1957. (Boeing)
Boeing 707-121 N708PA makes its first takeoff at 12:30 p.m., on a rainy afternoon, 20 December 1957. (Unattributed)
Boeing 707-121 N708PA makes its first takeoff at 12:30 p.m. on a rainy afternoon, 20 December 1957. (Boeing)

20 December 1957: The first production Boeing 707 jet-powered commercial airliner, N708PA, made its first flight at Renton, Washington. Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, was in command, with co-pilot James R. Gannet and flight engineer Tom Layne. Takeoff was at 12:30 p.m., PST. Poor weather limited the first flight to just 7 minutes. The new airliner landed at Boeing Field. Later that day, a second flight was made, this time with a duration of 1 hour, 11 minutes.

N708PA (Serial Number 17586, Line Number 1) was a Model 707-121. The new airliner had been sold to Pan American World Airways, the launch customer, as part of an order for twenty 707s in October 1955.

Boeing test pilot Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston in the cockpit of of the 367–80. (LIFE)
Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, in the cockpit of of the 367–80, “Dash Eighty,” 1954. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Boeing Model 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty,” prototype for an air-refueling tanker which would become the KC-135A Stratotanker. The 707 was a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings were swept at a 35° angle.

N708PA was initially used for flight testing by Boeing. Once this was completed, it was prepared for commercial service and delivered to Pan American at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), 30 November 1958. Pan Am named the new airliner Clipper Constitution.

Boeing 707-121 708PA under maintenance at Renton, Washington. (Boeing)
Boeing 707-121 N708PA under maintenance at Renton, Washington. (Boeing)

In February 1965, the airliner was upgraded to 707-121B standards, which replaced the original turbojet engines with quieter, more efficient Pratt & Whitney JT3D-1 turbofan engines which produced 17,000 pounds of thrust. The wing inboard leading edges were modified to the design of the Model 720 and there was a longer horizontal tail plane.

Clipper Constitution flew for Pan Am for nearly seven years, until 17 September 1965 when it crashed into Chances Peak, a 3,002 foot (915 meters) volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The point impact  was 242 feet (74 meters) below the summit. All aboard, a crew of 9 and 21 passengers, were killed.

Boeing 707-121 N708PA, with both Boeing and Pan American corporate markings. (Unattributed)
Boeing 707-121 N708PA, with both Boeing and Pan American corporate markings. (Unattributed)

The Boeing Model 707-121 was a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings were swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer.

The 707-121 was 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stood 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms).

The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49,820 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,352.8 meters) of runway to take off.

The 707-121 had a maximum speed of 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It’s range was 2,800 nautical miles (5,186 kilometers).

The Boeing 707 was in production from 1958 to 1979. 1,010 were built. Production of 707 airframes continued at Renton until the final one was completed in April 1991. As of 2011, 43 707s were still in service.

Boeing 707-121 N708PA retracts its landing gear after taking off at Seattle Tacoma Airport. (Unattributed)
Boeing 707-121 N708PA landing at Seattle Tacoma Airport. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 October 1952

Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 takes off for the first time, at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, 2 October 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

2 October 1952: The Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 49-230, made its first flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, with test pilot Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston in command.  Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force, acted as co-pilot.

The first of two prototype long-range, high-altitude, heavy bombers, the XB-52 had been damaged during ground testing and extensive repairs were required, which delayed its initial flight. The second prototype, YB-52 49-231, made the type’s first flight nearly six months earlier, on 15 April 1952.

Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, test pilot, after the first flight of the Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress prototype, 2 October 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The prototype Stratofortress the largest jet aircraft built up to that time. It was 152.7 feet (46.543 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet, (56.388 meters) and 48.25 feet (14.707 meters) to the top of the vertical fin. The leading edges of the wings were swept back 36° 54′.  The XB-52 had an empty weight of 155,200 pounds (70,398 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 390,000 pounds (176,901 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 27,417 gallons (103,785 liters).

Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend, U.S. Air Force. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The XB-52 was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines, with a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds static thrust at Sea Level (38.700 kilonewtons). The prototype bomber had  a cruising speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,048 meters). The planned bombing altitude was 46,500 feet (14,173 meters) and it had a service ceiling of 52,300 feet (15,941 meters). The XB-52 had an initial rate of climb of 4,550 feet per minute (23.11 meters per second) at Sea Level. Its maximum unrefueled range was 7,015 miles (11,290 kilometers).

Pilot’s cockpit, Boeing XB-52. (Boeing)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-51 Stratofortress 49-230 with a North American F-86 Sabre chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 with a North American F-86 Sabre chase plane. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230. (U.S. Air Force)

In its original configuration, the XB-52 was armed with two .50-caliber machine guns in a turret in the tail, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun, though these guns were not installed on 49-230. The XB-52 was designed to carry a single 25,200 pound (11,431 kilogram) T-28E2 Samson bomb, or other conventional or nuclear weapons.

XB-52 49-230 was used in flight testing for its entire service life. The airplane was scrapped in the mid-1960s.

744 B-52 bombers were built by Boeing at Seattle, Washington and Wichita, Kansas, with the final one, B-52H-175-BW 61-0040, rolled out 22 June 1962.

75 B-52H Stratofortresses are still in service with the United States Air Force.

Boeing XB-52, with Tex Johnston and Guy Townsend in the tandem cockpit. (Boeing)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-52 Stratofortress 49-230 with two Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojets in single-engine nacelles on the outer pylons, circa 1959. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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31 August 1956

City of Renton, the first Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, 55-3118, takes off for the first time. (Seattle Post Intelligencer)
City of Renton, the first Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, 55-3118, takes off for the first time. (U.S. Air Force/Seattle Post Intelligencer)

31 August 1956: The first production Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, 55-3118, named City of Renton, made its first flight with company test pilots Alvin Melvin (“Tex”) Johnston and Richards Llewellyn (“Dix”) Loesch, Jr., on the flight deck.

Built as an aerial refueling tanker to support the U.S. Air Force fleet of B-52 strategic bombers, an initial order for 29 tankers was soon followed by three additional orders, bringing the total to 275 airplanes by the end of Fiscal Year 1958.¹ Eventually 732 KC-135As were built by Boeing, and an additional 81 of other versions.

KC-135 City of Renton. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker 55-3118, City of Renton, just prior to touchdown. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

With the company internal designation of Model 717, the KC-135 was developed from the Model 367-80 proof-of-concept prototype, the “Dash Eighty.” The Stratotanker is very similar in appearance to the Model 707 and 720 airliners but is structurally a different aircraft. It is also shorter than the 707 and has a smaller diameter fuselage.

Boeing Aircraft Co. President Bill Allen talks to test pilots Tex Johnston and Dix Loesch after first flight of the Model-367-80 prototype. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Boeing Aircraft Co. President Bill Allen talks to test pilots Tex Johnston and Dix Loesch after first flight of the Model 367-80, prototype of the KC-135A Stratotanker. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

The Stratotanker was originally operated by a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and refueling boom operator. Upgrades over the decades have simplified operation and the crew has been reduced to two pilots and the boom operator. The tanker’s maximum transfer fuel load is 200,000 pounds (90,719 kilograms). The KC-135 can carry 83,000 pounds (37,648 kilograms) of cargo, and up to 37 passengers.It can also be configured to carry cargo or up to 32 passengers.

The KC-135A is 136 feet, 3 inches (41.529 meters) long, with a wingspan of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters) and overall height of 41 feet, 8 inches (12.700 meters). The Stratotanker’s maximum takeoff weight is 322,500 pounds (146,284 kilograms).

The KC-135A was powered by four Pratt & Whitney J57-P-59W turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 13,750 pounds of thrust (61.16 kilonewtons), each. The J57-P-59W was 183.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 38.9 inches (0.988 meters) long and weighed 4,320 pounds (1,920 kilograms).

The Stratotanker fleet has been re-engined with more efficient CFM International CFM56 turbofan engines which produce 21,634 pounds of thrust (96.23 kilonewtons), each. The upgraded aircraft are designated KC-135R.

Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker 55-3118, City of Renton, escorted by the “Dash 80.” (Flight Global)

The tanker has a cruise speed of 530 miles per hour (853 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its range is 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) when carrying 150,000 pounds (68,039 kilograms) of transfer fuel, and the maximum ferry range is 11,015 miles (17,727 kilometers).

Of the 803 KC-135 aircraft built, 396 remain in service with the U.S. Air Force (as of 14 May 2018). It is estimated that the fleet is 33% through their design lifetime limits.

The first production airplane, 55-3118, was used for flight testing. It was later modified into an EC-135K Head Dancer airborne command post. Today, the first Stratotanker is on display at the front gate of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.

Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker 55-3118, City of Renton, refuels B-52C-50-BO Stratofortress 54-2676. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ KC-135A-BN: 57-1418–57-1514; 57-2589–57-2609; 58-0001–58-0130; total: 275

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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