Tag Archives: The Fastest Man Alive

23 July 1956

Bell X-2 46-674 airdropped from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096 near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, United States Air Force
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, United States Air Force

23 July 1956: Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall “Pete” Everest, United States Air Force, became “The Fastest Man Alive” when he flew the USAF/NACA/Bell X-2 rocket plane, serial number 46-674, to Mach 2.87 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,150 kilometers per hour) at 87,808 feet (26,764 meters). The X-2 was air-dropped from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096, near Edwards Air Force Base, California.

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket. In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from Stainless Steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons) burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine used two rocket chambers and had pneumatic, electrical and mechanical controls. The smaller chamber could produce a maximum 5,000 pounds of thrust, and the larger, 10,000 pounds (22.24 and 44.48 likonewtons, respectively). Professor Robert H. Goddard, “The Father of Modern Rocketry,” authorized Curtiss-Wright to use his patents, and his rocketry team went to work for the Curtiss-Wright Rocket Department. Royalties for use of the patents were paid to the Guggenheim Foundation and Clark university. Professor Goddard died before he could also make the move

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

A four-engine Boeing B-50A Superfortress bomber, serial number 46-011, was modified as the ”mothership.” A second Superfortress, B-50D-95-BO 48-096, was also modified to carry the X-2, and was redesignated EB-50D. During the flight test program, the X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour, 3,370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

Frank Kendall Everest was a fighter pilot and flight instructor during World War II. He flew combat missions in both the Mediterranean and China-Burma-India Theaters of Operation. In May 1945 he was shot down. Everest was captured by the Japanese, held as a prisoner and tortured until the end of the war. After the war, Everest flew as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and then at Edwards Air Force Base. On 23 July 1956, he was The Fastest Man Alive. Pete Everest retired as a brigadier general in 1970, and died in 2004.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall Everest, U.S. Air Force, wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitude, with a Bell X-2 rocketplane at Edwards AFB, circa 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 January 1939

H. Lloyd Child, Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division test pilot. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

23 January 1939:

     Buffalo, N.Y., January 24—(AP)—A Curtiss Hawk 75A pursuit plane, one of 100 being constructed for the French Government, has “substantially exceeded all known speed records” with a free dive of more than 575 miles an hour, it was announced today.

     The speed mark was established yesterday while the ship was undergoing acceptance tests, officials of the Curtiss Aeroplane Division of the Curtiss Wright Corporation said.

     The tests were made by H. Lloyd Child, chief test pilot of the Buffalo Curtiss plant, who said he “felt no ill effects and did not realize” that the speed was presumably the fastest man has ever traveled.”

     National Aeronautic Association officials said that no Federation Aeronautique Internationale records “even approached this speed.”

     The speed of the dive was so great that the marker on the recording airspeed indicator exceeded the instrument’s range and moved off the paper on which the graph of the dive was recorded.

     Aviation experts, who declined to be quoted directly, estimated that the speed might have exceeded 600 miles per hour, compared with the normal falling rate for a 170-pound man of 150 miles an hour.

     The dive was begun at an altitude of 22,000 feet, and the record speed was attained during a 9,000 foot dive.

     At no time during the dive, Child said, did the engine exceed 2,550 revolutions a minute, its normal rated speed in level flight. Hence, he explained, the strain on the motor during the dive was not increased, but was held to the speed of normal operation by the Curtiss electric propeller, with its unlimited blade pitch range.

     Since the motor’s speed was kept at normal during the dive, it was a “free,” rather than a “power” dive as when the motor throttle is opened wide, aviation experts explained.

     Previously, company officials explained, a limiting factor in the speed at which an airplane could dive was the engine’s revolutions each minute, since overspeeding would result to serious damage to the motor.

     The Curtis Hawk 75A pursuit plane is similar to the Curtiss P-36A, the standard pursuit airplane of the United States Army Air Corps.

     It carried two machine guns and is equipped to carry bombs under each wing when on a fighting mission.

     The greatest previously registered speed was 440.681 miles an hour, made by Francesco Agello of Italy over a three-kilometer course in level flight October 23, 1934.

     The world’s land speed record is held by George E. T. Eyston of England at 357.5 miles an hour, established September 16, 1938.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Vol. XCVIII, No. 291, Wednesday, January 25, 1939, at Page 1, Columns 1 and 2

A U.S. Army Air Corps Curtiss-Wright P-36 Hawk, 12 MD, assigned to Wright Field for flight testing. (U.S. Air Force)

The Oakland Tribune reported:

‘Faster Than Any Man Alive,’ Flier Says After Diving 575 M.P.H.

     BUFFALO, N.Y., Jan. 25.—(AP)—A test pilot who free-power dived a heavily armed pursuit airplane at more than 575 miles per hour claimed today the distinction of having traveled “faster than any other human being.”

     Chief test pilot H. Lloyd Child dropped a Curtiss Hawk 75A through the clouds above Buffalo Airport yesterday at almost 1000 feet a second to exceed “all known speed records,” the Curtiss aeroplane division of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation announced.

     Child was testing the plane for the French Army, which has purchased 100 of the ships. The terrific speed was recorded on instruments installed by the French Government’s representatives, who witnessed the flight.

     The velocity was so great the marker on the indicator exceeded the instrument’s range and moved off the paper roll. Aviation experts said Child probably exceeded 600 miles per hour.

     “I didn’t feel anything,” the test pilot commented, “it was all over too quickly.”

     Child said the dive was part of a day’s work.

     “No danger at all, I would say,” he commented.

     His spare time hobby, skiing, however, “is awful dangerous,” Child asserted.

     “I wouldn’t be surprised if someone would exceed my speed soon. A diving speed of 700 miles per hour is within the realm of possibility,” he added.

Oakland Tribune, VOL. CXXX—NO. 25, Wednesday, January 25, 1939, Page 3, Columns 2 and 3

The prototype Curtiss-Wright Model 75 Hawk, NX17Y, s/n 11923. (Curtiss-Wright Corporation)

The Curtiss-Wright Model 75 was a single-seat, single-engine, low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The airplane was designed by Donovan Reese Berlin. Curtiss-Wright intended to offer it as a pursuit for the U.S. Army Air Corps. H. Lloyd Child took the prototype, NX17Y, for its first flight 6 May 1935.

Donovan Reese Berlin. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

After evaluation by the Air Corps at Wright Field, the rival Seversky Aircraft Corporation SEV-1XP was selected by the Air Corps and 77 P-35s were ordered. Don Berlin worked on improving the Model 75, and in 1937, the Air Corps ordered 210 Curtiss P-36As.

Curtiss-Wright P-36A Hawk. (U.S. Air Force)

Curtiss-Wright also offered versions of the Hawk 75 to foreign governments. Variants were available with fixed or retractable gear, a choice of Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp or Wright Cyclone engines, and various combinations of machine gun and cannon armament.

The Curtiss Hawk 75 A was 28.8 feet (8.78 meters) long with wingspan of 37.3 feet (11.37 meters) and height of 9.25 feet (2.82 meters). The total wing area was 236.0 square feet (21.93 square meters). With a Pratt & Whitney engine, the airplane had an empty weight of 4,713 pounds (2,127.3 kilograms), and gross weight of 5,922 pounds (2,675.7 kilograms).

French Armée de l’air Curtiss H75-C1 chasseur. (Armée de l’air)

The Armée de l’air initially ordered 100 Hawk 75A-1s, designated H75-C1 in French service. Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines (including spares) were ordered separately. They were delivered to France for final assembly, and were unpainted. These airplanes had minor differences from U.S. Army Air Corps P-36As. For example, the instrument markings were metric. It was French custom to have the throttle off when pushed full forward, and wide open when pulled rearward. The pilot’s seat was different in order to fit the standard French parachute.

The French H75-A1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.97 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SC-G [Specification Number PW-5028-C]. This was a two-row 14-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The SC-G was rated at 900 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and 1,050 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., for take off. The engine drove a three-bladed, 10 foot, 1½ inch (3.086 meters) diameter Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 16:9 gear reduction. The SC-G was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) in diameter, 59.90 inches (1.521 meters) long, and weighed 1,423 pounds (645 kilograms).

The Hawk 75A-1 had a maximum cruise speed of 260 miles per hour (418 kilometers per hour) at 19,000 feet (5,790 meters). Its maximum speed was 258 miles per hour (413 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, 290 miles per hour at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters), and 303 miles per hour (488 kilometers per hour) at 19,000 feet (5,790 meters). Although Child demonstrated a dive at over 575 miles per hour, in service, the Hawk was restricted to a maximum dive speed of 455 miles per hour (732 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 32,800 feet (9,997 meters), and absolute ceiling of 33,700 feet (10,272 meters).

The Armée de l’air H75A-1 was armed with four FN-Browning de Belgique mle 1938 7.5 mm. × 54 mm MAS machine guns, with two mounted on the engine cowl, synchronized to fire through the propeller arc, and one in each wing. 2,200 rounds of ammunition were carried. The 7.5 mm (the bullet diameter was actually 7.78 mm, or .306-caliber) was a shorter, less powerful cartridge than the .303 British (7.7 × 56 mm) or U.S. standard .30-06 Springfield (7.62 × 63 mm) cartridges.

France followed with orders for Hawk 75A-2, 75A-3 and 75A-4 fighters. These had different combinations of guns and engine variants.

After the surrender of France to invaders from Nazi Germany, many Curtiss Hawks made their way to England. In service with the Royal Air Force, these airplanes were called the Mohawk.

Curtiss H75-C1s in service with France, World War II. (Armée de l’air)

Henry Lloyd Child was born at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 25 May 1904, the second of two children of Edward Taggart Child, a consulting engineer in shipbuilding, and Lillian Rushmore Cornell Child. He was baptized at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, 22 December 1913. Child graduated from Flushing High School in Flushing, New York, then attended the Haverford School in Philadelphia.

Henry Lloyd Child, 1926. (The Class Record)

“Skipper” Child majored in mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a member of the Hexagon Senior Engineering Society and the Phi Sigma Kappa (ΦΣΚ) and Sigma Tau (ΣΤ) fraternities. He was a member of the varsity and all-state soccer team, and also played football and tennis. Child graduated with a bachelor of science degree, 15 June 1926.

After graduation from college, Child went to work for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation as an engineer.

Child joined the United States Navy, 23 November 1927. He was trained as a pilot at Naval Air Station Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Virginia, and was commissioned as an Ensign. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 7 November 1932, and to lieutenant, 11 November 1935.

While maintaining his commission in the Navy, Child returned to Curtiss-Wright as a test pilot.

Mr. And Mrs. Henry Lloyd Child (née Allene Anne Gausby), 28 October 1939.

Henry Lloyd Child married Miss Allene Ann Gausby of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 28 October 1939. They had met in July 1938, while playing in a tennis tournament at Muskoka, Northern Ontario. They would have a daughter, Beverley L. Child.

Miss Allene Anne Gausby

H. Lloyd Child worked for Lockheed from 1958 to 1968, when he retired. He died at Palmdale, California 5 August 1970 at the age of 66 years.

H. Lloyd Child’s high speed dive was the subject of an 8-page article in “True Comics” #6, November 1941. (Parents’ Magazine Press)

See: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=24805

Curtiss advertisement, 1940. (Curtiss-Wright Corporation)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 September 1956

Captain Milburn G. Apt, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, with a Bell X-2. (U. S. Air Force)

27 September 1956: Captain Milburn G. (“Mel”) Apt, United States Air Force, was an experimental test pilot assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. After Frank Everest and Iven Kincheloe had made twelve powered flights in the Bell X-2 supersonic research aircraft, Mel Apt was the next test pilot to fly it.

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)
The second of two Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplanes, 46-675, on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. On 12 May 1953 this X-2 exploded during a captive test flight, killing Bell’s test pilot Jean L. “Skip” Ziegler. (NASA)

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

Bell X-2 46-674 after drop from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell X-2 46-674 after drop from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096. (U.S. Air Force)

With Mel Apt in the cockpit on his first rocketplane flight, the B-50 carried the X-2 to 31,800 feet (9,693 meters). After it was dropped from the bomber, Apt ignited the rocket engine and began to accelerate. He passed Mach 1 at 44,000 feet (13,411 meters) and continued to climb. Apt flew an “extraordinarily precise profile” to reach 72,200 feet (22,007 meters) where he put the X-2 into a dive. The rocket engine burned 12.5 seconds longer than planned, and at 65,589 feet (19,992 meters) the X-2 reached Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour, 3,377 kilometers per hour).

Milburn Apt was the first pilot to exceed Mach 3. He was The Fastest Man Alive.

Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, 1955–56. Note the supersonic diamond-shaped shock waves in the rocket engine's exhaust. (Bell aircraft Corporation)
Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, 1955–56. Note the supersonic diamond-shaped shock waves in the rocket engine’s exhaust. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

It was known that the X-2 could be unstable in high speed maneuvers. The flight plan called for Apt to slow to Mach 2.4 before beginning a gradual turn back toward Rogers Dry Lake where he was to land, but he began the turn while still at Mach 3. Twenty seconds after engine burn out, the X-2 began to oscillate in all axes and departed controlled flight. His last radio transmission was, “There she goes.” ¹

Mel Apt was subjected to acceleration forces of ± 6 Gs. It is believed that he was momentarily unconscious. Out of control, the X-2 fell through 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in an inverted spin. Apt initiated the escape capsule separation, in which the entire nose of the X-2 was released from the airframe. It pitched down violently and Mel Apt was knocked unconscious again. He regained consciousness a second time and tried to parachute from the escape capsule, but was still inside when it hit the desert floor at several hundred miles per hour. Mel Apt was killed instantly.

Since 1950, Milburn G. Apt was the thirteenth test pilot killed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Wreckage of the Bell X-2, 46-674. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of the Bell X-2, 46-674, in the Kramer Hills, east of Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of the Bell X-2, 46-674. (NASM 9A08208)

Milburn Grant Apt was born at Buffalo, Kansas, 8 April 1924. He was the third child of Oley Glen Apt, a farmer, and Ada Willoughby Apt.

“Mel” Apt enlisted as a private in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve, United States Army, 9 November 1942. On 23 June 1943, Private Apt was appointed an Aviation Cadet. After completing flight training, Cadet Apt was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). He was promoted to First Lieutenant, A.U.S., 4 September 1945. Apt was released from active duty on 11 August 1946. On 10 October 1947, he was reclassified as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank 8 April 1945.

In February 1950, Lieutenant Apt, then stationed at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, married Miss Faye Lorrie Baker of Phoenix. They would have two children.

Mel Apt earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, in 1951, and a second bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He then attended the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, graduating in September 1954. Apt was assigned to the Fighter Operations Branch, Air Force Flight Test Center, as a test pilot.

On 22 December 1954, Captain Apt was flying a chase plane during a test at Edwards. The test aircraft crash-landed on the dry lake and caught fire with its pilot trapped inside. Mel Apt, with his bare hands, rescued the other test pilot, saving his life. For this courageous act, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

Captain Apt was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flight in the X-2. The medal was presented to his widow in a ceremony at Edwards in March 1957.

Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, was 32 years old at the time of his death. His remains were buried at the Buffalo Cemetery, Buffalo, Kansas.

Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe and Captain Milburn Grant Apt (seated in cockpit) with the Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1956. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

¹ Recommended: Coupling Dynamics in Aircraft: A Historical Perspective, by Richard E. Day, Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, California NASA Special Publications 532, 1997.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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