Tag Archives: World Record for Time to Climb to a Height of 9000 Meters

18 February 1962

Major Walter F. Daniel, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Edwards AFB after setting four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Walter F. Daniel, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Edwards AFB after setting four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

17–18 February 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Walter Fletcher Daniel set four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude records with a Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, serial number 61-0849.

The supersonic trainer reached 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 35.624 seconds; ¹ 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 51.429 seconds; ² 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) in 1 minute, 04.758 seconds; ³ and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 1 minute, 35.610 seconds. ⁴

Major Walter F. Daniel flew this Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, 61-0849, to four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Edwards AFB, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Walter F. Daniel flew this Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, 61-0849, to four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Edwards AFB, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. The Northrop T-38A Talon is a pressurized, two-place, twin-engine, jet trainer. Its fuselage is very aerodynamically clean and uses the “area-rule” (“coked”) to improve its supersonic capability. It is 46 feet, 4.5 inches (14.135 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10.5 inches (3.924 meters). The one-piece wing has an area of 170 square feet (15.79 square meters). The leading edge is swept 32°. The airplane’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is approximately 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Dannelly Field, Montgomery, Alabama, 1993. (Photograph courtesy of Gary Chambers. Used with permission.)

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms)

The T-38A has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour/1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 1.3 (882 miles per hour/1,419 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It has a rate of climb of 33,600 feet per minute (171 meters per second) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters). Its range is 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers).

Between 1959 and 1972, 1,187 T-38s were built at Northrop’s Hawthorne, California, factory. As of 4 September 2018, 546 T-38s remained in the U.S. Air Force active inventory. The U.S. Navy has 10, and as of 30 October 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration reports 29 T-38s registered to NASA.

The record-setting T-38, 61-0849, was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1993. It was later removed from storage and assigned to the 415th Flight Test Flight, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, where it remained until March 2007. It is now on display at the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 being towed to display site at the Air Force Flight Test Museum. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)
Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 being towed from the restoration hangar to display site at the Air Force Flight Test Museum. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)

Walter Fletcher Daniel was born in 1925. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and was trained as a fighter pilot. He was assigned to fly North American P-51 Mustangs and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in post-war Germany. During the Korean War he served as a reconnaissance pilot of RF-51s and RF-80 Shooting Stars.

Walter Daniel graduated from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1954 and was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and later Edwards Air Force Base, where he was involved in flight testing all of the Century-series fighters. (F-100–F-106) It was while at Edwards that he flew the T-38A to set the time-to-altitude records.

By 1965, Colonel Daniel was the Chief of Flight Test Operations for the Lockheed YF-12A and SR-71A Blackbird Mach 3 aircraft. On 1 May 1965, he set five world speed records and an altitude record and was awarded the Mackay Trophy.

After attending the Air War College, Daniel entered combat crew training in the McDonnell F-4 and RF-4 Phantom II, and was appointed Deputy Commander for Operations of the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn RTAFB. He flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam.

In 1971 Colonel Daniel assumed command of the 75th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (soon redesignated 67th TRW). He was promoted to brigadier general in 1972 and served as Inspector General, Air Force Systems Command.

Walter Fletcher Daniel was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. A command pilot, he had flown over 6,000 hours in more than 75 different aircraft types. General Daniel died 13 September 1974 at the age of 49 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

A team of volunteers place Northrop T-38A Talon 61-0849 in position at teh outdorr dsiplay area of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air force Base, California. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)
A team of volunteers place Northrop T-38A Talon 61-0849 in position at the outdoor display area of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8718

² FAI Record File Number 8604 (17 February 1962)

³ FAI Record File Number 8599

⁴ FAI Record File Number 8719

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 January–8 February 1971

A Lockheed P-3C Orion (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)
Lockheed P-3C-225-LO Orion, Bu. No. 162775, of Patrol Squadron Four (VP-4), similar to the record-setting airplane flown by CDR Lilienthal and his crew, 22 January–8 February 1971. (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)

21 January–8 February 1971: A Lockheed P-3C Orion antisubmarine warfare patrol bomber, Bu. No. 156512, under the command of Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy, took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, at 23:30 UTC, Thursday, 21 January (8:30 a.m., 22 January, Japan Time), and flew 11,036.47 kilometers (6,857.75 statute miles), non-stop, to NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. The airplane landed at 8:51 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (13:51 UTC), Friday, 22 January. The duration of the flight was 15 hours, 21 minutes.

This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world distance record for turboprop airplanes.¹ The Orion’s course deviated around foreign airspace so the actual distance flown was 7,010 miles (11,218.5 kilometers).

Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156521. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)
Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156512. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)

For the long distance flight the Orion carried a flight crew of seven: Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, Aircraft Commander; Captain R.H. Ross, Pilot; Lieutenant Commander F. Howard Stoodley, Pilot; Lieutenant R.T. Myers, Navigator; Commander J.E. Koehr, Meteorologist; Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate K.D. Frantz, Flight Engineer; and Chief Aviation Electrician’s Mate H.A. Statti, Flight Engineer.

A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (U.S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (Lockheed Martin via Code One Magazine)

On Wednesday, 27 January 1971, the same airplane set both FAI and National Aeronautic Association records for Speed Over a Straight Course of 15/25 Kilometers of 806.10 kilometers per hour (500.89 miles per hour) at NAS Patuxent River.²

The U.S. National Record still stands:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 19.47.13

On February 4, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California, Commander Lilienthal flew 156512 to a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 13,721.5 meters (45,018.1 feet).³

On 8 February 1971, while till at Edwards AFB, Commander Lilienthal and 156512 set five more world records for heavy turboprop airplanes. The P-3C climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 2 minutes, 52 seconds ⁴ ; to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 5 minutes, 46 seconds ⁵ ; to 9,000 meters (29, 528 feet) in 10 minutes, 26 seconds ⁶ ; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 19 minutes, 42 seconds.⁷ The Orion continued climbing until it reached a world record altitude of 14,086.1 meters (46,214.2 feet). ⁸

For his record-setting flights, Commander Lilienthal was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Lockheed Model 188 Electra prototype, N1881, at Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, 1957 (Robert Reedy Collection/San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The record-setting airplane was a Lockheed Model 285A P-3C-110-LO Orion, Bu. No. 156512, LAC serial number 5506, built by the Lockheed-California Company at Burbank, California. The Orion was completed 14 August 1969. It was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. The Orion was a standard production P-3C with no engine or fuel system modifications.

The Lockheed P-3 Orion was developed from the Model 188 Electra—a four-engine turboprop airliner which first flew in 1957—primarily as a long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft. The P-3 has been adapted to many other missions. The P-3C variant in U.S. Navy service is usually operated by a crew of 11.

The bomber is 116 feet, 10 inches (35.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 99 feet, 8 inches (30.378 meters) and overall height of 34 feet, 3 inches (10.439 meters). It has a zero-fuel weight of 77,200 pounds (35,017 kilograms) and a normal maximum takeoff weight of 135,000 pounds (61,235 kilograms) (Overload Takeoff: 139,780 pounds/63,403 kilograms).

The P-3C is powered by four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines which produce 4,591 shaft horsepower at 13,820 r.p.m., each. They drive four-bladed Hamilton-Standard 54H60-77 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 13 feet, 5¾ inches (4.109 meters) at 1,020 r.p.m. The T56-A-14 is a single-shaft axial-flow turboprop engine, with a 14-stage compressor section, six combustors, and a 4-stage turbine. The engine is 12 feet, 2.3 inches (3.716 meters) long, 4 feet, 1.0 inches (1.245 meters) in diameter and weighs 1,885 pounds (855 kilograms).

The P-3C can remain airborne for 16 hours.

There is a wide variety of sensors board the P-3. Sonobuoys can be dropped from the belly. A Magnetic Anomaly Detector, the “MAD boom” is mounted at the tail of the aircraft.

The Orion caries no defensive weapons. It can carry bombs, depth charges, torpedoes, mines, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles, and nuclear weapons.

Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion escorts a nuclear-powered Soviet Victor-III attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)
Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C-205-LO Orion, Bu. No. 161339, escorts a Soviet Victor I (Project 671) nuclear-powered attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)

More than 750 P-3 Orions and its variants were built by Lockheed and licensee Kawasaki Heavy Industries between 1961 and 1996. In addition to the U.S. Navy and various Federal government agencies, the Lockheed P-3 Orion remains in service worldwide with more than twenty countries.

Lockheed P-3C-110-LO Orion Bu. No. 156512 served as a test aircraft at Patuxent River until 15 July 1974. It was then assigned to VP-31 where it remained for over nine years, carrying the squadron identification marking RP and the numeral 9. It later served with VP-9, VP-46, VP-65, VP-16 and finally, VP-45. 156512 was placed in long-term storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1995, and was scrapped in 2004.

A Lockheed P-3C Orion of Patrol Squadron Sixty-Five (VP-65) (PG 06)  at an unknown airfield, 28 March 1993. Photographed by Vance Vasquez. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)
Midshipman D. H. Lilienthal (The 1955 Lucky Bag)

Donald Herman Lilienthal was born 6 February 1931 at Pope, Minnesota. He was the fourth child of Frederick R. Lilienthal, a steam railway worker, and Bertha Camille Metlie Lilienthal. He attended Glenwood High School, Glenwood, Minnesota, graduating in 1949. He then studied mathematics at the University of Minnesota, before accepting an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1951.

Midshipman Lilienthal graduated from Annapolis and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 3 June 1955. He was then trained as a pilot. Later, he graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

In June 1958, Lieutenant (j.g.) Lilienthal married Miss Jeanne L. Murphy, in Duval County, Florida. They had three children, Karen, John and Donald, Jr. They divorced in March 1975.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Lilienthal was promoted to the rank of lieutenant 1 July 1959, and to lieutenant commander, 1 July 1964. He advanced to commander on 1 July 1969.

Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy

Commander Lilenthal retired from the United States Navy in December 1975 after 20 years of service as an antisubmarine warfare pilot and test pilot. He later worked as a consultant to the aviation industry.

Commander Lilienthal married Mrs. Jimena Rosa Goich Recavrren, a widow, in Arlington, Virginia, 17 September 1982. They divorced 3 December 1993 in Fairfax, Virginia.

Commander Donald Herman Lilienthal, United States Navy (Retired) passed away at Loudon, Virginia, 21 August 2014 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

A Lockheed P-3B Orion, Bu. No. 153451, Patrol Squadron 17, off Ohau, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3B-90-LO Orion, Bu. No. 153451, of Patrol Squadron 17, off Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8070

² FAI Record File Number 8582

³ FAI Record File Number 8476

⁴ FAI Record File Number 3400

⁵ FAI Record File Number 3401

⁶ FAI Record File Number 3402

⁷ FAI Record File Number 3403

⁸ FAI Record File Number 8055

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 January 1975

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119 Streak Eagle record holder. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119, Streak Eagle, FAI world record holder. (U.S. Air Force)

16 January 1975: Three United States Air Force pilots, Majors Roger J. Smith, William R. MacFarlane and David W. Petersen, test pilots assigned to the F-15 Joint Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base, California, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude records in one day, flying this unpainted McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC Streak Eagle, serial number 72-0119, from Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The airfield’s elevation is 913 feet (278 meters) above Sea Level.

Smith took the first record: from brake release to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 27.571 seconds.

The next three belonged to MacFarlane: 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), 39.335 seconds; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet), 48.863 seconds; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), 59.383 seconds.

The last record for the day went to Peterson, who reached 15,000 meters (49,213 feet) in 1 minute, 17.042 seconds.

Over the next two weeks they took the Streak Eagle even higher. On it’s left vertical fin is painted AQUILA MAXIMA. This airplane is in storage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

F-15A Streak Eagle record-setting pilots, Majors William MacFarlane, Roger Smith and Dave Peterson. (U.S. Air Force)
F-15A Streak Eagle record-setting pilots, Majors William MacFarlane, Roger Smith and Dave Peterson. (U.S. Air Force)

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 20.33.28FAI Record File Num #9077 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 3 000 m
Performance: 27.571s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant Roger J. Smith (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 20.37.34FAI Record File Num #8605 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 6 000 m
Performance: 39.335s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant William R. Macfarlane (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

FAI Record File Num #8600 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 9 000 m
Performance: 48.863s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant William R. Macfarlane (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

FAI Record File Num #8528 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 12 000 m
Performance: 59.383s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant William R. Macfarlane (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 14.43.07FAI Record File Num #8521 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 15 000 m
Performance: 1 min 17.042s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant David W. Peterson (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-8-MC Eagle 73-0090 at Luke Air Force Base. The two aircraft in this photograph are painted “Air Superiority Blue” (F.S. 35450). (U.S. Air Force)

Streak Eagle is a very early production F-15A-6-MC Eagle, a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter. It is 63 feet, 9.0 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.7 inches (13.048 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5.4 inches (5.624 meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,870 pounds (11,734 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).

The F-15A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) afterburning turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.202 kilonewtons); 14,690 pounds (65.344 kilonewtons, 30-minute limit; and a maximum 23,840 pounds (106.046 kilonewtons), 5-minute limit. The F100-PW-100 is 191 inches (4.851 meters) long, 46.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,035 pounds (1,376.7 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 893 knots (1,028 miles per hour/1,654 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters). The ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters) at maximum power. It can climb at an initial 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second) from Sea Level, and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, The F-15 can climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182kilometers).

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

384 F-15A Eagles were built before production shifted to the improved F-15C version. As F-15Cs became operation, the F-15As were transferred to Air National Guard units assigned to defend continental U.S. airspace. The last F-15A was retired from service in 2009.

Streak Eagle over St. Louis (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

Streak Eagle was specially modified by McDonnell Douglas for the record attempts. Various equipment that would not be needed for these flights was eliminated: The flap and speed brake actuators, the M61 cannon and its ammunition handling equipment, the radar and fire control systems, unneeded cockpit displays and radios, and one generator.

Other equipment was added: An extended pitot boom was mounted at the nose with alpha and beta vanes; equipment for the pilot’s David Clark Company A/P-225-6 full pressure suit; extremely sensitive accelerometers and other instrumentation; extra batteries; an in-cockpit video camera aimed over the pilot’s shoulder; and perhaps most important, a special hold-back device was installed in place of the fighter’s standard arresting hook.

These changes resulted in an airplane that was approximately 1,800 pounds (817 kilograms) lighter than the standard production F-15A. This gave it a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.4:1.

Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)

The flight profiles for the record attempts were developed by McDonnell Douglas Chief Developmental Test Pilot, Charles P. “Pete” Garrison (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired).

Streak Eagle carried only enough fuel for each specific flight, and weighed from 27,972  to 31,908 pounds (12,688 to 14,473 kilograms). It was secured to the hold-back device on the runway and the engines were run up to full afterburner. It was released from the hold-back and was airborne in just three seconds.

Streak Eagle, the FAI record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the FAI record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 December 1968

Chief Warrant Officer James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
CW4 William T. Lamb

30 December 1968: At the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation plant at Stratford, Connecticut, Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Paul Ervin, Jr., United States Army, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude while flying a Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe. The helicopter’s co-pilot for this flight was CW4 William T. Lamb. The “Sky Crane” reached 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) in 1 minute, 38.2 seconds, and 9,000 meters (29,527.56 feet) in 7 minutes, 54 seconds.¹ (It climbed through 6,000 meters (19,686 feet) in 2 minutes, 58.9 seconds.²)

Several attempts to break the existing time to altitude records had been made on 29 and 30 December. Erwin decided to deviate from Sikorsky’s recommended climb profile and, instead, climbed vertically until reaching 20,000 feet, and then returned to Sikorsky’s profile.

On the same date, CW4 Lamb, with Erwin as co-pilot, established a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, of 9,596 meters (31,483 feet).³

According to an article in U.S. Army Aviation Digest, during the record attempt flights, the regional air traffic control center called a commercial airliner which was cruising at 17,000 feet,

“. . . be advised there’s a helicopter at your 9 o’clock position descending out of 27,000 feet at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute.”

The airliner replied, “Good lord, you mean they’re up here now?”

Another pilot on the frequency asked, “What kind of helicopter is that?”

Mr. Ervin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his achievement.

A third U.S. Army aviator involved in the record attempts was Major James H. Goodloe, as was a Sikorsky test pilot, John J. Dixon.

FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)
FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)

The Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe is a large single-main-rotor/tail rotor helicopter, specifically designed to carry large external loads. In U.S. Army service, it had a crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, third pilot and two mechanics. The third pilot was in a rear-facing cockpit position and flew the helicopter while it was hovering to pick up or position an external load.

The CH-54A is 88 feet, 5.9 inches (26.972 meters) long and 25 feet, 4.7 inches (7.739 meters) high. The main rotor has six blades and turns counter-clockwise, seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet (21.946 meters). The main rotor blades have a chord of 1.97 feet (0.601 meters) and incorporate a twist of -13°. The tail rotor has four blades and is placed on the left side of a vertical pylon in a pusher configuration. The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The diameter of the tail rotor is 16 feet (4.877 meters). The chord of the tail rotor blade is 1.28 feet (0.390 meters).

The helicopter has an empty weight of 19,120 pounds (8,673 kilograms) a design gross weight of 38,000 pounds (17,237 kilograms) and overload gross weight of 42,000 pounds (19,051 kilograms).

Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe 68-18448, Nevada National Guard, 16 November 1989. (Mike Freer/Wikipedia)

The CH-54A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JFTD12A-4A (T73-P-1) turboshaft engines, each rated at 4,000 shaft horsepower at 9,000 r.p.m. (N2) maximum continuous power at Sea Level, and 4,500 shaft horsepower at 9,500 r.p.m. (N2) for takeoff, 5-minute limit, or 30 minutes, with one engine inoperative (OEI). The maximum gas generator speed (N1) is 16,700 r.p.m. The T73-P-1 is an axial-flow free-turbine turboshaft engine with a 9-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine section (2-stage gas generator and 2-stage free turbine). It is 107.0 inches (2.718 meters) long, 30.0 inches (0.762 meters) in diameter, and weighs 966 pounds (438 kilograms). The helicopter’s main transmission is limited to a maximum 6,600 horsepower.

It has a useful load of 22,880 pounds (10,342 kilograms) and can carry a payload of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) from a single point cargo hoist.

The CH-54A has a maximum cruise speed of 115 knots (132 miles per hour, 213 kilometers per hour). It’s range is 217 nautical miles (250 miles,  402 kilometers). The CH-54A has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 10,600 feet (3,231 meters) and its service ceiling is 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

The U.S. Army ordered 54 CH-54A and 35 CH-54B Tarhes. Sikorsky produced another 12 civil-certified S-64E and S-64F Skycranes. Army CH-54s were retired from service in 1995. Sikorsky sold the type certificate to Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Medford, Oregon. Erickson operates a fleet of Skycranes for heavy lift, logging and fire fighting, and also produces parts and new helicopters for worldwide customers.

The United States Army has a tradition of using Native American names for its aircraft. Tarhe (pronounced tar-HAY) was a famous chief, or sachem, of the Wyandot People of North America, who lived from 1742–1818. He was very tall and the French settlers called him “The Crane.”

James Paul Ervin, Jr., was born 2 October 1931, in Arkansas. He was the second child of James Paul Erwin and Ruth Booker Ervin. He joined the United States Army in 1948. In 1955, he married his wife, Theresa M. (“Terry”) Ervin. They resided in Columbus, Georgia.

CW4 Ervin was considered a pioneer of Army Aviation. He was one of the first pilots to experiment with armed helicopters, and he served with the first transportation company to be equipped with the Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw and CH-37 Mohave helicopters. During the Vietnam War, he was assigned to the 478th Aviation Company (Heavy Helicopter). Mr. Ervin retired from the United States Army in July 1969 after 21 years of service.

At 1735, 2 September 1969, as a civilian pilot working for ERA Helicopters in Alaska, Ervin was flying a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane, N6964E, on the North Slope near Prudhoe Bay, when the helicopter broke up in flight and crashed near a drilling site, Southeast Eileen. Chief Erwin and two others aboard, Byron Davis and Allen Bryan, were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that a tail rotor pitch control link failed due to a fatigue fracture. The NTSB accident report also cited improper factory installation as a factor.

At the time of the accident, Erwin had a total of 4,787 flight hours with 830 hours in type. He was 37 years old. James Paul Erwin, Jr., is buried at the Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia.

An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc. Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Sikorsky Archives)
An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 9944 and 9961.

² Many sources state that CW4 Erwin set a record for Time to 6,000 meters, and some give the elapsed time as 3 minutes, 31.5 seconds. The FAI Records Database does not list this record.

³ FAI Record File Number 9919.

© 2017 Bryan. R. Swopes

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22 May 1958

Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps.

22 May 1958: At NAS Point Mugu, a naval air weapons test center on the southern California shoreline, Major Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude with a Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bureau of Aeronautics (“Bu. No.”) serial number 130745.

Runway 21 at Point Mugu (NTD) has a slight downhill gradient and the departure end is very near the shoreline, with an elevation of just 9 feet (2.7 meters). This runway has been used for time-to-altitude records on several occasions.

Douglas F4D-1 Skyray Bu. No. 130745 at NOTS China Lake, circa 1960. (China Lake Alumni)

Major LeFaivre’s Skyray climbed from the runway to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 44.392 seconds¹; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), 1:06.095 ²; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet), 1:30.025 ³; 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), 1:51.244 ⁴; and 15,000 meters (49,213 feet), 2:36.233.⁵ This was the first time that a 15,000 meter had been set.

F4D-1 Bu. No. 130745 was the fifth production Skyray. The Douglas Aircraft Company F4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine, transonic all-weather interceptor, designed to operated from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. It had a tailless delta configuration with rounded wing tips. The Skyray was 45 feet, 7-7/8 inches (13.916 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and height of 12 feet, 11-7/8 inches (3.959 meters). The span with wings folded for storage on flight and hangar decks was 26 feet, 1-7/8 inches (7.972 meters), The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 52.5°. The total wing area was 557 square feet (51.747 square meters).

The interceptor had an empty weight of 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum weight of 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms).

Early production F4D-1s were powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-8 had a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons) at 5,750 r.p.m. , N1. The military power rating was 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1. Maximum power was 14,500 pounds of thrust (64.50 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1, with afterburner. The engine was 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 20 feet, 10 inches (6.35 meters) long.

The cruise speed of the F4D-1 was 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour, or 0.95 Mach) at Sea Level, and 695 miles per hour (1,118 kilometers, or Mach 1.05) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). The Skyray had a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters), and maximum range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

The F4D-1 was armed with four 20 mm Colt Mark 12 autocannon with 70 rounds per gun. The Mark 12 had a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute. Four AAM-N-7 (AIM-9) Sidewinder infrared-homing air to air missiles could be carried under the wings, or various combinations of 2.75 inch rocket pods, up to a maximum of 76 rockets.

A U.S. Marine Corps Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 134815, assigned to VMF(AW)-115, just south of the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Southern California, 4 April 1957. (Robert L. Lawson Collection, National Naval Aviation Museum)

The Skyray had very unpleasant handling characteristics. It was used to teach pilots how to handle unstable aircraft. Bu. No. 130745 was used as a flight test aircraft at NOTS China Lake, a Naval Ordnance Test Station near Ridgecrest, in the high desert of southern California. (China Lake, NID, is about 55 miles/89 kilometers north-northwest of Edwards AFB, EDW).

Lt. Jan M. Graves, USNR

On 21 October 1960, Lieutenant Jan Michael (“Black Jack”) Graves, United States Naval Reserve, was flying 130745, simulating aircraft carrier takeoffs from Runway 21 at China Lake. The F4D-1 had just taken off when, at approximately 100 feet (30.5 meters), it slowly rolled upside down and then crashed on to the runway. It slid about 1.14 miles (1.83 kilometers) before coming to  stop. Lieutenant Graves was killed.

Accident investigators found that a broken wire in the rudder feedback system had allowed the rudder to go to its maximum deflection.

As this Douglas F4D-1 Skyray dives away from the camera, its unusual delta wing planform can be seen. (United States Navy)

Edward Norris LeFaivre was born at Baltimore, Maryland, 11 October 1924. He attended the University of Maryland, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree. He was then employed at the Glenn L. Martin Company.

LeFaivre joined the United States Marine Corps in 1942. Trained as a Naval Aviator, he was assigned as a night fighter pilot with VMF(N)-533 at Yontan, Airfield, Okinawa. On 18 May 1945, Lieutenant LeFaivre shot down two enemy bombers with his Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat, for which he was awarded the Silver Star.

Captain LeFaivre continued as a night fighter pilot during the Korean War. Flying a Grumman F7F Tigercat assigned to VMF(AW)-513, on 21 October 1951, he repeatedly attacked a heavy concentration of enemy vehicles, LeFaivre’s airplane was shot down. He was rescued by helicopter, but his observer was listed as missing in action. Captain LeFaivre was awarded two additional Silver Stars for his actions on that night.

From 8 August to 31 December 1967, Colonel LeFaivre commanded Marine Air Group 13 (MAG-13), based at Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. The group’s three squadrons were equipped with the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II.

Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre retired from the Marine Corps in 1972. He died 28 June 1992 at the age of 68 years, and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8591

² FAI Record File Number 8592

³ FAI Record File Number 8593

⁴ FAI Record File Number 8594

⁵ FAI Record File Number 8595

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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