July 17, 1962: The number three X-15 was airdropped from a NB-52A Stratofortress over Delamar Dry Lake, Nev., with Maj. Robert M. “Bob” White in the cockpit. This was the 62nd flight of the program, and White was making his 15th flight in an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. The purpose of this flight was to verify the performance of the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system, which had been installed in the Number 3 ship. Just one minute before drop, the MH-96 failed, but White reset his circuit breakers and it came back on line.
After dropping from the B-52’s wing, White fired the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine and began to accelerate and climb. The planned burn time for the 57,000-pound-thrust engine was 80 seconds. It shut down 2 seconds late, driving the X-15 well beyond the planned peak altitude for this flight. Instead of reaching 280,000 feet, White reached 314,750 feet. The plane reached Mach 5.45. Because of the increased speed and altitude, White was in danger of overshooting his landing at Edwards Air Force Base. He passed over the north end of Rogers Dry Lake and crossed the “high key” — the point where the X-15 landing maneuver begins — too high and too fast, at Mach 3.5 and 80,000 feet. Without power, White made a wide 360-degree turn over Rosamond Dry Lake then came back over the high key at a more normal 28,000 feet and subsonic speed. He glided to a perfect touch down, 10 minutes, 20.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52. This was the first time that a manned aircraft had gone higher than 300,000 feet. It was also the first flight above 50 miles so, for that achievement, White became the first X-15 pilot to be awarded U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.
July 17, 1965: The second North American XB-70 Valkyrie (62-0207) arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following its maiden flight from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. The Valkyrie was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber, capable of flight above 70,000 feet, with intercontinental range. Its altitude allowed it to avoid interceptors of the time, but improvements in radar-guided surface-to-air missiles increased its vulnerability. Ultimately, though, political decisions ended the B-70 program. This aircraft flew just 46 times, for a total of 92 hours, 22 minutes of flight. Changes to the aircraft corrected the deficiencies discovered in testing the Number 1 XB-70A, 62-001. The most visible change was 5-degree dihedral added to the wings for improved stability. On April 16, 1966, 62-0207 reached its maximum design speed, Mach 3.08, which it sustained for 20 minutes.
July 17, 1989: The Northrop B-2 Spirit made its first flight, a two-hour sortie from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., to Edwards AFB. Northrop test pilot Bruce Hinds and Col. Richard S. Couch, the B-2 Combined Test Force director, flew the “stealth” bomber. This marked the first time that a flying wing aircraft had flown over the Mojave Desert in nearly four decades.
July 18, 1942: In the late 1930s, Nazi Germany began developing a fighter powered by a turbojet engine. In early 1942 the first two prototypes of the Messerschmitt Me 262 began flight testing. They had two BMW 003 jet engines mounted on the wings, but for safety, a piston engine and propeller were mounted in the nose. At 8:40 a.m., on July 18, 1942, V3, the third prototype made the first pure-jet flight when it took off from Leipheim, Bavaria, with Messerschmitt’s Chief Test Pilot, Flugkapitän Fritz Wendel. This prototype was powered by two Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engines.
July 18, 1966: Gemini 10 launched from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station with astronauts John W. Young and Michael Collins on board. The launch vehicle was a liquid-fueled Martin SLV-4 Titan II. The Gemini 10 flight was to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and extra-vehicular activity (spacewalk). The Gemini capsule docked with an Agena target vehicle which had been launched one hour before. The flight crew opened the hatches and Michael Collins stood in the opening, taking photographs. After undocking, the Gemini located and docked with another Agena from the earlier Gemini 8 flight. Collins this time left the capsule and retrieved some experiments from the dormant target vehicle before returning to Gemini 10. After nearly three days in space, Young and Collins landed in the Pacific Ocean.
July 19, 1943: The Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender made its first flight. The Ascender was a 1940s U.S. prototype fighter aircraft built by Curtiss-Wright. Along with the Vultee XP-54 and Northrop XP-56, it resulted from United States Army Air Corps proposal R-40C issued on Nov. 27, 1939, for aircraft with improved performance, armament and pilot visibility over existing fighters; it specifically allowed for unconventional aircraft designs. An unusual design for its time, it had a canard configuration, a rear-mounted engine, swept wings, and two vertical tails. Because of its pusher design, it was sarcastically referred to as the “Ass-ender.” Like the XP-54, the Ascender was designed for the Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine, but was re-designed after that engine project was canceled. It was also the first Curtiss fighter aircraft to use tricycle landing gear. The performance of the XP-55 was inferior to conventional fighter aircraft, sealing its fate, and by 1944 jet-powered fighters were in development, causing the termination of the XP-55.
July 19, 1963: Joseph A. Walker flew North American X-15 No. 3, serial number 55-6672, to records of 347,800 feet and 3,710 miles per hour. This was Walker’s 24th flight of 25, the 21st flight for the Number 3 X-15 aircraft, and the 90th of the X-15 program overall. At 10:20 a.m ., Walker and the X-15 were airdropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 53-008, Balls 8, over Smith Ranch Dry Lake, Nev. Walker fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and over the next 84.6 seconds the engine’s 60,000 pounds of thrust drove the X-15 upward. The engine’s thrust on this flight was higher than expected, shutdown was 1.6 seconds late, and Walker’s climb angle was 1.5-degrees too high, so the X-15 overshot the predicted maximum altitude and its ballistic arc peaked at 347,800 feet. The maximum speed was Mach 5.50 or 3,714 miles per hour. Walker glided to a touch down at Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after flying 311 miles in 11 minutes, 24.1 seconds of flight. On this flight, Walker became the first American civilian to fly into space.
July 20, 1925: The Boeing Model 40 made its first flight. The Model 40 was a United States mail plane of the 1920s. It was a single-engined biplane that was widely used for airmail services in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, especially by airlines that later became part of United Airlines. It became the first aircraft built by the Boeing company to carry passengers.
July 20, 1939: A third condemnation suit was filed for the balance of the 60,000 acres needed to complete the Muroc bombing facility. In the meantime, many of the defendants in the previous two suits were reportedly settling out of court for their land holdings. A Condemnation suit is a judicial proceeding for the purpose of taking property by eminent domain for public use upon the payment of just compensation for such taking. It is also known as a condemnation proceeding. “Eminent Domain” refers to the inherent right of the government to take private property for a public use. “Condemnation” is the legal process and procedure used by public or private entities with the power of eminent domain for the taking of a landowner’s land.
July, 20, 1955: At Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, the Convair NB-36H Nuclear Test Aircraft, serial number 51-5712, made its first flight. In the late 1940s, engineers began working on an aircraft that could be powered by a nuclear reactor. The reactor would heat air to provide jet thrust, rather than burning fuel and air to do so. A 60 megawatt reactor was envisioned. The NB-36 was built to test the shielding requirements of an airborne nuclear reactor and to determine the effects of radiation on aircraft systems. The Nuclear Test Aircraft was built from a Convair B-36H-20-CF Peacemaker strategic bomber, one of 61 that had been destroyed or damaged by a tornado that struck Carswell AFB in 1952. 51-5712 was so heavily damaged that the airframe was written off, but it was rebuilt with a completely new nose section with a shielded cockpit, and was otherwise very heavily modified by Convair. A one-megawatt Aircraft Shield Test Reactor developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, weighing approximately 35,000 pounds (15,875 kilograms), was installed in the bomber’s aft bomb bay. Though the reactor was fully operational, it did not power the airplane. During the test program, the NB-36 made 47 flights with a total of 215 hours flight time.
July 20, 1969: At 10:56 p.m., EDT, exactly 109 hours, 24 minutes and 15 seconds since Apollo 11 had launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the Mon. “That’s one small step for a man. . . one giant leap for mankind.”
July 20, 1978: B-1 Bomber #3 completed the B-1 program’s first round-trip transcontinental mission and its longest duration flight: 10.9 hours. The primary objective of the flight was an overland test of the Doppler inertial mode on the inertial navigation system.
July 20, 1982: The first flight of the F-16XL took place. General Dynamics modified a FSD F-16 to answer a U.S. Air Force requirement for a dual-role, longer-range fighter to support future air combat requirements. The F-16XL featured a cambered, cranked-delta wing with a sharp leading-edge sweep with twice the area of the original wing.
July 20, 1999: During the course of a two-hour flight, Col C.D. Moore flew F-22 Raptor #1 at a sustained speed of over Mach 1.5 without the use of afterburners. The successful “supercruise” test was a major milestone in the development of the new fighter.
July 21, 1943: The Curtiss XP-62 made its first flight. The XP-62 was a prototype single-engine interceptor aircraft, that was built at the request of the United States Army Air Forces, by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Relatively unusual objectives of the design, for its time, included superior high-altitude performance, which was to be assisted by a pressurized cockpit, heavier armament than contemporary Army Air Force fighter aircraft, in the form of four 20 mm autocannons, and higher speeds, at all altitudes, than other contemporary fighters. A key physical feature of the XP-62, in terms of these objectives, was its relatively large and powerful engine, an 18-cylinder Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone. The initial contract, awarded on May 25, 1942, called for 100 P-62 fighters to be produced, but before construction could begin, the contract was terminated on July 27, July 1942, as it would affect deliveries of urgently needed Curtiss-built P-47 Thunderbolts.
July 21, 1952: Edwards Air Force Base in California was shaken by an earthquake that severely damaged the nearby mountain town of Tehachapi. Although damage was light on the base, 11 people were killed in the mountain community. Edwards sent food and water, Air Policemen, as well as medical and maintenance assistance to the stricken area.
July 21, 2001: The XCOR EZ-Rocket, flown by Dick Rutan, made its first flight. The EZ-Rocket was a test platform for the XCOR XR-4A3 rocket propulsion system. The airplane was a modified Rutan Long-EZ, with the propeller replaced by first one, then later a pair of pressure-fed regeneratively cooled liquid-fueled rocket engines and an underslung fuel tank. The engines were restartable in flight, and were contained within Kevlar armor shielding. The EZ-Rocket was registered as an experimental aircraft.
On a typical flight, the EZ-Rocket took off on rockets, gained altitude for a minute or so, then switched off the rockets and glided to a dead stick landing. The vehicle actually flew better during dead stick landings than a standard Long-EZ due to lack of drag from a stationary pusher propeller — the vehicle’s aerodynamics were cleaner in spite of its belly tank. It was also lighter due to the lack of a piston engine (the rocket propulsion system was significantly lighter), so enjoyed significantly lower wing loading than a standard Long-EZ. When XCOR began flying its EZ-Rocket in 2001, the company decided to have it FAA certified as an experimental aircraft, avoiding the additional time required to seek a launch vehicle license from the Office of Commercial Space Transportation. XCOR was formed in 1999 by former members of the Rotary Rocket rocket engine development team, and ceased operations in 2017.
July 22, 1955: The Republic XF-84H “Thunderscreech” made its first flight. The Thunderscreech was an experimental turboprop aircraft derived from the F-84F Thunderstreak. Powered by a turbine engine that was mated to a supersonic propeller, the XF-84H had the potential of setting the unofficial air speed record for propeller-driven aircraft, but was unable to overcome aerodynamic deficiencies and engine reliability problems, resulting in the program’s cancellation. Republic manufactured two prototypes at its Long Island, N.Y., plant and then shipped them to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The prototypes flew a total of 12 test flights from Edwards, accumulating only 6 hours and 40 minutes of flight time. The XF-84F had incredible acceleration but soon its impracticality was discovered. It was unsuited to combat due to the engine’s 30 minute warm up time but the most serious concerns were vibration generated from the 12-foot propeller diameter and mechanical failures of the prop pitch gearing.
July 22, 1986: The F-16 flew for the first time with the Digital Flight Control System at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The DFLCS was part of the MSIP upgrade for Block 40 aircraft that replaced the analog flight control system in existing F-16s.
July 22, 2005: Five F-16 Vipers from the 85th Test & Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to join two F-16s from the 416th Flight Test Squadron to evaluate the M4.2+ core avionics suite upgrade. This complex effort involved both Block 40 and Block 50 capabilities and combined elements of both developmental and operational test and evaluation. Additionally, the M4.2+ upgrade equipped the F-16 for the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) missions as well as the air-to-surface attack role.
July 22, 2011: Space Shuttle Atlantis returns to Earth at the end of STS-135, the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program. Only four astronauts were assigned to this mission, versus the normal six or seven, because there were no other shuttles available for a rescue following the retirement of Discovery and Endeavour. If the shuttle was seriously damaged in orbit, the crew would have moved into the International Space Station and returned in Russian Soyuz capsules, one at a time, over the course of a year. All STS-135 crew members were custom-fitted for a Russian Sokol space suit and molded Soyuz seat liner for this possibility. The reduced crew size also allowed the mission to maximize the payload carried to the station.
July 23, 1956: Air Force Lt. Col. Frank Kendall “Pete” Everest became “The Fastest Man Alive” when he flew the Bell X-2 rocket plane to Mach 2.87 at 87,808 feet. The X-2 was air-dropped from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096, near Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation 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.
July 23, 1962: Col. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager became commandant of the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following an assignment at the base as deputy director of flight test.
July 23, 1963: An F-104G Starfighter was successfully launched from a stationary platform as part of a Zero Length Launch (ZELL) test series for the West Germany air force. Like the earlier F-84 ZELMAL and F-110 ZEL test programs, the objective was to test the feasibility of launching a high powered performance fighter from a stationary platform with the aid of a solid propellant booster motor.
July 23, 1970: The first McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airliner rolled out at the company’s facility in Long Beach, Calif. The aircraft was used for flight testing and FAA certification. All told, the aircraft made 989 test flights, spending 1,551 hours in the air. It entered service with American Airlines on Aug. 12, 1972. The DC-10 was a wide-body aircraft designed for medium to long-range flights, and could carry between 202 and 390 passengers. McDonnell Douglas also produced 60 of the KC-10A Extender air refueling tanker variant for the U.S. Air Force.