Oct. 23, 1952: The Hughes XH-17 “Flying Crane” made its first flight. The giant helicopter was tested in Culver City, Calif., over a three-year period. The Flying Crane was the first helicopter project for the helicopter division of Hughes Aircraft Company. The XH-17, which had a two-bladed main rotor system with a diameter of 134 feet, still holds the world record for flying with the largest rotor system. It was capable of flying at a gross weight of more than 50,000 pounds, but proved too inefficient and cumbersome to be mass-produced beyond the prototype unit. The XH-17 was a heavy-lift rotorcraft that was designed to lift loads in excess of 15 metric tons. To speed construction, parts of the XH-17 were scavenged from other aircraft. The front wheels came from a North American B-25 Mitchell and the rear wheels from a Douglas C-54 Skymaster. The fuel tank was a bomb bay-mounted unit from a Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The cockpit was from a Waco CG-15 military glider and the tail rotor from a Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw was used for yaw control.
Oct. 23, 1963: The first F-4C Phantom II was ferried to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for Category II performance tests. The F-4C was the Air Force version of the Navy F-4B interceptor. It was modified with a cartridge-pneumatic starter system, receptacle aerial refueling system, and larger wheels to make it into an all-weather fighter and attack bomber for the Tactical Air Command.
Oct. 23, 1968: Maj. Jerauld Gentry attempted the first rocket-powered flight of a manned lifting body. The XLR-11 rocket motor failed shortly after the HL-10 was launched from its B-52 carrier, and Gentry made a successful emergency landing on the Rosamond Dry Lake bed.
Oct. 24, 1946: A captured German V-2 rocket was launched from the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, east of Las Cruces, N.M. The rocket, identified as Upper Air Rocket Number 13, carried a 35-millimeter DeVry Corporation cine camera set to expose one frame every second-and-a-half. The V-2’s engine burned for 59.8 seconds, by which time the rocket had reached an altitude of 17 and a velocity of 3,990 feet per second. Continuing upward on a ballistic trajectory, the rocket reached a maximum altitude of 65 after 180 seconds. This is just above the 100-kilometer K·rm·n Line which is the arbitrary beginning of space. Falling back to Earth, Number 13 impacted approximately 17 miles north-northwest of the White Sands V-2 Launching Site and was completely destroyed. Although debris from the rocket was scattered widely, the film cassette was recovered. As World War II came to an end, the Allies captured many partially-completed missiles, as well as components and parts. Sufficient parts and materiel and been transferred from Germany to construct more than one hundred V-2 rockets for testing at White Sands. No missiles were received in flyable condition. Over a five-year period, there were 67 successful launches, but it is considered that as much knowledge was gained from failures as successes. Along with the rockets, many German engineers and scientists surrendered or were captured by the Allies. Under Operation Paperclip, Wernher von Braun and many other scientists, engineers and technicians were brought to the United States to work with the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, White Sands Proving Grounds, N.M., and the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala. Tests of the V-2 rockets led to the development of U.S. rockets for the military and NASA’s space program.
Oct. 24, 1947: The prototype Grumman Model G-64, the XJR2F-1 Pelican, made its first flight. This amphibian would become the Grumman UF-1 Albatross. In U.S. Air Force service, the Albatross was designated SA-16A. In 1962, this was changed to HU-16A for Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force. Interestingly, several months earlier, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics conducted landing tests using a 1:7-scale model XJ2RF-1 in a test tank at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Wave heights of 4.4 and 8 inches were used, with wave lengths between 10 feet and 50 feet. The Albatross was operated by a crew of 4 to 6 airmen, and could carry up to 10 passengers.
Oct. 24, 1953: The YF-102 Delta Dagger, piloted by Richard L. Johnson, made its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Johnson was the chief test pilot for the Convair Division of the General Dynamics Corporation. The YF-102 was a single-seat, single-engine, delta wing fighter designed as an all-weather, missile-armed, Mach 2 interceptor. It was developed from the earlier, experimental, Convair XF-92 Dart. The prototype had finished assembly at the Convair plant in San Diego, Calif., on Oct. 2, 1953. It was then shipped by truck to Edwards, where final preparations and testing was carried out. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics had tested scale models of the YF-102 in the 8-foot HST wind tunnel at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical laboratory and found that significant shock waves were produced at near-sonic speeds. Surprisingly, shock waves were created at the trailing edge of the delta wing. The shock waves caused very high drag that would keep the aircraft from reaching Mach 1, even with the more powerful engine planned for production models. Several problems showed up on the YF-102’s first flight. Severe buffeting was encountered at high sub-sonic speed. The production F-102A was considerably larger than the YF-102. The fuselage was lengthened, the wing area and span were increased, and the vertical fin was taller. A more powerful J57-P-23 engine was used. These and other changes increased the F-102A’s gross weight by nearly 1,800 pounds.
Oct. 24, 1968: The X-15 made its final flight, piloted by Bill Dana. In 199 flights, the hypersonic aircraft completed one of the most successful space and atmospheric research programs to date.
Oct. 24, 1996: Last flight of the Convair 990 (CV-990) aircraft from Edwards, formerly used by NASA as a medium-altitude research platform and Landing Systems Research Aircraft (LSRA), ended at Mojave Airport on October 24, 1996.
A NASA F/A-18 flew chase with the CV-990 and Dryden Research Pilot, Ed Schneider did a fly-by with the Hornet after the 990 landed.
In the cockpit of the CV-990 were, Dryden Project Pilot, C. Gordon Fullerton, and Dryden Chief of Flight Operations, Tom McMurtry. Also, on board was Daryl Townsend, Crew Chief and Flight Engineer and Steve Robinson, Flight Engineer. Herb Anderson, Operation Engineer, was on hand to answer questions and drive the crew back to Edwards.
“There were only thirty-six 990’s built,” said Anderson. “The first one used for commercial passenger service was with American Airlines, and the last one was flying for an airline in Spain.” The Convair Division of General Dynamics Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas built the CV-990 in 1962.
Former General Manager of Mojave Airport, Dan Sabovich, was there to meet his friends, Fullerton and McMurtry, and said, “This airplane will stay here at Mojave Airport from now on.”
Oct. 24, 2000: The Lockheed Martin X-35 makes its first flight, testing air vehicle performance and handling characteristics. After 28 test flights, the aircraft was converted to the X-35B, which added the shaft-drive lift fan, aft swivel nozzle, and roll posts. On July 20, 2001, to demonstrate the X-35’s STOVL capability, the X-35B took off in less than 500 feet, went supersonic, and landed vertically. The X-35C first flew on Dec. 16, 2002, and tested simulated carrier recovery and power approach. In the fly-off between the Boeing’s X-32 and the X-35, the latter was judged to be the winner. As a result, a contract for System Development and Demonstration (SDD) of the F-35 was awarded on Oct. 26, 2001, to Lockheed Martin. There are a number of differences between the X-35 and F-35, which was designed to be an operational weapon system. The forward fuselage was lengthened by 5 inches to make room for mission avionics, while the horizontal stabilizers were correspondingly moved 2 inches aft to retain balance and control. The diverterless supersonic inlet cowl shape changed from a four-sided to a three-sided shape and was moved 30 inches aft. To accommodate weapons bays, the fuselage section was fuller with the top surface raised by 1 inch along the centerline. Following the designation of the X-35 prototypes, the three variants were designated F-35A (CTOL), F-35B (STOVL), and F-35C (CV).
Oct. 25, 1961: An uninhabited B-58 crew escape capsule built by the Stanley Aviation Corporation was successfully ejected for the first time. The B-58 was traveling at 431 mph at 20,000 feet.
Oct. 26, 1940: The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang made its first flight. The was an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II and the Korean War, among other conflicts. The Mustang was designed in April 1940 by a team headed by James Kindelberger of North American Aviation in response to a requirement of the British Purchasing Commission. The Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 fighters under license for the Royal Air Force. Rather than build an old design from another company, North American Aviation proposed the design and production of a more modern fighter. The prototype NA-73X airframe was rolled out on Sept. 9, 1940, 102 days after the contract was signed, and first flew on Oct. 26. The Mustang was designed to use the Allison V-1710 engine, which had limited high-altitude performance in its earlier variants. The aircraft was first flown operationally by the RAF as a tactical-reconnaissance aircraft and fighter-bomber (Mustang Mk I). Replacing the Allison with a Rolls-Royce Merlin resulted in the P-51B/C (Mustang Mk III) model, and transformed the aircraft’s performance at altitudes above 15,000 feet without sacrificing range, allowing it to compete with the Luftwaffe’s fighters. The definitive version, the P-51D, was powered by the Packard V-1650-7, a license-built version of the two-speed, two-stage-supercharged Merlin 66, and was armed with six .50 caliber AN/M2 Browning machine guns.
From late 1943, P-51Bs and P-51Cs (supplemented by P-51Ds from mid-1944) were used by the U.S. Army Air Force’s Eighth Air Force to escort bombers in raids over Germany, while the RAF’s Second Tactical Air Force and the USAAF’s Ninth Air Force used the Merlin-powered Mustangs as fighter-bombers, roles in which the Mustang helped ensure Allied air superiority in 1944. The P-51 was also used by Allied air forces in the North African, Mediterranean, Italian, and Pacific theaters. During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed to have destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft.
At the start of the Korean War, the Mustang, by then redesignated F-51, was the main fighter of the United States until jet fighters, including North American’s F-86, took over this role; the Mustang then became a specialized fighter-bomber. Despite the advent of jet fighters, the Mustang remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s. After the Korean War, Mustangs became popular civilian warbirds and air racing aircraft.
Oct. 26, 1944: At approximately 4 p.m., Civilian Pilot Gertrude V. Tompkins took off from Mines Field, Calif., (now Los Angeles International Airport in a newly-manufactured North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang, serial number 44-15669, on a flight to deliver it to New Jersey where it would be prepared for shipment to England. “Tommy” Tompkins was scheduled to make an overnight stop at Palm Springs, Calif. She never arrived. Due to a series of errors, it was four days before the military recognized that Tompkins was missing. An extensive search was undertaken but was unsuccessful.
Gertrude Tompkins (Mrs. Harry M. Silver) was listed as Missing, Presumed Dead. She was one of 38 WASP pilots who died in service during World War II. She remains the only Women Airforce Service Pilots member still missing.
The WASPs were not combat pilots. They ferried aircraft across oceans, tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, flew transport missions, and trained military pilots.
The WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts. Some went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated. All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.
Tompkins was born at Jersey City, N.J., in 1911. She was the youngest of three daughters of Vreeland Tompkins, founder of Smooth-On, Inc., and Laura Towar Tompkins. Tompkins had joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (commonly called the “WASPs”) on Nov. 12, 1943, and trained at Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas, as a member of Class 43-W-7. She was assigned to the 601st Squadron, 555th Air Transport Command, as a Civilian Pilot. On Sept. 25, 1944, she married Tech. Sgt. Henry Mann Silver, U.S. Army, at Bridgewater, N.Y.
By Oct. 26, 1944, she had flown a total of 753.40 hours. The North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang 44-15669 had been flown just 3 hours since leaving the assembly line at Inglewood, Calif.
Oct. 26, 1951: The B-47B Stratojet (#006) arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The pilots at Edwards in this aircraft included Brig. Gen. Al Boyd, Col. Fred J. Ascani, Lt. Col. Frank E. “Pete” Everest, Maj. Robert Mortland, Maj. Jack Ridley, Maj. Chuck Yeager, and Capt. Joseph E. Wolfe.
Oct. 26, 1977: His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales, visited Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to view the final free flight of the Enterprise.
Oct. 27, 1961: At 10:06 a.m., EST, 3.97 seconds after ignition, the first Saturn C-1 heavy launch vehicle (Saturn I, SA-1) lifted off from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. This was a test of the first stage, only. The rocket’s upper stages were dummies. At about 109 seconds after liftoff, four inner engines of the first stage shut down, followed 6 seconds later by the outer four. The rocket continued on a ballistic trajectory. The Saturn C-1 was bigger than any rocket built up to that time. Early versions of the three-stage rocket were 162 feet, 8.9 inches tall, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 5 inches. The all-up weight was 1,124,000 pounds. The first stage of SA-1 was built by the Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, Ala. The S-I stage was built up with a Jupiter rocket fuel tank in the center for liquid oxygen, surrounded by eight Redstone rocket tanks. Four were filled with RP-1 propellant, alternating with four filled with LOx. The first stage was powered by eight Rocketdyne Division H-1 engines rated at 165,000 pounds of thrust, each. Total thrust for the first stage was 1,320,000 pounds. The outer four engines were gimbaled to steer the rocket. The first stage had been test fired 20 times before being transported to Cape Canaveral by barge. For the first flight, SA-1, the S-V second stage and S-V third stage were dummies. The S-IV was filled with 90,000 pounds of water for ballast. The S-V third stage, carried 100,000 pounds of water. Mounted above the third stage was a Jupiter nose cone. SA-1 reached a maximum speed of 3,607 miles per hour, and a peak altitude of 84.813 miles. It impacted in the Atlantic Ocean 214.727 miles down range. The duration of the flight was 15 minutes, and the flight was considered to be nearly flawless.
Oct. 27, 1962: Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down and killed over Cuba during the October 1962 crisis. He was flying a U-2 from McCoy Air Force Base, Fla., and was brought down by a Soviet SA-2 missile. Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross, which had been created in 1960. Anderson and other Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command pilots provided pictures that gave U.S. leaders crucial information and proved to the world that offensive nuclear missiles were being placed in Cuba.
Oct. 27, 1999: Years of developmental testing of the C-141 Starlifter transport came to an end when the final test aircraft, serial number 61-2776, departed the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., heading for the ëboneyard’ at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. This aircraft made its first flight in 1964, and was the second C-141 built by Lockheed, and the last C-141A in operational service. In 1996, the aircraft was converted to power-by-wire/fly-by-wire aileron controls and redesignated as NC-141, the Electric Starlifter. The Electric Starlifter program explored the use of these controls in order to save weight and increase serviceability rates of line aircraft. The aircraft flew more than 1,000 hours in support of the test program. The test program ended in July 1998.
Oct. 28, 1952: The prototype Douglas XA3D-1 Skywarrior made its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., with Douglas test pilot George R. Jansen was in the cockpit. The Skywarrior was a carrier-based, twin-engine, swept-wing strategic bomber, designed to carry a 12,000 pound bomb load. The prototype was equipped with two Westinghouse XJ40-WE-12 turbojet engines producing 7,000 pounds of thrust each. Designed to be launched from an aircraft carrier, fly 2,000 miles, deliver a 3.8 megaton Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb on target, then return to the carrier, the Skywarrior was a considerable challenge for its designers. It was operated by a three man crew: pilot, navigator/bombardier and gunner. The aircraft became so successful that the Air Force subsequently developed its own version, the B-66 Destroyer. Jansen was a 1952 graduate of the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. A restored A3D is in storage and awaiting display by the Edwards Air Force Flight Test Museum.
Oct. 28, 1954: The North American FJ-4 Fury made its maiden flight. The Fury was a swept-wing carrier-capable fighter-bomber for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The final development in a lineage that included the Air Force’s F-86 Sabre, the FJ-4 shared its general layout and engine with the earlier FJ-3, but featured an entirely new wing design and was a vastly different design in its final embodiment. The FJ-4 was intended as an all-weather interceptor, a role that required considerable range on internal fuel. The FJ-4 had 50 percent more fuel capacity than the FJ-3 and was lightened by omitting armor and reducing ammunition capacity. The new wing was “wet,” that is, it provided for integral fuel tankage. The fuselage was deepened to add more fuel, and had a distinctive “razorback” rear deck. A modified cockpit made the pilot more comfortable during the longer missions. The tail surfaces were also extensively modified and had a thinner profile. The overall changes resulted in an aircraft that had little in common with the earlier models, although a family resemblance was still present. The two prototypes had the same Wright J65-W-4 engine as the FJ-3, but production aircraft had the J65-W-16A of 7,700 lbf thrust. Of the original order for 221, the last 71 were modified in the FJ-4B fighter-bomber version. This had a stronger wing with six instead of four underwing stations and stronger landing gear. Additional aerodynamic brakes under the aft fuselage made landing safer by allowing pilots to use higher thrust settings, and were also useful for dive attacks. External load was doubled. The most important characteristic of the FJ-4B, however, was that it was capable of carrying a nuclear weapon on the inboard port station. It was equipped with the LABS or Low-Altitude Bombing System for the delivery of nuclear weapons. The Navy was eager to maintain a nuclear role in its rivalry with the Air Force, and it equipped 10 squadrons with the FJ-4B. It was also flown by three Marine squadrons. In April 1956 the Navy ordered 151 more FJ-4Bs, for a total of 152 FJ-4s and 222 FJ-4Bs produced, and 1,115 FJ aircraft of all variants delivered to the Navy and Marine Corps.
Oct. 29, 1940: A blindfolded Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson drew the first number — 158 — from a glass bowl in America’s first peacetime military draft.
Oct. 29, 1998: Sen. John Glenn, at age 77, roared back into space aboard the shuttle Discovery on mission STS-95, retracing the trail he’d blazed for America’s astronauts 36 years earlier. The STS-95 mission elapsed time was 8 days, 21 hours, 44 minutes, 2 seconds. Combined with Glenn’s orbital flight of Feb. 20, 1961, aboard the Mercury space vehicle, Friendship 7, his total space mission time is 9 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes, 49 seconds. He completed 137 orbits of the Earth.