On This Date

Aug. 13, 1965: An AFFTC test team conducted the first Air Force handling qualities evaluation flight of the Army’s XV-5A. The XV-5A was an experimental V/STOL flight research vehicle, a mid-wing airplane powered by two J85-GE-5B non-afterburning turbo jet engines.



Aug. 14, 1960: Cayuga Production Company began shooting an episode of The Twilight Zone on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The segment was titled “King Nine Will Not Return.” Lakebed temperatures reached well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit as the crew filmed scenes of a B-25 supposedly wrecked in the North African desert.



Aug. 14, 1964: A Helio Aircraft Corp. U-10B liaison and light cargo aircraft began a series of high-altitude takeoff and landing performance tests as part of the Fast Coin program. The tests were conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, at the Air Force Flight Test Center’s High Altitude Test Site near Bishop, Calif., and Leadville, Colo.



Aug. 14, 1958: Brig. Gen. Harry Clay “Heinie” Aderholt, a prominent figure in Air Force special operations, heard of a short takeoff and landing aircraft developed by Otto Koppen and Lynn L. Bollinger, who’d formed the Helio Aircraft Corp. Aderholt arranged for a demonstration at Friendship International Airport, Md. — today known as Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport — and test-flew the high-winged, fixed-gear Helio.



Aug. 14, 1962: Beginning this year, CIA operatives Aderholt and Larry Ropka introduced the Courier to Laos, where the U.S. was increasing its military involvement. Aderholt’s biographer Warren A. Trest wrote that the Courier could operate from crude airstrips where the De Havilland L-20 Beaver (redesignated U-6 that year) and Westland Lysander could not.  Aderholt demonstrated that the Courier could land and take off in a village that had no runway or road of any kind. Soon, a handful of CIA Couriers belonging to the agency’s airline, Air America, were carrying out clandestine missions in the Laotian hinterlands.



Aug. 15, 1944: During World War II, Allied forces landed in southern France in Operation Dragoon.



Aug. 15, 1945: In a pre-recorded radio address, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced that his country had accepted terms of surrender for ending World War II.



Aug. 15, 1951: Just eight days after he set an unofficial world speed record of Mach 1.88 Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton “Bill” Bridgeman flew the rocket-powered United States Navy/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket to a world record altitude at Edwards Air Force Base in the High Desert of Southern California. The Skyrocket was airdropped at 34,000 feet from a highly modified U.S. Navy P2B-1S Superfortress. The mother ship was a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29-95-BW Superfortress, transferred to the Navy and flown by another Douglas test pilot, George R. Jansen.

The flight plan was for Bridgeman to fire the rocket engine and allow the Skyrocket to accelerate to 0.85 Mach while climbing. The Skyrocket was powered by a Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 engine, which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. As the rocketplane continued to accelerate to Mach 1.12, the test pilot was to pull up, increasing the angle of climb while holding an acceleration rate of 1.2 Gs. This would result in a constantly increasing angle of climb. When it reached 50 degrees, Bridgeman was to maintain that, climbing and accelerating, until the rocket engine ran out of fuel.

Initially, the plan was to continue climbing after engine shutdown until the D-558-II was approaching stall at the highest altitude it could reach while on a ballistic trajectory. There were differing expert opinions as to how it would behave in the ever-thinner atmosphere. On the morning of the flight, Douglas’ Chief Engineer, Ed Heinemann, ordered that Bridgeman push over immediately when the engine stopped.

Bill Bridgeman stuck to the engineers’ flight plan. As the Skyrocket accelerated through 63,000 feet, it started to roll to the left. He countered with aileron input, but control was diminishing in the thin air. The next time it began there was no response to the ailerons. Bridgeman found that he had to lower the Skyrocket’s nose until it responded, then he was able to increase the pitch angle again. At 70,000 feet, travelling Mach 1.4, he decided he had to decrease the pitch angle or lose control. Finally at 76,000 feet, the engine stopped. Following Heinemann’s order, Bridgeman pushed the nose down and the D-558-II went over the top of its arc at just 0.5 G.

The D-558-II Skyrocket was Phase II of a planned three phase experimental flight program. It was designed to investigate flight in the transonic and supersonic range. It was 46 feet, 9 inches long with a 25-foot wingspan. The wings were swept back to a 35-degree angle. The Skyrocket was powered by a Westinghouse J34-WE-40 11-stage axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 3,000 pounds of thrust, and a Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine, which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket engine burned alcohol and liquid oxygen.

There were three D-558-2 Skyrockets. Between Feb. 4, 1948, and Aug. 28, 1956, they made a total of 313 flights.

In this photograph, a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket glides back toward Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards, while a North American Aviation F-86E-1-NA Sabre flies chase. Lt. Col. Frank K. “Pete” Everest and Maj. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager frequently flew as chase pilots for both Bridgeman and Scott Crossfield.



Aug. 16, 1948: The prototype Northrop XF-89 all-weather interceptor made its first flight at Muroc Air Force Base (later, Edwards Air Force Base), Calif., with company test pilot Fred Charles Bretcher, Jr. at the controls. The Northrop XF-89 was a two-place, twin-engine, mid-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear, designed as an all-weather interceptor. The pilot and radar intercept officer sat in tandem in the pressurized cockpit. Like Northrop’s World War II-era P-61 Black Widow night fighter, the XF-89 was painted gloss black. The fighter was selected by the Air Force after a fly-off with the XF-87 and the Navy’s Douglas XF3D-1 Skynight because of its potential for development. The F-89 went into production as the F-89A Scorpion, and 1,050 were produced in eight variants. The final series, F-89J, remained in service with the Air National Guard until 1969.



Aug. 16, 1969: Civilian racing pilot Darryl G. Greenamyer established an absolute world air speed record for piston engine aircraft of 483.041 mph. He flew a modified Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat over the three-kilometer course, breaking the previous record established by Germany in 1939.



Aug. 16, 1970: A Lockheed C-5A completed an unrefueled flight of 20 hours and 29 minutes. The lengthy flight, which began and ended at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., covered much of the perimeter of the continental United States.



Aug. 17, 1918: The Martin MB-1 made its first flight. The MB-1 was an American large biplane bomber designed and built by the Glenn L. Martin Company for the U.S. Army Air Service. It was the first purpose-built bomber produced by the United States. In 1921 Martin produced its KG.1 variant of the MB-1, with 10 purchased by the Navy as torpedo bombers under the designation MBT. After two were purchased, the designation was changed to Martin MT.



Aug. 17, 1946: U.S. Army Air Forces First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert became the first person to eject from an aircraft in flight in the United States. Lambert was assigned to the Air Material Command Parachute Branch, Personal Equipment Laboratory. He was an 11-year veteran of the Air Corps. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. Previous to this test, Lambert had made 58 parachute jumps. The test aircraft was a modified Northrop P-61B-5-NO Black Widow night fighter, redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Capt. John W.McGyrt and named Jack in the Box.

The ejection seat was placed in the gunner’s position, just behind and above the Black Widow’s pilot. A 37 mm cartridge fired within a 38-inch long gun barrel launched the seat from the airplane at approximately 60 feet per second. Lambert experienced 12–14 Gs acceleration.

Flying over Patterson Field at more than 300 miles per hour at 6,000 feet, Lambert fired the ejection seat. He and the seat were propelled approximately 40 feet (12 meters) above the airplane. After 3 seconds, he separated from the seat, and after another 3 seconds of free fall, his parachute opened automatically. Automatic timers fired smaller cartridges to release Lambert from the seat, and to open the parachute.

“I lived a thousand years in that minute, before the pilot pulled the release …,” said Lambert.




Aug. 17, 1951: To demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Col. Fred J. Ascani, vice commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, Calif., to the National Air Races at Detroit, Mich. He was to attempt a new world speed record. Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides. Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 635.69 miles per hour and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers. For his accomplishment, Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy. The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35-degrees based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.



Aug. 17, 1974: Teledyne Ryan’s YQM-98A Compass Cope R-Tern remotely piloted vehicle made its first flight. It was an unmanned vehicle with a single jet engine mounted on a dorsal pod that was capable of long-range photographic reconnaissance and electronic surveillance missions at high altitudes.



Aug. 18, 1929: Nineteen pilots took off from Santa Monica, Calif., (heading to Cleveland, Ohio) for the Women’s Air Derby, the first official women-only air race in the United States. The Air Derby took place during the 1929 National Air Races. To qualify, pilots had to have at least 100 hours of solo flight, which included a minimum 25 hours of cross-country flying (these were the same rules that applied to men competing in the National Air Races). The 20 competitors, 18 of whom were from the United States, included Florence “Pancho” Barnes, and Amelia Earhart. Stops enroute to Cleveland included San Bernardino, Calif.; Yuma, Ariz.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Douglas, Ariz.; El Paso, Texas; Pecos, Texas; Midland, Texas; Abilene, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; St. Louis, Mo.; and Cincinnati, Ohio. At each stop, the pilots often overnighted for refueling, repairs, media attention and dinner banquets.

One of the pilots, Marvel Crosson, crashed in the Gila River Valley and was killed, apparently the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. There was a public outcry demanding the race be canceled, but the pilots got together and decided the most fitting tribute would be to finish the derby. Blanche Noyes had to put out a fire that erupted in mid-air over Pecos but continued on. Margaret Perry caught typhoid fever. Pancho Barnes crashed into a car that drove onto the runway as she was trying to land, wrecking her airplane. Ruth Nichols also crashed. Claire Fahy’s wing wires were eaten through, possibly sabotaged with acid, and she withdrew from the race.

Louise Thaden finished the race first and won the heavy class in a time of 20 hours, 19 minutes and 4 seconds. Phoebe Omlie won the light class in 25 hours, 12 minutes and 47.5 seconds.

Despite Barnes’ crash, she returned in 1930 under the sponsorship of the Union Oil Company to win the race.

Barnes lived a colorful early life that included a brief marriage, a stint living in Mexico, and convincing her cousin’s flight instructor to teach her to fly in the late 1920s, Barnes ran an ad-hoc barnstorming show and competed in air races. After her contract with Union Oil expired, Barnes moved to Hollywood to work as a stunt pilot for movies. In 1931, she started the Associated Motion Picture Pilots, a union of film industry stunt fliers which promoted flying safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work. She flew in several air-adventure movies of the 1930s, including Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels. In March 1935 she bought 180 acres of land in the Mojave Desert, near the Rogers dry lakebed and the nascent Muroc Field (then called March Field because it was an adjunct property of March Army Air Base at that time). There, she established the legendary Happy Bottom Riding Club — a dude ranch, restaurant, and hotel whose clientele included legends of the golden age of flight test.



Aug. 18, 1951: The 1951 Bendix Transcontinental Trophy Race was launched from the main ramp. This was the first all-jet bomber and fighter air race in aviation history. Three B-45s, three F-84s and two F-86s took off for a 1,900-mile nonstop flight to the finish line in Detroit, Mich. Col. Keith Compton won the trophy in an F-86 Sabrejet.

The Bendix Trophy is a U.S. aeronautical racing trophy. The transcontinental, point-to-point race, sponsored by industrialist Vincent Bendix founder of Bendix Corporation, began in 1931 as part of the National Air Races. Initial prize money for the winners was $15,000. The last Bendix Trophy Race was flown in 1962.  The trophy was brought back in 1998 by AlliedSignal, the then-owner of the Bendix brand name (which later merged with Honeywell), to “recognize contributions to aerospace safety by individuals or institutions through innovation in advanced safety equipment and equipment utilization.”  The current awards of the Honeywell Bendix Trophy for Aviation Safety includes a scale reproduction of the original Bendix Trophy design and a citation.



Aug. 18, 1955: Static rocket motor Test Stand 1-4 was activated at the Experimental Rocket Engine Test Station, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. This made three stands with a total of five test positions for use, all operated from one control station.




Front view of the North American B-25. Note the constant dihedral wing. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aug. 19, 1940: At Mines Field (now known as Los Angeles International Airport), the first North American Aviation B-25 twin-engine medium bomber, serial number 40-2165, took off on its first flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls and engineer Roy Ferren in the co-pilot’s position. The airplane, North American model NA-62, serial number 62-2834, was developed from two earlier designs which had been evaluated by the U.S. Air Corps but rejected, and it was ordered into production without a prototype being built. The first few B-25s built ‑— sources vary, but 8-10 airplanes — were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, with the outer wing panels having very slight dihedral ¹ and giving it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size. The B-25 was named Mitchell in honor of early air power advocate Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell. A total of 9,984 B-25s, F-10 reconnaissance variants and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps PBJ-1 patrol bombers were built by North American Aviation at Inglewood, Calif., and Kansas City, Kansas. The last one, a TB-25J, remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 1960.



Aug. 19, 1950: A B-29 carrying the Bel X-1 #6062, the first supersonic aircraft, departed for Logan International Airport in Boston. Following display at an Air Force Association convention, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg formally presented the aircraft to the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute on Aug. 29, 1950.



Aug. 19, 1960: An Air Force Flight Test Center unit, the 6594 Test Wing, Operating Location #1, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., took part in the first aerial recovery of an object from space when a film capsule from the Discoverer XIV satellite was caught in mid-air by a Hawaii-based C-119. Operating under heavy security at Edwards, the team had worked out the techniques for the aerial recovery of satellite components by means of a snare to catch the descending parachute.



Aug. 19, 1982: The GAFHawk made its first flight. The Hawk GafHawk (General Aviation Freighter) was a small, turboprop-powered freighter aircraft developed in the United States in the 1980s but which only flew in prototype form. It was designed by Hawk International as a means of transporting drilling equipment in and out of remote locations, and was designed to be simple, rugged, and have good STOL and rough-field performance. The resulting design was a boxy aircraft with a rectangular-section fuselage with a high-set tail and rear loading ramp. The high aspect-ratio wings were high-set and braced with struts. The landing gear was fixed and of tricycle configuration, with the main units having dual wheels. Certification proved elusive, however, and Hawk eventually abandoned the project without building any other examples.


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