On This Date

Aug. 20, 1942: The U. S. Army Air Forces activate the 12th Air Force. Now headquartered at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., 12th Air Force was originally based at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. During World War II, 12th AF saw action in England, Algeria, Tunisia and Italy. It has been at Davis-Monthan since Oct. 1, 1992. The command is the air component to U.S. Southern Command conducting security cooperation and providing air, space, and cyberspace capabilities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.




Aug. 20, 1947: Navy Cmdr. Turner Caldwell broke the world speed record which Col. Albert Boyd had established a month earlier. Caldwell flew the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak to a new world speed record of 640.66 mph. Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two fastest consecutive passes out of the four. Caldwell was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.




Aug. 20, 1955: The world’s first official supersonic speed record was set by Col. Horace A. Hanes, Director of Flight Test, over the Mojave Desert. Hanes flew an F-100C Super Sabre at an average speed of 822.135 mph at 40,000 ft. He was subsequently awarded the Thompson Trophy for the feat, the third Air Force Flight Test Center pilot to win the prestigious award.




Aug. 20, 1970: The Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk made its first flight. The S-67 was a private-venture prototype attack helicopter built in 1970 with Sikorsky Aircraft research and development funds. A tandem, two-seat aircraft designed around the dynamic drive and rotor systems of the Sikorsky S-61, it was designed to serve as an attack helicopter or to transport up to eight troops into combat. The U.S. Army issued a request for proposals for its Advanced Aerial Fire Support System program on Aug. 1, 1964. Lockheed offered its CL-840 design, a rigid-rotor compound helicopter. Sikorsky submitted the S-66, which featured a “Rotorprop” serving as a tail rotor but as speeds increased would rotate 90 degrees to act as pusher prop. The Army awarded Lockheed and Sikorsky contracts for further study on Feb. 19, 1965. On Nov. 3, 1965, the Army announced Lockheed as the winner of the AAFSS program selection. The Army perceived Lockheed’s design as less expensive, able to be available earlier, and that it would have less technical risk than Sikorsky’s Rotorprop. Lockheed’s design soon ran into development problems and cost and timelines began to grow. Sensing an opportunity, Sikorsky offered an armed SH-3 Sea King (Sikorsky S-61) version. After further AAFSS problems, the company developed an intermediate, high-speed attack aircraft named the Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk in 1970. The S-67 Blackhawk, along with the Bell 309 KingCobra, was put through a series of flight test evaluations in 1972 by the U.S. Army. Neither aircraft was selected to replace the AH-56 Cheyenne. Instead, the Army chose to create the new Advanced Attack Helicopter program, which would lead to the AH-64 Apache several years later. The Army later assigned the name Black Hawk to the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.




Aug. 21, 1944: The Grumman F8F Bearcat made its first flight. The Bearcat is an American single-engine carrier-based fighter aircraft introduced in late World War II. It served during the mid-20th century in the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the air forces of other nations. It was Grumman Aircraft’s last piston-engined fighter aircraft. Modified versions of the Bearcat have broken speed records for piston-engined aircraft. Today, the Bearcat is popular among warbird owners and air racers. On Aug. 25, 1946, the Blue Angels converted to the F8F-1 Bearcat, and introduced the famous ‘diamond’ formation.




Aug. 21, 1953: U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Marion E. Carl flew the number three Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket to an altitude 83,235 feet. The supersonic research rocketplane had been dropped from a Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress at 30,000 feet over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. During this flight the Skyrocket reached Mach 1.728. The Douglas D-558-II was Phase II of a U.S. Navy/Douglas Aircraft Company/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics joint research project exploring supersonic flight. It was a swept-wing airplane powered by a single Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine. The Skyrocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level. There were three Phase II aircraft.




Aug. 21, 1961: A Canadian Pacific Douglas DC-8 commercial airliner broke the sound barrier — the first time a civil airliner had done so. The Douglas DC-8-3, with Chief Test Pilot William Marshall Magruder, Paul Patten, Joseph Tomich and Richard H. Edwards on board, climbed to 50,090 feet near Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Placing the DC-8 into a dive, it reached Mach 1.012 while descending through 41,088 feet. The airliner maintained this supersonic speed for 16 seconds. An Air Force F-100 Super Sabre and F-104 Starfighter were chase planes for this flight.




On Oct. 3, 1967, Maj. William “Pete” Knight flew the modified X-15A-2 to its maximum speed of Mach 6.7 or 4,520 mph, a speed which remains the fastest anyone has ever flown an aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aug. 21, 1967: The modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, made the first of two flights with a heat-protective ablative coating, designed to protect the steel structure of the rocketplane from the extreme heat of flight at high Mach numbers. This was the 186th flight of the X-15 program. After a landing accident which caused significant damage to the Number 2 X-15, it was rebuilt by North American. A 28-inch “plug” was installed in the fuselage forward of the wings to create space for a liquid hydrogen fuel tank which would be used for an experimental “scramjet” engine that would be mounted the the ventral fin. The modified aircraft was also able to carry two external fuel tanks. It was hoped that additional propellant would allow the X-15A-2 to reach much higher speeds. The external tanks were not carried on this flight. With Maj. William J. “Pete” Knight in the cockpit, the X-15A-2 was airdropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress known as Balls 8, over Hidden Hills Dry Lake, just on the California side of the border with Nevada. This was Knight’s 11th X-15 flight, and the 52nd flight for 56-6671. The launch time was 10:59:16.0 a.m., PDT. Knight fired the 57,000-pound-thrust Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and accelerated for 82.2 seconds. The purpose of this flight was to attain a high speed rather than altitude. The X-15A-2 reached Mach 4.94 at 85,000 feet and reached a peak altitude of 91,000 feet. Knight touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., just 7 minutes, 40 seconds after launch.




Aug. 21, 1969: The first LTV A-7D Corsair II arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for Category II testing from the contractor’s facility in Dallas, Texas. The Corsair II was an American carrier-capable subsonic light attack aircraft designed and manufactured by Ling-Temco-Vought. The A-7 was developed during the early 1960s as replacement for the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Its design is derived from the Vought F-8 Crusader; in comparison with the F-8, the A-7 is both smaller and restricted to subsonic speeds, its airframe being simpler and cheaper to produce. Following a competitive bid by Vought in response to the U.S. Navy’s VAL (Heavier-than-air, Attack, Light) requirement, an initial contract for the type was issued on Feb. 8, 1964. The aircraft entered squadron service with the Navy on Feb. 1, 1967, and by the end of that year, A-7s were being deployed overseas for the Vietnam War. Initially adopted by Navy, the A-7 proved attractive to other services, soon being adopted by the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard to replace their aging Douglas A-1 Skyraider and North American F-100 Super Sabre fleets. Improved models of the A-7 would be developed, typically adopting more powerful engines and increasingly capable avionics. American A-7s would be used in various major conflicts, including the Invasion of Grenada, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and the Gulf War.




Aug. 22, 1951: After one successful glide flight with Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Skip Ziegler, the X-1D rocketplane was scheduled for its first powered flight with the Air Force project officer, Lt. Col. Frank Kendall “Pete” Everest. The Bell X-1D was one of four second-generation X-1 rocketplanes, each designed and built to investigate a different area of supersonic flight. The X-1D was instrumented for aerodynamic heating research.

After being carried to altitude by the Boeing EB-50A Superfortress mothership, Everest saw that the rocketplane’s nitrogen pressure was dropping. Pressurized nitrogen was used to push the ethyl alcohol/liquid oxygen propellant to the Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 engine. With insufficient pressure, the X-1D’s flight had to be cancelled. Everest tried to jettison the fuel so that a landing could be made safely, but there was an internal explosion.

Fearing that a larger explosion or fire would jeopardize the bomber and its crew, Everest abandoned the X-1D, climbing up into the bomber. The X-1 was then dropped. It crashed onto the desert floor and exploded. At first it was assumed that vapors from a fuel leak had exploded from contact with an electrical source inside the rocketplane.

There had been three similar explosions which resulted in the destruction of the X-1A, X-1-3 and the number two Bell X-2. Investigators discovered that leather gaskets which were used in the rocketplanes’ fuel systems had been treated with tricresyl phospate. When this was exposed to liquid oxygen, an explosion could result. The leather gaskets were removed from the other rocketplanes and the explosions stopped.

Everest’s close call was dramatized in the 1956 Toluca Productions motion picture, “Toward The Unknown,” which starred Academy Award-winning actor William Holden as “Maj. Lincoln Bond,” a fighter pilot, test pilot and former prisoner of war, all of which could describe Pete Everest. Top photograph: The Bell X-1D, 48-1386, at Edwards AFB. Bottom photograph: The crash site.



Aug. 22, 1963: NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joe Walker, on his 25th and last flight with the X-15 program, attempted to fly to maximum altitude. Engineers had predicted that the X-15 could reach 400,000 feet but simulations had shown that a safe reentry from that altitude was risky. For this flight, number 91, the flight plan called for 360,000 feet to give Walker a safety margin. Experience had shown that slight variations in engine thrust and climb angle could cause large overshoots in peak altitude, so this was not considered an excessive safety margin.

Walker and the X-15 were airdropped from the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress: The High and Mighty One at 45,000 feet above Smith Ranch Dry Lake, Nev., about half-way between Reno and the NASA High Range Tracking Station at Ely. Walker ignited the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. This engine was rated at 57,000 pounds of thrust. Experience had shown that different engines varied from flight to flight and that atmospheric conditions were a factor. Thrust beyond 60,000 pounds was often seen, but this could not be predicted in advance. The flight plan called for the duration of burn to be 84.5 seconds on this flight. The X-15 climbed at a 45-degree angle. As Walker was about to shut down the engine according to plan, it ran out of fuel. The total burn time was 85.8 seconds, just slightly longer than planned.

Milton O. Thompson, in his book At the Edge of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, said of the flight, “At burnout, Joe was passing 176,000 feet and traveling at 5,600 feet per second. He then began the long coast to peak altitude. It would take almost 2 minutes to reach peak altitude after burnout. Two minutes does not seem like a lot of time but try timing it. Just sit back in your easy chair and count off the seconds. It is almost impossible to believe that you can continue to coast up in altitude for that length of time after the engine burns out. It gives you some feel for how much energy is involved at those speeds. For comparison, when you throw a ball up in the air as hard as you can, it only coasts upward a maximum of 4 or 5 seconds. The X-15 coasted up for 120 seconds.

“The airplane would coast up another 178,000 feet during that time to peak out at 354,200 feet …”

Walker and the X-15 reached the peak of their ballistic trajectory at 354,200 feet (67.083 miles, 107,960 meters). Walker pitched the nose down to be in the proper attitude for atmospheric reentry. The X-15 decelerated as it hit the atmosphere and Walker experienced as much as 7 Gs. The rocketplane’s aerodynamic control surfaces again became operational as it descended through 95,000 feet and Walker leveled at 70,000 feet. He then glided to a landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after 11 minutes, 8.6 seconds of flight. Flight 91 was the highest flight achieved by any of the X-15s and was Walker’s second flight into space.



Aug. 22, 1984: Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, former Mercury astronaut, arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to fly B-1A No. 2.




Although the XF-85 handled well, the test pilots reported that the airflow around the parent aircraft made it difficult to attach the hook to the trapeze. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Aug. 23, 1948: The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter made its first flight. On this flight, McDonnell test pilot Edwin F. Schoch successfully detached from trapeze carried on Boeing EB-29B Superfortress named “Monstro,” but when he tried to hook up after free flight, the small fighter, buffeted in turbulence from the bomber, swung violently forward, smashing the canopy against the trapeze, and knocked the pilot’s helmet off. Schoch made a successful belly landing on a dry lakebed at Muroc Air Force Base, Calif., suffering little damage. The Goblin was initially intended to deploy from the bomb bay of the giant Convair B-36 bomber, but because a production B-36 was unavailable, all flight tests were carried out using a modified EB-29B Stratofortress. Flight tests showed promise in the design, but the aircraft’s performance was inferior to the jet fighters it would have faced in combat, and there were difficulties in docking. The XF-85 was canceled on Oct. 24, 1949.




Aug. 23, 1951: Brig. Gen. Albert Boyd, commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., became the first military pilot to fly the Bell X-5. The X-5 was the first aircraft capable of changing the sweep of its wings in flight and was inspired by the untested wartime P.1101 design of the German Messerschmitt company. In contrast with the German design, which could only have its wing sweepback angle adjusted on the ground, the Bell engineers devised a system of electric motors to adjust the sweep in flight.

Almost 200 flights were made at speeds up to Mach 0.9 and altitudes of 40,000 feet. One aircraft was lost on Oct. 14, 1953, when it failed to recover from a spin at 60° sweepback. Air Force Capt. Ray Popson died in the crash at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The other X-5 remained at Edwards and continued active testing until 1955 and remained in service as a chase plane until 1958. The X-5 successfully demonstrated the advantage of a swing-wing design for aircraft intended to fly at a wide range of speeds. Despite the X-5’s stability problems, the concept was developed to an outboard rather than inboard hinge, and was later successfully implemented in such aircraft as the General Dynamics F-111 and Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-23 and MiG-27, the Sukhoi Su-17/20/22 and Su-24, the Tupolev Tu-22M and Tu-160, the Panavia Tornado and the Rockwell B-1 Lancer.




Aug. 23, 1954: The first of two Lockheed YC-130 Hercules four-engine transport prototypes made its first flight from the Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base. The flight crew consisted of test pilots Stanley Beltz and Roy Wimmer, with Jack G. Real (a future Lockheed vice president) and Dick Stanton as flight engineers. From a standing start, the YC-130 was airborne in 855 feet, and the flight lasted 1 hour, 1 minute. The C-130 was designed as a basic tactical transport, capable of carrying 72 soldiers or 64 paratroopers. All production aircraft have been built at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, Ga., plant. The first production model, the C-130A Hercules, was 97.8 feet long with a wingspan of 132.6 feet, and height of 38.1 feet. The most recent variant, the C-130J, is still in production.




Aug. 23, 1990: The Boeing VC-25 made its first flight. The VC-25 is a military version of the Boeing 747 airliner, modified for presidential transport and commonly operated by the U.S. Air Force as Air Force One, the call sign of any U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the president of the United States. Only two examples of this aircraft type are in service; they are highly modified Boeing 747-200Bs, designated VC-25A and having tail numbers 28000 and 29000. Although technically the Air Force One designation applies to the aircraft only while the president is on board, the term is commonly used to refer to the VC-25 in general. Two new aircraft, designated VC-25B and based on the Boeing 747-8, have been ordered by the Air Force to replace the aging VC-25As.




Aug. 24, 1933: Construction began on a Government Landing Field northeast of Palmdale. The 160-acre facility was constructed by the Department of Commerce to be an emergency landing field for commercial air traffic. A local dirt strip on the site was replaced with four-way 3,300-foot oiled runways. The facility soon became the “U.S. Palmdale Airport” and eventually evolved into Air Force Plant 42.

Palmdale Regional Airport had a small airline terminal and a hangar. The airport terminal sat at the southwest corner of the airport and began civilian operations in 1971. The FAA’s Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center was next to the facility.  The airport was included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2011–2015, which categorized it was a primary commercial service facility based on enplanements in 2008.  Federal Aviation Administration records stated the airport had 10,392 passenger boardings. The airport had two main runways, both over 2 miles long. They were built to withstand an 8.3 Richter Scale earthquake, making it one of the world’s strongest runways. Another smaller runway, 72/252, is used as an assault strip.

Plant 42 is owned by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and operated as a component of Edwards Air Force Base, which is 23 miles to the northeast. Most of its facilities are operated by private contractors to build and maintain military aircraft and their components for the United States and their allies.  Plant 42 has 3,200,000 square feet of industrial space and a replacement value of $1.1 billion. Some of its facilities build aircraft, including the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk and other unmanned aircraft.  Others maintain and modify aircraft such as the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber. Still others make spare parts.  Aerospace contractors at Air Force Plant 42 share a runway complex, and either lease building space from the Air Force or own their own buildings outright.  There are eight production sites especially suited for advanced technology and/or “black” programs. The most well-known contractors at Plant 42 are Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.  Previously, the facilities were operated by McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft; Lockheed California; Norair, a Division of Northrop; and Lockheed Air Terminal.




Aug. 24, 1961: Jacqueline Cochran established the first of eight world women’s aviation records within a three-month period by flying a YT-38A at an average speed of 844.2 mph over a 15/25-kilometer course at Edwards AFB. The course was one of five on the installation that were certified by the National Aeronautic Association, the U.S. representative of the Fédération Aèronautique Internationale. They were used in establishing official world speed records at various altitudes.



Aug. 25, 1947: U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Eugene Carl, flying the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Straight Course, averaging 1,047.356 kilometers per hour (650.797 mph). The Skystreak was flown over a course laid out on Muroc Dry Lake, site of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards AFB), Calif. Four passes were made over the course at an altitude of 200 feet or lower. Two runs were made in each direction to compensate for any head or tail winds. The official speed for a record attempt was the average of the two best consecutive passes out of the four.




Aug. 25, 1993: A new world altitude record for Class C-1Q, Group III Heavy Airplanes was established in a C-17 Globemaster III. Capt. Scott Grunwald and Richard M. Cooper flew the aircraft with a payload of 11,000 pounds, to an altitude of 42,226 feet.




Aug. 25, 1999: The Number Two F-22 successfully flew at 60 degrees angle-of-attack and demonstrated post-stall flight with thrust vectoring.




Aug. 26, 1944:  The Martin AM Mauler made its first flight. The was a single-seat carrier-based attack aircraft built for the U.S. States Navy. Designed during World War II, the Mauler encountered development delays and did not enter service until 1948, in small numbers. The aircraft proved troublesome and remained in frontline service only until 1950, when the Navy switched to the smaller and simpler Douglas AD Skyraider. Maulers remained in reserve squadrons until 1953.




Aug. 26, 1954: Maj. Arthur “Kit” Murray flew the Bell X-1A to 90,440 feet, establishing a new unofficial world altitude record. This was the third such record achieved by Murray and the X-1A within a period of four months. During the flight, Murray became the first person to actually see the curvature of the earth.




Aug. 26, 1975: The McDonnell Douglas YC-15 made its first flight. The YC-15 was a prototype four-engine short take-off and landing tactical transport and was McDonnell Douglas’ entrant into the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Medium STOL Transport competition. It replaced the Lockheed C-130 Hercules as the Air Force’s standard STOL tactical transport.

In the end, neither the YC-15 nor the Boeing YC-14 was ordered into production, although the YC-15’s basic design would be used to form the successful McDonnell Douglas (later Boeing) C-17 Globemaster III. Two YC-15s were built, one with a wingspan of 110 feet, and one of 132 feet. They were tested for some time at McDonnell Douglas as the Boeing entry was not ready until almost a year later.

In November 1976, both designs were transferred to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for head-to-head testing, including lifting heavy loads like tanks and artillery from dirt airfields at Graham Ranch, off the end of Runway 22. In March 1976, the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David C. Jones, asked the Air Force Systems Command to see if it was possible to use a single model of the AMST for both strategic and tactical airlift roles, or alternatively, if it was possible to develop non-STOL derivatives of the AMST for the strategic airlift role.

This led to a series of studies that basically stated that such a modification was not easy, and would require major changes to either design to produce a much larger aircraft. The increasing importance of the strategic vs. tactical mission eventually led to the end of the AMST program in December 1979. Then, in November 1979, the C-X Task Force formed to develop the required strategic aircraft with tactical capability. The C-X program selected a proposal for an enlarged and upgraded YC-15 that was later developed into the C-17 Globemaster III.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules would be further improved into the C-130J and remains in service. After the flight test program, the two aircraft were stored at the AMARC, located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. One aircraft was subsequently moved to the nearby Pima Air & Space Museum in 1981 but was returned to flying status by McDonnell Douglas in 1996; and was first re-flown on April 11, 1997. On April 16, 1997, the aircraft was ferried to Long Beach, Calif., to support the C-17 program.

On July 11, 1998, the aircraft suffered a massive failure of the No. 1 engine during flight and made an emergency landing at Palmdale, Calif. On inspection, the aircraft was deemed too expensive to repair and was stored at Palmdale. In 2008, the aircraft was moved by road to Edwards AFB, where it is now on display at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum’s “Century Circle” display area, just outside the base’s west gate. The other airframe, which had remained on Celebrity Row at the AMARC for many years, was destroyed in place in April 2012.


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