Oct. 21, 1947: The YB-49, tail number 42-102367, took off from Northrop Field in Hawthorne, Calif., with Northrop Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley at the controls. The aircraft flew to Muroc Air Force Base (now Edwards), Calif., for flight-testing. The YB-49 had been converted from the second YB-35 pre-production test aircraft.
Turbojet engines replaced the original Flying Wing’s four Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major radial engines and several aerodynamic improvements were made. The YB-49 had a length of 53 feet, one inch, wingspan of 172 feet and overall height of 15 feet, two inches. It weighed 88,442 pounds empty, and its Maximum Takeoff Weight was 193,938 pounds.
During testing the YB-49 reached a maximum speed of 493 mph at 20,800 feet, and cruise speed was 429 mph. Its combat radius was 1,403 nautical miles. Only two Northrop YB-49s were built and Northrop and the Air Force tested them for nearly two years. Though an additional nine YB-35s were ordered converted, the B-49 was not placed into production.
The second ship, YB-49 42-102368, disintegrated in flight during a test flight north of Muroc Air Force Base, June 5, 1948, killing the entire crew, which included Capt. Glen Edwards. The name of Muroc was changed to Edwards Air Force Base in his honor. YB-49 42-102367 was destroyed by fire following a taxiing accident at Edwards, March 15, March 1950. The program was cancelled on the same day.
Oct. 21, 1955: Republic Aviation Corporation conducted a cross-country flight of an F-84G equipped with a Bausch & Lomb periscope system. The flight, from Edwards to Farmingdale, N.Y., was to evaluate the feasibility of a flush-mounted cockpit for the XF-103 program which was canceled in August 1957.
Oct. 21, 1956: Actor William Holden and other Hollywood personalities attended the opening of the new Base Theater at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and viewed a screening of “Toward the Unknown,” which had been filmed on the base. This marked the official opening of the new base theater.
Oct. 21, 1959: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck was killed while test flying the first prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II. The U.S. Navy was trying for a world record with the F4H, and Huelsbeck, flying near Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., was testing various flight plans for a high-altitude zoom, looking for one to recommend to the Navy test pilot who would fly the record attempt.
During the flight, an engine access door blew loose, flames shot through the engine compartment, and the F4H crashed. Huelsbeck did eject but was too low, and his parachute did not open. The prototype crashed in an open area near Mount Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest, about 70 miles southwest of Edwards.
Oct. 22, 1955: The Republic F-105 Thunderchief, with Republic pilot “Rusty” Roth at the controls, made its first flight. The Thunderchief was an American supersonic fighter-bomber used by the U.S. Air Force. Capable of Mach 2, it conducted the majority of strike bombing missions during the early years of the Vietnam War; it was the only American aircraft to have been removed from combat due to high loss rates.
It was originally designed as a single-seat, nuclear-attack aircraft; a two-seat Wild Weasel version was later developed for the specialized “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses” role against surface-to-air missile sites. The F-105 was commonly known as the “Thud” by its crews.
As a follow-on to the Mach 1 capable North American F-100 Super Sabre, the F-105 was also armed with missiles and a rotary cannon; however, its design was tailored to high-speed low-altitude penetration carrying a single nuclear weapon internally.
The Thunderchief entered service in 1958. The single-engine F-105 could deliver a greater bomb load than some American heavy bombers of World War II such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator.
The F-105 was one of the primary attack aircraft of the Vietnam War; over 20,000 Thunderchief sorties were flown, with 382 aircraft lost including 62 operational (non-combat) losses (out of the 833 produced). Although less agile than smaller MiG fighters, Air Force F-105s were credited with 27.5 kills.
The Thunderchief was later replaced as a strike aircraft over North Vietnam by both the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and the swing-wing General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. However, the “Wild Weasel” variants of the F-105 remained in service until 1984 after being replaced by the specialized F-4G “Wild Weasel V.”
Oct. 22, 1968: The first manned mission of the Apollo Program, Apollo 7, “splashed down” in the North Atlantic Ocean. The three-man crew, Walter M. Schirra, Donn F. Eisele and R. Walter Cunningham, had completed 163 orbits in 10 days, 20 hours, nine minutes, three seconds. The spacecraft landed seven nautical miles from the recovery ship, USS Essex (CVS-9). From Left: Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham.
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 Kármán 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 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 eight-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 several 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 diverter-less 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, 1925: Lt. James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, U.S. Army, won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (commonly called the Schneider Trophy) when he placed first flying his Curtiss R3C-2 float plane over a 217-mile course near Bay Shores on Chesapeake Bay, Md. Doolittle’s average speed for the seven laps around the triangular race course was 232.57 mph.
The second-place airplane, a Gloster-Napier III flown by Capt. Hubert Broad, averaged 199.16 mph. Doolittle also set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records during the race: World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers, with an average speed of 234.77 mph; World Record for Speed Over 200 Kilometers, 234.36 mph.
On the following day, Doolittle set a third FAI record: World Record for Speed Over a three Kilometer Course, 245.75 mph. Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. During World War II, Doolittle planned and led the famous Doolittle Raid against Japan on April 18, 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Oct. 26, 1940: Freelance test pilot Vance Breese took the prototype North American Aviation NA-73X on a five-minute first flight at Mines Field, later Los Angeles International Airport. Later in the day, Breese flew the NA-73X another 10 minutes. He would make six more test flights between Oct. 26 and Nov. 13, totaling approximately three hours, 30 minutes of flight time.
With Great Britain at war with Nazi Germany, the Royal Air Force was the primary defender of the island nation. Airplane manufacturers were turning out Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires as rapidly as possible, but they were barely keeping up with combat losses and England needed more fighters.
They had taken over an order for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A1 fighters which had been built for France, but which had not been shipped by the time France surrendered. The RAF called these fighters the Tomahawk Mark I (P-40 Warhawk in U.S. service). The British Purchasing Commission asked North American Aviation in Los Angeles, Calif., to build additional Tomahawks under license from Curtiss-Wright.
North American countered with a proposal to design a completely new and superior fighter around the P-40’s Allison V-12 engine and begin production in no more time than it would take to get a P-40 production line up and running.
The Purchasing Commission agreed, and with a letter of understanding, North American began work on the NA-73X on May 1, 1940. They were to produce 320 fighters before Sept. 30, 1941, approximately 50 per month, at a total price of $14,746,964.35. In a contract amendment dated Dec. 9, the British Purchasing Commission directed that the NA-73 would be identified by the name, “Mustang.”
Oct. 26, 1944: At approximately four 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 in 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 three 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 “boneyard” 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.