Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay”, with Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay”, with Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning
Virginia Western
Image by Chris Devers
Quoting Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning :

In the P-38 Lockheed engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and his team of designers created one of the most successful twin-engine fighters ever flown by any nation. From 1942 to 1945, U. S. Army Air Forces pilots flew P-38s over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific, and from the frozen Aleutian Islands to the sun-baked deserts of North Africa. Lightning pilots in the Pacific theater downed more Japanese aircraft than pilots flying any other Allied warplane.

Maj. Richard I. Bong, America’s leading fighter ace, flew this P-38J-10-LO on April 16, 1945, at Wright Field, Ohio, to evaluate an experimental method of interconnecting the movement of the throttle and propeller control levers. However, his right engine exploded in flight before he could conduct the experiment.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Company

Date:
1943

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Overall: 390 x 1170cm, 6345kg, 1580cm (12ft 9 9/16in. x 38ft 4 5/8in., 13988.2lb., 51ft 10 1/16in.)

Materials:
All-metal

Physical Description:
Twin-tail boom and twin-engine fighter; tricycle landing gear.

• • • • •

Quoting Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Boeing B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay":

Boeing’s B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments. Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines, and two nuclear weapons.

On August 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Bockscar (on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio) dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Enola Gay flew as the advance weather reconnaissance aircraft that day. A third B-29, The Great Artiste, flew as an observation aircraft on both missions.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Manufacturer:
Boeing Aircraft Co.
Martin Co., Omaha, Nebr.

Date:
1945

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Overall: 900 x 3020cm, 32580kg, 4300cm (29ft 6 5/16in. x 99ft 1in., 71825.9lb., 141ft 15/16in.)

Materials:
Polished overall aluminum finish

Physical Description:
Four-engine heavy bomber with semi-monoqoque fuselage and high-aspect ratio wings. Polished aluminum finish overall, standard late-World War II Army Air Forces insignia on wings and aft fuselage and serial number on vertical fin; 509th Composite Group markings painted in black; "Enola Gay" in black, block letters on lower left nose.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed 1049F-55-96, “Constellation”, with Federal Express Dassault Falcon 20 andPathfinder Plus in the background

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed 1049F-55-96, “Constellation”, with Federal Express Dassault Falcon 20 andPathfinder Plus in the background
Virginia Western
Image by Chris Devers
Quoting Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Lockheed 1049F-55-96, "Constellation":

In June 1938, Lockheed began design work on an airliner to satisfy a Transcontinental Western & Air (later Trans-World Airlines) (TWA), requirement for a non-stop transcontinental airliner with a 3,500-mile range and 6,000 lb. payload capability. Construction of a prototype began in 1940. The U.S. was soon involved in the Second World War and all transport production was directed to military needs and consequently the prototype first flew on January 9, 1943, as a military aircraft. Hydraulic-powered controls were used, full feathering and reversing propellers were also installed. First known by its civil designator as Model 049, it soon became better known during wartime by its military designation, the C-69 Constellation. Improvements were steadily made, beginning with the L-649, which was the first Constellation built as a commercial type and the L-749 which was the long-range version of the 649.

The next stage in development led to the L-1049 Super Constellation. The first prototype Super Constellation was a "stretched" version of the original Model 049 (C-69), modified by lengthening the fuselage from 95’ 2" to 113’ 7", adding more fuel capacity, more powerful engines, higher gross weight, and increasing its tourist-class seating from 69 to 92. These L-1049 aircraft were powered by four 2700 hp Wright engines. The prototype aircraft was first flown on October 13, 1950. The production version of the Model L-1049, of which fourteen were built for Eastern Airlines, and ten for TWA, ended up with a strengthened fuselage, stiffened outer wing panels and rectangular windows instead of the Constellation’s round ones. This production version was first flown on July 14, 1951, and the type entered service on December 7, 1951, with Eastern Airlines (EAL). The last Model 1049 produced was delivered in September 1952. Passenger accommodations on the 1049 varied – 88 for Eastern; 65 over water or 75 domestic for TWA, with adaptation to 102 in high density configuration. The flight crew consisted of three, with two cabin attendants.

The Model 1049 was followed by an A version (military WV-2, WV-3, and RC-121D) the B version (USN R7V-1, USAF RC-121C, the presidential VC-121E), and the C version, the first commercial transport certificated with turbo-compound engines. These Double Cyclone Wright engines had three "blow-down" turbines, which converted the heat energy of exhaust gases into additional power, with a 20% reduction in fuel consumption.

The engine produced 3,250 h.p. for take-off for which the aircraft weight had been increased to 133,000 lb. The Model 1049C, Turbo-Cyclone-powered Super Constellation began flight trials on February 17, 1953. A convertible model, the 1049D was built for Seaboard and Western Airlines in 1954. They were fitted with reinforced flooring and they had main deck cargo loading doors on the part side of the fuselage, fore and aft of the wings. They could carry either 18 tons of freight or up to 104 passengers. Maximum take—off weight was 135,400 lb. A Model 1049E was delivered between May 1954 and April 1955 which was identical to the 1049C but with the increased take-off and landing weight of the 1049D. Next on the model list was the Model 1049F, which was Lockheed’s designation for 33 C-121C cargo/personnel transports built for the USAF and fitted with stronger landing gear. The F was followed by a "G" model which was determined to be the most successful version of the Super Constellation. It was powered by 3,400 h.p. engines, it had longer range than the E, and the maximum take-off weight was increased to 137,500 lb. with some models modified to 140,000 lb. Often known as Super Gs, 42 of these aircraft were delivered to domestic carriers (20 to TWA, 10 to EAL, and 4 to NW), and 50 to foreign carriers. The final version to the Super Constellation was the Model 1049H, a combination of Model 1049D, and the convertible and improved Model 1049G.

The Super Constellation and its derivatives represent, along with the Douglas DC-7, the ultimate step in the development of longer range, more capacity and more powerful piston-engined aircraft to meet the needs of both commercial and military aviation. Eastern Air Lines, the first airline to order Super Constellations, introduced the type on its New York-Miami route on December 15, 1951. It was able to take advantage of the 1049s additional capacity to absorb an increased holiday seasonal demand. A decade later on April 30, 1961, Eastern inaugurated its revolutionary air shuttle, no-reservation service, Washington-New York-Boston with Super Constellations. Incidentally, as it turns out, the last use of the Super Constellations by a major U.S. domestic airline was a backup for the shuttle until February 1968.

TWA, a co-sponsor with EAL on the design of the Super Constellation, first used the Model 1049 on its domestic network in September 1952, and when it received the higher performance "C" version, it began scheduled non-stop transcontinental service on October 19, 1953, a first for the industry. On its trans-Atlantic routes, TWA made use of its early Super Constellation models, but on November 1, 1955, it could offer improved service, using its newer Model l049Gs which enabled it to operate non-stop most of the time, at least in the eastbound direction.

Over the Atlantic and other long distance routes, the Super Constellation was also operated by several former Constellation operators, until Lockheed was again challenged by Douglas and its DC-7C, the first aircraft capable of flying non-stop in both directions over the North Atlantic. To compete, Lockheed responded by mating the Super Constellation’s fuselage and tail surfaces with an entirely new wing, resulting in a major redesign. The outcome, the Model 1649A Starliner, which entered service on June 1, 1957, it was the most attractive of the Constellation series, but its success was short lived for in six months it was overtaken in 1958 by the faster, turbine-powered (Bristol Britannia) and jet aircraft (the Boeing 707-120) which finally made all propeller-driven aircraft obsolescent in October 1958. A total of 44 Lockheed L-1649As were built, 29 went to TWA, 10 to Air France, 4 to Lufthansa.

When the age of piston-powered passenger transport aircraft was coming to a close, Lockheed offered to carriers a convertible Model 1049H, suggesting that when they were no longer competitive in the passenger market they could convert to carrying cargo. This second hand market did materialize briefly with the H model but the market for 1049s soon dried up as they were becoming too expensive to operate and maintain. The engines were giving problems not only in the Lockheed Super Connies, but also in the Douglas DC-7s, and the aircraft were becoming known as the "world’s best trimotors." A total of 579 Super Constellations were built but by the end of 1980 only four Super Constellations remained in airline service.

The Museum’s Lockheed C-121C (1049F-55-96), with former Air Force serial number 54-177, and now registered N-1104W, is one of the thirty-three C-l2lCs delivered to the USAF and the Atlantic Division of the Military Air Transport Service at Charleston AFB, South Carolina. This airplane arrived there in March 1956 and was assigned to the 1608th Air Transport Wing. Its original configuration was that of an over-water cargo/passenger transport, having eight crew members and accommodations for up to 80 passengers.

While with the 1608th ATW, the "Super Connies" flew throughout the Caribbean, made crossings of the North and South Atlantic to Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and as far east as India. They participated in the Hungarian airlift during 1956-57, carrying refugees from Eastern Europe to the U.S. and flew troops to Lebanon during the crisis there in 1958. In general, this "Connie" and others of the unit flew a variety of transport missions including cargo, passenger, medical evacuation, and humanitarian support.

On October 30, 1962, the Museum’s C-121C left the regular USAF and was transferred to the 183rd Air Transport Squadron of the Mississippi Air National Guard. This unit was re-designated the 183rd Military Airlift Squadron as of January 1, 1966. While with the 183rd, it flew transport, evacuation, and support missions across the North Atlantic. It remained with the Guard unit until April 19, 1967, at which time it was transferred to the West Virginia ANG and the 167th Military Airlift Squadron. This and other C-l2lCs of this unit flew across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean, and to South America, taking part in operation "Creek Guardlift" in Europe from June 1971 to March 1972.

This Super Constellation served with the 167th until 1972 and was again transferred, this time to the 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare (TEW) Squadron, Pennsylvania ANG, at Olmstead AFB, Middletown, Pennsylvania. This squadron had one other C-121, an electronic countermeasure configured aircraft. Together they took part in many exercises and training missions such as "Reforger VI," "Flintlock" and "Northern Merger" in 1974. While operating out of Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico, they took part in "Gallant Shield" and "Solid Shield," both in 1975.

This "Connie" remained with the 193rd and operations with the ANG until November 1977, when it was retired after 21½ years of military service, thousands of flying hours, and countless ocean crossings, which for propeller driven aircraft were long endurance flights often exceeding 12 or 14 hours. When taken out of service, it was transferred to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC), at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona, for storage. It remained there until August 1981, at which time it was sold at auction to Ascher Ward of Classic Air Inc., and flown to Van Nuys Airport, California, where the new company was forming. As a civil aircraft in a hoped-for new career, it was assigned FAA registration number Nll04W. It retained its 193rd TEW paint scheme of a royal blue cheat-line outlined in gold, with a white cabin roof and empennage, and pale blue under surfaces. It carried its small serial number on the left side under the stabilizer and a U.S. flag on the center fin.

The newly formed company Classic Air Inc., which intended to operate two or three passenger—carrying "Connies" between Los Angeles and Reno, Nevada, failed to receive FAA approval and the airplanes remained dormant. At this time the National Air and Space Museum was seeking a Super Constellation. Mr. Darryl Greenameyer soon became a party to this transaction as he had acquired two of the Constellations from Air Classics. He negotiated a trade with NASM a C-121C, NllO4W in exchange for two Grumman HU-16 Albatrosses drawn from the remaining holdings of spare Albatross belonging to the Smithsonian, and which had been used in support of one Albatross that was operated by the Museum of Natural History.

Gift of Mr. Darryl G. Greenamyer

Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Corp.

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
24 ft. 9 in. High 116 ft. 2 in. Long 72,815 lbs. Weight 123 ft. Wing Span

Physical Description:
123ft. span, 116ft. 2in. long, 24ft. 9in. high; 72,815lbs. empty weight.

• • • • •

Quoting Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Pathfinder Plus:

Pathfinder Plus is a high-altitude, solar-powered, unmanned experimental aircraft intended to explore the possibilities of unlimited-duration, high-altitude reconnaissance. During the 1990s, it conducted 10 test flights, three of which set altitude records, the highest of which was 24,445m (80,201 ft). The aircraft was built under the sponsorship of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. It has a carbon fiber main spar and is covered with a polymer skin and silicon solar cells that power eight electric motors. The project was later managed by NASA Dryden.

Donated by Aerovironment Inc.

Dimensions:
Wingspan: 36.3 m (121 ft)
Length: 3.6 m (12 ft)
Gross weight: 315 kg (700 lb)
Speed: 24-40 kmph (15-25 mph)

• • • • •

Quoting Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Federal Express’s Dassault Falcon 20:

The Dassault Cargo Falcon 20 is a French jet aircraft that, on April 17, 1973, became the first to carry a Federal Express air package. This was a new milestone in the history of air transport in the United States and created a new category of airline, the exclusive air express carrier. Within a decade, no less than thirty-three were flying on the spokes of the Federal Express network. The service was so successful that, by the early 1980s, its front-line aircraft were expanded to the McDonnell Douglas DC-10Cs, whose cargo holds were big enough to carry several Falcons each.

The first Dassault Falcon made its maiden flight on May 4, 1973. It is a well-proportioned, all metal low-wing monoplane, with full cantilever wing and tail surfaces, pressurized fuselage, and retractable tricycle dual-wheel landing gear. It is powered by two aft-mounted General Electric CF-700-2D turbofan engines. For cargo use, the Series 20 was modified by several basic changes, the success of which is a tribute to the inherent soundness of the design. The Cargo Falcon 20 also features an oversized cargo door, measuring 55 inches x 74.5 inches, and a strengthened floor to accept loads of concentrated weight.

Gift of the Federal Express Corp.

Manufacturer:
Dassault-Bruguet Aviation

Date:
1973-1982

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Height: 17 ft 7 in
Length: 56 ft 4 in
Wingspan: 53 ft 6 in
Weight: 15,940 lbs

Materials:
Overall: Aluminum

Physical Description:
Twin engine jet transport, purple and white, orange trim, all metal.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning
Virginia Western
Image by Chris Devers
See more photos of this, and the Wikipedia article.

Details, quoting from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning

In the P-38 Lockheed engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and his team of designers created one of the most successful twin-engine fighters ever flown by any nation. From 1942 to 1945, U. S. Army Air Forces pilots flew P-38s over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific, and from the frozen Aleutian Islands to the sun-baked deserts of North Africa. Lightning pilots in the Pacific theater downed more Japanese aircraft than pilots flying any other Allied warplane.

Maj. Richard I. Bong, America’s leading fighter ace, flew this P-38J-10-LO on April 16, 1945, at Wright Field, Ohio, to evaluate an experimental method of interconnecting the movement of the throttle and propeller control levers. However, his right engine exploded in flight before he could conduct the experiment.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Company

Date:
1943

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Overall: 390 x 1170cm, 6345kg, 1580cm (12ft 9 9/16in. x 38ft 4 5/8in., 13988.2lb., 51ft 10 1/16in.)

Materials:
All-metal

Physical Description:
Twin-tail boom and twin-engine fighter; tricycle landing gear.

Long Description:
From 1942 to 1945, the thunder of P-38 Lightnings was heard around the world. U. S. Army pilots flew the P-38 over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific; from the frozen Aleutian Islands to the sun-baked deserts of North Africa. Measured by success in combat, Lockheed engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and a team of designers created the most successful twin-engine fighter ever flown by any nation. In the Pacific Theater, Lightning pilots downed more Japanese aircraft than pilots flying any other Army Air Forces warplane.

Johnson and his team conceived this twin-engine, single-pilot fighter airplane in 1936 and the Army Air Corps authorized the firm to build it in June 1937. Lockheed finished constructing the prototype XP-38 and delivered it to the Air Corps on New Year’s Day, 1939. Air Corps test pilot and P-38 project officer, Lt. Benjamin S. Kelsey, first flew the aircraft on January 27. Losing this prototype in a crash at Mitchel Field, New York, with Kelsey at the controls, did not deter the Air Corps from ordering 13 YP-38s for service testing on April 27. Kelsey survived the crash and remained an important part of the Lightning program. Before the airplane could be declared ready for combat, Lockheed had to block the effects of high-speed aerodynamic compressibility and tail buffeting, and solve other problems discovered during the service tests.

The most vexing difficulty was the loss of control in a dive caused by aerodynamic compressibility. During late spring 1941, Air Corps Major Signa A. Gilke encountered serious trouble while diving his Lightning at high-speed from an altitude of 9,120 m (30,000 ft). When he reached an indicated airspeed of about 515 kph (320 mph), the airplane’s tail began to shake violently and the nose dropped until the dive was almost vertical. Signa recovered and landed safely and the tail buffet problem was soon resolved after Lockheed installed new fillets to improve airflow where the cockpit gondola joined the wing center section. Seventeen months passed before engineers began to determine what caused the Lightning’s nose to drop. They tested a scale model P-38 in the Ames Laboratory wind tunnel operated by the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and found that shock waves formed when airflow over the wing leading edges reached transonic speeds. The nose drop and loss of control was never fully remedied but Lockheed installed dive recovery flaps under each wing in 1944. These devices slowed the P-38 enough to allow the pilot to maintain control when diving at high-speed.

Just as the development of the North American P-51 Mustang, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and the Vought F4U Corsair (see NASM collection for these aircraft) pushed the limits of aircraft performance into unexplored territory, so too did P-38 development. The type of aircraft envisioned by the Lockheed design team and Air Corps strategists in 1937 did not appear until June 1944. This protracted shakedown period mirrors the tribulations suffered by Vought in sorting out the many technical problems that kept F4U Corsairs off U. S. Navy carrier decks until the end of 1944.

Lockheed’s efforts to trouble-shoot various problems with the design also delayed high-rate, mass production. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the company had delivered only 69 Lightnings to the Army. Production steadily increased and at its peak in 1944, 22 sub-contractors built various Lightning components and shipped them to Burbank, California, for final assembly. Consolidated-Vultee (Convair) subcontracted to build the wing center section and the firm later became prime manufacturer for 2,000 P-38Ls but that company’s Nashville plant completed only 113 examples of this Lightning model before war’s end. Lockheed and Convair finished 10,038 P-38 aircraft including 500 photo-reconnaissance models. They built more L models, 3,923, than any other version.

To ease control and improve stability, particularly at low speeds, Lockheed equipped all Lightnings, except a batch ordered by Britain, with propellers that counter-rotated. The propeller to the pilot’s left turned counter-clockwise and the propeller to his right turned clockwise, so that one propeller countered the torque and airflow effects generated by the other. The airplane also performed well at high speeds and the definitive P-38L model could make better than 676 kph (420 mph) between 7,600 and 9,120 m (25,000 and 30,000 ft). The design was versatile enough to carry various combinations of bombs, air-to-ground rockets, and external fuel tanks. The multi-engine configuration reduced the Lightning loss-rate to anti-aircraft gunfire during ground attack missions. Single-engine airplanes equipped with power plants cooled by pressurized liquid, such as the North American P-51 Mustang (see NASM collection), were particularly vulnerable. Even a small nick in one coolant line could cause the engine to seize in a matter of minutes.

The first P-38s to reach the Pacific combat theater arrived on April 4, 1942, when a version of the Lightning that carried reconnaissance cameras (designated the F-4), joined the 8th Photographic Squadron based in Australia. This unit launched the first P-38 combat missions over New Guinea and New Britain during April. By May 29, the first 25 P-38s had arrived in Anchorage, Alaska. On August 9, pilots of the 343rd Fighter Group, Eleventh Air Force, flying the P-38E, shot down a pair of Japanese flying boats.

Back in the United States, Army Air Forces leaders tried to control a rumor that Lightnings killed their own pilots. On August 10, 1942, Col. Arthur I. Ennis, Chief of U. S. Army Air Forces Public Relations in Washington, told a fellow officer "… Here’s what the 4th Fighter [training] Command is up against… common rumor out there that the whole West Coast was filled with headless bodies of men who jumped out of P-38s and had their heads cut off by the propellers." Novice Lightning pilots unfamiliar with the correct bailout procedures actually had more to fear from the twin-boom tail, if an emergency dictated taking to the parachute but properly executed, Lightning bailouts were as safe as parachuting from any other high-performance fighter of the day. Misinformation and wild speculation about many new aircraft was rampant during the early War period.

Along with U. S. Navy Grumman F4F Wildcats (see NASM collection) and Curtiss P-40 Warhawks (see NASM collection), Lightnings were the first American fighter airplanes capable of consistently defeating Japanese fighter aircraft. On November 18, men of the 339th Fighter Squadron became the first Lightning pilots to attack Japanese fighters. Flying from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, they claimed three during a mission to escort Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers (see NASM collection).

On April 18, 1943, fourteen P-38 pilots from the 70th and the 339th Fighter Squadrons, 347th Fighter Group, accomplished one of the most important Lightning missions of the war. American ULTRA cryptanalysts had decoded Japanese messages that revealed the timetable for a visit to the front by the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. This charismatic leader had crafted the plan to attack Pearl Harbor and Allied strategists believed his loss would severely cripple Japanese morale. The P-38 pilots flew 700 km (435 miles) at heights from 3-15 m (10-50 feet) above the ocean to avoid detection. Over the coast of Bougainville, they intercepted a formation of two Mitsubishi G4M BETTY bombers (see NASM collection) carrying the Admiral and his staff, and six Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters (see NASM collection) providing escort. The Lightning pilots downed both bombers but lost Lt. Ray Hine to a Zero.

In Europe, the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe aircraft were Lt. Elza E. Shahan flying a 27th Fighter Squadron P-38E, and Lt. J. K. Shaffer flying a Curtiss P-40 (see NASM collection) in the 33rd Fighter Squadron. The two flyers shared the destruction of a Focke-Wulf Fw 200C-3 Condor maritime strike aircraft over Iceland on August 14, 1942. Later that month, the 1st fighter group accepted Lightnings and began combat operations from bases in England but this unit soon moved to fight in North Africa. More than a year passed before the P-38 reappeared over Western Europe. While the Lightning was absent, U. S. Army Air Forces strategists had relearned a painful lesson: unescorted bombers cannot operate successfully in the face of determined opposition from enemy fighters. When P-38s returned to England, the primary mission had become long-range bomber escort at ranges of about 805 kms (500 miles) and at altitudes above 6,080 m (20,000 ft).

On October 15, 1943, P-38H pilots in the 55th Fighter Group flew their first combat mission over Europe at a time when the need for long-range escorts was acute. Just the day before, German fighter pilots had destroyed 60 of 291 Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses (see NASM collection) during a mission to bomb five ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany. No air force could sustain a loss-rate of nearly 20 percent for more than a few missions but these targets lay well beyond the range of available escort fighters (Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, see NASM collection). American war planners hoped the long-range capabilities of the P-38 Lightning could halt this deadly trend, but the very high and very cold environment peculiar to the European air war caused severe power plant and cockpit heating difficulties for the Lightning pilots. The long-range escort problem was not completely solved until the North American P-51 Mustang (see NASM collection) began to arrive in large numbers early in 1944.

Poor cockpit heating in the H and J model Lightnings made flying and fighting at altitudes that frequently approached 12,320 m (40,000 ft) nearly impossible. This was a fundamental design flaw that Kelly Johnson and his team never anticipated when they designed the airplane six years earlier. In his seminal work on the Allison V-1710 engine, Daniel Whitney analyzed in detail other factors that made the P-38 a disappointing airplane in combat over Western Europe.

• Many new and inexperienced pilots arrived in England during December 1943, along with the new J model P-38 Lightning.

• J model rated at 1,600 horsepower vs. 1,425 for earlier H model Lightnings. This power setting required better maintenance between flights. It appears this work was not done in many cases.

• During stateside training, Lightning pilots were taught to fly at high rpm settings and low engine manifold pressure during cruise flight. This was very hard on the engines, and not in keeping with technical directives issued by Allison and Lockheed.

• The quality of fuel in England may have been poor, TEL (tetraethyl lead) fuel additive appeared to condense inside engine induction manifolds, causing detonation (destructive explosion of fuel mixture rather than controlled burning).

• Improved turbo supercharger intercoolers appeared on the J model P-38. These devices greatly reduced manifold temperatures but this encouraged TEL condensation in manifolds during cruise flight and increased spark plug fouling.

Using water injection to minimize detonation might have reduced these engine problems. Both the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the North American P-51 Mustang (see NASM collection) were fitted with water injection systems but not the P-38. Lightning pilots continued to fly, despite these handicaps.

During November 1942, two all-Lightning fighter groups, the 1st and the 14th, began operating in North Africa. In the Mediterranean Theater, P-38 pilots flew more sorties than Allied pilots flying any other type of fighter. They claimed 608 enemy a/c destroyed in the air, 123 probably destroyed and 343 damaged, against the loss of 131 Lightnings.

In the war against Japan, the P-38 truly excelled. Combat rarely occurred above 6,080 m (20,000 ft) and the engine and cockpit comfort problems common in Europe never plagued pilots in the Pacific Theater. The Lightning’s excellent range was used to full advantage above the vast expanses of water. In early 1945, Lightning pilots of the 12th Fighter Squadron, 18th Fighter Group, flew a mission that lasted 10 ½ hours and covered more than 3,220 km (2,000 miles). In August, P-38 pilots established the world’s long-distance record for a World War II combat fighter when they flew from the Philippines to the Netherlands East Indies, a distance of 3,703 km (2,300 miles). During early 1944, Lightning pilots in the 475th Fighter Group began the ‘race of aces.’ By March, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Lynch had scored 21 victories before he fell to antiaircraft gunfire while strafing enemy ships. Major Thomas B. McGuire downed 38 Japanese aircraft before he was killed when his P-38 crashed at low altitude in early January 1945. Major Richard I. Bong became America’s highest scoring fighter ace (40 victories) but died in the crash of a Lockheed P-80 (see NASM collection) on August 6, 1945.

Museum records show that Lockheed assigned the construction number 422-2273 to the National Air and Space Museum’s P-38. The Army Air Forces accepted this Lightning as a P-38J-l0-LO on November 6, 1943, and the service identified the airplane with the serial number 42-67762. Recent investigations conducted by a team of specialists at the Paul E. Garber Facility, and Herb Brownstein, a volunteer in the Aeronautics Division at the National Air and Space Museum, have revealed many hitherto unknown aspects to the history of this aircraft.

Brownstein examined NASM files and documents at the National Archives. He discovered that a few days after the Army Air Forces (AAF) accepted this airplane, the Engineering Division at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, granted Lockheed permission to convert this P-38 into a two-seat trainer. The firm added a seat behind the pilot to accommodate an instructor who would train civilian pilots in instrument flying techniques. Once trained, these test pilots evaluated new Lightnings fresh off the assembly line.

In a teletype sent by the Engineering Division on March 2, 1944, Brownstein also discovered that this P-38 was released to Colonel Benjamin S. Kelsey from March 3 to April 10, 1944, to conduct special tests. This action was confirmed the following day in a cable from the War Department. This same pilot, then a Lieutenant, flew the XP-38 across the United States in 1939 and survived the crash that destroyed this Lightning at Mitchel Field, New York. In early 1944, Kelsey was assigned to the Eighth Air Force in England and he apparently traveled to the Lockheed factory at Burbank to pick up the P-38. Further information about these tests and Kelsey’s involvement remain an intriguing question.

One of Brownstein’s most important discoveries was a small file rich with information about the NASM Lightning. This file contained a cryptic reference to a "Major Bong" who flew the NASM P-38 on April 16, 1945, at Wright Field. Bong had planned to fly for an hour to evaluate an experimental method of interconnecting the movement of the throttle and propeller control levers. His flight ended after twenty-minutes when "the right engine blew up before I had a chance [to conduct the test]." The curator at the Richard I. Bong Heritage Center confirmed that America’s highest scoring ace made this flight in the NASM P-38 Lightning.

Working in Building 10 at the Paul E. Garber Facility, Rob Mawhinney, Dave Wilson, Wil Lee, Bob Weihrauch, Jim Purton, and Heather Hutton spent several months during the spring and summer of 2001 carefully disassembling, inspecting, and cleaning the NASM Lightning. They found every hardware modification consistent with a model J-25 airplane, not the model J-10 painted in the data block beneath the artifact’s left nose. This fact dovetails perfectly with knowledge uncovered by Brownstein. On April 10, the Engineering Division again cabled Lockheed asking the company to prepare 42-67762 for transfer to Wright Field "in standard configuration." The standard P-38 configuration at that time was the P-38J-25. The work took several weeks and the fighter does not appear on Wright Field records until May 15, 1944. On June 9, the Flight Test Section at Wright Field released the fighter for flight trials aimed at collecting pilot comments on how the airplane handled.

Wright Field’s Aeromedical Laboratory was the next organization involved with this P-38. That unit installed a kit on July 26 that probably measured the force required to move the control wheel left and right to actuate the power-boosted ailerons installed in all Lightnings beginning with version J-25. From August 12-16, the Power Plant Laboratory carried out tests to measure the hydraulic pump temperatures on this Lightning. Then beginning September 16 and lasting about ten days, the Bombing Branch, Armament Laboratory, tested type R-3 fragmentation bomb racks. The work appears to have ended early in December. On June 20, 1945, the AAF Aircraft Distribution Office asked that the Air Technical Service Command transfer the Lightning from Wright Field to Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, a temporary holding area for Air Force museum aircraft. The P-38 arrived at the Oklahoma City Air Depot on June 27, 1945, and mechanics prepared the fighter for flyable storage.

Airplane Flight Reports for this Lightning also describe the following activities and movements:

6-21-45 Wright Field, Ohio, 5.15 hours of flying.
6-22-45Wright Field, Ohio, .35 minutes of flying by Lt. Col. Wendel [?] J. Kelley and P. Shannon.
6-25-45Altus, Oklahoma, .55 hours flown, pilot P. Shannon.
6-27-45Altus, Oklahoma, #2 engine changed, 1.05 hours flown by Air Corps F/O Ralph F. Coady.
10-5-45 OCATSC-GCAAF (Garden City Army Air Field, Garden City, Kansas), guns removed and ballast added.
10-8-45Adams Field, Little Rock, Arkansas.
10-9-45Nashville, Tennessee,
5-28-46Freeman Field, Indiana, maintenance check by Air Corps Capt. H. M. Chadhowere [sp]?
7-24-46Freeman Field, Indiana, 1 hour local flight by 1st Lt. Charles C. Heckel.
7-31-46 Freeman Field, Indiana, 4120th AAF Base Unit, ferry flight to Orchard Place [Illinois] by 1st Lt. Charles C. Heckel.

On August 5, 1946, the AAF moved the aircraft to another storage site at the former Consolidated B-24 bomber assembly plant at Park Ridge, Illinois. A short time later, the AAF transferred custody of the Lightning and more than sixty other World War II-era airplanes to the Smithsonian National Air Museum. During the early 1950s, the Air Force moved these airplanes from Park Ridge to the Smithsonian storage site at Suitland, Maryland.

• • •

Quoting from Wikipedia | Lockheed P-38 Lightning:

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a World War II American fighter aircraft built by Lockheed. Developed to a United States Army Air Corps requirement, the P-38 had distinctive twin booms and a single, central nacelle containing the cockpit and armament. Named "fork-tailed devil" by the Luftwaffe and "two planes, one pilot" by the Japanese, the P-38 was used in a number of roles, including dive bombing, level bombing, ground-attack, photo reconnaissance missions, and extensively as a long-range escort fighter when equipped with drop tanks under its wings.

The P-38 was used most successfully in the Pacific Theater of Operations and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations as the mount of America’s top aces, Richard Bong (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire (38 victories). In the South West Pacific theater, the P-38 was the primary long-range fighter of United States Army Air Forces until the appearance of large numbers of P-51D Mustangs toward the end of the war. The P-38 was unusually quiet for a fighter, the exhaust muffled by the turbo-superchargers. It was extremely forgiving, and could be mishandled in many ways, but the rate of roll was too slow for it to excel as a dogfighter. The P-38 was the only American fighter aircraft in production throughout American involvement in the war, from Pearl Harbor to Victory over Japan Day.

Variants: Lightning in maturity: P-38J

The P-38J was introduced in August 1943. The turbo-supercharger intercooler system on previous variants had been housed in the leading edges of the wings and had proven vulnerable to combat damage and could burst if the wrong series of controls were mistakenly activated. In the P-38J model, the streamlined engine nacelles of previous Lightnings were changed to fit the intercooler radiator between the oil coolers, forming a "chin" that visually distinguished the J model from its predecessors. While the P-38J used the same V-1710-89/91 engines as the H model, the new core-type intercooler more efficiently lowered intake manifold temperatures and permitted a substantial increase in rated power. The leading edge of the outer wing was fitted with 55 gal (208 l) fuel tanks, filling the space formerly occupied by intercooler tunnels, but these were omitted on early P-38J blocks due to limited availability.

The final 210 J models, designated P-38J-25-LO, alleviated the compressibility problem through the addition of a set of electrically-actuated dive recovery flaps just outboard of the engines on the bottom centerline of the wings. With these improvements, a USAAF pilot reported a dive speed of almost 600 mph (970 km/h), although the indicated air speed was later corrected for compressibility error, and the actual dive speed was lower. Lockheed manufactured over 200 retrofit modification kits to be installed on P-38J-10-LO and J-20-LO already in Europe, but the USAAF C-54 carrying them was shot down by an RAF pilot who mistook the Douglas transport for a German Focke-Wulf Condor. Unfortunately the loss of the kits came during Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier‘s four-month morale-boosting tour of P-38 bases. Flying a new Lightning named "Snafuperman" modified to full P-38J-25-LO specs at Lockheed’s modification center near Belfast, LeVier captured the pilots’ full attention by routinely performing maneuvers during March 1944 that common Eighth Air Force wisdom held to be suicidal. It proved too little too late because the decision had already been made to re-equip with Mustangs.

The P-38J-25-LO production block also introduced hydraulically-boosted ailerons, one of the first times such a system was fitted to a fighter. This significantly improved the Lightning’s rate of roll and reduced control forces for the pilot. This production block and the following P-38L model are considered the definitive Lightnings, and Lockheed ramped up production, working with subcontractors across the country to produce hundreds of Lightnings each month.

Noted P-38 pilots

Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire

The American ace of aces and his closest competitor both flew Lightnings as they tallied 40 and 38 victories respectively. Majors Richard I. "Dick" Bong and Thomas J. "Tommy" McGuire of the USAAF competed for the top position. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor.

McGuire was killed in air combat in January 1945 over the Philippines, after racking up 38 confirmed kills, making him the second-ranking American ace. Bong was rotated back to the United States as America’s ace of aces, after making 40 kills, becoming a test pilot. He was killed on 6 August 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, when his P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter flamed out on takeoff.

Charles Lindbergh

The famed aviator Charles Lindbergh toured the South Pacific as a civilian contractor for United Aircraft Corporation, comparing and evaluating performance of single- and twin-engined fighters for Vought. He worked to improve range and load limits of the F4U Corsair, flying both routine and combat strafing missions in Corsairs alongside Marine pilots. In Hollandia, he attached himself to the 475th FG flying P-38s so that he could investigate the twin-engine fighter. Though new to the machine, he was instrumental in extending the range of the P-38 through improved throttle settings, or engine-leaning techniques, notably by reducing engine speed to 1,600 rpm, setting the carburetors for auto-lean and flying at 185 mph (298 km/h) indicated airspeed which reduced fuel consumption to 70 gal/h, about 2.6 mpg. This combination of settings had been considered dangerous; it was thought it would upset the fuel mixture and cause an explosion. Everywhere Lindbergh went in the South Pacific, he was accorded the normal preferential treatment of a visiting colonel, though he had resigned his Air Corps Reserve colonel’s commission three years before. While with the 475th, he held training classes and took part in a number of Army Air Corps combat missions. On 28 July 1944, Lindbergh shot down a Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" flown expertly by the veteran commander of 73rd Independent Flying Chutai, Imperial Japanese Army Captain Saburo Shimada. In an extended, twisting dogfight in which many of the participants ran out of ammunition, Shimada turned his aircraft directly toward Lindbergh who was just approaching the combat area. Lindbergh fired in a defensive reaction brought on by Shimada’s apparent head-on ramming attack. Hit by cannon and machine gun fire, the "Sonia’s" propeller visibly slowed, but Shimada held his course. Lindbergh pulled up at the last moment to avoid collision as the damaged "Sonia" went into a steep dive, hit the ocean and sank. Lindbergh’s wingman, ace Joseph E. "Fishkiller" Miller, Jr., had also scored hits on the "Sonia" after it had begun its fatal dive, but Miller was certain the kill credit was Lindbergh’s. The unofficial kill was not entered in the 475th’s war record. On 12 August 1944 Lindbergh left Hollandia to return to the United States.

Charles MacDonald

The seventh-ranking American ace, Charles H. MacDonald, flew a Lightning against the Japanese, scoring 27 kills in his famous aircraft, the Putt Putt Maru.

Robin Olds

Main article: Robin Olds

Robin Olds was the last P-38 ace in the Eighth Air Force and the last in the ETO. Flying a P-38J, he downed five German fighters on two separate missions over France and Germany. He subsequently transitioned to P-51s to make seven more kills. After World War II, he flew F-4 Phantom IIs in Vietnam, ending his career as brigadier general with 16 kills.

Clay Tice

A P-38 piloted by Clay Tice was the first American aircraft to land in Japan after VJ-Day, when he and his wingman set down on Nitagahara because his wingman was low on fuel.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Noted aviation pioneer and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry vanished in a F-5B-1-LO, 42-68223, c/n 2734, of Groupe de Chasse II/33, out of Borgo-Porreta, Bastia, Corsica, a reconnaissance variant of the P-38, while on a flight over the Mediterranean, from Corsica to mainland France, on 31 July 1944. His health, both physical and mental (he was said to be intermittently subject to depression), had been deteriorating and there had been talk of taking him off flight status. There have been suggestions (although no proof to date) that this was a suicide rather than an aircraft failure or combat loss. In 2000, a French scuba diver found the wreckage of a Lightning in the Mediterranean off the coast of Marseille, and it was confirmed in April 2004 as Saint-Exupéry’s F-5B. No evidence of air combat was found. In March 2008, a former Luftwaffe pilot, Horst Rippert from Jagdgruppe 200, claimed to have shot down Saint-Exupéry.

Adrian Warburton

The RAF’s legendary photo-recon "ace", Wing Commander Adrian Warburton DSO DFC, was the pilot of a Lockheed P-38 borrowed from the USAAF that took off on 12 April 1944 to photograph targets in Germany. W/C Warburton failed to arrive at the rendezvous point and was never seen again. In 2003, his remains were recovered in Germany from his wrecked USAAF P-38 Lightning.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird port panorama (Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross “Falcon” overhead)

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird port panorama (Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross “Falcon” overhead)
Virginia Union University
Image by Chris Devers
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Details, quoting from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross "Falcon"

Hawley Bowlus developed the Senior Albatross series from a design he called the Bowlus Super Sailplane. In Germany, designers and pilots led the world in the building and flying of high-performance gliders, and Bowlus was strongly influenced by their work. He and German glider pioneer, Martin Schempp, taught courses in aircraft design and construction at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, California. The two instructors led a group of students that built the Super Sailplane in 1932. The Super’ served as a prototype for the Senior Albatross.

In May 1934, Warren E. Eaton acquired the Senior Albatross now preserved at NASM from Hawley Bowlus. Eaton joined the U. S. Army Air Service and flew SPAD XIII fighters (see NASM collection) in the 103rd Aero Squadron, 3rd Pursuit Group, at Issoudon, France, from August 27, 1918, to the Armistice. He was credited with downing one enemy aircraft in aerial combat. After the war, Eaton founded the Soaring Society of America and became that organization’s first president.

Gift of Mrs. Genevieve J. Eaton.

Manufacturer:
Bowlus-Dupont Sailplane Company

Date:
1933

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Wingspan: 18.8 m (61 ft 9 in)
Length: 7.2 m (23 ft 7 in)
Height: 1.6 m (5 ft 4 in)
Weight: Empty, 153 kg (340 lb) Gross, 236 kg (520 lb)

Materials:
Originally skinned with mahogany and covered with lightweight cotton "glider cloth," then covered with a shellac-based varnish. In 2000, restorers removed original fabric and shellac coating, recovered with Grade A cotton fabric followed by several coats of nitrate dope, then lemon shellac, finishing with several coats of Johnson Wax.

Physical Description:
Monoplane glider with strut-braced, gull-type wing mounted high on monocoque fuselage; wooden construction with steel and aluminum fittings and controls; fuselage and wing leading edge covered with mahogany plywood. Fuselage skin applied over laminated Spruce bulkheads. Landing gear consists of single-wheel and …. [size?] tire mounted beneath forward fuselage, spring-steel tail skid beneath rudder.

Cockpit covered with hood made from laminated Spruce bulkheads and covered with Mahogany plywood. Circular openings cut into hood on either side of pilot’s head. Instrumentation: altimeter, airspeed, variometer plus a bank-and-turn indicator powered by low-speed venturi tube installed on retractable mount beneath right wingroot.

Areas aft of wing spar and all control surfaces covered with glider cloth. Cloth is doped directly onto ribs and plywood skin without stitching for smooth finish. Constant-chord wing from fuselage to mid-span, tapered profile from mid-span to wingtip; constant-chord,
split-trailing edge flaps and high-aspect ratio ailerons. A Gö 549 airfoil is used at the wing root, becoming symmetrical at the tip.

All-flying elevator mounted on duraluminum torque-tube, rudder hinged to box-beam post, both surfaces built up from Spruce and covered with glider cloth.

Long Description:
Long before he designed and built the Bowlus-DuPont "Falcon," William Hawley Bowlus had contributed to aviation history. In 1926, T. Claude Ryan hired him as factory manager at the Ryan Airlines, Inc., plant at San Diego, California. Late in February 1927, Bowlus and twenty Ryan workmen, supervised by chief engineer Donald A. Hall and Charles A. Lindbergh, built a long-range monoplane based on the Ryan M-2. Lindbergh christened the modified M-2 the "Spirit of St. Louis." It is said that Bowlus suggested several design features that Lindbergh approved and incorporated in the finished airplane. Bowlus renewed his friendship with Lindbergh late in 1929. He taught the ocean flyer and his wife, Anne Morrow, to fly sailplanes and in January 1930, both Charles and Anne completed their first solo glider flights.

Hawley Bowlus developed the Senior Albatross series from a design that he called the Bowlus Super Sailplane. In Germany, designers and pilots led the world in building and flying high-performance gliders and Bowlus was strongly influenced by their work. He and German glider pioneer, Martin Schempp, taught courses in aircraft design and construction at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, California. The two instructors led a group of students who built the Super Sailplane in 1932. The Super Sailplane served as a prototype for the Senior Albatross. The wing of the Super was nearly a copy of the German "Wein" sailplane designed and flown with great success in 1930 and 1931 by Robert Kronfeld. Both gliders employed the same Goettingen 549 wing airfoil and even the tips of the control surfaces curved to almost identical contours. When Bowlus built the Senior Albatross series, the cockpit enclosure closely resembled another record-setting and influential German sailplane, the "Fafnir," designed by Alexander Lippisch specifically for pilot Gunther Groenhoff.

Richard C. du Pont was also an important character in the history of the Senior Albatross. By the time he finished high school, this heir to the Delaware-based chemical empire could fly gliders with some skill. During his first year at the University of Virginia, he founded a campus soaring club. His passion for motorless flight drew him farther away from traditional academics and in 1932, he transferred to the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute. Du Pont was probably among the students who built the Super Albatross.

In 1933, du Pont teamed with Hawley Bowlus and the two men set up shop in San Fernando, California, to build gliders. Bowlus furnished the design expertise and performed much of the construction. Du Pont supplied enthusiasm, labor, and financing. The Bowlus-DuPont Sailplane Company became an official entity in 1934 not in California, but in Delaware. The firm folded in September 1936 but during its short corporate life, the small factory built four examples of the Senior Albatross but no two were constructed exactly alike. All four sailplanes did have ‘gull’ wings (each wing was bent down slightly at about mid-span) and this feature differentiates these airplanes from the prototype Super Sailplane. Bowlus fitted two with wing flaps, rather than spoilers, for better speed and altitude control during landing. Mahogany plywood skinned one and spruce plywood covered the other three aircraft. Bowlus sold each of these handcrafted airplanes for ,500.

In 1935, Hawley Bowlus began work on a two-seat Senior Albatross built from aluminum but other distractions delayed completion until 1940. In 1939, Ernest Langley and Jim Gough built another Senior Albatross at the Bowlus ranch in California.

Performance calculations revealed a best glide ratio of 23:1 when flying at 64.4 kph (40 mph). If it became necessary, the pilot of a Senior Albatross could push his mount well over 161 kph (100 mph) as long as he never exceeded a speed of 241.5 kph (150 mph). With an accomplished pilot at the controls, the Senior Albatross could fly better than any American airplane without a motor and they were very pleasing to look at too. A quotation from the July 1934 issue of "Aviation," a popular periodical, sums up one writer’s impressions of the Bowlus-Du Pont Senior Albatross:

"Few flying machines have ever exhibited such an extraordinary combination of workmanship, finish, and aerodynamic refinement, so that it seems quite safe to say that the new ships represent the ultimate in soaring design practice in the United States, if not the world."

The pilots who flew the Senior Albatross nearly dominated American competitive soaring. In 1933, Richard du Pont flew the first Senior Albatross at the fourth U. S. National Soaring Championships held at Elmira, New York. On September 21, du Pont set the American sailplane distance record by flying 196 km (121.6 miles). On June 25, 1934, he flew to within 3.2 km (2 miles) of New York City and established a new world distance record of 254 km (158 miles). On June 30, 1934, du Pont set the U. S. altitude record for sailplanes by climbing to 1,892 m (6,223 ft). The following year, Lewin Barringer soared his Senior Albatross parallel to the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains for 250.3 km (155.5 miles).

In May 1934, Warren E. Eaton acquired from Hawley Bowlus the Senior Albatross that is now preserved at NASM. Eaton was already a veteran aviator. He had joined the U. S. Army Air Service and flew SPAD XIII fighters (see NASM collection) in the 103rd Aero Squadron, 3rd Pursuit Group, at Issoudon, France, from August 27, 1918, until Armistice Day, November 11. He was credited with downing one enemy aircraft in aerial combat. After the war, Eaton founded the Soaring Society of America and became that organization’s first president.

Eaton had commissioned Bowlus to build this glider after he saw Richard C. du Pont fly the second Senior Albatross at the U. S. Nationals the year before. Eaton’s ordered flaps for his aircraft and it was the only Senior Albatross skinned with mahogany plywood. He christened it "Falcon" and it bore the federal aircraft registration number G13763. Several gold decals edged in black also appeared at various locations on the fuselage. "Warren E. Eaton" and "Falcon" appeared on both sides of the nose. A stylized albatross and the company motto "On the Wings of an Albatross" were applied to the vertical fin above the words "Bowlus-Du Pont Sailplane Company."

Eaton first flew the glider at San Diego. In June, he brought it to the national contest at Harris Hill, New York. At Big Meadows, Virginia, Eaton set the American soaring altitude record, 2,765 m (9,094 ft), during September 1934. Three months later, Eaton died in Florida flying a Franklin p glider.

In 1935, Warren Eaton’s widow, Genevieve, donated the "Falcon" to the Smithsonian Institution. It arrived in Washington on May 28 and a few days later, museum personnel suspended the glider from the ceiling of the West Hall of the Arts and Industries Building where it remained on display for many years.

• • • • •

See more photos of this, and the Wikipedia article.

Details, quoting from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird:

No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated globally in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71, the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War.

This Blackbird accrued about 2,800 hours of flight time during 24 years of active service with the U.S. Air Force. On its last flight, March 6, 1990, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 kilometers (2,124 miles) per hour. At the flight’s conclusion, they landed at Washington-Dulles International Airport and turned the airplane over to the Smithsonian.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

Designer:
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson

Date:
1964

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Overall: 18ft 5 15/16in. x 55ft 7in. x 107ft 5in., 169998.5lb. (5.638m x 16.942m x 32.741m, 77110.8kg)
Other: 18ft 5 15/16in. x 107ft 5in. x 55ft 7in. (5.638m x 32.741m x 16.942m)

Materials:
Titanium

Physical Description:
Twin-engine, two-seat, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft; airframe constructed largley of titanium and its alloys; vertical tail fins are constructed of a composite (laminated plastic-type material) to reduce radar cross-section; Pratt and Whitney J58 (JT11D-20B) turbojet engines feature large inlet shock cones.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird port panorama

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird port panorama
Virginia Network
Image by Chris Devers
See more photos of this, and the Wikipedia article.

Details, quoting from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird:

No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated globally in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71, the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War.

This Blackbird accrued about 2,800 hours of flight time during 24 years of active service with the U.S. Air Force. On its last flight, March 6, 1990, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 kilometers (2,124 miles) per hour. At the flight’s conclusion, they landed at Washington-Dulles International Airport and turned the airplane over to the Smithsonian.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

Designer:
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson

Date:
1964

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Overall: 18ft 5 15/16in. x 55ft 7in. x 107ft 5in., 169998.5lb. (5.638m x 16.942m x 32.741m, 77110.8kg)
Other: 18ft 5 15/16in. x 107ft 5in. x 55ft 7in. (5.638m x 32.741m x 16.942m)

Materials:
Titanium

Physical Description:
Twin-engine, two-seat, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft; airframe constructed largley of titanium and its alloys; vertical tail fins are constructed of a composite (laminated plastic-type material) to reduce radar cross-section; Pratt and Whitney J58 (JT11D-20B) turbojet engines feature large inlet shock cones.

Long Description:
No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71 Blackbird. It is the fastest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War. The airplane was conceived when tensions with communist Eastern Europe reached levels approaching a full-blown crisis in the mid-1950s. U.S. military commanders desperately needed accurate assessments of Soviet worldwide military deployments, particularly near the Iron Curtain. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s subsonic U-2 (see NASM collection) reconnaissance aircraft was an able platform but the U. S. Air Force recognized that this relatively slow aircraft was already vulnerable to Soviet interceptors. They also understood that the rapid development of surface-to-air missile systems could put U-2 pilots at grave risk. The danger proved reality when a U-2 was shot down by a surface to air missile over the Soviet Union in 1960.

Lockheed’s first proposal for a new high speed, high altitude, reconnaissance aircraft, to be capable of avoiding interceptors and missiles, centered on a design propelled by liquid hydrogen. This proved to be impracticable because of considerable fuel consumption. Lockheed then reconfigured the design for conventional fuels. This was feasible and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), already flying the Lockheed U-2, issued a production contract for an aircraft designated the A-12. Lockheed’s clandestine ‘Skunk Works’ division (headed by the gifted design engineer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson) designed the A-12 to cruise at Mach 3.2 and fly well above 18,288 m (60,000 feet). To meet these challenging requirements, Lockheed engineers overcame many daunting technical challenges. Flying more than three times the speed of sound generates 316° C (600° F) temperatures on external aircraft surfaces, which are enough to melt conventional aluminum airframes. The design team chose to make the jet’s external skin of titanium alloy to which shielded the internal aluminum airframe. Two conventional, but very powerful, afterburning turbine engines propelled this remarkable aircraft. These power plants had to operate across a huge speed envelope in flight, from a takeoff speed of 334 kph (207 mph) to more than 3,540 kph (2,200 mph). To prevent supersonic shock waves from moving inside the engine intake causing flameouts, Johnson’s team had to design a complex air intake and bypass system for the engines.

Skunk Works engineers also optimized the A-12 cross-section design to exhibit a low radar profile. Lockheed hoped to achieve this by carefully shaping the airframe to reflect as little transmitted radar energy (radio waves) as possible, and by application of special paint designed to absorb, rather than reflect, those waves. This treatment became one of the first applications of stealth technology, but it never completely met the design goals.

Test pilot Lou Schalk flew the single-seat A-12 on April 24, 1962, after he became airborne accidentally during high-speed taxi trials. The airplane showed great promise but it needed considerable technical refinement before the CIA could fly the first operational sortie on May 31, 1967 – a surveillance flight over North Vietnam. A-12s, flown by CIA pilots, operated as part of the Air Force’s 1129th Special Activities Squadron under the "Oxcart" program. While Lockheed continued to refine the A-12, the U. S. Air Force ordered an interceptor version of the aircraft designated the YF-12A. The Skunk Works, however, proposed a "specific mission" version configured to conduct post-nuclear strike reconnaissance. This system evolved into the USAF’s familiar SR-71.

Lockheed built fifteen A-12s, including a special two-seat trainer version. Two A-12s were modified to carry a special reconnaissance drone, designated D-21. The modified A-12s were redesignated M-21s. These were designed to take off with the D-21 drone, powered by a Marquart ramjet engine mounted on a pylon between the rudders. The M-21 then hauled the drone aloft and launched it at speeds high enough to ignite the drone’s ramjet motor. Lockheed also built three YF-12As but this type never went into production. Two of the YF-12As crashed during testing. Only one survives and is on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The aft section of one of the "written off" YF-12As which was later used along with an SR-71A static test airframe to manufacture the sole SR-71C trainer. One SR-71 was lent to NASA and designated YF-12C. Including the SR-71C and two SR-71B pilot trainers, Lockheed constructed thirty-two Blackbirds. The first SR-71 flew on December 22, 1964. Because of extreme operational costs, military strategists decided that the more capable USAF SR-71s should replace the CIA’s A-12s. These were retired in 1968 after only one year of operational missions, mostly over southeast Asia. The Air Force’s 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (part of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing) took over the missions, flying the SR-71 beginning in the spring of 1968.

After the Air Force began to operate the SR-71, it acquired the official name Blackbird– for the special black paint that covered the airplane. This paint was formulated to absorb radar signals, to radiate some of the tremendous airframe heat generated by air friction, and to camouflage the aircraft against the dark sky at high altitudes.

Experience gained from the A-12 program convinced the Air Force that flying the SR-71 safely required two crew members, a pilot and a Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO). The RSO operated with the wide array of monitoring and defensive systems installed on the airplane. This equipment included a sophisticated Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) system that could jam most acquisition and targeting radar. In addition to an array of advanced, high-resolution cameras, the aircraft could also carry equipment designed to record the strength, frequency, and wavelength of signals emitted by communications and sensor devices such as radar. The SR-71 was designed to fly deep into hostile territory, avoiding interception with its tremendous speed and high altitude. It could operate safely at a maximum speed of Mach 3.3 at an altitude more than sixteen miles, or 25,908 m (85,000 ft), above the earth. The crew had to wear pressure suits similar to those worn by astronauts. These suits were required to protect the crew in the event of sudden cabin pressure loss while at operating altitudes.

To climb and cruise at supersonic speeds, the Blackbird’s Pratt & Whitney J-58 engines were designed to operate continuously in afterburner. While this would appear to dictate high fuel flows, the Blackbird actually achieved its best "gas mileage," in terms of air nautical miles per pound of fuel burned, during the Mach 3+ cruise. A typical Blackbird reconnaissance flight might require several aerial refueling operations from an airborne tanker. Each time the SR-71 refueled, the crew had to descend to the tanker’s altitude, usually about 6,000 m to 9,000 m (20,000 to 30,000 ft), and slow the airplane to subsonic speeds. As velocity decreased, so did frictional heat. This cooling effect caused the aircraft’s skin panels to shrink considerably, and those covering the fuel tanks contracted so much that fuel leaked, forming a distinctive vapor trail as the tanker topped off the Blackbird. As soon as the tanks were filled, the jet’s crew disconnected from the tanker, relit the afterburners, and again climbed to high altitude.

Air Force pilots flew the SR-71 from Kadena AB, Japan, throughout its operational career but other bases hosted Blackbird operations, too. The 9th SRW occasionally deployed from Beale AFB, California, to other locations to carryout operational missions. Cuban missions were flown directly from Beale. The SR-71 did not begin to operate in Europe until 1974, and then only temporarily. In 1982, when the U.S. Air Force based two aircraft at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall to fly monitoring mission in Eastern Europe.

When the SR-71 became operational, orbiting reconnaissance satellites had already replaced manned aircraft to gather intelligence from sites deep within Soviet territory. Satellites could not cover every geopolitical hotspot so the Blackbird remained a vital tool for global intelligence gathering. On many occasions, pilots and RSOs flying the SR-71 provided information that proved vital in formulating successful U. S. foreign policy. Blackbird crews provided important intelligence about the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and its aftermath, and pre- and post-strike imagery of the 1986 raid conducted by American air forces on Libya. In 1987, Kadena-based SR-71 crews flew a number of missions over the Persian Gulf, revealing Iranian Silkworm missile batteries that threatened commercial shipping and American escort vessels.

As the performance of space-based surveillance systems grew, along with the effectiveness of ground-based air defense networks, the Air Force started to lose enthusiasm for the expensive program and the 9th SRW ceased SR-71 operations in January 1990. Despite protests by military leaders, Congress revived the program in 1995. Continued wrangling over operating budgets, however, soon led to final termination. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration retained two SR-71As and the one SR-71B for high-speed research projects and flew these airplanes until 1999.

On March 6, 1990, the service career of one Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird ended with a record-setting flight. This special airplane bore Air Force serial number 64-17972. Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding and his RSO, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Vida, flew this aircraft from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging a speed of 3,418 kph (2,124 mph). At the conclusion of the flight, ‘972 landed at Dulles International Airport and taxied into the custody of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. At that time, Lt. Col. Vida had logged 1,392.7 hours of flight time in Blackbirds, more than that of any other crewman.

This particular SR-71 was also flown by Tom Alison, a former National Air and Space Museum’s Chief of Collections Management. Flying with Detachment 1 at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Alison logged more than a dozen ‘972 operational sorties. The aircraft spent twenty-four years in active Air Force service and accrued a total of 2,801.1 hours of flight time.

Wingspan: 55’7"
Length: 107’5"
Height: 18’6"
Weight: 170,000 Lbs

Reference and Further Reading:

Crickmore, Paul F. Lockheed SR-71: The Secret Missions Exposed. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1996.

Francillon, Rene J. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

Johnson, Clarence L. Kelly: More Than My Share of It All. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985.

Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Leicester, U.K.: Midland Counties Publishing Ltd., 1995.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird curatorial file, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum.

DAD, 11-11-01

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird panorama

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird panorama
Virginia Network
Image by Chris Devers
See more photos of this, and the Wikipedia article.

Details, quoting from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum | Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird:

No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated globally in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71, the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War.

This Blackbird accrued about 2,800 hours of flight time during 24 years of active service with the U.S. Air Force. On its last flight, March 6, 1990, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 kilometers (2,124 miles) per hour. At the flight’s conclusion, they landed at Washington-Dulles International Airport and turned the airplane over to the Smithsonian.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Manufacturer:
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

Designer:
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson

Date:
1964

Country of Origin:
United States of America

Dimensions:
Overall: 18ft 5 15/16in. x 55ft 7in. x 107ft 5in., 169998.5lb. (5.638m x 16.942m x 32.741m, 77110.8kg)
Other: 18ft 5 15/16in. x 107ft 5in. x 55ft 7in. (5.638m x 32.741m x 16.942m)

Materials:
Titanium

Physical Description:
Twin-engine, two-seat, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft; airframe constructed largley of titanium and its alloys; vertical tail fins are constructed of a composite (laminated plastic-type material) to reduce radar cross-section; Pratt and Whitney J58 (JT11D-20B) turbojet engines feature large inlet shock cones.

Long Description:
No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71 Blackbird. It is the fastest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War. The airplane was conceived when tensions with communist Eastern Europe reached levels approaching a full-blown crisis in the mid-1950s. U.S. military commanders desperately needed accurate assessments of Soviet worldwide military deployments, particularly near the Iron Curtain. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s subsonic U-2 (see NASM collection) reconnaissance aircraft was an able platform but the U. S. Air Force recognized that this relatively slow aircraft was already vulnerable to Soviet interceptors. They also understood that the rapid development of surface-to-air missile systems could put U-2 pilots at grave risk. The danger proved reality when a U-2 was shot down by a surface to air missile over the Soviet Union in 1960.

Lockheed’s first proposal for a new high speed, high altitude, reconnaissance aircraft, to be capable of avoiding interceptors and missiles, centered on a design propelled by liquid hydrogen. This proved to be impracticable because of considerable fuel consumption. Lockheed then reconfigured the design for conventional fuels. This was feasible and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), already flying the Lockheed U-2, issued a production contract for an aircraft designated the A-12. Lockheed’s clandestine ‘Skunk Works’ division (headed by the gifted design engineer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson) designed the A-12 to cruise at Mach 3.2 and fly well above 18,288 m (60,000 feet). To meet these challenging requirements, Lockheed engineers overcame many daunting technical challenges. Flying more than three times the speed of sound generates 316° C (600° F) temperatures on external aircraft surfaces, which are enough to melt conventional aluminum airframes. The design team chose to make the jet’s external skin of titanium alloy to which shielded the internal aluminum airframe. Two conventional, but very powerful, afterburning turbine engines propelled this remarkable aircraft. These power plants had to operate across a huge speed envelope in flight, from a takeoff speed of 334 kph (207 mph) to more than 3,540 kph (2,200 mph). To prevent supersonic shock waves from moving inside the engine intake causing flameouts, Johnson’s team had to design a complex air intake and bypass system for the engines.

Skunk Works engineers also optimized the A-12 cross-section design to exhibit a low radar profile. Lockheed hoped to achieve this by carefully shaping the airframe to reflect as little transmitted radar energy (radio waves) as possible, and by application of special paint designed to absorb, rather than reflect, those waves. This treatment became one of the first applications of stealth technology, but it never completely met the design goals.

Test pilot Lou Schalk flew the single-seat A-12 on April 24, 1962, after he became airborne accidentally during high-speed taxi trials. The airplane showed great promise but it needed considerable technical refinement before the CIA could fly the first operational sortie on May 31, 1967 – a surveillance flight over North Vietnam. A-12s, flown by CIA pilots, operated as part of the Air Force’s 1129th Special Activities Squadron under the "Oxcart" program. While Lockheed continued to refine the A-12, the U. S. Air Force ordered an interceptor version of the aircraft designated the YF-12A. The Skunk Works, however, proposed a "specific mission" version configured to conduct post-nuclear strike reconnaissance. This system evolved into the USAF’s familiar SR-71.

Lockheed built fifteen A-12s, including a special two-seat trainer version. Two A-12s were modified to carry a special reconnaissance drone, designated D-21. The modified A-12s were redesignated M-21s. These were designed to take off with the D-21 drone, powered by a Marquart ramjet engine mounted on a pylon between the rudders. The M-21 then hauled the drone aloft and launched it at speeds high enough to ignite the drone’s ramjet motor. Lockheed also built three YF-12As but this type never went into production. Two of the YF-12As crashed during testing. Only one survives and is on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The aft section of one of the "written off" YF-12As which was later used along with an SR-71A static test airframe to manufacture the sole SR-71C trainer. One SR-71 was lent to NASA and designated YF-12C. Including the SR-71C and two SR-71B pilot trainers, Lockheed constructed thirty-two Blackbirds. The first SR-71 flew on December 22, 1964. Because of extreme operational costs, military strategists decided that the more capable USAF SR-71s should replace the CIA’s A-12s. These were retired in 1968 after only one year of operational missions, mostly over southeast Asia. The Air Force’s 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (part of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing) took over the missions, flying the SR-71 beginning in the spring of 1968.

After the Air Force began to operate the SR-71, it acquired the official name Blackbird– for the special black paint that covered the airplane. This paint was formulated to absorb radar signals, to radiate some of the tremendous airframe heat generated by air friction, and to camouflage the aircraft against the dark sky at high altitudes.

Experience gained from the A-12 program convinced the Air Force that flying the SR-71 safely required two crew members, a pilot and a Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO). The RSO operated with the wide array of monitoring and defensive systems installed on the airplane. This equipment included a sophisticated Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) system that could jam most acquisition and targeting radar. In addition to an array of advanced, high-resolution cameras, the aircraft could also carry equipment designed to record the strength, frequency, and wavelength of signals emitted by communications and sensor devices such as radar. The SR-71 was designed to fly deep into hostile territory, avoiding interception with its tremendous speed and high altitude. It could operate safely at a maximum speed of Mach 3.3 at an altitude more than sixteen miles, or 25,908 m (85,000 ft), above the earth. The crew had to wear pressure suits similar to those worn by astronauts. These suits were required to protect the crew in the event of sudden cabin pressure loss while at operating altitudes.

To climb and cruise at supersonic speeds, the Blackbird’s Pratt & Whitney J-58 engines were designed to operate continuously in afterburner. While this would appear to dictate high fuel flows, the Blackbird actually achieved its best "gas mileage," in terms of air nautical miles per pound of fuel burned, during the Mach 3+ cruise. A typical Blackbird reconnaissance flight might require several aerial refueling operations from an airborne tanker. Each time the SR-71 refueled, the crew had to descend to the tanker’s altitude, usually about 6,000 m to 9,000 m (20,000 to 30,000 ft), and slow the airplane to subsonic speeds. As velocity decreased, so did frictional heat. This cooling effect caused the aircraft’s skin panels to shrink considerably, and those covering the fuel tanks contracted so much that fuel leaked, forming a distinctive vapor trail as the tanker topped off the Blackbird. As soon as the tanks were filled, the jet’s crew disconnected from the tanker, relit the afterburners, and again climbed to high altitude.

Air Force pilots flew the SR-71 from Kadena AB, Japan, throughout its operational career but other bases hosted Blackbird operations, too. The 9th SRW occasionally deployed from Beale AFB, California, to other locations to carryout operational missions. Cuban missions were flown directly from Beale. The SR-71 did not begin to operate in Europe until 1974, and then only temporarily. In 1982, when the U.S. Air Force based two aircraft at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall to fly monitoring mission in Eastern Europe.

When the SR-71 became operational, orbiting reconnaissance satellites had already replaced manned aircraft to gather intelligence from sites deep within Soviet territory. Satellites could not cover every geopolitical hotspot so the Blackbird remained a vital tool for global intelligence gathering. On many occasions, pilots and RSOs flying the SR-71 provided information that proved vital in formulating successful U. S. foreign policy. Blackbird crews provided important intelligence about the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and its aftermath, and pre- and post-strike imagery of the 1986 raid conducted by American air forces on Libya. In 1987, Kadena-based SR-71 crews flew a number of missions over the Persian Gulf, revealing Iranian Silkworm missile batteries that threatened commercial shipping and American escort vessels.

As the performance of space-based surveillance systems grew, along with the effectiveness of ground-based air defense networks, the Air Force started to lose enthusiasm for the expensive program and the 9th SRW ceased SR-71 operations in January 1990. Despite protests by military leaders, Congress revived the program in 1995. Continued wrangling over operating budgets, however, soon led to final termination. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration retained two SR-71As and the one SR-71B for high-speed research projects and flew these airplanes until 1999.

On March 6, 1990, the service career of one Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird ended with a record-setting flight. This special airplane bore Air Force serial number 64-17972. Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding and his RSO, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Vida, flew this aircraft from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging a speed of 3,418 kph (2,124 mph). At the conclusion of the flight, ‘972 landed at Dulles International Airport and taxied into the custody of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. At that time, Lt. Col. Vida had logged 1,392.7 hours of flight time in Blackbirds, more than that of any other crewman.

This particular SR-71 was also flown by Tom Alison, a former National Air and Space Museum’s Chief of Collections Management. Flying with Detachment 1 at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Alison logged more than a dozen ‘972 operational sorties. The aircraft spent twenty-four years in active Air Force service and accrued a total of 2,801.1 hours of flight time.

Wingspan: 55’7"
Length: 107’5"
Height: 18’6"
Weight: 170,000 Lbs

Reference and Further Reading:

Crickmore, Paul F. Lockheed SR-71: The Secret Missions Exposed. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1996.

Francillon, Rene J. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

Johnson, Clarence L. Kelly: More Than My Share of It All. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985.

Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Leicester, U.K.: Midland Counties Publishing Ltd., 1995.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird curatorial file, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum.

DAD, 11-11-01