Fifty-five years ago today, Project Mercury Astronaut John Herschel Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn’s spacecraft name and mission call sign was Friendship 7.
Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) lifted-off from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 14 at 14:47:39 UTC on Tuesday, 20 February 1962. It was the first time that the Atlas LV-3B booster was used for a manned spaceflight.
Three-hundred and twenty seconds after lift-off, Friendship 7 achieved an elliptical orbit measuring 143 nm (apogee) by 86 nm (perigee). Orbital inclination and period were 32.5 degrees and 88.5 minutes, respectively.
The most compelling moments in the United States’ first manned orbital mission centered around a sensor indication that Glenn’s heatshield and landing bag had become loose at the beginning of his second orbit. If true, Glenn would be incinerated during entry.
Concern for Glenn’s welfare persisted for the remainder of the flight and a decision was made to retain his retro package following completion of the retro-fire sequence. It was hoped that the 3 flimsy straps holding the retro package would also hold the heatshield in place.
During Glenn’s return to the atmosphere, both the spent retro package and its restraining straps melted in the searing heat of re-entry. Glenn saw chunks of flaming debris passing by his spacecraft window. At one point he radioed, “That’s a real fireball outside”.
Happily, the spacecraft’s heatshield held during entry and the landing bag deployed nominally. There had never really been a problem. The sensor indication was found to be false.
Friendship 7 splashed-down in the Atlantic Ocean at a point 432 nm east of Cape Canaveral at 19:43:02 UTC. John Glenn had orbited the Earth 3 times during a mission which lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds. In short order, spacecraft and astronaut were successfully recovered aboard the USS Noa.
John Glenn became a national hero in the aftermath of his 3-orbit mission aboard Friendship 7. It seemed that just about every newspaper page in the days following his flight carried some sort of story about his historic fete. Indeed, it is difficult for those not around back in 1962 to fully comprehend the immensity of Glenn’s flight in terms of what it meant to the United States.
John Herschel Glenn, Jr. passed away on 08 December 2016 at the age of 95. His trusty Friendship 7 spacecraft is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Fifty-eight years ago this month, the U.S. Navy’s first production Martin P6M-2 SeaMaster flyingboat took-off from Chesapeake Bay on its maiden flight. Martin chief test pilot George A. Rodney was at the controls of the 4-man, swept-wing naval bomber as it took to the skies on Tuesday, 17 February 1959.
Featuring a fuselage length of 134 feet, wingspan of 102 feet, and a wing leading edge sweep of 40 degrees, the P6M-2 had a GTOW of about 175,000 lbs. Armament included an ordnance load of 30,000 lbs and twin 20 mm, tail-mounted cannon. Power was provided by a quartet of Pratt and Whitney J75-P-2 turbojets; each delivering a maximum sea level thrust of 17,500 lbs.
The SeaMaster’s demonstrated top speed at sea level was in excess of Mach 0.90. This on-the-deck performance is comparable to that of the USAF/Rockwell B-1B Lancer and USAF/Northrup B-2 Spirit and exceeds that of the USAF/Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
P6M pilots reported that the swept-wing ship handled well below 5,000 feet when flying at Mach numbers between 0.95 and 0.99. While designed for low altitude bombing and mine-laying, the aircraft was flown as high as 52,000 feet. As a result, the Navy even considered the SeaMaster as a nuclear weapons platform.
Despite the type’s impressive performance and capabilities, the SeaMaster Program was cancelled in August of 1959. Budgetary issues and the emerging Fleet Ballistic Missile System (Polaris-Poseidon-Trident) led to this decision. Loss of the P6M SeaMaster Program was devastating to the Glenn L. Martin Company and resulted in this notable aerospace business never again producing another aircraft.
Forty-two years ago this month, a USAF/McDonnell-Douglas F-15A Eagle Air Superiority Fighter zoomed to an altitude of 30 km (98,425 feet) in an elapsed time of 207.8 seconds from brake release. The pilot for the record-breaking mission was USAF Major Roger Smith.
Operation Streak Eagle was a mid-1970′s effort by the United States Air Force to set eight (8) separate time-to-climb records using the then-new McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Air Superiority Fighter. These record-setting flights originated from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Starting on Thursday, 16 January 1975, the 19th pre-production F-15 Eagle aircraft (S/N 72-0119) was used to establish the following time-to-climb records during Operation Streak Eagle:
3 km, 16 January 1975, 27.57 seconds, Major Roger Smith
6 km, 16 January 1975, 39.33 seconds, Major Willard Macfarlane
9 km, 16 January 1975, 48.86 seconds, Major Willard Macfarlane
12 km, 16 January 1975, 59.38 seconds, Major Willard Macfarlane
15 km, 16 January 1975, 77.02 seconds, Major David Peterson
20 km, 19 January 1975, 122.94 seconds, Major Roger Smith
25 km, 26 January 1975, 161.02 seconds, Major David Peterson
The eighth and final time-to-climb record attempt of Operation Streak Eagle took place on Saturday, 01 February 1975. The goal was to set a new time-to-climb record to 30 km. The pilot was required to wear a full pressure suit for this mission.
At a gross take-off weight of 31,908 pounds, the Streak Eagle aircraft had a thrust-to-weight ratio in excess of 1.4. The aircraft was restrained via a hold-down device as the two Pratt and Whitney F100 turbofan engines were spooled-up to full afterburner.
Following hold-down and brake release, the Streak Eagle quickly accelerated during a low level transition following take-off. At Mach 0.65, Smith pulled the aircraft into a 2.5-g Immelman. The Streak Eagle completed this maneuver 56 seconds from brake release at Mach 1.1 and 9.75 km. Rolling the aircraft upright, Smith continued to accelerate the Streak Eagle in a shallow climb.
At an elapsed time of 151 seconds and with the aircraft at Mach 2.2 and 11.3 km, Smith executed a 4-g pull to a 60-degree zoom climb. The Steak Eagle passed through 30 km at Mach 0.7 in an elapsed time of 207.8 seconds. The apex of the zoom trajectory was about 31.4 km. With a new record in hand, Smith uneventfully recovered the aircraft to Grand Forks AFB.
Operation Streak Eagle ended with the capturing of the 30 km time-to-climb record. In December 1980, the aircraft was retired to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It is currently held in storage at the Museum and no longer on public display.