Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Articles

Swords to Plowshares

In Uncategorized on November 17, 2018 by hillermuseum

Pictured here from right to left: the donor Paul Seipp, Museum CEO Jeff Bass, and the FAA ferry pilot Rob Davids and his son.

The Fighting Heritage of the Aero Commander

By Jon Welte

Not long after the deafening roar of the final Schneider Trophy race echoed away, the state of the art in aeronautics was once again being advanced faster and farther. This time, the catalyst was war, not peace – authoritarian governments gained power in Europe and Asia, and across the world nations began to rearm once more. The value of air power had been established indisputably in World War I, and in the ensuing decades advancements made in air racing and also with long range flights such as Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 demonstrated that control of the air would be an essential prerequisite for success in future conflicts.

Despite much isolationist sentiment, the United States sought better aircraft for defense in the late 1930s as well, and thanks in part to the racing era was in a far stronger position to innovate than two decades earlier. In 1937, as the Luftwaffe reinvented aerial warfare in the skies over Spain and the airmen of Japan did their emperor’s bidding high above China, three particularly talented American engineers combined their efforts to conceive an all-new design.

The project, internally named Model 7A, was led by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Conceived by legendary designers Jack Northrop, Ed Heinemann, and Donald Douglas himself, the goal was to build a high speed bomber able to fly in contested airspace. The initial design fixed several key features in place – twin engines, a shoulder-mounted wing, and wing planform with a distinct reverse sweep along the trailing edge. While projected performance was impressive compared to contemporary US bombers such as the Martin B-10, the engines available at the time could not make the aircraft competitive with newly emerging threats such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 then making a devastating debut in combat.

Before long, the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine became available for the aircraft, more than doubling available horsepower. Now led by Ed Heinemann, the Douglas team created an improved Model 7B and submitted it as part of a US Army tender for a new attack plane. The Douglas team lost out to North American Aviation, which went on to build the B-25. However, the competition had been observed with great interest by French representatives. In short order the French Air Force placed an order for the new airplane redesignated DB-7, or Douglas Bomber 7. Production begun just as France entered World War II. Only threescore aircraft had been delivered when the German invasion of France began in earnest in 1940, and while they were among the most sophisticated bombers available to the French, they and the rest of the Armee de l’Air were overwhelmed as the French Army retreated before the German blitzkrieg.

Many DB-7s remained to be delivered when France surrendered to Germany in 1940. Those deliveries were diverted to Great Britain, where they saw service as the Boston I and Boston II. The Royal Air Force had a substantial stable of medium bombers available during the conflict, and employed its Bostons largely in night fighting and ground attack roles. One of the most unique variants was the Turbinlite modification, which essentially turned the aircraft into an enormous flying flashlight for use in illuminating German bombers at night.

Great Britain purchased many additional DB-7s during the war, as did other Allied nations. The United States ultimately adopted the type as well, designating it the A-20 Havoc. Used as a bomber, intruder and night fighter, the A-20 contributed to the war effort on behalf of many nations in theaters all around the globe.

Even as the A-20 went to war, a small group of Douglas engineers conceived of a role for the aircraft in the coming time of peace. Working after hours under the leadership of Douglas engineer Ted Smith, this scratch team designed a smaller airplane sharing many of the A-20’s distinctive design features. The Aero Design and Engineering Company was formed specifically to build the airplane and bring it to market. The prototype flew in 1948, and the first production model – the Aero Commander 520 – was built in 1951.

Originally conceived as a small, 7-passenger airliner for use serving secondary airports, the Aero Commander quickly found favor as a corporate transport. Able to carry up to seven passengers at 200 mph across distances of 1,000 miles per more, the Aero Commander was an ideal vehicle for executives and small business owners seeking to maximize their time while traversing the open spaces of 1950s-era America in pursuit of commerce. The Aero Commander’s military heritage also helped it achieve excellent performance when operating out of short airfields – a quality that led to one of its most remarkable “corporate” assignments. In 1955 the United States Air Force ordered a small force of Aero Commanders (designated U-4B in USAF service) for use as Presidential transports. Ideal for transporting President Eisenhower in and out of a small airstrip near his farm retreat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the Aero Commander was the smallest airplane to serve as Air Force One – though the now-distinctive call sign was not introduced until 1959, shortly before the retirement of both President Eisenhower and the U-4B.

The Aero Commander also gained fame as the favored steed of one of the nation’s most celebrated pilots. From 1979 to 1999, test pilot Bob Hoover piloted an Aero Commander 500U through an airshow routine that would be remarkable for any aircraft, let alone a twin-engined executive transport. Originally conceived as a means of promoting the airplane’s performance capabilities to potential buyers, Hoover’s performances culminated in an exceptional display of airmanship and aircraft energy management. Hoover would shut down both engines in flight and complete a loop, roll, approach and dead stick (unpowered) landing, often rolling back along the runway or ramp to show centerline. The last Aero Commander was produced in 1986, but Hoover continued to fly his performances until 1999.

In October 2018 the Hiller Aviation Museum welcomed a 1968 Aero Commander 500U to its collection. Generously donated by Paul Seipp, this aircraft displays many of the same design features engineered into the original, larger Douglas A-20 in 1937. Opened to the public November 21, the Hiller Aviation Museum’s Aero Commander ably demonstrates the remarkable features of an airframe first conceived more than 80 years ago.

Resources

https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/north-american-rockwell-shrike-commander-500s, Downloaded 31 Oct 2018

Forever Flying, Bob Hoover, 1997

Wreaking Havoc: A Year in an A-20, Joseph Rutter, 2003

Air Force One: A History of Presidents and Their Planes, Kenneth Walsh, 2003

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Articles

Faster and Farther

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2018 by hillermuseum

Jimmy Doolittle and the Curtiss R3C-2

Aeronautical Advancements Between the Wars
by Jon Welte

A century ago this fall – November 11, 1918 – the guns fell silent on the Western Front, bringing an end to the terrors of the Great War. Today remembered as World War I, at the end of 1918 it was known instead as the War to End All Wars – a conflict so horrendous that surely another could never succeed it. The moniker and the rationale behind it proved tragically false, but the mood in 1918 was one of optimism for the future, tinged with sad remembrance of the past.

Though no other continent suffered World War I to the extent that Europe did, the change brought by the conflict spanned the world. Aviation, still in its infancy in 1913, experienced a tremendous burst of innovation and development during the war years. When battle was first joined in 1914, the airplane was an oddity with no clear military role. By the time of the Armistice in 1918, control of the air had become an essential pre-requisite for a successful land campaign. The frail machines flown early in the war were quite similar in performance to the 1905 Wright Flyer, the machine Wilbur and Orville considered to be their first practical flying machine. In contrast, by war’s end a proliferation of advanced designs had developed, filling niches in the ecosystem of military aviation undreamed of just a few years earlier.

Military conflict on a grand scale proved to be a tremendous accelerant to the pace of technological innovation in flight. The United States did not join the conflict until 1917, and when it did its domestically-developed and built aircraft were utterly outclassed by contemporary British, French and German designs. The country that saw the invention of the airplane in 1903 did not send a single aircraft to fly on a combat mission in World War I.

Following the war, air racing quickly took on the role of catalyzing new developments in aviation. The earliest aerial speed competition was not a true race, but instead an organized set of time trials similar to an Olympic alpine skiing event. Sponsored by newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett, the Gordon Bennett Trophy was first awarded to Glenn Curtiss in 1909. Curtiss sprang to fame by besting famed French aviator Louis Bleriot by mere seconds. Racing at Reims, France at a time when French aviation was both technically advanced and a source of intense national pride, the upset victory of the jaunty American was a jolt felt in aviation circles across the continent.

The Bennett Trophy was largely eclipsed by the Schneider Trophy after World War I. Established by Jacques Schneider, the Schneider Trophy was reserved for the world’s fastest seaplanes. Today the concept of a race for seaplanes seems absurd – the floats, pontoons and ship-like fuselages required for an airplane to operate from the water add enormous amounts of drag to an airframe. Until the late 1930s, however, the drag and weight disadvantages faced by seaplanes were modest compared to the challenges faced by landplanes. Absent a global network of paved runways, landplanes usually operated from open fields. Virtually every landplane mission in the first decades of flight would be considered an STOL (short take-off and landing) flight today. Seaplanes, in contrast, had access to much longer takeoff runs in the protected waters of harbors, lakes and bays. Freed from the constraints of making short/soft field take-offs and landings, seaplanes could be optimized for high performance.

The first Schneider Trophy races preceded World War I. The 1914 race was won by one of the first aircraft designed and built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, presaging its legacy of high performance fighter aircraft. Following the war, the race series resumed in earnest in Venice, Italy, giving emergent Italian aircraft designers a chance to shine. Italians won the race in consecutive years in 1920 and 1921. The rules of the Schneider Trophy competition stipulated that a team able to win three consecutive races would keep the trophy in perpetuity, giving the Italians an opportunity for an historic win in 1922. Standing in their way was a biplane flying boat constructed by a little-known aircraft manufacturer: the Supermarine Aviation Works.

Incorporated during World War I, Supermarine struggled to field an effective design and survived the war building components for Sopwith. After the war Supermarine found its niche building small numbers of seaplanes for the Royal Navy. A Supermarine airplane first appeared at a Schneider Trophy race in 1919, but sank ingloriously after striking debris on landing. Its 1922 entry, the Sea Lion II, remained afloat and dashed the hopes of the Italians, winning the competition and returning the trophy to the United Kingdom.

Throughout the 1920s, the Schneider competition inspired pilots, aircraft designers, and entire nations with the thrill of higher and higher speeds in a technology that seemed to have no limit. The United States, consigned as an aeronautical backwater during World War I, returned to prominence with a pair of victories in the 1920s, the second flown by James “Jimmy” Doolittle. The final competition was held in 1931, as a British team won a third consecutive victory to claim the trophy for all time. The aircraft that won each of the three final races were all developed by Supermarine.

Aeronautical technology accelerated at a breakneck pace throughout World War I and the racing era. Glenn Curtiss stunned the French by winning the Gorden Bennett Trophy in Reims at the blistering speed of 47 miles per hour. The Supermarine S6 that won the final Schneider race averaged 340 miles per hour just 22 years later. While seaplanes soon faded from importance, the knowledge gained in their development did not. Supermarine adapted what it had learned to build the exceptional Supermarine Spitfire, hero of the Battle of Britain. Rolls Royce, builder of the engines that powered the S-series racers, went on to design powerplants used in many combat aircraft, including not only the Spitfire but also the later (and most effective) versions of the North American P-51 Mustang.

Today, events such as the Reno International Air Races are largely for sport. Military aviation advances in response to perceived threats around the world, while developments in commercial flight stem from unending efforts by airlines to seek competitive advantages. In the time between the wars, however, it was the quest for racing glory that drove teams around the world to design, build and fly ever faster airplanes, transforming the technology of flight and inspiring a tradition of performance in aviation that continues to this day.

Resources:
Aircraft of Air Racing’s Golden Age, Robert Hirsh, 2005
The Golden Age of Air Racing, S. H. Schmid, 1991
The Quest for Speed, Mike Roussel, 2016

Articles

Building a Dream

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2018 by hillermuseum

Stanley Hiller and the 20th Anniversary of
The Hiller Aviation Museum

by Jon Welte

Hiller Aircraft ceased to exist as an independent company in 1964, when it was purchased by and became a division of Maryland-based Fairchild Aircraft. Stanley Hiller Jr. remained involved with the merged entity for a short time, but ultimately left aerospace altogether and went on to a successful career reorganizing failed and struggling companies in a wide range of industries.

The dream of flight was one that was seldom far from Hiller’s heart, however. While the original Hiller Aircraft factory in Menlo Park was shuttered not long after the merger with Fairchild, Hiller retained many of its most iconic aircraft. As time went on, Hiller acquired a substantial collection of additional historic aircraft and aircraft replicas, many with special significance to the development of aviation in Northern California. The first “Hiller Aviation Museum” was a storage facility located in Redwood City that by the mid-1980s provided limited opportunities for public viewing of the collection. Space was limited, and by the early 1990s Hiller was planning a more appropriate venue for use as a showcase for Northern California’s contributions to aerospace.

By 1994, planning focused on a parcel of land available at San Carlos Airport. Through the first half of the 20th century San Carlos had boasted not one but two airports. Cooley Field operated alongside (and, in rainy weather, often beneath) the sloughs in modern Redwood Shores. The official San Carlos Airport was on higher ground between the Southern Pacific Railroad and Bayshore Highway. In 1950 both fields were replaced by a new San Carlos Airport at the current location, just east of the modern Bayshore Freeway. For Hiller, it seemed to many a perfect location.

Stan Hiller cultivated critical support for the new project while recruiting a team of local community and aviation leaders to help guide the organization through its foundational phase. In 1995 the San Carlos City Council provided unanimous support to the project, and on March 5, 1996, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors – responsible for administration of San Carlos Airport – did the same. Groundbreaking was held in October of that year, although in one of many Museum-related ironies the actual dirt used for the ceremonial first spade at the thoroughly-paved location was trucked in specifically for the event.

Construction was ongoing through most of 1996 and all of 1997. The Museum comprised three discrete structures: a northern building to house Museum offices, the library, and the Restoration Shop, a large, open hangar-type Gallery to house the aircraft themselves, and a central Atrium connecting the two to serve the additional purpose of providing a large space for special events. Operations shifted from the storage facility in Redwood City to a trailer parked behind the still-under-construction buildings. The Briefings newsletter, originally a mimeographed bulletin highlighting stories relating to aircraft on display or under restoration at the “old” museum, boasted the new San Carlos address starting in 1997. During this time the Hiller Aviation Museum acquired a remarkable new tool for dissemination information about the ongoing project: its own website.

As construction progressed, historic aircraft began to transfer to their new home. By nature of its size, the Boeing Condor was one of the first to be installed. Among the largest aircraft hanging suspended in any museum, hoisting the Condor into proper position required removing the topmost section of its vertical stabilizer. Additional aircraft soon arrived as well, ranging from the full-scale replica of the Marriott Avitor to the John Montgomery glider recreations. Interestingly, the first aircraft to go on exhibit at San Carlos Airport was not an airplane or helicopter positioned within the Museum, but rather the Hiller UH-12E-5. This unique helicopter was the only 5-seat variant of the venerable Hiller 360/UH-12 ever built. It was emplaced at its current location at the Burger King restaurant at San Carlos Airport in 1997, a year before the Museum itself opened to the public.

The Hiller Aviation Museum opened on June 5, 1998. Two ribbons were cut to mark the occasion. Stan Hiller used traditional scissors at the front of the Museum to admit the opening day crowd. Later that day a second ribbon was cut in more spectacular fashion by a Stearman biplane flying down the San Carlos Airport runway, starting a tradition of special airborne events that continues at the Hiller Aviation Museum to this day.

Stanley Hiller Jr. passed away in 2006. He saw his vision for a museum dedicated to preserving Northern California’s history of aviation innovation come fully to fruition, and left behind a legacy of creativity in aircraft design and of entrepreneurial perseverance. Since Opening Day in 1998, over one million visitors have found inspiration at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

This June Hiller Aviation Museum celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The Museum will celebrate the occasion with a bold new exterior, newly updated exhibits, special presentations on the life of Stanley Hiller Jr. and spectacular additions to this year’s Biggest Little Airshow on Saturday, June 2. Join the excitement as the Hiller Aviation Museum celebrates the past, honors its visionary founder, and looks forward to the next twenty years.

Resources

Briefings newsletter, Winter/Spring 1994 – Fall 1998

Rep, Jerry. Hiller Aviation Institute Museum, 2000

Articles

Lighting the Way

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2018 by hillermuseum

SFO Beacon on display

Visual Aids to Aerial Navigation
by Jon Welte

On October 7, 1903, Charles Manly sat at the controls of the Langley Aerodrome. The brainchild of Smithsonian Institution director Samuel Langley, the Aerodrome was the culmination of his research into heavier than air flight. A signal was given and the Aerodrome launched—and immediately plunged into the Potomac. A second attempt in December 1903 met the same watery fate. Manly, unharmed, was rescued each time.

Although the Aerodrome’s two ill-fated “flights” went nowhere, Charles Manly was clearly prepared for success. A pre-flight picture of Manly together with Langley shows him in his flying suit, which included a nautical compass sewn onto its left leg. Manly’s readiness showed that even in the earliest days of flight, navigation was a serious concern.

The potential for airplanes to travel rapidly over long distances was apparent from the start. In 1909, Louis Bleriot successfully flew across the English Channel—but without a compass, he initially navigated by following a destroyer of the French Navy. In the United States, initial efforts to cross wide expanses of countryside were undertaken by aircraft flying US Mail. The first flight, in May 1918, was scheduled from Washington, DC to New York City. The pilot became lost shortly after departure and landed to ask for directions, vividly demonstrating the ongoing shortcomings in aerial navigation.

Air mail served as an impetus to development of a nationwide aerial navigation system. By 1920 air mail service linked San Francisco and New York, yet the service was a hybrid. Mail flew by day and was transferred to trains overnight, taking nearly 3 days to complete the transcontinental journey. Night flight, especially over the vast and sparsely populated spaces of the western United States, was too dangerous to attempt. To solve this problem, a system of airway beacons was constructed.

Built between 1923 and 1933, airway beacons were intended to guide airmail pilots on night flights. Each beacon consisted of a 90’ tall tower topped by a rotating white beacon light, and a small building containing a gasoline-powered generator to power the beacon. The concrete footprint of each beacon formed the shape of a giant arrow, painted bright yellow to indicate the direction of the next beacon. Each individual beacon could be seen from 40 miles away in ideal conditions; a series of beacons about ten miles apart defined an airway, or route, across the country. The completion of the first transcontinental airway in 1923 permitted airmail to be flown coast to coast without the need to transfer to trains overnight, cutting the trip duration in half.

Airway beacons were developed in conjunction with airfields to service aircraft flying the mail. On the transcontinental airway between San Francisco and New York, stops at thirteen intermediate airports were made. These stops allowed for mail transfers, aircraft refueling and pilot changes. Airports received beacons of their own, with different color combinations to indicate airports of different types. Sequential green and white flashes denoted civilian land airports in the United States, a practice that continues today.

Airway beacons proliferated across the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, with over 1,500 installed. These beacons facilitated a form of navigation called pilotage, in which pilots compare landmarks on the ground with their plotted locations on an aeronautical chart. A network of airways soon spanned the United States, totaling more than 18,000 miles.

Even as the last airway beacons were being erected, however, their demise was at hand. Pilotage in general, and airway beacons in particular, required clear weather to provide a safe and sure means of navigation. In poor weather, early pilots relied on a different type of navigation known as dead reckoning—flying a known compass course at a known speed for a carefully measured period of time. Charles Lindbergh used dead reckoning to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, but while the technique sufficed to find a continent at the end of a 33-hour flight, it was insufficiently precise to thread a mountain pass, or find a small airfield. For that, greater precision was required—the precision that radio navigation could provide.

Although invisible to the naked eye, radio waves are able to shine through haze, clouds and darkness. Following a series of experiments undertaken by Jimmy Doolittle in 1929, low-frequency radio range (LFR) equipment was gradually installed along airways across the country. LFR signals required elaborate ground stations, but aircraft needed only a simple AM radio receiver to follow the signal. The station transmitted two signals on the same frequency—the letters A and N in Morse code. The pilot listened to the radio frequency while following the defined airway. If the pilot heard a steady tone in the radio headset, the aircraft was on the course line. If either letter became audible, the pilot would know to turn left or right to regain the course. Following an LFR course for long periods of time was mentally demanding of the pilot, but the equipment requirements were modest and the precision sufficient to allow for instrument approaches to airports in extremely poor visibility. LFR systems were widespread across the United States by the mid-1930s, and were the mainstay of commercial aviation operations until VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) equipment became available following World War II.

Airway beacons remained in use following the adoption of LFR radio ranges, and in fact early LFR stations were often co-located with airway beacons to define the same airways. Following the adoption of VOR navigation, however, the beacons gradually fell into disuse. By the 1970s most had been decommissioned, and today only a handful of beacons located in Montana remain operational. By 2020, just one operational airway beacon—located at MacDonald Pass, Montana—is expected to remain. In contrast, the white-and-green rotating beacons identifying airports are still a welcome and familiar sight to 21st-century aviators.

In 2017 the Hiller Aviation Museum acquired a decommissioned aerodrome beacon from San Francisco International Airport, The beacon was reconditioned by Restoration Shop volunteers and placed on display in February 2018. Retired after many years of service guiding aircraft from around the world to SFO, this new exhibit serves as a reminder of aerial navigation in a bygone era.

Resources

https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/air-mail-usa-facilities-navigation-beacons-dayton-wright-dh-4-photograph, downloaded 1 November 2017

http://www.kpax.com/story/36715247/mdt-to-decommission-almost-all-airway-beacons , downloaded 1 November 2017

https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/14000462.htm , downloaded 1 November 2017

Articles

Meet the man who flew the SR-71 Blackbird —the world’s fastest jet

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2018 by hillermuseum

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By Kali Shiloh

Writer at The Six-Fifty

The ups and downs of Brian Shul’s life have been both literal and extreme. Shot down over Vietnam, the fighter pilot suffered extensive burns and broken hands before enduring 15 reconstructive surgeries during a year in the hospital. But the fire inside of him ultimately propelled the Air Force major to the greatest of heights — inside the top-secret cockpit of the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built.

On Saturday, December 30th, Shul will visit the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos for the fourth year in a row to tell stories of his crash, recovery, and the four years he spent flying over three times the speed of sound. Though social media and software are now the local niches, Shul’s visit to Silicon Valley speaks to the often forgotten legacy of the Peninsula as a region steeped in pioneering aerospace history.

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Something my bicycle can’t do

Shul found his calling early: “When I was about 8 I went to an airshow, and that was the end of it . . . I thought, ‘Wow, there’s something my bicycle can’t do.’”

The sounds of jets firing their afterburners gripped his soul and held on tightly. “I gotta try that at least once,” he remembers thinking, “before the Yankees call me to play third base, which I was pretty sure they were gonna.”

With his heart aimed skyward, Shul joined the Air Force at 22. It was toward the end of the Vietnam War, with 212 missions under his belt, that enemy fire forced his plane to a crash land in the jungle near the border of Cambodia. He never lost consciousness and caught on fire almost immediately. “I saw that my flight suit was all charred and black, and then I realized: ‘That’s not your flight suit, that’s your arm.’ And then I couldn’t look at it anymore.” He was rescued by special forces and flown to Okinawa, but doctors feared his condition was terminal.

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Not even Shul believed he would be able to fly again. “I didn’t think I could do it for a long time. I just realized that if I pretended like I could maybe do it, it would get me through the therapy.” After a year in the hospital, he passed a flight physical with no waivers.

Shul flew for the Air Force for another 12 years, but when he was told he’d be transferred to a desk job, he knew he had more left in the tank. One way to stay in the cockpit, he knew, was to volunteer for the SR-71 program — highly classified and yet struggling to recruit pilots. Shul lobbied hard to be considered, and after numerous calls and letters, he was granted an interview. Once accepted, he spent four years flying the highly classified aircraft. “The Yankees never called me,” he jokes, “[but] I thought, ‘well . . . I did it, I lived the dream.’”

Like Shul himself, the Blackbird SR-71 was not only shaped by matters of American foreign policy but ascendant from the wreckage of tragedy.

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Thirteen miles high, and faster than a rifle bullet

Around the same time that Shul was gripped by flight at his first childhood airshow, the U.S. government was resolved to rebound from the U-2 spy plane debacle by creating a reconnaissance aircraft that simply couldn’t be shot down.

At a now infamous (but then-secret) division of Lockheed, known as Skunk Works, aerospace engineers and machinists toiled for 20 straight months in a two-story, windowless building near the municipal airport in Burbank, California, working to somehow create a plane that could capture military data from foreign enemies without being compromised by missiles and radar detection.

In pushing the boundaries of what was possible, the team was quite literally inventing a new way to make a plane. The result was an aircraft that was truly built for speed — a thoroughbred that performed better the faster it went. At its unbelievable maximum speed and altitude — over 13 miles high, traveling faster than a rifle bullet — the craft’s photographic equipment was capable of honing in on the detail of a person’s name tag. Conversely, conventional navigation systems couldn’t keep up with the Blackbird as it hurtled through enemy territory, not at miles per hour, but miles per second.

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The Blackbird served six presidents, capturing data, informing foreign policy decisions, and evading every missile launched at it for 25 years. Though more than 4,000 attempts were made, the titanium titan was retired without once being hit. “The Blackbird did more to help win the Cold War than you will ever know,” Shul says.

Of the 93 pilots to fly the SR-71, Shul was the only one who brought along his passion for photography. A budding amateur, he occasionally gained permission to photograph his craft, which he deems the “best subject you could ever hope for.” The nature of Blackbird missions was highly classified, but Shul’s glimpses of insider documentation give insight into what it meant to be the pilot of one of the world’s most sophisticated top-secret vessels.

Shul and the Blackbird have both retired, but remain symbolically linked as examples of human drive and persistence. Shul’s drive though has always been more down-to-earth than the design of the Blackbird: “I think you should always do stuff you love . . . that you have a passion for, and if you’re not doing that, then I always say, why not? You’re spinning your wheels, wasting life. It goes by. It goes by really quick.”

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Articles

Prize Achievement

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2017 by hillermuseum

SpaceShipOne and the Ansari X-Prize
by Jon Welte

Wilbur and Orville Wright first popularized their flying machines in 1908, staging demonstration flights that stunned onlookers and silenced those who had come to doubt that they had been the first to fly. Shortly thereafter millions of people had a chance to see firsthand the astonishing work of engineering first hand at public “air meets”, including ones at Dominguez Field (Los Angeles) and Tanforan (San Francisco) in early 1910.

One of the observers of the 1910 California air meets was publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst grasped the appeal of aviation and its potential for boosting newspaper sales, and knew that the year before a prize offered by the London-based Daily Mail inspired Louis Bleriot to fly across the English Channel. Hearst developed a prize of his own for a transcontinental flight across the United States. Although the deadline expired before the prize could be claimed, it was the inspiration for Cal Robert’s pioneering cross-country trip in the Wright Model B Vin Fiz in 1911.

Prize purses remained common throughout the first decades of aviation. Perhaps the most celebrated was the Orteig Prize, which inspired teams of aviators in a quest to fly across the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Paris. In May 1927, the prize was famously won by former air mail pilot Charles Lindbergh, flying solo in his Spirit of St. Louis airplane.

With the coming of World War II, prizes fell by the wayside as the pace of aerospace achievement was largely set by government-funded military programs. Wartime requirements inspired the adoption of jet propulsion, and during the Cold War uniformed test pilots flew to the sound barrier and beyond. Yet the allure of privately-funded prizes, competed for by private-funded builders and pilots, remained compelling.

In 1996, engineer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis rekindled the practice of offering flight-related prizes by announcing the X-Prize, which promised a purse of $10 million for the first privately-funded human spaceflight. Renamed the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 after substantial funding was provided by Anousheh and Amir Ansari, the prize rules stipulated that the spacecraft must be reusable and capable of carrying a crew of three, and must complete two separate flights beyond an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles).

One of the speakers at the announcement of the X-Prize was an eccentric aircraft designer named Burt Rutan. Rutan had worked with the United State Air Force as a civilian engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, then designed and built kits for personal aircraft before establishing Scaled Composites at Mojave Airport in 1982. He led the design and construction of a range of innovative aircraft, including the Voyager aircraft which completed the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world in 1986. Rutan had long advocated a larger role for private industry in the development of flight, and was intrigued by Diamandis’ idea of a prize to spur new advances in space transportation.

Rutan and a small team of engineers at Scaled Composites worked on the problem of low-cost, suborbital manned spaceflight for several years, with a particular focus on the problem of safe re-entry from suborbital space. In the 1960s the North American X-15 had been tested at Edwards. Funded by NASA and the United States Air Force, the X-15 was carried aloft by a Boeing B-52 as a mothership, igniting its rocket motor only after being dropped at altitude. The X-15 achieved altitudes as high as 67 miles, but was demanding of its pilots. Rutan was on hand at Edwards Air Force Base when Air Force test pilot Michael Adams was killed in a fatal crash in 1967. The X-15 flown by Adams entered a spin near the high point of its flight and re-entered the atmosphere in an incorrect attitude at excessive speed, disintegrating in mid-air. Determined to design a spaceplane with superior stability, Rutan settled on a unique design feature that would “feather” the wings of the vehicle at an extreme angle as it reached its apogee, increasing drag and ensuring a stable descent back into the atmosphere below.

A workable design in hand, Rutan secured funding from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and created a company called Mojave Aerospace Ventures to support construction and testing of the spacecraft. In April 2003 Rutan rolled out what he called the “first private manned space flight program” at his facility in California’s high desert. The vehicles involved were unlike any that had flown to space before, although the mission profile was similar to that used by the X-series research aircraft from the 1940s-1960s. A carrier aircraft with a narrow, high-aspect wing appeared alongside a stubby rocket plane with a split vertical tail. The carrier, named White Knight, would lift the spaceplane to a launch altitude close to 50,000’. The spaceplane, named SpaceShipOne, would ignite a rocket motor when released and initiate a near-vertical climb beyond the edge of the atmosphere.

Captive flight tests began the following month, with glide tests in which SpaceShipOne was released from White Knight beginning that summer. On December 17th, 2003—the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight—SpaceShipOne completed its first powered mission, exceeding the speed of sound under thrust from its powerful rocket motor.

On September 29th, 2004, SpaceShipOne launched on the first of two flights required to win the X-Prize. Piloted by Mike Melvill, SpaceShipOne reached an altitude of 103 kilometers and, crucially, landed safely and successfully back at Mojave. This enabled a rapid servicing and turnaround of the vehicle, culminating in a second launch on October 4th, 2004, with pilot Brian Binnie at the controls. With the successful completion of this second consecutive launch to space, the SpaceShipOne team won the Ansari X-Prize and demonstrated an entirely new means of reaching to the edge of space.

One year after its last historic free flight, SpaceShipOne was placed in the Milestones of Flight gallery at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. The molds and tooling used to construct its composite fuselage has since been used to create several full-scale replicas. The Hiller Aviation Museum is pleased to have one such replica to display through 2018. Now hanging in the Museum’s Atrium, this artifact stands in tribute to the team that designed, built and flew the world’s first privately-funded manned spacecraft.

Resources

Aviation Week & Space Technology, “Rutan Aims for Space”, April 21, 2003

How to Make a Spaceship, Julian Guthrie, 2016

https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/spaceshipone, downloaded 24 April 2017

Articles

Highest Step in the World

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2017 by hillermuseum

Parachuting From Extreme Altitudes
By Jon Welte

Between the end of World War II and the dawn of the Space Age, aircraft performance led pilots to ever higher altitudes and faster speeds. The stresses on both pilot and aircraft were extreme, and the consequences of a pilot being forced to eject from an aircraft were dire.

In 1958 the United States Air Force launched Project Excelsior. The mission plan for Project Excelsior was outwardly quite simple: launch a helium-filled balloon to extreme altitude, and have the pilot within exit by parachute. Parachutes had been used since the 1780s, but a jump from 100,000’ or more is daunting. At altitudes above 60,000’, air pressure drops to a point at which water boils at human body temperature. Depressurization results in unconsciousness in seconds, and death in minutes.

The pilot for Project Excelsior was Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger. Kittinger traveled to altitude in an unpressurized balloon gondola, wearing a pressure suit and multiple layers of insulating clothing. The first jump, from 75,000’, took place in November 1959. A series of mishaps during exit caused Kittinger’s drogue chute to open early. The chute tangled around Kittinger’s neck and he entered a spin of over 100 rpms. Kittinger lost consciousness in the 20 g spin, and the tangled drogue was unable to extract the main parachute aas planned. Kittinger survived only through the automatic deployment of his emergency parachute. Many modifications were made, leading to an uneventful second test just one month later.

Excelsior III was the final jump in the series, and intended to reach the highest altitude. Riding the balloon to an officially recorded altitude of 102,800’, Kittinger stepped out into the void—Air Force crew had emplaced a plaque at the foot of the balloon’s egress port helpfully stating “This is the highest step in the world”. Kittinger fell for over four and a half minutes, reaching a speed of Mach 0.9 – nearly the speed of sound – in his rapid descent.

The Excelsior III gondola held its billing as the world’s highest step for over half a century. Earth’s atmospheric pressure at 100,000’ is about the same as the mean atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars, and accidental depressurizations proved fatal for two would-be record breakers in the 1960s. This altitude—some 20 miles above sea level—is well below the internationally-recognized line at 62 miles considered to be the boundary to space, or even the 50-mile limit at which NASA and the United States Air Force issue astronaut wings to pilots and flight crew. Nonetheless, the low atmosphere pressure poses many of the same challenges faced by astronauts working in space.

It was not until 2012 that Joe Kittinger’s record was finally broken. Professional skydiver Felix Baumgartner joined the Red Bull Stratos project in 2010 with the goal of breaking the altitude record. Unlike Project Excelsior, Stratos involved an ascent in a pressurized balloon gondola. This added complexity to the balloon system, but meant that the pressure suit need only provide primary life support for a span of minutes, not hours. The concept was demonstrated successfully in a pair of test jumps in early 2012. In October 2012 Baumgartner successfully jumped from an altitude of 127,800’. During nearly 4 minutes of free fall Baumgartner reached a maximum descent speed of Mach 1.25—jumping without a drogue chute to stabilize his descent allowed a faster free fall. Despite some stability problems early in the jump, Baumgartner maintained control and landed safely.

While the Red Bull Stratos project was under development, Alan Eustace became intrigued with the concept of exploring the stratosphere by balloon and descending via parachute. Eustace partnered with Paragon Space Development in Roswell, New Mexico, to develop a system capable of supporting a record-breaking launch and descent in a new project named StratEx. Unlike Excelsior or Stratos, StratEx did away with the balloon gondola altogether. Like Kittinger, Eustace would be protected by his pressure suit for the entire mission. Unlike either Kittinger or Baumgartner, Eustace would not need to exit a gondola. Suspended directly from the balloon, just beneath the balloon’s avionics bus, Eustace would start his descent by simply firing explosive bolts to separate his pressure suit from the balloon assembly. This simplified the mission profile and removed appreciable risk: in 1962, Soviet test pilot Pyotr Dolgov was killed in a jump from over 90,000’ when his helmet faceplate impacted part of the balloon gondola during exit, causing a lethal depressurization of his pressure suit.

Eustace’s flight began at dawn on October 24, 2014, as he was lifted in a face-down position from a launching platform. It took over two hours for Eustace and the StratEx balloon to rise to the mission’s maximum altitude of over 135,000’, nearly two miles higher than Baumgartner’s previous record and more than six miles higher than Kittinger’s mark from Project Excelsior. Following separation, Eustace returned to Earth in just 15 minutes, free falling for over 120,000’.

Despite its apparent daredevil aspects, extreme skydiving has had the practical effect of boosting access to the stratosphere for both scientific and commercial purposes. Paragon Space Development has leveraged its experience with StratEx to support World View, an organization focused on providing high altitude balloon flights for both research missions and private sightseeing flights. With operational flights planned for later in 2017, World View expects to offer missions to 100,000’ in gondolas containing two crew and up to six passengers. During recovery, the entire gondola will separate from its balloon, descending to land beneath an enormous parawing parachute.

Resources

http://www.paragonsdc.com/stratex/#twentyeight , downloaded 2 February 2017

http://www.redbullstratos.com/ , downloaded 1 February 2017

http://stratocat.com.ar/artics/excelsior-e.htm , downloaded 1 February 2017

http://www.worldview.space/voyage/ , downloaded 2 February 2017