Just before the coast disappeared into sea and sky, Jerrie Mock switched on her airplane’s long-range radio and found only silence. She tried again and again, leaning her ear to the speaker, and still heard nothing, not even static.
When Mock departed from Columbus that morning, she had heard the tower controller’s voice on a loudspeaker. “Well, I guess that’s the last we’ll hear from her,” he told the crowd gathered to see her off to Bermuda. He was joking, but suddenly his words had the ring of truth.
In an aircraft not much larger than a cargo van, surrounded by gasoline tanks, Mock was completely alone, navigating to a speck of an island with a compass and paper charts. Unable to report her positions or call for help, she could have become another Amelia Earhart: a woman trying to circle the world, lost at sea, never to be found.
Yet Earhart was a full-time aviator with a passenger who served as navigator; Mock was a full-time mother of three flying solo. Earhart had crossed both oceans; Mock, a licensed pilot for only seven years, had never flown farther than the Bahamas. Compared with Earhart’s brand-new, twin-engine airplane, Mock’s single-engine Cessna was 11 years old, with fresh paint covering the cracks and corrosion.
Suddenly — and suspiciously — cut off from communications, Mock considered turning back. She wasn’t flying around the world to become rich or famous. Initially, she hadn’t even realized she could set a record. Her original impetus for making the trip: She was bored.
What an interesting story indeed.
It’s time to pay homage to some of Lockheed’s work, and a couple other interesting birds. The Museum of Aviation near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia is home to all of these planes. I thought I’d snap a few extra photos during my last visit. I’m quite partial to Lockheed’s work, being descended form a Skunk Works engineer and Lockheed advisory board member. Growing up near the Marietta, Georgia plant, I became accustom to seeing new C-130 and F-22 aircraft rolling off the assembly line almost daily, flying overhead to their first destination.
Photo One: This Lockheed JetStar VC-140B used as VIP transport for the Air Force. It even carried presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, using call sign Air Force One when aboard. The prototype JetStar was used as Kelly Johnson’s personal transport aircraft. Another JetStar was owned by Elvis. When my grandfather worked for the Lockheed Skunk Works, he told tales of flying aboard JetStar with a suitcase handcuffed to his wrist, en route to speak with CIA officials. Yes, this actually happened. My grandfather was “that guy”.
Photo Two: This Lockheed F-80B was derived the P-80, the first operational American jet fighter. Armed with six .50 machine guns, the light jet was said to slow down abruptly when the pilot squeezed off a burst.
Photo Three: This Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar C-60A was the paratroop version. The Lodestar was a stretched Lockheed Vega to add more cargo space. Some of the birds were modified Vegas, some were built from the ground up.
Photo Four: The Lockheed T-33 was a trainer, specifically to transition prop plane pilots into jet pilots. This is essentially a trainer version of the P-80.
Photo Five: Moving away from Lockheed for a moment, we have the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger (foreground) and F-106A Delta Dart (background). The F-102 was the first American operational super sonic fighter. The F-106, originally designated the F-102B, was heavily modified F-102, giving it better speed and altitude performance. Both of these aircraft feature a “vision splitter” windscreen, like the Lockheed Blackbird family of aircraft.
Photo Six & Seven: Lastly, we have the SR-71A Blackbird, #17958. What more could I say about this bird that hasn’t already been said? Probably a lot. The final photo shows fuel tank 6, extending past the elevons. An easy way to tell the SR-71 and A-12 apart is, the A-12 aft-most fuel tank does not protrude past the elevons. This final photo was photographed with my iPhone. SR-71 #17958 was covered in two previous posts. (Click here to read about her world record setting flights.) (Click here for additional information about #17958)
This image was taken about three months before the last Air Force SR-71 flight. It was flying over the Sierra Nevada Mountains following a mission.
A Lockheed Martin Atlas II rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral on December 2, 1995. (Defense Imagery)
An Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral on January 30, 1964. (Siloworld)
These are two Vela satellites in pre-launch processing. Part of the Vela Hotel project, the satellites monitored the Earth for the telltale signs of an atomic blast. Designed to monitor global compliance with the atomic testing ban treaty of 1963, the satellites of Vela Hotel found something peculiar - numerous gamma ray emissions coming from what appeared to be the Earth.
As time went on and more bursts were detected, it was discovered that the gamma ray emissions were coming from far reaches of the cosmos, not the Earth or the solar system. These were the first detections of the most violent events in the universe - Gamma Ray Bursts.
On July 27th and 28th, 1976, The United States Air Force celebrated out bicentennial by performing Operation Glowing Speed, which was orchestrated to simply regain absolute speed and altitude records held by the Soviet Mig-25 Foxbat aircraft. SR-71A #17958, on display at the Museum of Aviation near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, was responsible for record setting flights during Operation Glowing Speed.
Operation Glowing Speed was originally scheduled for July 4th, but was not approved in time for an independence day performance. Later that month, flying out of Beale AFB, #17958 would obtain records which still stand today, officially recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).
FAI’s first speed record was performed on 14 September 1906 by Brazilian native, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who took his single engine kit plane up to the blistering speed of 25.6 mph. 70 years later, our Blackbird bested his record at 2,193.167 mph. All pilots involved were awarded the De La Vaulx medal by the FAI, which is given exclusively to those who set absolute speed or altitude records.
#17958 flew two of the three Operation Glowing Heat flights. One flight, called “Desert Trek”, was flown by pilot Major Adolphus H. Bledsoe Jr, and RSO Major John T. Fuller on July 27, 1976. Speed Over a Closed 1000km Course was clocked at 2,092 mph. This flight bested the previous record of 1815 mph, set by a Soviet Mig-25 in October, 1967.
"Fast Flight", flown by pilot Captain Eldon W. Joersz, and RSO Major George T. Morgan Jr. on July 28, 1976, set world absolute and world class speed record, speed over a straight 15-25km course at 2,193.167 mph. According to the record books, this is the fastest official speed that any human has traveled in an aircraft. During the record setting run, #17958 suffered an inlet unstart, recovering without flying outside of the boundaries set by officials. This record surpassed one previously set in 1965 by another member of the Blackbird family of aircraft, the YF-12A.
Absolute altitude records were set during, “High Flight”, flown by a different Blackbird. During these record setting flights, the Blackbirds didn’t exceed or even approach their design limits. They flew a standard cruise flight configuration. In fact, nearly every typical operational mission would exceed the heights and speeds associated with these records.
When I visited on April 4, 2014, the hangar in which the Blackbird resides was used as a venue to an Air Force retirement ceremony, shown in the final picture of the photo set. The retiree spent 29 years in the USAF as a Sikorsky MH-53 helicopter pilot. The opening ceremony included a posting of the colors, and a singing of the National Anthem. Hearing The Star-Spangled Banner reverberating in the hangar while standing at attention next to the Blackbird was quite a moving experience. While listening, I reflected on what it must have been like to be a part of the record setting bicentennial.
Bryce, Scott, Glenn, I saw this plane doing touch and go’s at the airport across the street from school yesterday. What type is it? And just for kicks, that restored spitfire did the same thing afterwards, but I couldn’t get pictures of it.
(I know you don’t go here, Scott, but I figured you’d be able to recognize the plane.)
Judging from the colors, my guess is the Canary, built by the US Navy. I believe the same type of plane was featured in the famous scene from “North by Northwest”.