The first plane I was given to test was the Douglas C-133 B ; a 4 engine 300 thousand pound turbo prop transport. It was an upgraded version of the
C-133 A ( just about twice the size of a C-130); improved and modified so it could carry an Atlas missile inside. It was definitely the largest plane I had ever flown. I had to go to Dover, AFB, New Jersey, for a month of ground school, to learn all of the systems on it.
What I was assigned to do was called a systems evaluation test, i.e. sort of run it and see how long it takes to break it. I learned to fly it well in the 700 or so hours that I flew it (sometimes I flew it on 12 and 13 hour flights). A lot of the head quarters “Johnny“ type pilots there at Edwards (not test pilots) that needed flying time would come along as third pilot on some of those long flights and would get enough time in one flight to get their flight pay for 3 months. On one test we flew it to Tokyo, Japan with the idea of flying it non-stop from Tokyo back to Scott, AFB in St. Louis, Mo.
We had three pilots, two Navigators, two flight engineers, two load masters, and a flight surgeon as a crew for the flight.
The flight to Japan was uneventful; landing at Hickham AFB, and Wake Island for fuel. Going west into the prevailing westerlies, there was no chance of setting a record in that direction, but on the way back we hoped to have the wind at our back and give it a good long test at least (and maybe set a record).
We waited until mid night, the day of our departure from Tokyo, to fuel the plane (when the air was a as cold as possible) to get more fuel aboard and then took off about 4 AM . Flying pretty much a great circle route, we saw the sun rise that morning and flew all of that day and all of the next night and approached the west coast of the US just before dawn. During the day, however, we had encountered a lull out there in the Pacific, where the tail winds went to absolute zero, and it ruined any chance of making our destination of St. Louis. Thus, we elected to land at Larsen, AFB in the state of Washington; not a record but the plane performed flawlessly for 16 hours and 45 minutes of flying, so we proved that it was a good performer.
Another interesting test was the time I delivered the first Atlas Missile inside it (what it had been designed to do). --- Without any fan fare, they told me to go to the Convair plant in north San Diego and pick up an Atlas missile and to deliver it to Norton AFB (the support base for them); although none had ever been delivered by air. So the crew and I get our 10 million dollar plane (No. 90524) and headed to San Diego to pick up a 10 million dollar missile with absolutely no other instructions.
Fortunately, (in spite of the matter of fact operation it had been that far) when we got there they were expecting us and had a film crew there to make a training film as to how you load an Atlas missile in a C-133 B (it had never been done before since 90524 was the first C-133 B modified so that it could be done).
I watched this operation very carefully because I was not sure what they might do to my airplane. But it did fit. They laid down two steel tracks out on the ramp from the back of the open doors at the rear of the plane. The Atlas missile with all of it’s accompanying hardware was on a huge four wheel dolly with four metal wheels with a “V” tread that fit right over the “V” shaped steel tracks. A cable was then attached to the winch inside the plane and the missile was pulled up the ramp into the plane. It cleared the top of the aft ramp opening literally by one inch; much to the relief of a lot of people.
The Atlas missile was not stressed to be in the horizontal position; just built to be in the vertical position -- like on a launch pad. So it had to be pressurized like a balloon when it was in the horizontal position on the big dolly they pulled it around on. So, part of the modification of the B model was to have a control panel in the airplane cargo area where the Atlas missile could be plugged into and pressurized while in the airplane. This meant there had to be an Atlas missile expert always accompany the missile while it was being transported in the plane to make sure the pressurization and all of the other vital signs of the missile were being monitored and that all was well with the “Big Baby”. Thus, Bob Mosley, his crew, and the missile baby sitter departed San Diego after the missile was loaded and delivered it to Norton AFB where we were welcomed by a Brig. Gen. Benjamin I. Funk; with a lot of picture taking of the first missile delivery by air.
X-15 & B-52
Certainly one of the most interesting programs I got into while a test pilot there at Edwards was the X-15 rocket ship program that was air launched from a B-52; an eight engine jet bomber. This program started while I was still a student in the test pilot school and of course the B-52 part of it interested me. Well, it worked out that it was a long program so it was still going on after I graduated and assigned to flight test operations. Edwards had two B-52s modified to haul the X-15 aloft under their right wing. The tail of the X-15 interfered with the wing flaps of the B-52 so a big notch had been made in the right wing trailing edge flaps, thus the wing flaps on those two B-52s were wired out of the system and all landings in those two planes (B-52 B models #003 and 008) were thereafter made with no flaps; which makes for nose high, fast landing speeds. They were also modified with tanks inside that carried the rocket fuels for the X-15, so it could continually be being topped off (kind of like the C-133 B was in the story above was) as it was carried aloft by the B-52 to the X-15s normal release altitude of 43,000 feet.
I had never been in a B-52 before but in the typical Edwards manner of “You can do it “ I was quickly checked out as a co- pilot in the B-52 and got to fly on a number of the X-15 launches.
It was a simple operation from the B-52 point of view. The crew only consisted of a pilot, a copilot, and two X-15 technicians that went along much as the baby sitter did with the Atlas missile as above. You took off and left climb power on, heading out east of Edwards until you reached 43,000 feet. We would then come back west until we were over one of the other dry lake beds out in that area, so as when the X-15 was released it could make an emergency landing on the lake bed below, in case the X-15 pilot did not get a good start on his rocket engines.
The X-15 weighed 34,000 pounds at release so it was much like dropping a 34,000 pound bomb, i.e. you suddenly picked up 34,000 pounds of lift as it went off it’s shackles; which gave you a real good bump. The most interesting thing about it from there on was the waiting to see if the X-15 got it’s rocket motors to start. In all cases when I was on the flight they did start and as such after a short, but seemingly long time, it would come out from under us with a big bellowing white plume following it. It would then zoom up, out, and away from us. It made a most memorable sight with the white plumb against the purple, almost black, sky as it made it’s way to near space.
I really liked the mission and since plans were for me to become one of the B-52 pilots to drop the X-15 I got lots of training in the two B-52 X- 15 droppers. That is, no end of “no flap” landings, where you came in nose high and fast, and since the B-52 was short in elevator control in the first place, it was difficult to hold the nose trucks off after landing and thus you had like a mild crash on each landing as the nose trucks came down on the runway.
I belabor the point above because B-52 # 008 was used as a dropper of many other planes and things through the following years until they retired it in 2005; all no flap landings. I have always wondered if that plane was not actually sway back at the time of retirement because of those 45 years of making “hard on the nose” landings.
Bob Mosley and Fitz Fulton Standing
In keeping with their plans for me to become an X-15 dropper they sent me to Castle AFB, up near Merced, Calif. for 3 months where I officially got checked out in the B-52. I have to mention the part of the check out in the B-52 that was the most interesting was aerial refueling, i.e. pushing an eight engine jet up and through the wake of a 707 refueler so the “Boomer” could bring the boom in to the receptacle just over your head and pump the fuel into your plane. But, doing it at night was absolutely the most demanding flying of any flying I ever did. I had to tell myself, “I am actually up here at 35,000 feet at night, pushing this big beast up behind a 707 tanker and my nose is no more than 25 feet from his tail” --- AND IT IS AT NIGHT! I passed my tests and actually did quite well at it because I always thought of myself as a good formation flyer--- but AT NIGHT at 35,000 feet 25 feet apart. Those flights were definitely the defining moments of my flying career.
GET HOME ITUS...
Fitz Fulton (now in the Aviation Hall of Fame), one of the world's best test pilots, is a mild mannered man, doesn't drink, or curse; goes to church and is a perfect gentleman at all times. With this persona you would never guess that deep down inside is a fearless tiger. Maybe too fearless, but he has always come out on top.
One late summer afternoon in 1961 he and I were at Carswell AFB in Ft Worth, Texas and were going back to Edwards AFB, CA that night in an old B-47, six engine jet bomber, we used there at the Flight Test Center. At that time, that particular plane had had it's bomb bay doors removed which gave it the appearance that there was only half of an airplane thru the midsection of the plane. We were using it, at the Test Center, to drop the prototypes of the B-70 bomber ejection seats to see how the parachutes on the seats performed prior to the seats actually being installed in the B-70. The seats wouldn't quite fit in the B-47 bomb bay with the doors closed but they would fit with the doors removed so that is what they had done--they had removed the bomb bay doors. With the doors removed the plane rumbled and buffeted when it flew and they had limited it's airspeed to 250 knots indicated but when you got it up to around 37,000 feet you had a true airspeed of close to 400 knots so it was OK to use for a cross country flight if you needed it. It just grumbled about it.
I have no recollection of what Fitz and I were doing at Ft. Worth but when we were getting ready to come back to Edwards, we checked the weather and it was an awful forecast; terrible thunderstorms, severe turbulence, and up to one inch hail on the route of flight. I said, "Fitz, let's just wait and go in the morning because with the 2 hour time difference we can leave at 7 AM in the morning and be home by 8 AM Edwards time and no one will ever know the difference". He said, "No, we are going and we can contact "Star Gazer" for radar vectors around the thunderstorms". Star Gazer was some kind of military (I think) rinky dink radar system they had in operation around the country at that time that was supposed to help in situations like this but my experience with Star Gazer had always been bad. Now, it was only Fitz and I aboard that six engine jet bomber. The plane had a good radar set in it, but it was controlled from the Navigator/Bombardier position up in the nose but we had no Navigator/Bombardier up there to operate it.
So, off we go. The B-47 had a fighter type cockpit and canopy. He was in command of the plane but I was in the front seat and he was in the back seat. I guess he had flown it out to Texas and I was flying it back. We were about 30 minutes out and we got into just what had been forecast. We called Star Gazer and, just like the other times I had needed them, there was no reply (when you really needed them, the atmospheric conditions were always so bad that you couldn't make contact).
We were all over the sky. Sitting out there in a fighter type canopy, I wasn't missing a thing; lightning, hail,and extreme turbulence. I had my seat belt cinched down as tight as I could get it and it took both hands to control the wheel. Even then I had my right elbow stuffed up under the side of the canopy ledge to keep my arms from flopping. It was so rough that I could not take my hands off of the control column so Fitz was in the back working the 6 throttles. We were easily anywhere between 4000 feet above our assigned altitude and 4000 below it. Once that slick B-47 started down hill it would go through altitude like you wouldn't believe but just as bad or worse was that it would get up near the stall point just as fast going uphill because we were trying to hold 250 knots and thus you did not have to lose very much airspeed on those uphill excursions before stall became a concern. But, like I said, going down hill, 250 knots was just a number we passed through. I don't remember what speed we may have hit but I became concerned as to what those downhill runs were doing to the fuselage. They had limited the indicated airspeed on that thing to 250 knots for some reason. So, besides wondering if we were even going to maintain control of the old girl, I was wondering if that thing might not just break into two parts. It was under these conditions that Fitz, worrying about a midair collision, since we were not maintaining our assigned altitude, said, "I think we should let someone know where we are". Now Fitz was my boss but my answer was, "Hell Fitz I wouldn't worry about that, there are no other damn fools up here but you and I" and I sincerely meant it.
Obviously we made it. In later years I read this account of the adventure to Fitz and he conceded that he remembered it well ---just the way I told it. He did not go so far, however, as to say it was an error in judgment. He didn't have to.
SCOTT CROSSFIELD the First pilot to fly the X-15
This is just a short letter I wrote to a friend of mine, answering a question he asked me as to whether or not I knew Scott Crossfield the famous civilian X-15 test pilot -----
Yes, I can say I knew him in a very limited way. I was at Edwards when he was doing his thing in the X-15. In fact I saw him make the first flight of the X-15 for the North American Co. As I recall on the first flight he did not fire the rocket engines. It was just a drop flight with all of the flight systems powered up but no rockets----much like we did dropping the space shuttle orbiter from the 747 when I was with Rockwell out there in 1976. Anyhow, I was out at the edge of the Muroc dry lake that day and watched the landing. It was a "doozzy". He later claimed that they had the "gains" set too high on the flight control systems (and was correct) for when he made the initial flare he over controlled it. He went back up, then he corrected downward, then he corrected upward, and after about 3 oscillations he made contact with the lake bed in a very unglamorous manner. I really gasped when I saw this event happening. It was that bad. That X-15 was a long thing, between the nose wheel (two small tires) and the two main landing gear (which were skids) so it was a wonder that the thing did not break in the middle on that landing. It did just that on an emergency landing on Rosamond lake later in the program. I do not recall who was flying it that day but it well could have been Crossfield.
I think there was a pretty good rivalry between Crossfield and Yeager. I really was not in their league so I would know anything only by hearsay. I have heard that Crossfield was very conceited but what pilot wasn't/isn't.
My only contact with him was very short----- For some reason, I cannot recall at this time, I put on a skit while at the test pilot school. We had a little auditorium and a stage at the school and I got some of my classmates to help me act out this little spoof I wrote about Crossfield. As before I cannot recall why I did it and even more so, where I found time to do it. But, we did it with me playing the part of Crossfield. About all I can remember about it was we all dressed in black pants with white shirts and black ties to give it that civilian/engineering look. And when I made my entrance I kicked over a bunch of tin gallon cans, we had strategically located for me to kick as Crossfield made his grand entrance.---------- Time passed ---- Later just before we graduated they took us graduating test pilots on a tour of a lot of the aircraft manufacturing companies on the west coast. The companies entertained us pretty royally thinking we might be testing some of their planes someday. At one of these cocktail parties they had about 4 of the 7 original astronauts (I remember John Glenn being one of them) as well as Scott Crossfield there. I was down at the end of the bar minding my own business when Crossfield came up to me and said that he had heard I put on a skit about him at the test pilot school. I think he was half way serious that I had been making fun of him but I had about 5 inches and 40 pounds on him so it ended up with just a few laughs and that was the last time I had any contact with him.
Robert L. Mosley