Tag Archives: Test Pilot

3 February 1995: LCOL Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force

Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-63) lifts off from Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, 05:22:04 UTC, 3 February 1995. (NASA)

3 February 1995: At 12:22:04 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, STS-63, was a rendezvous with the Russian space station, Mir.

Commander James Donald Wetherbee, United States Navy, on his second space flight, was the mission commander. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her first space flight, was Discovery’s pilot. This was the first time in the NASA Space Shuttle Program that a woman had been assigned as pilot of a space shuttle.

Astronaut Eileen Collins aboard Discovery (STS-63). (NASA)

Also on board were Mission Specialists Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D.; Colin Michael Foale, Ph.D.; Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D., and Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.

The primary purpose of the mission was to conduct a close approach and fly-around of Mir to demonstrate techniques prior to an actual docking, scheduled for a later flight. A number of scientific experiments and a space walk were carried out by the crew.

Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Landing Facility at 11:50:19 UTC, 11 February, after completing 129 orbits. The total mission duration was 8 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds.

Eileen Collins was born at Elmira, New York, 19 November 1956, a daughter of Irish immigrants to the United States of America. She graduated from high school in 1974 then attended a community college where she earned an associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science, 1976. She went on to Syracuse University, graduating in 1978. In 1986 Collins earned a master of science degree in Operations Research from Stanford University, and three years later, received a second master’s degree in Space Systems Management from Webster University.

2nd Lieutenant Eileen M. Collins, USAF, with a Northrop T-38A Talon trainer at Vance AFB, September 1979. (U.S. Air Force)
2nd Lieutenant Eileen M. Collins, USAF, with a Northrop T-38A Talon trainer at Vance AFB, September 1979. (U.S. Air Force)

Eileen Collins had expressed an interest in aviation and space flight from an early age. After graduating from Syracuse, she was one of four women selected to attend U.S. Air Force pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She graduated in 1979, earning her pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She remained at Vance AFB as a pilot instructor, flying the Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainer.

Collins was next sent for pilot transition training in the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine transport. She served as a pilot at Travis Air Force Base, California.

From 1986–1989, Captain Collins was assigned as Assistant Professor in Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next, she was only the second woman to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating with Class 89B.

Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1990, Major Collins was accepted for the NASA astronaut program, and was selected as an astronaut in 1992.

Eileen Marie Collins was awarded the Harmon Trophy for her flight aboard Discovery (STS-63). In 1997, she flew as pilot for Atlantis (STS-84). She commanded Columbia (STS-93) in 1999, and Discovery (STS-114) in 2005.

Colonel Collins retired from the Air Force in January 2005, and from NASA in May 2006. With a remarkable record of four shuttle flights, she has logged 38 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes of space flight. During her career, she flew more than 30 aircraft types, and logged a total of 6,751 hours.

Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)
Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 November 1995: Suzanna Darcy-Henneman

Boeing lead test pilot for the 777, Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, in the right seat of a Boeing 777-200LR. (Boeing)
Boeing lead test pilot for the 777, Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, in the right seat of a Boeing 777-200LR. (Boeing)

10 November 1995: Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for distance flown by a commercial aircraft when she and a crew of 7 additional pilots flew a Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner, N6066Z, non-stop from Hong Kong (HKG) to London Heathrow (LHR), a distance of 21,601.33 kilometers (13422.44 miles), in 22 hours, 22 minutes. During the flight, Captain Darcy-Henneman also set two speed records. The 777 averaged 981.57 kilometers per hour (609.92 miles per hour) from Los Angeles to New York, and 910.54 kilometers per hour (565.78 miles per hour) from New York to London.

Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, right, Boeing’s lead test pilot for the Model 777, on the flight deck of N6066Z during the World Record flight. (Geoff Thomas/Boeing)
Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, right, Boeing’s lead test pilot for the Model 777, on the flight deck of N6066Z during the World Record flight. (Geoff Thomas/Boeing) 

FAI Record File Num #12181
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1t (Landplanes: take off weight 300 000 kg to 400 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Distance
Performance: 21 601.33 km
Date: 2005-11-10
Course/Location: Hong Kong (China) – London (UK) via Intl Date Line (N35°), Los Angeles and New York
Claimant Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann (USA)
Crew Randy AUSTIN (USA), John CASHMAN (USA), Mathew MATHEW (SIN), Frank SANTONI (USA), Philip W. SCHULTZ (USA), Rodney M. SKAAR (USA).
Aeroplane: Boeing 777-200LR (N6066Z)
Engines: 2 G E GE90

FAI Record File Num #12182 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1t (Landplanes: take off weight 300 000 kg to 400 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a recognised course
Performance: 981.57 km/h
Date: 2005-11-10
Course/Location: Los Angeles, CA (USA) – New York, NY (USA)
Claimant Suzanna Darcy-hennemann (USA)
Crew Randy AUSTIN (USA), John CASHMAN (USA), Mathew MATHEW (SIN), Frank SANTONI (USA), Philip W. SCHULTZ (USA), Rodney M. SKAAR (USA).
Aeroplane: Boeing 777-200LR (N6066Z)
Engines: 2 G E GE90

FAI Record File Num #12183 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1t (Landplanes: take off weight 300 000 kg to 400 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a recognised course
Performance: 910.54 km/h
Date: 2005-11-10
Course/Location: New York, NY (USA) – London (United Kingdom)
Claimant Suzanna Darcy-hennemann (USA)
Crew Randy AUSTIN (USA), John CASHMAN (USA), Mathew MATHEW (SIN), Frank SANTONI (USA), Philip W. SCHULTZ (USA), Rodney M. SKAAR (USA).
Aeroplane: Boeing 777-200LR (N6066Z)
Engines: 2 G E GE90

Boeing 777-200LR N6066Z. (Unattributed)
Boeing 777-200LR N6066Z. (Unattributed)

Suzanna Darcy joined Boeing’s engineering department in 1974. She learned to fly with the Boeing Employees Flying Association. Darcy graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Aeronautical Engineering. She then became a ground school instructor for Boeing’s Model 757 and 767 airliners.

In 1985, Boeing assigned Darcy-Hanneman as a production test pilot, the first woman to hold that position with the company. She was also the first woman to earn a captain’s rating on the 747-400, and is also rated on the 737, 757, 767 and 777.  She performed flight testing on the 737-300 and was the project test pilot for the 777-200LR.

In 2008, Captain Darcy-Hanneman became Chief Pilot, Boeing Commercial Airplane Services. She is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and was inducted into the Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2010.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1961: Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961.
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961.

12 October 1961: From August to October 1961, Jackie Cochran, a consultant to Northrop Corporation, set a series of speed, distance and altitude records while flying a Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon supersonic trainer, serial number 60-0551. On the final day of the record series, she set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records, taking the T-38 to altitudes of 55,252.6 feet (16,841 meters) in horizontal flight and reaching a peak altitude of 56,072.8 feet (17,091 meters)

Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

FAI Record File Num #12884 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 16 841 m
Date: 1961-10-12
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Jacqueline Cochran (USA)
Aeroplane: Northrop Grumman Ryan Aeronautical T-38
Engines: 2 G E J85

Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

FAI Record File Num #12855 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Feminine
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 17 091 m
Date: 1961-10-12
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Jacqueline Cochran (USA)
Aeroplane: Northrop Grumman Ryan Aeronautical T-38
Engines: 2 G E J85

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (FAI)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (FAI)

Famed U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, a close friend of Jackie Cochran, kept notes during the record series:

“October 12  Jackie took off at 9 am in the T-38 using afterburner. Bud Anderson and I chased her in the F-100. It was an excellent flight with everything working perfect. Jackie entered the course at 55,800 feet at .93 Mach and accelerated to radar. At the end of the run Jackie pulled up to 56,800 and then pushed over. She cut the right afterburner at 52,000 feet and the left one at 50,000. At 12,000 feet she removed the face piece from her pressure suit and made a perfect landing on the lake bed.

“Northrop-Air (Norair) presented Miss Cochran with one dozen yellow roses.

“A very tender ending to a wonderful program and a fitting token to a wonderful lady—a pilot who gave Norair much more than they expected.”

— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 307–308.

Jackie Cochran and Colonel Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Colonel Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is a two-seat, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is powered by two General Electric J85-5A turbojet engines producing 2,050 pounds of thrust (3,850 with afterburner). Jackie Cochran demonstrated its maximum speed, Mach 1.3. It has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and a range of 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers). In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. It remains in service with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1961: Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961.
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961.

18 September 1961: Jackie Cochran, acting as a test pilot and consultant for Northrop Corporation, set an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance when she flew the Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, from Palmdale, California to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a distance of 2,401.780 kilometers (1,492.397 miles).

Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

FAI Record File Num #12383 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Feminine
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Distance
Performance: 2 401.78 km
Date: 1961-09-18
Course/Location: Palmdale, CA – Minneapolis, MN (USA)
Claimant Jacqueline Cochran (USA)
Aeroplane: Northrop Grumman Ryan Aeronautical T-38 (TF00551)
Engines: 2 G E J85

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (FAI)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (FAI)

Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:

September 18: Jackie took off from Palmdale at 10:00 am for attempt to set records from points to points. I took off from Edwards with 275-gallon [1,041 liter] drop tanks. During climb Jackie reported rough engine and poor performance. Also the fuel flow was inoperative. Jackie returned to the field where I finally found her takeoff flaps were still down. Also her navigation lights and beacon were on. I was rather disappointed. She’s a little cocky in the airplane. She landed back there at Palmdale with 1500 pounds [680 kilograms] of fuel in each side and made a good heavy-weight landing. The aircraft refueled and another takeoff was made at 12:30 pm. Everything went smooth this flight. We ran into clouds at the edge of Utah which lasted until Cheyenne, Wyo. Clear the rest of the way. Jackie landed with 250 pounds of fuel in each side. Made a beautiful landing and turned off after a 4000 foot [1,220 meters] ground roll. Bob White returned the F-100 to Edwards.

—  Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306.

Jackie Cochran and Colonel Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Colonel Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38A is a two-seat, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is powered by two General Electric J85-5A turbojet engines producing 2,050 pounds of thrust (3,850 with afterburner). Jackie Cochran demonstrated its maximum speed, Mach 1.3. It has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and a range of 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers). In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. It remains in service with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 15 May 1982. Jackie Cochran set nine world speed, distance and altitude records while flying this airplane. (© Gary Chambers, used with permission)
Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 15 May 1982. Jackie Cochran set nine world speed, distance and altitude records while flying this airplane. (© Gary Chambers, used with permission)

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 September 1910: Blanche Stuart Scott

America’s first woman airplane pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
America’s first woman airplane pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

2 September 1910: After receiving flight instruction from Glenn Curtiss, Blanche Stuart Scott (1885–1970) became the first woman in the United States to fly an airplane when she made a solo flight in her biplane at Lake Keuka Field, Hammondsport, New York. She became a professional pilot and was a test pilot for Curtiss. She was the first woman to fly in a jet aircraft when she accompanied Chuck Yeager aboard a Lockheed TF-80C (redesignated T-33A), 6 September 1948.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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