AidSpace Blog

Fooling Around at the Front

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the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops Fliegerkompagnie 27 (FliK 27)

NASM-9A05096, Paul Ernst World War I Photograph Album

Most of the thousands of World War I photographs in the collections of the Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department are grimly utilitarian – aerial views of trenches, aircraft and details of their construction and the damage they sustained during dangerous missions. But the young pilots who flew those missions had a reputation for light-heartedness, and found their fun wherever and whenever they could. For April Fools’ Day, we’ve pulled a photo of pilots and observers of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops Fliegerkompagnie 27 (FliK 27) posing between missions and making with the bunny ears. FliK 27 served on the Russian Front from June 1916 to December 1917, and on the Italian front from March to October of 1918.

And meanwhile, on the other side of No Man’s Land:

Imperial Russian Army Air Service

SI-84-2635, Alexander Riaboff, Gatchina Days: Reminiscences of a Russian Pilot Photographs Collection

… A serious group of Imperial Russian Army Air Service cadets of the Gatchina Military Flying School shows only one set of bunny ears, no doubt reflecting wartime shortages…

Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Archives Department of the National Air and Space Museum.


In the Batter’s Box

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After a long, cold winter on the East Coast, spring is finally here and a new baseball season is about to start! Many teams have military nights, in which they invite active duty men and women to the ballpark to honor their service and enjoy the game.

In 1956, officers of the Central Air Defense Force, stationed at Grandview Air Force Base in Missouri, visited Municipal Stadium to meet with the Kansas City Athletics.  While on the field, they compared the equipment and armament used in their respective professions.

Lou Boudreau

“Heads up!” Lou Boudreau, manager of the Kansas City Athletics, holds a jet pilot helmet, while Captain John P. Green examines a batting helmet. NASM-00149196


In 1956, a new National League rule made it mandatory to wear protective headgear when in the batter’s box. The helmet was either a plastic helmet or an insert placed in the baseball cap. The A’s played in the American League, where the rule was not adopted until 1958, but chances are several of their players wore protective headgear. Compared with the P-1B helmet worn by a jet’s crew (an earlier version, the P-1A, can be found in the Museum’s collection), 1950s batting helmets were probably quite insubstantial.

Lou Boudreau

“Here I come to save the day!” Kansas City Athletics’ manager, Lou Boudreau (left), Colonel Malcolm A. Moore (center), and Athletics’ pitcher, Bobby Shantz (right) compare a major league baseball bat to a Mighty Mouse rocket. NASM-2A49195


The Mighty Mouse folding-fin rocket and the Major League baseball bat were physically very similar. The Mighty Mouse has a diameter of 2.75 inches, the maximum diameter that a baseball bat can be at its thickest part. The longest a baseball bat can be is 42 inches, the same length as the Mighty Mouse. Nicknamed after the cartoon hero, the small unguided rocket was powerful enough to take down a bomber when fired from an airplane, but was very inaccurate. Pitcher Bobby Shantz was a bit more accurate, earning AL MVP honors in 1952 and seven Rawlings Gold Gloves for fielding. A’s manager Lou Boudreau was used to facing mighty difficult odds. One of Boudreau’s best known managerial tactics was his implementation of the infield shift against Ted Williams (also often known as the Boudreau shift or Williams shift).

Both Lou Boudreau and the Mighty Mouse went on to have long careers, though each was thrown a curve ball. Kansas City finished last in the American League in 1956; Boudreau was fired 104 games into the 1957 season. After one more season as manager with the Chicago Cubs, Boudreau served as the radio play-by-play voice for the Cubs for almost thirty years and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970. As more accurate guided missiles were built, the Mighty Mouse fell out of favor as an air-to-air weapon, but found new life as an air-to-ground weapon fired from a helicopter.

Batter up!

Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department.

The Big Jump

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Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumps out from the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on October 14, 2012. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

The National Air and Space Museum boasts an extraordinary collection of record setting balloon baskets and gondolas. There is Explorer II, which carried U.S. Army Air Corps Captains Albert W. Stevens and Orvil Anderson to a record altitude of (22,066 meters) 72,395 feet on November 11, 1935. In August 1978, Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman made the first balloon crossing of the Atlantic in Double Eagle II. Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones flew Breitling Orbiter III on the first non-stop flight around the world in 1999. Steve Fossett made the first solo balloon circumnavigation of the globe three years later in his Spirit of Freedom.

The Museum will welcome a new record setter into its collection on April 2, 2014, when the capsule that carried Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner to an altitude of 39,044 meters (128,100 feet) over Roswell, New Mexico, and the pressure suit and parachute that brought him safely back to Earth on an earlier jump from 29,455 meters (96,640 feet), will go on display as part of a two-month temporary exhibition called, Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space. Both the capsule and the pressure suit and parachute that Baumgartner wore on the 39,044-meter (128,100-foot) jump will become a part of our permanent collection and will be displayed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center after the closing of the temporary show on May 26.

Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria prepares to jump from the altitude of 29455 meters during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on July 25, 2012. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

Baumgartner, a veteran of the Austrian military, had earned a reputation as one of world’s most experienced sky divers and BASE jumpers, an activity in which participants parachute from Buildings, Antennae, Spans (bridges) and high elevations on Earth. In 1990 he set the world record for jumping from a building when he parachuted over (366 meters) 1,200 feet from the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then the tallest building in the world.  When the Taipei 101 captured the tallest building honors in 2004, Baumgartner jumped form the 91st floor. If he held the record for jumps from the world’s tallest buildings, he also claimed the honor of having made the lowest BASE jump ever– 28 meters (93 feet) from the hand of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Having conquered the BASE jumping heights, he also earned high marks for distance, sky-diving across the English Channel on July 20, 2003 equipped with a pair of carbon fiber wings.

Baumgartner’s 2012 Red Bull Stratos jump earned him three more world records: the highest balloon flight, the highest free fall and the fastest speed ever achieved in free fall. While still in the high, thin air near the top of his jump, with the whole world watching on live television, he became the first human being to break the speed of sound in free fall. The success of the project was the result of the efforts of an incredible team. Technical Project Director Art Thompson, founder of Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Inc., designed, built, and tested the high tech capsule, served as flight test director, and selected the other members of the team. A genuine American hero, Joe Kittinger was the previous record holder, having parachuted to Earth form an altitude of 31,333 meters (102,800 feet) while serving as an Air Force Captain in 1960. Following a distinguished military career that included time in the Hanoi Hilton as a Vietnam era POW, he continued flying, logging 16,800 hours in the air, including the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic. Kittinger mentored Baumgartner and handled all communications with the capsule. Dr. John Clark, who served as crew surgeon for six Space Shuttle missions, was medical director for the Red Bull Stratos project.

Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on October 14, 2012. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

The members of the team are quick to point out that the project made important contributions to aerospace safety. The development of a new generation of pressure suits and parachute systems, the establishment of protocols for handling exposure to the extreme conditions of pressure and temperature, and the study of the impact of supersonic acceleration and deceleration on the human body were among the achievements. “We’ll be setting new standards for aviation,” Dr. Clark reported.  “Red Bull Stratos is testing new equipment and developing the procedures for inhabiting such high altitudes as well as enduring such extreme acceleration. The aim is to improve the safety for space professionals as well as potential space tourists.”

Joe Kittinger and Felix Baumgartner

United States Air Force Colonel (Ret.) Joe Kittinger of the United States and Felix Baumgartner of Austria pose for a photograph at the press conference at the Hangar 7 in Salzburg, Austria on October 27, 2012. Photographer: Jörg Mitter. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

The National Air and Space Museum will mark the opening of the temporary exhibition and celebrate the arrival of the new artifacts into the collection with a special GE Lecture presentation in the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater at 7 pm on April 2. Felix Baumgartner and the members of his team will be part of a panel discussion exploring the details and results of their record setting project.

Tom Crouch is senior curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.

Remembering William Reid “Bill” Pogue

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Pilot, Astronaut, Author

Bill Pogue

Bill Pogue wearing the mission patch for the third Skylab crew poses with a small model of the Skylab workshop and Apollo Telescope Mount. He was pilot for the Apollo spacecraft that ferried the crew to and from Skylab.

Bill Pogue may be best known as an astronaut who served on America’s Skylab space station and author of the book he titled with the perennial question astronauts are asked to answer, How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?

How do you Go to the Bathroom in Space?

Bill Pogue wrote books on this and other curious questions about spaceflight. His memoir, published in 2011, is titled But for the Grace of God: An Autobiography of an Aviator and Astronaut.

Before becoming an astronaut in 1966 at the age of 36, Pogue served in the United States Air Force. After enlisting in 1951, he was assigned to the Fifth Air Force and flew fighter-bombers in the Korean War. He then flew in the USAF Thunderbirds precision flight team, taught mathematics at the Air Force Academy, became a test pilot with the British Royal Air Force, and served as an instructor at the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School. Reaching the rank of Colonel, Pogue became proficient in 50 types of American and British aircraft and logged 7,200 hours in flight (4,200 hours in jets).

Bill Pogue missed the chance to go to the Moon when the last three Apollo missions were cancelled; he had been tapped for the Apollo 19 crew. However, he had key mission support roles for Apollo 7, 11, and 14 and was ready for the next opportunity.

He and two other rookie astronauts were selected as the third Skylab crew and flew the longest-duration mission, an 84-day stay from November 1973 to early February 1974. Command module pilot Bill Pogue logged 13 hours 31 minutes in two spacewalks and, with commander Gerald P. “Jerry” Carr and science pilot Dr. Edward G. “Ed” Gibson, spent a total of 2,017 hours in spaceflight. The three Skylab crews jointly received the Collier Trophy “for proving beyond question the value of man in future explorations of space” and for conducting productive scientific research in space.

Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, William Pogue

The third Skylab crew (left to right): commander Gerald P. Carr, science pilot Dr. Edward G. Gibson, and command module pilot William R. Pogue.

Bill Pogue and Jerry Carr

Bill Pogue balances on the index finger of Skylab mission commander Jerry Carr in this demonstration of weightlessness. The crew decided not to shave during their almost three months in space.

This last Skylab crew gained notice for rebelling against the non-stop work timeline and taking a day off. After that, Mission Control eased the pressure just enough to give the highly motivated crew some occasional free time. Carr, Pogue, and Gibson carried out solar, celestial, and Earth observation programs and a variety of materials science and life science experiments. The highlights of their mission included observing Comet Kahoutek and doing EVAs on Thanksgiving and Christmas. A replica of their makeshift Christmas tree is visible in the upper deck of the Skylab workshop in Space Hall.

After leaving NASA in 1975, Bill Pogue remained active during the Space Shuttle and Space Station years as an aerospace consultant to NASA, Boeing, and other entities, staying deeply involved in human factors design and engineering analyses. With a college degree in Education, he also was keen to reach young readers and audiences, so he made many public appearances and published four books about his life and spaceflight, plus one novel and several videos.

Bill Pogue had razor-sharp expertise, a genial personality, and a sense of humor that fueled countless entertainingly informative stories. A respected veteran of aviation and spaceflight, he shared his knowledge and experience generously throughout his long career. His death came less than a month after the 40th anniversary of his return to Earth.

Before I came to the Museum, a colleague and I had the pleasure of working with Bill Pogue, Jerry Carr, and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt on three study documents that explored advanced EVA requirements for future NASA missions. Those four had the bright ideas and in-depth knowledge; as their scribe and editor, I learned much of what I know about extravehicular activity techniques and technologies from our lively discussions. As we spent long days and dinners together doing this work, it was an extraordinary opportunity to get to know these astronauts as “real people.” Bill Pogue was real—an expert without pretense, a gentleman, and a friend who always had a ready smile. I hope he is flying high again, somewhere far beyond Earth orbit.

Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

The X-15

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During the 20th century, airplane design was driven by the mantra of “flying faster and higher.” Starting with the historic first flight of the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, aeronautical engineers focused on the design of new airplanes to achieve ever-increasing speeds and altitudes. Just 44 years later, on October 14, 1947, Capt. Chuck Yeager made aviation history by becoming the first to fly faster than the speed of sound; he piloted the Bell X-1, the first of a series of specially designed experimental airplanes – the X- airplanes. When the sonic boom from this flight reverberated across the desert at Muroc Dry Lake in California, it opened a powerful new chapter in the history of the airplane – the age of supersonic flight. By the early 1950s, supersonic airplanes had become the central focus of airplane design. In just a few years, the first airplane capable of cruising at Mach 2, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, entered service. Designed by the famous Lockheed Skunk Works under the direction of iconic designer Kelly Johnson, this airplane was a beautiful example of excellent supersonic aerodynamics. It sported a slender and streamlined fuselage with a pointed nose, and a very thin short, stubby wing with a leading edge as sharp as a razor blade – all designed to reduce supersonic wave drag on the airplane.  Then, just 20 years later, William “Pete” Knight flew the X-15 hypersonic airplane to a Mach number of 6.7, the fastest speed attained in the X-15. By virtue of this flight, Knight still holds today the world’s speed record in a winged, powered aircraft. The X-15 opened yet a new chapter in the history of the airplane – the age of hypersonic flight. The X-15, however, did not reflect the supersonic aerodynamics seen in the Bell X-1 and the Lockheed F-104. Instead, the X-15 had a wider fuselage with a blunted nose as well as a thicker wing with blunt leading edges – all designed to reduce aerodynamic heating to the vehicle.  This is a dramatic departure from good supersonic airplane design, and is a good example of the different problems encountered with hypersonic flight.


X-15 hanging in the Milestones of Flight gallery at the National Air and Space Museum.


Rocket powered North American X-15 in flight. U.S. Air Force Photo.

The X-15 was born on October 5, 1954, when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics decided on the need for a manned hypersonic research airplane. After winning an industry-wide competition, North American Aviation designed and built the X-15. This is the same company that designed the famous P-51 Mustang of World War II, and America’s first swept-wing fighter, the F-86 Sabre of Korean War fame. The first X-15 flight took place on June 8, 1959, when Scott Crossfield, then employed by North American, was strapped into the cockpit.  With a long, flattened fuselage, short stubby wings, wedge-shapes for tail surfaces, and a black surface to help radiate away the high temperature generated by aerodynamic heating, the North American X-15 was poised for its first flight.  Mounted under the wing of a B-52 jet bomber, on that day the X-15 and Crossfield were carried to an altitude of 11,445 meters (37,550 feet), and then released. This first flight was a gliding flight; the rocket powered flights were to come later.  Nevertheless, the X-15 reached a speed of Mach 0.79 on its decent to the desert floor below.

X-15 Book

X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots who Ushered in the Space Age, by John Anderson and Richard Passman

This first flight was the beginning of one of the most spectacular test programs of one of the most spectacular airplanes in history. When it ended after 199 test flights, piloted by 12 different test pilots, the X-15 had produced test data in the hypersonic flight regime that would be indispensable to the later design of the space shuttle. The last flight took place on October 24, 1968, when test pilot Bill Dana reached a Mach number of 5.38 and an altitude of 77,724 meters (255,000 feet). This last flight was an example of many of the X-15 tests. The rocket engine had been at 100 percent thrust of 57,000 pounds for 84 seconds, and the whole flight from launch to touchdown had taken a mere 11 minutes and 28 seconds. Ultimately, the highest Mach number of 6.7 achieved by pilot Bill Knight and the and highest altitude of 107,960 meters (354,200 feet) achieved by pilot Joseph Walker are speed and altitude records held by a powered, piloted airplane that still stand today. This explains why the X-15 was important enough that one of the original three now hangs with distinction in the Milestone of Flight gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. In this Museum, one can also see the other airplanes mentioned above that represent the path to flying faster and higher – the Wright Flyer, the Bell X-1, and the Lockheed F-104. The X-15 is the natural continuation of the quest for speed and altitude.  After 45 years, no other airplane has flown faster and higher, and it has been a museum piece for four decades. That is food for thought.

John Anderson is curator of aerodynamics in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum and co-author of the new book, X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age.

For more information on the X-15, check out John Anderson’s new book, X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age.