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D-558 I Skystreak

Conceived in 1945, the D558-1 Skystreak was designed by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, in conjunction with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The Skystreaks were turbojet powered aircraft that took off from the ground under their own power and had straight wings and tails. All the skystreaks were initially painted scarlet, which lead to the nickname "crimson test tube." NACA later had the color of the Skystreaks changed to white to improve optical tracking and photography. The Skystreaks were ideal first-generation, simple, transonic research airplanes.

A single-place, straight-wing, jet-powered aircraft, the D-558 I "Skystreak" was manufactured by Douglas Aircraft. It was designed to investigate jet aircraft characteristics at transonic speeds, including stability and control and buffet investigations. Much of the research in the public mind performed by the D-558-1 Skystreaks, was quickly overshadowed by Chuck Yeager and the X-1 rocket plane. The Skystreak performed an important role in aeronautical research by flying for extended periods of time at transonic speeds, which freed the X-1 to fly for limited periods at supersonic speeds.

The D-558 I was 35 ft long and 12 ft high, with a wingspan of 25 ft. It weighed 10,258 lb when fully fueled. All three D-558-1 Skystreaks were powered by Allison J35-A-11 turbojet engines producing 5,000 pounds of thrust. The Skystreak carried 634 pounds of instrumentation. The instrumentation used onboard this airplane to record detailed wing and tail pressures was designed at Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, during the 1930's for use on dirigibles.

The first of three D-558-1 Skystreaks (#37970) made its maiden flight on April 14, 1947, at Muroc Army Air Field (later named Edwards AFB). Less than 4 months later, on August 20, this aircraft with Commander Turner Caldwell, USN, set a new world speed record of 641 miles per hour flying D-558-1 #1. The record lasted 5 days and was broken by Marine pilot Marion Carl going 10 miles per hour faster in D-558-1 #2 (#37971). This aircraft was delivered to the NACA Muroc Flight Test Unit in April 1949 after 101 flights had been completed by the Navy, Air Force, and Douglas. This aircraft was never flown by the NACA. The D-558-1 #1 aircraft is on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

Following 27 flights by the Navy and Douglas the second D-558-1 aircraft was delivered to the NACA in November 1947. The D-558-1 #2 underwent extensive instrumentation by the NACA Muroc instrumentation section. The number 2 Skystreak made a total of 19 flights with the NACA before it crashed on takeoff due to compressor disintegration on May 3, 1948, killing NACA pilot Howard C. Lilly.

The third D-558-I (#37972) aircraft was delivered to the NACA Muroc Flight Test Unit in 1949 after three Douglas test pilots and Howard Lilly had flown it. The number three aircraft took over the planned flight program of the D-558-1 #2. From the first flight in 1949 through 1953 the third Skystreak was flown in an intensive flight-research program by seven NACA test pilots, with a great deal of usefully data collect on high-subsonic handling. The D-558-1 #3 made a total of 78 research flights with the NACA before being retired on June 10, 1953. The third Skystreak is owned by the Carolinas Historical Aviation Museum located at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.



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