Supersonic DC-8 in stunning colour

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June 15, 2021
DC-8
The supersonc Canadian Pacific DC-8-40 with F104 chase plane piloted by Chuck Yeager at 50,000ft, hence the black sky. Credit; PHoto Mike Machat colorised by Benoit Vienne.

The Douglas DC-8 is the only subsonic commercial jet to break the sound barrier and now we have her in stunning colour thanks to French colourist Benoit Vienne.

The event took place on August 21, 1961, when test pilot William Magruder, copilot Paul Patten, flight engineer Joseph Tomich, and flight test engineer Richard H. Edwards took Douglas DC-8-43 no. N9604Z for a test flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The DC-8 exceeded Mach 1—the only intentional supersonic flight by an airliner other than the Concorde and the Tu-144.

The DC-8 was accompanied by a US Air Force F-100 Super Sabre and F-104 Starfighter chase planes. Reportedly, the F-104 was flown by the legendary test pilot, Colonel Chuck Yeager.

In an interview in 2007 with historian and former Douglas employee Bill Wasserzieher for Air & Space Richard Edwards said that it was “Bill Magruder’s idea.”

Bill Magruder (right) chats with Donald Douglas Snr (middle) in a DC-8 cockpit with Arnold Heimerdinger (left).

“Very smart—get it out there, show the airplane can survive this and not fall apart. Boeing will never try it [with the 707] because they don’t want to be second. I’m sorry if that affects anybody but that’s just the way it was,” Mr. Edwards said.

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“We took it up to 10 miles up, 52,000 feet—that’s a record—and put it in a half-a-G pushover. Bill maintained about 50 pounds of push. He didn’t trim it for the dive so that it would want to pull out by itself.

“In the dive, at about 45,000 feet, it went to Mach 1.01 for maybe 16 seconds, then he recovered. But the recovery was a little scary. When he pulled back, the elevator was ineffective; it didn’t do anything, so he said, “Well, I’ll use the stabilizer,” and the stabilizer wouldn’t run,” Mr. Edwards recalled.

“It stalled, because of the load. What he did, because he was smart, is something that no other pilot would do: He pushed over into the dive more, which relieved the load on the stabilizer. He was able to run the [stabilizer] motor, with the relieved load, and he recovered at about 35,000 feet. That’s an unofficial supersonic record, payload record, and of course an altitude record for a commercial transport. I think it took about 10 years for the SSTs to beat that.”

The DC-8, which carried the US registration N9604Z was powered by four Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.12 Mk 509 turbofan engines, rated at 17,500 pounds of thrust.

The DC-8, Empress of Montreal, was delivered to Canadian Pacific Airlines on November 15, 1961, and re-registered CF-CPG. It was scrapped at Opa Locka Municipal Airport, north of Miami, Florida, in May 1981.

The FULL interview can be read here.