The 1950’s—A Golden Age for Military Aviation

B-58 Hustler Super Sonic Bomber – First flight 1956
Sections: Introduction, The Classic Match-up, The Century Series (USA), The Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau (Soviet Union), Helicopters, A Would-be Heyday for Bombers, Advances in Missilery, In-Flight Refueling, Lovable Losers, Conclusion


Recently I read an article where they analyzed the design of the SR-71 Blackbird with a computer based design program in which would not make any changes- the design was that good. The SR-71 program was the result of many interesting developments in aviation during the 1950’s. The SR-71 was designed without the aid of computers at that time.

Below are some of the highlights of that era that would eventually lead to that development to replace the famous U-2 Spy plane in 1966 with the SR-71. Gary Power’s U-2 being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 required a more capable aircraft.

U2 Spy plane in service since 1955

With a world exhausted from WWII, the powers that came out on top sought to create the next advance in aviation technology. While there were no computers at the time, there were piles of data from flight tests leading up to, and during WWII, plus the ever-present slide rule that could give a savvy user the solution he was looking for in short order.

While most is credited to German technology, other nations contributed innovations as well. By the 1950’s, a watershed of wartime discoveries in aviation were slowly working their way into current defense efforts.

Swept wing design was famously adapted by Willy Messerschmidt in WWII with his innovative ME-262, (first operational jet fighter to see combat). As with most inventions though, necessity was truly the mother of invention.  Early versions of the ‘262’ were straight winged taildraggers— instead of having the familiar nosewheel, the plane had a tailwheel, much like most of the aircraft up to that time. The problem with the earlier versions of the 262 is that the jet blast from the engines burned and dug pits in the tarmac. This created issues for ground handling of aircraft. With the addition of the nosewheel to the 262, the centre of gravity was changed, throwing off the handling characteristics. By moving the wing root (point at which the wing joins the fuselage) forward, and sweeping the end of the wings back, the centre of gravity issue was remedied and handling restored. Also the tarmac was left in better shape as a result.

The F-9 series US Navy Jet Fighter. The straight wing version (above left) first flew in 1947. The swept wing version (above right) first flew in 1951. This design existed at such a time of the transition from straight wing to swept wing within one airframe, and were both in the Korean Conflict. 

Fast forward to a few years later, and you have the victors of WWII hungrily mining what data they could from the Nazi and Japanese aviation industries. Straight wing fighters of the UK, US and France gave way to swept wing designs. Eventually so did bombers. Piston engines gave way to jets although the reliability of the newer engines was in question for some time. Flying an early jet one could more easily experience something called a ‘flame out’ if the pilot was too abrupt with his throttle settings. The engine would simply cut out if the ambient pressures were too different to sustain its function. Later improved jet engine designs were more forgiving.

The Classic Match-up: MiG 15 vs. F-86 Sabre

Nothing could be more emblematic of the air war in the Korean Conflict than the two great super powers squaring off with these flying machines that achieved some degree of parity. While both aircraft had their strengths, in the hands of a competent pilot, either could be very lethal. While the F-86 could dive a little faster than the MiG-15 due to the MiG’s having auto air breaks that would deploy once a certain speed was surpassed, the MiG could climb faster, and had higher altitude capability. This I discovered from flying each in the computer flight simulator IL-2 1946 modified, and also supports what I have read elsewhere.

There were countless other aircraft of various types also involved in Korea then, but they weren’t as glamorous as flying into MiG Alley near the Chinese boarder to hunt or be hunted. The North Korean and Chinese pilots were not nearly as well trained as the US pilots, many of whom were veterans of WWII. To help even the odds, the Soviets loaned the North Koreans some WWII veterans of their own. The story goes that the Soviet pilots were prohibited from speaking Russian on the radio. Only Chinese or Korean, which I can’t imagine would have been easy to communicate in the heat of an air battle. Soviet pilots were never allowed to fly over Allied territory, lest they get shot down and exposed for helping the North Koreans.

The Century Series (USA)

Beginning with the F-100 (thus, the Century Series), these planes began a legacy of aircraft that served in active duty through the 1970’s, and in some cases, beyond. All post-Korean Conflict designs, they helped raise the bar of technology in the 1950’s.

  • F-100 Super Saber (First flight in 1953)
    A step forward from the successful F-86 Saber project, this was designed to incorporate lessons learned from the Korean Conflict. It was the first US fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight. During the Vietnam War, it served tactical strike duties until later specialized attack aircraft like the capable A-7s of the US Navy superseded it.
  • F-101 VooDoo (First flight in 1954)
    First designed as a long-range bomber escort, it was then developed as a nuclear-armed fighter-bomber, then later a tactical conventional bomber or as photo reconnaissance (recon). It set a number of world speed records for jet powered aircraft, including fastest airspeed, attaining 1,207.6 miles (1,943.4 km) per hour in 1957. They operated in the recon role until 1979. (Citation: Wikipedia)
  • F-102 Delta Dagger (First flight in 1953) 
    Also known as The Deuce (for ‘102’), this was first designed as a pure strategic interceptor of incoming enemy bombers, but later found life as a straight tactical interceptor with the Air National Guard until the 1970’s.
  • F-103 (never flew)
    From the Wikipedia website: The Republic XF-103 was an American project created to develop a powerful missile-armed interceptor aircraft capable of destroying Soviet bombers while flying at speeds as high as Mach 3 (2,300 mph; 3,700 km/h). Despite a prolonged development, it never progressed past the mockup stage. In short, it never quite measured up to expectations, but was turned into a testbed project aiding other aircraft, like the B-58 Hustler Super Sonic Bomber.
  • F-104 Star Fighter (First flight in 1956)
    This was designed first and foremost for the interception of high altitude enemy bombers of the 1950’s.  When first deployed, it won the 1958 Collier Trophy. The F-104 was designed by Kelly Johnson who was already famous for his work with the legendary P-38, F-80 Shooting Star, and other projects. With the advent of ballistic missiles and ICBMs, the original role was superseded by events. Later versions of the Star Fighter would carry more fuel and avionics and provide fighter cover in the Vietnam War.
  • F-105 Thunderchief (First flight in 1955)
    The F-105 was originally designed to be a nuclear-capable Mach 2 strike aircraft. Its most likely opponent at the time was the Soviet Union. When the possibility of the F-105 carrying nukes into combat was diminished due to ICBM development, it was to be later re-purposed in the Vietnam War as a conventional strike fighter- obviously to not-so-good effect. A quote from Wikipedia:  “The Mach 2 capable F-105 conducted the majority of strike bombing missions during the early years of the Vietnam War; it was the only U.S. aircraft to have been removed from combat due to high loss rates.” Perhaps that’s why it was given the nickname ‘The Thud’
  • F-106 Delta Dart (First flight in 1956) 
    Designed as an all weather interceptor, it saw service until the 1980’s when the remaining examples ended their careers ingloriously as target drones for practice. Most of its duty was spent on the front lines of the cold war in Alaska, West Germany, and South Korea awaiting the bombers that never came.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau (Soviet Union)

Founded by Russians Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich in 1939, the bureau assigned the prefix “MiG” to all aircraft that they produced. This began with the MiG-1 in 1940. The MiG-15 (first flight 1947) is the first prominent jet of the family, with successive designs such as the MiG-17 (first flight 1950), MiG-19 (first flight 1952), and later MiG-21 (first flight 1956).

The MiG-21 (NATO name: ‘Fishbed,’) still actively serves in a number of airforces around the world today.


Although helicopters had been produced since WWII, the implementation of them in any numbers to be effective in the field did not come until the 1950’s. The US certainly used them to great effect in the Korean Conflict for evacuating wounded, search and rescue missions, and inserting small forces in difficult terrain. Lessons learned in Korea would help to shape US strategic thinking in the Vietnam War, and beyond.

A Would-be Heyday for Bombers

From the B-29 late in WWII, the scale and power of aircraft expanded in both size and capability, like with the B-36 Peacemaker  (first flight 1946).

B-29 Stratofortress (left,) compared to the B-36 peacemaker (right)

Of those designs still around to this day, the Soviet’s TU-95 Bear bomber (first flight 1952) and the US B-52 Stratofortress (first flight also in 1952) continue to log flight hours with updated avionics and weapons.

The days of massed bombers carrying nuclear warheads were eclipsed with the advent of Ballistic Missiles. It is a lot harder to knock a missile out of the air than a big bomber, and actually more probable with surface to air missile technology advancing by leaps and bounds in the 1950’s.

Typically if aircraft could not be repurposed (like the TU-95 or the B-52) for conventional bombing, their days were numbered.

Advances in Missilery

All manner of missiles saw breathtaking advances in the 1950’s. Missiles we have today can trace their technological legacy back to these heady days.

  • Air to Air
    The US started deploying their AIM-9 Sidewinder Heat Seeking Missile in 1956. The Sidewinder was engineered so as to be easily modified for upgrades. Later versions would introduce radar-seeking warheads. The Soviets happened to get a hold of one during an unsuccessful air to air conflict, and produced their own version named the ‘K-13.’ Later versions of both missiles are still in service today.
  • Ground to Air
    The US’s NIKE AJAX SAM (surface to air missile) was the most effective use of radar technology to date for that type of weapon. Originally introduced in 1954, the AJAX remained in service until 1970. How many native Chicagoans remember Montrose Point and other locations on Lake Michigan in the 1960’s with these all set, and ready to fire into the sky? The Russians, never to be outdone, came up with their own system SA-2 Guideline introduced in 1957 to counteract the US advantage. Reports from pilots trying to evade these missiles  describe them as like “seeing telephone poles take off from the ground to come up and try and knock you out of the sky”. Some variant of these radar guided missiles serve in both inventories to this day.
  • Air to Surface
    The AGM-Bullpup introduced by the United States in 1959 was among the most effective guided air to surface missiles up to that time. It was used in the Vietnam War and up to the 1970’s. Subsequent development of that technology lead to the later more advanced Maverick air to surface missile. The Soviets followed on nearly ten years later (1968) with their version, the KH-23 Grom.  Up until that time the only alternative was exotic TV guided bombs from WWII which were rare.
  • Ground to Ground, and ICBMs
    Thanks in large part to the defection of many German scientists at the end of the war who clearly had a good start on rocket technology, the global talent pool was dispersed among the victors of WWII. Here I will not go into detail beyond reiterating that the advent of the ICBM negated any advantage that a strategic bomber force would have, conventional or otherwise.

In-Flight Refueling

While this seemingly improbable technology had been around since the 1930’s, its most practical application to date was with the KC-97 Stratofreighter in 1951. Incorporation of a solid mast-like boom hanging off the back of the plane made in flight refueling more practical, as opposed to the drogue hoses used before which were not very efficient. This ‘boom concept’ (as it was called) was adopted at the encouragement of US General Curtis LeMay who saw this as a way to keep aircraft aloft for extended periods of time otherwise not possible. Smaller aircraft for in-flight refueling were also used with drogue hoses like the A-1 Skyraider, but this larger plane really paved the way for the in flight tankers we know today.

Reworking of many existing aircraft to make them capable of in flight refueling became a priority at the time.

Boeing KC-97L
KC-97 Stratofreighter with boom refueling probe

I was once acquainted with a guy who was a boom operator on a later KC-135 tanker. He relayed that it could be a nerve racking experience, as one wrong move and you could “end up in the next zip code.”

Lovable Losers

With so many ideas being tried out, quite a few concepts were produced only to have been found wanting in some aspects, and retired after relatively short service. Among my favorite failures are these two. While not very successful, they were interesting designs for their time.

The Vought F7U Cutlass (left above from 1948,) was designed as a ship born carrier aircraft with capabilities for fighter or attack duties. Reported to be taken from a famous German aircraft manufacturer’s notes, the theories did not translate well into practice. While the airframe was certainly innovative, the engines were reported to be underpowered. It earned such nicknames from its pilots as The Ensign Killer, and The Gutless Cutlass.

The Douglas F4D (right above from 1951,) had a more success, but didn’t serve very long. It stayed in service with the US Navy until 1964 after an 8 year career that started with its designer, Ed Heinemann, winning the prestigious Collier Trophy for his work.

To see a short video (9 and a half minutes) including the above 2 aircraft as well as some other aviation legends from the 1950’s, watch below


Naval aviation also saw many advances during this time as well. The F-4 Phantom II first flew in 1958, and went on to become a legend in its own right, but was not introduced to service until 1960- certainly worth reading more about.

There were some beautiful aircraft produced during the 1950’s, as well as some ugly ones too. Most have been forgotten, but all can be traced in some lineage to current designs.

The iconic SR-71 Blackbird (first flight 1964,) was also designed by Kelly Johnson, the same who designed the F-104 Star Fighter mentioned above in The Century Series.

While there were many other interesting aircraft designed during this time period, this article serves to wet one’s appetite by connecting some dots for you, in hopes that it may inspire further reading on such a rich subject.


SR-71 Blackbird was very much a product of the 1950’s
Golden Age of Military Aviation development

Written by Thomas Gorman, Edited by Lisa Markwart.

All photos credit Wikipedia and Wikicommons, unless otherwise specified.

All IL-2 1946 flight simulator screen captures courtesy Ubisoft, Oleg Maddox and countless community members who have enriched the experience

Final version: published July 26, 2017

Getting rid of your cable TV service



‘Cutting the cord’ has become more popular in recent years. Being subjected to rate increases from cable service providers with no end in sight can make the consumer feel rather powerless as to his or her options. More and more, people have taken the step to gain more control over their financial outlay when it comes to television.


Of course there IS the trade off: Yes, you may miss a sporting event you might like to see, but it will be an opportunity to visit your local bar and rub elbows with your neighbors, or miss your favorite TV series on cable- but then as long as you have decent internet you might well be able to see them on websites like (subscription required) or other sites (like Youtube or a network website). BUT will you ever channel surf 100+ channels, and feel like a chump because there’s still nothing on you want to watch? No. Here are some basic things to consider when you do decide to cut the cord, or even if you are still on the fence about it. While the financial investment in setting up broadcast TV reception is something, it is finite- and won’t go up in price. After reading this article you will at least have an idea of what you are getting yourself into, and what the potential payoff is.


How far are you?


First it is important to determine how far away you are located from your areas’ broadcast stations. One site that I have found useful is this from the Federal Communications Commission:
Simply enter your ZIP code, and you’re off! Note the cautions on the site for optimal reception – “Signal strength calculations are based on the traditional TV reception model assuming an outdoor antenna 30 feet above ground level. Indoor reception may vary significantly” as it states.

What type of antenna do you need?

Although I first learned about antenna transmission and reception in the 1970’s, the laws of physics that govern signals will not change. AM, FM, UHF, VHF, analog, digital- all behave in wave form and are subject to being influenced by different things such as line-of-sight, weather, obstructions such as buildings or trees. Outdoor TV antennas have historically been directional and need to be pointed correctly in order to get the best reception.


For this discussion, we will look at directional antennas. They are available from many vendors, such as, Radioshack, and Walmart. A few considerations to be aware of are:

  • Indoor or outdoor
  • Rated effective reception range In selecting an antenna, consider that the effective range will always be including optimal installation (decent height,) and will not include any obstacles in its rating like buildings, trees, or atmospheric conditions  (clouds, fog, rain/snow, etc.). Go overkill on what you think you need to eliminate any potential or unforeseen issues.
  • Ease of assembly and installation
  • Reviews – READ these. I have found them very helpful. Read all of them if you can, as you might find someone who’s had a similar situation (and how their solution was effective, or not). Doing so for all your equipment needs may save you headaches later.

For some of you reading this article, you might be far removed from a metropolitan area to where an outdoor antenna may be the best option, even if you mount it in your attic. If you are in or near a metropolitan area, you may be able to get away with an indoor antenna- buy a cheap model and see if you can work with that before getting more elaborate.

What direction do you point this thing in?

Locating the direction of broadcast media to determine which direction to point your antenna is important. For most, these are located in a single direction. To determine what direction your nearest  stations are, check out this page– just plug in your ZIP code like before- it will give you available channels and a compass heading, and if you scroll down further in the results, directional map:  

You may be in the middle of a number of stations’ broadcast areas in different directions, making the use of your TV antenna a bit more complicated. The solution for that is an antenna rotor which will change the direction of your antenna remotely from your couch or easy chair. This device mounts on your antenna mast just underneath the antenna. Here are some samples of that technology, which is pretty accessible even to the layperson: At and Also there is this page which might help with installation: Denny’s Antenna Service  While a rotor may be needed in some installations, I’d only use them as a last resort. Also, here’s a video someone put together demonstrating the steps involved in such an installation. My previous experience installing a rotor was with a PDL-II CB radio beam antenna, and weigh about 14 pounds– TV antennas are typically much lighter than that (thankfully!)

A little extra help may be a good choice
Wingard LNA-200 Boost
Photo – T. Gorman

One of the last considerations in choosing an antenna is making sure that once you have it all set up and ready to go, that you don’t have to rework anything so you can just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor- might you need a signal booster? Signal boosters, or antenna amplifiers go in-line on your antenna cable that increase weak or partially obstructed signals. Sure, you can get all your favorite channels on a nice clear day, but what if you can’t when the weather is foul? Especially if you are on the edge of a station’s broadcast area, I think it is better to go overkill so you don’t need to perform more work to get it done right.

There are signal boosters available for either indoor or outdoor antennas, so be sure to select one that will work for your installation. They vary greatly in price, but remember that just because it is cheap may not always mean it is a good deal. Here I relied on product reviews heavily, as the selection is pretty wide spread as to what they can do for you.


Coaxial Cable
Photo – T. Gorman

Now that you have your antenna selected, method of installation, etc., you can string it all together and start enjoying your over-the-air broadcast television. Depending on how far away from your TV the antenna is, it might be a good idea to include a signal booster as mentioned above- signal degradation over the course of 100 feet of cable may be enough to weaken signals to the point of rendering some channels unwatchable. For my installation, I selected two 50 foot pieces of 75 ohm RG6 coaxial cable with F-type connectors, and a coupler to make one long length. These will connect easily to both your antenna and your TV. The cable itself is similar to the type of cable that cable TV services use; it is protected by an outer shield, which encases a braided copper wire underneath, along with some plastic insulating material, and a single copper wire in the middle. Exercise caution to not accidentally bend this middle wire, or it will cause you headaches straightening it enough to work.

In addition to the two 50 foot pieces of cable, I also bought some 3 foot patch cables to go from the antenna to the signal booster, then on the other end from the in-line power supply for the booster to the TV inside the house.

Once this is all put together, have a friend by your antenna, and you by the TV. Initially point the antenna in the direction that your broadcasters are. Then turn on your TV, go to Menu, and start the channel scan (this was performed on a digital flat panel TV; I doubt that an old TV would work unless you have a converter box for DTV).

If you are happy with the results, tell your friend to come down and have a beer with you to watch what channels you have- otherwise, yell up at him or her to nudge the antenna one way or another until you get the best results.

Using your DTV as a monitor and online home theater
Figure 1

As an added bonus, most all digital TVs today have extra ports on them so you can plug in your desktop computer or laptop into them. Then you can get the full benefit of watching big screen video from your computer, and take advantage of sites like Hulu, Youtube, Netflix, etc. Turn around your DTV and look for a port like this shown in Figure 1.

The type of cable from your desktop or laptop computer is pretty standard, and looks like this as in figure 2 shown here (with protective caps on the connectors).

Figure 2

To enable viewing your computer on a digital TV, select the type of input from its menu- it may say “Computer,” “VGA,” or “RGB,” this varies by manufacturer.

Figure 3

Typically next to this receptacle, there is a micro stereo phono jack receptacle that would receive audio from your computer. A micro stereo phono cable (like Figure 3,) can be purchased from major retailers to run from your computer to the back of your TV. Or you can be like me, and have your computer sound plugged into a high end speaker system with subwoofer- makes loads of difference!

Figure 4

To keep you happy while you cruise the internet, it’s highly advisable to get a device that lets you control your computer from a comfortable position. For this I recommend a small (but not tiny,) wireless keyboard that includes a small touch pad like on a laptop, or rollerball incorporated into the unit. I was using a model from iOGear and was 2/3rds the size of a regular keyboard similar to Figure 4. Those are nice, and you can do most all your regular tasks on it.


There are other resources out there for those looking to ‘cut their cable’ (see bottom of page for more links), but if you follow the basic information I am providing here in this article, you will certainly have a great start in getting your over the air broadcast reception set up.

Finished installation
Photo – T.Gorman

My current location is about 50 miles from the nearest media market, and I have a building partially obstructing my line of sight toward broadcast antennas, as well as a line of trees which may add some interference when they are full in warmer months. The antenna is about 28 feet above ground level in a 3rd floor attic. The installation is situated next to a west facing window. It’s as good as it can be without putting the antenna on the roof, which would not gain much height advantage with that anyway.

My project supply list included the following:

  • Mediasonic Homeworx HDTV Outdoor Antenna (HW-27UV)
    (Rated at 80 mile effectiveness)
  • Coaxial Cable (2×50 Foot lengths) with F-type Connectors
  • Coaxial extension adapter
  • 3-pack of RG6 3 foot long patch cords with F-type connectors
  • Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT Digital HDTV Antenna Booster
    Plus shipping, tax and handling

    Total:      $152.87

Ancillary supplies  (on hand, or adapted material)

  • Tripod Antenna Mount ( Re-purposed a camera tripod)
  • Antenna mast (Substituted a paint roller tube and used this on the top of tripod, along with an old sock wrapped in the inside to be sure the tube would not crush from the antenna mount)
  • Power drill with 1/2 inch bit as needed (Always exercise caution and use a detector to make sure you don’t drill through utility cables in walls)
  • Pliers, or adjustable crescent wrench
  • Compass
  • Tube of latex caulk for sealing around holes drilled in walls
  • Roll of vinyl electrical tape to cover outside connectors, and protect them from corrosion. Invaluable, if you ever have to work with them again.
Number of digital TV channels found from different configurations comparison
Location of antenna Booster? No. of ch. rcvd.
Type of channels
1st floor dining room window, 330 compass heading, 10 degree elevation, 50 ft. cable No 14 Major networks (but no CBS), some local, MeTV and THiS. No PBS stations
1st floor dining room window, 330 compass heading, 10 degree elevation, 50 ft. cable Yes  18 Major networks (but still no CBS), some local, COZI, MeTV and THiS. Some PBS stations with weak signal
3rd floor attic window, 330 compass heading, 5 degree elevation, 100 ft. cable No  5 ABC and sub channels, a couple of local stations
3rd floor attic window,
330 compass heading, 5 degree elevation, 100 ft. cable
Yes 27 Major networks (still no CBS), more local, MeTV, BOUNCE, Laff, COZI, and THiS. 5 PBS stations with good signal
This table demonstrates the usefulness of my experience from adding height to benefit reception, also that long lengths of cable can necessitate the need for a signal booster

I hope you have found this article useful and I’ve saved you some time and a headache or two. Good luck, and thanks for reading. — T. Gorman

Note: images used in this article not otherwise credited are
courtesy and are royalty free

Additional resources and links: