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On November 23, 1953, a US Air Force F-89C jet fighter interceptor was dispatched from Kinross Air Force Base near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to identify an intruder that had appeared on radar. For thirty minutes, the jet raced out over Lake Superior under guidance from radar operators at a remote station on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Suddenly, the return from the jet merged with that of the bogie it was chasing. The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) signal from the jet was lost. The radar blip from the F-89 never reappeared. An extensive search of the lake and shoreline over the next five days yielded no trace of the F-89 jet or its crew, pilot Lt. Felix Eugene Moncla Jr. and radar operator Lt. Robert L. Wilson.
I remember the flight reasonably well, and just checked my log books to confirm the date. It was a night flight. We were probably at 7,000 or 9,000 feet over a solid cloud deck below and absolutely clear sky above.
Somewhere near Sault Ste. Marie, and north of Kinross AFB, I think a ground station (can't remember whether it was American or Canadian) asked us if we had seen another aircraft's lights in our area. I do think I recall them saying at that time that the USAF had scrambled an interceptor and they had lost contact with it. We replied that we had not seen anything.
1st Lt. Felix Eugene Moncla Jr. was pilot of the F-89 which went missing over Lake Superior. He was a member of the 433rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron based at Truax Field in Madison, WI. At the time of his disappearance, he was on temporary assignment to Kinross Air Force Base while fighter jet and ground crews were doing gunnery training in Yuma, AZ.
2nd Lt. Robert L. Wilson was the radar operator in the F-89 which disappeared in the Kinross Incident. His hometown was Ponca City, Oklahoma.
1st Lt. John W. Schmidt was the pilot of the F-89 which crashed into a marsh at the edge of Lake Wingra, in Madison, Wisconsin, on the same day the F-89 disappeared over Lake Superior.
The first prototype Scorpion took to the air in August 1948. Many shortcomings soon became evident. On February 22, 1950, an early prototype was lost during a demonstration flight when its horizontal stabilizer tore away.
Problems also surfaced with the engines, which produced less power than predicted, and with the complex radar system being developed by Hughes Aircraft. At several points during 1949 and 1950 the Air Force came close to canceling the F-89 due to its seemingly intractable problems, but by 1951, with the introduction of the F-89C, the first fully operational version of the plane, it seemed that the Scorpion was on the way to becoming a major addition to the Air Force's arsenal.
The F-89C made its first flight in September, 1951, and the first operational F-89C squadron was the 176th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Truax AFB, Madison, Wisconsin, which received its first Scorpion on February 8, 1952.
* On February 25, an F-89C shed a wing and disintegrated in flight. After investigators determined that the aircraft had broken up due to overstressing by the pilot, speed and g-load limits were imposed.
* On June 18, just three days after the F-89C became operational with the 74th FIS at Presque Isle AFB, Maine, the wing of one of the squadron's new Scorpions cracked and folded in flight, killing the pilot and radar observer.
* On August 30, two F-89Cs of the 27th FIS were flying in an aerial display at the International Aviation Exhibition near Detroit. During a high-speed pass over the field, the left wing of one aircraft snapped off at the root. The fighter spun to destruction, killing both crewmen and spewing debris into the crowd, injuring five spectators.
* Despite even stricter speed and g-limits, another F-89C was lost to a wing failure on September 15th.
* On September 22, still another F-89C of the 74th FIS experienced an in-flight structural failure when its crew heard a loud bang and saw one of their wings fold up over their cockpit. Fortunately, both men managed to exit the plane and lived to tell the story.
The Air Force grounded all F-89s where they were. Air Defense Command was so enraged at the latest problems with the jinxed aircraft that it ordered Northrop to move the F-89s to modification centers using company test pilots and at company expense.
In November, Northrop began an intensive analysis and redesign effort on the F-89C's wing, a process which ultimately would cost taxpayers $17 million and take nine months to complete.
Northrop's engineers soon identified the problems that had combined to cripple the F-89C. The first issue was structural. In order to provide adequate strength for the aircraft's large, thin wing, while at the same time obtaining the lightest possible structure, they had used a promising new aluminum alloy, T75ST, in the highly-loaded fittings where the wing's root was bolted to the fuselage. T75ST had promised high strength with low weight. A drawback, however, was that the fatigue characteristics of the new alloy under extreme conditions were not fully understood. Northrop lacked facilities for testing structural specimens of the Scorpion's airframe to their full design limits, and it was decided that structural simulations of the airplane's wing could be tested to 60 percent of their limit loads and the remaining portion of the stress envelope could be extrapolated mathematically. What the designers did not realize, however, was that several factors inherent in the operation of high-speed jets had combined to make this a foolish choice.
originally posted by: Zaphod58
a reply to: NoCorruptionAllowed
Satellites don't see to the bottom of lakes, especially in 1953. Lake Superior is still over 1300 feet deep.
The radar images showed only the F-89 dropping off radar as the two returns merged. If the F-89 broke apart then it would disappear off the radar screen. Radar in 1953 was still fairly primitive and couldn't show as much detail as we can get on more modern radar screens.