Call me weird, but a while back I watched a newsreel from 1959, talking about the dedication of Kincheloe AFB. I’ve been to what is left of Kincheloe AFB (aka Kinross AFB) in Upper Michigan a few times, but could never find the plack and boulder seen in the newsreel. So, when my dad said he was going to visit the base on a road trip, I asked him to see if he could find it. I knew something that size wouldn’t just walk away. Well, thanks to some directions from the Kinross Heritage Park and Military Museum, he found it and snapped some photos. I have added a page to the site with photos and info, also accessible from the home page.
Additional photos from the base can be found on one of my old blog posts.
Site friends & contributors Tony Accurso and daughter Evelyn sent over the below photos from the X-2 fuselage crash site. They visited on September 27th, leaving new flags and flowers to remember Capt. Apt.
Haystack Butte, the lone mountain in the background. The X-2 nose section came to rest about a mile east of the mountain and four miles beyond the joshua tree in the foreground.
While many of us remember Capt. Mel Apt for his final flight on September 27, 1956, another flight was equally important two years earlier. Capt. Apt was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for helping save a fellow pilot. The story of flight was told in a 1956 Life Magazine article, available online.
On September 17, the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB opened a new display remembering Capt. Mel Apt and the Bell X-2. I had the honor of attending the opening, meeting Lorrie Epling (Capt. Apt’s daughter) as well as attend other X-2 events that day (which I will write more about later!). Aviation artist Mike Machat was also
Interesting fact: The flight suit on display for Capt. Apt was once owned and worn by Pete Everest. His name is on the inside of the flight suit.
Mike Machat talking about Capt. Apt’s final flight and his newest painting, “Perfect Profile,” honoring Apt.
Lorrie Epling (center), daughter of test pilot Milburn G. “Mel” Apt, and her family, daughters Rachel (left) and Brisley and husband Michael, pose with museum specialist Tony Moore in front of the newly-unveiled display of Apt and Bell X-2 at the Air Force Flight Test Museum Sept. 16. Apt was a US test pilot, and the first man to attain speeds faster than Mach 3. He was killed in the destruction of the Bell X-2 during the record-setting flight that exceeded Mach 3 on September 27, 1956. Moore designed and constructed the X-2 display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Ball)
It’s hard to imagine that it was 60 years since the Bell X-2 last flew. In September 1956, the Bell X-2 program flew higher and faster than anyone had ever gone before:
September 7: Capt. Iven Kincheloe rockets to a record altitude of 126,200 feet.
September 27: Capt. Milburn “Mel” Apt flys the perfect profile to reach Mach 3.196, becoming the fastest man alive. Sadly, Captain Apt lost his life in this flight.
On September 17, a small group of X-2 fans got together at Edwards AFB to remember the people and the program. I’ll be posting a number of photos and details from the event to the website over the next few weeks.
Mt. Rushmore, Needles Highway, Custer State Park, the Stratobowl. The what?
Yep, the Stratobowl. A trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills is not complete without a trip to the Stratobowl – at least for me. This is where my husband’s eyes roll and he goes, “oh, that place again.” Located right off of US-16 as you enter Black Hills National Forest, most tourists drive right by, not knowing the historic spot they’ve just missed (just past Putz & Glow Indoor Mini Golf – I had to add that…).
The Stratobowl was home to a dozen manned research balloon launches from 1934 through 1959. The large depression was selected to help with the launches, shielding the balloon from wind gusts as it was prepared for lift-off. If you look at a Google Map of the area, you’ll know when you’re near: Strato Bowl Drive, Stratosphere Lane, Gondola Road. The bowl itself is private property, but there is a gravel public road that will take you to the bottom.
The best view of the Stratobowl isn’t in the bowl itself, but from the ridge above. There is a national forest gravel trail that will take you to the same overlook constructed in the 1930s for balloon launch viewers. If you go, there isn’t a parking lot. Look for a gate and possibly some vehicles parked off of the side of the road (we had 2-3 dog walkers and other hikers when we visited). It’s a beautiful view and you’ll also see a National Geographic plaque and granite stones for each of the launches from the bowl. From the lookout, you’ll also see the trout stream that pilot Maj. William Kepner noted would be ideal for a launch site.
On your way there, visit the South Dakota Air & Space Museum at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City. In addition to having a great museum, check out their Stratobowl exhibit.
View from the trail
A view of the Black Hills
View of the bowl
There is a series of granite slabs, each with the story behind each launch at the Stratobowl.
Sadly, they’re all behind a fence, making them hard to read. National Geographic Society Plack for 1935 Explorer II launch