31 July 1944

Commandant Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres. (John Phillips)
Commandant Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres. (John Phillips)

31 July 1944, famed French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint Exupéry), flying for the Free French Air Force (Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres), departed Borgo Airfield on the island of Corsica on a reconnaissance mission of the Rhône Valley. His aircraft was a Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning, serial number 42-68223, an unarmed photo reconnaissance variant of the P-38J Lighting twin-engine fighter. He was never seen again.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flying his Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning near Alghero on the coast of Sardinia, 1944.  (John e Annamaria Phillips Foundation)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flying his Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning near Alghero on the coast of Sardinia, 1944. (John e Annamaria Phillips Foundation)

In 1998 a fisherman found his silver identity bracelet in the sea south of Marseilles. Parts of the aircraft were recovered in 2003.

“Saint-Ex” wrote Night Flight, Flight to ArrasWind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince, as well as many other works. He was a gifted writer.

A pilot boards his Lockheed P-38 Lightning at sunset. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 July 1939

Caleb V. Haynes with the crew of the record-setting Boeing XB-15. (FAI)
Major Caleb V. Haynes, Captain William D. Old, Master Sergeant Adolph Cattarius and Staff Sergeant William J. Heldt, crew of the record-setting Boeing XB-15. (FAI)

30 July 1939: Major Caleb Vance Haynes, United States Army Air Corps, with Captain William D. Old, Master Sergeant Adolph Cattarius and Staff Sergeant William J. Heldt, flew the Boeing XB-15 experimental long range heavy bomber to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Greatest Payload Carried to a Height of 2,000 meters. The XB-15 carried a weight of 31,162.341 pounds to an altitude of 6,561.68 feet over Fairfield, Ohio. The flight set a second record by carrying 10,000 kilograms (22,046.23 pounds) to an altitude of 8,228 feet (2,507.894 meters). Both records were certified by the National Aeronautic Association, the American organization representing the FAI.

Boeing XB-15 35-277. (FAI)
Boeing XB-15 35-277. (FAI)

FAI Record File Num #8739 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C (Aviation with engine)
Category: General
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Greatest payload carried to a height of 2 000 m
Performance: 14 135 kg
Date: 1939-07-30
Course/Location: Fairfield, OH (USA)
Claimant C. V. Haynes (USA)
Crew W.D. Old, A. Cattarius, W.J. Heldt
Aeroplane: Boeing XB-15 (35-277)
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney 1830-11

FAI Record File Num #8740 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C (Aviation with engine)
Category: General
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Greatest payload carried to a height of 2 000 m
Performance: 14 135 kg
Date: 1939-07-30
Course/Location: Fairfield, OH (USA)
Claimant C. V. Haynes (USA)
Crew W.D. Old, A. Cattarius, W.J. Heldt
Aeroplane: Boeing XB-15 (35-277)
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney 1830-11

The Boeing Model 294, designated XB-15 by the Air Corps, was an experimental airplane designed to determine if a bomber with a 5,000 mile range was possible. It was designed at the same time as the Model 299, or XB-17, which had the advantage of lessons learned by the XB-15 design team. The XB-15 was larger and more complex than the XB-17 and took longer to complete. It first flew more than two years after the prototype B-17. Designers had planned to use an experimental 3,421.2-cubic-inch-displacement (56.04 liter) liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged Allison V-3420 twenty-four cylinder “double V” or “W” engine which produced 2,600 horsepower. The engine was not available however, and four air-cooled Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines were used. With one-third the horsepower, this substitution left the experimental bomber hopelessly underpowered as a combat aircraft.

Boeing XB-15 35-277. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-15 35-277. (U.S. Air Force)

The XB-15 was a very large four-engine mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of aluminum monocoque construction with fabric-covered flight control surfaces. It was designed for a ten-man crew who worked in shifts on long duration flights. The prototype bomber was 87 feet, 7 inches (26.70 meters) long with a wingspan of 149 feet (45.43 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 1 inch (5.51 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 37,709 pounds (17,141 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 70,706 pounds (32,139 kilograms)—later increased to 92,000 pounds (42,000 kilograms).

As built, the XB-15 was powered by four 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.97 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-1830-11 Twin Wasp two-row 14-cylinder radial engines producing 800 horsepower, each. They turned three-bladed controllable-pitch propellers. These gave the experimental airplane a maximum speed of 197 miles per hour (317 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) and a cruise speed of 152 miles per hour (245 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,800 meters). The service ceiling was 18,900 feet (5,760 meters) and maximum range was 5,130 miles (8,259 kilometers).

The bomber was armed with three .30-caliber and three .50-caliber machine guns for defense and could carry a maximum of 12,000 pounds (5,443.1 kilograms) of bombs in its internal bomb bay.

Only one XB-15 was built. During World War II it was converted to a transport and redesignated XC-105. In 1945 it was stripped and abandoned at Albrook Field, Territory of the Canal Zone, Panama.

Boeing XB-15 35-277, a prototype long-range heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-15 35-277, a prototype long-range heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 July 1976

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

28 July 1976: A U.S. Air Force Lockheed SR-71A, serial number 61-7958, flown by Captain Robert C. Helt and Major Larry A. Elliott, USAF, set an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, at 85,068 feet (25,929 meters).

FAI Record File Num #3496 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 25 929 m
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Robert C. Helt (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” (USAF)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

On the same day, Captain Eldon W. Joersz and Major George T. Fuller, Jr., flew 958 to 2,193.17 miles per hour (3,529.56 kilometers per hour) over a 15/25 kilometer course at Beale Air Force Base, California, setting an FAI World Absolute Speed Record.

FAI Record File Num #8865 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 3 529.56 km/h
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Eldon W. Joersz (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8879 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-Absolute (Absolute Record of classes C, H and M)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed
Performance: 3 529.56 km/h
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Eldon W. Joersz (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

De La Vaulx Medal
De La Vaulx Medal

The previous day, the same airplane flown by Major Adolphus H. Bledsoe, Jr., pilot, and Major John T. Fuller, RSO , set the World Absolute Speed Record of 2,092.29 miles per hour (3,367.22 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer closed circuit. Captain Joersz and Major George Fuller’s record superseded the one set by Bledsoe and John Fuller.

All six airmen were awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the FAI.

Today, 61-7958 is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Warner-Robins, Georgia. 32 of these long range strategic reconnaissance aircraft were built by the Lockheed Skunk Works.

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958 at Beale AFB, 28 July 1976. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 July 1943

Second Lieutenant John Cary Morgan, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, commanding 8th Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Second Lieutenant John Cary Morgan, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, commanding 8th Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

MORGAN, JOHN C. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 326th Bomber Squadron, 92d Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 28 July 1943.

Entered service at: London, England. Born: 24 August 1914, Vernon, Texas.

G.O. No.: 85, 17 December 1943.

Citation:

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while participating on a bombing mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe, 28 July 1943. Prior to reaching the German coast on the way to the target, the B17 airplane in which 2d Lt. Morgan was serving as copilot was attacked by a large force of enemy fighters, during which the oxygen system to the tail, waist, and radio gun positions was knocked out. A frontal attack placed a cannon shell through the windshield, totally shattering it, and the pilot’s skull was split open by a .303 caliber shell, leaving him in a crazed condition. The pilot fell over the steering wheel, tightly clamping his arms around it. 2d Lt. Morgan at once grasped the controls from his side and, by sheer strength, pulled the airplane back into formation despite the frantic struggles of the semiconscious pilot. The interphone had been destroyed, rendering it impossible to call for help. At this time the top turret gunner fell to the floor and down through the hatch with his arm shot off at the shoulder and a gaping wound in his side. The waist, tail, and radio gunners had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen and, hearing no fire from their guns, the copilot believed they had bailed out. The wounded pilot still offered desperate resistance in his crazed attempts to fly the airplane. There remained the prospect of flying to and over the target and back to a friendly base wholly unassisted. In the face of this desperate situation, 2d Lt. Officer Morgan made his decision to continue the flight and protect any members of the crew who might still be in the ship and for 2 hours he flew in formation with one hand at the controls and the other holding off the struggling pilot before the navigator entered the steering compartment and relieved the situation. The miraculous and heroic performance of 2d Lt. Morgan on this occasion resulted in the successful completion of a vital bombing mission and the safe return of his airplane and crew.”

Red Morgan had broken his neck in an oil field accident before the United States entered World War II.  He had been classified 4-F by the draft board: “not qualified for military service”. In August 1941, Morgan went to Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. After training, he was sent to England and assigned to RAF Bomber Command. After the U.S. entered the war, Morgan was transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps with the rank of Flight Officer. The incident for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor occurred during his fifth combat mission with the 326th Bombardment Squadron. He was the co-pilot of a Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 42-29802.

Douglas-built B-17F-70-DL Flying Fortress 42-3491, commanded by Major Fred Rabo, with Lieutenant “Red” Morgan as co-pilot, was shot down near Berlin, Germany, 6 March 1944. The bomber exploded immediately after this photograph was taken. Lt. Morgan and three others survived. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas-built B-17F-70-DL Flying Fortress 42-3491, commanded by Major Fred Rabo, with Lieutenant “Red” Morgan as co-pilot, was shot down near Berlin, Germany, 6 March 1944. The bomber exploded immediately after this photograph was taken. Lt. Morgan and three others survived. (U.S. Air Force)

Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, John C. Morgan continued to fly combat missions. On 6 March 1944, the Pathfinder B-17F on which he was co-pilot was shot down and he was captured. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at Stalag Luft I. He is the only Medal of Honor recipient to have been held as a Prisoner of War after being awarded the Medal.

Authors Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. used Morgan as the model for the character of “Lieutenant Jesse Bishop” in their novel, Twelve O’Clock High, and the Academy Award-winning 1949 motion picture adaptation that followed. The Jesse Bishop character was played by actor Robert Patten, a USAAF navigator during World War II.

Second Lieutenant John C. "Red" Morgan, USAAF, at Stalag Luft I, 1944.
Second Lieutenant John C. “Red” Morgan, USAAF, at Stalag Luft I, 1944.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 July 1935

Boeing Model 299, NX13372, photographed during its first flight, 28 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, photographed during its first flight, 28 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)
Boeing test pilot Les Tower. (Boeing)
Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot Leslie R. Tower.

28 July 1935, At Boeing Field, Seattle, Chief Test Pilot Leslie Ralph (“Les”) Tower and Louis Waite took off on the maiden flight of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, a prototype four-engine long range heavy bomber. For approximately one-and-a-half hours, Tower flew back and forth between Tacoma and Fort Lewis. When he landed, he said, “It handles just like a little ship—a little bigger, of course.”

The Boeing Model 299 was a four-engine bomber designed to be operated by a crew of eight. It was designed to meet a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal for a multi-engine bomber that could carry a 2,000 pound (907.2 kilogram) bomb load a distance of 2,000 miles (3,218.7 kilometers) at a speed greater than 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour). Design of the prototype began in June 1934 and construction was started 16 August 1934. The Air Corps designated it B-299, and later, XB-17. It did not carry a military serial number, being marked with civil registration NX13372.

The Boeing Model 299 with Mount Rainier. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing Model 299 with Mount Rainier. (U.S. Air Force)

The Model 299 was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.363 meters). Its empty weight was 21,657 pounds (9,823.5 kilograms). The loaded weight was 32,432 pounds (14,710.9 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 38,053 pounds (17,260.6 kilograms). The prototype was powered by four 1,690.54-cubic-inch-displacement (27.69 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-1690E S1EG Hornet 9-cylinder radial engines which were rated at 750 horsepower, each, at 2,250 r.p.m. and 7,000 feet (2,133.6 meters). They turned three-bladed Hamilton-Standard variable pitch propellers through a 2:3 gear reduction.

Boeing Model 299  NX13372, the prototype XB-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, the prototype XB-17. (U.S. Air Force)

In flight testing, the Model 299 had a cruise speed of 204 miles per hour (328.3 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 236 miles per hour (379.8 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 24,620 feet (7,504.2 meters). The maximum range was 3,101 miles ( kilometers). Carrying a 2,573 pounds (1,167.1 kilogram) load of bombs, the range was 2,040 miles (3,283.1 kilometers).

Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.
Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.

The XB-17 could carry eight 500 pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber machine guns.

Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, photographed 24 July 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, photographed 24 July 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

The prototype, NX13372, was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. An Army Air Corps pilot making his first familiarization flight neglected to remove the control locks. This incident led directly to the creation of the ”check list” which is used by all aircraft crewmembers.

Waist gun position of the Boeing 299. (U.S. Air force)
Waist gun position of the Boeing 299. (U.S. Air Force)

Designated XB-17 by the Army Air Corps, this airplane and the YB-17 pre-production models that followed would undergo several years of testing and improvement before entering production as the B-17 Flying Fortress, a legendary airplane of World War II. By the end of the war 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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