29 March 1923

Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, Air Service, United States Army (FAI)
First Lieutenant Russell Lowell Maughan, Air Service, United States Army (FAI)

29 March 1923: Flying a Curtiss R-6 racer, Air Service serial number A.S. 68564, at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, First Lieutenant Russell Lowell Maughan, Air Service, United States Army, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 380.75 kilometers per hour (236.587 miles per hour).

FAI Record File Num #15194 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C (Aviation with engine)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed
Performance: 380.75 km/h
Date: 1923-03-29
Course/Location: Wilbur Wright Field, Dayton, OH (USA)
Claimant Lieut: Maughan (USA)
Aeroplane: Curtiss R-6
Engine: 1 Curtiss D – 12

The Curtiss R-6 Racers were single-engine, single seat biplanes. The airplane and its D-12 Conqueror engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Garden City, New York, developed from the Curtiss CR. The fuselage was a stressed-skin monocoque, built with two layers of wood veneer covered by a layer of doped fabric. The wings were also built of wood, with plywood skins and fabric-covered ailerons.  It was 24 feet, 8 inches (7.52 meters) long and had wing span of 22 feet, 8 inches (6.90 meters). It has an empty weight of 2,119 pounds (961 kilograms). The R-6 was powered by a liquid-cooled, 1,145-cubic-inch-displacement (18.763 liter) Curtiss D-12 dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder, producing 443 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. It turned a direct-drive two-bladed wood propeller. The racer had a range of 281 miles and a ceiling of  22,000 feet (6,706 meters).

Two R-6 Racers were built of the U.S. Army at a cost of $71,000, plus $5,000 for spare parts.

A.S. 68564 disintegrated in flight at the Pulitzer Trophy Race, 4 October 1924, killing its pilot, Captain Burt E. Skeel.

Curtis R-6, A.S. 68564, P-278. (FAI)
Curtis R-6, A.S. 68564, P-278. (FAI)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

28 March 1935

This photograph, taken at the launch site, shows Dr. Goddard with his supporters and his assistants. Left to Right: Albert Kisk, Harry F. Guggenheim, Dr. Goddard, Charles A. Lindbergh, Nils T. Ljungquist and Charles Mansur. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph, taken at the launch site, shows Dr. Goddard with his supporters and his assistants. Left to Right: Albert Kisk, Harry F. Guggenheim, Dr. Goddard, Charles A. Lindbergh, Nils T. Ljungquist and Charles Mansur. (U.S. Air Force)

28 March 1935: Near Roswell, New Mexico, Robert H. Goddard successfully launched the first gyroscopically stabilized liquid-fueled rocket. In a 20-second flight, the A Series rocket reached an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters) and traveled 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) down range. Its speed was 550 mile per hour (885 kilometers per hour).

The A Series rocket was 15 feet, 4½ inches (468.63 centimeters) long with a diameter of 9 inches (22.86 centimeters) and weighed 78.5 pounds (35.6 kilograms). It was fueled with gasoline and liquid oxygen, and pressurized with nitrogen.

"Dr. Robert H. Goddard observes the launch site from his launch control shack while standing by the firing control panel. From here he can fire, release, or stop testing if firing was unsatisfactory. Firing, releasing, and stop keys are shown on panel. The rocket is situated in the launch tower." (NASA)
“Dr. Robert H. Goddard observes the launch site from his launch control shack while standing by the firing control panel. From here he can fire, release, or stop testing if firing was unsatisfactory. Firing, releasing, and stop keys are shown on panel. The rocket is situated in the launch tower.” (NASA)

The National Air and Space Museum describes the rocket’s construction: “Aluminum skin, thin gauge, a long tail section from bottom of fins to bottom of mid-section. Aluminum skin also on parachute section and nosecone wholly of spun aluminum except for steel attachment screw. Steel skin (for greater strength and insulation) below nosecone, over mid-section (over propellant tanks), and around small section above fins. One steel tube or pipe on each side of rocket, along propellant section; one smaller diameter copper tube on one side. Steel nozzle and other interior components. Fabric parachute.”

Goddard is the “Father of Modern Rocketry.” Many of his developments were copied by German engineers as they developed the V2 rocket of World War II. And this led to America’s own post-War rocket developments, including the mighty Saturn V moon rocket.

A 1935 A-Series rocket at the National Air and Space Museum, donated by Dr. Robert H. Goddard. (NASM)
A 1935 A-Series rocket at the National Air and Space Museum, donated by Dr. Robert H. Goddard. (NASM)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

28 March 1913

Thomas DeWitt Milling and William C. Sherman, with Burgess Model H biplane, 28 March 1913. (Photograph by Higby Photo)
Lieutenant Thomas DeWitt Milling and Lieutenant William C. Sherman, with the Burgess Model H biplane, 28 March 1913. (Higby Photo)

28 March 1913: Lieutenants Thomas DeWitt Milling and William C. Sherman, Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps, broke a distance and duration record by flying a single-engine Burgess Model H “military tractor” biplane from Texas City to San Antonio, Texas, a distance of 220 miles (354 kilometers), in 4 hours, 22 minutes. During the flight Sherman drew a map of the terrain.

The airplane was powered by a 70-horsepower Renault engine. It was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters).

Thomas Milling was issued the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s pilot certificate number 30, and the Army’s Military Aviator Certificate No. 1. He was the first military officer authorized to wear a military aviator badge as part of his uniform.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

28 March 1910

Henri Fabre aboard hi sHydroavian, Le Canard, at Martigues, France, 28 March 1910. (French navy)
Henri Fabre aboard his Hydroavian, Le Canard, at Martigues, France, 28 March 1910. (Marine nationale)

28 March 1910: Henri Fabre (29 November 1882 – 30 June 1984) flew his Hydroavian, the first seaplane, at Martigues, France. The airplane, named Le Canard, flew 457 meters.

The Hydroavian was 27 feet, 10 inches (8.5 meters) long with a wingspan of 45 feet, 11 inches (14 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2 inches (3.70 meters). Its gross weight was 475 kilograms (1,047 pounds). The airplane was powered by a 488-cubic-inch-displacement (8 liter) air-cooled Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower.

Though it was damaged in a crash in 1911, Le Canard was restored and is in the collection of Musée de l’air et de l’espace.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

27 March 1977

Video simulation of the moment of impact as KLM Flight hits Pan Am Flight on the runway at Tenerife. (PBS Nova)
Video simulation of the moment of impact as KLM Flight 4805 hits Pan Am Flight 1736 on the runway at Tenerife. (PBS Nova)

27 March 1977: The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occured when two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport (TFN), on the island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. 583 people died.

An airport closure at Las Palmas Island forced many trans-Atlantic airliners to divert to the smaller airport on Tenerife. The ramp and taxiways were congested and refuelers were overwhelmed by the increased traffic, leading to many delays.

Pan American World Airways' Boeing 747-121 N736PA, Clipper Victor, 1976. (Bob Garrard)
Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747-121 N736PA, Clipper Victor, 1976. (Bob Garrard via Österreichs Luftfahrtmagazine)

Pan American World Airways’ Flight 1736, a Boeing 747-121, FAA registration number N736PA, named Clipper Victor*, was ready for takeoff with 380 passengers and crew, but had to “back taxi” on the runway because the taxiway was jammed.

Also on the runway was KLM Flight 4805, a Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUF, named Rijn. The KLM jumbo jet had 248 passengers and crew members aboard.

KLM Royal Dutch Airways' Boeing 747-206B PH-BUF, Rjin.
KLM Royal Dutch Airways’ Boeing 747-206B PH-BUF, Rijn. (T. Zenthof, via Österreichs Luftfahrtmagazine)

Weather at the time of the accident was IFR, with low clouds and fog. Visibility on the runway was restricted to about 1,000 feet.  Takeoff rules required 2,300 feet. What happened next was a misunderstanding between the air traffic controllers and the crew of both airliners. The tower instructed KLM 4805 to taxi into position on the runway for takeoff, and hold there for release. The Pan Am airliner was told to taxi off the runway and report when clear. The tower controllers could not see either airliner, and their flight crews could not see each other. The aircraft commander of the Dutch airliner, that company’s Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, misunderstood what was occurring and radioed to the tower that he was taking off. He then accelerated.

The crew in the Pan Am airliner heard the KLM pilot report that he was taking off, turned left and ran the engines up to full throttle in order to try to get off the runway. With the KLM 747 accelerating through the fog, its flight crew belatedly realized that the other airliner was still ahead of them. Too late to stop, they applied full power and pulled the nose up trying to takeoff. The tail of their airplane actually dragged over sixty feet on the runway because its extreme nose up angle. KLM 4805 lifted off about 300 feet from Pan Am 1736, and because of the high angle of attack, its nose wheel actually passed over the fuselage, but the rest of the airplane hit at 140 knots.  Clipper Victor was ripped in half, caught fire and exploded. Rijn crashed about 250 yards down the runway, and also caught fire and exploded. All 248 people aboard the Royal Dutch Airlines airplane were killed. Miraculously, there were 61 survivors from the Pan Am Clipper, but the remaining 335 died.

Two Boeing 747 airliners collide on the runway at Tenerife, 27 March 1977. (Unattributed)

*Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747 Clipper Victor was the very first Boeing 747 in service. It made its first commercial passenger flight, New York to London, 22 January 1970. Another airliner, Clipper Young America, was scheduled to  make that flight but suffered mechanical problems shortly before departure. Clipper Victor was substituted, but Pan Am changed the airliner’s name to Clipper Young America.  On 2 August 1970, N736PA was hijacked to Cuba, and afterwards, to avoid the negative publicity, the name of the 747 was changed back to Clipper Victor.

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms). The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt and Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan engines which produce 46,500 pounds of thrust, each. Its cruise speed is 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and it maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

The 747 has been in production for 45 years. More than 1,500 have been built. 250 of these were the 747-100 series.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes