20 October 1952

Douglas X-3 49-2892 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, during the early 1950s. (NASA)

20 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman made the first test flight of the X-3 twin-engine supersonic research airplane. During a high-speed taxi test five days earlier, Bridgeman and the X-3 had briefly been airborne for approximately one mile over the dry lake bed, but on this flight he spent approximately 20 minutes familiarizing himself with the new airplane.

William Barton “Bill” Bridgeman, 1916–1968. (LIFE Magazine)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.” Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot, testing new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards AFB.) With the Skyrocket, he flew higher—79,494 feet (24,230 meters)—and faster—Mach 1.88—than any pilot up to that time.

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and NACA to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. 66 feet, 9 inches (20.35 meters) long, it had a wing span of just 22 feet, 8 inches (6.91 meters). It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ37-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an 11-stage, axial flow turbojet, rated at 3,370 pounds of thrust, or 4,850 pounds with afterburner. The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

“Then one morning Johnny called me to his office. ‘Bill, we would like you to take a look at the X-3. Maybe you would like to test her. She’s in the final stages over in Hangar Three. Go over and take a look at the mock-up. See what you think.’…On the ground floor…a door marked KEEP OUT. SECRET PROJECT MX656….” — The Lonely Sky, by William Bridgeman and Jacqueline Hazard, Cassell and Company Limited, London, 1956 at Page 276

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J37 engines, and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. The X-3’s highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. It was therefore never able to be used in flight testing the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics it was very useful in exploring stability and control in the transonic range. Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA test pilot Joseph A. Walker.

After the flight test program came to an end, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Douglas X-3 49-2892 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NASM)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

20 October 1922

Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, United States Army Air Service. (1895–1988)

20 October 1922: Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, U.S. Army Air Service, Chief, Flight Test Branch, Engineering Division, at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, was test flying a Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A monoplane, a single-engine, single-seat fighter. The PW-2A, serial number A.S. 64388, had experimental balance-type ailerons. During this flight, Lieutenant Harris engaged in simulated air combat with Lieutenant Muir Fairchild (future Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force) who was flying a Thomas-Morse MB-3.

While banking the PW-2A into a right turn, Harris’ control stick began to vibrate violently from side to side and the airplane’s wings were “torn apart.” With the Loening diving uncontrollably, Harris jumped from the cockpit at approximately 2,500 feet (762 meters). After free-falling about 2,000 feet (610 meters), he pulled the lanyard on his parachute which immediately deployed. Harris then descended with his parachute providing aerodynamic deceleration, coming safely to earth in the back yard of a home at 335 Troy Street. He suffered minor bruises when he landed on a trellis in the garden.

Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A, A.S. 64388. This is the airplane from which Lieutenant Harold R. Harris “bailed out” over Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Harris’ PW-2A crashed into a yard at 403 Valley Street, three blocks away. It was completely destroyed.

This was the very first time a free-fall parachute had been used in an actual inflight emergency. Lieutenant Harris became the first member of the Irvin Air Chute Company’s “Caterpillar Club”.

Crash scene at 403 Valley Street, Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

20 October 1920

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, 1891–1944. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

20 October 1920: At Villacoublay, France, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew his Nieuport-Delâge 29V to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 302.53 kilometers per hour (187.983 miles per hour) over a straight 1 kilometer course.

FAI Record File Num #15499 [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 over a straight 1 km course
Performance: 302.53 km/h
Date: 1920-10-20
Course/Location: Villacoublay (France)
Claimant Joseph Sadi-lecointe (FRA)
Aeroplane: Nieuport – Delage 300 HP
Engine: 1 Hispano-Suiza 300 hp

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe in the cockpit of his Nieuport-Delâge 29V racer, after winning the Gordon Bennett Trophy, at Orleans/Etampes, 28 September 1920. Under the terms of trophy, the nation whose team won the event three consecutive times took permanent possession. After Sadi-Lecointe’s victory, the Gordon Bennett Trophy was in the permanent possession of the Aéro-Club de France.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe learned to fly in 1910. The Aero Club de France awarded him license number 431. He was a pilot during World War I, flying scout airplanes, then in 1916 became a flight instructor. In 1917, he was assigned as a test pilot at Blériot–Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, where he worked on the development of the famous SPAD XIII fighter. After the War, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delage, and partipated in numerous races and set a series of speed and altitude records.

Sadi-Lecointe returned to military service in 1925 and participated in the Second Moroccan War. In 1927, he returned to his position as chief test pilot for Nieuport-Delage. From 1936 to 1940, he was Inspector General of Aviation for the French Air Ministry. With the outbreak of World War II, he was again recalled to military service as Inspector of Flying Schools. With the fall of France, he joined La Résistance française.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew this Nieuport-Delage NiD-29V to win The Gordon Bennet Cup, 20 October 1920. (les avions Nieuport-Delage)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew this Nieuport-Delage NiD-29V to win The Gordon Bennett Cup, 28 September 1920. (les avions Nieuport-Delage)

Sadi-Lecointe’s NiD 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat NiD-29 C-1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. It was 21 feet, 3.5 inches (6.489 meters) long, with a wing span of just 6.00 meters (19 feet, 8¼ inches) shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inches (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur. The airplane was powered by a 1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement (18.47 liter) water-cooled Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe set seven altitude and eight speed records. He won the Gordon Bennett Cup in 1920. During World War II, he was a member of the La Résistance française. He was tortured to death by the Gestapo at Paris, 15 July 1944.

The Cross of Lorraine was a symbol of La Résistance during World War II. (© Ray Rivera)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

19 October 1908

Left front view of Société Antoinette "Antoinette IV" on the ground. This version is of "Antoinette IV" is fitted with two large in-line wheels, substantial mid-wing skids, and a paddle-type propeller. Designer Léon Levavasseur stands at left (bearded man wearing dark vest and cap). Issy-les-Moulineaux, Paris, France, November 1908. (M. Rol & Cie, 4 Rue Richer, Paris; via Library of Congress)
Left front view of Société Antoinette “Antoinette IV” on the ground. This version is of “Antoinette IV” is fitted with two large in-line wheels, substantial mid-wing skids, and a paddle-type propeller. Designer Léon Levavasseur stands at left (bearded man wearing dark vest and cap). Issy-les-Moulineaux, Paris, France, November 1908. (M. Rol & Cie, 4 Rue Richer, Paris; via Library of Congress)
Mlle. Antoinette Gastambide, namesake of the Antoinette IV and the company that built it. (L'Aérophile)
Mlle. Antoinette Gastambide, namesake of the Antoinette IV and the company that built it. (L’Aérophile)

19 October 1908: First flight of the Société Antoinette monoplane, Antoinette IV. Eugène Welféringer conducted a number of test flights, though it is not known if he made the first flight.

A single-placed single-engine airplane, the Antoinette IV was one the first successful monoplanes. American Machinist described it as a “purely racing machine.” The airplane and its V-8 engine were designed by Léon Levavasseur. It was modified a number of times, as was its sister ship, the Antoinette V. Technical details from various sources are contradictory. The Antoinette IV was approximately 40 feet (12.2 meters) long with a wingspan of about 42 feet (12.8 meters). The weight was from 1,040 to 1,120 pounds (472 to 508 kilograms) and it was capable of reaching 52 miles per hour (84 kilometers per hour).

Antoinette IV in original configuration, 1908. (L'Illustration)
Antoinette IV in an early configuration. (L’Illustration)

The airplane was described in contemporary reports as “beautiful” and often mentioned was the very narrow triangular cross section of its fuselage. Different configurations of landing gear were tried, with combinations of skids and wheels, wheels in tandem, and side-by-side. Directional control was created through “wing-warping” as had been used by the Wright Brothers. The tail surfaces were cruciform, with two triangular rudders located above and below the triangular elevator. Flight controls were four hand wheels and two pedals which connected to the control surfaces by cables.

As originally built, the Antoinette IV was powered by a steam-cooled, direct-injected, 7.983 liter (487.14 cubic inch displacement) Antoinette 8V 90° overhead valve V-8 engine which produced approximately 53 horsepower. It turned a 7.25-foot (2.21 meter) diameter two-bladed wooden propeller at 1,100 r.p.m. via direct drive.

Hubert Latham is rescued from the English Channel by the crew of the French torpedo boat destroyer, Harpon, 19 July 1909.
Hubert Latham is rescued from the English Channel by the crew of the French torpedo boat destroyer, Harpon, 19 July 1909.

On 19 July 1909, Arthur Louis Hubert Latham, who had been taught to fly by Welféringer, attempted to fly the Antoinette IV across the English Channel, but an engine failure forced it down about 8 miles off the French coast. The airplane remained afloat and Latham was rescued by the French torpedo boat destroyer Harpon, but the airplane was severely damaged during the recovery.

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

18 October 1984

Rockwell International B-1B Lancer 82-0001 takes off for the first time at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (U.S. Air Force)

18 October 1984: The first production Rockwell International B-1B Lancer, serial number 82-0001, a supersonic four-engine strategic bomber with variable sweep wings, made its first flight at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. Rockwell test pilot M.L. Evenson was in command, with co-pilot Lieutenant Colonel L.B. Schroeder, U.S. Air Force; Major S.A. Henry, Offensive Systems Officer; Captain D.E. Hamilton, Defensive Systems Officer. After 3 hours, 20 minutes, the B-1B landed at Edwards Air Force Base where it would enter a flight test program.

Rockwell B-1B 82-0001 parked at the Rockwell International facility, AF Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 3 September 1984. (Rockwell)
Rockwell B-1B 82-0001 parked at the Rockwell International Corp. facility, Palmdale, California, 3 September 1984. (MSGT Mike Dial, U.S. Air Force)

The bomber is 146 feet (44.501 meters) long, with the wing span varying from 79 feet (24.079 meters) to 137 feet (41.758 meters). It is 34 feet (10.363 meters) high at the top of the vertical fin. Four General Electric F-101-GE-102 afterburning turbofan engines produce 30,000 pounds of thrust, each. It has a maximum speed of 900+ miles per hour (1,448.4 kilometers per hour), Mach 1.2, and an unrefueled range of 7,500 miles (12,070 kilometers). The bomber’s empty weight is approximately 190,000 pounds (86,183 kilograms) Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 477,000 pounds (216,634 kilograms). The payload is up to 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms). It can carry up to 84 Mk.82 500-pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs, 24 Mk.84 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) bombs or other weapons.

100 B-1B Lancers were built. As of June 2014, 63 B-1B bombers are in the active Air Force inventory, with 2 additional flight test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base.

To comply with the START weapons treaty, B-1B 82-0001 was scrapped at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in the mid-1990s.

A Rockwell International B-1B in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
A Rockwell International B-1B in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes