17 December 1947

Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065 in flight over a snow-covered landscape. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065 in flight over a snow-covered landscape. (U.S. Air Force)
Robert M. Robbins
Robert M. Robbins

17 December 1947: Boeing test pilots Robert M. Robbins and Edward Scott Osler made the first flight of the Model 450, the XB-47 Stratojet prototype. It was a 52-minute flight from Boeing Field, Seattle to Moses Lake, Washington.

Robbins later said, “The best way to tell about the performance of the Stratojet is to say that any good crew could have flown it. It took no unusual ability or education. Neither Scott Osler nor I deserve any credit for the flight. Rather, the credit should go to the men who carried out these visions on the drafting boards and the factory workers who made the visions a reality.”

On 11 May 1949, during flight testing at Moses Lake, the canopy of 46-065 came off, killing test pilot Scott Osler. The co-pilot safely landed the airplane. The XB-47 stalled while landing at Moses Lake, 18 August 1951, and was damaged beyond repair.

Designed as a strategic bomber, the B-47 could fly higher and faster than jet fighters of the time, and it was also highly maneuverable. The XB-47 (Boeing Model 450) was flown by a two-man crew in a tandem cockpit. It was 107 feet, 6 inches (32.766 meters) long with a wingspan of 116 feet (35.357 meters). The top of the vertical fin was 27 feet, 8 inches (8.433 meters) high. The wings were shoulder-mounted with the leading edges swept at 35°.

Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065. (U.S. Air Force)

The first prototype was powered by six General Electric J35-GE-7 axial flow turbojet engines in four pods mounted on pylons below the wings. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-GE-7 was rated at 3,750 pounds of thrust (16.68 kilonewtons) (static thrust, Sea Level). The engine was 14 feet, 0.0 inches (4.267 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms). (The second prototype, 46-066, was completed with J47 engines. 46-065 was later retrofitted with these engines.)

The XB-47 had a maximum speed of 578 miles per hour (930 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The prototype’s maximum takeoff weight was 162,500 pounds (73,708.8 kilograms). The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters). The estimated range was 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) with a 10,000 pound (4,535.9 kilogram) bomb load.

Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065, the first of two prototypes, on the ramp at Boeing Field, Seattle, 1 December 1947. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065, the first of two prototypes, on the ramp at Boeing Field, Seattle, 1 December 1947. (U.S. Air Force)

The Stratojet was one of the most influential aircraft designs of all time and its legacy can be seen in almost every jet airliner built since the 1950s: The swept wing with engines suspended on pylons.

2,032 B-47s were built by Boeing Wichita, Douglas Tulsa and Lockheed Marietta. They served the United States Air Force from 1951 to 1977.

Right rear quarter view of Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065. (U.S. Air Force)
Right rear quarter view of Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065. (U.S. Air Force)

The very last B-47 flight took place 18 June 1986 when B-47E-25-DT, serial number 52-166, was flown from the Naval Air Weapons Center China Lake to Castle Air Force Base to be placed on static display.

Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-065. (U.S. Air Force)

The second prototype, XB-47 46-066, is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Boeing XB-47 Stratojet 46-066, Sandia. (SDASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1947

P-51B NX28388
Jackie Cochran and her P-51B Mustang, NX28388. (Unattributed)

17 December 1947: At Thermal, California, Jackie Cochran flew her green North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course. Her average speed, after two passes over the course in each direction, was 663.054 kilometers per hour (412.002 miles per hour).

Cochran’s altitude over the record course was at Sea Level.

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

The airport at Thermal is 115 feet (35 meters) below Sea Level. During December, the daily high temperature averages 71.0 ˚F. (21.7 ˚C.). The airport was established as Thermal Army Airfield during World War II, but today is the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM).

A week earlier, 10 December 1947, Cochran set another record World Record, flying NX28388 over a 100-kilometer (62 miles) closed circuit, averaging 755.668 kilometers per hour (469.549 miles per hour). (FAI Record File Number 4478).

This record still stands.

Jackie Cochran's green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran’s green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)

NX28388 was the first of three P-51 Mustangs owned by Jackie Cochran. It was a North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang built at Inglewood, California in 1944. It was assigned NAA internal number 104-25789 and U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 43-24760. She bought it from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. The airplane was registered to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, Inc., 142 Miller Street, Newark, New Jersey, but was based at Jackie’s C-O Ranch at Indio, California. The Mustang was painted “Lucky Strike Green” and carried the number 13 on each side of the fuselage, on the upper surface of the left wing and lower surface of the right wing.

NX28388 was powered by Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12, serial number V332415.

Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with drop tanks, at Van Nuys Metropolitan Airport, California, August 1946. Left profile. Color. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with drop tanks, at Van Nuys Metropolitan Airport, California, August 1946. (Unattributed)

Jackie Cochran flew NX28388 in the 1946 Bendix Trophy Race and finished second to Paul Mantz in his P-51C Mustang, Blaze of Noon. Cochran asked Bruce Gimbel to fly the Mustang for her in the 1947 Bendix. There was trouble with the propeller governor and he finished in fourth place. In May 1948, Jackie set two more speed records with NX28388. Jackie and her green Mustang finished in third place in the 1948 Bendix race. She asked another pilot, Lockheed test pilot Sampson Held, to ferry the fighter back to California from Cleveland, Ohio after the race, but,

“. . . my plane crashed, carrying my associate, Sam Held, with it to his death.”The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 79.

NX28388 crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing Sam Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

Jackie Cochran's North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The P-51B was the first production Mustang to be built with the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was virtually identical to the P-51C variant. (The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant.) They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic constant speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters).

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1944

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army, Leyte, 12 December 1944. Major Bong is wearing the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force)

17 December 1944: Captain Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Corps, flying a Lockheed P-38 Lighting over San José on the Island of Mindoro, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down an enemy Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Allied reporting name, “Oscar”).

This was Bong’s 40th confirmed aerial victory and made him the leading American fighter ace of World War II. He is officially credited with 40 aircraft destroyed, 8 probably destroyed and 7 damaged.

Five days earlier, 12 December, during a ceremony at an American airfield on the Island of Leyte, Philippine Islands, General Douglas MacArthur, United States Army, had presented Major Bong the Medal of Honor.

An Associated Press reporter quoted the General:

“Of all military attributes, that one which arouses the greatest admiration is courage. It is the basis of all successful military ventures. our forces possess it to a high degree and various awards are provided to show the public’s appreciation. The Congress of the United States has reserved to itself the honor of decorating those amongst all who stand out as the bravest of the brave. It’s this high and noble category, Bong, that you now enter as I pin upon your tunic the Medal of Honor. Wear it as a symbol of the invincible courage you have displayed so often in mortal combat. My dear boy, may a merciful God continue to protect you is the constant prayer of your commander in chief.”

[On 18 December 1944, Douglas MacArthur was promoted to General of the Army, a five-star rank held by only nine other U.S. military officers. General MacArthur was the son of a Medal of Honor recipient, and had himself been twice nominated for the Medal for his actions during the occupation of Vera Cruz (1914) and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (1918). He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines, 1941–42.]

General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Bong’s citation reads:

MEDAL OF HONOR

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major (Air Corps) Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command, Fifth Air Force, in action in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944.

Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Major Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down eight enemy airplanes during this period.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 90, December 8, 1944
Action Date: October 10 – November 15, 1944
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: Major
Regiment: 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command
Division: 5th Air Force.

Dick Bong poses with "Marge," his Lockheed P-38J Lightning. A large photograph of his fiancee, Miss Marjorie Vattendahl, is glued to the fighter's nose.
Dick Bong poses with “Marge,” his Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 42-103993, Lockheed serial number 2827. A large photograph of his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, is affixed to the fighter’s nose.

Major Bong flew a number of different Lockheed P-38s in combat. He is most associated, though, with P-38J-15-LO 42-103993, which he named Marge after his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, a school teacher from Poplar, Wisconsin.

Richard Bong had flown 146 combat missions. General George C. Kenney, commanding the Far East Air Forces, relieved him from combat and ordered that he return to the United States. He was assigned to test new production P-80 Shooting Stars jet fighters being built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California plant.

On 6 August 1945, the fuel pump of the new P-80 Bong was flying failed just after takeoff. The engine failed from fuel starvation and the airplane crashed into a residential area of North Hollywood, California. Major Richard Ira Bong was killed.

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter (AvionsLegendaires.net)

The Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Hayabusa was a single-place, single-engine fighter manufactured by Nakajima Hikoki K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. The light weight fighter was very maneuverable and was a deadly opponent. It was identified as “Oscar” by Allied forces. The Ki-43 shot down more Allied airplanes during World War II than any other Japanese fighter.

The Ki-43 was 29.2 feet (8.90 meters) long, with a wingspan of 35.6 feet (10.85 meters) and height of 9 feet (2.74 meters). Its empty weight was 4,170 pounds (1,878 kilograms) and gross weight  was 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms).

The Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged Nakajima Ha-115 Toku two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine which produced 925 horsepower at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), 800 horsepower  at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 1,105 horsepower at Sea Level for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 9.2 feet (2.80 meters).

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter, called “Oscar” by the Allied forces. (The Java Gold’s Blog)

Compared to American fighters, the Oscar was lightly armed with just two synchronized 7.7 mm × 58 mm Type 89 or 12.7 mm × 81 mm Type 1 machine guns, or a combination of one 7.7 mm and one 12.7 mm gun. The 12.7 machine gun could fire explosive ammunition. (The Type 89 was a licensed version of the Vickers .303-caliber machine gun, while the design of the Type 1 was based on the Browning M1921 .50-caliber machine gun.)

The Oscar’s maximum speed was 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 347 miles per hour (558 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,100 feet (11,308 meters). The maximum range with a normal fuel load of 149 U.S. gallons (564 liters) was 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers) at 1,500 feet (457 meters).

Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008, Lockheed serial number 2519. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed P-38 lightning is a single-place, mid-wing, twin-engine fighter. It is an unusual configuration, with the cockpit, weapons and nose landing gear in a central nacelle, and engines, turbochargers, cooling system and main landing gear in outer “booms.” The airplane was originally designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The P-38J is 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.850 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 9-11/16 inches (2.989 meters). The fighter has an empty weight of 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 21,600 pounds (9,798 kilograms).

The P-38J was powered by two liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F-17R and -F17L (V-1710-89 and -91, respectively) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines with a continuous power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,600 r,p.m., to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 1,425 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The counter-rotating engines drove 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric full-feathering constant-speed propellers through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The engines were 7 feet, 1.34 inches (2.168 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

A flight of two camouflaged Lockheed P-38J Lightnings, circa 1943. Dick Bong is flying the closer airplane, P-38J-5-LO 42-67183. (Lockheed Martin)

The P-38J had a maximum speed of 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) at 26,500 feet (8,077 meters). The service ceiling was 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). Carrying external fuel tanks, the Lightning had a maximum range of 2,260 miles (3,637 kilometers).

P-38s were armed with one 20 mm Hispano M2 aircraft autocannon with 150 rounds of ammunition, and four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. All guns are grouped close together in the nose and aimed straight ahead.

A Lockheed P-38 Lighning test fires its guns. (Lockheed Martin)

Between 1939 and 1945, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation built 10,037 P-38 Lightnings at Burbank, California. 2,970 of these were P-38Js.

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army. (Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center/National Endowment for the Humanities)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1935

Douglas DST NX14988 on its first flight, 17 December 1935. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Douglas DST NX14988 on its first flight, 17 December 1935. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

17 December 1935: Douglas Aircraft Company vice president and chief test pilot Carl A. Cover made the first flight of the Douglas DST, NX14988, at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California. Also aboard were engineers Fred Stineman and Frank Coleman.

Designed over a two year period by chief engineer Arthur Emmons Raymond and built for American Airlines, the DST, or Douglas Sleeper Transport, was the original variant of the DC-3 commercial airliner. It had 14 sleeping berths for passengers on overnight transcontinental journeys, and could fly across the United States with three refueling stops. There were no prototypes built. NX14988 was a production airplane and went to American Airlines where it flew more than 17,000 hours.

American Airlines' Douglas DST, NX14988, the first DC-3. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
American Airlines’ Douglas DST, NX14988, the first DC-3. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

At the beginning of World War II, NC14988 was placed in military service, designated C-49E Skytrooper with the serial number 42-43619. On 15 October 1942, it crashed 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from its destination at Chicago, Illinois, killing the 2-man crew and all 7 passengers. The airplane was damaged beyond repair.

The DST and the DC-3 were an improved version of the Douglas DC-2 commercial transport. It was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot.

The Douglas DC-3 was 64 feet, 5½ inches (64.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet, 0 inches (28.956 meters). It was 17 feet, 0 inches (5.182 meters) high in three-point position. The wing center section is straight, but outboard of the engine nacelles there is 5º dihedral. The wings’ leading edges are swept aft 15.5°. The trailing edges have no sweep. The airplane weighed 16,384 pounds (7,432 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 24,400 pounds (11,068 kilograms).

Douglas DC-3, three-view illustration with dimensions. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

DSTs and initial production DC-3s were powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 GR-1820G2 9-cylinder radial engines, rated at 700 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 800 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m for takeoff.  They drove 11 feet, 6 inch (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction.

The engines were soon changed to more powerful 1,829.389-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SC3-G 14-cylinder radials, with a normal power rating of 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., and takeoff power rating of 1,050 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The SC3-G had a 16:9 propeller gear reduction ratio. It was 5 feet, 1.50 inches (1.562 meters) long, 4 feet, 0.19 inches (1.224 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,457 pounds (661 kilograms).

An American Airlines Douglas DST at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, California. (LIFE Magazine)

The DC-3’s cruise speed was 180 knots (207 miles per hour/333 kilometers per hour), and its aximum speed was 200 knots (230 miles per hour’370 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The service ceiling was 23,200 feet (7,071 meters).

The DC-3 was in production for 11 years. Douglas Aircraft Company built 10,655 DC-3s and military C-47s. There were another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 DC-3s are still in commercial service. The oldest surviving example is the sixth DST built, originally registered NC16005.

American Airlines' Douglas DST NC14988 at Glendale, California. 1 May 1936. (DM Airfield Register)
American Airlines’ Douglas DST NC14988 at Glendale, California, 1 May 1936. (dmairfield.org)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.

Orville Wright at the controls of the Flyer, just airborne on its first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903. Wilbur Wright is running along to stabilize the wing. This photograph was taken by John Thomas Daniels, Jr., using the Wright Brothers’ Gundlach Optical Company Korona-V camera. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.: Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, had been working on the development of a machine capable of flight since 1899. They started with kites and gliders before moving on to powered aircraft. At the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the eastern shoreline of the United States, they made the first successful flight of a manned, powered, controllable airplane.

Orville was at the controls of the Flyer while Wilbur ran along side, steadying the right wing. Against a 27 miles per hour (12 meters per second) headwind, the airplane flew 120 feet (36.6 meters) in 12 seconds.

Three more flights were made that day, with the brothers alternating as pilot. Wilbur made the last flight, covering 852 feet (263.7 meters) in 59 seconds. The Flyer was slightly damaged on landing but before it could be repaired for an intended flight four miles back to Kitty Hawk, a gust of wind overturned the airplane and caused more extensive damage. It never flew again.

Flyer after fourth (final) flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The 1903 Wright Flyer is a canard biplane, with elevators to the front and rudders at the rear. The flight controls twisted, or “warped,” the wings to cause a change in direction. The pilot lay prone in the middle of the lower wing, on a sliding “cradle.” He slid left and right to shift the center of gravity. Wires attached to the cradle acted to warp the wings and move the rudders. The airplane is built of spruce and ash and covered with unbleached muslin fabric.

Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer is 21 feet, 1 inch (6.426 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches (12.293 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 3° 25′. A built-in curvature of the wings creates a continuously-varying anhedral. (The wingtips are 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) lower than at the centerline.) The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings is 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). There is no sweep or stagger. The total wing area is 510 square feet (47.38 square meters). The Flyer weighs 605 pounds (274.4 kilograms), empty.

Wright Flyer, right quarter view. The airplane was damaged during the landing after its fourth flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 201.06-cubic-inch-displacement (3.30 liter) 4-cylinder inline overhead valve gasoline engine, which produced 12 horsepower at 1,025 r.p.m. The engine was built by the Wright’s mechanic, Charlie Taylor. (Taylor would soon become the very first passenger to fly aboard an airplane.) The engine has a cast aluminum alloy crankcase with cast iron cylinders. Fuel is supplied from a gravity-feed tank mounted under the leading edge of the upper wing. Total fuel capacity is 22 fluid ounces (0.65 liters).

Wright Flyer, left profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, right profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

Using chains, sprockets, and drive shafts, the engine turns two fixed-pitch wooden propellers in opposite directions at 350 r.p.m. They turn outboard at the top of their arcs. The propellers have a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) and are positioned at the trailing edges of the wings in a pusher configuration.

The Wright's airfield at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbure Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
The Wright’s airfield near Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

In 1928, the Wright Flyer was shipped to England where it was displayed at the Science Museum on Exhibition Road, London. It returned to the United States in 1948 and was placed in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Wright Brothers’ first airplane flew a total of 1 minute, 42.5 seconds, and travelled 1,472 feet (448.7 meters).

The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued to fly until 1918. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, predecessor of NASA) for 28 years. He died in 1948.

The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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