18 August 1943

The second Sikorsky XR-5, 43-28237 (c/n 34). (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

18 August 1943: At Bridgeport, Connecticut, Sikorsky chief test pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-327, c/n 33. Also known as the Sikorsky Model S-48, the U.S. Army Air Corps designated the helicopter XR-5 and assigned the serial number 43-28236.

The XR-5 was a significant improvement over the earlier R-4. Its narrow fuselage was streamlined and the cockpit had excellent visibility. The R-4’s box-like fuselage interfered with the downward flow of air from the main rotor, and this was a consideration in the shape of the new helicopter.

The Sikorsky XR-5 (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

There were five XR-5 helicopters, followed by twenty-six YR-5A service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7½ inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1½ inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,714.6 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,222.6 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Chief Test Pilot Les Morris with Captain Jackson E. Beighle, U.S. Army Air Corps, hovers a Sikorsky YR-5A, 43-46603, at Bridgeport, with ten additional passengers, 29 November 1945. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

On 13 September 1943, Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner was hovering out of ground effect at 75 feet (23 meters) when 43-28236 suffered a tail rotor failure. The helicopter made a hard landing and was dignificantly damaged. Neither Viner nor his passenger were injured.

In 1944, while flying to a war bond rally in Nebraska, XR-5 43-28236 suffered an engine failure and crash landed. The helicopter was damaged beyond repair and was stripped for parts.

Thanks to regular This Day in Aviation reader Mike for suggesting this subject.

Igor Sikorsky in the cockpit of a production R-5 helicopter. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1941: “High Flight”

The original manuscript of “High Flight,” by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, in the collection of the Library of Congress. (Manuscript Division: John Magee Papers 1941–1946). LCCN: mm 79005423

18 August 1941: Many sources give this as the date on which Pilot Officer John Gillespie, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, wrote—or began writing—his famous poem, “High Flight.”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Magee mailed the poem to his parents on 3 September 1941.

John Magee was an American serving as a fighter pilot in England before the United States entered World War II. He was killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collided with another airplane in clouds over the village of Roxholm, Lincolnshire, England.

He was only 19 years old.

“On Laughter-Silvered Wings,” by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.
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18 August 1932

Auguste Piccard loads supplies aboard the gondola of his balloon, 18 August 1932. Aktuelle-Bilder-Centrale, Georg Pahl (Bild 102)
Auguste Piccard loads supplies aboard the gondola of his balloon, 18 August 1932. Aktuelle-Bilder-Centrale, Georg Pahl (Bild 102)

18 August 1932: At 5:04 a.m., Professor Auguste Antoine Piccard and his assistant, Max Cosyns, used a hydrogen-filled balloon to lift their pressurized gondola from Dübendorf Airfield, Zürich, Switzerland, into the stratosphere on an expedition to investigate the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere and to study cosmic radiation. During the 12 hour flight, Piccard and Cosyns reached an altitude of 16,201 meters (53,153 feet), setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹

The expedition was funded by Belgium’s Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS).

Auguste Piccard's balloon being inflated with hydrogen at Dübendorf Flughafen, Zurich, Switzerland, during the night of 17–18 August 1932. (Unattributed)
Auguste Piccard’s balloon being inflated with hydrogen at Dübendorf Flughafen, Zürich, Switzerland, during the night of 17–18 August 1932. (Unattributed)

Piccard’s balloon was made of rubberized cotton fabric. It had a maximum volume of 500,000 cubic feet (14,158 cubic meters) and weighed, by itself, approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). When it expanded to its maximum size in the upper atmosphere, the diameter was 99 feet (30.2 meters). The gondola was constructed of aluminum and was 7 feet (2.14 meters) in diameter. There were to hatches for entry and exit, and seven port holes.

The outer surface of the spherical gondola was painted half white and half black. This was intended to control interior heat by turning the lighter side toward or away from the sun by means of a small propeller mounted to a horizontal stanchion. Unfortunately for the two aeronauts, this did not work. The hermetically sealed hatches allowed the gondola to maintain the surface atmospheric pressure as it rose into the stratosphere. The air contained inside the aluminum sphere was recycled through a Draeger system of the type used in submarines. This added oxygen to replace that consumed and extracted the carbon dioxide that was exhaled.

The balloon reached the peak altitude at 12:12 p.m. During the ascent, the temperature inside the gondola dropped to 5 °F. (-15 °C.). It landed near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, a little after 3:15 p.m.

This was Piccard’s second ascent into the stratosphere. On 27 May 1931 he and Paul Kipfer lifted off from Augsburg, Germany and rose to a record altitude of 15,781 meters (51,775 feet).  (FAI Record File Number 10634) They landed at the Großer Gurgler Ferner galcier near Obergurgl in the Tyrolian Alps.

Professor Piccard was made Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold and Max Cosyns, Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold by Albert I, King of the Belgians. Professor made nearly 30 ascents into the upper atmosphere before turning to the exploration of the very deep oceans with his bathyscaphe, Trieste.

Commander of the Order of Leopold, Civil Division.
Commander of the Order of Leopold, Civil Division.

¹ FAI Record File Number 6590

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1911

Geoffrey de Havilland, 1913. (FLIGHT, 22 February 1913, Page 207))

18 August 1911: At 6:30 a.m., the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 prototype took off with its designer, Geoffrey de Havilland,¹ at the controls. He made the short flight from Farnborough to Laffan’s Plain where he made a series of takeoffs and landings.

The airplane was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with a pusher propeller. The crew, a pilot and an observer/gunner, were in an open nacelle, with the engine aft, and an open tail boom.

The F.E.2 was 28 feet (8.5 meters) long with a wing span of 33 feet (10.0 meters). The total wing area was 340 square feet (31.6 square meters). It weighed 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms), loaded, and had a maximum speed of 47.5 miles per hour (76.4 kilometers per hour). The F.E.2 prototype, in its original configuration, was powered by an air-cooled Gnome 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower.

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2 with Maxim gun (RAF Museum)

In 1913, the F.E.2 prototype was redesigned and rebuilt with an air-cooled Renault V-8 engine, rated at 70 horsepower, driving a four-bladed fixed-pitch propeller. The wings were identical to those of the the B.E.2A. The Renault-powered F.E.2 variant was 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 0 inches (12.802 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet, 4 inches (1.930 meters). The wing area increased to 425 square feet (39.5 square meters). The gross weight was now 1,865 pounds (846 kilograms). The F.E.2 (Renault) had a maximum speed of 67 miles per hour (108 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 5,500 feet (1,676 meters).

At about 11:45 a.m., Monday, 23 February 1914, test pilot Roland Campbell Kemp (R.Ae.C. Aviator’s Certificate No. 80) was flying the F.E.2 at about 500 feet (152 meters). Also on board was a passenger, Ewart Temple Haynes. The wind was estimated at 30 miles per hour (13 meters per second). After about five minutes, the prototype entered a steep—but not heavily banked—right-hand spiral descent and crashed near Wittering, Chichester. The airplane “was completely wrecked.” Haynes was killed. Kemp was seriously injured and had no memory of the day.

The Accidents Investigation Committee of the Royal Aero Club was “of the opinion that there is no positive evidence to show why the accident occurred, but such evidence as is available points to the conclusion that the most probable cause was that the pilot’s foot slipped over the rudder bar, and that he thus lost control.” ²

After another redesign, the first production variant of de Havilland’s biplane was the F.E.2A, a three-bay biplane with a water-cooled Green six-cylinder inline engine, rated at 100 horsepower. This airplane was 32 feet, 3 inches (10.135 meters) long, with a wingspan of 47 feet, 8 inches (14.529 meters). The chord was decreased to 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters). The F.E.2A’s gross weight was 2,680 pounds (1,216 kilograms). It had a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour (121 kilometers per hour) and ceiling of 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). Twelve F.E.2As were built.

Modified for a 120 horsepower Beardmore 6-cylinder engine with a 9-foot-diameter propeller (2.7 meters), the airplane was designated F.E.2B, or Fighter Mark I. The wingspan increased 1 inch to 47 feet, 9 inches (14.554 meters). The airplane had an overall height of 12 feet, 7½ inches (3.848 meters). The wings had a 3° 30′ angle of incidence and were not staggered. There was 4° dihedral. Gross weight increased to 2,827 pounds (1,282 kilograms). Its maximum speed was 73 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour), and the service ceiling was 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). These were first used in France during World War I.

The B.E.2B was also built with a 160 horsepower Beardmore engine. The series continued with the F.E.2C and a Rolls-Royce powered F.E.2D. Dimensions remained constant, though the angle of incidence was increased to 4°.

The F.E.2 and F.E.2.A were armed with Maxim machine guns. The B.E.2B and later models had one or two .303-caliber Lewis guns.

A total of 1,939 F.E.s were built.

Three-view illustration of the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2B, Fighter Mark I. (FLIGHT and Aircraft Engineer, No. 2290, Vol. LXII, Friday, 12 December 1952, at Page 726)

The Royal Flying Corps initially used the F.E.2 (most sources say that “F.E.” stood for Farnham Experimental, ³ meaning that it was a pusher configuration) as a scouting and reconnaissance airplane.

On 16 October 1912, Geoffrey de Havilland was appointed Second Lieutenant (on probation), Royal Flying Corps, Military Wing, antedated to 2 September 1912. He was promoted to Lieutenant, 5 August 1914. Captain de Havilland was appointed  Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 7 June 1918. He was awarded the Air Force Cross, 1 January 1919.

De Havilland soon founded his own aircraft design and manufacturing company, the de Havilland Aircraft Company. He would later be known as Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, O.M., C.B.E., A.F.C., R.D.I., F.R.Ae.S.

¹ Many sources, including The Peerage, Person Page – 55358, identify Sir Geoffrey as “Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland.” As his son is known as Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., that would seem reasonable, and may even be correct. However, his birth registration (England & Wales Civil Registration Birth Index, January, February, and March 1883, at Page 149, Column 1), marriage banns and certificates for both marriages, numerous announcements in The London Gazette, contemporary news articles, and his civil death registration do not include any middle name.

² Accidents Investigation Committee of the Royal Aero Club, Report No. 26

³ “Fighting Experimental” —J.M. Bruce, M.A., in Flight, No. 2290, Vol. LXII, Friday, 12 December 1952 at Page 728

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1871

Charles-Alphonse Pénaud (BnF)

18 August 1871: Charles-Alphonse Pénaud demonstrated the first inherently stable airplane when he flew his model Planophore at a meeting of the Société de Navigation Aérienne at the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, France.

At this demonstration, Pénaud’s Planophore flew 131 feet (39.9 meters) in 11 seconds.

The airplane was 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) long with a wing span of 18 inches (45.7 centimeters). The wings had a maximum chord of 4 inches (10.2 centimeters), and the total wing area was 0.53 square feet (0.049 square meters). The Planophore weighed 0.56 ounces (15.88 grams). The model had a two-bladed propeller with a diameter of 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) positioned at the tail in a pusher configuration. This was driven by a twisted rubber band (240 turns).

A drawing of Alphonse Pénaud’s Planophore. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

The center of gravity of the machine is placed a little in front of the center of pressure of the aeroplane, so that it tends to make the model descend an incline; but in so doing it lessens the angle of inclination of the aeroplane, and the speed is increased At the same time the angle of the horizontal rudder is increased, and the pressure of the air on its upper surface causes it to descend; but as the machine tends to turn round its center of gravity, the front part is raised and brought back to the horizontal position. If, owing to the momentum gained during the descent, the machine still tends upward, the angle of the plane is increased, and the speed decreased. The angle of the rudder from the horizontal being reduced, it no longer receives the pressure of air on its superior surface, the weight in front reasserts its power, and the machine descends. Thus, by the alternate action of the weight in front and the rudder behind the plane, the equilibrium is maintained. The machine during flight, owing to the above causes, describes a series of ascents and descents after the manner of a sparrow.

—Mr. Bennett, at the 1874 meeting of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, quoted in Progress in Flying Machines, by Octave Chanute, at Aeroplanes, Part VI, November 1892

The aircraft gained its stability (Octave Chanute called it “automatic equilibrium”) from several features that later became common in aircraft design. The wings curved upward toward the tips, creating a dihedral effect. A horizontal stabilizer at the rear was mounted with a lower angle of incidence than that of the the wings, resulting in a longitudinal dihedral effect. When the model airplane began to veer from a straight and level course, these dihedral characteristics caused it to correct itself.

Pénaud’s use of the twisted rubber band became a common feature of aircraft design models.

Charles-Alphonse Pénaud was born 31 May 1850 at Paris, France. He was the second of two sons of Capitaine de vaisseau Charles-Eugène Pénaud (later, vice-amiral) and Antoinette Louise Charlotte Huard de la Marre. Alponse’s older brother, Francis Eugène, followed their father and grandfather in the naval service, rising to the rank of contre-amiral. Because of a disability, Alphonse was not able to.

Alphonse Pénaud (as he is commonly known) became interested in flight at about the age of twenty years. He constructed a rotary-winged aircraft which he powered by using a twisted band of rubber. Following his Planophore, he built a rubber-band-powered ornithopter.

Pénaud designed a full-size airplane in the mid-1870s, but was unable to attract any investors.

Charles-Alphonse Pénaud committed suicide at his home in Paris, 22 October 1880. He was thirty years old.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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