19 August 1940

Vance Breese (SDA&SM)

19 August 1940: At Mines Field (now known as Los Angeles International Airport), the first North American Aviation B-25 twin-engine medium bomber, serial number 40-2165, took off on its first flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls and engineer Roy Ferren in the co-pilot’s position.

The airplane, North American model NA-62, serial number 62-2834, was developed from two earlier designs which had been evaluated by the U.S. Air Corps but rejected, and it was ordered into production without a prototype being built.

The first few B-25s built—sources vary, but 8–10 airplanes—were built with a constant dihedral wing. Testing at Wright Field showed that the airplane had a slight tendency to “Dutch roll” so all B-25s after those were built with a “cranked” wing, with the outer wing panels having slight anhedral and giving it the bomber’s characteristic “gull wing” appearance. The two vertical stabilizers were also increased in size.

40-2165 was retained by North American for testing while the next several aircraft were sent to Wright Field.

Roy Ferren (SDA&SM)

The B-25 was named Mitchell in honor of early air power advocate Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. A total of 9,984 B-25s, F-10 reconnaissance variants and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps PBJ-1 patrol bombers were built by North American Aviation at Inglewood, California and Kansas City, Kansas. The last one, a TB-25J, remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 1960.

Twenty-three B-25s were built before the B-25A Mitchell went into production. The B-25 was operated by a crew of five. It was 54 feet, 1 inch (16.485 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 6.7 inches (20.592 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 4 inches (4.978 meters). The empty weight was 17,258 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum gross weight was 28,557 pounds (12,953 kilograms).

Scale model of a North American Aviation B-25 medium bomber being tested in a wind tunnel. (4″ × 5″ Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer)

The B-25 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600B665 (R-2600-9) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines which were rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic variable-pitch propellers through 16:9 gear reduction. The R-2600-9 was 5 feet, 3.1 inches (1.603 meters) long and 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,980 pounds (898 kilograms).

The medium bomber had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It could carry a 3,000 pound bomb load 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Defensive armament consisted of three air-cooled Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns and one Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine gun.

After testing was completed, B-25 40-2165 was retained by North American and modified as a company transport. On 8 January 1945, flown by Edgar A. Stewart, the airplane suffered an engine failure and made a forced landing at Mines Field—the location of its first flight. The prototype B-25 was damaged beyond repair.

Front view of the first North American B-25 Mitchell, 40-2165. The constant dihedral wing was used on the first nine airplanes built. (U.S. Air Force)
Front view of the first North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, 40-2165, at Mines Field, August 1940. The constant dihedral wing was used on the first nine airplanes built. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation NA-62, B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left front. (U.S. Air Force)
North American B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left rear. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell 40-2165, left rear. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell medium bomber of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), based at McChord Field, south of Tacoma, Washington, and Pendleton Army Airfiled, northwest of Pendleton, Oregon, circa 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation B-25A Mitchell medium bomber of the 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 17th Bombardment Group (Medium), based at McChord Field, south of Tacoma, Washington, circa 1941. (U.S. Army Air Corps 10822 AC)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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