22 October 1938

Lieutenant Colonel Mario Pezzi, wearing a full-pressure suit, seated in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.161bis.
Lieutenant Colonel Mario Pezzi, seated in a pressure vessel built into the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.161bis.

22 October 1938: Lieutenant Colonel Mario Pezzi, Regia Aeronautica, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for altitude when he flew an experimental Società Italiana Caproni Ca.161bis to an altitude of 17,083 meters (56,047 feet).¹

Pezzi was awarded the Medaglia d’oro al Valore Aeronautico and promoted to the rank of colonel.

The Caproni Ca.161bis, with Lieutenant Colonel Mario Pezzi, wearing a full-pressure suit, in the cockpit. (Mario Pezzi Family Archive)
The Caproni Ca.161bis, with Lieutenant Colonel Mario Pezzi in the cockpit. (Mario Pezzi Family Archive)

The Caproni Ca.161bis was an experimental single-seat, single engine, two-bay biplane developed from the earlier Ca.113. It was 27 feet, ¾ inch (8.249 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters) and height of 11 feet, 5¾ inches (3.500 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 1,205 kilograms (2,657 pounds) and gross weight was 1,650 kilograms (3,638 pounds).

ub The Ca.161bis was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 38.673 liter (2,359.97 cubic inch) Piaggio P.XI R.C.100/2v two-row 14-cylinder radial engine which produced 700 horsepower and drove a four-bladed propeller through a 0.62:1 reduction gear. This engine was a license-built version of the French Gnome-Rhône 14K Mistral Major.

Generale S.A. Mario Pezzi,Regia Aeronautica. (Mario Pezzi Family Archive)
Generale S.A. Mario Pezzi, Regia Aeronautica. (Mario Pezzi Family Archive)

¹ FAI Record File Number 11713. This record was retired by changes of the sporting code.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 October 1919

Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet with a Spad-Herbemont, (S.20bis6) 9 October 1920. (Agence Meurisse 84138/BnF)

During a competition for the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe, Lieutenant Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet of France’s  Aéronautique Militaire flew a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V to set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 268.63 kilometers per hour (166.92 miles per hour).¹

De Romanet’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. The Ni-D 29V 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 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V (Unattributed)
A Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V. This airplane, #10, was flown by Joseph Sadi Lecointe. (Unattributed)

The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller. The engine was 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches) long, 0.89 meters (2 feet, 11 inches) wide, and 0.88 meters (2 feet, 10½ inches) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).

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).

This right rear-quarter view of a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V shows the shortned two-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)
This right rear-quarter view of one of the three Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V racers shows the shortened two-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)
Bernard Henri Barny de Romanet

Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was born at Saint-Maurice-de-Sathonay, Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France, 28 January 1894. He was the son of Léonard Jean Michel Barny de Romanet and Marie Noémie Isabelle de Veyssière. He descended from a very old French family.

Bernard de Romanet joined the Cavalry at the age of 18 years. During World War I, he served with both cavalry and infantry regiments as a Maréchel de Logis (master sergeant) before transferring to the Aéronautique Militaire in July 1915, as a photographer and observer.

After completing flight training in 1916, de Romanet was assigned as a pilot. In early 1918, de Romanet trained as a fighter pilot. He shot down his first enemy airplane 23 May 1918, for which he was awarded the Médaille Militaire, and was promoted to Adjutant (warrant officer). De Romanet was commissioned as a Sous-Lieutenant (equivalent to a second lieutenant in the United States military) several months later. After a fourth confirmed victory he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (first lieutenant).

By August 1918, he was in command of Escadrille 167. He was officially credited with having shot down 18 enemy aircraft, sharing credit for 12 with other pilots. He claimed an additional 6 airplanes destroyed.

Lieutenant de Romanet was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with three  étoiles en vermeil (silver gilt) stars and 10 palmes.

Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was killed 23 September 1921, when the fabric covering of his Lumière-De Monge 5.1 airplane’s wings was torn away and the airplane crashed.

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 15642, 15670.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 October 1959

Gerald Huelsbeck
Gerald Huelsbeck

21 October 1959: McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Gerald (“Zeke”) Huelsbeck was killed while test flying the first prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base during preparations for Operation Top Flight. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259 takes off at Edwards Air Force Base during preparations for Operation Top Flight. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

In October 1959 the Navy tried, a bit prematurely, for its first world record with the F4H. McDonnell test pilot Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck, flying near Edwards AFB, was testing various flight plans for a high-altitude zoom, looking for one to recommend to the Navy test pilot who would fly the record attempt. Huelsbeck was flying the very first F4H prototype when an engine access door blew loose, flames shot through the engine compartment, and the F4H crashed, killing Huelsbeck. (Over the next three years of the F4H-1 test program three aircraft were destroyed and three crew members died, all preparing for record flights.)

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 101.

Gerald Huelsbeck
Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with a prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II. Huelsbeck is wearing a Goodyear Mk. IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

The flight control system of the YF4H-1 was damaged by the fire and went it out of control at high speed and into a spin. Zeke Huelsbeck did eject but was too low. His parachute did not open. The prototype crashed in an open area near Mt. Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest,  Ventura County, California, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Edwards.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259 was the first prototype Phantom II. It had first been flown by Robert C. Little at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, 27 May 1958. The Phantom II was designed as a supersonic, high-altitude fleet defense interceptor for the United States Navy. It was a two-place twin engine jet fighter armed with radar- and infrared-homing air-to-air missiles.

Gerald Huelsbeck was born in Wisconsin, 16 April 1928, the third child of Walter Andrew Huelsbeck, a farmer, and Irene M. Voigt Huelsbeck. He attended Carroll College (now, Carroll University) in Waukesha, before joining the United States Navy as a midshipman. He completed flight training at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, and was commissioned as an ensign, 2 June 1950.

In 1950, Ensign Gerald Huelsbeck married Miss Mary Jean Hillary, who had also attended Carroll College. They would have two children.

Huelsbeck was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 2 June 1952. Assigned as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, he flew 54 combat missions in the McDonnell F2H Banshee.

While flying in the Navy, Huelsbeck experimented with helmet-mounted cine cameras:

. . . He took a standard gun camera, added a couple of gadgets, and attached it to his helmet, The camera is electrically driven and able to take about two minutes of film with a 50-foot magazine. . . “I spent some time doing ‘hand camera’ work in Korea,” he recalls. “You know, after 54 combat missions, you don’t like to think about crashing while trying to take a picture.”

The Indianapolis Star, Vol. 53, No. 116, Tuesday, 29 September 1955, Page 4 at Columns 2–4

Lt. (j.g.) Huelsbeck in teh cocpit of a Grumman F9F. A small motion picture camera is attached to his flight helmet (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lt. (j.g.) Huelsbeck in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy fighter. A small motion picture camera is attached to his flight helmet. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

He was serving with VF-11 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, when he was selected for the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in July 1953.

“Zeke” Huelsbeck left the Navy in 1955 to accept a position as a test pilot with the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. After several months, he was assigned as an experimental test pilot and project pilot of the F4H program.

At the time of the accident, Zeke Huelsbeck was the most experienced pilot flying the F4H.

Gerald Huelsbeck was 31 years old when he died. He is buried in New Berlin, Wisconsin.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 October 1947

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, 21 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)

21 October 1947: At Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, Northrop Corporation Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley took off in the first YB-49, 42-102367, and flew it to Muroc Air Force Base for flight testing.

42-102367 had been converted from the second YB-35 pre-production test aircraft. The original Flying Wing’s four Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major (R-4360-21) radial engines were replaced by turbojet engines and several aerodynamic improvements were made.

Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The YB-49 was a very unusual configuration for an aircraft of that time. There was no fuselage or tail control surfaces. The crew compartment, engines, fuel, landing gear and armament were contained within the wing. Air intakes for the turbojet engines were placed in the leading edge and the exhaust nozzles were at the trailing edge. Four small vertical fins for improved yaw stability were also at the trailing edge.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-49 had a length of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters), wingspan of 172 feet (52.426 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). It weighed 88,442 pounds (40,117 kilograms) empty and its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) was 193,938 pounds (87,969 kilograms).

The Wing defined the airplane. The leading edge was swept aft 26° 57′ 48″, and the trailing edge, 10° 15′ 22″. The wing’s total area was 4,000 square feet (371.6 square meters). It had an aspect ratio of 7.4:1. At the root, the chord was 37 feet, 6 inches (11.430 meters), tapering to 9 feet, 4 inches (2.844 meters) at the tip. There was 0° angle of incidence at the root, -4° at the wing tips, and 0° 53′ dihedral.

The YB-49 was powered by eight General Electric-designed, Allison Engine Company-built J35-A-5 engines. (This same engine variant was used in the North American Aviation XP-86, replacing its original Chevrolet-built J35-C-3.) The engines were later upgraded to J35-A-15s. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-15 had a Normal Power rating of 3,270 pounds of thrust (14.546 kilonewtons) at 7,400 r.p.m. The Military Power rating was 3,750 pounds (16.681 kilonewtons) at 7,700 r.p.m. 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).

During testing the YB-49 reached a maximum speed of 428 knots (493 miles per hour/793 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters). Cruise speed was 365 knots (429 miles per hour/690 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 49,700 feet (15,149 meters). The YB-49 had a maximum fuel capacity of 14,542 gallons (55,047 liters) of JP-1 jet fuel. Its combat radius was 1,403 nautical miles (1,615 statute miles/2,598 kilometers).

The maximum bomb load of the YB-49 was 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms), though the actual number of bombs was limited by the volume of the bomb bay and the capacity of each bomb type. While the YB-35 Flying Wing was planned for multiple machine gun turrets, the YB-49 carried no defensive armament.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne California. Note teh crowds of onlookers and residential housing along W. 120th Street, on the north side of the airport. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. Note the crowds of onlookers and residential housing along W. 120th Street, on the north side of the airport. (U.S. Air Force)

Only two Northrop YB-49s were built and they were tested by Northrop and the Air Force for nearly two years. Though an additional nine YB-35s were ordered converted, the B-49 was not placed into production.

The second ship, YB-49 42-102368, disintegrated in flight during a test flight north of Muroc Air Force Base, 5 June 1948, killing the entire crew, which included Captain Glen Edwards. The name of Muroc was changed to Edwards Air Force Base in his honor.

YB-49 42-102367 was destroyed by fire following a taxiing accident at Edwards, 15 March 1950. The program was cancelled on the same day.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 in flight near Muroc Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 in flight near Muroc Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1956

Bell XH-40 55-4459 with cowlings and rear doors installed. (U.S. Army)
Bell XH-40 55-4459 with stabilizer bar, cowlings and rear doors installed. (U.S. Army)

20 October 1956: Bell Aircraft Corporation Chief Pilot Floyd W. Carlson and Chief Experimental Test Pilot Elton J. Smith made the first flight of the Bell Model 204 (designated XH-40-BF serial number 55-4459 by the United States Army) at Bell’s helicopter factory in Hurst, Texas.

The XH-40 is a six-place, turboshaft-powered light helicopter, designed with a primary mission of battlefield medical evacuation. Operated by one or two pilots, it could carry four passengers, or two litter patients with an attendant. The prototype’s fuselage was 39 feet, 3.85 inches (12.294 meters) long. The overall length of the helicopter with rotors turning was 53 feet, 4.00 inches (16.256 meters). The height (to the top of the tail rotor arc) is 14 feet, 7.00 inches (4.445 meters). The empty weight of the XH-40 was 3,693 pounds (1,675 kilograms), with a maximum gross weight of 5,650 pounds (2,563 kilograms).

Bell XH-40 first flight. (U.S. Army)
Bell XH-40 first flight. (U.S. Army)

The two blade semi-rigid, under-slung main rotor had a diameter of 44 feet, 0.00 inches (12.294 meters), and turned counter clockwise when viewed from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The blades used a symmetrical airfoil. They had a chord of 1 foot, 3.00 inches (0.381 meters) and 10° negative twist. The main rotor hub incorporated pre-coning. At 100% NR, the main rotor turned 324 r.p.m. The two blade tail rotor assembly had a diameter of 8 feet, 6.00 inches (2.591 meters). It was mounted on the left side of the pylon in a pusher configuration and turned counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

The first prototype Bell XH-40, 55-4459, hovers in ground effect. (U.S. Army)

The prototype XH-40 was powered by a Lycoming LTC1B-1 (XT53-L-1) free-turbine (turboshaft). The engine uses a 5-stage axial-flow, 1-stage centrifugal-flow compressor with a single-stage gas producer turbine and single-stage power turbine. A reverse-flow combustion section with 12 burners allows a significant reduction in the the engine’s total length. The XT53L-1 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 770 shaft horsepower, and Military Power rating of 825 shaft horsepower. It could produce 860 shaft horsepower at 21,510 r.p.m. At Military Power, the XT53-L-1 produced 102 pounds of jet thrust (0.454 kilonewtons). The power turbine drives the output shaft through a 3.22:1 gear reduction. The T53-L-1 is 3 feet, 11.8 inches (1.214 meters) long and 1 foot, 11.25 inches (0.591 meters) in diameter, and weighs 460 pounds (209 kilograms).

A Lycoming XT53-L-1 turboshaft engine installed on the first Bell XH-40 prototype, at Hurst, Texas, 10 August 1956. (University of North Texas Libraries, Special Collections)

The XH-40 had a maximum speed of 133 knots (153 miles per hour/246 kilometers per hour) at 2,400 feet (732 meters), and 125 knots (144 miles per hour/232 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The in-ground-effect hover ceiling (HIGE) was 17,300 feet (5,273 meters) and the service ceiling was 21,600 feet (6,584 meters). The helicopter’s fuel capacity was 165 gallons (625 liters), giving it a maximum range of 212 miles (341 kilometers).

The Bell XH-40 prototype hovering in ground effect at the Bell Aircraft Company plant at Hurst, Texas. The helicopter's cowlings are not installed in this photograph. (U.S. Army)
The Bell XH-40 prototype hovering in ground effect at the Bell Aircraft Corporation helicopter plant at Hurst, Texas. The helicopter’s cowlings and doors are not installed in this photograph. (U.S. Army)

Three XH-40 prototypes were built, followed by six YH-40 service test aircraft. The designation of the XH-40 was soon changed to XHU-1.

This helicopter was the prototype of what would be known world-wide as the “Huey.” The helicopter was designated by the U.S. Army as HU-1, but a service-wide reorganization of aircraft designations resulted in that being changed to UH-1. Produced for both civil and military customers, it evolved to the Model 205 (UH-1D—UH-1H), the twin-engine Model 212 (UH-1N), the heavy-lift Model 214, and is still in production 62 years later as the twin-engine, four-bladed, glass-cockpit Model 412EPI and the UH-1Y.

Left rear quarter view of the Bell XH-40 hovering in ground effect at the Bell Helicopter Company plant at Hurst, Texas. (U.S. Army)
Left rear quarter view of the Bell XH-40 hovering in ground effect at the Bell Aircraft Corporation helicopter plant at Hurst, Texas. (U.S. Army)

Sources differ as to the date of the first flight, with some saying 20 October, and at least one saying 26 October, but most cite 22 October 1956. This individual aircraft is at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, Fort Rucker, Alabama. The museum’s director, Robert S. Maxham, informed TDiA that, “The earliest and only historical record cards that we have on 4459 are dated 2 MAY 1958, and at that time the aircraft had 225.8 hours on it.” The Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, a generally reliable source, states the first flight was 22 October 1956.

Many sources also state the the XH-40 first flew on the same day on which Lawrence D. Bell died, which was 20 October.

The earliest contemporary news report yet discovered by TDiA, states,

On October 20, after several hours of ground running, the new Bell XH-40 helicopter was flown for the first time.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2506, Vol. 71, Friday, 1 February 1957, Page 136, at Column 1

A rare color photograph of of a prototype Bell XH-40, hovering in ground effect. In this photo, a stabilizer bar is installed, and the synchronized elevator has end plates similar to those on Bell Model 47 helicopters. (Unattributed)

Beginning in 2015, XH-40 55-4459 was restored by Blast Off, Inc., at Atmore, Alabama. It was then returned to the Army Aviation Museum.

Bell XH-40 55-4459 ready for transport to Blast Off, Inc., 16 June 2015. (The Atmore Advance)
The Bell XH-40 at the United States Army Aviation Museum.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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