27 June 1988

Boeing 747-400 N401PW lifts off the runway at Moses Lake, Washington. (Boeing)
Boeing 747-400 N401PW lifts off the runway at Moses Lake, Washington. (Boeing)

27 June 1988: During flight testing of the first Boeing 747-400 airliner, N401PW, serial number 23719, test pilots James C. Loesch and Howard B. Greene took off from Moses Lake, Washington and climbed to an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,562 feet). The total weight of the airplane was 405,659 kilograms (894,325 pounds). This set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Greatest Mass Carried to a Height of 2,000 Meters.¹

N401PW, the first Boeing 747-400 airliner. (Boeing)
N401PW, the first Boeing 747-400 airliner. (Boeing)

The 747-400 was a major development of the 747 series. It had many structural and electronics improvements over the earlier models, which had debuted 18 years earlier. New systems, such as a “glass cockpit”, flight management computers, and new engines allowed it to be flown with a crew of just two pilots, and the position of Flight Engineer became unnecessary. The most visible features of the –400 are its longer upper deck and the six-foot tall “winglets” at the end of each wing, which improve aerodynamic efficiency be limiting the formation of wing-tip vortices. At the time of its first flight, Boeing had already received orders for 100 747-400s. It would become the most popular version, with 694 aircraft built by the time production came to an end 15 March 2007.

The Boeing 747-400 airliner can carry between 416 and 524 passengers, depending on configuration. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.663 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.440 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.406 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,761 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,893 kilograms). While the prototype was powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines, production airplanes could be ordered with PW4062, General Electric CF6 or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, providing thrust ranging from 59,500 to 63,300 pounds. The –400 has a cruise speed of 0.85 Mach (567 miles per hour, 912 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (614 miles per hour, 988 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 8,355 miles (13,446 kilometers).

Northwest Airlines' Boeing 747-451 N661US on approach to Osaka Kansai International Airport, 11 June 2007. (Photograph courtesy of Dennis Lau)
Northwest Airlines’ Boeing 747-451 N661US on approach to Osaka Kansai International Airport, 11 June 2007. (Photograph courtesy of Dennis Lau)

After the test program was completed, the prototype 747-400 was outfitted for airline service configured as a 747-451. It was operated by Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines. It was been re-registered as N661US, and carries the Delta fleet number 6301.

Boeing 747-451 N661US, Delta Air Lines, landing at Tokyo-Narita International Airport, 25 July 2009. (Photograph courtesy of Kazuchika Naya)
Boeing 747-451 N661US, Delta Air Lines, landing at Tokyo-Narita International Airport, 25 July 2009. (Photograph courtesy of Kazuchika Naya)

N661US flew its last revenue flight 9 September 2015, from Honolulu (HNL) to Atlanta (ATL). It was then withdrawn from service. The first 747-400 will be displayed at the Delta Flight Museum near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia.

¹ FAI Record File Number 2203

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 June 1963

27 June 1963: At 09:56:03.0 PDT, Major Robert A. Rushworth, United States Air Force, flying the Number Three North American Aviation X-15 research rocketplane, 56-6672, was air-dropped from the NB-52B Stratofortress mothership, Balls 8, over Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada.

This was the 87th flight of the X-15 Program, and Bob Rushworth’s 14th.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)

Rushworth fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine for 80.1 seconds and accelerated to Mach 4.89 (3,425 miles per hour, 5,512 kilometers per hour). The X-15 climbed to an altitude of 285,000 feet (86,868 meters, 53.98 miles). Rushworth touched down at Edwards Air Force Base after 10 minutes, 28.0 seconds of flight.

Major Rushworth qualified for Astronaut wings on this flight, the second X-15 pilot to do so.

From 1960 and 1966, Bob Rushworth made 34 flights in the three X-15s, more than any other pilot.

Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force
Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 June 1952

Jean L. Ziegler in the cockpit of Bell X-2 46-675 after landing on Rogers Dry Lake, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 27 June 1952. (NASA)

27 June 1952: The Bell X-2 research rocketplane, with test pilot Jean Leroy (“Skip”) Ziegler at the controls, was airdropped from a “mothership,” a Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress, 46-011, over Edwards Air Force Base, California. This was the first flight of the X-2 Program, and was an unpowered glide flight for pilot familiarization. On touch down, the nose wheel collapsed and the aircraft slid across the dry lake bed, but was not seriously damaged.

Two X-2 rocketplanes, serial numbers 46-674 and 46-675, were built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation, which has also built the X-1 series. The second X-2 was the first one to fly.

Bell Aircraft test pilot James Leroy Skip Ziegler stands beside the X-2 after the nose gear collapsed on landing, Rogers Dry Lake, 27 June 1952. (NASM)
Bell Aircraft test pilot Jean Leroy “Skip” Ziegler stands beside the X-2 after the nose gear collapsed on landing at Rogers Dry Lake, 27 June 1952. (NASM)

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket. In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from Stainless Steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, california, 1952. (NASA)
Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

A four-engine Boeing B-50a Superfortress bomber, serial number 46-011, was modified as the ”mothership.” A second Superfortress, B-50D-95-BO 48-096, was also modified to carry the X-2, and was redesignated EB-50D. During the flight test program, the X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour, 3,370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

On 12 May 1953, less than one year after the first glide flight, Skip Ziegler was in the cockpit of 46-675 while it was being carried on a captive test flight aboard the B-50A Superfortress. An internal explosion destroyed the X-2 and killed Ziegler and another crewman aboard the mothership. The rocketplane fell into Lake Ontario and neither it nor Ziegler’s body were ever recovered. The Superfortress was able to land, but was so badly damaged that it never flew again.

Jean L. "Skip" Ziegler, with the Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.
Jean Leroy “Skip” Ziegler, with the Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 June 1937

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, over Java, Dutch East Indies, June 1937.

27 June 1937: Leg 26. Bandoeng, Java to Koepang, Timor, Dutch East Indies.

“Finally on Sunday, June 27, we left Bandoeng. I had hoped to be able to keep on to Port Darwin on the northern coast of Australia, but the penalty for flying east is losing hours. Depending on the distance covered, each day is shortened and one has to be careful to keep the corrected sunset time in mind so as not to be caught out after dark. For instance, between Koepang and Australia there is a loss of one and a half hours. So, as our landing in Koepang five hours after our start was too late to permit safely carrying on to Darwin that day, we settled down overnight in the pleasant Government rest house, planning to leave the airport at our conventional departure time, dawn. Koepang is on the southerly tip of the island of Timor, the last outpost of the archipelago of Holland-owned islands which string out southeasterly from Sumatra. As a matter of fact half of Timor is not under Dutch but Portuguese control. In the flight from Bandoeng the first 400 miles was over the lovely garden-land of Java. Then we looked down briefly upon Bali, much photographed island of quaint dancers, lovely costumes, lovelier natives, a well-publicized earthy heaven of dulce far niente. Thence we passed over Sujmbawa island, skirted Flores, and cut across a broad arm of the Arafura Sea toward Timor.

“As we left Java the geographic characteristics began to change. From lush tropics the countryside became progressively arid. The appearance of Timor itself is vastly different from that of Java. The climate is very dry, the trees and vegetation sparse. There was little or no cultivation in the open spaces around the airport, the surface of which was grass, long, dry and undulating in a strong wind when we arrived. The field, surrounded by a stout stone fence to keep out roaming wild pigs, we found to be a very good natural landing place. There were no facilities except a little shed for storing fuel, consequently we had to stake down our Electra and bundle it up for the night with engine and propeller covers. That is an all-important job carefully done; no pilot could sleep peacefully without knowing that his plane was well cared for. Our work much amused the natives from a near-by village. When we had to turn the craft’s nose into the wind, all the men willingly and noisily helped us push it as desired.” —Amelia Earhart

Photo of a replica of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)
A replica of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special over the Arafura Sea, flown by Linda Finch, 1997. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 June 1923

Lieutenants Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter, Air Service, U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force)

The first successful aerial refueling took place on June 27, 1923, when a DH-4B, Air Service serial number A.S. 23-462, carrying Lieutenants Virgil S. Hine and Frank W. Seifert passed gasoline through a hose to another DH-4B which was flying beneath them carrying Lieutenants Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter.

Hine and Smith piloted their respective airplanes while Seifert and Richter handled the refueling. A 50 foot (15.24 meter) hose with manually-operated quick-acting valves at each end was used. During the refueling, 75 gallons (284 liters) of gasoline was passed from the tanker to the receiver.

Smith and Richter landed after 6 hours, 38 minutes when their airplane developed engine trouble. Only one refueling had been completed but that had demonstrated the feasibility of the procedure.

A DH.4B flown by Lieutenant Lowell H. Smith and Lieutenant John P. Richter receives gasoline from another DH.4B, A.S. 23-462, flown by Lieutenants Virgil S. Hine and Frank W. Seifert at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, 27 June 1923. (U.S. Air Force)

For their accomplishment, all four officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was built by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States. The DH-4B was a rebuilt DH.4 with fuel capacity increased to 110 gallons (420 liters). The DH-4B was 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 6 inches (13.259 meters) and height of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). Loaded weight of the standard DH-4B was 3,557 pounds (1,613.4 kilograms).

In place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built version, Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. It turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The Liberty L12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and Packard. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4B had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

mid air refueling
The first mid air refueling near San Diego, California, 27 June 1923. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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