Monthly Archives: December 2016

31 December 1985

Eric Hilliard Nelson (8 May 1940–31 December 1985)
Eric Hilliard Nelson (8 May 1940–31 December 1985)

31 December 1985: At 5:14 p.m., Central Standard Time, a Douglas DC-3C, N711Y, registered to Century Equipment, Inc., crash-landed in a field near DeKalb, Texas. The airplane struck a wire and several trees and was extensively damaged. The airplane, already on fire, was completely destroyed.

The pilot and co-pilot escaped through cockpit windows, but all seven passengers, including singer Rick Nelson, died.

N711Y was a Douglas C-47A-25-DK Skytrain twin-engine military transport, serial number 42-108981, built at the Midwest City Douglas Aircraft Company Plant, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, circa 1943–1944. Following U.S. military service, the transport was operated in Brazil. The Skytrain had been converted to a civil DC-3C in 1959, and registered N136H. At one time the airplane had been owned by the DuPont family, and later by singer Jerry Lee Lewis.

Rick Nelson's Douglas DC-3C, N711Y. © Thomas P. McManus
Rick Nelson’s Douglas DC-3C, N711Y. © Thomas P. McManus

At 5:08 p.m., the pilot informed Air Traffic Control  that he had a problem and was going to divert from the intended destination of Dallas, Texas, to Texarkana. At 5:11 p.m., ATC received a call from N711Y saying that there was smoke in the cockpit. It was then seen on radar to be descending. The airplane disappeared from radar at 5:14 p.m.

Witnesses reported seeing the airplane descending in a left turn to line up with a farm field. It was trailing smoke and small pieces of metal fell off which started several small fires. The DC-3 struck two power wires suspended about 30 feet (9 meters) above the ground, a utility pole and several trees.

The pilot and co-pilot, who were both severely burned, gave differing statements as to what had occurred. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that there had been an in-flight fire in the passenger cabin which had probably started in the on-board cabin heater. The board concluded that the pilot in command did not follow proper procedures or check lists.

Burned-out wreckage of Douglas DC-3C N711Y. (Unattributed)

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is an all-metal twin-engine, low wing monoplane transport with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, a navigator and a radio operator. The wing is fully cantilevered and the fuselage is of semi-monocoque construction. Control surfaces are fabric-covered.

The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). Empty weight of the C-47A is 17,257 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms).

The C-47 is powered by two 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These had a maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., at Sea Level, for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms). (N711Y had been re-engined with Pratt & Whitney R-1830-75 engines, rated at 1,350 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m.)

The C-47 has a cruising speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and service ceiling of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).

The C-47 could carry 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of cargo, or 28 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 14 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with three attendants.

The C-47A served with the United States Air Force until 1971. Hundreds of C-47s and DC-3s are still operational, worldwide.

Crash site of Douglas DC-3C N711Y, near DeKalb, Texas. (Unattributed)
Crash site of Douglas DC-3C N711Y, near DeKalb, Texas. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 December 1948

The first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter. (Unattributed)
The first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter, 5 01. (Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau)

31 December 1948: One year and one day after the first flight of the MiG I-310 S01 prototype, the first production Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, serial number 101003, made its first flight. The production aircraft was based on the third I-310 prototype, S03.

The MiG-15 is a single-seat, single-engine turbojet-powered fighter interceptor, designed to attack heavy bombers. Designed for high sub-sonic speed, the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35°. The wings were very thin to minimize aerodynamic drag. The Rolls-Royce Nene I and Nene II jet engines had been used in the three prototypes. The British engine was reverse-engineered by Vladimir Yakovlevich Klimov and manufactured at Factory No. 45 in Moscow as the RD-45F.

The production fighter was 10.102 meters (33 feet, 1¾ inches) long, with a wingspan of 10.085 meters (33 feet, 1 inch). Its empty weight was 3,253 kilograms (7,170 pounds) and takeoff weight was 4,963 kilograms (10,938 pounds).

The MiG-15 had a maximum speed of 1,031 kilometers per hour (557 knots) at 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and 1,050 kilometers per hour (567 knots) at Sea Level (0.86 Mach).

Armament consisted of one Nudelman N-37 37 mm cannon and two  Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon.

Russian technicians service a MiG-15bis o fteh 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)
Russian technicians service a MiG-15bis of the 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Soviet Air Forces)

The first MiG 15, 101003, was built at Factory No. 1. Full scale production was considered so important that four other aircraft types were discontinued so that their factories could be used to build MiG-15s. They were also license-built in Poland and Czechoslovakia. More than 18,000 MiG-15s have been built. It has served in the air forces of at least 44 countries.

The MiG-15 soon entered combat in the Korean War. It scored its first air-to-air victory, 1 November 1950, when First Lieutenant Fiodor V. Chizh shot down a U.S. Air Force F-51 Mustang.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 December 1938

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 taking of at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive Catalog # 01 00091290)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 taking of at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive Catalog # 01 00091290)
Edmund T. ("Eddie") Allen
Edmund T. (“Eddie”) Allen

31 December 1938: Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 made its first flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. The test pilot was Eddie Allen.

The Model 307 was a four-engine commercial airliner that used the wings, tail surfaces, engines and landing gear of the production B-17C Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The fuselage was circular in cross section to allow for pressurization. It was the first pressurized airliner and because of its complexity, it was also the first airplane to include a flight engineer as a crew member.

Boeing 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with both propellers on right wing feathered. (Boeing)
Boeing 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with both propellers on right wing feathered. (Boeing)

In the photograph above, you can see that the propellers on the right wing are feathered and the rudder is full left. On March 18, 1939, while demonstrating this two-engine-out capability for representatives of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the full deflection of the rudder caused “rudder lock” and the airplane went in to an unrecoverable spin. NX19901 was destroyed and all ten persons aboard were killed.

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091288)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901. The engine cowlings have been removed. The inboard right engine is running. The arrangement of passenger windows differs on the right and left side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091288)

The Boeing Model 307 was operated by a crew of five and could carry 33 passengers. It was 74 feet, 4 inches (22.657 meters) long with a wingspan of 107 feet (32.614 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 9½ inches (6.337 meters). The empty weight was 30,000 pounds (13,607.7 kilograms) and loaded weight was 45,000 pounds (20,411.7 kilograms).

The airliner was powered by four air-cooled, geared and supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Cyclone 9 GR-1820-G102 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1, rated at 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. These drove three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction in order to match the engine’s effective power range with the propeller’s. The GR-1820-G102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the 307 was 241 miles per hour (388 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,828.8 meters). Cruise speed was 215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).  The service ceiling was 23,300 feet (7,101.8 meters).

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with all engines running. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091291)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with all engines running. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091291)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) Boeing 307 Stratoliner with cabin attendants. (TWA)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) Boeing 307 Stratoliner with cabin attendants. (Trans World Airlines)

During World War II, TWA sold its Stratoliners to the United States government which designated them C-75 and placed them in transatlantic passenger service. After the war, the 307s were returned to TWA and they were sent back to Boeing for modification and overhaul. The wings, engines and tail surfaces were replaced with those from the more advanced B-17G Flying Fortress.

Boeing C-75 Stratoliner. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091316)
Boeing C-75 Stratoliner “Comanche,” s/n 42-88624, formerly TWA’s NC19905. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091316)

Of the ten Stratoliners built for Pan Am and TWA, only one remains. Fully restored by Boeing, NC19903 is at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution.

The only existing Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner, NC19903, Clipper Flying Cloud, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The only existing Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner, NC19903, Clipper Flying Cloud, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19903 after upgrade, circa 1945. (Boeing)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 December 1908

Wilbur Wright at Camp d'Avours, 1 January 1909. (Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University Libraries)
Wilbur Wright at Camp d’Avours, 1 January 1909. (Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University Libraries)

31 December 1908: At Camp d’Auvours, 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) east of Le Mans, France, Wilbur Wright flew a 1907 Wright Flyer a distance of 124.7 kilometers (77.48 miles) over a triangular course in 2 hours, 20 minutes, 23 seconds, setting a record for duration and distance. He won the first Michelin Trophy and a 20,000 prize.

1908 Michelin Trophy. (Le Mans-Sarthe Wright, 1906–2008)
1908 Michelin Trophy. (Le Mans-Sarthe Wright, 1906–2008)

The International Michelin Trophy was a prize given over eight years by Michelin et Cie, the French  tire company, to the Aéro-Club de France, to award on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. The winner would be the pilot who by sunset, 31 December of each year, held the record which had been established by the Aéro-Club. The actual trophy would be given the aeronautical club whose members had won the most times during the eight year period. 160,000 was to be divided and presented to each winning pilot.

The Wright Model A, produced from 1907 to 1909, was the world’s first series production airplane. It was slightly larger and heavier than the Wright Flyer III which had preceded it. A new system of controls allowed the pilot to sit upright rather than lying prone on the lower wing. The biplane was 31 feet (9.449 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of approximately 800 pounds (363 kilograms). An inline four-cylinder engine produced 31 horsepower at 1,425 r.p.m. Two counter-rotating propellers were behind the wings in a pusher configuration. They had a diameter of 8½ feet (2.591 meters) and were driven through a chain mechanism. They turned 445 r.p.m.

Wilber Wright's Model A Flyer in France, 1909. The derrick supporst a weight, which, when dropped, pulls the airplane across the ground until it reaches flying speed. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wilber Wright’s Model A Flyer in France, 1909. The derrick supports a weight, which, when dropped, pulls the airplane across the ground with a cable and puller arrangement until it reaches flying speed. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 December 1968

Chief Warrant Officer James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
CW4 William T. Lamb

30 December 1968: At the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation plant at Stratford, Connecticut, Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Paul Ervin, Jr., United States Army, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude while flying a Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe. The helicopter’s co-pilot for this flight was CW4 William T. Lamb. The “Sky Crane” reached 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) in 1 minute, 38.2 seconds, and 9,000 meters (29,527.56 feet) in 7 minutes, 54 seconds.¹ (It climbed through 6,000 meters (19,686 feet) in 2 minutes, 58.9 seconds.²)

Several attempts to break the existing time to altitude records had been made on 29 and 30 December. Erwin decided to deviate from Sikorsky’s recommended climb profile and, instead, climbed vertically until reaching 20,000 feet, and then returned to Sikorsky’s profile.

On the same date, CW4 Lamb, with Erwin as co-pilot, established a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, of 9,596 meters (31,483 feet).³

According to an article in U.S. Army Aviation Digest, during the record attempt flights, the regional air traffic control center called a commercial airliner which was cruising at 17,000 feet,

“. . . be advised there’s a helicopter at your 9 o’clock position descending out of 27,000 feet at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute.”

The airliner replied, “Good lord, you mean they’re up here now?”

Another pilot on the frequency asked, “What kind of helicopter is that?”

Mr. Ervin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his achievement.

A third U.S. Army aviator involved in the record attempts was Major James H. Goodloe, as was a Sikorsky test pilot, John J. Dixon.

FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)
FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)

The Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe is a large single-main-rotor/tail rotor helicopter, specifically designed to carry large external loads. In U.S. Army service, it had a crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, third pilot and two mechanics. The third pilot was in a rear-facing cockpit position and flew the helicopter while it was hovering to pick up or position an external load.

The CH-54A is 88 feet, 5.9 inches (26.972 meters) long and 25 feet, 4.7 inches (7.739 meters) high. The main rotor has six blades and turns counter-clockwise, seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet (21.946 meters). The main rotor blades have a chord of 1.97 feet (0.601 meters) and incorporate a twist of -13°. The tail rotor has four blades and is placed on the left side of a vertical pylon in a pusher configuration. The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The diameter of the tail rotor is 16 feet (4.877 meters). The chord of the tail rotor blade is 1.28 feet (0.390 meters).

The helicopter has an empty weight of 19,120 pounds (8,673 kilograms) a design gross weight of 38,000 pounds (17,237 kilograms) and overload gross weight of 42,000 pounds (19,051 kilograms).

Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe 68-18448, Nevada National Guard, 16 November 1989. (Mike Freer/Wikipedia)

The CH-54A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JFTD12A-4A (T73-P-1) turboshaft engines, each rated at 4,000 shaft horsepower at 9,000 r.p.m. (N2) maximum continuous power at Sea Level, and 4,500 shaft horsepower at 9,500 r.p.m. (N2) for takeoff, 5-minute limit, or 30 minutes, with one engine inoperative (OEI). The maximum gas generator speed (N1) is 16,700 r.p.m. The T73-P-1 is an axial-flow free-turbine turboshaft engine with a 9-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine section (2-stage gas generator and 2-stage free turbine). It is 107.0 inches (2.718 meters) long, 30.0 inches (0.762 meters) in diameter, and weighs 966 pounds (438 kilograms). The helicopter’s main transmission is limited to a maximum 6,600 horsepower.

It has a useful load of 22,880 pounds (10,342 kilograms) and can carry a payload of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) from a single point cargo hoist.

The CH-54A has a maximum cruise speed of 115 knots (132 miles per hour, 213 kilometers per hour). It’s range is 217 nautical miles (250 miles,  402 kilometers). The CH-54A has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 10,600 feet (3,231 meters) and its service ceiling is 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

The U.S. Army ordered 54 CH-54A and 35 CH-54B Tarhes. Sikorsky produced another 12 civil-certified S-64E and S-64F Skycranes. Army CH-54s were retired from service in 1995. Sikorsky sold the type certificate to Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Medford, Oregon. Erickson operates a fleet of Skycranes for heavy lift, logging and fire fighting, and also produces parts and new helicopters for worldwide customers.

The United States Army has a tradition of using Native American names for its aircraft. Tarhe (pronounced tar-HAY) was a famous chief, or sachem, of the Wyandot People of North America, who lived from 1742–1818. He was very tall and the French settlers called him “The Crane.”

James Paul Ervin, Jr., was born 2 October 1931, in Arkansas. He was the second child of James Paul Erwin and Ruth Booker Ervin. he joined the United States Army in 1948. In 1955, he married his wife, Theresa M. (“Terry”) Ervin. They resided in Columbus, Georgia.

CW4 Ervin was considered a pioneer of Army Aviation. He was one of the first pilots to experiment with armed helicopters, and he served with the first transportation company to be equipped with the Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw and CH-37 Mohave helicopters. During the Vietnam War, he was assigned to the 478th Aviation Company (Heavy Helicopter). Mr. Ervin retired from the United States Army in July 1969 after 21 years of service.

At 1735, 2 September 1969, as a civilian pilot working for ERA Helicopters in Alaska, Ervin was flying a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane, N6964E, near Prudhoe Bay, when the helicopter broke up in flight and crashed. Chief Erwin and two others aboard were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that a tail rotor pitch control link failed due to a fatigue fracture. The NTSB accident report also cited improper factory installation as a factor.

At the time of the accident, Erwin had a total of 4,787 flight hours with 830 hours in type. He was 37 years old. James Paul Erwin, Jr., is buried at the Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia.

An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc. Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Sikorsky Archives)
An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 9944 and 9961.

² Many sources state that CW4 Erwin set a record for Time to 6,000 meters, and some give the elapsed time as 3 minutes, 31.5 seconds. The FAI Records Database does not list this record.

³ FAI Record File Number 9919.

© 2016 Bryan. R. Swopes

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