Daily Archives: April 8, 2017

8 April 1968

Barbara Jane Harrison, GC
Barbara Jane Harrison GC
This photograph shows Speedbird 712 over Thorpe, Surrey. The Number two Engine is circled at the lower right.

8 April 1968: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 712, call sign Speedbird 712, a Boeing 707-465 Intercontinental, registered G-ARWE, departed London Heathrow for Sydney, Australia, with 116 passengers and 11 crew. Approximately 20 seconds after takeoff, there was a loud bang and severe shudder as the Number Two jet engine failed catastrophically. The flight crew started through emergency procedures while calling MAYDAY and turning back toward the airport. The failed engine fell off the left wing which then caught fire as fuel continued to flow. Three minutes, thirty-two seconds after takeoff, Speedbird 712 touched down on Runway 05 and rapidly came to a stop. Fuel continued to burn, and the airliner’s cabin crew began evacuating passengers.

Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison was among the crew members who helped passengers escape from the burning Boeing 707. The exit slide had not deployed correctly and Miss Harrison was encouraging passengers to jump to the runway surface, and in some cases, even pushed them out. She was seen standing in a doorway as the flames and smoke spread, and people below, including the airplane’s captain, shouted at her to jump. Instead, she turned away and went back inside, presumably to help a disabled passenger in a wheelchair. She gave her life to help others. Later, the bodies of Miss Harrison and the disabled passenger were found together in the burned out wreck. Four other passengers also died.

For her gallantry in saving the lives of others at the cost of her own, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Barbara Jane Harrison was 22 years old.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1

8th August 1969.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

George Cross
George Cross

     On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

—Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969, Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8211, Column 1.

BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.
BOAC Flight 712, a Boeing 707-465, G-ARWE, burning on the runway at Heathrow, 8 April 1968.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1954

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 G-ALYY, 1953. (Zoggavia)

8 April 1954: South African Airways Flight 201, a chartered British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, aircraft registration G-ALYY, departed Rome at 1832 UTC, bound for Cairo. The Comet was under the command of Captain Wilhelm K. Mostert, with First Officer Barent J. Grove, Navigator Albert E. Sissing, Radio Officer Bertram E. Webstock, and Flight Engineer August R. Lagesen. Air Hostess Pamela L. Reitz and Flight Steward Jacobus B. Hok were in the passenger compartment with the 14 passengers.

As the airliner climbed toward 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), they made several position reports. Last heard from at 1907 UTC, radioing an expected arrival time at Cairo, the Comet disintegrated in flight and fell into the Mediterranean Sea. Searchers found a debris field and floating bodies the next day near the volcanic island of Stromboli. All 21 persons aboard were killed.

This was the second catastrophic failure of a DH.106 in just three months. BOAC immediately grounded its entire Comet fleet, and the British Air Ministry revoked the airliner’s certificate of airworthiness. Production of the airliner at de Havilland was halted.

The first crash had been presumed to be a result of an in-flight fire, and the second, an uncontained turbine engine failure. But an extensive investigation eventually determined that the cause of both crashes was the in-flight break up of the fuselage pressure hull. Metal fatigue of the fuselage was caused by the repeated expansion and contraction of pressurization cycles. Cracks in the aluminum skin formed at corners of the passenger compartment windows and then spread outward. This resulted in catastrophic explosive decompression.

The DH.106 Comet 1 was the first production version and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows. It was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers.

The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters). The Comet 1 had a maximum takeoff weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895 kilograms). It was powered by four de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 50 centrifugal flow turbojet engines, producing 5,000 pounds of thrust, each. This gave it a cruising speed of 460 miles per hour (740 kilometers per hour) and cruise altitude of 42,000 feet (12,802 meters). The airliner’s range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).

Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.

The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry. The two disasters were a blow from which the company never really recovered.

The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)
The first production de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, in formation with the two prototypes, G-ALVG and G-ALZK. G-ALYP also broke up in flight, 10 January 1954. (Ed Coates Collection)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1945

In one of the most dramatic photographic images of World War II, Wee Willie, Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, is going down after hit by antiaircraft artillery over Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, 8 April 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
In one of the most dramatic photographic images of World War II, Wee Willie, Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, is going down after hit by antiaircraft artillery over Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, 8 April 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

8 April 1945: Wee Willie, a Flying Fortress heavy bomber, left its base at Air Force Station 121 (RAF Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, England), on its 129th combat mission over western Europe. The aircraft commander was 1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, U.S. Army Air Forces.

Wee Willie was a B-17G-15-BO, serial number 42-31333, built by the Boeing Airplane Company’s Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. It was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces at Cheyenne, Wyoming on 22 October 1943, and arrived at Bassingbourne 20 December 1943. It was assigned to the 322nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force. The identification letters LG W were painted on both sides of its fuselage, and a white triangle with a black letter A on the top of its right wing and both sides of its vertical fin.

Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

On 8 April 1945, the 322nd Bombardment Squadron was part of an attack against the locomotive repair facilities at the railroad marshaling yards in Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt Germany. The squadron was bombing through clouds using H2S ground search radar to identify the target area. Antiaircraft gunfire (flak) was moderate, causing major damage to four B-17s and minor damage to thirteen others. Two bombers from the 91st Bomb Group were lost, including Wee Willie.

The Missing Air Crew Report, MACR 13881, included a statement  from a witness:

“We were flying over the target at 20,500 feet [6,248 meters] altitude when I observed aircraft B-17G, 42-31333 to receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb bay and #2 engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet [914.4 meters] from the ground it exploded and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew member leave the aircraft or parachutes open.”

This photographic image precedes the one above. The Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, is engulfed in flame. The left wing has separated and is crossing over the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force)
This photographic image precedes the one above. The Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress 42-31333, Wee Willie, is engulfed in flame. The left wing has separated and is crossing over the fuselage. (U.S. Air Force)

The pilot, Lieutenant Fuller, did bail out of the doomed bomber. He was captured and spent the remainder of the war as a POW. The other 8 crew members, however were killed.

1st Lieutenant Robert E. Fuller, O-774609, California. Aircraft Commander/Pilot—Prisoner of War

2nd Lieutenant Woodrow A. Lien, O-778858, Montana. Co-pilot—Killed in Action

Technical Sergeant Francis J. McCarthy, 14148856, Tennessee. Navigator—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Richard D. Proudfit, 14166848, Mississippi. Togglier—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Wylie McNatt, Jr., 38365470, Texas. Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant William H. Cassiday, 32346219, New York. Ball Turret Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant Ralph J. Leffelman, 19112019, Washington. Radio Operator/Top Gunner—Killed in Action

Staff Sergeant James D. Houtchens, 37483248, Nebraska. Waist Gunner—Killed in Action

Sergeant Le Moyne Miller, 33920597, Pennsylvania. Tail Gunner—Killed in Action

In the third photograph of the sequence, Wee Willie has exploded and fragments of the wings and fuselage streak downward in flame. (U.S. Air Force)
In the third photograph of the sequence, Wee Willie has exploded and fragments of the wings and fuselage streak downward in flame. (U.S. Air Force)

Wee Willie was the oldest B-17G still in service with the 91st Bomb Group, and the next to last B-17 lost to enemy action by the group before cessation of hostilities. The War in Europe came to an end with the unconditional surrender of Germany just 31 days later, 8 May 1945.

Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress, Wee Willie, and its flight crew at Air Force Station 121, RAF Bassingbourne, 14 February 1944. The bomber is still nearly new with no mission markings yet displayed. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-17G-15-BO Flying Fortress, Wee Willie, and its flight crew at Air Force Station 121, RAF Bassingbourne, 14 February 1944. The bomber is still nearly new with no mission markings yet displayed. (U.S. Air Force)

During the 129 missions Wee Willie flew in its 1 year, 3 months, 20 days at war, many airmen served as its crew members. The men in this photograph are not identified, and the date it was taken is not known. A battle-scarred veteran, Wee Willie now has markings showing 106 missions completed. These men are representative all all the aircrews who fought and died in the skies over Europe. (U.S. Air Force)
During the 129 missions Wee Willie flew in its 1 year, 3 months, 20 days at war, many airmen served as its crew members. The men in this photograph are not identified, and the date it was taken is not known. A battle-scarred veteran, Wee Willie now has markings showing 106 missions completed. These men are representative all all the aircrews who fought and died in the skies over Europe. (U.S. Air Force) [Update: The officer in the front row, right, has been identified as 2nd Lieutenant Jess Ziccarello, the navigator for this crew. Thanks to his son, Rick Ziccarello, for the identification.]
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1931

Amelia Earhart with Pitcairn Autogiro Co. PCA-2 #4, X760W, at Pitcairn Field, Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931. (Purdue University)
Amelia Earhart with Pitcairn Autogiro Co. PCA-2 #4, NX760W, at Pitcairn Field, Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931. (Purdue University)

8 April 1931: Amelia Earhart, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, reached an altitude of 5,613 meters (18,415 feet) over Warrington, Pennsylvania. The duration of the flight, her second of the day, was 1 hour, 49 minutes. She landed at 6:04 p.m.

A sealed barograph was carried aboard to record the altitude for an official record. Following the flight, the barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification.

08 Apr 1931, Pennsylvania, USA --- Original caption: Miss Amelia Earhart in two altitude tests with an autogiro plane, at the Pitcairn Airfield, Willow Grove, Pa., soars to height of 18,500 feet in the first, and surpasses that mark by 500 feet in the second. If her barographs correspond with those marks, she in all probability will have established a world record for men as well as women. She is the only woman who ever piloted one of the "windmill" types of craft. Photo shows Amelia Earhart handing Major Luke Christopher, her barograph after her first flight. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Amelia Earhart, in the cockpit of a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, handing a barograph to Major Luke Christopher, National Aeronautic Association. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

An autogyro is a rotary wing aircraft that derives lift from a turning rotor system which is driven by air flow (autorotation). Unlike a helicopter, thrust is provided by an engine-driven propeller. The engine does not drive the rotor.

The Pitcairn Autogyro Company’s PCA-2 was the first autogyro certified in the United States. Operated by a single pilot, it could carry two passengers. The fuselage was constructed as were airplanes of the period.

Amelia Earhart with the Pitcairn PCA-2 aurtogyro, NX760W.
Amelia Earhart with a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro.

The PCA-2 was 23 feet, 1 inch (7.036 meters) long. A single low wing, which provided some of the aircraft’s lift, had a span of 30 feet (9.144 meters). The four-bladed rotor had a diameter of 45 feet (13.716 meters). The PCA-2 had an empty weight of 2,233 pounds (1,013 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

The aircraft was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.93 liter) Wright R-975E Whirlwind 330 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The R-975E produced a maximum 330 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 73-octane gasoline. The engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch propeller through direct drive. The engine weighed 635 pounds (288 kilograms).

The PCA-2 had a maximum speed of 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). It had a service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a range of 290 miles (467 kilometers).

Pitcairn Autogyro Co. PCA-2 NX760W at East Boston Airport, October 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
Pitcairn Autogyro Co. PCA-2 NX760W at East Boston Airport, October 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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