6 May 1941: At Stratford, Connecticut, Igor Sikorsky piloted his Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 helicopter to a new world’s record for endurance. He flew for 1 hour, 32 minutes, 26 seconds. The previous record—1 hour, 20 minutes, 49 seconds—had been set by Ewald Rohlfs with the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 tandem-rotor helicopter, 25 June 1937.
During its development, the VS-300 went through at least 18 changes in its rotor configuration. This photograph, taken after the record-setting flight, shows an intermediate version, with one main rotor for lift and three auxiliary rotors for anti-torque and directional control.
In the final configuration, Sikorsky arrived at what we now recognize as a helicopter, with the main rotor providing lift, thrust and roll control through variable collective and cyclic pitch, and a single tail rotor for anti-torque and yaw control.
The VS-300 had a welded tubular steel airframe and used a 28-foot (5.34 meters) diameter, fully-articulated, three-bladed main rotor, which turned clockwise (as seen from above) at 260 r.p.m. (The advancing blade was on the left. This would later be reversed.) The main rotor had collective pitch control for vertical control, but cyclic pitch (Sikorsky referred to this as “sectional control”) for directional control would not be developed for another several months.
The tail “propellers” (what we now consider to be rotors—one vertical and two horizontal) each had two blades with a diameter of 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters) and turned approximately 1,300 r.p.m. The vertical rotor provided “torque compensation” (anti-torque) and the blade pitch was fully reversible. The horizontal rotors were mounted on 10-foot (3.048 meters) outriggers at the aft end of the fuselage. For lateral control, the pitch on one rotor was increased and the other decreased. For longitudinal control, the pitch of both rotors was increased or decreased together.
The VS-300 was originally equipped with an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 144.489-cubic-inch-displacement (2.368 liter) Lycoming O-145C-3 four-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine which was rated at 75 horsepower at 3,100 r.p.m. According to Mr. Sikorsky, “early in 1941,” the Lycoming engine was replaced by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 198.608 cubic inch (3.255 liter) Franklin 4AC-199-E, a four-cylinder horizontally-opposed overhead valve (OHV) direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 7:1, rated at 90 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. It is not known if this change was made prior to 6 May.
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopesby
6 May 1941: Just eight months after a prototype for a new single-engine fighter was ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps, test pilot Lowery Lawson Brabham took off from the Republic Aviation Corporation factory airfield at Farmingdale, New York and flew the prototype XP-47B Thunderbolt, serial number 40-3051, to Mitchel Field, New York. When he arrived, he exclaimed, “I think we’ve hit the jackpot!”
When it made its first flight, the XP-47B was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. At 12,086 pounds (5,482 kilograms), it was nearly twice as heavy as any of its contemporaries.
The XP-47B was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 (Double Wasp TSB1-G) two-row, 18-cylinder radial with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 had a normal power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge. The engine drove a 12-foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long. The engine weighed 2,265 pounds (1,027 kilograms). Approximately 80% of these engines were produced by the Ford Motor Company. It was also used as a commercial aircraft engine, with optional propeller gear reduction ratios.
The XP-47B Thunderbolt had a maximum speed of 412 miles per hour (663 kilometers per hour) at 25,800 feet (7,864 meters). It could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just five minutes.
The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.
A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat, it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopesby
6 May 1937: After a three-day Trans-Atlantic crossing from Frankfurt, Germany, the rigid airship Hindenburg (D-LZ129) arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey with 36 passengers and 61 crewmembers.
At 7:25 p.m., while the airship was being moored, it suddenly caught fire. The fabric covering burned first, but then the hydrogen gas contained in the buoyancy tanks exploded and burned. Hindenburg settled to the ground and was completely destroyed within 30 seconds.
Of those on board, 13 passengers and 22 crewmembers died. One member of the ground crew was also killed.
Surprisingly, though there were many survivors and witnesses—as well as newsreel footage of the accident—the cause has never been determined.
This dramatic accident ended the airship passenger industry.
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopesby