Daily Archives: May 10, 2017

10 May 1961

Crew of The Firefly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (Sand Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Crew of The Firefly, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Major Elmer E. Murphy, and Major Eugene Moses, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

In 1930, aviation pioneer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot established the Blériot Trophy, to be awarded to an aviator who demonstrated flight at a speed of 2,000 kilometers per hour (1,242.742 miles per hour) for 30 minutes. The technology to accomplish this was three decades in the future.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Huslter 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093630)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis out at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog Number 01 00093632)

On 10 May 1961, a U.S. Air Force/Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, serial number 59-2451, The Firefly, did just that. Flown by a crew consisting of Aircraft Commander, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Navigator, Major Eugene Moses, and Defensive Systems Officer, First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, the Mach 2+ Strategic Air Command bomber flew 669.4 miles (1,077.3 kilometers) in 30 minutes, 43 seconds. Their average speed was 1,302.07 miles per hour (2,095 kilometers per hour).

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 during Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The black and white marble trophy was presented to the B-58 crew by Alice Védères Blériot, widow of Louis Blériot, at Paris, France, 27 May 1961. It is on permanent display at the McDermott Library of the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. "Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome." (University of North Texas Libraries)
The Blériot Trophy, photographed 12 June 1961. “Side view of The Blériot Trophy on display. It is the figure of a naked man made of black marble in a flying position emerging from clouds. The clouds are white stone and are the figures of women in various poses on top of a marble dome.” (University of North Texas Libraries)

The Convair B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude, Mach 2+ strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft has a delta-winged configuration similar to Convair’s F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to teh ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following teh Bleriot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catolog number 01 00093633)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451 taxis back to the ramp at Edwards Air Force Base, following the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wings’ leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder. There are no flaps.

Four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, rated at 15,600 pounds of thrust at Sea Level, each, are enclosed in nacelles which are suspended under the wings from pylons.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39,  B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The large weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel, and the smaller bombs could be carried on hardpoints. There was a defensive 20 mm M61 rotary cannon mounted in the tail with 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The gun was controlled remotely by the Defensive Systems Officer.

The Firefly's ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (General Dynamics/San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives Catalog number 01 00093629)
The Firefly’s ground crew for the Blériot Trophy speed run, 10 May 1961. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

On 26 May 1961, The Firefly, flown by a different aircrew, set a speed record by flying New York to Paris, while enroute to the Paris Air Show, a distance of 3,626.46 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes, 58 seconds, for an average of 1,089.36 mph.

Convair built 116 B-58s between 1956 and 1961. They were retired by 1970.

On 3 June 1961, the Blériot Trophy-winning crew of Murphy, Moses and Dickerson departed Le Bourget Airport aboard 59-2451 for the return trip to America. The B-58 crashed five miles from the airport. All three men were killed and the aircraft totally destroyed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2451, The Firefly.

General Dynamics contributed an extensive collection of photographs of the speed run to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, which holds them in its Archives.

A 1961 Air Force film covering the event and the presentation of the Blériot Trophy can be seen on You Tube at https://youtu.be/0D_n8YRodII

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 May 1927

Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, just before departure, at Rockwell Field, 10 May 1927. At left is Donald A. Hall, the airplane’s designer. Second from left is A.J. Edwards, Ryan’s sales manager. Lindbergh is shaking hands with Lieutenant Colonel Harry T. Graham, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanding officer of Rockwell Field. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

10 May 1927: At 3:55 p.m., PST, Charles A. Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis lifted off from Rockwell Field on North Island, San Diego, California, for their record-setting overnight flight to St. Louis, Missouri. The new Ryan NYP, N-X-211, had been ready and all the flight tests complete since 4 May. Lindbergh had completed the navigational planning for both the transcontinental flight to New York City, and then, the transoceanic flight to Paris. He had been in daily consultation with Dean Blake, chief of the Weather Bureau in San Diego. A system over the Rockies had been holding up his departure for days, but now everything was ready.

“At 3:40 I crawl into my flying suit. It’s uncomfortably hot in the California sun. . . It’s a few minutes early, but why wait any longer in this heat? I wave good-by, taxi into position, and ease the throttle open. As I pick up speed, I hold the tail low to put as much load as possible on the wings and reduce strain on the landing gear.

The Spirit of St. Louis is in the air soon after its wheels start clattering over the hummocky portion of the field. The take-off wasn’t as difficult as I expected. It’s 3:55 Pacific. I make a mental note of the time, check instruments, pull the throttle back slightly, and begin a wide climbing turn to the left. Two army observation planes and a Ryan monoplane have taken off with me as an escort. Colonel Graham, the Commanding Officer at Rockwell Field, is in one of the observation planes. Hall, Bowlus, Harrigan, and A.J. Edwards are in the Ryan. We circle North Island, the factory, and the city of San Diego. Then, leaving the ocean and the bay behind, I set my compass heading for St. Louis.”

 The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1953, at Page 134.

Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis over San Diego Bay. Photograph by H.A. Erickson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis over San Diego Bay. Photograph by H.A. Erickson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 May 1911

Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, United States Army
Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, United States Army

10 May 1911: Second Lieutenant George Edward Maurice Kelly, 30th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, was killed during his primary pilot qualification flight at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Kelly, an officer of the 30th Infantry, had been sent to San Diego, California, in January 1911 as one of three U.S. Army officers to attend Glenn H. Curtiss’ Curtiss School of Aviation, newly established on North Island. After three months of training he was sent to Texas where the Army had set up its own training field.

Lieutenant Kelly was flying the Army’s second airplane, S.C. No. 2, a Curtiss Model D Type IV. The airplane had been accepted just two weeks earlier.

Curtiss Type IV Model D, S.C. No. 2, 1911. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss Model D Type IV, S.C. No. 2, 1911. (U.S. Air Force)

The New York Times reported in its 11 May 1911 issue:

LIEUT. KELLY KILLED; HIS AIRSHIP WRECKED;

Army Airman Suffers Fractured Skull in Fall at San Antonio and Dies and Hour Later.

CARTER AND STAFF PRESENT

Only Up Five Minutes When Mishap in Control Equipment prevented His Shutting Off Power.

Special to The New York Times

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, May 10.—Second Lieut. George E.M. Kelly of the United States Signal Corps, one of four army aviators on duty with the division of regulars mobilized here, was killed this morning when a Curtiss aeroplane he was flying got beyond control, after which it ran through the air for over a hundred yards, and crashed to the ground, burying Lieut. Kelly in its wreckage.

The machine was reduced to splinters, the only parts of it left intact being the engine and the rear plane work. Lieut. Kelly suffered a fractured skull and died in the Fort Sam Houston Hospital an hour later. He never regained consciousness. The accident happened about 7:30 this morning, in full view of Gen. Carter and his staff and hundreds of soldiers.

The exact cause of the accident will probably never be known, although a board of officers from the Signal Corps who investigated the accident are of the opinion that it was due to a break in some part of the controlling mechanism, making it impossible for Kelly to shut off the power when he realized his peril.

The accident happened about one hundred yards from Gen. Carter’s headquarters. The young officer had been in the air about five minutes, and Major Squier, Chief Signal Corps officer, had commented on the fine flight he was making, when the aviator pointed his machine downward for the purpose of making a landing. The machine was going at a speed estimated at between forty and fifty miles an hour. It shot down, apparently under perfect control, and landed a few feet away from one of the main driveways that intersect the mobilization camp. Kelly could be seen working frantically at the steering wheel as the machine descended, and when it struck the ground everybody breathed a sigh of relief, believing the officer was safe.

But the unexpected happened. The machine ran along the ground for ten or fifteen yards and then the fork into which is fitted the front wheel struck some obstruction and a moment later the propeller began to revolve at a wild speed. It could be seen that the left part of the machine was absolutely beyond the control of the aviator. It suddenly shot forward several yards, and then ascended to an altitude of between fifteen and twenty feet. It darted through the air in the direction of the Eleventh Infantry camp, tumbling and rolling like a wounded bird. The officer could be seen working the broken controller, but those who witnessed the sight say that at no time did he have a chance to escape with his life.

The machine gave a last tumble in the air and fell with a crash to the ground. Kelly was pitched out just as it started downward. The aviator and the machine struck the ground at the same instant.

Photograph o fteh accident scene at Fort San Antonio, published in the San Antonio Express, 11 May 1911.
Photograph of the accident scene at Fort San Antonio, published by the San Antonio Express, 11 May 1911.

Major Squier, Lieut. Foulois, Frank Coffyn, the Wright aviator, and a trooper were the first to reach the side of the dying aviator, whose skull was crushed. He lay under the wreckage of one of the planes, his face to the ground. The ambulance came up a moment later. Lieut. Foucar of the Medical Corps, in charge of the ambulance, examined Lieut. Kelly and informed Major Squier that he was mortally hurt.

By this time the Third Cavalry galloped up and formed a cordon around the place where Kelly lay dying. Lieut. Foucar, aided by troopers, picked him up and hurried him to the hospital, where Major Hutton, the Chief Surgeon, after examining him said there was no chance to save his life. An hour and ten minutes later he died.

Others new when Kelly was killed, besides Gen Carter, were Col. Stephen Mills, Chief of Staff; Lieut. Col. Ladd, the Adjutant General, and Col. Birmingham, Col. Straub, Capt. Leonard and Capt. Craig, all of the division staff. The whole camp knew of the accident within a few minutes after it had happened, and on all sides the deepest feelings of regret were expressed for the unfortunate aviator, who was one of the most popular members of the army corps.

Major General George Owen Squier, Signal Corps, United States Army.
Major General George Owen Squier, Signal Corps, United States Army.

As soon as order was restored Major Squier appointed a board of three signal officers to investigate the accident. Lieut. Paul W. Beck, chief of the corps, was President of the board, the other members being Lieut. Fulois and Lieut. Walker. After a hearing that lasted several hours they reported that atmospheric conditions were good at the time of the accident, that Kelly’s first landing was a good one, and that the cause of the accident was due to a break in some part of the control equipment which made impossible the management of the engine and planes. The report has been forwarded to Gen. Allen, Chief of the Signal Corps, in Washington.

The accident to Lieut. Kelly is the third within the last ten days. All of them befell the same Curtiss aeroplane in which Kelly was flying. Lieut. Walker figured in the first accident. On that occasion, in making a turn, the machine got out of his control and fell 150 feet before it righted itself. Lieut. Beck was the victim of the next accident.  He fell over 200 feet and landed in a mesquite tree. The machine was badly wrecked. When Lieut. Kelly went up this morning it was the first time the machine had been in the air since its mishap with Lieut. Beck.

Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, U.S. Army, at Curtiss School of Aviation, North Island, San Diego, California, ca. April 1911. (George Hammond Curtiss Historical Society)
Second Lieutenant George E.M. Kelly, U.S. Army, at Curtiss School of Aviation, North Island, San Diego, California, ca. April 1911. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Lieut. Kelly came to San Antonio about six weeks ago with Lieuts. Beck and Walker. All had been receiving instruction from Glenn H. Curtiss at San Diego, Cal., and had certificates from Mr. Curtiss testifying that they were capable aviators. When the Curtiss machine arrived several weeks ago Eugene Ely, one of the Curtiss aviators, was sent here to look after the instruction of Lieuts. Beck, Kelly, and Walker, who had been assigned to fly the machine. Ely left ten days ago to fulfill some exhibition engagements, and is not due back until May 14.

Speaking of the accident this afternoon, Major Squier said that, in his opinion, it was unavoidable.

“Lieut. Kelly,” he added, “was one of the best men in the Signal Corps. He was a quiet, unassuming fellow, devoted to his work, and gave every promise of becoming one of the army’s most valuable aviators. However, we must all remember that an aviator’s life is one in which the danger phase must be considered. Orders have been issued forbidding further flying for the next few days.”

Lieut. Kelly was a native of England and joined the army in 1904 as a private in the Coast Artillery. He held every non-commissioned rank from Corporal to Sergeant, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Thirtieth Infantry in 1907. He was unmarried and is said to have a sister living in New York City. His parents are believed to be in England.

Lieut. Kelly was the second army officer to be killed in an aeroplane. The other was Lieut. Thomas B. Selfridge, who fell with Orville Wright at Fort Myer, Va., in September, 1908.

The New York Times, 11 May 1911, Page 2. (The photographs are from other sources and were not part of the original New York Times article.)

Second Lieutenant George Edward Maurice Kelly was the second U.S. Army aviator killed in an airplane accident, however he was the first pilot killed while flying his own airplane. His remains were interred at the San Antonio National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas.

In 1916, the Army replaced the air field at Fort San Antonio with a new field on the opposite side of the city. The new airfield was initially named Camp Kelly, then Kelly Field. In 1948, it was renamed Kelly Air Force Base.

Main Gate, Kelly Field, circa 1916. (U.S. Air Force)
Main Gate, Kelly Field, circa 1916. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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