Daily Archives: May 13, 2017

30 April–13 May 1963

Betty Miller steps out of the Piper Apache at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 May 1963. (Photograph by Barry Pascoe, from the Courier Mail Photo Archives)
Betty Miller steps out of the Piper Apache at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 May 1963. (Photograph by Barry Pascoe, from the Courier-Mail Photo Archives)

30 April–13 May 1963: Betty Miller, a 37-year-old flight instructor from Santa Monica, California, became the first woman to complete a solo Trans-Pacific flight. She was also the first pilot to make a Trans-Pacific flight without a navigator.

Betty Miller was delivering a twin-engine Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, N4315Y, from the United States to its owner in Australia, Fred Margison. An auxiliary fuel tank was placed in the passenger compartment.

Mrs. Miller began her flight from Oakland, California, at 6:35 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. The first leg was approximately 2,400 miles (3,682 kilometers) to Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, flown in 17 hours, 3 minutes. She was delayed there for 4 days while a radio was repaired.

Betty Miller with the Piper PA-23-160 Apache H at Honolulu, Hawaii, 30 April 1963. (Salt Lake Tribune)

The next stop was Canton Island, a small island in the Phoenix Islands, just south of the Equator and approximately half-way between Hawaii and Fiji. The elapsed time for this 1,700-mile (2,736 kilkometers) flight was 13 hours, 6 minutes. From Canton to Fiji was 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers). The elapsed time was 8 hours, 27 minutes. On the fourth leg, intended to be the final stage, she was forced to divert to Noumea, New Caledonia, because of severe weather.

With delays for rest and waiting for good weather, Miller’s flight took nearly two weeks. She took off from Nadi Airport, Viti Levu, Fiji, at 4:47 a.m., local, and finally arrived at Eagle Farm Airport, Brisbane, Queensland, at 10:20 p.m., Australian Eastern Standard Time, after crossing 7,400 miles (11,909 kilometers) of ocean, in a total of 51 hours, 38 minutes in the air.

Betty Miller in the cockpit of the Piper Apache, before departing on her Trans-Pacific Flight. (Mercury News)
Betty Miller in the cockpit of the Piper Apache, before departing on her Trans-Pacific Flight. (Betty Miller collection)

Contemporary newspapers called Miller “the flying housewife,” which demeaned her actual qualifications. At the time of her Trans-Pacific flight, she was a commercial pilot and flight instructor, rated in single- and multi-engine airplanes and helicopters. She owned and operated a flight school and charter company based at Santa Monica Airport on the Southern California coast. In fourteen years as a pilot, Betty Miller had logged more than 6,500 hours of flight time.

Betty Miller with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.
Betty Miller with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Left to right, Administrator Najeeb Halaby, Federal Aviation Administration; President Kennedy; Mrs. Miller; Mrs. Jane Briggs Hart; Mr. Charles Miller. (Robert L. Knudsen/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum KN-C29599)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)
Harmon International Trophy (Aviatrix)

President John F. Kennedy awarded Mrs. Miller the Federal Aviation Administration Gold Medal for Exceptional Service. On 14 September 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented her with the Harmon International Trophy.

Two years later, Mrs. Miller flew across the Atlantic Ocean.

As of 2015, Betty Miller was living in an assisted-living facility at Bountiful, Utah. She was the subject of several news interviews on the 50th Anniversary of her Solo Trans-Pacific Flight. She is 91 years old.

Finally, in another first, the photograph of Betty Miller arriving at Brisbane was the very first to be transmitted by a new wire-photo process.

The airplane flown by Betty Miller was a Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, serial number 23-2039, manufactured in December 1961 by the Piper Aircraft Corporation at Vero Beach, Florida. It was assigned U.S. registration N4315Y and was painted white and “El Paso Brown” (a dark metallic brown color). In January 1962 the new Apache was delivered to Brown Flying Services, San Antonio, Texas.

The Piper PA-23-160 Apache H was a 4-place, twin-engine light airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 2,230 pounds (1,011.5 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 3,800 pounds (1,723.7 kilograms).

The Apache H was powered by two air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-B2B horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engines with a compression ratio of 8.5:1. The O-320-B2B is a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine, rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The O-320-B2B is 2 feet, 5.56 inches (0.751 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.24 inches (0.819 meters) wide and 1 foot, 10.99 inches (0.584 meters) high. It weighs 278 pounds (126.1 kilograms). The engines turned two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers.

The PA-23-160 had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 159 knots (183 miles per hour/295 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters).

N4315Y was re-registered VH-IMB, 22 May 1963, after its arrival in Australia. The airplane remains operational.

Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, registered VH-IMB, photographed at Broken Hill, New South Wales, 5 November 1978. (Photograph courtesy of Danny Tanner)
Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, registered VH-IMB, photographed at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, 5 November 1978. (Photograph courtesy of Danny Tanner)

Thanks to Roger Peperell, Company Historian, Piper Aircraft, Inc., for researching the history of Betty Miller’s Apache.

Piper PA-23-160 Apache H VH-IMB. (Robert Frola via Wikipedia)
Piper PA-23-160 Apache H VH-IMB, registered to Beltana Aviation Pty. Ltd., photographed at Watts Bridge Airfield, Queensland, Australia, 28 August 2010.  (Robert Frola via Wikipedia)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 May 1949

English Electric A.1 VH799, first of four prototypes of the Canberra bomber. (BAE Systems)
English Electric A.1 VH799, first of four prototypes of the Canberra bomber. (BAE Systems)
Bee Beamont with an English Electric Canberra
Bee Beamont with an English Electric Canberra

13 May 1949: At Warton Aerodrome, Lancashire, Chief Test Pilot Roland Prosper Beamont, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, made the first test flight of the English Electric A.1 prototype, VN799, a very high altitude light bomber powered by two turbojet engines.

The newly completed airplane had been rolled out 2 May, and over the next several days underwent a series of static and taxi tests. The prototype was painted overall “plate blue.”

Rollout of English Electric A.1 VN799
Rollout of English Electric A.1 VN799 at Warton Aerodrome, 2 May 1949.
Airworthiness certificate
Ministry of Aircraft Production authorization for the Canberra’s first flight. The test pilot is specified by name. The serial numbers of the two Rolls-Royce jet engines are also listed.

“Bee” Beamont flew the prototype for approximately one-half hour. Other than a problem in yaw, which would be corrected with minor modifications to the vertical fin and rudder over the next several test flights, the aircraft performed very well. Months earlier, the bomber had been ordered into production.

English Electric A.1 VN799. Note the rounded vertical fin of this early configuration.
English Electric A.1 VN799. Note the rounded vertical fin of this early configuration.

British bombers have traditionally been named for cities. Canberra, capitol of Australia, was selected as the new airplane’s name in January 1950.

VN799 was powered by two pre-production Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.2 engines. The Avon R.A.2 was a single-spool, axial flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. It was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons). It weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms)

Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. Note the squared-off vertical fin. (Ed Coates Collection)
Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. Note the squared-off vertical fin. (Ed Coates Collection)

VN799, flown by Flight Lieutenant Harry Maule, crashed at Martlesham Heath, 18 August 1953.

This Canberra T.4 WJ874 is painted as the first prototype B.1, VH799.(Ministry of Defense)
Canberra T.4 WJ874 is painted as the first prototype, VN799. (Ministry of Defense)

Interestingly, in October 1946, a 34-passenger civil transport variant of the Canberra was proposed, with an enlarged 10-foot-diameter fuselage.

The Canberra was produced in bomber, intruder, photo reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures and trainer variants by English Electric, Handley Page, A.V. Roe and Short and Harland. In the United States, a licensed version, the B-57A Canberra, was built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. The various versions were operated by nearly 20 nations. The Canberra was the United Kingdom’s only jet-powered bomber for four years. The last one in RAF service, a Canberra PR.9, made its final flight on 28 July 2008.

Colonel Charles E. ("Chuck") Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Andrew Headland, Jr./Stars and Stripes)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra bomber during the Vietnam War. (Andrew Headland, Jr./Stars and Stripes)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12–13 May 1930

Latécoère 28-3 F-AJNQ at Saint-Louis du Sénégal, May 1930, with Gimié, Mermoz and Dabry (Keystone)
Mermos, Dabry and Gimié at Saint-Louis, 12 May 1930. (Musée Air France)

12–13 May 1930: In an effort to connect the North African and South American air mail routes, Jean Mermoz, the chief pilot of Compagnie générale aéropostale, along with co-pilot and navigator Jean Dabry, and radio navigator Léopold Martial Émile Gimié, departed Saint-Louis, on the western coast of Senegal, French West Africa, enroute to Natal, Brazil.

Their airplane, a pontoon-equipped Latécoère 28-3, was carrying 122 kilograms (269 pounds) of mail and fuel for 30 hours of flight. The crew had named the airplane, Comte de la Vaulx, after an early French aeronaut and the founder of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

The aviators flew southwest across the South Atlantic Ocean. Natal was approximately 2,000 miles away. [3,178.879 kilometers; 1,975.264 statute miles; 1,716.595 nautical miles]

Gimié transmitted a radio message: “19º Frame-A.J.N.Q. Mermoz, Dabry, Gimié, partis pour Natal à 10 h. 56 locale.”  (“19º Frame-A.J.N.Q. Mermoz, Dabry, Gimié, left for Natal at 10:56 a.m., local.”) Gimié was an expert in radio-navigation. The airplane was equipped with radios that could be used to triangulate their position using nine land stations and several ships along their course.

A contemporary United Press wire service news report stated that they arrived at Natal at 6:15 a.m., local time. The actual duration of the flight is difficult to determine. Sources very from as few as 17 hours to as many as 21 hours, 24 minutes. The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission reported that the flight took 19 hours, 35 minutes.

This was the first non-stop flight to cross the South Atlantic.

(Left to right) Jean Dabry, Jean Mermoz and Léopold Gimié. (le Figaro)

Antoine Saint Exupéry, a fellow Aéropostale pilot, described a portion of Mermoz’s transatlantic flight in Wind, Sand and Stars:

And yet we have all known flights when of a sudden, each for himself, it has seemed to us that we have crossed the border of the world of reality; when, only a couple of hours from port, we have felt ourselves more distant from it than we should feel if we were in India; when there was a premonition of an incursion into a forbidden world whence it was going to be infinitely difficult to return.

Thus, when Mermoz first crossed the South Atlantic in a hydroplane, as day was dying he ran foul of the Black Hole region,² off Africa. Straight ahead of him were the tails of tornadoes rising minute by minute gradually higher, rising as a wall is built; and then night came down upon these preliminaries and swallowed them up; and when, and hour later, he slipped under the clouds, he came out into a fantastic kingdom.

Great black waterspouts had reared themselves seemingly in the immobility of temple pillars. Swollen at their tops, they were supporting the squat and lowering arch of the tempest, but through the rifts in the arch there fell slabs of light and the full moon sent her radiant beams between the pillars down upon the frozen tiles of the sea. Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, circling round those giant pillars in which there must have rumbled the upsurge of the sea, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight toward the exit from the temple. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he had got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid.

Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger comte de Saint Exupéry, translated by Lewis Galantière, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York, Chapter 1 at Pages 16–17.

Latécoère 28-3 (Late 28.org)

The airplane flown by Mermoz, Dabry and Gimié was a Latécoère 28-3, registration F-AJNQ, built by Société Industrielle d’Aviation Latécoère at Toulouse, France. The airplane’s serial number is reported as both “Nº 909” and “Nº 919.” It was a large, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with an enclosed cabin. Also known as the Laté 28, the airplane could be equipped with fixed landing gear or pontoons for water operations. The airplane’s fuselage was constructed of duralumin, a hardened alloy of aluminum, with a duralumin sheet skin. The wings were also of metal construction, covered with fabric.

The Latécoère 28-3 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 62 feet, 6 inches (19.050) and height of 10 feet, 7½ inches (3.24 meters).

Latécoère 28-3 F-AJNQ, Comte de la Vaulx.

The pontoons were also constructed of Duralumin. Each had ten floatation compartments. They were 26 feet, 4 inches (8.026 meters) long, 4 feet, 5 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 2 feet, 9 inches (0.838 meters) deep.

The Latécoère 28-3 had an empty weight of  5,720 pounds (2595 kilograms), and gross weight of 11,044 pounds (5,010 kilograms). Its fuel capacity was 556 gallons¹ (2,528 liters).

The pilot’s station was an enclosed cockpit at the leading edge of the wing, behind the engine, while the navigator and radio operator were in a cabin below and behind the cockpit. The air mail cargo was placed in a separate compartment.

Latécoère 28-3 floatplane. (late28.org)

The Latécoère 28-3 was powered by a single right-hand-tractor, water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.351 cubic inches) Hispano Suiza 12Lbr single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. This engine was rated at 630 cheval vapeur (621.4 horsepower) at 2,000 r.p.m. The two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller was driven through a gear reduction unit. The 12Lbr was 1.85 meters (6.07 feet) long, 0.75 meters (2.46 feet) wide and  1.02 meters (3.35 feet) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

F-AJNQ departed Natal on 8 June for the return flight to Africa. After about 14 hours, the engine developed a serious oil leak. Mermoz made a forced landing near the desptach boat Phocée, approximately 900 kilometers (560 miles) from their destination. The three crew members and the mail were transferred from F-AJNQ to the Phocée. The airplane was lost.

(The Art of the Airways, by Geza Szurovy)

¹ The source of the fuel capacity was a contemporary British periodical. Though not specified, TDiA assumes that the capacity was given in Imperial Gallons.

² The “Black Hole region” refers to “the doldrums” or Intertropical Convergence Zone.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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