Daily Archives: May 16, 2017

16 May 1977

Sikorsky S-61L N619PA
New York Airways’ Sikorsky S-61L, N916PA. (Photograph by Stefan Sjögren, used with permission.)

16 May 1977: At approximately 5:32 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, New York Airways Flight 971, a Sikorsky S-61L helicopter, landed at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport (JPB) in New York City. Flight 971 had originated at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and carried 20 passengers and a crew of three. The helipad was 855.23 feet (260.67 meters) above Sea Level.

In the cockpit’s right seat was Captain Lee G. Richmond. Captain Richmond had 11,721 total flight hours with over 9,000 in helicopters and approximately 2,200 in the Sikorsky S-61. He had worked for New York Airways since 1964. The co-pilot was First Officer John F. Flanagan had worked for NYA for about five weeks. He had 1,768.4 flight hours with 1,339.2 hours in helicopters. Both pilots had flown 3 hours, 33 minutes on 16 May. Flight Attendant Lammie Chevalier had been employed by NYA for four years.

A Sikorsky S-61L hovers over the Pan Am Building heliport. (Unattributed)
A New York Airways Sikorsky S-61L hovers over the Pan Am Building heliport. (Pan Am)

Captain Richmond taxied the S-61 into position on the 131-foot × 131-foot (39.9 × 39.9 meters) concrete helipad. While parked at the gate, Richmond kept the rotors turning at 100%, keeping the cyclic control centered and the collective full down (negative pitch). The Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) was engaged. Flanagan kept his left knee against the collective pitch lever to ensure that it remained full down. Flight Attendant Chevalier stood inside the passenger cabin, supervising departing and boarding passengers.

The return flight to JFK was designated Flight 972.

Aerial photo of the wreck of Flight 972 atop the Pan Am Building, 16 May 1977. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)
Aerial photo of the wreck of Flight 972 atop the Pan Am Building, 16 May 1977. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)

2 minutes, 21 seconds after touch down, at approximately 5:35 p.m., the right main landing gear of the helicopter failed and the S-61 rolled over to the right. All main rotor blades struck the concrete helipad. Four passengers who were waiting to board were struck by the blades and killed. One of the blades, 28 feet, 10 inches (8.787 meters) long and weighing 209.3 pounds (94.9 kilograms) flew out over the building’s railing and fell alongside the building before crashing through an office window on the 36th floor. The main rotor blade broke into two segments, one of which fell to the street below, striking a pedestrian and killing him. Additional pieces of the main rotor blades were found up to four blocks north of the Pan Am Building.

Wreck of S-61L N619PA at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport, 16 May 1977. (Unattributed)
Wreck of S-61L N619PA at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport, 16 May 1977. The Chrysler Building is in the background. (Unattributed)

The helicopter assigned to Flight 971/972 was a Sikorsky S-61L, s/n 61427, registered N619PA. At the time of the accident, the helicopter had a total of 6,913:15 hours on the airframe. Just 7 hours, 22 minutes had elapsed since the last major inspection.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation determined that the probable cause of the accident was: “. . . the fatigue failure of the upper right forward fitting of the right main landing gear tube assembly. Fatigue originated from a small surface pit of undetermined source. All fatalities were caused by the operating rotor blades as a result of the collapse of the landing gear.”

The NTSB determined that the flight crew had performed correctly, and that the aircraft was properly certified, maintained and operated. The Board speculated that the four boarding passengers would have been killed by the helicopter rolling over, even if the engines had been shut down and rotors stopped.

Sikorsky S-61L N619PA lies on its right side at the Pam Am Building heliport, May 1977. The Empire State Building is in the background. (Unattributed)
Sikorsky S-61L N619PA lies on its right side at the Pam Am Building heliport, May 1977. The Empire State Building is in the background. (Unattributed)

A similar accident had occurred when a Los Angeles Helicopters Sikorsky S-61L suffered a fatigue fracture of its right landing gear and rolled over at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 1963. This accident had resulted in a change in the material used to manufacture the parts.

The Sikorsky S-61L was a civil variant of the United States Navy HSS-2 Sea King, and was the first helicopter specifically built for airline use. The prototype, N300Y, first flew 2 November 1961. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. Although HSS-2 fuselage is designed to allow landing on water, the S-61L is not amphibious, having standard fixed landing gear rather than the sponsons of the HSS-2 (and civil S-61N). The S-61L fuselage is 4 feet, 2 inches (1.270 meters) longer than that of the HSS-2. The S-61L is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high, with rotors turning.

The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.149 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% r.p.m., the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

N619PA was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-2 turboshaft engines, each of which had maximum power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and 1,500 SHP for 2½ minutes. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.

The S-61 has a cruise speed of  166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The maximum takeoff weight is 20,500 pounds (9,298.6 kilograms).

Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61 series helicopters. 13 were S-61Ls. As of May 2017, two remained in service.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 May 1958

CAPT W.W. Irwin taking off at Edwards AFB, 16 May 1958. The airplane is Lockheed F-104A-1-LO 55-2969. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Walter W. Irwin, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 16 May 1958. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

16 May 1958: At Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, Captain Walter W. Irwin, U.S. Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course when he flew a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2969, to 2,259.538 kilometers per hour (1,404.012 miles per hour).¹

On the same day, Captain Irwin set two time-to-altitude records by flying -969 to 3,000 meters in 41.8 seconds, and to 25,000 meters in 4 minutes, 26.03 seconds. It reached an altitude of 27,813 meters (91,246 feet).

Captain Irwin was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A was 54 feet, 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). It had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms), combat weight of 17,988 pounds (8,159.2 kilograms), gross weight of 22,614 pounds (10,257.5 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 25,840 pounds (11,720.8 kilograms). Internal fuel capacity was 897 gallons (3,395.5 liters).

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

55-2969 in General Electric colors (Pinterest)
55-2969 in General Electric colors. (Pinterest)

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second). The combat ceiling was 55,200 feet (16,825 meters) and the service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

55-2969 was one of the original pre-production Lockheed YF-104As, completed 20 August 1956. It was modified to the F-104A standard configuration and assigned to the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base, near Novato, California.

On 22 August 1957 the Starfighter was damaged at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. It was returned to Lockheed for repair and upgraded to F-104A-1. In May 1958, -969 and another Starfighter were sent to Edwards to attempt setting several speed and altitude records. They were both then returned to the 83rd FIS.

Lockheed F-104A-1-L) Starfighter 55-2969 with a General Electric J79 turbojet engine, circa 1960. General Electric)
Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 with a General Electric J79 turbojet engine, circa 1960. (General Electric)

From August 1958 to August 1961, -969 was loaned to General Electric to test improvements to the J79 turbojet engine. While there, it was given the name Queenie, which was painted on the nose along with three playing cards.

In 1964 55-2969 was again returned to Lockheed for conversion to a QF-104A remote-controlled target drone. It was damaged by a AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on 28 September 1968, but was recovered, repaired and returned to service. On its 25th drone mission, 26 January 1971, Queenie was shot down by an experimental XAIM-4H Falcon air-to-air missile fired by an F-4E Phantom II.

Lockheed QF-104A 55-2969
Lockheed QF-104A 55-2969 at Eglin Air Force Base circa 1969

¹ FAI Record File Number 9063

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16–17 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. (Imperial War Museum)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. © IWM (CH 11047)

16–17 May 1943: Nineteen modified Avro Lancaster B.III Special long-range heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, carried out Operation Chastise, a low-level night attack against four hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley.

The purpose of the attack was to disrupt German steel production. It was estimated that 8 tons of water were required to produce 1 ton of steel. Breaching the dams would reduce the available water and hydroelectric power, disrupt transportation of materials on the rivers, and flood iron ore and coal mines and power plants. If the dams were destroyed, it was believed that the effects would be the same as attacks against 26 categories of industrial targets further down the Ruhr Valley.

Led by 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, a veteran of 172 combat missions, the aircrews of No. 617 Squadron dropped a spinning cylindrical bomb, code-named “Upkeep”, from a height of just 60 feet (18.3 meters) over the reservoirs behind the dams, while flying at precisely 240 miles per hour (386.2 kilometers per hour).

The 9,250-pound (4,195.8 kilogram) Vickers Type 464 bomb was designed to skip along the surface and to strike the dam, and then sink to the bottom. There, a pressure detonator exploded the 6,600 pound (2,994 kilogram) Torpex charge directly against the wall with the water pressure directing the energy through the wall.

Guy Gibson's Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, "bombed up" with an Upkeep bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)
Guy Gibson’s Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, “bombed up” with a Vickers Type 464 bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)

Nineteen Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton beginning at 9:28 p.m. on the 16th, and flew across the North Sea at only 100 feet (30.5 meters) to avoid being detected by enemy radar. The bombers succeeded in destroying the Möhne and Eder dams and damaging the Sorpe. A fourth dam was attacked but not damaged. The last surviving bomber returned to base at 6:15 a.m. on the 17th.

Of the nineteen Lancasters launched, two were damaged and turned back before reaching the targets. Six were shot down and two more collided with power lines during the low-level night flight. Of 133 airmen participating in the attack, 53 were killed.

GIBSON, Guy, with PO Frederick M. Spafford, FL Robert E.G. Hutchinson, PO Andrew Deering and FO Torger H. Taerum
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, Commander No. 617 Squadron, with the crew of “G George”: Pilot Officer Frederick M. Spafford, DFC, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant Robert E.G. Hutchinson, DFC and Bar, wireless operator; Pilot Officer Andrew Deering, DFC, gunner; Flying Officer Torger H. Taerum, DFC, navigator.  © IWM (TR 1127) 

Guy Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI. An additional 33 survivors were also decorated. 617 Squadron became known as “The Dambusters.” A book, The Dam Busters, was written about the raid by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. A 1955 movie starred Richard Todd, OBE, as Wing Commander Gibson. There have been reports that a new movie is planned.

An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an "Upkeep" bomb during tests, April 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an “Upkeep” bomb during tests at Reculver, April 1943. Imperial War Museum, still from film, IWM (FLM 2340)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Mohne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 16 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Möhne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 17 May 1943. The gap is 250 feet (76 meters) wide and 292 feet (22 meters) deep. © IWM (CH 9687)

The Avro Lancaster B.III Special was a four-engine long range heavy bomber modified to carry the Type 464 bomb. It was operated by a crew of seven: Pilot, navigator, radio operator, bomb aimer, nose gunner and tail gunner. The “Lanc” was 69 feet, 6 inches (21.184 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 20 feet (6.096 meters). The modified bomber had an empty weight of 35,240 pounds (15,984.6 kilograms and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 60,000 pounds (27,215.5 kilograms).

The Lancaster B.III Special was powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 24, a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin 224. These were 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.02-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines, which produced 1,680 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 2,750 feet (838.2 meters) with 18 inches of boost (124 kPa). They drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). These engines gave the Lancaster a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 272 miles per hour (437.7 kilometers per hour) The service ceiling was 24,700 feet (7,528.6 meters) and maximum range was 2,530 miles (4,071.6 kilometers).

Defensive armament for a standard Lancaster consisted of eight air-cooled Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power turrets, nose, dorsal and tail. The Lancasters assigned to Operation Chastise had the dorsal turret deleted to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. The gunner normally operating that turret was moved to the front turret, relieving the bomb aimer to deal with the operation of the specialized mission equipment.

7,377 Avro Lancasters were built. Only two remain in airworthy condition.

The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. (Royal Air force)
The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. In the foreground is ED825/G, AJ T. (Royal Air Force)
One o fthe only two flyable Lancasters remaining, the Batlle of Britain Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster B.I PA474, Phantom of the Ruhr.
One of the two flyable Lancasters remaining, Phantom of the Ruhr, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.-built Lancaster B.I, PA474, ready to start its engines. (© airpowerworld.info 2006)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 May 1923

Amelia Earhart's pilot's license.
Amelia Earhart’s pilot’s license. (National Portrait Gallery)

16 May 1923: The National Aeronautic Association of the United States of America grants pilot’s license No. 6017 to Miss Amelia Mary Earhart.

The airman’s certificate is on display at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, on loan from the 99’s Museum of Women Pilots, Oklahoma City, OK.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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