Daily Archives: August 9, 2017

11 May 1906–9 August 1980

COCHRAN, Jacqueline, in the cockpit of her North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, AAF 43-24760, c/n 104-25789, #13, at Cleveland Municipal Airport. (Image Number: SI-86-533, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of her North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, at Cleveland Municipal Airport. (Image Number: SI-86-533, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

9 August 1980: Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, Colonel, United States Air Force Reserve, passed away at her home in Indio, CA, at the age of 74. Jackie was truly a giant of aviation. She earned her pilot’s license in 1932 and was best of friends with Amelia Earhart. She helped found the WASPs in World War II. She was a friend and advisor to generals and presidents. Jackie was highly respected by such legendary test pilots as Fred Ascani and Chick Yeager.

During her aviation career, Colonel Cochran won the Harmon Trophy 14 times. She set many speed, distance and altitude records. Just a few are:  Piloting a Canadair CL13 Sabre Mk 3, serial number 19200 (a license-built F-86E variant), she was the first woman to exceed the speed of sound, flying 652.337 mph on 18 May 1953. She flew the same Sabre to a world record 47,169 feet (14,377 meters). She was also the first woman to fly Mach 2, flying a record 1,400.30 miles per hour (2,300.23 kilometers per hour) in a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 11 May 1964.

The following is the official U.S. Air Force biography:

“Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Cochran was a leading aviatrix who promoted an independent Air Force and was the director of women’s flying training for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots program during World War II. She held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other male or female pilot in aviation history at the time of her death.

“She was born between 1905 and 1908 in Florida. Orphaned at early age, she spent her childhood moving from one town to another with her foster family. At 13, she became a beauty operator in the salon she first cleaned. Eventually she rose to the top of her profession, owning a prestigious salon, and establishing her own cosmetics company. She learned to fly at the suggestion of her future husband, millionaire Floyd Odlum, to travel more efficiently. In 1932, she received her license after only three weeks of lessons and immediately pursued advanced instruction. Cochran set three major flying records in 1937 and won the prestigious Bendix Race in 1938.

“As a test pilot, she flew and tested the first turbo-supercharger ever installed on an aircraft engine in 1934. During the following two years, she became the first person to fly and test the forerunner to the Pratt & Whitney 1340 and 1535 engines. In 1938, she flew and tested the first wet wing ever installed on an aircraft. With Dr. Randolph Lovelace, she helped design the first oxygen mask, and then became the first person to fly above 20,000 feet wearing one.

“In 1940, she made the first flight on the Republic P-43, and recommended a longer tail wheel installation, which was later installed on all P-47 aircraft. Between 1935 and 1942, she flew many experimental flights for Sperry Corp., testing gyro instruments.

“Cochran was hooked on flying. She set three speed records, won the Clifford Burke Harmon trophy three times and set a world altitude record of 33,000 feet – all before 1940. In the year 1941, Cochran captured an aviation first when she became the first woman pilot to pilot a military bomber across the Atlantic Ocean.

“With World War II on the horizon, Cochran talked Eleanor Roosevelt into the necessity of women pilots in the coming war effort. Cochran was soon recruiting women pilots to ferry planes for the British Ferry Command, and became the first female trans-Atlantic bomber pilot. While Cochran was in Britain, another renowned female pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, suggested the establishment of a small ferrying squadron of trained female pilots. The proposal was ultimately approved. Almost simultaneously, Gen. H.H. Arnold asked Cochran to return to the U.S. to establish a program to train women to fly. In August of 1943, the two schemes merged under Cochran’s leadership. They became the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.

“She recruited more than 1,000 Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and supervised their training and service until they were disbanded in 1944. More than 25,000 applied for training, 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 made it through a very tough program to graduation. These women flew approximately 60 million miles for the Army Air Force with only 38 fatalities, or about 1 for every 16,000 hours flown. Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for services to her country during World War II.

“She went on to be a press correspondent and was present at the surrender of Japanese General Yamashita, was the first U.S. woman to set foot in Japan after the war, and then went on to China, Russia, Germany and the Nuremburg trials. In 1948 she became a member of the independent Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in the Reserve. She had various assignments which included working on sensitive projects important to defense.

“Flying was still her passion, and with the onset of the jet age, there were new planes to fly. Access to jet aircraft was mainly restricted to military personnel, but Cochran, with the assistance of her friend Gen. Chuck Yeager, became the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre Jet owned by the company in 1953, and went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964.

“Cochran retired from the Reserve in 1970 as a colonel. After heart problems and a pacemaker stopped her fast-flying activities at the age of 70, Cochran took up soaring. In 1971, she was named Honorary Fellow, Society of Experimental Test Pilots and inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame.

“She wrote her autobiography, The Autobiography of the Greatest Woman Pilot in Aviation History with Maryann B. Brinley (Bantam Books). After her husband died in 1976, her health deteriorated rapidly and she died Aug. 9, 1980.”

The above biography is from the web site of the United States Air Force:

http://www.af.mil/information/heritage/person.asp?dec=&pid=123006481

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Beech D17W “Staggerwing”, NR18562. (FAI)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 August 1945

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

9 August 1945: Three days after an atomic bomb had been used against the Japanese industrial city of Hiroshima, a second attack was made on Nagasaki. Major Charles W. Sweeney, in command of the Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, named Bockscar, departed Tinian Island in the Marshal Group at 3:47 a.m., and flew to Iwo Jima where it was to rendezvous with two other B-29s, The Great Artiste and The Big Stink, the instrumentation and photographic aircraft for this mission.

Like its sistership, Enola Gay, 44-27297 was a specially modified “Silverplate” B-29. The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.

Bockscar had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. Enola Gay carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.

With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the fuel-injected R-3350-41 engines were more reliable. Bockscar had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in flight. Note "Triangle N" tail code. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in flight. Note “Triangle N” tail code. (U.S. Air Force)

44-27297, Victor 7, was assigned to aircraft commander Captain Frederick C. Bock and his crew. Major Sweeney and his crew ordinarily flew The Great Artiste. Sweeney’s B-29 had been the the instrumentation aircraft for the Hiroshima mission and there was not time to remove that equipment and re-install it aboard Bock’s bomber, so the crews switched airplanes. For operational security, Bockscar‘s normal identification was changed from the number 7 on the fuselage to 77. The 509th’s tail code of a circle surrounding a forward-pointing arrow was changed to another unit’s “Triangle N” identification.

All of these last minute changes resulted in confusion in contemporary reports as to which B-29 had actually dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki.

Boeing B-29 crew photo taken Aug. 11, 1945, two days after the Nagasaki mission. Note there is no nose art on the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Major Charles W. Sweeney’s B-29 crew. (U.S. Air Force)

In Bockscar‘s forward bomb bay was a 10,213 pound (4,632 kilograms) bomb called Fat Man. This was a completely different and much more complex weapon than the Little Boy (Mark I) atomic bomb dropped by Colonel Paul Tibbet’s Enola Gay on 6 August. Designated Mark III, the egg-shaped weapon contained a 6.2 kilogram (14 pound) sphere of Plutonium Pu 239, surrounded by a high-explosive charge. The explosives were formed in “lenses” that would direct the force inward in a very precise manner. The purpose was to compress—or implode— the Plutonium to a much greater density, resulting in a “critical mass.”

The Mark III "Fat Man" bomb loaded on its carrier, 8 August 1945.
The Mark III “Fat Man” bomb being loaded onto its carrier, 8 August 1945.

In the conduct of this mission, Major Sweeney made a number of serious errors that nearly caused the mission to fail, and might very well have led to the loss of the bomber and its crew.

Prior to takeoff, the B-29’s crew chief informed Sweeney that a fuel transfer pump was inoperative which made it impossible to transfer 625 gallons (2,366 liters) of fuel from one fuel tank. This meant that nearly 9% of the total fuel load of 7,250 gallons (27,444 liters) was unusable. Chuck Sweeney decided to go anyway.

Next, though under direct orders from the 509th Composite Group commander, Colonel Paul Tibbets, to wait at the rendezvous no more than 15 minutes, when The Big Stink failed to arrive on schedule, Sweeney elected to stay 30 minutes beyond that.

Meanwhile, the two weather reconnaissance B-29s, Enola Gay and Laggin’ Dragon, were over Kokura, the primary target, and the secondary, Nagasaki. Weather over both cities were within the mission parameters.

During the 45 minutes that Sweeney waited at the rendezvous, weather over Kokura had deteriorated. By the time Bockscar arrived overhead, clouds covered the city. The bomber made three attempts to bomb the city over a 50-minute period, but the bombardier was not able to see the target.

Now an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule, Sweeney diverted to the secondary target, Nagasaki. Because of the delays and the unusable fuel as a result of the failed fuel pump, Sweeney reduced engine power to try to conserve fuel during the twenty minute flight to the alternate target. But weather there had also deteriorated.

Sweeney decided that they should bomb through the clouds using radar, but at the last minute, the bombardier was able to see the aim point. The Fat Man was dropped from 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) at 11:01 a.m. After falling for 43 seconds, the atomic bomb detonated at an altitude of 1,950 feet (594.4 meters). It missed the intended target point by nearly 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) and exploded over the Urakami Valley, halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works.

Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, photographed by Joe Kosstatscher, U.S. Navy.
Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, photographed by Joe Kosstatscher, U.S. Navy.

The estimated force of the explosion was 21 kilotons—equivalent to the explosive force of 21,000 tons of TNT (19,050 metric tons)—nearly 20% greater than the Hiroshima bomb. The surrounding hills contained the explosion, protecting a large part of the city. Still, approximately 60% of Nagasaki was destroyed and 70,000 people were killed. By December 1945, at least 80,000 of the city’s 250,000 residents had died.

Atomic cloud rising over nagasaki, japan, 9 August 1945, photographed from Koyagi-jima. (Hiromichi Matsuda)
Pyrocumulus cloud rising over Nagasaki, Japan, approximately 20 minutes after detonation, 9 August 1945, photographed from Koyagi-jima, a small island southwest of Nagasaki. (Hiromichi Matsuda)

Now critically low on fuel and unable to reach the emergency B-29 recovery field on Iwo Jima, Sweeney headed for the airfields of Okinawa. When Bockscar touched down on the runway, one engine quit due to fuel starvation. As they turned off the runway, a second engine ran out of fuel. Charles Sweeney had cut it very, very close.

B-29 44-27297 on Tinian Island, August 1945. The nose art was applied to the airplane after the August 9, 1945 bombing mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO 44-27297 on Tinian Island, August 1945. The nose art was applied to the airplane after the August 9, 1945 bombing mission. (U.S. Air Force)

Five days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Emperor of Japan—recognizing that his country now faced total destruction—agreed to surrender. World War II was over.

In 1946, Bockscar was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Tucson, Arizona. On 26 September 1961, the B-29 was flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it remains in the museum’s collection of historic aircraft.

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force base, Tucson, Arizona, 1959. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 1959. The identification markings, “89” on the aft fuselage are those of another Silverplate B-29, The Great Artiste. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 August 1944

MEDAL OF HONOR

LINDSEY, DARRELL R. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: L’Isle Adam railroad bridge over the Seine in occupied France, 9 August 1944.

Entered service at: Storm Lake, lowa. Birth: Jefferson, lowa.

G.O. No: 43, 30 May 1945.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: On 9 August 1944, Capt. Lindsey led a formation of 30 B-26 medium bombers in a hazardous mission to destroy the strategic enemy held L’lsle Adam railroad bridge over the Seine in occupied France. With most of the bridges over the Seine destroyed, the heavily fortified L’Isle Adam bridge was of inestimable value to the enemy in moving troops, supplies, and equipment to Paris. Capt. Lindsey was fully aware of the fierce resistance that would be encountered. Shortly after reaching enemy territory the formation was buffeted with heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. By skillful evasive action, Capt. Lindsey was able to elude much of the enemy flak, but just before entering the bombing run his B-26 was peppered with holes. During the bombing run the enemy fire was even more intense, and Capt. Lindsey’s right engine received a direct hit and burst into flames. Despite the fact that his ship was hurled out of formation by the violence of the concussion, Capt. Lindsey brilliantly maneuvered back into the lead position without disrupting the flight. Fully aware that the gasoline tanks might explode at any moment, Capt. Lindsey gallantly elected to continue the perilous bombing run. With fire streaming from his right engine and his right wing half enveloped in flames, he led his formation over the target upon which the bombs were dropped with telling effect. Immediately after the objective was attacked, Capt. Lindsey gave the order for the crew to parachute from the doomed aircraft. With magnificent coolness and superb pilotage, and without regard for his own life, he held the swiftly descending airplane in a steady glide until the members of the crew could jump to safety. With the right wing completely enveloped in flames and an explosion of the gasoline tank imminent, Capt. Lindsey still remained unperturbed. The last man to leave the stricken plane was the bombardier, who offered to lower the wheels so that Capt. Lindsey might escape from the nose. Realizing that this might throw the aircraft into an uncontrollable spin and jeopardize the bombardier’s chances to escape, Capt. Lindsey refused the offer. Immediately after the bombardier had bailed out, and before Capt. Lindsey was able to follow, the right gasoline tank exploded. The aircraft sheathed in fire, went into a steep dive and was seen to explode as it crashed. All who are living today from this plane owe their lives to the fact that Capt. Lindsey remained cool and showed supreme courage in this emergency.

Strike photo, L’Isle-Adam Railroad Bridge, 9 August 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Darrell Robbins Lindsey was born 30 December 1919 at Jefferson, Iowa. He was the second of two sons of Jesse Lyle Lindsey, a civil engineer, and Grace Alice Puffer Lindsey. Darrell Lindsey grew up in Iowa, where he attended Fort Dodge High School, graduating in 1938. He then studied at Buena Vista College at Storm Lake, before transferring to Drake University in Des Moines.

Aviation Cadet Darrell Robbins Lindsey, circa 1942.

Immediately following the United States’ entry into World War II, 16 January 1942, Lindsey enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He trained as a pilot and on graduating from flight school, was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 27 August 1942.

Lieutenant and Mrs. Darrell R. Lindsey, circa 1942.

Following his commissioning, Lieutenant Lindsey married Miss Evelyn Scott of Storm Lake, Iowa.

Lieutenant Lindsey next trained as a bombardier at Kirtland Field, New Mexico. He was promoted to first lieutenant and was assigned to a Martin B-26 Marauder operational training unit, the 314th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), at MacDill Army Airfield, near Tampa, Florida. He was promoted to captain in December 1943.

Captain Lindsey was assigned to the 585th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 394th Bombardment Group (Medium), as a B-26 aircraft commander and flight leader. The unit deployed to Europe in February 1944. The 585th was initially stationed at RAF Boreham (AAF-161) in Essex, but in July 1944, moved to RAF Holmsley South (AAF-455), Hampshire, England.

The bombing mission against the L’Isle-Adam Railroad Bridge on 9 August 1944 was Captain Lindsey’s 46th combat mission. Army Air Corps records indicate that at the time of his death, he had flown a total of 1,497:00 hours. 143 hours were in combat.

Captain Lindsey’s remains were buried at an unknown location. In 1959, a cenotaph memorializing Captain Lindsey was placed at Jefferson Cemetery, Jefferson, Iowa.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Captain Lindsey’s widow, Mrs. Evelyn Scott Lindsey, 9 August 1945, by Major General Robert B. Williams, commanding Second Air Force. In November 1946, Lindsey Air Station at Wiesbaden, Germany, was named in his honor.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Captain Lindsey was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters (nine awards), and the Purple Heart.

Martin B-26B-55-MA Marauder 42-96153 of the 397th Bombardment Group (Medium), at Peronne Advanced Landing Ground (A-72), France, January 1945. This is the same type as the B-26 flown by Captain Darrell R. Lindsey, 9 August 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Lindsey’s B-26 was a Glenn L. Martin Company B-26B-55-MA Marauder, serial number 42-96101, built at Baltimore, Maryland. It carried the squadron identification markings 4T N on its fuselage.

The Martin B-26 first flew 25 November 1940. The B-26 was a twin-engine medium bomber designed with high speed as a primary objective. Production of the new airplane was considered so urgent that there were no prototypes. All aircraft were production models.

Martin B-26B-55-MA Marauder 42-96142, 596th Bombardment Squadron (Medium), 397th Bombardment Group (Medium). This is the same type aircraft flown by Captain Lindsey in the attack against the L’Isle-Adam Railroad Bridge. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-26B was 58 feet, 3 inches (17.755 meters) long with a wingspan of 71 feet, 0 inches (21.641 meters) and overall height of 21 feet, 6 inches (6.533 meters). It had an empty weight of 24,000 pounds (10,886 kilograms) and gross weight of 37,000 pounds (16,783 kilograms).

The B-26B-55-MA was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.461-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-43) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-43 had a Normal Power rating of 1,600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. to 5,700 feet (1,737 meters), 1,450 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). Its Takeoff Power rating was 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The Military Power rating was the same as Takeoff Power up to 2,700 feet (823 meters), and 1,600 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 13,500 feet (4,115 meters). They turned 13 foot, 6 inch (4.115 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric propellers through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-43 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). All R-2800-43 engines were built by the Ford Motor Company.

The B-26B had a maximum speed of 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 282 miles per hour (454 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The airplane’s service ceiling was 21,700 feet (6,614 meters). It’s maximum ferry range was 2,850 miles (4,587 kilometers).

The B-26B was armed with 11 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. One was at the nose on a flexible mount, two fixed guns were on each side of the nose in “blister packs,” there were two flexible guns in the waist. A power-operated dorsal gun turret had two, as did the tail turret.

A maximum of four 2,000 pound (907 kilograms) bombs could be carried in the bomb bay.

Martin B-26F-1-MA of the 397th Bomb Group in flight at bomb release. (U.S. Air Force)

When the B-26 entered service, it quickly gained a reputation as a dangerous airplane and was called “the widowmaker.” The airplane had relatively short wings with a small area for its size. This required that landing approaches be flown at much higher speeds than was normal practice. With one engine out, airspeed was even more critical. Some changes were made, such as a slight increase on wingspan and the size of the vertical fin and rudder, and an emphasis was made on airspeed control during training. The Marauder had the lowest rate of combat losses of any American bomber.

The Glenn L. Martin Co. produced 5,288 Marauders between 1941–1945. It served in the Pacific, Mediterranean and European combat areas. When it was removed from service at the end of World War II, the “B-26” designation was reassigned to the Douglas A-26 Invader, a light twin-engine bomber.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 August 1942

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2656, “Chief Seattle from the Pacific Northwest,” during a test flight near Seattle, Washington, March 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

9 August 1942: Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2656, Chief Seattle from the Pacific Northwest, took off from 7 Mile Drome, an airfield near Port Moresby, Territory of Papua,  New Guinea, on its first combat mission. This was a reconnaissance of Rabaul and Kavieng. Mission elapsed time, 8 hours, 40 minutes.

435th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Fifth Air Force,

Crew of Chief Seattle at 7 Mile Drome, 11 August 1942. Front row, left to right, Sgt Dennis Craig, Sgt. Tomas Wood. Standing, Sgt Quentin Lakely, Pvt Philip Zumwalt, Sgt. Leslie Stewart, Lt. John Pickering, Lt. Morris Friedman, Lt. Haskell Wexler, Sgt Meyer Levin. (United Press)

Sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, citizens of Seattle contributed $230,535 in War Bonds to purchase the airplane. Delivered to USAAF by the Mayor of Seattle, Earl Milliken P.G. Johnson in a ceremony held 5 March 1942.

Aerial photograph of 7 Mile Drome (Jackson Airfield), 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17s parked in revetments at 7 Mile Drome, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Flown by another crew, 41-2656 was shot down at 7:40 a.m., 14 August 1942, over the Solomon Sea by three Mitsubishi A6M3 Navy Type 0 Model 32 (Allied reporting name, “Hamp”) fighters of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Defensive fire from the bomber damaged at least one Zero, but it was able to return to its base.

The B-17E went down at sea. Its crew were listed as missing, presumed killed in action (KIA). They were 1st Lt. Wilson O. Cook, pilot; F/Sgt. George S. Andrews, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Hubert S. Mobley, navigator; 2nd Lt. Joseph R. Cunningham, bombardier; SSGT Elwyn O Rahier, Engineer; SSGT John J. Dunbar, assistant engineer; T/Sgt. Irving W. Michael, radio operator; Cpl. Charles M. Hartman, asst. radio; Pvt. David B. Beattie, gunner; and Cpl. Richard K. Pastor, gunner.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 August 1939

Bell XP-39 Airacobra 38-326 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 9 August 1939. The man at the base of the supports shows scale. (NASA)

9 August 1939: After General Henry H. Arnold had ordered that the prototype Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-39 Airacobra be evaluated in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Full-Scale Tunnel at the Langley Memorial Aeronautics Laboratory, Langley Field, Virginia, it was flown there from Wright Field. It was hoped that aerodynamic improvements would allow the prototype to exceed 400 miles per hour (644 kilometers per hour).

NACA engineers placed the full-size airplane inside the large wind tunnel for testing. A number of specific areas for aerodynamic improvement were found. After those changes were made by Bell, the XP-39’s top speed had improved by 16%.

Bell XP-39 in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field. (NASA)
Bell XP-39 Airacobra 38-326 in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field. The man at the base of the supports shows scale. (NASA)

The Bell XP-39 Airacobra was a single-place, single-engine prototype fighter with a low wing and retractable tricycle landing gears. The airplane was primarily built of aluminum, though control surfaces were fabric covered.

As originally built, the XP-39 was 28 feet, 8 inches (8.738 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 10 inches (10.922 meters). The prototype had an empty weight of 3,995 pounds (1,812 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,550 pounds (2,517 kilograms).

The XP-39 was unarmed, but it had been designed around the American Armament Corporation T9 37 mm autocannon, later designated Gun, Automatic, 37 mm, M4 (Aircraft). The cannon and ammunition were in the forward fuselage, above the engine driveshaft. The gun fired through the reduction gear box and propeller hub.

The XP-39 was originally powered by a liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged and supercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-E2 (V-1710-17), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The V-1710-17 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and Takeoff/Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet, burning 91 octane gasoline. The engine was installed in an unusual configuration behind the cockpit, with a two-piece drive shaft passing under the cockpit and turning the three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a remotely-mounted 1.8:1 gear reduction gear box. The V-1710-17 was 16 feet, 1.79 inches (4.922 meters) long, including the drive shaft and remote gear box. It was 2 feet, 11.45 inches (0.900 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

After initial flight testing, the XP-39 was sent to NACA at Langley Field, Virginia for wind tunnel tests. Improvements in aerodynamics were recommended and the airplane was rebuilt as the XP-39B with an Allison V-1710-E5 (V-1710-37) engine. The turbosupercharger had been removed, which reduced the airplane’s power at altitudes above 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The V-1710-37 had a maximum power of 1,090 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 13,300 feet (4,054 meters). This resulted in the P-39 being used primarily as a ground-attack weapon.

A Bell P-39 Airacobra fires all of its guns at night. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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