Daily Archives: September 4, 2017

4 September 1949

The prototype Bristol Type 167, G-AGPW, takes off from Filton Aerodrome, 11:30 a.m., 4 September 1949. Hundred of Bristol employees are lining the runway. (Alfred Thompson)
The prototype Bristol Type 167, G-AGPW, takes off from Filton Aerodrome, 11:30 a.m., 4 September 1949. Hundred of Bristol employees are lining the runway. (Alfred Thompson)

4 September 1949: At 11:30 a.m., Sunday morning, the prototype Bristol Brabazon Mk.I, G-AGPW, made its first flight at Filton Aerodrome. Chief Test Pilot Arthur J. “Bill” Pegg was in command with Walter Gibb as co-pilot. An 8-man flight test crew was also aboard. A crowd of spectators, estimated at 10,000 people, were present.

The flight test crew of the Bristol Brabazon. Bill Pegg is at center. (Unattributed)
The flight test crew of the Bristol Brabazon. Bill Pegg is at center. (Unattributed)

Designed as a transatlantic commercial airliner, development of the Type 167 began in 1943. The Mk.I prototype, G-AGPW, had been rolled out in December 1948. On 3 September 1949, the flight test crew performed a series of taxi tests.

The first flight lasted 26 minutes. The Brabazon had reached 3,000 feet (914 meters) and 160 miles per hour (257 kilometers per hour).

Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW runs up its engines. (Unattributed)
Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW runs up its engines. (Unattributed)

The Bristol Type 167 Brabazon Mk.I was a very large low-wing monoplane designed to carry 100 passengers on transatlantic flights. it had been named to honor John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara, the first man to fly an airplane in England, and a very important figure in the development of the British aeronautical industry.

The Type 167 was slightly larger than the United States Air Force Convair B-36A intercontinental strategic bomber. It was 177 feet, 0 inches (53.950 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet, 0 inches (70.104 meters) and overall height of 50 feet, 0 inches (50.240 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter of 25 feet (7.62 meters).

The leading edge of the inboard section of the Brabazon’s wing was swept 4° 16′ and had no dihedral, while the outer section was swept 14° 56′ with 2° dihedral. The wing’s angle of incidence was +3° 30′. Its chord narrowed from 31 feet, 0 inches (9.449 meters) at the root, to 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters) at the tip. The wing’s maximum thickness was 6 feet, 6 inches (1.981 meters). The Mk.I’s wing area was 5,317 square feet (494 square meters).

The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 75 feet, 0 inches (22.860 meters). The angle of incidence was +2° and there was no dihedral. The stabilizer’s area was 692 square feet (64.3 square meters).

The airplane’s empty weight was 169,500 pounds (76,884 kilograms), and its maximum takeoff weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). For the first flight, its gross weight was 200,000 pounds (90,718 kilograms).

Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW.

The prototype was powered by eight air-cooled, supercharged, 3,271.87 cubic-inch-displacement (53.62 liter) Bristol Centaurus 20 eighteen cylinder radial engines. They had a cruise power rating of 1,640 horsepower at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters); maximum continuous power and maximum climb power rating of 2,190 horsepower at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters); and 2,500 horsepower for takeoff. Each pair of engines drove a set of coaxial counter-rotating three-bladed Rotol constant-speed wooden propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters).

Power was transmitted from each engine by an angled drive shaft to separate beveled gears in a dual reduction gear unit. The reduction gear ratio was 0.400:1. For one-engine-out operation, one the effected propeller would be feathered, while the other engine of the pair continued to power the other counter-rotating propeller. The propellers were reversible for braking on landing.

Turboprop engines were planned for the Brabazon Mk.II.

Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW flying overhead reveals the double sweep of the wings. (BAE Systems)

Estimated performance of the Brabazon Mk.I (before flight testing was completed) was a cruise speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour), both at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), the airplane’s service ceiling.

The maximum fuel capacity of the Mk.I was 13,650 gallons (51,671 liters), giving a maximum range at cruise speed of 5,460 miles (8,787 kilometers). This was sufficient for a flight from London to New York with the required fuel reserve.

Only one Brabazon Mk.I was built. The prototype Mk.II was never completed. The project was cancelled in 1952. The total cost of the Brabazon program was approximately £6,500,000 (estimated at £170,981,807, or $221,489,833 in 2017. G-AGPW was eventually scrapped.

Bristol Brabazon Mk. I G-AGPW landing at Farnborough, September 1950. (BAE Systems)

Thanks to regular “This Day in Aviation” reader, Mr. Lynn Brown, for suggesting this subject.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 September 1936

beryl Markham stands at The entrance to the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936.
Beryl Markham steps out of the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936. (Unattributed)

4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue-and-silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.

The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham, serial number K.34, was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.

Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters).

The Vega Gull was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 9.186 liter (560.573-cubic-inch-displacement) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engine. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and  205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Gypsy Six I weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).

The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).

John E. Carberry's brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend.
John E. Carberry’s brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, The Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend. (Unattributed)

John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.

Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”

Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run. Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).

Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, registration VP-KCC, in flight over England, sometime between 15 August–4 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham and the Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, with Kenyan civil registration VP-KCC, westbound over England, 4 September 1936. (Henry How, Daily Mirror)

From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.

During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.

“The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .

“That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.’ The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go ‘put, put, put.’

“. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.

“My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.”

 Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morningby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.

The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was briefly knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.

Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.

Beryl Markham's solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Beliene, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Beryl Markham’s solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Baliene Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.

Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1936

Louise Thaden with the Bendix Trophy. (Tom Sande, AP)

4 September 1936: Louise Thaden was the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California, in 14 hours, 55 minutes, 1.0 seconds. With one fuel stop at Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 miles per hour (266.11 kilometers per hour).

In addition to the trophy, Mrs. Thaden won a prize of $2,500.

Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936.(National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)
Louise McPhetridge, 1926. (The Razorback)

Iris Louise McPhetridge was born 12 November 1905 at Bentonville, Arkansas. She was the first of three daughters of Roy Fry McPhetridge, owner of a foundry, and Edna Hobbs McPhetridge. She was educated at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a member of the Class of 1927. She was president of the Delta Delta Delta (ΔΔΔ) Sorority, Delta Iota (ΔΙ) Chapter, head sports for basketball and president of The Panhellenic.

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Wilbur Wright, 16 May 1928. In 1929, she was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. She was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.

Louise Thaden’s original pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National Aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)

Miss McPhetridge married Mr. Herbert von Thaden at San Francisco, California, 21 July 1928. Thaden was a former military pilot and an engineer. They would have two children, William and Patricia.

(Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.)

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden with her husband, Herbert von Thaden, in front of theBeech C17R Staggerwing, NR15385. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
National Harmon Trophy

Louise Thaden served as secretary of the National Aeronautic Association, and was a co-founder of The Ninety-Nines. She served as that organization’s vice president and treasurer. She set several world and national records and was awarded the national Harmon Trophy as Champion Aviatrix of the United States in 1936.

Louise Thaden stopped flying in 1938. She died at High Point, North Carolina, 9 November 1979.

The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). This improved the pilot’s visibility. It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records.

Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C-17R NR15385 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C17R NR15835 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Beechcraft C17R was single-engine biplane operated by one pilot and could carry up to three passengers in its enclosed cabin. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel frame with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with retractable landing gear.

The Beech 17 was  26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).

This photograph of Beechcraft Model 17s under construction at Wichita, Kansas, reveals the structure of the airplane. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different displacements and horsepower ratings. The C17R was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Whirlwind 440 (R-975E3) 9-cylinder direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.3:1. The R-975E3 was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 92-octane gasoline. The engine was 43.00 inches (1.092 meters) long and 45.25 inches (1.149 meters) in diameter. It weighed 700 pounds (318 kilograms).

This engine gave the C17R Staggerwing a cruise speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 211 miles per hour (340 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and its range was 800 miles (1,287.5 kilometers).

Beechcraft C17R NC15835 at the finish of the Bendix Trophy Race, Mines Field, Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

The Beechcraft C17R flown by Louise Thaden to win the Bendix Trophy, serial number 77, had already been sold, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it for the race before delivering to the owner. It was painted in Sherwin Williams blue with white stripes. The rear passenger seats were removed and a 56 gallon (212 liter) auxiliary fuel tank installed in their place.

After the race, the owner took his airplane to South America. Several Staggerwings have been registered as N15835, including s/n 74 and s/n 81. The status of the Bendix winner is unknown.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1922

Jimmy Doolittle with his DH-4 during a refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, 4 September 1922. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Jimmy Doolittle with his DH-4B-1-S, A.S. 22-353, during a refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, 4 September 1922. Photograph by H.L. Summerville. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

4 September 1922: First Lieutenant James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, made the first transcontinental crossing of the United States in a single day when he flew a DH.4B-1-S single-engine biplane, Air Service Serial Number 22-353, from Pablo Beach, Florida, to Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, a distance of 2,163 miles (3,481 kilometers). He made one refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, which lasted 1 hour, 16 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 21 hours, 19 minutes.

Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, in the cockpit of the DH-4B, is greeted on his arrival at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. (Peter M. Bowers Collection)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, in the cockpit of the DH-4B, is greeted on his arrival at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. (Peter M. Bowers Collection)

Lieutenant Doolittle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “demonstrating the possibility of moving Air Corps units to any portion of the United States in less than 24 hours.”

Maintenance technicians service Lieutenant Doolittle's DH-4B-S-1 at Kelly Field.
Maintenance technicians service Lieutenant Doolittle’s DH-4B-1-S at Kelly Field.

The DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was built by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States. Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by the water-cooled Liberty 45° V-12, a 1,649.3-cubic-inch (27 liter) engine producing 400 horsepower. The DH-4B was a rebuilt DH.4 with fuel capacity increased to 110 gallons (420 liters). It had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,975 meters).

This same airplane, DH.4B-1-S, A.S. No. 22-353, was flown from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border by Lieutenant H.G. Crocker, 26 May 1923.

Lieutenant Doolittle's DH-4B-S-1 is serviced by maintenance technicians at Kelly Field, Texas.
Lieutenant Doolittle’s DH-4B-1-S is serviced by maintenance technicians at Kelly Field, Texas.
First Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army. “Jimmy Doolittle is wearing the Military Aviator badge and the World War I Victory Medal ribbon.

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. As a brigadier general he commanded Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From 1943 until 1945, Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded Eighth Air Force. He was preparing his command to move against Japan, equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers when World War II came to an end.

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General.

Similar to the DH.4B-1-S flown by Lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle on his transcontinental flight, this is a reproduction DH.4B from the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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