Daily Archives: September 25, 2017

25 September 1978, 16:02:07 UTC

PSA Flight 182, on fire after mid-air collision, 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

25 September 1978: At 09:02:07 a.m., local time, the worst aircraft accident in California history occurred when a Boeing 727-214 airliner, civil registration N533PS, operated by Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as Flight 182, crashed at the intersection of Dwight Street and Nile Street in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, 4,830 meters (3.00 miles) northwest of Lindbergh Field (SAN), today known as San Diego International Airport.

Flight 182 was a regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from Sacramento, California to San Diego, with a stopover at Los Angeles. Captain James E. McFeron, a 17-year veteran of PSA, was in command. First Officer Robert E. Fox was the pilot flying the 727 on this leg. The Flight Engineer (also called the Second Officer) was Martin J. Wahne. Also in the cockpit, occupying the two “jump seats” were two off-duty PSA captains. Four flight attendants were on duty in the passenger cabin along with 126 passengers, which included 30 PSA employees.

In clear weather and early morning sunlight, the airliner was on an visual approach to Lindbergh. The 727 passed over the Mission Bay VORTAC (MZB), a navigation aid 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) northwest of the airport, and turned left to a heading of 090° to intercept the downwind leg of the approach.

Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field.)
Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field), center near bottom of image. Montgomery field is at the upper right.

Ahead of the 727, a single-engine light airplane, a Cessna 172, N7711G, with an instructor and student aboard, had made two practice ILS approaches to Runway 9 at Lindbergh and departed to the northwest, returning to its base at Montgomery Field (MYF), 6.4 miles (10.3 kilometers) north-northeast of SAN.

Approach Control called, Cessna 7711G, radar contact, maintain VFR at or below 3500 [1,067 meters], fly heading 070, vector (for) final approach course.” The pilot of the Cessna, David T. Boswell, acknowledged the east-north-easterly heading and the altitude restriction. About 15 seconds later, at 08:59:39, the controller informed the 727, “Additional traffic’s twelve o’clock, three miles, just north of the field, northeastbound, a Cessna One Seventy-Two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred.” [427 meters] At 08:59:50, First Officer Fox reported, Okay, we’ve got that other twelve.”

Radar tracks show that N7711G initially maintained the assigned heading but after about one minute, turned 20° right to 090°, the same heading as that of Flight 182.

At 09:00:23, Approach Control acknowledged Flight 182: “Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh Tower 133.3. Have a nice day, now!”

Flight 182 switched radio frequencies and Captain McFeron checked in with the tower: “Lindbergh, PSA 182. Downwind.” The Tower Controller responded, “PSA 182, Lindbergh Tower, traffic 12 o’clock, one mile, a Cessna.”

In the cockpit there was confusion about the reported conflicting traffic ahead. Captain McFeron asked, “Is that the one we’re looking at?” Flight Engineer Wahne replied, “Yeah—but I don’t see him now.” McFeron called the Tower, “Okay, we had it there a minute ago.” The Controller replied, “One Eighty-Two, roger.” The Captain continued, “I think he’s passed off to our right.”

Inside the cockpit, McFeron said, “He was right over there a minute ago.” Wahne agreed, “Yeah.”

Lindbergh Tower authorized Flight 182 to land, “PSA 182—cleared to land,” and McFeron acknowledged with, “PSA 182’s cleared to land.” He then asked the Flight Engineer, “Are we clear of that Cessna?” Wahne said, “Supposed to be!” McFeron responded, “I guess.” In the cockpit’s jump seat, one of the two off-duty captains said, “I hope!”

At 09:01:21, Captain McFeron stated, “Oh, yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him about one o’clock, probably behind us now.”

First Officer Fox called for the wing flaps to be lowered and then at 09:01:31 he asked for the landing gear to be lowered. At 09:01:38, Fox said, There’s one underneath [pause] I was looking at that inbound there.” Flight 182 was now descending through 2,600 feet (793 meters).

At 09:01:47, the Flight 182’s Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up the sound of the collision.

The Boeing 727 struck the Cessna 172 from above and behind, destroying it. The airliner was heavily damaged and on fire. With the flight controls damaged, Flight 182 rolled and turned to the right. On a heading of approximately 200°, it crashed into residential neighborhood in a 300 mile per hour (483 kilometers per hour), 50° dive.

According to seismographs at the Museum of Natural History, San Diego, the impact occurred at 09:02:07 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (16:02:07 UTC).

The largest piece of the Cessna impacted six blocks away, near 32nd Street and Park Avenue.

PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978.
PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

All 135 persons aboard the 727, both persons on the Cessna, and seven persons on the ground were killed. Another nine persons on the ground were injured. Twenty-two homes in a four-block area were destroyed or damaged.

The last words of the flight deck personnel recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder were that of an unidentified voice saying, “Ma, I love you.”

Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Pilot in Command of Flight 182, Captain James E. McFeron, had been employed by Pacific Southwest Airlines since 1961. He held an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and was type-rated in both the Lockheed L-188 Electra and the Boeing 727. He had a total of 14,382 flight hours, with 10,482 hours in the Boeing 727.

First Officer Robert E. Fox, Jr., also held an ATP certificate. Of his 10,049 flight hours, 5,800 were in the 727. He had been with PSA for 9 years.

Flight Engineer Martin J. Wahne had worked for PSA for 11 years. He had 10,800 hours, with 6,587 hours in the Boeing 727.

The Pilot in Command of the Cessna was Gunnery Sergeant David Lee Boswell, U.S. Marine Corps, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Gunnery Sergeant Boswell held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane—Single– and Multi–Engine Land ratings. He was receiving instrument flight instruction to apply for an Instrument Rating. Boswell had 407 total flight hours, and had flown 61 hours in the previous 90 days.

The Instructor Pilot on board the Cessna was Martin B. Kazy, Jr., an employee of the aircraft owner, Gibbs Flight Center at Montgomery Field. He held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane Single– and Multi–Engine Land, and Instrument–Airplane ratings. He had a total of 5,137 flight hours. Kazy had flown 347 hours in the previous 90 days.

Pacific Southwest Airlines' Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1975. (Edge to Edge Photography)
Pacific Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1974. (Edge to Edge Photography)

The aircraft operated as PSA Flight 182 was a Boeing 727–214, serial number 19688, which made its first flight 4 June 1968. At the time of the accident, the total time on the airframe (TTAF) was 24,088.3 hours. It had made 36,557 takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing 727–200 series was a stretched version of the original –100 model. It was designed to be operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry up to 189 passengers. The –200 was 153 feet, 2 inches (46.685 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). The empty weight was 98,400 pounds (44,633 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 184,800 pounds (83,642 kilograms). The airliner was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 low-bypass axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 14,500 pounds of thrust at Sea Level for takeoff (5-minute limit), and 12,600 pounds of thrust, maximum continuous power. This gave the 727–200 a maximum cruise speed of 0.9 Mach (610 miles per hour, or 982 kilometers per hour, at 30,000 feet/9,144 meters). Its service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and the maximum range was 1,956 miles (3,148 kilometers).

1,832 727s were built by Boeing between 1963 and 1984. 1,245 of these were 727-200s.

This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center's N7711G. (Skytamer)
This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center’s N7711G. (Skytamer)

Cessna 172 N7711G was a 1975 Cessna 172M, serial number 17265788. It had 2,993 total flight hours on the airframe (TTAF). It was a single-engine, four-place light airplane with a high wing and fixed tricycle landing gear. 711G was painted white with “mustard” yellow trim. The 172M is 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 10 inches (10.922 meters) and height of 8 feet, 11 inches (2.718 meters). The empty weight is 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms) and gross weight is 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). It is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 319.75-cubic-inch-displacement (5.24 liter) Lycoming O-320-E2D horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine rated at 150 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine drives a two-bladed McCauley fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches (1.905 meters). The engine installed on N7711G engine had 3,086 total hours since new (TSN) and 879 hours since overhaul (TSO). The 172M has a cruise speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and a maximum speed of 142 miles per hour (229 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling is 13,100 feet (3,993 meters) and its maximum range is 875 miles (1,408 kilometers).

More than 43,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 September 1960

Commander John F. Davis, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. Note the F6F-5K drone “kill” mark under the windshield. (U.S. Navy)
Commander John F. Davis, United States Navy, with a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. Note the F6F-5K drone “kill” mark under the windshield. (U.S. Navy)

25 September 1960: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Commander John Franklin (“Jeff”) Davis, United States Navy, flew a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 2,237.37 kilometers per hour (1390.24 miles per hour).¹ Commander Davis flew the 62-mile circular course at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Diagram of the 100-kilometer closed circuit. (McDonnell)
Diagram of the 100-kilometer closed circuit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

“On 25 September 1960 Davis flew the shorter, 100-kilometer course at 1,390.24 miles per hour, roughly Mach 2.2. He went around the course in a continuous circle, at 70° of bank and three g’s. The heavy bank put the honeycomb structure of the right stabilator directly in the engine exhaust the entire way around, but it held on. These two flights demonstrated the brute strength of the airframe and the sophistication of the F4H navigation system around the curves.”

Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: parts into systems, by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996, Chapter 5 at Page 104.

McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 145311. This probably the Phantom flown by Jeff Davis for the 100-kilometer record. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, Bu. No. 145311 (after 1962, redesignated as F-4A-2-MC). This is probably the Phantom flown by Jeff Davis for the 100-kilometer record. This airplane was damaged when the nose gear collapsed during an emergency landing at MCAS Cherry Point, 9 April 1964. (U.S. Navy)

John Franklin Davis was born at Chicago, Illinois, 4May 1921. He was the son of John E. Davis and Bernice B. McNair Davis.

On 11 July 1940, John Franklin Davis was admitted to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, as a Midshipman. He graduated and was commissioned an Ensign, United States Navy, 9 June 1943. Ensign Davis served aboard the battleship USS New York (BB-34). He was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 September 1944. He was promoted to Lieutenant, 1 April 1946.

Also in 1946, Lieutenant Davis qualified as a Naval Aviator. He was assigned as a pilot VF-74 aboard USS Midway (CVB-41). During the early 1950s, Lieutenant Davis served as operations officer for VF-191 aboard USS Oriskany (CVA-34). The squadron was equipped with the swept-wing Grumman F9F-6 Cougar. He then commanded VF-191, flying the Chance Vought F8U Crusader. Commander Davis was then assigned to the Bureau of Weapons as project officer for the McDonnell F4H Phantom II.

Following that assignment, Commander Davis was selected as executive officer of the Midway-class aircraft carrier, USS Coral Sea (CVA-43).

Captain John Franklin Davis, United States Navy.

United States Navy aircraft carriers are traditionally commanded by Naval Aviators, but they usually are required to have experience commanding a “deep-draft” ship. Early in his career, Captain Davis had served aboard the 27,000-ton USS New York. He was given command of the Haskell-class attack transport USS Talladega (APA-208) from 10 April 1965 through 1966. From 30 September 1968 to 15 November 1969, Captain Davis commanded the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) during combat operations in Southeast Asia.

USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) (U.S. Navy)

Captain Davis was married to the former Miss Bonnie Adair of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. They had six children.

Captain John Franklin Davis, United States Navy (Retired), died at Marrero, Louisiana, 16 May 1993. His ashes were spread at sea from his last command, USS Kitty Hawk.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8898

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

24–25 September 1938

World Record Aviators with Antonov ANT 37 Rodina
From left to right, Polina Osipenko, Valentine Grizodubova and Marina Raskova, with the record-setting Tupolev ANT-37, Rodina
Valentina Stepanova Grizodubova, Hero of the Soviet Union.
Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova, Hero of the Soviet Union.

24–25 September 1938: Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (Валентина Степановна Гризодубова), Polina Denisovna Osipenko (Полина Денисовна Осипенко) and Marina Mikailovna Raskova (Марина Mихайловна Раскова) set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing when they flew a twin-engine Tupolev ANT-37 named Rodina from Tchelcovo, an airport near Moscow, Russia, to the River Amgun, Khabarovsk Krai, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The distance was 5,908.61 kilometers (3,671.44 miles).¹ The duration of the flight was 26 hours, 29 minutes.

The planned flight was from Moscow to Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In adverse weather conditions, they missed the airfield at Komsomolsk, and out of fuel, crash landed in a forest near the Sea of Okhotsk. Raskova was ordered to bail out of the airplane to avoid being injured, and she wandered for ten days before she located the crashed ANT-37. The other two remained with the ANT-37 and survived the landing. They waited by the wreck for Raskova to arrive. All three were made Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Polina Denisovna Osipenko, hero of the Soviet Union.

The three women were all highly experienced aviators and each held multiple world records. (Grizodubova held one FAI altitude record, two distance and three speed; Osipenko held three distance and three altitude records; and Raskova was a navigator on two distance record flights.)

Polina Osipenko was killed in an airplane accident in 1939. Marina Raskova died when her bomber crashed in 1943. She received the first state funeral of the war. Valentina Grizodubova survived World War II and then served on a commission investigating Nazi war crimes.  She died at Moscow in 1993.

The Antonov ANT-37, given the military designation DB-2, was a prototype long range medium bomber designed and built at Tupolev OKB. The design team was led by Pavel Sukhoi.

Marina Mikailovna Raskova, Hero of the Soviet Union

Rodina, the airplane flown by Grizodubova, Osipenko and Raskova, was the first prototype ANT-37. It had crashed during testing 20 July 1935, but was rebuilt as the ANT-37 bis, or DB-2B. The nose section was modified and the engines and propellers upgraded, all military armament was removed and larger fuel tanks installed. It was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,359.97-cubic-inch-displacement (38.67 liter) Tumansky M-86 two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. They were rated 950 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff and drove three-bladed, variable pitch propellers. (These engines were license-built versions of the Gnome et Rhône 14K Mistral Major.) The main landing gear was retracted by electric motors.

The airplane was operated by a crew of three. It was 15.00 meters (49 feet, 2.6 inches) long with a wingspan of 31.00 meters (101 feet, 8.5 inches). Its empty weight was 5,855 kilograms (12,908 pounds) and gross weight was 12,500 kilograms (27,558 pounds). The maximum speed was 300 kilometers per hour at 0 meters (186 miles per hour at Sea Level) and 342 kilometers per hour (212.5 miles per hour) at high altitude. The service ceiling was 8,000 meters (26, 247 feet).

Tupolev ANT-37 Rodina.
Tupolev ANT-37 Rodina.

Rodina was repaired and operated by Aeroflot, then, until 1943, by the People’s Commissariat of Aircraft Industry.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10444

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 September 1920

Test pilot Joseph Sadi-Lecointe with a Nieuport Delâge Ni-D 40R World record-setting biplane.
Test pilot Joseph Sadi-Lecointe with a Nieuport Delâge Ni-D 40R World Altitude Record-setting biplane, circa 1923. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

25 September 1920: At Villesauvage-La Marmogne, France, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers. His average speed was 279.50 kilometers per hour (173.67 miles per hour).¹

Three days later, 28 September 1920, Sadi-Lacointe won the Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy Race with a Ni-D 29V. He set four FAI world speed records with these airplanes, reaching a maximum 302.53 kilometers per hour (187.98 miles per hour) on 20 October 1920.²

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V
One of three Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V racers. Sadi-Lecointe flew this airplane, #10, to win the Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy. (Unattributed)

Sadi-Lecointe’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. The Ni-D 29V was 21 feet, 3.5 inches (6.489 meters) long, with a wing span of just 6.00 meters (19 feet, 8¼ inches), shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur.

This right rear-quarter view of a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V shows the shortned single-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)
This right rear-quarter view of one of the three Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V racers shows the shortened single-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)

The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement (18.47 liter) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller.

The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view.
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view. (worldmilitary.net)
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right profile.
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C.1, s/n 12002, right profile. A well-known landmark can be seen at the left edge of the photograph. (worldmilitary.net)
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right rear three-quarter view.
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C.1, s/n 12002, right rear three-quarter view. (worldmilitary.net)

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe learned to fly in 1910. The Aero Club de France awarded him its license number 431 on 10 February 1910.

He joined the Service Aéronautique (the original form of the French Air Force) as a mechanic in October 1912, and was designated pilote militaire nº375, 20 September 1913. He served as a pilot during World War I, flying the Blériot XI-2, Morane LA and Nieuport X, then in December 1915 became a flight instructor at l’Ecole de Pilotage d’Avord. Sadi-Lacointe was promoted from the enlisted ranks to sous-lieutenant, 17 September 1917, and was assigned as a test pilot at BlériotSociété Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, where he worked on the development of the famous SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter
Sous-Lieutenant Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

After the War, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge, and participated in numerous races and set a series of speed and altitude records with the company’s airplanes.

Sadi-Lecointe returned to military service in 1925 and participated in the Second Moroccan War. Then in 1927, he returned to his position as chief test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge. From 1936 to 1940, he served as Inspector General of Aviation for the French Air Ministry. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Lieutenant Colonel Sadi-Lecointe was again recalled to military service as Inspector of Flying Schools.

With the Fall of France, Sadi-Lacointe joined La Résistance française, and operated with the group, Rafale Andromède. He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo at Paris, and died as a result, 15 July 1944.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, was awarded the Croix de Guerre in three wars. He was posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance. The Aéro-Club de France awarded him its Grande Médaille d’Or de l’Aéro-Club de France. During his flying career, Sadi-Lecointe set seven World Records for Speed, and three World Records for Altitude.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe. (FAI)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe.  (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15489

² FAI Record File Number 15499

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 September 1918

Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, United States Army (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor

to

EDWARD V. RICKENBACKER 

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service.

Place and date: Near Billy, France, 25 September 1918.

Entered service at: Columbus, Ohio. Born: 8 October 1890, Columbus, Ohio.

G.O. No.: 2, W.D., 1931.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Billy, France, 25 September 1918. While on a voluntary patrol over the lines, 1st Lt. Rickenbacker attacked seven enemy planes (five type Fokker, protecting two type Halberstadt). Disregarding the odds against him, he dived on them and shot down one of the Fokkers out of control. He then attacked one of the Halberstadts and sent it down also.

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD S.XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

Edward Reichenbacher was born 8 October 1890 at Columbus, Ohio. He was the third of seven children of Wilham and Elizabeth Reichenbacher, both immigrants to America from Switzerland. His formal education ended with the 7th grade, when he had to find work to help support the family after the death of his father in 1904. He worked in the automobile industry and studied engineering through correspondence courses. Reichenbacher was a well known race car driver and competed in the Indianapolis 500 race four times. He was known as “Fast Eddie.”

"Fast Eddie" Rickenbacker raced this Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 mile race. He finished in 10th place. (Coburg)
“Fast Eddie” Rickenbacker raced this red, white and blue Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500-mile race. He finished in 10th place with an average speed of 70.8 miles per hour (113.9 kilometers per hour), and won $1,500 in prize money. (Coburg)

With the anti-German sentiment that was prevalent in the United States during World War I, Reichenbacher felt that his Swiss surname sounded too German, so he changed his name to “Rickenbacker.” He thought that a middle name would sound interesting and selected “Vernon.”

The United States declared war against Germany in 1917. Edward Vernon Rickenbacker enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, at New York City, 28 May 1917. He was appointed a sergeant, 1st class, on that date. After arriving in France, Sergeant Rickenbacker served as a driver for General John Pershing.

On 10 October 1917, Sergeant Rickenbacker was honorably discharged to accept a commission as a 1st lieutenant. Two weeks later, Lieutenant Rickenbacker was promoted to the rank of captain. He was assigned to 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun, France, until 9 April 1918, and then transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron as a pilot.

1st Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Rickenbacker served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and served during the following campaigns: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne. Between 29 April and 30 October 1918, Rickenbacker was officially credited with 26 victories in aerial combat, consisting of 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. He shot down the first six airplanes while flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, and the remainder with a SPAD S.XIII C.1., serial number S4253.

Identity card for Captain E.V. Rickenbacker
Identity card for Captain E. V. Rickenbacker (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with seven bronze oak leaf clusters (eight awards). France named him a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur and twice  awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Eddie Rickenbacker is quoted as saying, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)

In 1930, after Charles A. Lindbergh, Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., and Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett had each been awarded the Medal of Honor for valorous acts during peacetime, the 71st Congress of the United States passed a Bill (H.R. 325): “Authorizing the President of the United States to present in the name of Congress a congressional medal of honor to Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker.”

In a ceremony at Bolling Field, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Air Corps, 6 November 1930, the Medal of Honor was presented to Captain Rickenbacker by President Herbert Hoover. President Hoover remarked,

“Captain Rickenbacker, in the name of the Congress of the United States, I take great pleasure in awarding you the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest decoration for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above an beyond the call of duty in action. At a stage in the development of aviation when you were achieving victories which made you the universally recognized ‘Ace of Aces’ of the American forces. Your record is an outstanding one for skill and bravery, and is a source of pride to your comrades and your countrymen.

“I hope that your gratification in receiving the Medal of Honor will be as keen as mine in bestowing it. May you wear it during many years of happiness and continued service to your country.”

In 1920, Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which produced the first automobile with four wheel brakes.

Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)
Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)

Eddie Rickenbacker married Adelaide Pearl Frost (formerly, the second Mrs. Russell Durant) at Greenwich, Connecticut, 16 September 1922. They would later adopt two children.

From 1927 to 1945, he owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1938, he bought Eastern Air Lines, which he had operated for General Motors since 1935. He was the chief executive officer (CEO) until 1959, and remained chairman of the board of directors until 1963.

In 1941, Rickenbacker was gravely injured in the crash of an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 aboard which he was a passenger. He barely survived.

During World War II, Rickenbacker was requested by Secretary of War Henry Stimson to undertake several inspection tours in the United States, England, the Pacific and the Soviet Union. While enroute to Canton Island from Hawaii, 21 October 1942, the B-17D Flying Fortress that he was traveling aboard missed its destination due to a navigation error. The bomber ran out of fuel and ditched at sea. The survivors drifted in two small life rafts for 21 days before being rescued. All credited the leadership of Rickenbacker for their survival.

Rickenbacker was a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA.

Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died of heart failure at Neumünster Spital, Zollikerberg, Zürich, Switzerland, at 4:20 a.m., 23 July 1973. He was 82 years, 10 months of age.

SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris (U.S. Air Force)
This restored SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris, is in the the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. It is painted in the markings of Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker’s fighter. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather