Daily Archives: October 3, 2017

3 October 1967

Major William J. Knight, United States Air Force, with the North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671. (U.S. Air Force)

3 October 1967: The 188th flight of the X-15 Program was the 53rd for the Number 2 aircraft, 56-6671. It had been extensively modified by North American Aviation to an X-15A-2 configuration following a landing accident which had occurred 9 November 1962. The fuselage was lengthened 28 inches (0.711 meters) to accommodate a liquid hydrogen fuel tank for a scramjet engine that would be added to the ventral fin, a new tank for additional hydrogen peroxide to generate steam for the rocket engine turbo pump, and external propellant tanks to allow the rocketplane to reach higher speeds and altitudes. The entire surface of the X-15 was covered with an ablative coating to protect the metal structure from the extreme heat it would encounter on this flight.

Minor issues delayed the takeoff but finally, after they were corrected, and with Pete Knight in the X-15’s cockpit, it was carried aloft under the right wing of Balls 8, a Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008.

At 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) over Mud Lake, Nevada, the X-15 was droppeded at 14:31:50.9 local time. Knight fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and began to climb and accelerate. After 60 seconds, the ammonia and liquid oxygen propellants in the external tanks was exhausted, so the the tanks were jettisoned to eliminate their weight and aerodynamic drag.

The X-15A-2 climbed to 102,100 feet (31,120 meters) and Pete Knight leveled off, still accelerating. After 140.7 seconds of engine burn, Knight shut the XLR99 down. He noticed that thrust seemed to decrease gradually and the X-15 continued to accelerate to 6,630 feet per second (2,021 meters per second), or Mach 6.72.

North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 is carried to launch altitude under the right wing of the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 is carried to launch altitude under the right wing of the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008. The scramjet is attached to the ventral fin. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 immediately after being released from the mothership, Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008, Balls 8, over Mud Lake, Nevada, 3 October 1967. The steam trail is hydrogen peroxide used to power the rocket engine turbopump. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 immediately after being released from the mothership, Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress 52-008, Balls 8, over Mud Lake, Nevada, 3 October 1967. The steam trail is hydrogen peroxide used to power the rocket engine turbopump. (U.S. Air Force) 
The North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 ignites the XLR99 engine after being released from the mothership, Balls 8, 3 October 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
The X-15A-2’s XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine ignites after release from the mothership, Balls 8, 3 October 1967. (U.S. Air Force) 

Shock waves from the dummy scramjet mounted on the ventral fin impinged on the fin’s leading edge and the lower fuselage, raising surface temperatures to 2,700 °F. (1,482 °C.) The Inconel X structure started to melt and burn through.

Pete Knight entered the high key over Rogers Dry Lake at 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and Mach 2.2, higher and faster than normal. As he circled to line up for Runway One Eight, drag from the scramjet caused the X-15 to descend faster and this set him up for a perfect approach and landing. Because of heat damage, the scramjet broke loose and fell away from the X-15.

Knight touched down after an 8 minute, 17.0 second flight. His 4,520 mile per hour (7,274 kilometers per hour) maximum speed is a record that still stands.

Firefighters cool down the ventral fin of the North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 after its last landing on Rogers Dry Lake, 3 October 1967.(U.S. Air Force)
Firefighters cool down the ventral fin of the North American Aviation X-15A-2 56-6671 after its final landing on Rogers Dry Lake, 3 October 1967.(U.S. Air Force)

The X-15A-2 suffered considerable damage from this hypersonic flight. It was returned to North American for repairs, but before they were completed, the X-15 Program came to an end. This was 56-6671’s last flight. It was sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force where it is part of the permanent collection.

In a ceremony at the White House, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Harmon International Trophy to Major William J. Knight.

The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1962, 12:15:12 UTC, T minus Zero

Mercury-Atlas 8 lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 3 October 1962. (NASA)
Mercury-Atlas 8 lifts off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 12:15:12 UTC, 3 October 1962. (NASA)

3 October 1962: At 08:15:12 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8). This was the fifth U.S. manned space flight and the third orbital flight.

The spacecraft, which Wally Schirra had named Sigma 7, entered a low earth orbit with the altitude varying from 84 nautical miles (156 kilometers) to 154 nautical miles (285 kilometers). Each orbit took 88 minutes, 54.6 seconds.

Schirra experimented with the manual flight control systems, took photographs and performed spatial-orientation exercises. There were some difficulties with the cooling of his pressure suit.

Wally Schirra took this photograph of Earth while in orbit over South America, 3 October 1962. (Walter M. Schirra, Jr./NASA)
Wally Schirra took this photograph of Earth while in orbit over South America, 3 October 1962. (Walter M. Schirra, Jr./NASA)

Sigma 7 completed 6 orbits and at T+8:52, fired the retro rockets to de-orbit. Reentry was successful and Sigma 7 landed within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of the primary recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CVS-33).

The Mercury spacecraft, named Sigma 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 16th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. It was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, and, bell-shaped, had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.5 inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

Wally Schirra, wearing a B.F. Goodrich full-pressure suit, is helped into the Sigma 7 Mercury capsule. (NASA)

The rocket, a “1-½ stage”, liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 113-D, was built by Convair at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle. The LV-3B was 94.3 feet (28.7 meters) tall with a maximum diameter of 10.0 feet (3.05 meters). When ready for launch it weighed 260,000 pounds (120,000 kilograms) and could place a 1,360 kilogram payload into Low Earth orbit. The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Canoga Park, California. The XLR89 booster had two 150,000 pound thrust chambers, and the LR105 sustainer engine produced 57,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Schirra was the first astronaut to wear an Omega Speedmaster chronograph during spaceflight. (Omega Reference No. CK2998). The Speedmaster would become flight-qualified by NASA, and the Speedmaster Professional is known as the “moon watch.”

Sigma 7 is on display at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Titusville, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center.

Wally Schirra commanded Gemini 6A during the orbital rendezvous mission with Gemini 7. Later, he commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day orbital mission.

Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USN, died 3 May 2007 at the age of 84 years.

Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy. (NASA)
Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1953

Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, in the cockpit of the record-setting Douglas XF4D-1. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

3 October 1953: Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, a test pilot assigned to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flew the second prototype of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 124587, over a three kilometer course at the Salton Sea, California. Flying at approximately 150 feet (46 meters), Commander Verdin made four passes, with two in each direction. He set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 3-kilometer course, averaging 1,211.75 kilometers per hour (752.95 miles per hour).¹

The runs were measured at 746.075, 761.414, 746.053 and 759.498 miles per hour (1,200.691, 1,225.377, 1,200.656, and 1,222.294 kilometers per hour). The total elapsed time for the flight, from take off to landing at NAS El Centro, was 20 minutes, 25 seconds. The XF4D-1 burned 575 gallons (2,177 liters) of fuel.

In an interview with famed writer Bob Considine for his newspaper column, Verdin said,

“Douglas had its high priced help there at the course, and they iced my fuel for the Skyray while I took a look at the course from a Grumman Cougar,” he remembered. “They ice the fuel because that shrinks it and you can pack more in.

“We towed her out to the starting line to save the stuff. Didn’t even use blocks on the wheels after the engine was started. Just started rolling. I was in the air a little over a minute after the engine started, and headed for the measured course, 40 miles away.

“It was marked for me by smudge pots and burning tires, and orange-red markers to tell me when to turn off my afterburner, which eats fuel like crazy. About five miles short of the line I was doing 620 and turned on the afterburner. It gave me another hundred miles an hour right away, and I held her steady and low over the course. It doesn’t take long. . . about nine seconds for the just under two miles.”

—Bob Considine, On the Line—By Considine, International News Service, published in The Daily Review, Hayward, California, Vol. 62, No. 21, 20 October 1953, Page 14 at Columns 1–3

Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)

The Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine delta-winged fighter powered by a turbojet engine. It had retractable tricycle landing gear and was to operate off of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers as a high altitude interceptor. The Skyray was designed by the legendary Ed Heinemann, for which he was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1954. Two prototypes were built (Bu.Nos. 124586, 124587). It was a delta-winged aircraft, though the wingtips were significantly rounded.

The Douglas F4D-1 Skyray was 45 feet, 4¾ inches (13.837 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters). The empty weight was 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,116 pounds (12,300 kilograms).

Originally built with Allison J35-A-17 turbojet engines, both prototypes later had a Westinghouse J40-WE-8 afterburning turbojet installed. The Skyray was equipped with the Westinghouse engine when it set the speed record. Production Skyrays used a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 afterburning turbojet.

The Westinghouse J40-W-8 was a single-shaft, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. It produced 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons) at 7,600 r.p.m. The engine was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) long, 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).

Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)

The F4D-1 was the first U.S. Navy fighter able to reach supersonic speeds in level flight. The production aircraft had a maximum speed of 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour), and service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16.764 meters). Its rate of climb was 18,300 feet per minute (92.97 meters per second) and the maximum range was 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

The Skyray was armed with four Colt Mk 12 20 mm autocannon, with 65 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could also carry 2.75-inch FFAR rockets, four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, or two 2,000 pound (1,588 kilogram) bombs.

The Douglas Aircraft Company built 420 F4D-1 Skyrays. They were in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps from 1956 until 1964.

Douglas XF4D-1 124587 as a test aircraft for General Electric.
Douglas XF4D-1 Bu.No. 124587 as a flight test aircraft for General Electric, at Edwards Air Force Base, circa 1955. (U.S. Navy)

The record-setting XF4D-1 was transferred to General Electric in July 1955 and used to test GE’s J79 afterburning turbojet engine and the commercial CJ805.

XF4D-1 Bu. No. 124587 was returned to the Navy in May 1960. It is on display at the U.S. Navy Museum of Armament and Technology, NAWS China Lake, California.

Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, USN (1918–1955)
Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, USN (1918–1955)

James Bernard Verdin was born in Montana, 23 February 1918, the son of James Harris Verdin, a farmer, and Nellie Cambron Verdin. He entered the United States Navy as a Seaman, 2nd Class, 11 July 1941. His enlistment was terminated 7 January 1942 and he was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. He was assigned to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, for flight training. Verdin was commissioned as an Ensign, 18 June 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade), 1 May 1943, and then promoted to Lieutenant, 1 July 1944.

During World War II, Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, U.S.N., was a fighter pilot flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, assigned to VF-20 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6). He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while service as a Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY (VF-20), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), on a strike against the Japanese Fleet during the Battle for Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944, in the Philippine Islands. With complete disregard for his own personal safety and in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, Lieutenant Verdin attacked and scored a direct bomb hit on an enemy battleship. His outstanding courage and determined skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 046. 31 January 1945

Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats on teh flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), 30 october 1944. The aircraft carrier USS belleau Wood (CVL-24) is burning on the horizon, after being struck by a kamikaze. (U.S. navy)
Grumman F6F Hellcats on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), 30 October 1944. The aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) is burning on the horizon. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Verdin flew more than 100 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In addition to the Navy Cross, Lieutenant Commander Verdin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one gold star, and the Air Medal with five gold stars.

Verdin left the Navy in 1954 and joined Douglas as a test pilot, June 1954.

He married Miss Kathryn    and they lived in Coronado, California, near NAS North Island. They had one child. They divorced in 1948. Later, he married his second wife, Miss Muriel Carolyn Larson. They had three children and lived in Brentwood, California.

While testing a Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137815, 13 January 1955, Lieutenant Commander Verdin encountered violent vibrations during a high speed run near Victorville, California. He was forced to eject, but his parachute failed to open and he was killed. His body was not found until the following day, located 2½ miles from the crash site. Verdin was 37 years old. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, sister shop of Verdin's Skyhawk. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, sister shop of Verdin’s Skyhawk. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9871

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1942

Aggregat 4 number V4 ready for launch at Prufstand VII, 3 October 1942. (Bundesarchiv)
Aggregat 4 prototype (probably V-3) ready for launch at Prüfstand VII, August 1942. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-Anh.026-01 146-1978-Anh.026-01)

3 October 1942: First successful launch of a prototype Aggregat 4 (A4) rocket, V-4 (Versuchsmuster 4), from Prüfstand VII at Heereversuchanstalt Peenemünde, or HVP, the Army Research Center at Peenemünde on the island of Usedom, off the Baltic coast of Germany.

The rocket engine burned for 58 seconds and the rocket reached an altitude of 85–90 kilometers (53–56 miles) and traveled approximately 190 kilometers (118 miles) downrange. Although V-4 did not reach the Kármán line at 100 kilometers, the currently accepted altitude at which space begins, this Aggregat 4 is still considered to have been the first rocket to reach space.

Major General Walter Doernberger, a German military officer and doctor of engineering who was in command of the V1 and V2 development programs, said, “This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel.”

A-4 rocket launch Peenemunde, 3 October 1942. (NASM)
Aggregat 4 (prototype V-4) launch from Prüfstand VII, Peenemünde, Germany, 3 October 1942. (NASM)
V-2 rocket launch at Peenemünde, on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea. (Bundesarchiv)
Aggregat 4 (V-2) rocket launch at Peenemünde, on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea. (Bundesarchiv)
Dr. Frhr. Wernher von Braun
Dr. Frhr. Wernher von Braun

Development of the A4 began in 1938 under Dr. Frhr. Wernher von Braun. The first prototype, Versuchsmuster 1  (V-1), was being prepared for launch on 18 April 1942. During test runs of the engine, it was badly damaged and was scrapped. Prototype V-2 was launched 13 June 1942 and reached approximately 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), but the guidance system failed and the rocket crashed into the Baltic Sea a short distance from the launch site. V-3 suffered a structural failure, 16 August 1942. V-4, the fourth prototype Aggregat 4, was the first successful flight.

The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, or Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile with an empty weight of approximately 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) and weighing 28,000 pounds (12,700 kilograms), fully loaded. It carried a 738 kilogram (1,627 pound) (sources vary) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. The propellant was a 75/25 mixture of of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.

The complete rocket was 14.036 meters (46.050 feet) long, and had a maximum diameter of 1.651 meters (5.417 feet). The rocket was stabilized by four large fins, 4.035 meters (13.238 feet) long, with a maximum span of  3.564 meters (11.693 feet). The leading edge of these fins was swept 60°, and 3°. A small guide vane was at the outer tip of each fin, and other vanes were placed in the engine’s exhaust plume.

Cutaway illustration of a V-2 rocket. (U.S. Army)

When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,760 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (320 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles (142–206 kilometers), depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,880 kilometers per hour), about Mach 2.35, so its approach would have been completely silent in the target area.

The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.

V-2 launch site.
V-2 launch site.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1920

Ensign William Merrill Corry, Jr., United States Navy, March 1913. (F. Brunel/United States Navy Bureau of Personnel)

Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., United States Navy, was assigned as aviation aide to Admiral William Braid Wilson, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). On Saturday, 2 October 1920, Lieutenant Commander Corry, in company with Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Arthur C. Wagner, Reserve Force, United States Navy, flew from Mitchel Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, to Hartford, Connecticut. Their airplane was a two-place, single-engine Curtiss JN-4 biplane. The flight was intended as a cross-country flight for the two pilots to maintain proficiency.

On arrival at Hartford, because there was no airfield in the vicinity, the pair landed on the grounds of the Hartford Golf Club. They stayed over the weekend as guests of Colonel Hamilton R. Horsey, formerly chief-of-staff of the 26th Division, U.S. Army, during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives of World War I, and Lieutenant Colonel James S. Howard.

At about 3:00 p.m., on Sunday, 3 October, Corry and Wagner were ready to return to Mineola. Lieutenant (j.g.) Wagner was flying from the forward cockpit, while Lieutenant Commander Corry was in the rear cockpit.

The Curtiss took off toward the north and at about 50 feet (15 meters) altitude, turned toward the southwest. As the airplane passed over the golf course club house, Corry waved to Colonel Horsey. The airplane approached a large grove of trees, then turned right, back to the north. The engine stopped and the airplane nose-dived into the ground from about 75 feet (23 meters).

The Hartford Courant reported:

Burned wreckage of the Curtiss JN-4 biplane flown by Wagner and Corry, 2–3 October 1920. (The Hartford Courant)

     The machine hit the ground at a sharp angle and immediately turned over endwise, the propeller catching in the ground. Commander Corry was catapulted from his seat, but Wagner, who had strapped himself into his seat, was less fortunate. As the machine turned over it burst into flames, enveloping him in a wash of blazing gasoline from the broken tank.

Corry’s Bravery.

     Commander Corry, picking himself up from the ground, was the first to rush to the aid of his comrade. It was in this way that his coat caught fire with the resulting burns to his hands and face. He was unable to pull Wagner free and it was not until Walter E. Patterson of the Travelers Insurance Company, and Martin Keane, an attache of the club, added their efforts this was successfully accomplished. Club members rushed from the clubhouse with several gallons of olive and sweet oil and were on hand almost as soon as the stricken man was freed from his seat. While the burning clothing was being removed from Wagner’s body, Benjamin Allen, a porter in the club, quickly wrapped his coat around Corry’s head and thus cut off any chance of the flames reaching the officer’s nose or eyes.

     Allen then, with Corry helping, removed the coat and smothered the other smouldering pieces of clothing. Corry’s hands and face were so badly burned that not a trace of skin was left untouched. Several ribs were  also broken.

Wagner Game.

     Wagner was rolled over on the ground by willing hands to extinguish the flames and with the help of the two men who had dragged him from his place beneath the plane, such of his clothing as still remained unburned was stripped from his body to make way for dressings in olive and sweet oil, which by this time were available. He was wrapped in swaths of oil soaked linen and cotton sheeting to allay the agony of his burns. Every scrap of clothing was almost entirely consumed and his shoes were burned to a crisp. Throughout the process, Wagner, fully conscious, was directing the efforts of the willing helpers, despite the fact that his face was beyond recognition, with nose and ears burned from his head.

     He remained game even to the time when he was being tenderly lifted to the ambulance, when he thanked those who had helped telling them that he was sure they had done all they could. . .

. . . In spite of a heroic fight for life, covering nearly eight hours from the time he received his burns, Wagner died soon after 10 o’clock. The tremendous display of pluck and vitality shown by the man through all of his agony was the marvel of all the physicians and nurses in the hospital. . . .

The Hartford Courant, Monday Morning, 4 October 1920, Page 1, Column 8, and Page 2, Column 1.

Four days later, 7 October 1920,¹ Lieutenant Commander Corry also died of his injuries. He was just 31 years old.

For his bravery in attempting to rescue Lieutenant (j.g.) Wagner, Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., United States Navy, was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation reads:

“For heroic service in attempting to rescue a brother officer from a flame -enveloped airplane. On 2 October 1920,² an airplane in which Lt. Comdr. Corry was a passenger crashed and burst into flames. He was thrown 30 feet clear of the plane and, though injured, rushed back to the burning machine and endeavored to release the pilot. In so doing he sustained serious burns, from which he died 4 days later.”

Medal of Honor, United States Navy and Marine Corps, 1919–1942.

William Merrill Corry, Jr., was born 5 October 1889 at Quincy, Florida. He was the second of six children of William Merrill Corry, a tobacco dealer, and Sarah Emily Wiggins Corry.

Midshipman William Merrill Corry, Jr., U.S. Naval Academy, 1910.

“Bill” Corry was admitted to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, as a midshipman, 20 June 1906. He was a classmate of future Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. On 7 July 1910, Midshipman Corry was assigned to the 16,000 ton Connecticut-class battleship USS Kansas (BB-21). He was commissioned an Ensign, United States Navy, 7 March 1912.

Ensign Corry was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 7 March 1915. He was assigned to the naval aeronautic station (Y-13) at Pensacola, Florida, 7 July 1915. On completion of flight training, Lieutenant (j.g.) Corry was designated Naval Aviator No. 23, 16 March 1916.

26 November 1916, Lieutenant (j.g.) Correy was assigned to the Tennessee-class armored cruiser USS Seattle (ACR-11). In 1917 he was assigned to USS North Carolina (ACR-12).

The United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917. On 22 August 1917, Lieutenant (j.g.) Corry was sent to France for for duty with the U.S. Naval Aviation Forces in Europe. Corry was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, 7 March 1918. He was placed in command of the aviation school at Le Croisic, on the western coast of  France, 7 November 1917. While there he was awarded the Navy Cross, “for distinguished and heroic service as an Airplane Pilot making many daring flights over the enemy’s lines, also for untiring and efficient efforts toward the organization of U.S. Naval Aviation, Foreign Service, and the building up of the Northern Bombing project.” (The Northern Bombing Group targeted bases supporting German submarine operations.) France appointed him a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

Lieutenant Corry took command of the Naval Air Station at Brest, France, 7 June 1918. He was promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Commander, 1 July 1918. He remained at Brest until the Armistice, 11 November 1918. He was involved in the demobilization of U.S. forces in France and Belgium. He also served in various staff assignments.

Lieutenant Commander Corry was ordered to return to the United States as aide for aviation to the Chief-of-Staff Atlantic Fleet. He sailed from Antwerp, Belgium on  2 June 1920, aboard SS Finland, bound for New York.

Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, is buried at the Eastern Cemetery, Quincy, Florida.

Following his death, the United States Navy named an auxiliary landing field at Pensacola. Florida, Corry Field, in his honor. A nearby airfield assumed the name in 1928, and is presently called NAS Pensacola Corry Station.

Three United States Navy warships have also been named USS Corry. On 25 May 1921, a Clemson-class “flush-deck” or “four-stack” destroyer, USS Corry (DD-334), was commissioned. It was decommissioned in 1930.

USS Corry (DD-334), early 1920s. (Pier Studio, San Diego)

The Gleaves-class destroyer USS Corry (DD-463) was launched 28 July 1941, christened by Miss Jean Constance Corry, with Miss Sara Corry as Maid of Honor. The new destroyer was commissioned 18 December 1941. Corry is notable for its participation in anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic, sinking U-801 on 17 March 1944. Corry rescued 47 sailors from that submarine, and another 8 from U-1059, which was sunk two days later.

Corry was herself sunk by during an artillery duel with a German coastal battery off Utah Beach, Normandy, 6 June 1944. Of the destroyer’s crew of 276 men, 24 were killed and 60 were wounded. Broken in half, the ship sank in shallow water. The American Flag at her masthead remained visible above the water as the ship settled on the sea bed.

USS Corry (DD-463) prepares to rescue survivors of U-801, 17 March 1944. (U.S. Navy)

The Gearing-class destroyer USS Corry (DD-817) was commissioned 27 February 1946 at Orange, Texas. The ship’s sponsor was Miss Gertrude Corry, niece of Lieutenant Commander Corry. Corry served the U.S. Navy until decommissioned 27 February 1981 after 35 years of service. She was tuned over to Greece, and renamed HS Kriezis (D-217). The ship was finally retired in 1994, and scrapped in 2002.

USS Corry (DD-817), a Gearing-class destroyer, alongside USS Baltimore (CA-68), Mediterranean Sea, 1952. (QM2 George Panos, United States Navy)

Lieutenant (junior grade) Arthur C. Wagner, Reserve Force, United States Navy,  was born 18 August 1988. He was the son of William Wagner and Elizabeth Genting (?) Wagner.

At the time of his death, Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Ship Plane Division, Mitchel Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York. He had previously served aboard USS Nevada (BB-36). In 1919 he trained as a pilot at Naval Air Station Pensacola, and was then assigned to USS Shawmut (CM-4), a minelayer which had been reclassified as an airplane tender.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Arthur C. Wagner was buried at the Old Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 October 1920.

¹ While many sources give the date of Corry’s death as 6 October 1920, probate documents filed with the County of Gadsen court on 5 November 1920, and signed by Corry’s mother, Sarah E. Corry, give the date as 7 October 1920. Further, The Hartford Courant, in its Thursday, 7 October 1920 edition, at Page 1, Column 2 and 3, reported: “Lieutenant Commander William M. Corry, in charge of the Curtiss naval airplane which crashed to earth at Hartford Golf Club last Sunday afternoon, died at the Hartford Hospital at 2:30 o’clock this morning of burns. . . .”

² Most sources place the date of the crash as 2 October 1920. Contemporary newspapers, though, e.g., The Hartford Courant, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Chicago Tribune, reported the date as 3 October 1920.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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