Daily Archives: January 5, 2018

5 January 1959

Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (FAI)
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (FAI)

5 January 1959: At White Waltham, Berkshire, England, test pilots Ron Gellatly and Johnny Morton set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, flying the prototype Fairey Rotodyne, XE521, to an average speed of 307.22 kilometers per hour (190.90 miles per hour)¹ over a course from White Waltham Aerodrome to Wickham, Radley Bottom, Kintbury and back to White Waltham. The prototype was not a helicopter, but a compound gyroplane. Its record is for Class E (Rotorcraft), Sub-Class E-2 (Rotodyne).

Fairey Rotodyne XE521
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (Photograph Courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The Fairey Rotodyne was a unique aircraft. Like a helicopter, it was capable of hovering and low-speed translating flight. The main rotor had both cyclic and collective pitch and provided roll and pitch control. Unlike a helicopter, though, thrust for forward flight was provided by two turboprop engines. Varying the propellers’ pitch provided yaw control for the aircraft until about 80 knots, when the twin rudders were sufficiently effective. As the Rotodyne accelerated in forward flight, the stub wing provided increasing lift and at about 60 knots, the main rotor tip jets were turned off. The main rotor continued to turn in autorotation, as in a gyrocopter.

Flight controls were similar to those of a helicopter, with a cyclic stick and collective lever with a twist throttle. The pedals, though, rather than controlling a tail rotor, varied the propeller blades’ pitch and rudder angle. The elevators were controlled by electric trim motors.

Fairey Rotodyne XE521 in flight. (Unattributed)
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 in flight. (Unattributed)

Helicopters’ maximum speed is limited by retreating blade stall. The Rotodyne’s stub wing provided 60% of lift in cruise flight, allowing the main rotor to operate with a lower blade angle of attack, delaying the onset of the stall. With propulsion provided by the turboprop engines rather than the main rotor, blade angle is further reduced. This allowed the Rotodyne to reach higher speeds in flight than a conventional helicopter.

Also, unlike a helicopter, the Rotodyne’s rotor was not driven by engines through a gear reduction transmission, reducing the aircraft’s weight and complexity. Drive was accomplished by tip-mounted high pressure jet engines (“tip jets”), fueled by compressed air supplied by the turboprop engines and turbine fuel. There is no torque effect, so an anti-torque rotor (tail rotor) is not required. The rotor mechanism is simplified because lead-lag hinges are not necessary.

Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morton (left) with Squadron Leader Ron Gellatly. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morton (left) with Squadron Leader Ron Gellatly, Fairey Aviation Company test pilots. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

XE521 made its first flight 6 November 1957 at White Waltham with Ron Gellatly and Johnny Morton in the cockpit.

The Rotodyne’s four-blade main rotor used symmetrical airfoils. It was 90 feet (27.432 meters) in diameter and the blade tip speed was 720 feet per second (219.5 meters per second). The blades had a chord of 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meters). The rotor blades were built of steel for strength, fatigue life and resistance to corrosion. The leading edge spar was machined from a 35 foot rolled steel billet and the rear spar was fabricated of layered stainless steel. The airfoil is shaped by pierced stainless steel ribs. The steel skin was a single sheet, joined at the trailing edge.

The wing span was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The engines and main landing gear were  carried in long nacelles mounted under the wing.

The Rotodyne’s fuselage was 58 feet, 8 inches (17.812 meters) long. The cabin has a length of 46 feet (14.021 meters) and is 8 feet (2.438 meters) wide and 6 feet (1.829 meters) high, providing space for 40 passengers or up to 9,000 pounds (4,082.3 kilograms of cargo. Clamshell doors at the aft end provided for cargo loading. Overall height of the aircraft was 22 feet, 2 inches (6.756 meters).

The Rotodyne was powered by two Napier & Son Eland NEl.3 turboprop engines with a maximum rated power of 2,805 shaft horsepower and 500 pounds of thrust at 12,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. Maximum continuous power was 2,180 shaft horsepower and 420 pounds of thrust. These engines drove four-bladed Rotol propellers with a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). An auxilary compressor at the rear of the engine supplied compressed air for the main rotor tip-jets. Each engine supplied power to opposite pairs of of rotor blades at 250 °C. (482 °F.)

The prototype had an empty weight of 24,030 pounds (10,899.9 kilograms)

A video from the Fairey Aviation Film Unit can be seen at:


Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, leans out of teh cockpit after teh first flight of Fairey Rotodyne XE521, 6 November 1957. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, leans out of the cockpit after the first flight of Fairey Rotodyne XE521, 6 November 1957. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, OBE AFC, RNZAF (Retired) was born in 1920. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1940. During the last year of World War II, he commanded No. 243 Squadron, Royal Air Force. He attended the Empire Test Pilot School in 1950, and for the next four years was the helicopter flight commander at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down. In the New year’s Honors, 1 January 1954, the squadron leader was awarded the Air Force Cross. He joined Fairey Aviation as Chief Test Pilot. On 8 June 1963, Gellatly was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.After the merger with Westland Helicopters at Yeaovil in 1967, remained with the company as chief test pilot. On 1 January 1970, Squadron Leader Gellatly was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  He retired from Westland in 1976 after having made the first flight of five new helicopters, including the Lynx. He died in 1983 at the age of 62 years.

Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, in the cockpit of the Fairey Rotodyne. (Photograph from the collection of Roger J. Humm)

Lieutenant Commander John George Peter Morton, OBE, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, was born in Lancashire, 10 May 1925. At Age 17 he entered the Fleet Air Arm and was sent to the United States for flight training. He was assigned to fly the Chance Vought Corsair from the aircraft carrier HMS Colossus. (One of the airplanes he flew, Corsair KD431, is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton.)

Johnny Morton served as a test pilot on Supermarine Seafire XVs following the war, and then flew the Seafire from HMS Theseus, and then Sea Furies Sea Hawks from HMS Centaur.

John P.G. Morton
John P.G. Morton

The Royal Navy assigned Johnny Morton to Fairey Aviation as a test pilot. On 14 June 1969, Senior Test Pilot Morton was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

Morton was the lead test pilot on the Westland Wasp and the naval variant of the Westland Lynx. He made the first flight of Lynx XX469, 25 May 1972. On 21 November, XX469 suffered a tail rotor an dwas damaged beyond repair. Johnny Morton and his copilot were slightly injured. He was also the first pilot to roll the Lynx.

On 1st January 1975, John Peter George Morton was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

After retiring from Westland, Morton and his wife moved to New Zealand. Lieutenant Commander John George Peter Morton OBE, died there, 4 May 2014, at the age of 88 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13216

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 January 1956

Piasecki YH-16A-PH Transporter 50-1270 hovers in ground effect.
Piasecki YH-16A-PH Transporter 50-1270 hovers in ground effect. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)

5 January 1956: The prototype Piasecki Helicopter Company YH-16A-PH Transporter twin-turboshaft, tandem-rotor helicopter, serial number 50-1270, was returning to Philadelphia from a test flight, when, at approximately 3:55 p.m., the aft rotor desynchronized, collided with the forward rotor and the aircraft broke up in flight. It crashed at the Mattson Farm on Oldman’s Creek Road, near Swedesboro, New Jersey, and was completely destroyed.

Test pilots Harold W. Peterson and George Callahan were killed.

It was determined that a bearing associated with an internal coaxial shaft supporting test data equipment had seized, causing the rotor shaft to fail.

Harold W. Peterson (left) and George Callahan, with the prototype Piasecki YH-16A Turbo Transporter, 50-1270. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Harold W. Peterson (left) and George Callahan, with the prototype Piasecki YH-16A Turbo Transporter, 50-1270. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

At the time, the YH-16 was the largest helicopter in the world. The United States Air Force intended it as a very-long-range rescue helicopter, while the U.S. Army expected it to serve as a heavy lift cargo and troop transport.

YH-16 50-1269 was powered by two 2,181.2-cubic-inch-displacement (35.74 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp E2 (R-2180-11) two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engines with a Normal Power Rating of 1,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 8,000 feet ( meters), and 1,650 horsepower at 2,600 rp.m., for Takeoff.

The second YH-16A, 50-1270, was modified while under construction and was powered by two Allison Division YT38-A-10 turboshaft engines which produced 1,800 shaft horsepower, each. This made the YH-16A the world’s first twin-engine turbine-powered helicopter.

The Piasecki YH-16A Transporter was the world's largest helicopter in 1956. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)
The Piasecki YH-16A Transporter was the world’s largest helicopter in 1956. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)

The YH-16A had a fuselage length of 78 feet (23.774 meters), and both main rotors were 82 feet (24.994 meters) in diameter. With rotors turning, the overall length was 134 feet ( meters). Their operating speed was 125 r.p.m. Overall height of the helicopter was 25 feet (7.62 meters). The helicopter’s empty weight was 22,506 pounds (10,209 kilograms) and the gross weight was 33,577 pounds (15,230 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the YH-16A was 146 miles per hour (235 kilometers per hour). In July 1955, Peterson and Callahan had flown 50-1270 to an unofficial record speed of 165.8 miles per hour (266.83 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 19,100 feet (5,822 meters) and the maximum range for a rescue mission was planned at 1,432 miles (2,305 kilometers).

After the accident, the H-16 project was cancelled.

Prototype Piasecki YH-16A Transporter 50-1270, hovering in ground effect at Philadelphia Airport, 1955. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)
Prototype Piasecki YH-16A Transporter 50-1270, hovering in ground effect at Philadelphia Airport, 1955. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1903–5 January 1941: Amy Johnson CBE

Amy Johnson, CBE, by Sir John Longstaff. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Amy Johnson was born 1 July 1903 at Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the first of two daughters of John William Johnson and Amy Hodge Johnson. She attended The Boulevard Municipal Secondary School in Kingston before going on to the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. There, she majored in Economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.

Miss Johnson worked as a secretary for a London law firm from 1925 to 1929. She joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane, where one of her flight instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, M.C., A.F.C., a World War I fighter pilot who would later co-found the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight. Johnson was issued a Pilot’s Certificate and License (#1979) by the Air Ministry of Great Britain, 6 July 1929. This was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and in December 1929, became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic).

With the financial assistance of her father and of Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, the founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (better known as Castrol), she purchased a one-year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had previously been owned by Air Taxis Ltd., of Stag Lane (a company formed by G.B.H. “Rex” Mundy and Captain W. Laurence Hope) and first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.

Miss Amy Johnson with her de Havilland DH-60G Gipsy Moth, G-AAAH, at Stag Lane, 5 May 1930. (Central Press/Getty Images)

On 5 May 1929, Amy Johnson and Jason took off from Croyden Aerodrome on a 19-day, 11,000-mile (17,700 kilometer) journey to Australia. She arrived at Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May. For her accomplishment, she won a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, a London newspaper. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.

Amy Johnson lands at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 24 May 1930. (Fox Photo/Getty Images)

In the King’s Birthday Honours, announced 3 June 1930, George V, King of the United Kingdom and British Dominions, appointed Amy Johnson a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.


St. James’s Palace, S.W.1

3rd June, 1930.

     The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday, to give orders for the following promotions in, and appointments to, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire :—

To be Commanders of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order :—

Miss Amy Johnson, in recognition of her outstanding flight to Australia.

Supplement to the London Gazette, Number 33611, Tuesday, 3 June, 1930, at Page 3481

Amy Johnson made a number of record setting long-distance flights, both solo and with other pilots, one of whom was James Allan Mollison. Mollison proposed marriage only a few hours after first meeting her. They married in July 1932. She soon after set a new record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”

The couple made a transatlantic flight, another flight from Britain to India, and competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. She was twice elected president of the Women’s Engineering Society.

Amy Johnson’s record-breaking Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADZO, at Gravesend, Kent, 4 May 1936. (Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library)

In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, in the United States, where she studied advanced navigation under P. V. H. Weems, the acknowledged world authority in celestial navigation. (Among other devices, Weems invented the Weems Mark II Plotter, which every student pilot the world over would immediately recognize.)

Amy Johnson, CBE, at Annapolis, Maryland, 3 May 1937. (Baltimore Sun)

Mr. and Mrs. Mollison divorced in 1938.

During World War II, Amy Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. (Fellow record-setter Jackie Cochran also flew for the ATA before returning to America to found the WASPs.) Johnson held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant.

Airspeed AS.10 Oxford

On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.

The following morning, 5 January, although weather was very poor with falling snow limiting visibility, Johnson departed Squires Gate at approximately 10:30 a.m., to continue her assignment. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.

What took place thereafter is not known. There was speculation that she was unable to land at Kidlington due to poor weather and continued flying east, perhaps finally running out of fuel.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson bailed out of the Oxford and parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The airplane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.

Amy Johnson’s parachute was seen by the crew of HMS Haslemere, a barrage balloon tender assigned to the Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage in the Estuary. They attempted to rescue her and in the process, the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Edmund Fletcher, Royal Navy, dove into the water. In the cold temperatures and rough conditions, Fletcher died. For his effort to rescue Johnson, he was awarded the Albert Medal, posthumously.

HMS Haslemere, a 220.7 foot (69.82 meter), 832 gross ton, two-engine, twin-screw cargo steamer, built at Glasgow, 1925. (Roy Thornton Collection via Dover Ferry Forums)

Amy Johnson is presumed to have drowned. Her body was not recovered. Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found soon after.

In recent years, stories have emerged that the AS.10 was shot down after Johnson twice gave the incorrect response to a radio challenge. Tom Mitchell, an anti-aircraft gunner of the 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, at Iwade, a small village along the shore of the Thames Estuary, said in 1999 that he shot her down under orders, firing 16 shells at the Oxford. The men of the battery were ordered to never mention the incident. There were contemporary reports that a destroyer had also fired on Johnson, though the Admiralty denied this.

More recently, former crewmen of HMS Haslemere have said that, rather than having drowned, Amy Johnson was killed by the ship’s propellers as it maneuvered to pick her up.

Official telegram notifying Amy Johnson’s parents of her death. (Royal Air Force Museum)

What is known, however, is that Flight Officer, Amy Johnson, C.B.E., died in the service of her country.

Amy Johnson, C.B.E., B.A., A.R.Ae.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.E., M.W.E.S., was a legendary pioneering aviator. Her accomplishments are far greater, and her skills as a pilot superior, to those of others who may have achieved greater public acclaim (especially in the United States). She is one of the great individuals in the history of aviation.

First Officer Amy Johnson, CBE, Air Transport Auxiliary, circa 1940. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 January 1939

Amelia Mary Earhart (Harris & Ewing)
Judge Clarence Elliot Craig

5 January 1939: After she had been missing for 18 months, Judge Clarence Elliot Craig of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles County declared Amelia Mary Earhart legally dead in absentia,¹ at the request of her husband, George Palmer Putnam II. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937.

George Palmer Putnam and Amelia Earhart had met in 1928 while he was interviewing prospects for a transatlantic flight to be sponsored by Mrs. Amy Phipps Guest. She was selected to make the flight and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, aboard Donald Woodward’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship, which was flown by Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon. (See This Day in Aviation, 17–18 June 1928) They were married 7 February 1931 at his parents’ home in Noank, Connecticut.

George Palmer Putnam leaves the Los Angeles Superior Court after missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart was declared dead in absentia, 5 January 1939. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library.)

Judge Craig appointed Mr. Putnam as the executor of Earhart’s estate, which contemporary news reports said was “estimated at more than $10,000.”

Less than five months later, on 21 May 1939, Mr. Putnam married Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigny James, an author, at Boulder City, Nevada. This was Putnam’s third marriage. It would end in divorce in 1945.

Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigny James Putnam and George Palmer Putnam, Chicago, Illinois, 23 May 1939. (Associated Press Photo)

¹ Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles, Probate Case File 181709

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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