Daily Archives: May 27, 2018

27 May 1958

Robert C. Little with YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259. (McDonnell Douglas)
Robert C. Little with McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, the second prototype. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

27 May 1958: At Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s Chief Test Pilot (and future company president) Robert C. Little made the first flight of the YF4H-1 prototype. The twin-engine Mach 2+ airplane was the first pre-production model of a new U.S. Navy fleet defense interceptor that would be developed into the legendary F-4 Phantom II fighter bomber.

The flight lasted 22 minutes. Little had planned to go supersonic but a leak in a pressurized hydraulic line caused him to leave the landing gear extended as a precaution, should the back-up hydraulic system also have a problem. This limited the maximum speed of the prototype to 370 knots (426 kilometers per hour). A post-flight inspection found foreign-object damage to the starboard engine.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259 on its first flight 27 May 1958.
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, on its first flight, 27 May 1958. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

Initially designated XF4H-1 and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259, the identifier was changed to YF4H-1. It had been in development for over five years based on a company proposal to the Navy.

The McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II was 56 feet, 7.9 inches (17.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 4.89 inches (11.707 meters) and overall height of 16 feet, 3.0 inches (4.953 meters). With wings folded, the airplane’s span was narrowed to 27 feet, 6.6 inches (8.397 meters). The wings were swept 45°, measured at 25% chord. The inner wing had no dihedral, while the outer panels had 12° dihedral. The stabilator had a span of 16 feet, 5.0 inches (5.004 meters), with -23.25° anhedral. The wheelbase of Phantom II’s tricycle undercarriage was 23 feet, 3.25 inches (7.093 meters), with a main wheel tread of 17 feet, 10.46 inches (5.447 meters).

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Lambert Field, St. Louis. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporations)

The YF4H-1 prototype was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-2 engines. These were single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engines with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-2 was rated at 10,350 pounds of thrust (46.039 kilonewtons), and 16,150 pounds (71.389 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engines were 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches in diameter (0.973 meters), and each weighed 3,620 pounds (1,642 kilograms).

The production F4H-1 (F-4B) had a maximum speed of 845 miles per hour (1,360 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,485 miles per hour (2,390 kilometers per hour) at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters meters). (Mach1.11 and Mach 2.25, respectively). The service ceiling was 62,000 feet (18,898 meters) and maximum range with external fuel was 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers).

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu.No. 142259.
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation prototype YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259.

The second prototype YF4H-1, Bu. No. 142260, flown by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., USN, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude, 6 December 1959, when it zoom-climbed to 30,040 meters (98,556 feet).¹ On 22 November 1961, 142260, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, USMC, also set an FAI World Record for Speed over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, averaging 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour).² On 5 December 1961, the same Phantom set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight at 20,252 meters (66,444 feet) with Commander George W. Ellis, USN, in the cockpit.³

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, during Project Top Flight. (U.S. Navy)

The F-4A through F-4D Phantoms were armed with four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing air-to-air missiles, and could carry additional Sparrows or AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles on pylons under the wings. Up to 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs could be carried on five hardpoints.

McDonnell Aircraft built two YF4H-1 prototypes, followed by 45 F4H-1F (F-4A) Phantom IIs before the F-4B was introduced in 1961. 649 F-4Bs were produced. The initial U.S. Air Force variant was the F-110A Spectre (F-4C Phantom II). McDonnell Douglas delivered its last Phantom II, an F-4E-67-MC, on 25 October 1979. In 21 years, the company had built 5,057 Phantom IIs.

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78,0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas)
McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78,0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas)

After 11 test flights at St. Louis, Bob Little flew the YF4H-1 west to Edwards Air Force Base in California where more detailed flight testing and evaluation took place.

On 21 October 1959, a failure of an engine access door led to a cascading series of problems which resulted in the loss of the airplane and death of the pilot, Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck.

Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with a prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II. Huelsbeck is wearinga Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraaft Corporation)
Test Pilot Gerald Huelsbeck with the first prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142259, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. “Zeke” Huelsbeck is wearing a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259, seen from above. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142259, seen from above. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10352

² FAI Record File Number 9060

³ FAI Record File Number 8535

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1002)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1002)
Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, was awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty King George VI at a ceremony at RAF Scampton, Licolnshire, England. Wing Commander Gibson received the medal for his leadership of No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, during Operation Chastise, an attack on Germany’s Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, 16–17 May 1943.

The Victoria Cross ranks with the George Cross as the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry.

The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, with the first recipients being personnel honored for their gallantry during the Crimean War.

The bronze cross pattée, which bears the inscription “FOR VALOUR,” is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean campaign. The Victoria Cross is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant Les Munro from New Zealand. Wing Commander Guy Gibson is on the right and Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Commander of No 5 Group is behind Flight Lieutenant Munro and to the right. (Imperial War Museum TR 999)
His Majesty The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Munro, Royal New Zealand Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. Wing Commander Gibson is on the right, facing Munro. (Imperial War Museum TR 999)

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 09.40.32Air Ministry, 28th May, 1943.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

Acting Wing Commander Guy Penrose GIBSON, D.S.O., D.F.C. (39438), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 617 Squadron: —

     This officer served as a night bomber pilot at the beginning of the war and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding operational pilot. In addition to taking the fullest possible share in all normal operations, he made single-handed attacks during his “rest” nights on such highly defended objectives as the German battleship Tirpitz, then completing in Wilhelmshaven.

     When his tour of operational duty was concluded, he asked for a further operational posting and went to a night-fighter unit instead of being posted for instructional duties. In the course of his second operational tour, he destroyed at least three enemy bombers and contributed much to the raising and development of new night-fighter formations.

     After a short period in a training unit, he again volunteered for operational duties and returned to night bombers. Both as an operational pilot and as leader of his squadron, he achieved outstandingly successful results and his personal courage knew no bounds. Berlin, Cologne, Danzig, Gdynia, Genoa, Le Creusot, Milan, Nuremberg and Stuttgart were among the targets he attacked by day and by night.

     On the conclusion of his third operational tour, Wing Commander Gibson pressed strongly to be allowed to remain on operations and he was selected to command a squadron then forming for special tasks. Under his inspiring leadership, this squadron has now executed one of the most devastating attacks of the war—the breaching of the Moehne and Eder dams.

     The task was fraught with danger and difficulty. Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the antiaircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn.

     Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed.

     Wing Commander Gibson has completed over 170 sorties, involving more than 600 hours operational flying. Throughout his operational career, prolonged exceptionally at his own request, he has shown leadership, determination and valour of the highest order.

The London Gazette, Tuesday, 25 May 1943, No. 3630 at Page 2361

Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson VC, 1944. © IWM (CH 13618)
Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, 1944. © IWM (CH 13618)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8–27 May 1919

Curtiss Aeroplne and Motor Company NC A2282, NC-4. (U.S. Navy)
Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company NC A2294, NC-4. (U.S. Navy)

27 May 1919: NC-4, designating number A2294, one of three United States Navy Curtiss NC flying boats, arrived at the harbor of Lisbon, Portugal, becoming the first airplane to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Lieutenant Commander Albert Cushing Read, United States Navy, Aircraft Commander, NC-4. (National Photograph Company Collections, Library of Congress)
Lieutenant Commander Albert Cushing Read, United States Navy, Aircraft Commander, NC-4. (National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress)

NC-4 was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Albert Cushing Read, United States Navy, who also served as navigator. The pilots were First Lieutenant Elmer Fowler Stone, United States Coast Guard, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Walter T. Hinton, U.S. Navy. Lieutenant James L. Breese, USN and Chief Machinist Mate Eugene S. Rhoads, USN, were the engineers. Ensign Herbert C. Rodd, USN, was the radio operator.

Aboard the other aircraft were several officers who would rise to high rank in the Navy: Commander John Henry Towers would later command the Pacific Fleet; Lieutenant Marc A. Mitscher commanded the Fast Carrier Task Force during World War II, and later commanded the Atlantic Fleet. Lieutenant Patrick N.L. Bellinger commanded Patrol Wing 2 at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and would go on to command Naval Air Forces, Atlantic Fleet.

Three Curtiss flying boats, NC-1 (A2291), NC-3 (A2293) and NC-4 (A2294), under the command of Commander Towers in NC-3, departed Naval Air Station Rockaway, New York City, New York, United States of America, at 10:00 a.m., 8 May 1919, and flew to NAS Chatham, Massachusetts.

During the flight, NC-4 developed an oil leak from the center pusher engine, so it was shut down. This slowed the airplane but it was still able to continue. In mid-afternoon, however, the center tractor engine suffered a failed connecting rod. With only two engines operating, NC-4 was forced down at sea, approximately 80 miles (129 kilometers) from Chatham. The sea was calm and the flying boat taxied the remaining distance on the water. It arrived there at 7:00 a.m., 9 May.

Curtiss NC-4, 1 October 1919. (New Bedford Whaling Museum)
Curtiss NC-4, 1 October 1919. (New Bedford Whaling Museum)

At the air station, the failed engine was replaced with a 300 horsepower Liberty L12, the only spare engine available. The leaking engine was repaired.

Delayed several days by weather, NC-4 departed NAS Chatham at 9:15 a.m., 14 May, and flew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the Canadian Maritimes, landing there  at 1:07 p.m. Continuing on to Newfoundland that day would have had them arriving after dark.

NC-4 took off from the waters of Halifax the following morning at 11:47 a.m., and arrived at Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland, at 5:41 p.m., rendezvousing with the aircraft tender USS Aroostook (CM-3). NC-1 and NC-3 had arrived two days earlier.

Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland, May 1919. The white-hulled ship at the center is the aircraft tender USS Aroostook (CM-3). (Library of Congress)

All three airplanes were serviced from the tender. The temporary 300 horsepower Liberty engine which had been installed on NC-4 was replaced with a correct 400 horsepower engine.

NC-4 departs Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland, 16 May 1919. (U.S. Navy)
NC-4 departs Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland, 16 May 1919. (U.S. Navy)

The three Curtiss flying boats took off from Trepassey Bay at 6:00 p.m. on the evening of 16 May and headed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Azores.

NC-1 and NC-3 were both forced down by rain, heavy clouds and thick fog about 200 miles short of their destination. NC-1 was damaged and unable to continue. The crew was rescued by a Greek freighter and the airplane taken in tow, but it sank several days later. NC-3 drifted for two days on surface of the Atlantic, and coming within sight of land, two engines were started and the airplane taxied into the harbor at Ponta Delgada, Ilha de São Miguel.

NC-3 off Punta Delgada, Azores, 19 May 1919. (U.S. navy)
NC-3 off Ponta Delgada, Ilha de São Miguel, Azores, 19 May 1919. (U.S. navy)

NC-4 deviated from its planned course and landed at Horta, on Faial Island, at 1:23 p.m., 17 May. Weather kept NC-4 at Horta for the next few days, until at 8:45 a.m. on the 20th, it took off and flew to Ponta Delgado, landing there just two hours later.

NC-4 departing Ponta del Gada, Azores for Lisbon, Portugal. (National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress)
NC-4 departing Ponta Delgada, Ilha de São Miguel, Azores, for Lisbon, Portugal, 27 May 1919. (National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress)

Again, NC-4 was forced to remain in harbor waiting for favorable weather. On 27 May, it was good enough to resume the journey, and the crew once again took off, this time enroute to Lisbon, Portugal.

At 8:01 p.m., 27 May 1919, NC-4 touched down on the Tagus Estuary, Lisbon, and became the very first airplane to complete a flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Curtiss NC-4 at Lisbon, Portugal, 27 May 1919.
Curtiss NC-4 at Lisbon, Portugal, 27 May 1919.
The flight crew of NC-4. Left to right: Chief Machinist Mate Eugene S. Rhoads, USN; Lieutenant James L. Breese, USN; Lieutenant (j.g.) Walter T. Hinton, USN; Lieutenant Elmer F. Stone, USCG; Lieutenant Commander Albert Cushing Read, USN. Ensign Herbert C. Rodd is not in this photograph. (U.S. Navy)
The flight crew of NC-4 at Lisbon, Portugal, 28 May 1919. Left to right: Chief Machinist Mate Eugene S. Rhoads, USN; Lieutenant James L. Breese, USN; Lieutenant (j.g.) Walter T. Hinton, USN; First Lieutenant Elmer Fowler Stone, USCG; Lieutenant Commander Albert Cushing Read, USN. Ensign Herbert C. Rodd, USN, is not in this photograph. (U.S. Navy)

NC-4 was the fourth of ten NC flying boats designed and built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, Garden City, New York. It was a 3-bay biplane with a boat hull, powered by four engines installed in three nacelles between the upper and lower wings.

There were variations between the individual aircraft. NC-4’s hull was built by Herreschoff Manufacturing Company, at Bristol, Rhode Island. The hull was constructed of two layers of spruce planking with a layer of muslin and marine glue between. It was 45 feet (13.7 meters) long with a beam of 10 feet (3.0 meters and depth of 9 feet (2.7 meters).

The Curtiss NC-4 was 68 feet, 3 inches (20.803 meters) long with an upper wingspan of 126 feet, 0 inches (38.405 meters) and lower span of 96 feet, 0 inches (29.261 meters). The upper wing and the center section of the lower had no dihedral, while the lower wings’ outer panels had 3° dihedral. Their vertical gap varied from 13 feet, 6½ inches (4.128 meters), inboard, to 12 feet, 0 inches (3.658 meters). The chord was 12 feet, 0 inches (3.658 meters), and the lower wing was very slightly staggered behind the upper. The total wing area was 2,380 square feet (221.1 square meters). The biplane-configured horizontal stabilizers had an upper span of 37 feet, 11 inches (11.252  meters), no dihedral, and the vertical gap was 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). Their total surface area was 330 square feet (30.7 square meters). The overall height of the flying boat was 24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters).

The empty weight of NC-4 is 15,874 pounds (7,200 kilograms) and it has a gross weight of 26,386 pounds (11,968 kilograms).

This Ford-built Liberty 12 Model A at the National Air and Space Museum was one of four engines powering NC-4 during its transatlantic flight in 1919. (NASM)
This water-cooled, 1,649.3-cubic-inch (27.028 liter) Ford-built Liberty 12 Model A single-overhead-camshaft V-12 engine at the National Air and Space Museum was one of four engines powering NC-4 during its transatlantic flight in May 1919. (NASM)

Originally built with three engines, flight testing led to the addition of a fourth. These were water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engines with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor (left-hand pusher), direct-drive engine. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms). Two were mounted in a center nacelle with one in tractor and one in pusher configuration. Two more were in individual nacelles in tractor configuration. The engines drove four-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propellers.

NC-4 had a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour), a service ceiling of 4,500 feet (1,372 meters) and range of 1,470 miles (2,366 kilometers).

NC-4 was restored by the Smithsonian Institution during the early 1960s and remains a part of its collection, though it is on long term loan to the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida.

Curtiss NC-4 (Smithsonian Institution)
Curtiss NC A2294, NC-4.(Smithsonian Institution)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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