Daily Archives: June 2, 2018

2 June 1986

Looking southeast across the Columbia Valley toward Mount 7, Golden, British Columbia, Canada. The 1,942-meter peak is in a cloud shadow, just to the right of the center of the image. (Golden Flying Site)

2 June 1986: Randy Haney, of Dawson Creek, British Columbia, launched his Airwave Magic IV 166 hang glider from the lower launch site on Mount 7, at an elevation of 1,560 meters (5,118 feet) above Sea Level.

Mount 7 is a 1,942-meter (6,371 feet) peak on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountain Trench, a 1,600 kilometer (1,000 miles) geologic feature crossing British Columbia and the Yukon. The peak is located just southeast of the town of Golden, B.C., which marks the beginning of a southwestern segment of the trench, known as the Columbia Valley.

Haney flew along the Columbia Valley until he crossed the international boundary between Canada and the United States. He landed at Trego, Montana. The flight covered 321.5 kilometers (199.8 miles). This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance.¹

Straight Line distance between Golden, B.C., Canada, and Trego, MT, United States. (Google Maps)

The Airwave Magic IV 166 has a wingspan of 33 feet, 8 inches (10.26 meters). The leading edge of each wing is 19 feet, 8 inches (5.99 meters) long. The chord at the wing root is 7 feet, 10 inches (2.388 meters) at the root. The hang glider weighs 62 pounds (28 kilograms).

Haney later founded Winds Italia and designed its Raven and Orbiter powered hang gliders.

¹ FAI Record File Number 1670

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 June 1957

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger II, U.S. Air Force, seated in the gondola of Project Manhigh I, 2 June 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., U.S. Air Force, seated in the gondola of Project MANHIGH I, 2 June 1957. Captain Kittinger is wearing a slightly-modified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit (S836) and ILC Dover MA-2 helmet for protection at very high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)
Project Manhigh I balloon and gondola. (U.S. Air Force)
Project MANHIGH I balloon and gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

2 June 1957: At 6:23 a.m., Central Daylight Time (11:23 UTC), Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force, lifted off from Richard E. Fleming Field (SGS), South Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the gondola of a helium balloon designed and built by Winzen Research Inc.

At 8:04 a.m. (13:04 UTC), Captain Kittinger reached a pressure altitude of 95,000 feet (28,956 meters). This was only 400 feet (122 meters) short of the balloon’s theoretical pressure ceiling. Using U.S. Weather Bureau data, the linear altitude of the balloon was calculated to have been 97,000 feet (29,566 meters).¹

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) was not asked to certify this flight, so an official record was not set.

Project MANHIGH I was intended to test various equipment and human physiology in a near-space condition. Cosmic radiation was a particular concern. This was the first of many high-altitude research balloon flights that Kittinger would make.

“… A Winzen crew conducted the launching, as provided by the Man-High contract, in collaboration with members of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and other units at Holloman. The 475th Air Base Squadron, Minneapolis, provided additional helicopter support. The vehicle was a two-million-cubic-foot plastic balloon, 172.6 feet in diameter, which quickly reached the planned ceiling altitude of 95,000 feet, setting a new record for manned balloons. Test specifications called for a twelve-hour flight. However, because of an oxygen leak (due to an improperly connected valve) and also certain communications difficulties, Colonel Stapp and Mr. Winzen decided that Captain Kittinger should come down after not quite two hours at altitude. The balloon pilot was not happy with the decision, replying by radio, “Come and get me.” But he did come down, and landed successfully at 1257 hours none the worse for his experience.

History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics, Part II, Chapter 3, NASA History Office, December 1958.

Kittinger landed next to a stream approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) south-southwest of Alma, Minnesota. The total duration of his flight was 6 hours, 36 minutes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first of six he would receive during his career in the Air Force.

Ground track of Project MAN-HIGH I balloon, 2 June 1957.
Ground track of Project MANHIGH I balloon, 2 June 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

The Project MANHIGH balloon and gondola were designed and built by Winzen Research, Inc., South St. Paul, Minnesota. The gondola was used in all three MANHIGH flights (Kittinger, June 1957; Simons, August 1957; McClure, October 1958).

The balloon was constructed of polyethelene sheet with a thickness of  2 mils (0.002 inch/0.051 millimeter). The seams were bonded using a heat-sealing technique which had been developed by Otto Winzen. When fully inflated with helium, the envelope had a volume of 2,000,000 cubic feet (56,634 cubic meters) and diameter of 172.6 feet (52.6 meters).

Illustration of Project MANHIGH gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

The gondola is 8 feet high and 3 feet in diameter (2.4 × 0.9 meters). It consisted of a cast aluminum section with 6 portholes which served as the primary load-bearing unit of the gondola. The rest of the gondola consisted of an aluminum alloy cylinder and two hemispherical end caps. The capsule was pressurized and filled with a 60-20-20 mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium.

The gondola was suspended from an open 40.4 foot (12.3 meter) diameter parachute, which was, in turn, attached the gas balloon’s suspension rigging. Four explosive devices could sever the attachments and release the gondola and parachute.

The balloon, parachute and associated equipment weighed 1,012 pounds (459 kilograms). The gondola and installed equipment weighed 598 pounds (271 kilograms) and carried another 246 pounds (112 kilograms) of used lead-acid batteries as ballast. Kittinger, with his personal equipment, food and water, added 240 pounds (109 kilograms) to the payload. Finally, there was 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of equipment for experiments, cameras and film. The total weight came to 2,166 pounds (982 kilograms).

The Project MANHIGH gondola is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Project MANHIGH gondola at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Joe Kittinger flew three combat tours during the Vietnam War for a total of 483 combat missions. On 1 March 1972, flying a McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. He was himself shot down on 11 May 1972. He and his Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich, were captured and spent 11 months at the Hanoi Hilton.

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force.
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)

Joe Kittenger holds six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for distance set with balloons. Three are still current.² In 2012, he was technical advisor for Felix Baumgartner as he set a new world record for the highest parachute jump from the Red Bull Stratos balloon and gondola.

Vera Winzen, founder and owner of Winzen Research, Inc. The Project MAN-HIGH gondola is in the background. (Joel Yale)

Winzen Research, Inc. was formed in 1949 by Otto Christian Winzen, an aeronautical engineer, and his wife, Vera M. Habrecht Winzen. Both were immigrants from Germany. Mr. Winzen had previously worked for the gas balloon laboratory of General Mills, Inc. Mrs. Winzen had borrowed money from her parents to start the company and held a 2/3 ownership of the company. She ran the factory and trained its workers. She also had four U.S. patents related to balloon construction.

Otto Christian Winzen was born 24 October 1917, at Cologne, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. He was the son of Christian Winzen and Lilly Lerche Winzen. At the age of 19, Winzen sailed from Bremen, Germany, aboard the Norddeutsche Lloyd passenger liner S.S. Europa, on 29 June 1937. He arrived at New York City, New York, United States of America, on 5 July 1937.

Winzen studied aeronautical engineering at University of Detroit Mercy, a private Roman Catholic university in Detroit, Michigan. It was the first university to offer a complete 5-year degree program in aeronautical engineering. While there, he met the world famous aeronaut, Jean Felix Picard, and his future wife, Vera Habracht.

Reportedly, during World War II, Otto Winzen was interred as an enemy alien.

Otto Winzen later married Marion Grzyll. He committed suicide 23 November 1979 (the first Mrs. Winzen’s 59th birthday).

Major David G. Simons, M.D., U,S, Air Force, at left, with the Project MANHIGH gondola, Otto C. Winzer, and Vera M. Winzer (the future Mrs. Simons), circa 1957. (Photograph by Joel Yale/LIFE Photo Collection)

Wera Maria Habrecht was born 23 November 1920 at Heidenheim, Germany. She was the first of two children of Max Theodore Habrecht, a commercial photographer, and Maya Widenmann Habrecht. The family emigrated to the United States in 1923, with Mr. Habrecht traveling there first. Mrs. Habrecht followed later with her children, Wera and Roland. They first sailed from Hamburg, Germany, 13 November 1923, to the British seaport of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, aboard the passenger/cargo ship S.S. Dewsbury. On 16 Novemberl  the family boarded S.S. Montlaurier at Liverpool, England, and then sailed for New York City. The Habrecht family settled in Detroit, Michigan.

Vera M. Habrecht, 1939. (The Triangle)

With her first name “americanized,” Vera M. Habrecht attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan, graduating in 1939. She then studied art at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis School of Art, both in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Miss Habrecht was introduced to Mr. Winzer by Professor Picard. They were married 1 February 1941, in Detroit.³ They divorced in 1958.

Mrs. Winzer was herself an aeronaut. In 1957 she competed in the 30th Annual International Gas Balloon Races in Holland.

During Project MANHIGH, she met Major David G. Simons, M.D., U.S.A.F. Major Simons flew the MANHIGH II mission, 19–20 August 1957. They were married 12 June 1959. It was the second marriage for both. This marriage also ended in divorce, 5 May 1969. Dr. Simons died 5 April 2010.

On 26 May 1975, she married her third husband, Clifford Charles La Plante, at Arlington, Virginia.

While conducting pollution research Mrs. La Plante, under the name Vera M. Simons, set a Comité International d’Aérostation (the FAI Ballooning Commission, or CIA, world record for the Longest Flight for a Female Pilot, at 133 hours, 45 minutes, 1 October 1979.⁴

Vera Maria Habrecht Winzer Simons La Plante died at Austin, Texas, 31 July 2012, at the age of 91 years.

Vera Simons with a gas balloon, Holland, 1975. (NASM)

¹ Air Force Missile Development Center Technical Report MANHIGH I, AFMDC-TR-59-24, Pages 33 and 35

² FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047

³ Some sources state that Mrs. Winzen had been married previously, and that she had a daughter from that marriage. TDiA has not found any information to support this claim.

⁴ CIA Record File Number AA002

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 June 1941

Consolidated Aircraft Corporation Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503 (SDASM Archives)

2 June 1941: Great Britain had been at war with Germany for 21 months. Its need for military equipment far exceeded the capacity of British industry, so the Empire looked across the North Atlantic Ocean to its former colonies, the United States of America.

The Royal Air Force ordered 140 Liberator B Mk.II bombers from Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, California. The Consolidated Model LB-30 was a variant of the U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 four-engine long-range heavy bomber, but was built expressly for the RAF and had no direct Air Corps equivalent.

AL503 was the first Liberator Mk.II. It had made its first flight 26 May 1941, and was ready to be turned over to the Royal Air Force.

AL503 crashed on its acceptance flight, 2 June 1941. The aircraft was destroyed and all five on board were killed.

Consolidated LB-32, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503, photographed 2 June 1941—the same day it crashed. (Consolidated Aircraft Corporation)
Consolidated Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503, photographed 2 June 1941—the same day it crashed. The four-gun upper turret is visible. The bomb bay is open. (Consolidated Aircraft Corporation)

The Associated Press reported the accident:

Big Bomber Made for Britain Crashes in San Diego Bay; Four Members of Crew Perish

SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 2—(AP)—A $250,000 four-motored Consolidated bomber crashed and sank in San Diego Bay today, shortly after taking off from Lindbergh Field. Consolidated Aircraft Corp. officials said four of the crew members apparently perished.

The 25-ton craft was camouflaged and ready for delivery to Great Britain.

William B. Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the Consolidated Aircraft Corp., apparently was at the controls. The Navy had taken over rescue operations, and details and names of crew members were not immediately available.

Witnesses said the huge plane left the airport on what appeared to be a normal takeoff, but that the bomber pulled up steep into a vertical climb instead of leveling off. At about 500 feet the plane apparently was in a stall.

The bomber then fell off to the left, and nosed down and the pilot, using the throttle appeared to have recovered. This difficulty was experienced over the airport, but by the time the pilot apparently had regained control of the craft it was flying over the water an an altitude of about 100 feet, the bomber again fell off to the left and the wing struck the water.

A Consolidated spokesman said the crash had “evidence of sabotage.”

The spokesman said the $250,000, 25-ton land bomber had been “thoroughly tested, and things like that just don’t happen.”

Believed dead were:

William Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the company.

Allen T. Austen, 28, Kansas City, Mo., assistant test pilot.

Bruce K. Craig, 27, Chicago, engineer.

William H. Rieser, 33, Cambridge, Mass.

Lewis M. McAannon, 25, Woodstock, Ill., chief mechanic, was seriously injured. ¹

The bodies of Wheatley, Craig and Austin had not been recovered from the shattered bomber.

The impact with the water shattered the bomber, witnesses said, and it sank. Navy and small fishing vessels went to the rescue. The plane went down in an area between the San Diego shoreline and the naval air station.

The bomber, called “Liberator” by the Royal Air Force, was of all-metal construction, and its type is regarded as one of the most advanced military weapons. The Liberator can travel 230 miles an hour with a full bomb load over a 3,000 mile range. Orders for the huge land bomber originally were placed by the French, then taken over by the British.

The first B-24 was delivered to the British last Feb. 15 when the craft Consolidated Aircraft officials said established a record non-stop transcontinental flight of 9 hours, 57 minutes for planes of more than 5,000 pounds gross weight.

—The Eugene Guard, Vol. 50, No. 152, Monday, June 2, 1941, at Page 1 Column 6 and Page 2, Column 2

This aerial photograph of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, shows the location of the PB4Y-2 crash site, and nearby, the position where the outer wing panel was found. (U.S. Navy)
This is a 1944 aerial photograph of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, part of an investigation of the crash of a brand-new Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer. The Pacific Ocean is at the upper left corner of the image. (U.S. Navy)

The Consolidated B-24 had first flown 29 December 1939. Chief Test Pilot Bill Wheatley was in command. Designed as a long-range heavy bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps, it was a high-wing, four-engine monoplane with dual vertical fins and rudders. It had retractable tricycle landing gear. The bomber was flown by two pilots, with the crew including a navigator, bombardier, radio operator and several gunners.

The Royal Air Force Liberator B. Mk.I was essentially a B-24A. The Liberator Mk.II, though,  was lengthened by extending the nose in front of the cockpit by 3 feet (0.914 meters). It was equipped with two power-operated gun turrets, one at the top of the fuselage, just aft of the wing, and a second at the tail.

The Liberator Mk.II was 66 feet, 4 inches (20.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 110 feet, 0 inches (33.528 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 0 inches (5.486 meters). It was heavier than the Mk.I as a result of the longer fuselage and the heavy power turrets. The maximum gross weight was 64,250 pounds (29,143 kilograms).

Consolidated LB30 Liberator II
Consolidated Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II

The LB-30/Mk.II was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-33) two-row fourteen-cylinder radial engines. These had a normal power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 6,100 feet (1,859 meters) and 1,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m at 14,500 feet. The takeoff/military power rating was 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-1830-33 was 4 feet, 0.06 inches (1.221 meters) in diameter and 5 feet, 3.48 inches (1.612 meters) long. It weighed 1,480 pounds (671 kilograms).

The Liberator Mk.II had a maximum speed of 263 miles per hour (423 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its service ceiling was 24,000 feet (7315 meters).

As was common with British bombers, the Liberator Mk.II was defended by Browning .303 Mk.II (7.7 × 56 mm) machine guns. Four were installed in the upper power turret and another four guns in the tail turret. Left and right waist positions each had two guns. One gun was mounted at the nose and one in the belly of the aircraft. This was a total of fourteen. The tail turret carried 2,200 rounds of ammunition and the top turret had 600 rounds.

Prime Minister Churchill's personal transport, "Commando," teh second Consolidated LB30 Liberator Mark II, AL504 © IWM (CH 14142)
Prime Minister Churchill’s personal transport, “Commando,” the second Consolidated LB30 Liberator Mark II, AL504. Its fuselage has been lengthened and tail surfaces from the PB4Y-2 Privateer installed. © IWM (CH 14142)

The second Liberator Mk.II, AL504, became the personal transport of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who named it Commando. In 1944, the aircraft was modified to the single vertical fin configuration of the PB4Y-2 Privateer. Commando disappeared over the Atlantic in 1945.

William Ballentine Wheatley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

William Ballantine Wheatley was born at Chester, New York, 17 December 1902, the first of three children of William A. Wheatley, a public school superintendent, and Mabel Ballantine Wheatley. He was twice married, first, about 1927, to Esther C. Wheatley, of Massachussetts. His second marriage was to Miss Grace Lenore Ray, 18 April 1935, at Washington, D.C. They would have a son and two daughters.

After two years of college, Wheatley joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, 3 March 1925. He trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, Texas, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, 13 March 1926. On 4 May 1927, Lieutenant Wheatley was assigned to the 118th Observation Squadron, 43rd Division, Air Service, at Hartford, Connecticut, as a pilot and observer. He served in the Air Corps Reserve until 1937.

In 1928, Wheatley went to work for the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He was an air mail pilot in 1928-1929, and then, in February 1929, he became a test pilot for Reuben H. Fleet’s Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. In 1935, Consolidated moved to its new headquarters at Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California. Wheatley moved with it. He and his family lived in a 3 bedroom home about three miles northeast of the airport. In 1940, his salary as chief test pilot of Consolidated was $50,000 per year. ²

Following Wheatley’s death, Beryl Arthur Erickson was assigned as chief test pilot for Consolidated.

¹ Lewis McCannon also died as a result of the crash.

² Approximately $862,500 U.S. dollars in 2017.

© 2018 Bryan R. Swopes

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2 June 1937

Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart board the Electra at San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2 June 1937. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

2 June 1937: After an overnight stay at San Juan, Puerto Rico, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan continued on Leg 6 of their around-the-world flight, to Caripito, Venezuela, approximately 611 miles (984 kilometers) southeast. They arrived at 1:18 p.m., local time.

“I rolled out of bed at a quarter of four in the morning, hoping to make a dawn take-off from San Juan, but actually the Electra did not lift her wheels from the runway until nearly seven o’clock, with the sun well above the horizon. . . I flew at 8,000 feet most of the way, bucking head winds of probably thirty miles an hour. . . The coast of Venezuela in the hazy distance was my first glimpse of South America. As we drew near I saw densely wooded mountains and between them wide valleys of open plains and jungle. I had never seen a jungle before. . .  close-knit tropic jungles are in a pilot’s eyes about the least desirable of all possible landing places. . . A muddy river wound through the mountain pass we followed, a reddish-brown snake crawling among tight-packed greenery. A few miles inland lay the red-roofed town of Caripito, with squat oil tanks on the outskirts. There was a splendid airfield, with paved runways and a well-equipped hangar. It is managed jointly by Pan American Airways and the Standard Oil Company.

—Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is greeted on her arrival at Caripito, Venezuela, 2 June 1937.
Straight line distance between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Caripito, Venezuela. (Google Maps)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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