Daily Archives: September 29, 2018

29 September 1965

After decades sitting outside, the Strategic Air Command’s very first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, is now in a protected environment.

29 September 1965: Ten years after it entered service, the first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was retired to the Strategic Aerospace Museum, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

52-8711 had arrived at Castle Air Force Base, California, 29 June 1955, and was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy). It later served with the 22nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at March Air Force Base, California.

Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), March AFB, 1965. Compare this photograph to the image above. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1954

McDonnell F-101A Voodoo 53-2418. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

29 September 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Robert C. Little made the first flight of the first F-101A-1-MC Voodoo, 53-2418. During this flight, the new interceptor reached 0.9 Mach at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).

The F-101A was a development of the earlier McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo and all were production aircraft. There were no prototypes.

This is an autographed photo of test pilot Robert C. Little standing in the cockpit of the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo, 53-2418, after its first flight, 29 September 1954. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers.)
This is an autographed photo of test pilot Robert C. Little standing in the cockpit of the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo, 53-2418, after its first flight, 29 September 1954. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers.)

Robert C. Little flew P-51 Mustang fighters during World War II. He joined McDonnell Aircraft Corporation as a test pilot in 1948. He flew the FH Phantom, and made the first flights of the F3H Demon, the F-101A Voodoo and the F-101B. He was next assigned as McDonnell’s chief test pilot and base manager at Edwards Air Force Base. He the made the first flight of the YF4H-1 Phantom II and conducted the early company tests of the airplane, then became the F4H program manager.

Outside the cockpit, Little rose through the company’s ranks and after the merger with Douglas, became a corporate vice president, overseeing the operations of McDonnell-Douglas at St. Louis and McDonnell-Douglas Helicopters at Mesa, Arizona.

mcDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right front quarter view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right front view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right profile. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right profile. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right rear quarter view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418, right rear view. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell F-101A Voodoo was a single-seat twin-engine supersonic interceptor. It was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters) and overall height of 18 feet (5.486 meters). The total wing area was 368 square feet (34.19 square meters). The wings’ sweep was 36° 36′ at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 1°. There was no twist or dihedral. The F-101A weighed 24,970 pounds (11,326 kilograms) empty and had maximum takeoff weight of 49,998 pounds (22,679 kilograms).

Power was supplied by two Pratt & Whitney J57-P-13 axial-flow turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 maximum continuous power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons); military power, 10,200 pounds (45.37 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit); and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5 minute limit). The -P-13 was  3 feet, 4.3 inches (1.024 meters) in diameter, 17 feet, 7.0 inches (5.359 meters) long, and weighed 5,025 pounds (2,279 kilograms).

The F-101A had a maximum speed of 866 knots (997 miles per hour/1,604 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 45,800 feet (13,960 meters). The airplane’s combat radius was 1,011 nautical miles (1,163 statute miles/1,872 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 2,541 nautical miles (2,924 statute miles/4,706 kilometers)

The Voodoo was armed with four 20mm M39 autocannons with 200 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could carry a single Mark 7, Mark 28 or Mark 43 tactical nuclear bomb.

Of 807 F-101 Voodoos built, 77 were F-101As.

McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2416 in flight, bottom view. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-101A-1-MC Voodoo 53-2418 in flight, bottom view. (U.S. Air Force)

F-101A 53-2418 was transferred to General Electric for testing the J79 afterburning turbojet engine which would later power the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. In this configration it was designated NF-101A. General Electric returned the Voodoo to the Air Force in 1959. By that time obsolete, it was used as a maintenance trainer at Shepard Air Force Base, Texas.

53-2418 was next turned over to a civilian aviation maintenance school and assigned a civil registration number by the Federal Aviation Administration, N9250Z. The airplane was sold as scrap, but was purchased by Mr. Dennis Kelsey. In 2009, Mrs. Kelsey had the airplane placed in the care of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. After being partially restored by Evergreen Air Center, Marana, Arizona, 53-2418 was placed on display at the Evergreen Museum.

McDonnell JF-101A 53-2418, general Electric's test bed for the J79 turbojet engine. (Unattributed)
McDonnell NF-101A 53-2418, General Electric’s test bed for the J79-GE-1 turbojet engine. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September–1 October 1946

The world record-setting flight crew of The Turtle, left to right, Commander Eugene P. Rankin, Commander Thomas D. Davies, Commander Walter S. Reid and Lieutenant Commander Ray A. Tabeling. (FAI)
The world record-setting flight crew of The Turtle, left to right, Commander Eugene P. Rankin, Commander Thomas D. Davies, Commander Walter S. Reid and Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Tabeling, at Perth, Western Australia. (FAI)

29 September–1 October 1946: The third production Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 89082, departed Perth, Western Australia, enroute to the United States, non-stop. The aircraft commander was Commander Thomas D. Davies, United States Navy. Three other pilots, Commanders Eugene P. Rankin and Walter S. Reid, and Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Tabeling, completed the crew.

The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate the long-distance capabilities of the Navy’s new bomber. A memorandum from Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, to the Secretary of the Navy suggested:

“For the purpose of investigating means of extension of present patrol aircraft ranges, physiological limitations on patrol plane crew endurance and long-range navigation by pressure pattern methods, it is proposed to make a nonstop flight of a P2V-1 aircraft from Perth, Australia, to Washington, D.C., with the possibility, weather permitting, of extending the flight to Bermuda.”

Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle, at Perth, Australia. (FAI)
Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle, at Perth, Western Australia. (FAI)

The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation P2V Neptune was a twin-engine, long-range patrol bomber normally operated by a crew of eight. The first production variant, the P2V-1, was 75 feet, 4 inches (22.962 meters) long with a wingspan of 100 feet (30.48 meters) and overall height of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters). Empty weight was 33,720 pounds (15,295 kilograms) and gross weight was 61,153 pounds (27,739 kilograms).

The P2V-1 Neptune was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Cyclone 18 779C18BB1  (R-3350-8), two-row 18-cylinder radial engines (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone). These engines were rated at 2,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 2,400 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m for takeoff. They drove four-bladed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-8 was 6 feet, 5.8 inches (1.976 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.12 inches (12.375 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,796 pounds (1,268 kilograms)

These engines gave the P2V-1 a maximum speed of 303 miles per hour (488 kilometers per hour) at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters). The service ceiling was 27,000 feet (8,230 meters) and range was 4,110 miles (6,614 kilometers).

Standard armament consisted of six .50-caliber machine guns, two torpedoes carried in the internal bomb bay, conventional bombs or up to twelve depth charges. Nuclear weapons could also be carried. Sixteen rockets could be carried under the wings.

The Turtle was modified by Lockheed to achieve the maximum possible range. All armament was deleted, including the nose gun turret. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the bomb bay, rear fuselage and the outer wings. Wing tip fuel tanks were also added. These could be jettisoned when empty to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. Most electronic and other unnecessary equipment, such as crew oxygen, were also removed. An additional lubricating oil tank for the engines was installed in the nose gear bay.

The standard configuration R-3350-8 engines were replaced with two Wright Cyclone 18 779C18BB2s (R-3350-14). The -14 had the same normal power rating as the -8, but its takeoff power had been decreased to 2,300 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. Its propeller gear reduction was 0.5625:1. The dimensions were the same, but the -14 weighed 65 pounds (29 kilograms) less.

Four Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) rockets were added, with two on each side of the fuselage.

The Turtle, Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082 demonstrates a JATO takeoff. The airplane is not carrying wingtip fuel tanks in this photograph. (U.S. Navy)
The Turtle, Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082 demonstrates a JATO takeoff. The airplane is not carrying wingtip fuel tanks in this photograph. (U.S. Navy)

The flight began at Pearce Aerodrome, six miles inland from the Indian Ocean, north of Perth, Western Australia. Because of concerns that the landing gear might collapse with the extreme overloaded condition, The Turtle was only partially fueled when it taxied to Runway 27. Once there, the fueling was completed, bringing the Neptune’s all-up weight to 85,561 pounds (38,810 kilograms)—24,408 pounds (11,071 kilograms)—12 tons beyond its normal gross weight.

At 6:00 p.m., the two Cyclone 18 engines were started and warmed up. With Commander Davies flying in the left seat and Commander Rankin in the right, the engines were advanced to takeoff power while Davies stood on the brakes. With instruments reading normal, he released the brakes and The Turtle began its takeoff roll. The time was 6:11 p.m., local.

As indicated airspeed reached 87 knots (100 miles per hour/161 kilometers per hour) the four JATO rockets were fired. Reaching 115 knots (132 miles per hour/213 kilometers per hour) the nose wheel lifted off the runway followed a few seconds later by the main wheels. With just 5 feet (1.5 meters) altitude, the landing gear was retracted. By the time the JATOs burned out, the P2V-1 had climbed to 20 feet (6 meters) and reached 130 knots. (150 miles per hour/241 kilometers per hour) Once over the Indian Ocean the four JATO rockets were jettisoned.

This was the heaviest takeoff by a two-engine airplane up to that time.

The overweight airplane very slowly gained altitude as it crossed over Australia and then the Coral Sea. The planned route was a Great Circle Course over New Guinea and then the Solomon Islands.

With four pilots aboard, the crew rotated positions every two hours.

U.S. Navy Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune, Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle. (U.S. Navy)
U.S. Navy Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune, Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle. (U.S. Navy)

By dawn of the second day airborne, The Turtle crossed over the Hawaiian Islands chain at Maro Reef, between Midway and Oahu. Headwinds were pushing the patrol bomber southward of the intended course, but Commander Davies elected to allow the airplane to drift as correcting for it would have slowed their flight by turning more directly into the wind and would use more fuel. The planned route would have crossed the West Coast of the United States near Seattle, Washington, but the actual landfall was several hundred miles to the south, along the northern California coast.

The empty wing tip tanks were jettisoned before they crossed the shoreline just north of San Francisco at 9:16 p.m., 30 September.

As The Turtle flew across the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, and the western United States, it encountered severe weather with turbulence, freezing rain, snow and ice. They passed Salt Lake City, Utah, at dawn of the third day. Weather conditions had improved.

The adverse weather had cost additional fuel and calculations indicated that the planned destination of Washington, D.C., was now beyond their range. Commander Davies decided that the flight would end at NAS Columbus, Ohio.

The Lockheed Neptune’s wheels touched down at 1:28 p.m, 1 October. The four Naval Aviator’s and their bomber had flown 18,081.99 kilometers (11,235.63 miles). This set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing.¹ The duration of the flight was 55 hours, 17 minutes.

The Turtle taxiing. (U.S. Navy)
The Turtle taxiing. (U.S. Navy)

Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal awarded each pilot the Distinguished Flying Cross.

P2V-1 Bu. No. 89082 was used as a test aircraft until it was retired in 1953 and put on display at NAS Norfolk, Virginia.

The last operational antisubmarine warfare flight by a Lockheed Neptune, an SP-2H, was flown 20 February 1970. The co-pilot on the mission was Rear Admiral Thomas D. Davies.

The Turtle, Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082 is a part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. It is on loan to the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Lockheed P2V-1 neptune Bu. No. 89082 at the Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida. (Greg Goebel)
Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082, The Turtle, at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida. (Greg Goebel)
This cartoon and the name, The Turtle, was painted on each side of the nose of Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082. (U.S. Navy)
This cartoon and the name, The Turtle, was painted on each side of the nose of Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082. (U.S. Navy)

Note on the name of the airplane: The Turtle was named after Operation Turtle,  a joint U.S. Navy/Lockheed project to maximize the range and endurance of the P2V Neptune patrol bomber. The name with a cartoon of a turtle with a naval officer’s cap and a cape, smoking a pipe and pedaling to turn a propeller was painted on the airplane’s nose. U.S. Navy press releases called it “The Truculent Turtle” and newspapers picked up this nickname, by which the airplane is generally referred to. There is no evidence that the airplane’s crew ever described the airplane as “truculent”:

“. . . having a bad state of mind, or behaving in a threatening manner. . . .”

 Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary.

A more detailed account of the flight of The Turtle can be found at :

http://www.maritimepatrolassociation.org/documents/heritage/Truculent_Turtle_1946.pdf

¹ FAI Record File Number 9275

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1931

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 at the London Science Museum

29 September 1931: After waiting all day for the fog to clear, at 5:49 p.m., Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight at RAF Calshot, made a 43-second takeoff run and began an attempt to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course. ¹ His airplane was a Supermarine S.6B, number S.1595, the same seaplane that won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider race on 13 September.

The High-Speed Flight had originally intended to use the second S.6B, S.1596, fitted with a specially-prepared Rolls-Royce Type R engine, for the 3 kilometer record attempt. S.1596 had been damaged on landing after a test flight, 16 September. While being towed back to RAF Calshot, the airplane sank. Fortunately, the special speed record engine, number R27, was not installed in S.1596 at the time of the accident.

Supermarine S.6B S.1595

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 had engine R27 installed, along with a new airscrew provided by Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. Also new was the fuel mixture of “wood alcohol” (methanol), gasoline and ethanol, being used in the engine for the first time.

During the speed runs, the High-Speed Flight squadron engineering officer flew along the course at an altitude of 400 meters, carring a sealed barograph. This would later be used to calibrate the time measurements.

The course was flown between Hill Head and Lee-on-Solent, on the Hampshire shoreline, with Flight Lieutenant Stainforth making four runs, two in each direction, to minimize the effect of winds.

The runs were:

Run 1: 415.2 miles per hour (668.2 kilometers per hour)

Run 2: 405.1 miles per hour (651.9 kilometers per hour)

Run 3: 409.5 miles per hour (659.0 kilometers per hour)

Run 4: 405.4 miles per hour (652.4 kilometers per hour)

Average: 408.8 miles per hour (657.9 kilometers per hour)

The official record time as published by the FAI is 655 kilometers per hour (407 miles per hour). George Stainforth was the first pilot to fly faster than 400 miles per hour.

Air Ministry,

9th October, 1931.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Air Force Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force :—

Flight Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman.

In recognition of his achievement in winning the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931.

Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth.

In recognition of his flights with the High Speed Flight of the Royal Air Force in connection with the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931, culminating in the establishment of a world’s speed record on 29th September, 1931.

Flight, No. 1193 (Vol. XXIII, No. 45), Thursday, November 6, 1931 at Page 1110, Column 1.

S.1595 was Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplane, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two S.6Bs, with the second identified as S.1596.

The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).

In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.

Rolls-Royce Type R SOHC 60° V-12 racing engine. (FLIGHT)

For the 3 kilometer record, S.1595 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R27. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a forged duralumin Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). R27 weighed 1,630 pounds (739 kilograms).

There would have been no 1931 British Schneider Trophy Race team without the generous contribution of Lucy, Lady Houston, D.B.E., who donated £100,000 to Supermarine to finance the new aircraft. Lady Houston would later sponsor the 1933 Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition.

The record-setting aircraft, S.1595, is in the collection of the Science Museum, London.

George Hedley Stainforth was born at Bromley, Kent, in 23 March 1899, the son of George Staunton Stainforth, a solicitor, and Mary Ellen Stainforth.

Stainforth was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. On 11September 1918, Cadet Stainforth was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, East Kent Regiment (“The Buffs”), ³ effective 21 August 1918 and served in France. On 30 March 1923, Lieutenant Stainforth, R.A.R.O., was granted a short service commission as a Flying Officer, Royal Air Force, effective 15 March 1923.

Flying Officer Stainforth married Miss Gladys Imelda Hendy at St. George’s Hanover Square Church, London, in March 1923.

Stainforth was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 July 1928. He was granted a permanent commission in this rank 1 October 1929.

George Hedley Stainforth, 1929. (Stainforth Historical Archive)

In 1929, Stainforth won the King’s Cup Air Race, and on 10 September, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 541.10 kilometers per hour (336.22 miles per hour) while flying a Gloster Napier 6 powered by a Napier Lion VIID broad arrow W-12 engine.

Stainforth was promoted to Squadron Leader with effect from 1 June 1936. On 12 March 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander, with effect from 1 March 1940.

During World War II, Wing Commander Stainforth commanded No. 89 Squadron in Egypt. The New York Times reported that he was “the oldest fighter pilot in the Middle East.” On the night of 27–28 September 1942, while flying a Bristol Beaufighter near the Gulf of Suez, Wing Commander George Hedley Stainforth, A.F.C., was killed in action. He was buried at the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

Bristol Beaufighter, No. 89 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

¹ FAI Record File Number 11831

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1918

Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

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

to

FRANK LUKE, JR.

Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant, 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, Air Service.

Place and Date: Near Murvaux, France, 29 September 1918.

Entered Service At: Phoenix, Ariz. Born: 19 May 1897, Phoenix, Ariz.

G. O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919.

Citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.”

2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr, 18 September 1918. (Photograph by Sergeant C. E. Dunn, Signal Corps, United States Army)
2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., late in the afternoon of 18 September 1918. (Photograph by Sergeant C. E. Dunn, Signal Corps, United States Army)

Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. shot down three enemy observation balloons along the Meuse front, on Sunday, 29 September 1918. He was apparently wounded by rifle or machine gun fire from the ground and made an emergency landing near the village of Murvaux.

Trying to evade capture, Luke walked away from his airplane toward a nearby creek. He exchanged gunfire with several German soldiers that were near, and was killed in the brief fire fight. The event was witnessed by at least thirteen of the local French villagers.

Luke’s body was buried near a village church, and was not located by graves registration personnel until several months later.

Lieutenant Frank Luke's grave at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. (Brooks D. Simpson)
Lieutenant Frank Luke’s grave at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. (Brooks D. Simpson)

Luke’s commander, Major Harold E. Hartney, said of him, “No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.”

Leading American ace Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker said of Luke: “He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that.”

Luke is officially credited with destroying 14 observation balloons and 4 enemy airplanes during a 17 day period, 12–29 September 1918. It is probable that he shot down several more.

2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, with his Blériot-built SPAD XIII C.1 fighter, Number 26 (serial number unknown), 19 September 1918. (Photograph by Lt. Harry S. Drucker, Signal Corps, United States Army)
2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, with his Blériot-built SPAD XIII C.I fighter, Number 26 (serial number unknown), at La Ferme de Rattentout, southeast of Verdun, France, 19 September 1918. (Photograph by Lt. Harry S. Drucker, Signal Corps, United States Army)

The airplane flown by Lieutenant Luke on the day he was killed was a new Société des Avions Bernard-built SPAD S.XIII C.I, serial number 7984. It had been assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron the previous day and had not yet been painted with any squadron markings.

The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.I was a single-seat, single-engine two-bay biplane designed by Louis Béchéreau. It was first flown by Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service), on 4 April 1917.

The S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long.¹ The upper and lower wings had equal span and chord. The span was 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters) and chord, 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters). The vertical spacing between the wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters), and the lower wing was staggered 1¼° behind the upper. Interplane struts and wire bracing was used to reinforce the wings. The wings had no sweep or dihedral. The angle of incidence of the upper wing was 1½° and of the lower, 1°. Only the upper wing was equipped with ailerons. Their span was 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters), and their chord, 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters).

The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters) with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The height of the vertical fin was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it had a maximum length of 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters). The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches high (1.184 meters) with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The SPAD S.XIII C.I had fixed landing gear with two pneumatic tires. Rubber cords (bungie cords) were used for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). At the tail was a fixed skid.

The airplane had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (664 kilograms), and gross weight 2,036 pounds (924 kilograms).

This SPAD S.XIII C.1, on display at Terminal 3, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona, is painted to represent a fighter flown by Frank Luke. It was assembled from components of several different airplanes and restored by GossHawk Unlimited, Casa Grande, Arizona. (Wikipedia)
This SPAD S.XIII C.I, on display at Terminal 3, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona, is painted to represent a fighter flown by Frank Luke. It was assembled from components of several different airplanes and restored by GossHawk Unlimited, Casa Grande, Arizona. (Wikipedia)

Initial production SPAD XIIIs were powered by a water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch displacement), La Société Hispano-Suiza 8Ba single overhead cam (SOHC) left-hand-tractor 90° V-8 engine. It was equipped with two Zenith down-draft carburetors and had a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The 8Ba was rated at 150 cheval vapeur (148 horsepower) at 1,700 r.p.m., and 200 cheval vapeur (197 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.43 inches) through a 0.585:1 gear reduction. (The 8Be engine had a 0.75:1 reduction gear ratio and used both 2.50 meter and 2.55 meter (8 feet, 4.40 inches) propellers.) The Hispano-Suiza 8Ba was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520 pounds).

The airplane had a main fuel tank behind the engine, with a gravity tank located in the upper wing. The total fuel capacity was 183 pounds (83 kilograms), sufficient for 2 hours, 30 minutes endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb. There was also a 4.5 gallon (17 liters) lubricating oil tank.

During flight testing at McCook Field, Ohio, following the war, a SPAD S.XIII C.I demonstrated a maximum Sea Level speed of 131.5 mph (211.6 kilometers per hour) at 2,300 rpm, and 105 mph (169 kilometers per hour) at 2,060 r.p.m., at 18,400 feet (5,608 meters). Its service ceiling was 18,400 feet (5,608 meters), and the absolute ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).

The chasseur was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the guns’ water jackets were not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.

The SPAD S.XIII C.I was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built in 1917 and 1918. Only four are still in existence.

Recommended: The Stand: The Final Flight of Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., by Stephen Skinner, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2008.

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¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.I serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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