Daily Archives: December 21, 2020

21 December 1988

Clipper Maid of the Seas, Pan American World Airways' Boeing 747-121, at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) 12 March 1987. (Ted Quackenbush via Wikipedia)
Clipper Maid of the Seas, Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747-121 N739PA, takes off at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) 12 March 1987. (Ted Quackenbush via Wikipedia)

21 December 1988: Pan American World Airways’ Flight 103 was a scheduled transatlantic passenger flight, originating at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main (FRA) with stopovers at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), with a final destination of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).

The first leg from Frankfurt to London was flown with a Boeing 727. The transatlantic segment of Flight 103 was flown by a Boeing 747-121, N739PA, named Clipper Maid of the Seas. It departed Heathrow at 1825 hours UTC, with 16 crewmembers and 243 passengers. The 747 climbed to the north and leveled off at at 31,000 feet (9,449 meters) at 1856 hours.

At approximately 1903, a time bomb which had been placed inside luggage carried in the airliner’s cargo hold detonated. Explosive decompression magnified the effects of the bomb. The airliner broke into five large sections and fell to the ground at the town of Lockerbie, Scotland.

The impact crater of Boeing 747 N739PA at Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie. The wings and fuselage center section struck here, 49.5 seconds after the explosion. 200,000 pounds (91,000 kilograms) of jet fuel ignited, destroying many homes. (Martin Cleaver/syracuse.com)
The impact crater of Boeing 747 N739PA at Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie. The wings and fuselage center section struck here, 49.5 seconds after the explosion. 200,000 pounds (91,000 kilograms) of jet fuel ignited, destroying many homes. (Martin Cleaver/syracuse.com)

All 259 persons on board the 747 were killed, as were another 11 persons on the ground.

The time bomb is believed to have been placed aboard the airliner by agents of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, acting on orders of the Brotherly Leader and Guide to the Revolution of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi. One of these, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted of 270 counts of murder in a Scottish criminal court seated in The Netherlands. The defense twice appealed the case, but prior to a decision in the second appeal, al-Megrahi dropped his appeal and asked to be released from jail because it was believed that he would very soon die of cancer. The Scottish court did release him and he returned to Libya on 14 August 2009, on board Colonel Gadaffi’s personal aircraft. He reportedly died 20 May 2012.

Boeing delivered N739PA to Pan American 15 February 1970. The airliner was originally named Clipper Morning Light. At the time of the bombing, it had accumulated 72,464 total flight hours.

The forward section of Clipper Maid of the Seas, near the village of Tundergarth, Scotland.
The forward section of Clipper Maid of the Seas, near the village of Tundergarth, Scotland.

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

The 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

The Boeing 747 has been in production for 48 years. More than 1,536 have been delivered as of September 2017. 205 of these were the 747-100 series. The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 as the next presidential transport aircraft.

The Names. (StaraBlazkova/Wikipedia)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 December 1970

Grumman F-14A-1-GR Tomcat Bu. No. 157980, just before its first flight, Calverton, Long Island, New York, 21 December 1970. (Grumman)
Grumman F-14A-1-GR Tomcat Bu. No. 157980, just before its first flight, Calverton, Long Island, New York, 21 December 1970. (Northrop Grumman Corporation)

21 December 1970: At the Grumman Aerospace Corporation plant, Calverton, Long Island, New York, Chief Test Pilot Robert Kenneth Smyth and Project Test Pilot William Howard Miller took off on the very first flight of the F-14A-1-GR Tomcat, Bu. No. 157980.

The F-14 is a long-range fleet defense interceptor designed to operate from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a two-place, twin-engine Mach 2+ fighter. The most notable feature are its variable geometry wings (“swing wings”), similar to those of the General Dynamics F-111.

Grumman F-14A Tomcat during flight test.
A Grumman F-14A Tomcat during test flight. (U.S. Navy)

The Grumman F-14A Tomcat (Grumman has a long history of naming its fighter aircraft after various cats, e.g., Wildcat, Hellcat, Tigercat, Panther, Cougar, Tiger) is 62 feet, 8 inches (19.101 meters) long with its wingspan varying from 33 feet, 3 inches (10.135 meters) when swept fully aft (overswept), and 64 feet, 1 inches (19.510 meters) when fully extended. The airplane has an overall height of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.879 meters). It has an empty weight of 38,188 pounds (17,322 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 72,566 pounds (32,915 kilograms).

The fighter was initially powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF10A (TF30-P-412A) afterburning turbofan engines. The JTF10A is a two-spool axial-flow engine.  It has a 3-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor section (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 10,800 pounds of thrust (48.041 kilonewtons) at 14,300 r.p.m. (N2); Intermediate Power, 12,350 pounds (54.936 kilonewtons) at 14,800 r.p.m. (45-minute limit); and a Maximum Power of 20,900 pounds (92.968 kilonewtons) at 14,780 r.p.m., with afterburner (45-minute limit). The engine is 18 feet, 7.59 inches (5.679 meters) long, 4 feet, 2.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,971 pounds (1,801 kilograms).

Grumman F-14 A Tomcat, 21 December 1970. (U.S. Naval Institute)
The first Grumman F-14A Tomcat, 21 December 1970. (U.S. Naval Institute)

Cruise speed for the F-14A is 497 knots (572 miles per hour/920 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 805 knots (926 miles per hour (1,491 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (Mach 1.22) and 1,314 knots (1,512 miles per hour/2,434 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) (Mach 2.29). The airplane’s service ceiling is 41,000 feet (12,497 meters), and its combat ceiling is 57,600 feet (17,556 meters) at 1,030 knots (1,185 miles per hour/1,907 kilometers per hour), Mach 1.80. The Tomcat has a combat radius of 741 nautical miles (853 statute miles/1,372 kilometers), and its maximum ferry range is 1,840 nautical miles (2,117 miles/3,407 kilometers).

The Tomcat is armed with one 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan six-barrel Gatling gun with 676 rounds of ammunition. It can carry a combination of Hughes AIM-54A Phoenix long range air-to-air missiles, as well as AIM 7E Sparrow and AIM 9H Sidewinders. The F-14 has the capability of simultaneously engaging six independent targets with the Phoenix missile. The AIM-54A is a radar-guided Mach 5 missile with a range of 115 statute miles (185 kilometers). It has a 135 pound (61.2 kilograms) proximity-fused blast fragmentation warhead.

The Grumman F-14 was in production from 1970 until 1991, in three variants, the F-14A, F-14B and F-14D. A total of 712 Tomcats were built. The fighter remained in service with the United States Navy until 2006. 79 F-14As were provided to the Imperial Iranian Air Force, prior to the Islamic revolt. An unknown number of these remain in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.

Grumman test pilot Robert K. Smyth.
Grumman Chief Test Pilot Robert Kenneth Smyth. (Northrop Grumman Corporation)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 December 1968 12:51:00.7 UTC

Apollo 8 (AS-503) launches from LC-39A at 12:51:00 UTC, 21 December 1968. (NASA)
Apollo 8 (AS-503) launches from LC-39A at 12:51:00 UTC, 21 December 1968. (NASA)

21 December 1968: At 12:51:00.7 UTC, Apollo 8 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Aboard were Mission Commander, Colonel Frank Frederick Borman II, United States Air Force; Command Module Pilot, Captain James Arthur Lovell, Jr., United States Navy; and Lunar Module Pilot, Major William A. Anders, U.S. Air Force.

Apollo 8 crew is photographed posing on a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) simulator in their full-pressure suits, 22 November 1968. From left to right are: James A. Lovell Jr., William A. Anders, and Frank Borman. (NASA)

The center engine of the S-IC first stage shut down at 00:02.05.9, and the remaining four F-1 engines shut down at 00:02:33.8. First stage separation took place at 00:02:34.5.

The five Rocketdyne J-2 engines of the S-II second stage fired at 00:02.35.2. The launch escape tower was jettisoned at 00:03:08.6. The engine shut down at 00:08:44.0.and the second stage was jettisoned at 00:08:44.9.

The single J-2 of the S-IVB third stage ignited at 00:08:45.0, and cut off at 11:25.0. At 00:11:35.0, the Apollo 8 Command and Service Module, the Lunar Module test article, and the S-IVB third stage was injected into a nearly-circular 98 nautical miles × 103 nautical miles (113 statute miles × 119 statute miles/181 × 191 kilometers) Earth orbit.

The S-IVB’s J-2 engine was restarted for Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) at 02:50:37.1, and cut off at 02:55:55.5. Apollo 8 was on its way to The Moon.

Apollo 8 was the second manned mission of the Apollo program. It was the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, travel to and orbit the Moon, then return to Earth.

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet, 0.15 inches (110.64621 meters) tall, from the tip of the escape tower to the bottom of the F-1 engines. The first and second stages were 33 feet, 0.2 inches (10.089 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed approximately 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms).¹ It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

AS-503, the Apollo 8/Saturn V, 17 December 1968. (NASA)

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust (6770.19 kilonewtons), each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level (33,851 kilonewtons).² These engines were ignited 6.50 seconds prior to Range Zero and the outer four burned for 161.74 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 135.24 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

Apollo 8/AS-503. The Saturn V’s five Rocketdyne F-1 engines build thrust just prior to hold down release. (NASA)

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,022.01 kilonewtons), and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust (5,165.5 kilonewtons).³

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

AS-503 clearing the gantry, 21 December 1968. “A yaw motion is discernible by ythe leaning of the stack away from the tower. The vehicle is programmed to fly this 1.25° yaw maneuver, beginning one second into the flight, in case a gust of wind comes up that might gust the vehicle into the umbilical tower, or an access arm fails to retract.” (NASA)

¹ The AS-503 total vehicle mass at First Stage Ignition (T –6.585 seconds) was 6,221,823 pounds (2,833,171 kilograms).

² Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of AS-503’s S-IC stage as 7,726,936 pounds of thrust (34,371,122 Newtons).

³ Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of AS-503’s S-II stage as 1,143,578 pounds of thrust (5,086,888 Newtons).

⁴ Post-flight analysis gave the average total thrust of AS-503’s S-IVB stage as 203,053 pounds of thrust (903,225 Newtons) during the first burn; 201,530 pounds (896,450 Newtons) during the second burn.

Apollo 8 takes off for The Moon. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 December 1916

Sopwith Camel. (Royal Air Force)
Sopwith Camel F.1 F6394. (Royal Air Force)

21 December 1916: Harry George Hawker, M.B.E., A.F.C., made the first flight of the Sopwith Camel at Brooklands Aerodrome, Surrey, England. This airplane would become the Royal Air Force’s most successful fighter of World War I.

The Sopwith Camel F.1 was a British single-place, single-engine biplane fighter, produced by the Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Canbury Park Road, Kingston-on-Thames. The airplane was constructed of a wooden framework, with the forward fuselage being covered with aluminum panels and plywood, while the aft fuselage, wings and tail surfaces were covered with fabric.

The length of the Camel F.1 varied from 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters) to 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters), depending on which engine was installed. Both upper and lower wings had a span of 28 feet, 0 inches (8.534 meters) and chord of 4 feet, 6 inches (1.372 meters). They were separated vertically by 5 feet (1.524 meters) at the fuselage. The upper wing had 0° dihedral, while the lower wing had 5° dihedral and was staggered 1 foot, 6 inches (0.457 meters) behind the upper wing. The single-bay wings were braced with airfoil-shaped streamline wires. The overall height of the Camel also varied with the engine, from 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) to 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters).

The heaviest Camel F.1 variant used the Le Rhône 180 h.p. engine. It had an empty weight of 1,048 pounds (475 kilograms). Its gross weight of 1,567 pounds (711 kilograms). The lightest was equipped with the Gnôme Monosoupape 100 horsepower engine, with weights of 882 pounds (400 kilograms) and 1,387 pounds (629 kilograms), respectively.

Front view of a Sopwith Camel F.I (Unattributed)

The first Camel was powered by an air-cooled 15.268 liter (931.72 cubic inches) Société Clerget-Blin et Cie Clerget Type 9 nine-cylinder rotary engine which produced 110 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. and drove a wooden two-bladed propeller. Eight different rotary engines ¹ from four manufacturers, ranging from 100 to 180 horsepower, were used in the type.

The best performance came with the Bentley B.R.1 engine (5.7:1 compression ratio). This variant had a maximum speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 114.5 miles per hour (184 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It could climb to 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) in 4 minutes, 35 seconds; to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 8 minutes, 10 seconds; and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 15 minutes, 55 seconds. It had a service ceiling of 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Two other Camel variants could reach 24,000 feet (7,315 meters).

Sopwith Camel F.1 FG394, left rear quarter. © IWM (Q 63822)
Sopwith Camel F.1 F6394, left rear quarter. © IWM (Q 63822)

The Bentley B.R.1 rotary engine was designed by Lieutenant Walter Owen Bentley, Royal Naval Air Service (later, Captain, Royal Air Force), based on the Clerget Type 9, but with major improvements. It used aluminum cylinders shrunk on to steel liners, with aluminum pistons. The Bentley B.R.1 (originally named the Admiralty Rotary, A.R.1, as it was intended for use by the Royal Navy) was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 17.304 liter (1,055.948 cubic inches) right-hand tractor, nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was rated at 150 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m. The B.R.1 was 1.110 meters (3 feet, 7.7 inches) long, 1.070 meters (3 feet, 6.125 inches) in diameter and weighed 184 kilograms (406 pounds.) The engine was manufactured by Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England, and Vickers, Ltd., Crayford.

The instruments and armament of a Sopwith Camel from No. 4 Squadron, AFC. (Australian War Memorial)
The instruments and armament of a Sopwith Camel from No. 4 Squadron, AFC. (Australian War Memorial)

The Camel was armed with two fixed, forward-firing .303-caliber (7.7×56mmR) Vickers machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller. These guns were modified for air cooling. Some night fighter variants substituted Lewis machine guns mounted above the upper wing for the Vickers guns. Four 25 pound (11.3 kilogram) bombs could be carried on racks under the fuselage.

The Sopwith Camel was a difficult airplane to fly. Most of its weight was concentrated far forward, making it unstable, but, at the same time making the fighter highly maneuverable. The rotary engine, with so much of its mass in rotation, caused a torque effect that rolled the airplane to the right to a much greater degree than in airplanes equipped with radial or V-type engines. A skilled pilot could use this to his advantage, but many Camels ended upside down while taking off.

Major William G. Barker, RAF, with an upside-down Sopwith Camel F.1 of No. 28 Squadron, Italy, 1918. (Library and Archives Canada)
Major William G. Barker, RAF, with an upside-down Sopwith Camel F.1 of No. 28 Squadron, Italy, 1918. (Library and Archives Canada)

Twelve manufacturers ² produced 5,490 Sopwith Camels between 1916 and 1920. By the end of World War I, it was becoming outclassed by newer aircraft, however it was the single most successful fighter of the war, shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft.

One single fighter, Major William Barker’s Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Camel F.1 B.6313 shot down 46 enemy aircraft, more than any other fighter in history.

It is believed that only seven Sopwith Camels still exist.

Wing Commander William George Barker, VC, DSO with Bar, MC with 2 Bars, Croix de Guerre (Library and Archives Canada)
Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. with Bar, M.C. with 2 Bars, Croix de Guerre, with his Sopwith Camel F.1. (Library and Archives Canada)

¹ Humber, Ltd., Bentley B.R.1 150 h.p., B.R.1 (5.7:1 c.r.); Clerget 9B, 130 h.p.; Clerget 9Bf, 130 h.p. (long stroke); Gnôme Monosoupape, 100 h.p.; Gnôme Monosoupape, 150 h.p.; Le Rhône, 110 h.p.; and Le Rhône 180 h.p.

² Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Kingston-on-Thames; Boulton and Paul, Ltd., Norwich; British Caudron Co., London; Clayton and Shuttleworth, Ltd., Lincoln; Hooper and Co., Ltd., London; March, Jones and Cribb, Ltd., Leeds; Nieuport and General Aircraft Co., Ltd., London; Ruston, Proctor and Co., Ltd., Lincoln; Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd.; Portholme Aerodrome Ltd., Huntingdon; Wm. Beardmore & Co., Ltd., Glasgow; Pegler & Co., Ltd., Doncaster.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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