Daily Archives: September 17, 2023

17 September 1976

Enterprise rollout at Palmdale, California, 17 September 1976. (Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS)

17 September 1976. Enterprise (OV-101), the prototype Space Shuttle Orbital Vehicle, was rolled out at the Rockwell International plant at Palmdale, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

17 September 1959

X-15 56-6670 is carried under the right wing of NB-52A 52-003. Scott Crossfield is in the cockpit of the rocket plane. (NASA)

17 September 1959: After previously making one glide flight, North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight of an X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane.

Carried aloft under the right wing of an eight-engine Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress bomber, USAF serial number 52-003, the first of three North American Aviation X-15s, 56-6670, was airdropped from 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over Rosamond Dry Lake, west of Edwards Air Force Base. Launch time was 08:08:48.0 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (15:08.48.0 UTC).

Scott Crossfiled prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A
Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A. Crossfield is wearing a conformal (face seal) helmet with his David Clark Co. MC-2 full-pressure suit. (NASA/North American Aviation, Inc.)

The X-15 was designed to use the Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine, but early in the test program that engine was not yet available so two smaller XLR-11 engines were used. This was engine the same type used in the earlier Bell X-1 rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier in 1948. Though producing just one-fourth the thrust of the XLR-99, it allowed the functional testing of the X-15 to proceed.

The X-15’s two Reaction Motors XLR11 engines. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield wrote:

Two minutes after launch I reached 50,000 feet and pushed over in level flight. Then I dropped the nose slightly for a speed run, meanwhile maneuvering the ship through a series of turns and rolls, conscious of a deep rumbling noise of the rocket and a great rush of wind on the fuselage. It was obvious the black bird was in her element at supersonic speeds. She responded beautifully. I stared in fascination at the Mach meter which climbed from 1.5 Mach to 1.8 Mach and then effortlessly to my top speed for this flight of 2.3 Mach or about 1,500 miles and hour. Then, because I was under orders not to take the X-15 wide open, I shut off three of the rocket barrels. As I slowed down, I recalled the agony at Edwards many years before when we had worked for months pushing, calculating, polishing and who knows what else to achieve Mach 2 in the Skyrocket. Now with the X-15 we had reached that speed in three minutes on our first powered flight and I had to throttle back.

Always Another Dawn, The Story Of A Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield with Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960. Chapter 39 at Pages 362.

X-15A 56-6670 drops from the wing of the B-52 mothership. The vapor trail is from hydrogen peroxide that powers the aircraft power systems. Note the roll to the right as the X-15 drops from the pylon. (NASA)

The X-15 dropped 2,000 feet (610 meters) while Scott Crossfield ignited the two XLR-11 engines and then started “going uphill.” During the 224.3 seconds burn duration, the X-15 reached Mach 2.11 (1,393 miles per hour/2,242 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 52,300 feet (15,941 meters), both slightly higher than planned.

Problems developed when the rocket engine’s turbo pump case failed, and fire broke out in the hydrogen peroxide compartment, engine compartment and in the ventral fin. Crossfield safely landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of the flight was 9 minutes, 11.1 seconds. Damage to the rocket plane was extensive but was quickly repaired. 56-6670 flew again 17 October 1959.

Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield climbs out of the cockpt of a North American Aviation X-15A hypersonic research rocketplane. (Der Spiegel)

Over the next nine years the three X-15s would make 199 flights, setting speed and altitude records nearly every time they flew, and expanding NASA’s understanding of flight in the hypersonic range. The first two X-15s, 56-6670 and 56-6671, survived the program. 670 is at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space museum and 671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)
Test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield with X-15 56-6670 attached to the right wing pylon of NB-52A 52-003 at Edwards Air force Base. (North American Aviation Inc.)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

17 September 1952

Bell Model 47D-1 N167B with modified landing gear and multiple fuel tanks. (Bell Helicopter)

17 September 1952: Bell Aircraft Corporation test pilot Elton John (“E.J.”) Smith flew a modified Bell Model 47D-1 helicopter, N167B (s/n 21), from Hurst, Texas, to Niagara Falls, New York, setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for distance without landing of 1,958.80 kilometers (1,217.14 miles).¹

During Smith’s flight, the flight controls’ hydraulic boost system failed. The helicopter’s radio also caught fire, forcing Smith to pull the wiring loose.

Elton John Smith, 1952. (FAI)


     A new world’s record for a nonstop distance flight by helicopter was established Wednesday when a Bell helicopter flew approximately 1,234 miles from the Bell Aircraft Corporation plant near Hurst to the front lawn of the main plant in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

     The pilot was Elton J. Smith, 31-year-old Bell test pilot, who lives with his wife and three small children at 4121 Vance Rd. in North Richland Hills.

     The helicopter was named Longhorn.

     Smith took off from the heliport at the Hurst plant at 4:41 a.m. and landed in Niagara Falls at 5:38 p.m. Fort Worth time. His elapsed time in the air 12 hours and 57 minutes.

     Lawrence D. Bell, president of the corporation, shouted congratulations to Smith while the helicopter’s rotors were still spinning.

     “Thank you, sir,” Smith replied.

     Later he reported that “I wasn’t very tired, it was a good flight. I ran into a little bad weather over the Ozarks, which forced me to detour somewhat from my proposed straight line flight from Fort Worth to Niagara Falls. After that I had pretty good weather and flew most of the route between 6,000 and 8,000 feet.

     “I started having radio trouble about one hour out of Fort Worth, which accounts for the fact that there was no contact with me during a great deal of the trip.

     “I had enough gas left to go another four hours—about 40 gallons,” he said. “I used only two quarts of oil on the trip.

     “I really got a kick out of doing it because a lot of us in the helicopter industry thought it could be done.

     “All in all, I was pretty fresh at the end of the trip—just a little bit stiff.”

     The flight, via Cleveland and Buffalo, broke the official helicopter distance record of 703.6 miles, established in a Sikorsky R05 helicopter on May 26, 1946, by Major F. T. Caschman, U.S. Air Force.

     That flight was from Cleveland to Logan, Mass, Other long distance flights on record, but not recognized by National Aeronautic Association, include:

     A flight of 920 miles from Iceland to Prestwick, Scotland, on July 31, 1952, by a Sikorsky H-19, flown by an Air Force pilot and co-pilot.

     A flight of 956 miles, 843 cross-country and 113 miles in the vicinity of Dayton, Ohio, on July 6, 1951, by Captain Wayne W. Eggert, U.S. Air Force.

     The helicopter  piloted by Smith was a Model 47D, built by Bell in December 1947. It is equipped with a 200-horsepower, six-cylinder Franklin aircooled engine. The ship previously had logged 387 hours and 50 minutes of flying time.

     Official observer for the NAA was E. J. Reeves of Dallas, who placed sealed barographs aboard the Longhorn before takeoff. The NAA also sealed the gas and oil tanks and an official was on hand to certify that the seals had not been broken when the helicopter.

     The helicopter took off with 187 gallons of gasoline and two gallons of oil. Estimated cost for the fuel on the flight was $59.30, a Bell release issued after the takeoff declared.

     Normal gross weight for a 47D model helicopter is 2,350 pounds, the release said. Gross for the record-breaking flight was 2,750 pounds.

     Smith carried with him several candy bars, a half-gallon of drinking water, and a beef sandwich.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 18 September 1952, Page 1, Columns 1–3

Bell Model 47D-1, N167B. (FAI)

Bell 47D-1 N167B (s/n 21) was originally built in December 1947 as a Model 47D. It was assigned to Bell’s Research and Development group for many years and went through numerous modifications. It had been used to develop the U.S. Army’s H-13B Sioux. For the record-setting flight, N167B was modified with seven fuel tanks, with two located in the passenger cabin, and five mounted behind the engine. After starting the engine, the electric starter motor was removed to save weight. At takeoff, it had a gross weight of 2,750 pounds (1,247 kilograms), 400 pounds (181 kilograms) over the certified maximum gross weight of the helicopter. It had flown 387 hours, 50 minutes, before the 17 September 1952 flight. Its FAA registration was cancelled 11 June 1970.

The Bell Model 47D-1 was the first three-place variant of the Model 47 series. Its Type Certificate was approved 29 March 1949. The initial price was $39,500.

The Bell Model 47D-1 had an overall length (with rotors turning) of 41 feet, 4¾ inches (12.618 meters). The main rotor diameter was 35 feet, 1½ inches (10.706 meters) in diameter. The length of the fuselage, from the front of the canopy to the trailing edge of the tail rotor disc, was 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters). It was 9 feet, 4-5/16 inches (2.827 meters) high to the top of the main rotor mast.

The Bell 47D-1 main rotor was a two-bladed, under-slung, semi-rigid assembly that would be a characteristic of helicopters built by Bell for decades. The blades were constructed of laminated wood. An 8 foot, 4 inch (2.540 meters) stabilizer bar was placed below the hub and linked to the flight controls through hydraulic dampers. This made for a very stable aircraft. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade was on the right.) Its normal operating range was 322–360 r.p.m. (294–360 r.p.m. in autorotation).

The 47D-1 tail rotor was positioned on the right side of the tail boom in a tractor configuration. It had a diameter of 5 feet, 8-1/8 inches (1.730 meters) and rotated counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade was above the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor blades were also made of wood.

Elton J. Smith tests the modified Bell 47D-1. (Bell Helicopter)

Power was supplied by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 333.991-cubic-inch-displacement (5.473 liter) Franklin Engine Company 6V4-178-B32 vertically-opposed six cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 8.5:1. This engine was rated at 200 horsepower at 3,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level. Engine torque was sent through a centrifugal clutch to a transmission. The mast (the main rotor drive shaft) was driven through a two-stage planetary gear reduction system with a ratio of 9:1. The transmission also drove the tail rotor drive shaft, and through a vee-belt/pulley system, a large fan to provide cooling air for the engine.

The standard production Model 47D-1 had a maximum gross weight of 2,350 pounds (1,066 kilograms) and a fuel capacity of 29 U.S. gallons (110 liters). Its cruise speed was 78 miles per hour (126 kilometers per hour) and its service ceiling was 12,000 feet (3,658 meters).

Bell built 129 Model 47D-1 helicopters.

The Bell 47 was produced at the plant in New York, and later at Fort Worth, Texas. It was steadily improved and remained in production until 1974. In military service the Model 47 was designated H-13 Sioux, (Army and Air Force), HTL (Navy) and HUG (Coast Guard). The helicopter was also built under license by Agusta, Kawasaki and Westland. More than 7,000 were built worldwide and it is believed that about 10% of those remain in service.

Elton John Smith was born 4 September 1921 at Walton, New York. He was the second of three children of William H. Smith, a farmer, and Florence (“Flossie”) Delilah Knapp. He attended Parker High School in Clarence, New York.

Aviation Cadet Elton John Smith.

Elton Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet, 11 December 1941. He completed flight training at the Lubbock Army Flying School, 20 March 1943 and commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to fly North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers.

On 24 December 1943, Lieutenant Mitchell married Miss Rita Marie Follett at a private residence in San Angelo, Texas. They would have four children.

Smith was discharged from the U.S. Army Air Forces, 6 December 1945.

In 1947, E. J. Smith joined the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York, as a test pilot.

E. J. Smith completes documentation for his world record flight.

On 20 October 1954, along with Bell’s Chief Pilot Floyd W. Carlson, Chief Experimental Test Pilot Smith made the first flight of the Bell XH-40, prototype of the legendary “Huey” military helicopter.

In 1973, Smith became the manager of flight and technical training for Bell Helicopter International’s Iranian training program. He was later the company’s head of international sales. He retired in 1984.

Elton John Smith died Thursday, 18 October 1990, in a hospital in Irvine, Texas. His remains ere buried at Greenwood Memorial Park, Fort Worth, Texas.

¹ FAI Record File Number 976

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

17 September 1916

Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richtofen. (Portrait by C. J. von Dühren)
Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richtofen. (Portrait by C. J. von Dühren, 3 May 1917)

17 September 1916: At approximately 11:00 a.m., near Villers-Pouich, Nord, France, Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, of Jagdstaffel 2, Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (the Luftstreitkräfte), while flying an Albatros D.II, serial number 491/16, spotted a flight of enemy aircraft. Attacking one, he closed to within 10 meters and fired several bursts of machine gun fire.

2nd Lieutenant Lionel B. F. Morris, R.F.C.

The British airplane, a Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B scout bomber, serial number 7018, was flown by Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris, with Captain Tom Rees as observer and gunner. Both officers were assigned from their original regiments to No. 11 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.

The F.E.2B’s engine stopped and it started down. Captain Rees continued firing at von Richthofen until he was killed by the Baron’s gunfire.

Lieutenant Morris was wounded but was able to land the crippled airplane near a German airfield. Von Richthofen landed his Albatross alongside. Lieutenant Morris died while being taken to a field hospital by ambulance.

The body of Lieutenant Morris was buried at Porte-de-Paris Cemetery, Cambrai, France. Captain Rees was buried at Villers-Plouich.

Morris and Rees flew this Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B, serial number 7018, shown surrounded by enemy soldiers. (Unattributed)
Morris and Rees flew this Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B, serial number 7018, shown surrounded by enemy soldiers. (Wikipedia)

Von Richthofen had just joined Jasta 2 after becoming a fighter pilot. Originally a cavalry officer, he had become an aerial observer before training as a pilot. This action was his first confirmed aerial victory. 83 more would follow and he would become known as The Red Baron.

Captain Tom Rees
Lieutenant Tom Rees, 1915

The Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2 (also designated Fighter Mk.I) was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. He had made the first flight in the prototype at Farnborough, Hampshire, 18 August 1911. The F.E. 2B was a two-place, single-engine, pusher biplane used as a scout bomber. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 47 feet, 9 inches (14.554 meters) and height of 12 feet, 7½ inches (3.848 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,105 pounds (955 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,827 pounds (1,282 kilograms). The airplane’s three-bay wings had a chord of 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters) and were spaced 6 feet, 3½ inches (1.918 meters), vertically. The wings had a 3° 30′ angle of incidence and were not staggered. There was 4° dihedral.

The F.E. 2B was powered by a water-cooled 13.937 liter (850.48 cubic inches) William Beardmore and Company inline six-cylinder engine rated at 120 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. It could produce a maximum 154 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. This engine was a license-built Austro-Daimler 6, which had been designed by Dr.-Ing. Ferdinand Porsche.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 73 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet, and 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airplane could reach 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) in 19.5 minutes, and 10,000 feet in 45.5 minutes. Its service ceiling was 9,000 feet (2,743 meters).

The F.E. 2B had fuel to remain airborne for 3½ hours.

Boulton & Paul Ltd.-built F.E. 2B A5478 (Aviation News)
Boulton & Paul Ltd.-built F.E. 2B A5478 (Aviation News)

The F.E. 2B was armed with one or two .303-caliber Lewis guns. The second gun was mounted on a telescoping post between the cockpits, and in the raised position could fire over the upper wing to defend the airplane from attacks in the rear. This required the gunner to stand in his seat.

A total of 1,939 F.E.s were built.

An Albatros D.II, similar to that flown by Manfred von Richthofen, 17 September 1916.
An Albatros D.II, similar to that flown by Manfred von Richthofen, 17 September 1916.

The Albatros D.II was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter designed and built by Albatros Flugzeugwerk GmbH, Johannisthal, Berlin. It was also built under license by Luft-Verkhers-Gesellschaft and Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG. It was 7.40 meters (24 feet, 3-1/3 inches) long with a wingspan of 8.50 meters (27 feet, 10-2/3 inches) and height of 2.59 meters (8 feet, 6 inches). It had an empty weight of 637 kilograms (1,404 pounds) and gross weight of 888 kilograms (1,958 pounds).

The D.II was powered by a water- and air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 14.778 liter (901.68 cubic inches) Mercedes F1466 (D.III) single-overhead cam inline six-cylinder direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 4.50:1, which produced 162.5 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. The engine weighed 618 pounds (280 kilograms).

The Albatros D.II had a maximum speed of 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour) and a service ceiling of 5,180 meters (16,995 feet).

The fighter was armed with two fixed air-cooled 7.92 mm machine guns.

A total of 291 Albatros D.II fighters were built before production shifted to the D.III.

Manfred von Richtofen with an Albatross D.II. (Unattributed)
Manfred von Richtofen with an Albatross D.II. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

17 September 1908

Lt. Thomas Etholen Selfridge (Robert B. Williams)

17 September 1908: Orville Wright brought his Wright Flyer to Fort Myer, Virginia to demonstrate it to the U.S. Army Signal Corps.  A crowd of approximately 2,500 spectators had gathered to watch the flight.

Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge, Signal Corps, United States Army, wanted to ride along with Wright and asked to go first. Lieutenant George Sweet, U.S. Navy was scheduled for the first flight, but he and Wright agreed to let Lieutenant Selfridge go. The two men aboard the Wright Flyer made four circuits of the field approximately 150 feet above the ground. The starboard propeller broke and struck the wires supporting the rudder. As the rudder rotated sideways, it caused the airplane to pitch nose down.

Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge and Orville Wright aboard the Wright Flyer. (U.S. Air Force)

Orville Wright later described the accident:

“On the fourth round, everything seemingly working much better and smoother than any former flight, I started on a larger circuit with less abrupt turns. It was on the very first slow turn that the trouble began. . . A hurried glance behind revealed nothing wrong, but I decided to shut off the power and descend as soon as the machine could be faced in a direction where a landing could be made. This decision was hardly reached, in fact I suppose it was not over two or three seconds from the time the first taps were heard, until two big thumps, which gave the machine a terrible shaking, showed that something had broken. . . The machine suddenly turned to the right and I immediately shut off the power. Quick as a flash, the machine turned down in front and started straight for the ground. Our course for 50 feet was within a very few degrees of the perpendicular. Lt. Selfridge up to this time had not uttered a word, though he took a hasty glance behind when the propeller broke and turned once or twice to look into my face, evidently to see what I thought of the situation. But when the machine turned head first for the ground, he exclaimed ‘Oh! Oh!’ in an almost inaudible voice.”

The wreck of the Wright Flyer, Fort Myer, Virginia, 17 September 1908. (Library of Congress)

The Wright Flyer struck the ground and both men were seriously injured. Thomas Selfridge suffered a fractured skull. He underwent neurosurgery but died without regaining consciousness. Orville Wright had a broken leg, several broken ribs and an injured hip. He spent seven weeks in the Army hospital.

This was the first fatal accident involving an airplane. Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge was the first person to die in an airplane accident.

Doctors attend to the unconscious Lieutenant Selfridge following the crash of the Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia, 17 September 1908. He died later that day. (Library of Congress)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes