Daily Archives: March 15, 2024

15 March 1967

Sikorsky HH-53B 66-14428, Super Jolly Green Giant, first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 15 March 1967. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

15 March 1967: The first Sikorsky HH-53B, 66-14428, made its maiden flight at Stratford, Connecticut. In the cockpit were Sikorsky test pilots James R. (“Dick”) Wright and Patrick A. Guinn. The helicopter would be called the “Super Jolly Green Giant.”

A variant of the United States Navy/Marine Corps CH-53A Sea Stallion, the Super Jolly Green Giant was the largest, most powerful, and fastest helicopter in the United States Air Force inventory. Configured for combat search and rescue (CSAR) and special operations, the HH-53B was equipped for inflight refueling and was armed with three General Electric GAU/2A 7.62 mm miniguns or .50-caliber Browning machine guns. The HH-53B can be visually distinguished from other H-53s by the two diagonal sponson support struts on each side of the fuselage.

U.S. Air Force Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant in flight near the Sikorsky plant at Stratford, Connecticut. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
U.S. Air Force Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant in flight near the Sikorsky plant at Stratford, Connecticut. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant was flown by two pilots and was crewed by a flight engineer/gunner, two additional gunners, and one or two pararescue jumpers (“PJs”). It has an overall length of 88 feet, 2.4 inches (26.833 meters) with rotors turning. With the refueling boom extended the total length of the helicopter is 91 feet, 11.34 inches (28.025 meters). The fuselage is 67 feet, 2.4 inches (20.483 meters) long and 8 feet (2.438 meters) wide. The height to the top of the main rotor pylon is 17 feet, 1.68 inches (5.224 meters). The maximum height (rotors turning) is 24 feet, 10.88 inches (7.592 meters).

A gunner looks over a General Electric GAU2/A minigun, while his aircraft flies formation with a Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant over Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force)
A flight engineer looks over a General Electric GAU-2/A minigun while his helicopter flies formation with a Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Vietnam, October 1972. (Ken Hackman, U.S. Air Force)

The HH-53B’s fully-articulated 6-blade main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet, 2.7 inches (22.014 meters). The main rotor turns counter-clockwise at 185 r.p.m. (100% Nr), as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor blades are built with titanium spars and have -16° of twist. The semi-articulated four-blade tail rotor has a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters) and is positioned on the left side of the tail pylon. It turns clockwise at 792 r.p.m., as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The gap between rotor arcs is just 4.437 inches (11.270 centimeters).

A U.S. Air Force Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant hovers to hoist a pararescueman with one downed pilot, while a second waits on the ground. The blade tip vortices are visible because of the high humidity. (National Archives at College Park)

The HH-53B had an empty weight of 26,500 pounds (12,020 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight was 42,000 pounds (19,051 kilograms).

The HH-53B was originally equipped with two General Electric T64-GE-3 turboshaft engines, producing 3,080-shaft horsepower, each. The T64 is an axial flow free-turbine turboshaft engine. It has a 14-stage compressor and 4-stage turbine (2 high-pressure and 2 low pressure). The turbine shaft is coaxial with the compressor shaft and delivers power forward.

The helicopter had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 170 nautical miles per hour (196 miles per hour/315 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 20,400 feet (6,218 meters). Its range is 600 nautical miles (690 statute miles/1,111 kilometers), and it is capable of inflight refueling.

A Sikorsky HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant refuels from a Lockheed HC-130P Combat King over Vietnam, circa 1970. (U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force ordered eight HH-53Bs, followed by 58 improved HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants.¹ The first HH-53B, 66-14428, was delivered to the Air Force Air Rescue and Recovery Service at the Sikorsky plant in June 1967. It was flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida by Lieutenant Colonel James Dixon and Captain Fredric Donohue of Detachment 2, 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. For the next two months ARRS crews trained with it at Eglin.

The first Sikorsky HH-53Bs arrive in Vietnam, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

Along with the second HH-53B, the new helicopter was then shipped to Vũng Tàu, Republic of Vietnam, aboard the former U.S. Navy escort carrier, USNS Card (T-AKV-40) for assignment to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. They were soon joined by four more HH-53Bs.

As upgraded HH-53Cs became available, the six -53Bs were returned to the United States, where some were used as trainers, and others as test aircraft for the development of the Pave Imp and Pave Low systems. 4428 was one of five HH-53Bs modified to the initial Pave Low configuration. This was followed by the HH-53H Pave Low II configuration.

In 1988, all HH-53 and CH-53 helicopters in the U.S. Air Force inventory began to be modified to the MH-53J Pave Low III Enhanced special operations configuration. The modifications, along with incorporation of a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) were performed by Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) at NAS Pensacola, Florida, or by the Marine Corps aviation depot at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina.

After nearly 40 years of service, 66-14428 was sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 7 January 2007. By September 2008, all U.S. Air Force Pave Low helicopters had been withdrawn from service.

The first super Jolly Green Giant, 66-14428, now upgraded to an MH-53J Pave Low IIIE, assigned to the 551st Special operations Squadron, 58th Speciqal operations Wing, in flight near Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, 24 March 2000. (U.S. Air Force)
Super Jolly Green Giant 66-14428, now upgraded to an MH-53J Pave Low IIIE, assigned to the 551st Special Operations Squadron, 58th Special Operations Wing, in flight near Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, 24 March 2000. The diagonal struts above each outboard fuel tank show its HH-53B origin. This was the first Super Jolly Green Giant. (Master Sergeant Dave Dolan, U.S. Air Force)

Highly recommended: On A Steel Horse I Ride: A History of the MH-53 Pave Low Helicopters in War and Peace, by Darrel D. Whitcomb, Air University Press, 2012

¹ By the time the United States withdrew from the Vietnam War, Sikorsky had produced 52 HH-53B and -53C Search and rescue helicopters, and 20 CH-53C transports. Of these, 9 HH-53s and 7 CH-53s were destroyed in combat, and 2 HH-53s and 1 CH-53 were lost in accidents in the United States.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

15 March 1966

Los Angeles Airways S-61L at LAX, 15 March 1966. (George Fry/Los Angeles Times)

15 March 1966: A Los Angeles Airways Sikorsky S-61L was taxiing at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) when its right main landing gear collapsed. (Several S-61L accidents have been caused by the collapse of the right main gear, including New York Airways Flight 971, 16 May 1977.) A rotor blade struck a window of the passenger waiting area, which was empty at the time.

Pilot Clarence Hanes, co-pilot Ronald Clyde and purser Rock Kesselring were uninjured. Maintenance technician Bruce Penick was hit by flying debris and seriously injured. He was transported to Daniel Freeman Hospital.

Los Angeles Airways operated five Sikorsky S-61Ls in 1966. It had accepted the fifth one just four days before this accident.

The Sikorsky S-61L was a civil variant of the United States Navy HSS-2 Sea King and was the first helicopter specifically built for airline use. The prototype, N300Y, first flew 2 November 1961. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. Although HSS-2 fuselage is designed to allow landing on water, the S-61L is not amphibious, having standard landing gear rather than the sponsons of the HSS-2 (and civil S-61N).

The S-61L fuselage is 4 feet, 2 inches (1.270 meters) longer than that of the HSS-2. The S-61L is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high, with rotors turning. The fully-articulated main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.149 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% NR, the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m.

The S-61L was powered by two General Electric CT58-110 turboshaft engines, each of which had a continuous power rating of 1,050 shaft horsepower and maximum power of 1,250 shaft horsepower. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.

The S-61L has a cruise speed of  166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). Its maximum takeoff weight is 20,500 pounds (9,298.6 kilograms).

Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61-series helicopters. 13 were S-61Ls.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

15 March 1962

Color photograph of Flying Tiger Line’s Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N6921C. (Pinterest)

15 March 1962: Flying Tiger Line Flight 7815/13 was a chartered flight for the Military Air Transport Service (M.A.T.S. Flight 739/14), from Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California, to Saigon, Republic of Vietnam, with scheduled refueling stops at Honolulu, Hawaii; Wake Island; Naval Air Station Agana, Guam; and Clark Air Force Base, Luzon, Philippine Islands. The flight departed Travis at 0545 G.M.T., 14 March.

The airliner was a Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation, N6921C, under the command of Captain Gregory P. Thomas. The flight crew consisted of three pilots, two flight engineers, and two navigators/radio operators. There were four stewardesses in the passenger cabin, with 96 passengers. Three of the passengers were Vietnamese military personnel, while the remainder were U.S. Army electronics and communications specialists.

The Super Constellation departed Guam for Luzon at 1257 G.M.T, 15 March. It climbed to 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). The estimated flight time for this leg was 6 hours, 19 minutes. The airplane carried sufficient fuel for 9 hours, 30 minutes of flight.

At 1422 G.M.T., M.A.T.S. flight 739/14 radioed the Guam International Flight Service Station, reporting their position at 1416 hours as North 13° 40′, East 140°, and cruising at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). The navigator gave the flight’s estimated position at 1530 G.M.T. as N. 14° 00′, E. 135° 00′.

There was no 1530 hours position report from Flight 739. Beginning at 1533 G.M.T., the Guam I.F.S.S. began attempting to contact the airliner, but was unsuccessful. At 1943  hours, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers at NAS Agana and Clark AFB began search and rescue operations. At 2227 hours, the airliner was declared lost.

S.S. T. L. Lenzen, built by Mitsubishi Zozen K.K., 1959–1960. 42,277 deadweight tons, 16,000 horsepower. Cargo capacity 319,000 barrels. (The Allen Collection)

The crew of the Standard Oil Company tanker S.S. T. L. Lenzen reported that at 1530 G.M.T., (1:30 a.m., local time), five persons on board had witnessed a midair explosion near Flight 739’s estimated position for that time. The flash was bright enough to illuminate the ship’s decks.

It was established, upon interrogation of five of the crew members, that shipboard lookouts had observed a midair explosion at the approximate position and time when N 6921C was expected to reach 14°00′ North and 135°00′ East. It was recalled that a vapor trail, or some phenomenon resembling a vapor trail, was first observed overhead and slightly to the north of the tanker and moving in an east to west direction. The Lenzen was cruising on a heading of 077° at this time. As this vapor trail passed behind a cloud, there occurred an explosion which was described by the witnesses as intensely luminous, with a white nucleus surrounded by a reddish-orange periphery with radial lines of identically colored light. The explosion occurred in two pulses lasting between two and three seconds and from it two flaming objects of unequal brightness and size apparently fell, at different speeds, into the sea. During the last 10 seconds of the fall of the slower of the two objects, a small bright target was observed on the ship’s radar bearing 270°, range 17 miles.

The captain of the Lenzen stated that he arrived on deck in time to observe the fall of the slower object for approximately 10 seconds before it disappeared from view. He estimated its position in reference to a star and ordered the ship’s course reversed and, after aligning the heading of the vessel with the star, found his heading to be 270°—the same as the bearing of the target previously seen on radar. The captain reported that the weather at that time was:  ‘moonlight, clear atmosphere, 1/4 covered sky by small cumulus clouds evenly distributed.’ The ship proceeded to the position of the radar target and searched the area until 2105 at which time the original course was resumed. No signals or unusual sightings were reported.

The subsequent search, one of the most extensive ever conducted in the history of aviation, covered 144,000 square miles and utilized 1,300 people, 48 aircraft, and 8 surface vessels. A total of 377 air sorties were flown which involved over 3,417 flying hours. Despite the thoroughness of the search, nothing was found that could conceivably be linked to the missing aircraft or its occupants.

CIVIL AERONAUTICS BOARD, AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT, File No. 1-0002, 8 April 1963, at Pages 8–9

Probable Cause: The Board is unable to determine the probable cause of this accident from the evidence now available.

The last known position of Flying Tiger Line M.A.T.S. Flight 739/14. (GIS & Environmental Management Technologies, LLC)

BURBANK, Calif. (AP)—Sabotage, already suspected in the mysterious disappearance of an airliner loaded with American troops, would be considered a stronger possibility than ever if it turns out the plane blew up.

A Flying Tiger Lines official said Sunday experts consider it impossible for a violent explosion to occur about aboard its Super Constellation under normal conditions.

“We’ve gone over it thoroughly the last few days,” said Frank B. Lynott, executive vice president for operation. “The only explosions known to happen would be in empty wing tanks, and none of these would have been empty then. So far as blowing completely apart,” he said, “there’s nothing that powerful aboard: fuel tanks don’t just go off like that.”

Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, Volume CXXV, Number 78, Monday, 19 March 1962, Page 21 at Column 2

Another speculative theory was that the airliner had been hijacked in order to kidnap the passengers.

Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N6921C. (Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives)
Capt. Gregory P. Thomas (Los Angeles Times)

The flight crew of M.A.T.S. Flight 739/14 were all highly experienced airmen. Captain Gregory P. Thomas had been employed by the Flying Tiger Line since 7 July 1950. He held an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, and was type-rated in the Curtiss C-46, Douglas DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, and Lockheed L-1049H. He had flown a total of 19,500 flight hours, with 3,562 hours in the L-1049H. He was 48 years old and lived in Red Bank, New Jersey. According to contemporary news reports, Captain Thomas was “a colorful and heroic flier.” (In 1957, he had ditched a Douglas DC-6 in Jamaica Bay with no loss of life.)

First Officer Robert J. Wish. (Flying Tiger Line)

First Officer Robert J. Wish had worked for FTL since 25 January 1951. He held an ATP certificate, with type ratings for C-46, DC-4 and L-1049H.had a total of 17,500 flight hours, with 3,374 hours in the L-1049H. Wish was also 48 years old, and lived in Hidden Hills, California.

Second Officer Robbie J. Gayzaway [Gazaway or Gazzaway?], 39 years old, from Fillmore, California, was employed by FTL 7 January 1953. He held an ATP certificate with an L-1049H type rating. He had flown 5,500 hours, with 900 in the L-1049H.

Flight Engineer George Nau. (Laura Nau Collection)

Flight Engineer George Michael Nau was hired by the Flying Tiger Line 15 December 1956. He held an F.A.A. Flight Engineer certificate. He had flown 1,235 hours in the L-1049H. Nau was 38 years old and lived in Pacoima, California.

A second flight engineer was Clayton E. McClellan, 33 years old, from San Mateo, California. He was also a certified flight engineer. He had worked for FTL since 4 April 1960. He had approximately 1,090 hours in the L-1049H.

Navigator Grady R. Burt, Jr. (Connie Burt Spolar via Find A Grave)

Navigator William T. Kennedy was hired by FTL 13 February 1962. He was 45 years old, from Braintree, California. He held both navigator and radio operator licenses.

Navigator Grady Reese Burt, Jr., was hired 14 February 1962. He also held both navigator and radio operators licenses. He lived in Baldwin Park, California.

The cabin crew were Senior Flight Attendant Barbara Jean Walmsley from Santa Barbara, California; Hildegard Muller; Christel Diana Reiter of San Mateo; and Patricia Wassum.

The Super Constellation remains missing today, and all 107 persons on board are presumed to have died. With respect to the loss of life, this was the worst accident involving a Lockheed Constellation.

N6921C was the second Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation lost by Flying Tiger Line on 15 March 1962.

The first was N6911C (Lockheed serial number 4804), under the command of Captain Morgan W. Hughes of San Mateo, California. It was also a M.A.T.S. chartered flight, FTL Flight 7816/14, and, like N6921C, had departed from Travis Air Force Base on the night of 14 March. It was reportedly carrying a “secret military cargo” to Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa.

While on a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) approach to NAS Adak Island (in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska) the airliner was consistently below the glide path. Despite seven separate warnings from the ground controller, at 1214 G.M.T., the airplane’s landing gear struck rocks 328 feet (100 meters) short of the runway threshold. It then slid for 2,000 feet (610 meters) along the runway, coming to rest just off its edge. The airliner caught fire and was destroyed. Of the 7 persons on board, 1, James M. Johnstone, a flight engineer, was killed.

Captain Hughes had a total of 13,000 flight hours, with 3,055 hours in the L-1049H. The co-pilot, First Officer Thomas M. Mitchell, had 19,000 flight hours with 1,211 hours in type.

The Civil Aeronautics Board determined that the Probable Cause of this accident was “. . . attributed to the pilots’ misjudgement of distance and altitude during the final approach.”

Flying Tiger Line lost two more L-1049H Super Constellations, N6923C and 6913C, in 1962.

Flying Tiger Line’s Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N6918C, the same type aircraft as N6921C. (Jon Proctor via Wikipedia)

Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N6921C (LAC serial number 4817) was delivered to the Flying Tiger Line in 1957. It was a large, four-engine, long-range airliner. The airplane was operated by two pilots, a flight engineer and a navigator.

The L-1049 series was 18 feet, 4 inches (5.588 meters) longer than the preceding L-749 Constellation, with cylindrical “plugs” installed fore and aft of the wing. The L-1049H was the final commercial variant of the Super Constellation series. It could be converted from a passenger airliner to an air freighter configuration in a few hours. The L-1049 was 113 feet, 3.7 inches (34.536 meters) long, with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 24 feet, 9.5 inches (7.557 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter of 11 feet, 7½ inches ( meters).

The total wing area was 1,650 square feet (153.3 square meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 7° 28.7′, while the trailing edges swept forward 3° 13′. They had 7° 36.6′ dihedral.

The L-1049H had an empty weight of approximately 73,000 pounds (33,122 kilograms. N6921C had a maximum allowable gross weight of 141,845 pounds (64,340 kilograms). When it departed Guam, it carried 25,552 pounds (11,590 kilograms) of 115/145-octane aviation gasoline, and its gross weight was 132,554 pounds (60,125 kilograms).

Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation three-view illustration with dimensions. (Lockheed Aircraft Corporation)

N6921C was powered by four air-cooled, direct-fuel-injected, 3,347.662 cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division 988TC18EA3 turbocompound engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The turbocompound engine used captured exhaust gases to drive three Power Recovery Turbines. These PRTs were coupled to the engine’s crankshaft. This system added approximately 450 horsepower to the engine’s total power output.

The 988RC18EA3 had Normal Power ratings of 2,860 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m. at Sea Level; 2,920 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m. at 4,800 feet (1,463 meters); 2,450 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 16,400 feet (4,999 meters). Its Maximum Power ratings were 3,400 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) for Take Off; and 2,600 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 15,200 feet (4,633 meters). 115/145-octane aviation gasoline was required.

The engines turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard or Curtiss Electric propellers through a 0.4375:1 propeller gear reduction. The reduction gears were strengthened to support 4,000 horsepower. The Wright 988TC18EA3 was 7 feet, 5.53 inches (2.274 meters) long, 4 feet, 8.59 inches (1.473 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,640 pounds, ± 1% (1,651 kilograms).

Factory cutaway Wright Aeronautical Division 988TC18 turbocompound engine. (Aircraft Engine Historical Society)

The L-1049 had a maximum speed for normal operations (VNO) of 260 knots (299 miles per hour/482 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed (VNE) of 293 knots (337 miles per hour/543 kilometers per hour) up to 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). VNO was reduced by 9 knots, and VNE reduced by 11 knots, for each 2,000 foot (610 meters) increase in altitude above 11,000 feet.

The maximum operating altitude for the L-1049 was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Its maximum range was 4,140 miles (6,663 kilometers).

N6921C had flown a total 17,224 hours in just under five years. It was properly certified and maintained, and had no known discrepancies. N6911C had 16,038 hours, TTAF.

Flying Tiger Line’s Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N6915C, the same aircraft type as N6911C and 6921C. This airplane crashed 24 December 1964 at San Francisco, California. (Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

4–15 March 1957

U.S. Navy ZPG-2 Bu. No. 141561, “Snow Bird,” prior to departure at NAS South Weymouth, Boston, Massachusetts, 4 March 1957 (NASM)

4 March 1957: At 6:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, a United States Navy non-rigid airship, Goodyear ZPG-2, Bu. No. 141561, departed NAS South Weymouth, Boston, Massachussetts, on a long-dstance flight to demonstrate the capabilities of a modern lighter-than-air military “blimp.” The airship had been involved in cold-weather testing and had been given the name, Snow Bird. During this flight, the blimp used the radio call sign “Planner 12.”

CDR Jack R. Hunt, USNR, briefs the crew of Snow Bird prior to departure, 4 March 1957. (Flying Magazine)

Snow Bird was under the command of Commander Jack Reed Hunt, U.S.N.R., a fifteen-year veteran of airship operations. There were two additional pilots, Commander Ronald W. Hoel, U.S.N., and Lieutenant Commander Robert S. Bowser, U.S.N. The crew also consisted of three navigators, Lieutenant Stanley W. Dunton, Lieutenant Charles J. Eadie, and Lieutenant John R. Fitzpatrick. The remainder of the crew were Chief Aviation Electronicsman (ALC) Lee N. Steffan, crew chief and radio; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class (AD1) Thomas L. Cox, flight mechanic; Aviation Electricians’s Mate 1st Class (AE1) Carl W. Meyer, electrician; Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class (AG1) William S.Dehn, Jr., aerologist and photographer; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class (AD2) James R. Burkett, Jr., flight mechanic; Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) George A. Locklear, rigger and cook; and Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AT2) Frank J. Maxymillian, radio. Also on board the air ship was a civilian flight engineer, Mr. Edgar L Moore, a Goodyear Aircraft Corporation Field Representative.

Goodyear ZPG-2 departs NAS South Weymouth, Massachussetts, 4 March 1957. (U.S. Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-1009746)

Snow Bird headed east across the Atlantic Ocean, passing north of the Azores on 7 March. At this point, the airship had burned off enough fuel that it was light enough to cruise on one engine. This allowed a much greater range. (A lateral rive shaft between engines allowed both propellers to continue turning.) Late in the third day the flight, the blimp reached the west coast of Portugal, having completed the first Atlantic crossing by a lighter-than-air craft in 12 years.

Snow Bird turned south, heading for Casablanca on the west coast of North Africa, which it reached the morning of 8 March. The airship continued south along the African coast before turning west to re-cross the ocean. The route took the blimp past the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, and then onward to the Virgin Islands. Arriving back in the United States, Snow Bird made landfall at Miami Beach on the afternoon of 14 March.

Admiral Arleigh Burke

A radio message was sent to the crew of Planner 12 by Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations:


Not finished with its voyage, the airship next headed to Dry Tortugas at the far western end of the Florida Keys, and then finally landed at NAS Key West, Florida, on 15 March.

ZPG-2 Flight Track (Flying Magazine)

Snow Bird had traveled 9,448 miles (15,205 kilometers) without landing or refueling. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) lists this as “the longest recorded airship flight.” This exceeded the distance record set by Graf Zeppelin, flying from Friedrichshaven, Germany, to Tokyo, Japan, (11,247 kilometers) 15–19 August 1929. From takeoff at NAS South Weymouth to landing at NAS Key West, the total duration of the flight was 264 hours, 14 minutes.

The crew was met by a large group of dignitaries. Commander Reed was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross by Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr., United States Navy, one of the greatest military leaders of World War II.

Commander Hunt was later presented the Harmon International  Trophy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

An AEW variant U.S. Navy Goodyear ZPG airship. (The Noon Balloon)

Goodyear ZPG-2 Bu. No. 141561 was built by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation at Akron, Ohio. It was the 11th of 12 “N-class” airships which were used for patrol, anti-submarine warfare ASW), and when equipped with radar, for airborne early warning (AEW).

The ZPG-2 is 343 feet (105 meters) long and the envelope has a maximum diameter of 76 feet (23 meters). A two-deck control car was suspended beneath the envelope. The airship had an overall height of 107 feet (33 meters). Bouyancy was provided by 1,011,000 cubic feet (28,628 cubic meters) of Helium.

There are four fins placed in a X-pattern at the tail of the ZPG-2, called ruddervators. (These were similar to the fins used on the experimental submarine USS Albacore (AGSS-569) several years later.) The ruddervators allowed the airship to be controlled by a single control column, a change from the two controls used previously. Also, the decreased vertical span of the fins allowed greater ground clearance, so that the blimp could takeoff at steeper angles than if it had been equipped with the standard cruciform fins.

N-class blimp N-1. Compare its fins to those of the airship in the background.

The Goodyear ZPG-2 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,301.868 cubic inch displacement (21.334 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1300-2 (Cyclone 7 865C7BA1) seven-cylinder radial engines mounted outside the control car. The R-1300-2 was a direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. It was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., for takeoff, using 91/96 octane aviation gasoline. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable pitch, reversible propellers. The R-1300-2 was 48.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 50.45 inches (1.281 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,067 pounds (484 kilograms).

The ZPG-2 had a cruise speed of 57 miles per hour (92 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). Its normal endurance was three days.

Bu. No. 141561’s cockpit, nose cone and a frame of a ruddervator are displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Jack Reed Hunt

Jack Reed Hunt was born at Red Oak, Iowa, 18 May 1918. He was the second of seven children of Smith Reed Hunt, a baker, and Blanche Luise Seefeldt Hunt. The family moved to southern California, where Jack grew up.

Jack R. Hunt joint the United States Navy on 4 April 1942. He was trained as an airship pilot and flight instructor. Hunt was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, 1 October 1942, and promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 October 1943. Hunt remained in the Navy following World War II. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander 1 August 1951, and to Commander, 1 July 1956.

From 1963 until 1984, Jack Hunt was the president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a fully-accredited aerospace university.

Hunt was married three times (Bethel, Donna and Lynne) and had seven children. He died 7 January 1984, at the age of 65 years.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

TSGT Sator Sierra (“Sandy”) Sanchez (22 March 1921–15 March 1945)

“In what was to be the last picture ever taken of him, highly-decorated Staff Sergeant Sator Sierra “Sandy” Sanchez poses in Lucera, Italy, in March 1945.” (University of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication)

15 March 1945: Technical Sergeant Sator Sierra (“Sandy”) Sanchez, 353rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force, based at Lucera Air Field, Italy, volunteered for his 66th combat mission. He flew as the top turret gunner of a Lockheed-Vega B-17G-25-VE Flying Fortress, 42-97683. The mission was to attack the Braunkohle-Benzin AG synthetic oil refinery at Schwarzheide, Ruhland, Germany.

A Lockheed-Vega B-17G Flying Fortress assigned to the 301st Bombardment Group, Heavy, Lucera, Italy, 1944. Note the letter “Y” at the top of the vertical fin. (U.S. Air Force)

Visibility was unlimited above a 10,000 foot (3,048 meters) 7/10th undercast. While approaching the target at about 1415 hours, the B-17 was attacked by fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Its number two engine (inboard, left wing) was damaged and caught fire. It could not be feathered. Fire spread all along the wing. The aircraft commander, 1st Lieutenant Dale Thornton, ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Nine of the crew were able to bail out, but with Sergeant Sanchez still aboard, the bomber pitched up, rolled over, then exploded. Sandy Sanchez was killed. His remains were never located. The survivors were captured and held as prisoners of war at Stalag Luft VI-A.

“At Bad Muskau, Germany, in April, 1996, World War II pilot Dale Thornton, second from left, and airmen from Spangdahlem Air Base cart part of the tail section of Thornton’s aircraft that was shot down at the end of the war to a nearby truck.” (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

In 1993, four of the crew of 42-97693, pilot (former 1st Lieutenant) Dale Thornton, co-pilot (2nd Lieutenant) Edward Naracci, navigator (1st Lieutenant) Leslie J. Tyler and radar navigator (2nd Lieutenant) Stephen J. Stofko, returned to Germany to search for the crash site of their bomber. A portion of 42-97683’s vertical fin was found near Bad Muskau, Germany, near the border with Poland. It was recovered by the 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, based at Spangdahlem Air Base, then placed in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Part of the vertical fin of Lockheed-Vega B-17G 42-97683, in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Sanchez’ final mission was flown during his third combat tour. After completing his first combat tour of 25 missions with the 334th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force, during which he had shot down six enemy fighters as a tail and top turret gunner, he volunteered for a second tour. (At that time, after completing 25 missions, bomber crew members in the 8th Air Force were rotated back to the Unites States for rest, recuperation and eventual reassignment.) He then flew 19 more missions. In addition to the six enemy aircraft destroyed, Sanchez was also credited with two probably destroyed and one damaged.

TSGT Sator Sierra (“Sandy”) Sanchez with Boeing B-17G 42-97290, “Smiling Sandy Sanchez.”

In recognition of his 44 combat missions, a brand new Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress, 42-97290, was named Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez in his honor, and emblazoned with the number “44.” This was the first time that a bomber had been named after an enlisted man.

Technical Sergeant Sanchez was sent back to the United States as a gunnery instructor. Repeatedly volunteering for a third combat tour, he was returned to the European Theater of Operations, assigned to the 301st Bomb Group in Italy. He flew his 45th combat mission in November 1944.

Sergeant Sator Sierra “Sandy” Sanchez, U.S. Army Air Forces, circa 1943. (University of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication)

Sator Sierra Sanchez was born at Joliet Township, Illinois, 22 March 1921. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was two years old, and his father was shot to death when he was eight. He and his sister were raised by their stepmother until she also died in 1934.

In high school, “Sandy” Sanchez participated in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). After graduating, he worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, then enlisted in the United States Army, 20 December 1939, at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. He was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division. In May 1941, he was transferred to the Army Air Corps and trained as an aircraft mechanic.

On 14 March 1943, while working on the flight line at Merced Army Airfield, California, Sergeant Sanchez observed an empty, runaway Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer. He ran toward it but was hit in the back by the airplane’s horizontal stabilizer. Trying again, he succeeded in climbing into rear cockpit. He shut off the engine and fuel and turned it away from a hangar filled with other aircraft and men. Although the BT-13 crashed into another airplane, undoubtedly Sergeant Sanchez had saved many lives. For this action he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal. This is the highest honor that a soldier could receive for valor in a non-combat situation.

When he completed training as an aerial gunner at Las Vegas Army Air Field, Sanchez was promoted to staff sergeant. He was then sent to England to serve with the 95th Bomb Group. He flew his first combat mission 15 September 1943 as the waist gunner of a B-17. After two missions he was assigned to the crew of Boeing B-17F 42-29943, Situation Normal.

Technical Sergeant Sator Sierra Sanchez, U.S. Army Air Forces. (Sanchez Family Collection)

On 10 October 1943, Staff Sergeant Sanchez flew as tail gunner on Situation Normal during an attack on Munster, Germany. He shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and a Junkers Ju 88. Several members of the crew were wounded. Sanchez was awarded the Silver Star.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 42-29943, “Situation Normal.” (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 15472)

Sandy Sanchez was promoted to technical sergeant 15 April 1944.

In addition to the Silver Star and Soldier’s Medal, Technical Sergeant Sandor Sierra Sanchez was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster (two awards, one posthumous), and the Air Medal with two silver and one bronze Oak Leaf Clusters (12 awards).

“Sandy” Sanchez sits on the nose of the B-17G Flying Fortress named in his honor.(American Air Museum in Britain UPL 19239)
Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress 42-97290, BG H. (95th Bomb Group)

The B-17G named after Technical Sergeant Sanchez, 42-97290 (MSN 7792), was built Boeing’s Wichita, Kansas, Plant II. It was delivered to the United Airlines Modification Center at Cheyenne, Wyoming, 15 February 1944. It arrived at the staging base at Kearney Field, Nebraska,  27 February, 1944. On 11 March 1944, the B-17 was flown to Presque Isle, Maine, and then across the North Atlantic Ocean to England. Initially assigned to the 398th Bombardment Group at RAF Nuthampstead (USAAF Station 131), 22 April 1944, 42-97290 was transferred six days later to the 334th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Horham (USAAF Station 119), in East Anglia. It was given the squadron marking BG-H. On its twenty-third mission, 19 May 1944, Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez was damaged in combat near Berlin, Germany. The crew flew the bomber to Akesholm, Sweden, where they and the B-17 were interned. 42-92790 was later scrapped.

B-17G Flying Fortress heavy bombers at the United Airlines Modication Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 41030)

The B-17G on which Sanchez flew his final mission, 42-97683 (MSN 17-7048), had been built by the Lockheed-Vega Corporation at Burbank, California. It was delivered to the Continental Airlines Modification Center at Denver, Colorado, 26 January 1944, then on 7 March 1944, to the 1st Search and Attack Group (AAF Antisubmarine Command) at Langley Army Airfield, Hampton, Virginia, for crew training. (Presumably, the bomber was equipped with AN/APS-15 (H2X) ground-scanning radar.¹) Finally, on 7 April 1944, the bomber arrived at Grenier Army Airfield, Manchester, New Hampshire, to be ferried across the North Atlantic Ocean to England. On 8 April 1944, it was assigned to the 335th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Horham and given the squadron marking OE-M. As the lead airplane on an Operation FRANTIC IV shuttle bombing mission from Poltava Air Base (USAAF Station 559), Ukraine, USSR, to attack an airfield at Szolnok, Hungary, 18 September 1944, 42-97683 was was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire and damaged. Its number four engine (outboard, right wing) caught fire and failed. Four crewmen bailed out and were captured. The bomber continued on to Foggia, Italy, where it crash landed. After being repaired, on 28 October 1944, 42-97683 was assigned to the 352nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy).

Camouflaged B-17s of the 335th Bombardment Squadron, 95th Bombardment Group. The airplane closest to the camera is B-17G 42-38140, “Dolly’s Daughter.” (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 19459)

The B-17G was the final production variant of the Flying Fortress. It entered service with the United States Army Air Forces in 1943.

The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a combat crew of nine to ten men. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.38 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters). The B-17G had an empty weight of 35,972 pounds (16,316.6 kilograms), and the maximum takeoff weight was 67,860 pounds (30,780.8 kilograms).

The B-17G was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-97 had a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for Takeoff and Military Power. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine was 3 feet, 11.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress 42-97246, from the same production block as “Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez”. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17G had a cruising speed of 172 knots (198 miles per hour/319 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The maximum speed was 285 knots (328 miles per hour/528 kilometers per hour) at 26,700 feet (8,138 meters). The service ceiling was 38,450 feet (11,720 meters) at maximum power.

The B-17G had a fuel capacity  of 2,780 gallons (10,523 liters) in twelve wing tanks. Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). The B-17G combat radius of 689 nautical miles (793 statute miles/1,276 kilometers) with max bomb load, and a maximum ferry range of 2,624 nautical miles (3,031 statute miles/4,878 kilometers).

The B-17G was armed with thirteen Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the nose, dorsal, and ventral positions. Two guns could be installed in flexible mounts in the nose compartment, one in the radio compartment, two in the waist and two in the tail. 5,970 rounds of ammunition were carried.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17G was 12,800 pounds (5,806 kilograms). The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of ten 1,000 pound bombs,  eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs or two 2,000 pound bombs. The physical size of each type limited the number that could be carried in the bomb bay.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 8,680 of these were B-17Gs, with 4,035 built by Boeing, 2,395 by Douglas and 2,250 by Lockheed-Vega.

Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress 42-97246, from the same production block as “Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez.” (U.S. Air Force)

A more complete report of Sator Sanchez’ life by Master Sergeant Barry L. Spink can be read at:


In this grainy photograph of the crew of the Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress “Situation Normal,” Technical Sergeant Sator Sierra Sanchez may the man standing at the left end of the back row. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 19273)

¹ After transferring its antisubmarine warfare mission to the United States Navy’s Tenth Fleet in 1943, the 1st Search Attack Group conducted specialized training in low altitude bombing and H2X radar operations with the B-17 and B-24.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes