Daily Archives: May 16, 2024

16 May 1986

“Top Gun” poster (Paramount Pictures)

16 May 1986: The Paramount Pictures motion picture, “Top Gun,” directed by Tony Scott, was released in 1,028 theaters in the United States.

The romance/action movie centered around the lives of U.S. Navy fighter pilots. The featured actors were Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Tom Skeritt.

The real “star” of the movie, though, was the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, a supersonic interceptor operating from United States Navy aircraft carriers.

Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside and Tom Skeritt in “Top Gun,” 1986. (Paramount Pictures)

“Top Gun” was widely praised for its flight sequences, although the movie’s plot was fairly juvenile. In TDiA’s opinion, the opening sequence showing activity on an aircraft carrier flight deck, accompanied by Kenny Loggins’ song, “Danger Zone,” is exceptional. Another song from the movie, “Take My Breath Away” performed by Berlin, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Art Scholl, a famed aerial cinematographer, was killed during the production of the movie.

The film is credited with a striking increase in enlistments in the United States Navy.

“Top Gun” was released on the 57th anniversary of another Paramount Pictures movie, “Wings,” winning of the first Academy Award for Best Picture.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

16 May 1977

Sikorsky S-61L N619PA
New York Airways’ Sikorsky S-61L, N916PA. (Photograph by Stefan Sjögren, used with permission.)

16 May 1977: At approximately 5:32 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, New York Airways Flight 971, a Sikorsky S-61L helicopter, landed at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport (JPB) in New York City. Flight 971 had originated at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and carried 20 passengers and a crew of three. The helipad was 855.23 feet (260.67 meters) above Sea Level.

In the cockpit’s right seat was Captain Lee G. Richmond. Captain Richmond had 11,721 total flight hours with over 9,000 in helicopters and approximately 2,200 in the Sikorsky S-61. He had worked for New York Airways since 1964. The co-pilot was First Officer John F. Flanagan had worked for NYA for about five weeks. He had 1,768.4 flight hours with 1,339.2 hours in helicopters. Both pilots had flown 3 hours, 33 minutes on 16 May. Flight Attendant Lammie Chevalier had been employed by NYA for four years.

A Sikorsky S-61L hovers over the Pan Am Building heliport. (Unattributed)
A New York Airways Sikorsky S-61L hovers over the Pan Am Building heliport. (Pan Am)

Captain Richmond taxied the S-61 into position on the 131-foot × 131-foot (39.9 × 39.9 meters) concrete helipad. While parked at the gate, Richmond kept the rotors turning at 100%, keeping the cyclic control centered and the collective full down (negative pitch). The Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) was engaged. Flanagan kept his left knee against the collective pitch lever to ensure that it remained full down. Flight Attendant Chevalier stood inside the passenger cabin, supervising departing and boarding passengers.

The return flight to JFK was designated Flight 972.

Aerial photo of the wreck of Flight 972 atop the Pan Am Building, 16 May 1977. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)
Aerial photo of the wreck of Flight 972 atop the Pan Am Building, 16 May 1977. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)

2 minutes, 21 seconds after touch down, at approximately 5:35 p.m., the right main landing gear of the helicopter failed and the S-61 rolled over to the right. All main rotor blades struck the concrete helipad. Four passengers who were waiting to board were struck by the blades and killed. One of the blades, 28 feet, 10 inches (8.787 meters) long and weighing 209.3 pounds (94.9 kilograms) flew out over the building’s railing and fell alongside the building before crashing through an office window on the 36th floor. The main rotor blade broke into two segments, one of which fell to the street below, striking a pedestrian and killing him. Additional pieces of the main rotor blades were found up to four blocks north of the Pan Am Building.

Wreck of S-61L N619PA at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport, 16 May 1977. (Unattributed)
Wreck of S-61L N619PA at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport, 16 May 1977. The Chrysler Building is in the background. (Unattributed)

The helicopter assigned to Flight 971/972 was a Sikorsky S-61L, s/n 61427, registered N619PA. At the time of the accident, the helicopter had a total of 6,913:15 hours on the airframe. Just 7 hours, 22 minutes had elapsed since the last major inspection.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation determined that the probable cause of the accident was: “. . . the fatigue failure of the upper right forward fitting of the right main landing gear tube assembly. Fatigue originated from a small surface pit of undetermined source. All fatalities were caused by the operating rotor blades as a result of the collapse of the landing gear.”

The NTSB determined that the flight crew had performed correctly, and that the aircraft was properly certified, maintained and operated. The Board speculated that the four boarding passengers would have been killed by the helicopter rolling over, even if the engines had been shut down and rotors stopped.

Sikorsky S-61L N619PA lies on its right side at the Pam Am Building heliport, May 1977. The Empire State Building is in the background. (Unattributed)
Sikorsky S-61L N619PA lies on its right side at the Pam Am Building heliport, May 1977. The Empire State Building is in the background. (Unattributed)

A similar accident had occurred when a Los Angeles Helicopters Sikorsky S-61L suffered a fatigue fracture of its right landing gear and rolled over at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 1963. This accident had resulted in a change in the material used to manufacture the parts.

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 fixed 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 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% r.p.m., the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

Sikorsky S-61L Sea King N617PA, sister ship of the accident helicopter. (Wikipedia)

N619PA was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-2 turboshaft engines, each of which had maximum power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and 1,500 SHP for 2½ minutes. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.

The S-61 has a cruise speed of  166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The 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. As of May 2017, two remained in service.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

16 May 1958

CAPT Walter W. Irwin lands at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 16 May 1958. The airplane is Lockheed F-104A-1-LO 55-2969. (U.S. Air Force)

16 May 1958: At Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California, Captain Walter W. Irwin, U.S. Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15-to-25 Kilometer Straight Course when he flew a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2969, to 2,259.538 kilometers per hour (1,404.012 miles per hour). ¹ He made two runs over the course at an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). ²

On the same day, Captain Irwin set two U.S. National Aeronautic Association time-to-altitude records by flying -969 to 3,000 meters in 41.8 seconds, and to 25,000 meters in 4 minutes, 26.03 seconds. It reached a peak altitude of 27,813 meters (91,246 feet).

Captain Irwin was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon presents the Collier Trophy. Left to right, Major Walter W. Irwin and Lieutenant Colonel Howard C. Johnson; Nixon; Neil Burgess and Gerhard Neumann, designers of the General Electric J79 engine; and Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. 15 December 1959. (NASM-00142388)
Captain Walter W. Irwin, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 16 May 1958. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Walter Wayne Irwin was born 21 August 1924 in Washington. He was the son of John Harvey Irwin, a shoe store clerk, and Stella Mildred Barron. He enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Seattle, Washington, 6 January 1942. Trained as a fighter pilot, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant 3 November 1942. Lieutenant Irwin flew 88 combat missions in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt with the Ninth Air Force in Europe during World War II. He was shot down, captured and held as a prisoner of war for a week before he escaped and made his way to friendly forces.

Captain Irwin married Lieutenant Christine Ann Stevens, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, in a Catholic ceremony at Arlington, Virginia, 4 December 1954. Lieutenant Stevens was assigned to the base hospital at Travis Air Force Base in California. They would have four children.

At the time he set the record, Captain Irwin had just returned from an overseas assignment in Taiwan. He was a flight commander with the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, based at Hamilton Air Force Base, Novato, California.

In addition to the Collier Trophy, Major Irwin won the Thompson Trophy for his F-104 speed record.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2969. The prototype Lockheed Model 188 Electra is in the photograph behind the interceptor.

Walter Irwin retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel following thirty years of service. In retirement, he was owner of a realty company in Sebastopol, California.

On 17 April 1978, Colonel Irwin was flying a rented Piper PA-28-161 Cherokee Warrior near Occidental, California. Witnesses saw the airplane maneuvering at low altitude. A wing clipped an oak tree. The airplane crashed and caught fire. Walter Wayne Irwin was killed. His ashes were spread at sea.

Formation of two Lockheed F-104A-15-LO (S/N 56-0769 and 56-0781). (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The F-104A is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.

Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.

Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter three-view illustration with dimensions.

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

55-2969 in General Electric colors (Pinterest)
55-2969 in General Electric colors. (Pinterest)

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second). The combat ceiling was 55,200 feet (16,825 meters) and the service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

55-2969 was one of the original pre-production Lockheed YF-104As, completed 20 August 1956. It was modified to the F-104A standard configuration and assigned to the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base, near Novato, California.

On 22 August 1957 the Starfighter was damaged at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. It was returned to Lockheed for repair and upgraded to F-104A-1. In May 1958, -969 and another Starfighter were sent to Edwards to attempt setting several speed and altitude records. They were both then returned to the 83rd FIS.

Lockheed F-104A-1-L) Starfighter 55-2969 with a General Electric J79 turbojet engine, circa 1960. General Electric)
Lockheed F-104A-1-LO Starfighter 55-2969 with a General Electric J79 turbojet engine, circa 1960. (General Electric)

From August 1958 to August 1961, -969 was loaned to General Electric to test improvements to the J79 turbojet engine. While there, it was given the name Queenie, which was painted on the nose along with three playing cards.

In 1964 55-2969 was again returned to Lockheed for conversion to a QF-104A remote-controlled target drone. It was damaged by a AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on 28 September 1968, but was recovered, repaired and returned to service. On its 25th drone mission, 26 January 1971, Queenie was shot down by an experimental XAIM-4H Falcon air-to-air missile fired by an F-4E Phantom II.

Lockheed QF-104A 55-2969
Lockheed QF-104A 55-2969 at Eglin Air Force Base circa 1969

¹ FAI Record File Number 9063

² The Speed of Sound at 40,000 feet is 659.8 miles per hour (1,062 kilometers per hour). Captain Irvin’s record average speed was Mach 2.13.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

16–17 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. (Imperial War Museum)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. © IWM (CH 11047)

16–17 May 1943: Nineteen modified Avro Lancaster B.III Special long-range heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, carried out Operation Chastise, a low-level night attack against four hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley.

The purpose of the attack was to disrupt German steel production. It was estimated that 8 tons of water were required to produce 1 ton of steel. Breaching the dams would reduce the available water and hydroelectric power, disrupt transportation of materials on the rivers, and flood iron ore and coal mines and power plants. If the dams were destroyed, it was believed that the effects would be the same as attacks against 26 categories of industrial targets further down the Ruhr Valley.

Led by 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, a veteran of 172 combat missions, the aircrews of No. 617 Squadron dropped a spinning cylindrical bomb, code-named “Upkeep,” from a height of just 60 feet (18.3 meters) over the reservoirs behind the dams, while flying at precisely 240 miles per hour (386.2 kilometers per hour).

The 9,250-pound (4,195.8 kilogram) Vickers Type 464 bomb was designed to skip along the surface and to strike the dam, and then sink to the bottom. There, a pressure detonator exploded the 6,600 pound (2,994 kilogram) Torpex charge directly against the wall with the water pressure directing the energy through the wall.

Guy Gibson's Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, "bombed up" with an Upkeep bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)
Guy Gibson’s Avro Lancaster B.III Special, ED932/G, AJ-G, “bombed up” with a Vickers Type 464 bomb. © IWM (HU 69915)

Nineteen Lancasters took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, England, beginning at 9:28 p.m. on the 16th, and flew across the North Sea at only 100 feet (30.5 meters) to avoid being detected by enemy radar. The bombers succeeded in destroying the Möhne and Eder dams and damaging the Sorpe. A fourth dam, the Ennepe, was attacked but not damaged. The last surviving bomber returned to base at 6:15 a.m. on the 17th.

Of the nineteen Lancasters launched, two were damaged and turned back before reaching the targets. Six were shot down and two more collided with power lines during the low-level night flight. Of 133 airmen participating in the attack, 53 were killed.

GIBSON, Guy, with PO Frederick M. Spafford, FL Robert E.G. Hutchinson, PO Andrew Deering and FO Torger H. Taerum
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, Commander No. 617 Squadron, with the crew of “G George”: Pilot Officer Frederick Mchael Spafford, D.F.C., bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant Robert Edward George Hutchinson, D.F.C. and Bar, wireless operator; Pilot Officer Andrew Deering, D.F.C., gunner; Flying Officer Torger Harlo Taerum, D.F.C., navigator. Flight engineer Sergeant John Pulford and tail gunner Flight Lieutenant Richard A.D. Trevor-Roper are not present.  © IWM (TR 1127) 

For his planning, training and execution of the raid, Wing Commander Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI. An additional 33 survivors were also decorated. 617 Squadron became known as “The Dambusters.” A book, The Dam Busters, was written about the raid by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. A 1955 movie starred Richard Todd, O.B.E., as Wing Commander Gibson. There have been reports that a new movie is planned.

An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an "Upkeep" bomb during tests, April 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
An Avro Lancaster B.III Special drops an “Upkeep” bomb during tests at Reculver, April 1943. Imperial War Museum, still from film, IWM (FLM 2340)
After being dropped from an Avro Lancaster, the “special mine” bounces across the water. (Imperial War Museum)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Mohne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 16 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum)
Post-strike reconnaissance photograph shows the breach of the Möhne Dam in the Ruhr Valley, 17 May 1943. The gap is 250 feet (76 meters) wide and 72 feet (22 meters) deep. © IWM (CH 9687)
Möhne Dam after the attack. Note the defensive barrage balloons.

The Avro Lancaster B.III Special was a four-engine long range heavy bomber modified to carry the Type 464 bomb. It was operated by a crew of seven: Pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator, bomb aimer, nose gunner and tail gunner. The “Lanc” was 69 feet, 6 inches (21.184 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet, 0 inches (31.090 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters), in 3-point position. The Lancaster’s wings had a total area of 1,300.0 square feet (120.8 square meters). Their angle of incidence was 4° and the outer wing panels had 7° dihedral. The span of the horizontal stabilizer was 33 feet, 0 inches (10.058 meters). The modified bomber had an empty weight of 35,240 pounds (15,984.6 kilograms and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 60,000 pounds (27,215.5 kilograms).

The first two modified Avro Lancaster B.III Specials assigned to No. 617 Squadron, RAF Scampton, April 1943. In the foreground is ED825/G, AJ T. (Royal Air Force)

The Lancaster B.III Special was powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 24, the Packard V-1650-1 Merlin 224. These were liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.0:1. The Merlin 224 used a two-speed, single-stage supercharger. 100/130-octane aviation gasoline was required. The engine had a Normal Power rating of 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m. and 9,500 feet (2,896 meters); Military Power, 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters); and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 horsepower with 54.3 inches of manifold pressure (1.84 Bar) for Takeoff. The Merlins drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). The propeller gear reduction ratio was 0.477:1. The V-1650-1 was 6 feet, 7.7 inches (2.024 meters) long, 2 feet, 6.0 inches (0.762 meters) wide and 3 feet, 6.6 inches (1.082 meters) high. It weighed 1,512 pounds (685.8 kilograms).

Avro Lancaster three-view illustration (post-war configuration).

These engines gave the Lancaster a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (321.9 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 272 miles per hour (437.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 24,700 feet (7,528.6 meters) and maximum range was 2,530 miles (4,071.6 kilometers).

Defensive armament for a standard Lancaster consisted of eight air-cooled Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power turrets, nose, dorsal and tail. The Lancasters assigned to Operation Chastise had the dorsal turret deleted to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. The gunner normally operating that turret was moved to the front turret, relieving the bomb aimer to deal with the operation of the specialized mission equipment.

7,377 Avro Lancasters were built. Only two remain in airworthy condition.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.-built Lancaster B.I, PA474, escorted by a Hawker Hurricane IIc, LF363. (Royal Air Force)
Victory Aircraft Ltd.-built Avro Lancaster B Mk.X FM213, marked as KB726, VR A.

Highly Recommended: The Dam Busters, by Paul Brickhill. Evans Brothers, London, 1951

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

16 May 1929

“Wings” poster (Paramount Pictures)

16 May 1929: In a ceremony at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood, California, U.S.A., “Wings,” a Paramount Pictures silent motion picture released in 1927 and directed by William A. Wellman, won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won an award for Best Engineering Effects.

The silent movie about combat pilots of World War I, was filmed on location at Kelly Field, Texas, at a cost of $2,000.000. More than 300 pilots were involved, and 3,500 extras in the land battle scenes.

The leading actors in the film were Clara Bow, Charles (“Buddy”) Rogers, Richard Arlen and Gary Cooper.

Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen and Gary Cooper in “Wings,” 1927. (Paramount Pictures)

William A. Wellman, the film’s director, was himself a combat pilot during World War I,  credited with three “kills” and five probables (perhaps as many as 9 enemy aircraft destroyed). He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with two palms.

“Wings” (1927) main title. (Paramount Pictures)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes