All posts by Bryan Swopes

About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

18 August 1943

The second Sikorsky XR-5, 43-28237 (c/n 34). (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

18 August 1943: At Bridgeport, Connecticut, Sikorsky chief test pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-327, c/n 33. Also known as the Sikorsky Model S-48, the U.S. Army Air Corps designated the helicopter XR-5 and assigned the serial number 43-28236.

The XR-5 was a significant improvement over the earlier R-4. Its narrow fuselage was streamlined and the cockpit had excellent visibility. The R-4’s box-like fuselage interfered with the downward flow of air from the main rotor, and this was a consideration in the shape of the new helicopter.

The Sikorsky XR-5 (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

There were five XR-5 helicopters, followed by twenty-six YR-5A service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7½ inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1½ inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,714.6 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,222.6 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Chief Test Pilot Les Morris with Captain Jackson E. Beighle, U.S. Army Air Corps, hovers a Sikorsky YR-5A, 43-46603, at Bridgeport, with ten additional passengers, 29 November 1945. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

On 13 September 1943, Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner was hovering out of ground effect at 75 feet (23 meters) when 43-28236 suffered a tail rotor failure. The helicopter made a hard landing and was dignificantly damaged. Neither Viner nor his passenger were injured.

In 1944, while flying to a war bond rally in Nebraska, XR-5 43-28236 suffered an engine failure and crash landed. The helicopter was damaged beyond repair and was stripped for parts.

Thanks to regular This Day in Aviation reader Mike for suggesting this subject.

Igor Sikorsky in the cockpit of a production R-5 helicopter. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1932

Auguste Piccard loads supplies aboard the gondola of his balloon, 18 August 1932. Aktuelle-Bilder-Centrale, Georg Pahl (Bild 102)
Auguste Piccard loads supplies aboard the gondola of his balloon, 18 August 1932. Aktuelle-Bilder-Centrale, Georg Pahl (Bild 102)

18 August 1932: At 5:04 a.m., Professor Auguste Antoine Piccard and his assistant, Max Cosyns, used a hydrogen-filled balloon to lift their pressurized gondola from Dübendorf Airfield, Zürich, Switzerland, into the stratosphere on an expedition to investigate the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere and to study cosmic radiation. During the 12 hour flight, Piccard and Cosyns reached an altitude of 16,201 meters (53,153 feet), setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹

The expedition was funded by Belgium’s Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS).

Auguste Piccard's balloon being inflated with hydrogen at Dübendorf Flughafen, Zurich, Switzerland, during the night of 17–18 August 1932. (Unattributed)
Auguste Piccard’s balloon being inflated with hydrogen at Dübendorf Flughafen, Zürich, Switzerland, during the night of 17–18 August 1932. (Unattributed)

Piccard’s balloon was made of rubberized cotton fabric. It had a maximum volume of 500,000 cubic feet (14,158 cubic meters) and weighed, by itself, approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). When it expanded to its maximum size in the upper atmosphere, the diameter was 99 feet (30.2 meters). The gondola was constructed of aluminum and was 7 feet (2.14 meters) in diameter. There were to hatches for entry and exit, and seven port holes.

The outer surface of the spherical gondola was painted half white and half black. This was intended to control interior heat by turning the lighter side toward or away from the sun by means of a small propeller mounted to a horizontal stanchion. Unfortunately for the two aeronauts, this did not work. The hermetically sealed hatches allowed the gondola to maintain the surface atmospheric pressure as it rose into the stratosphere. The air contained inside the aluminum sphere was recycled through a Draeger system of the type used in submarines. This added oxygen to replace that consumed and extracted the carbon dioxide that was exhaled.

The balloon reached the peak altitude at 12:12 p.m. During the ascent, the temperature inside the gondola dropped to 5 °F. (-15 °C.). It landed near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, a little after 3:15 p.m.

This was Piccard’s second ascent into the stratosphere. On 27 May 1931 he and Paul Kipfer lifted off from Augsburg, Germany and rose to a record altitude of 15,781 meters (51,775 feet).  (FAI Record File Number 10634) They landed at the Großer Gurgler Ferner galcier near Obergurgl in the Tyrolian Alps.

Professor Piccard was made Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold and Max Cosyns, Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold by Albert I, King of the Belgians. Professor made nearly 30 ascents into the upper atmosphere before turning to the exploration of the very deep oceans with his bathyscaphe, Trieste.

Commander of the Order of Leopold, Civil Division.
Commander of the Order of Leopold, Civil Division.

¹ FAI Record File Number 6590

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1911

Geoffrey de Havilland (RAF Museum)

18 August 1911: At 6:30 a.m., the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2 prototype took off with its designer, Geoffrey de Havilland, at the controls. He made the short flight from Farnborough to Laffan’s Plain where he made a series of takeoffs and landings. The biplane was powered by a 50 horsepower Gnome rotary engine with a pusher propeller.

The Royal Flying Corps initially used the F.E.2 (“F.E.” stood for “Farnham Experimental”) as a scouting and reconnaissance airplane but soon armed it with Maxim or Lewis machine guns. At the opening of World War I, the F.E.2 met with success, however newer aircraft types soon made it obsolete.

Geoffrey de Havilland soon founded his own aircraft design and manufacturing company, de Havilland Aircraft Company. He would later be known as Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, OM, CBE, AFC, RDI, FRAeS.

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 with Maxim gun (RAF Museum)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1871

Alphonse Pénaud (1850–1880)

18 August 1871: Alphonse Pénaud demonstrated the first inherently stable airplane when he flew his model Planophore at a meeting of the Société de Navigation Aérienne at the Tuileries Gardens, Paris, France. The model airplane had a wing span of 18 inches (46 centimeters), a length of 20 inches (51 centimeters) and weighed 15.9 grams. The model was powered by a twisted rubber band which drove an 8 inch diameter (20 centimeter) two-blade propeller positioned at the tail in a pusher configuration.

At this demonstration, Pénaud’s Planophore flew 131 feet (39.9 meters) in 11 seconds.

The craft gained its stability from several features that later became common in aircraft design. The wings curved upward toward the tips, creating a dihedral effect. A horizontal stabilizer at the rear was mounted with a lower angle of incidence than the wings. Pénaud’s use of the twisted rubber band became a common feature of aircraft design models.

A drawing of Alphonse Pénaud’s Planophore. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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16–17 August 1989

Qantas' Boeing 747-438 Longreach VH-OJA, Spirit of Australia. (Aero Icarus)
Qantas’ Boeing 747-438 Longreach VH-OJA, City of Canberra. (Aero Icarus)

16–17 August 1989: On its delivery flight, Qantas’ first Boeing 747-438 Longreach airliner, VH-OJA, City of Canberra, was flown by Captain David Massey-Green from London Heathrow Airport, England (IATA: LHR, ICAO: EGLL) to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, Australia (IATA: SYD, ICAO: YSSY), non-stop. Three other senior Qantas captains, Ray Heiniger, George Lindeman and Rob Greenop completed the flight deck crew. Boeing Training Captain Chet Chester was also aboard.

The distance flown by the new 747 was 17,039.00 kilometers (10,587.54 miles) at an average speed of 845.58 kilometers per hour (525.42 miles per hour). The flight’s duration was 20 hours, 9 minutes, 5 seconds. This set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance and World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course.

The crew of Qantas Flight 741. Front row, left to right: FSD David Cohen, FSD Mal Callender. Back row, left to right: Captain Ray Heiniger, Captain David Massey-Greene, Captain George Lindeman, Captain Rob Greenop.
The crew of Qantas Flight 7741. Front row, left to right: FSD David Cohen, FSD Mal Callender. Back row, left to right: Captain Ray Heiniger, Captain David Massey-Greene, Captain George Lindeman, Captain Rob Greenop. (Unattributed)

FAI Record File Num #2201 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1t (Landplanes: take off weight 300 000 kg to 400 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Distance
Performance: 17 039.00 km
Date: 1989-08-17
Course/Location: London (United Kingdom) – Sydney, NSW (Australia)
Claimant David Massy-greene (AUS)
Aeroplane: Boeing 747-400 (VH-OJA)
Engines: 4 Rolls Royce RB 211

FAI Record File Num #2202 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1t (Landplanes: take off weight 300 000 kg to 400 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a recognised course
Performance: 845.58 km/h
Date: 1989-08-17
Course/Location: London (United Kingdom) – Sydney, NSW (Australia)
Claimant David Massy-greene (AUS)
Aeroplane: Boeing 747-400 (VH-OJA)
Engines: 4 Rolls Royce RB 211

Boeing 747-438 Longreach VH-OJA, City of Canberra at Sydney, Australia, August 1989. The motto, WE FLY FURTHER has been painted on the fuselage in recognition of the new airliner's distance record. (John McHarg)
Boeing 747-438 Longreach VH-OJA, City of Canberra, at Sydney, Australia, August 1989. The motto, WE GO FURTHER has been painted on the fuselage in recognition of the new airliner’s distance record. (John McHarg)

VH-OJA was the first of four Boeing 747-400 airliners ordered by Qantas more than two years earlier. The company named these “Longreach” both to emphasize their very long range capabilities, but also as a commemoration of the first scheduled passenger flight of the Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services Ltd. at Longreach, Queensland, 2 November 1922. Qantas named the new airliner City of Canberra. The new 747, the twelfth -400 built, with U.S. registration N6064P, it made its first flight at Seattle with Boeing’s test pilots on 3 July 1989. It was turned over to Qantas on 9 August.

Planning for the record setting flight began almost as soon as the airplane had been ordered. Although the airplane was complete and ready to enter passenger service on arrival at Sydney, certain special arrangements were made. Shell Germany refined 60,000 gallons (227,000 liters) of a special high-density jet fuel and delivered it to Heathrow. Rolls-Royce, manufacturer of the RB211-524G high-bypass turbofan engines, had agreed to specially select four engines to be installed on VH-OJA at the Boeing plant at Everett, Washington.

On the morning of the flight, City of Canberra was towed to the Hold Short position for Runway 28 Right (28R) so as not to use any of the precious fuel while taxiing from the terminal. Once there, its fuel tanks were filled to overflow. The airport fire department stood by as the excess fuel ran out of the tank vents. In the passenger cabin were two Flight Service Directors, FSD David Cohen and FSD Mal Callender, and eighteen passengers including senior executives from Qantas, Boeing, Shell as well as representatives of the Australian news media. The flight crew planned the engine start to allow for the mandatory three-minute warm-up and at approximately 0840 local, called the Tower, using the call sign Qantas 7441, and said that they were ready for takeoff.

After climbing to altitude they began the cruise portion of the flight at Flight Level 330 (33,000 feet or 10,058 meters). As fuel was burned off the airliner gradually climbed higher for more efficiency, eventually reaching a maximum altitude of 45,100 feet (13,746.5 meters) by the time they had reached the west coast of Australia.

QF7441 touched down at Sydney Airport at 2:19 p.m, local time (0419 UTC) in—well, let’s just call it rain and leave it at that. (There is more to the story. . . .)

City of Canberra, Qantas' first Boeing 747-400-series airliner, touches down at Sydney Airport, 2:19 p.m., local, 17 August 1989. (Qantas Heritage Collection)
City of Canberra, Qantas’ first Boeing 747-400-series airliner, registered VH-OJA, touches down at Sydney Airport, 2:19 p.m., local, 17 August 1989. (Qantas Heritage Collection) 

For a more detailed description of this flight and its planning, see John McHarg’s article, “The Delivery Flight of Qantas Boeing 747-438 VH-OJA” at:

http://www.aussieairliners.org/b-747/vh-oja/vhoja%20article/vhojastory.html

City of Canberra, VH-OJA, remains in Qantas service twenty-four years later. Its distance record stood until 10 November 1995 when another Boeing airliner, a 777-200LR with Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman in command, set a new distance record.

Qantas' Boeing 747-438 Longreach VH-OJA, City of Canberra, on takeoff, 2011. (Aero icarus)
Qantas’ Boeing 747-438 Longreach VH-OJA, City of Canberra, on takeoff from Sydney, 1999. (Aero Icarus)

The Boeing 747-400 airliner can carry between 416 and 660 passengers, depending on configuration. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.6 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.4 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.4 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,800 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,890 kilograms). While the prototype was powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines, production airplanes could be ordered with PW4062, General Electric CF6 or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, providing thrust ranging from 59,500 to 63,300 pounds. The –400 has a cruise speed of 0.85 Mach (567 miles per hour, 912 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (614 miles per hour, 988 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,450 kilometers).

A Qantas Boeing 747-438 Longreach, VH-OJU, Lord Howe Island, leaves contrails across the sky. (Unattributed)
A Qantas Boeing 747-438 Longreach, VH-OJU, Lord Howe Island, leaves contrails across the sky. (Unattributed)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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