Category Archives: Aviation

20 October 1952

Douglas X-3 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 49-2892. Rogers Dry Lake is in the background. (NASA)

20 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman made the first test flight of the X-3 twin-engine supersonic research airplane. During a high-speed taxi test five days earlier, Bridgeman and the X-3 had briefly been airborne for approximately one mile over the dry lake bed, but on this flight he spent approximately 20 minutes familiarizing himself with the new airplane.

William Barton “Bill” Bridgeman, 1916–1968. (LIFE Magazine)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.”

Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot. He checked out new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards AFB.) With the Skyrocket, he flew higher—79,494 feet (24,230 meters)—and faster—Mach 1.88—than any pilot had up to that time.

Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and NACA to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)
This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J34 engines and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. Its highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. The research airplane was therefore never able to be used in flight testing in the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics, though, it became useful in exploring stability and control problems encountered in the transonic range.

Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA High Speed Flight Station research pilot Joseph A. Walker.

NACA flight testing began in August 1954. On the tenth flight, 27 October, Joe Walker put the X-3 into abrupt left aileron rolls at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), first at 0.92 Mach and then at Mach 1.05. Both times, the aircraft violently yawed to the right and then pitched down.

This was a new and little understood condition called inertial roll coupling. It was a result of the aircraft’s mass being concentrated within its fuselage, the torque reactions and gyroscopic effect of the turbojet engines and the inability of the wings and control surfaces to stabilize the airplane and overcome its rolling tendency. (Just two weeks earlier, North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch had been killed when the F-100A Super Sabre that he was testing also encountered inertial roll coupling and disintegrated.) A post-flight inspection found that the X-3 had reached its maximum design load. The X-3 was grounded for the next 11 months.

Joe Walker resumed flight testing the X-3 in 1955. It’s last flight was 23 May 1956. After the flight test program came to an end, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Douglas X-3 49-2892 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1922

1st Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service United States Army. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

20 October 1922: 1st Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service, United States Army, the Chief, Flight Test Branch, Engineering Division, at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, was test flying a Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A monoplane, a single-engine, single-seat fighter. The PW-2A, serial number A.S. 64388, had experimental balance-type ailerons. During this flight, Lieutenant Harris engaged in simulated air combat with Lieutenant Muir Fairchild (future Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force) who was flying a Thomas-Morse MB-3.

While banking the PW-2A into a right turn, Harris’ control stick began to vibrate violently from side to side and the airplane’s wings were “torn apart.” With the Loening diving uncontrollably, Harris jumped from the cockpit at approximately 2,500 feet (762 meters). After free-falling about 2,000 feet (610 meters), he pulled the lanyard on his parachute which immediately deployed. Harris then descended with his parachute providing aerodynamic deceleration, coming safely to earth in the back yard of a home at 335 Troy Street. He suffered minor bruises when he landed on a trellis in the garden.

Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A, A.S. 64388. This is the airplane from which Lieutenant Harold R. Harris “bailed out” over Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Harris’ PW-2A crashed into a yard at 403 Valley Street, three blocks away. It was completely destroyed.

This was the very first time a free-fall parachute had been used in an actual inflight emergency. Lieutenant Harris became the first member of the Irvin Air Chute Company’s “Caterpillar Club.”

Crash scene at 403 Valley Street, Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (U.S. Air Force)

Harold R. Harris was born at Chicago, Illinois, 20 December 1895, the first of four children of Ross Allen Harris, M.D., and Mae Ermine Plumb Harris. He enlisted as a private in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps (E.R.C.), 2 May 1917. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps (O.R.C.) on 15 December 1917. Harris was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant on 19 January 1918. His commission was vacated 18 September 1920 and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920.

Married Grace C. Harris, circa 1920. They had two children.

Ross attended the Air Service Engineering School, graduating in 1922. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (“Caltech”).

Harris left the Air Service in 1926. He founded the world’s first aerial crop dusting business, the Huff Daland Company. Next he became a vice president and chief of operations for Grace Airways, a joint venture of Grace Shipping and Pan American World Airways, providing passenger service between South America and the West Coast of the United States.

During World War II, Harris, using his airline experience, helped to establish the Air Transport Command. In 1942, he was commissioned as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By 1945, he was Chief, Air Transport Command, with the rank of Brigadier General.

Following World War II, Harris joined American Overseas Airlines, which soon was absorbed by Pan American. Harris was once again a vice president for Pan Am.

In 1955, Harris became president of Northwest Airlines.

Brigadier General Harold Ross Harris, United States Army Air Corps (Retired) died 28 July 1988 at the age of 92 years.

Harold Ross Harris, circa 1950. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Harold Ross Harris, circa 1950. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1920

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe. (FAI)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

20 October 1920: At Villacoublay, France, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew his Nieuport-Delâge 29V to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 302.53 kilometers per hour (187.98 miles per hour) over a straight 1 kilometer course.¹

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe in the cockpit of his Nieuport-Delâge 29V racer, after winning the Gordon Bennett Trophy, at Orleans/Etampes, 28 September 1920. Under the terms of trophy, the nation whose team won the event three consecutive times took permanent possession. After Sadi-Lecointe’s victory, the Gordon Bennett Trophy was in the permanent possession of the Aéro-Club de France.

Sadi-Lecointe’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. The Ni-D 29V was 21 feet, 3.5 inches (6.489 meters) long, with a wing span of just 6.00 meters (19 feet, 8¼ inches), shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew this Nieuport-Delage NiD-29V to win The Gordon Bennet Cup, 20 October 1920. (les avions Nieuport-Delage)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew this Nieuport-Delâge NiD-29V to win The Gordon Bennett Cup, 28 September 1920. (les avions Nieuport-Delâge)

The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller. The engine was 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches) long, 0.89 meters (2 feet, 11 inches) wide, and 0.88 meters (2 feet, 10½ inches) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).

The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V (Unattributed)
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V (Unattributed)

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe learned to fly in 1910. The Aero Club de France awarded him its license number 431 on 10 February 1910.

He joined the Service Aéronautique (the original form of the French Air Force) as a mechanic in October 1912, and was designated pilote militaire nº375, 20 September 1913. He served as a pilot during World War I, flying the Blériot XI-2, Morane LA and Nieuprt X, then in December 1915 became a flight instructor at l’Ecole de Pilotage d’Avord. Sadi-Lacointe was promoted from the enlisted ranks to sous-lieutenant, 17 September 1917, and was assigned as a test pilot at BlériotSociété Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, where he worked on the development of the famous SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter.

After the War, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge, and participated in numerous races and set a series of speed and altitude records with the company’s airplanes.

Sadi-Lecointe returned to military service in 1925 and participated in the Second Moroccan War. Then in 1927, he returned to his position as chief test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge. From 1936 to 1940, he served as Inspecteur général de l’aviation civile (Inspector General of Aviation) for the French Air Ministry. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Lieutenant Colonel Sadi-Lecointe was again recalled to military service as Inspector of Flying Schools.

With the Fall of France, Sadi-Lacointe joined La Résistance française, and operated with the group, Rafale Andromède. He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo at Paris, and died as a result, 15 July 1944.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, was awarded the Croix de Guerre in three wars. He was posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance. The Aéro-Club de France awarded him its Grande Médaille d’Or de l’Aéro-Club de France. During his flying career, Sadi-Lecointe set seven World Records for Speed, and three World Records for Altitude.

MORT POUR LA FRANCE

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the SPAD S.VII C.1 fighter
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 fighter (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15499

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 October 1908

Left front view of Société Antoinette "Antoinette IV" on the ground. This version is of "Antoinette IV" is fitted with two large in-line wheels, substantial mid-wing skids, and a paddle-type propeller. Designer Léon Levavasseur stands at left (bearded man wearing dark vest and cap). Issy-les-Moulineaux, Paris, France, November 1908. (M. Rol & Cie, 4 Rue Richer, Paris; via Library of Congress)
“Left front view of Société Antoinette ‘Antoinette IV’ on the ground. This version is of ‘Antoinette IV’ is fitted with two large in-line wheels, substantial mid-wing skids, and a paddle-type propeller. Designer Léon Levavasseur stands at left (bearded man wearing dark vest and cap). Issy-les-Moulineaux, Paris, France, November 1908.” (M. Rol & Cie, 4 Rue Richer, Paris/Library of Congress)
Mlle. Antoinette Gastambide, namesake of the Antoinette IV and the company that built it. (L'Aérophile)
Mlle. Antoinette Gastambide, namesake of the Antoinette IV and the company that built it. (L’Aérophile)

19 October 1908: From the grounds of the Château de Bagatelle, Paris, France, Eugène Welferinger made the first flight of the Société d’aviation Antoinette monoplane, the Antoinette IV.

A single-placed single-engine airplane, the Antoinette IV was one the first successful monoplanes. American Machinist described it as a “purely racing machine.”

The airplane and its V-8 engine were designed by Léon Levavasseur. It was modified a number of times, as was its sister ship, the Antoinette V.

Augustus Post, Secretary of the Aero Club of America, wrote in the weekly technical publication, American Machinist:

     M. Lavavasseur considered that the monoplane offered the advantages of simplicity of form, natural stability, and was easier to construct; that is to say, that the thrust of the motor required for flight was less under the same conditions of speed and weight.

     The “Antoinette” is particularly interesting on account of the manner in which the problems have been studied and the great amount of thought that has been given to them. The machine is perhaps without question the most finely finished of those in its class, shows the most careful workmanship in its most minute detail, and presents more new and original features than any of the other machines which may be compared with it. It also provides a comfortable cockpit for the aviator, a distinct advantage in long and trying flights.

—American Machinist, Hill Publishing Company, New York, 7 October 1909, Page 608 at Column 2

Technical details from various sources are contradictory. The Antoinette IV was approximately 40 feet (12.2 meters) long with a wingspan of about 42 feet (12.8 meters). The weight was 1,012 pounds (459 kilograms) with one hour of fuel. and it was capable of reaching 52 miles per hour (84 kilometers per hour).

Antoinette IV in original configuration, 1908. (L'Illustration)
Antoinette IV in an early configuration. (L’Illustration)

The airplane was described in contemporary reports as “beautiful” and often mentioned was the very narrow triangular cross section of its fuselage. Different configurations of landing gear were tried, with combinations of skids and wheels, wheels in tandem, and side-by-side. Directional control was created through “wing-warping” as had been used by the Wright Brothers. The tail surfaces were cruciform, with two triangular rudders located above and below the triangular elevator. Flight controls were four hand wheels and two pedals which connected to the control surfaces by cables.

Latham ( center) and Levavsseur (right) with the Antoinette IV (Old Machine Press)
An unidentified Antoinette employee with Hubert Latham (center) and Léon Levavsseur (right), The airplane is the Antoinette IV. (Librairie Militaire Guérin Mourmelon, via Old Machine Press)

As originally built, the Antoinette IV was powered by a steam-cooled, direct-injected, 7.983 liter (487.14 cubic inch displacement) Antoinette 8V 90° overhead valve V-8 engine which produced approximately 50 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. The 8V was a direct-drive engine which turned a propeller with two aluminum blades which were riveted to a steel tube that attached to the engine’s output shaft. The propeller had a diameter of 2.20 meters (7 feet, 2.6 inches). The engine was 1.120 meters (3 feet, 8 inches) long, 0.630 meters (2 feet, 1 inch) wide and (0.540 meters (1 foot, 9 inches) high. It weighed 95 kilograms (209 pounds).

Antoinette airplanes could be purchased for ₣25,000, or about $5,000 U.S.

Hubert Latham is rescued from the English Channel by the crew of the French torpedo boat destroyer, Harpon, 19 July 1909.
Hubert Latham is rescued from the English Channel by the crew of the French torpedo boat destroyer, Harpon, 19 July 1909.

On 19 July 1909, Arthur Louis Hubert Latham, who had been taught to fly by Welféringer, attempted to fly the Antoinette IV across the English Channel, but an engine failure forced it down about 8 miles off the French coast.

The airplane remained afloat and Latham was rescued by the French torpedo boat destroyer FS Harpon, but the airplane was severely damaged during the recovery.

Léon Lavavasseur, circa 1905. (National Aviation Museum/CORBIS,
Léon Lavavasseur, circa 1905. (National Aviation Museum/CORBIS)

Léon Levavasseur was a French engineer, born at Cherbourg in 1863. He invented the 90° V-8 engine, which he patented in 1902. He specialized in lightweight engines, using compnents designed to be only as strong as was required by their specific use. He developed direct fuel injection and evaporative cooling for internal combustion engines. His company, Société d’aviation Antoinette, and its products, were named for the daughter of his business partner, Jules Gastambide. The company initially produced lightweight engines for other airplane builders, but began to construct complete airplanes in 1906. Both Levavasseur and Gastambide left Antoinette in 1909 following a disagreement with the board of directors, but they returned five months later. The company failed in 1911. Levavasseur died in 1922 at the age of 59 years.

Recommended: An excellent article about Léon Levavasseur’s Antoinette engines can be found at Old Machine Press:

Antoinette (Levavasseur) Aircraft Engines

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 October 1984

Rockwell International B-1B Lancer 82-0001 takes off for the first time at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (U.S. Air Force)

18 October 1984: The first production Rockwell International B-1B Lancer, serial number 82-0001, a supersonic four-engine strategic bomber with variable sweep wings, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California.

Rockwell test pilot M.L. Evenson was in command, with co-pilot Lieutenant Colonel L.B. Schroeder, U.S. Air Force; Major S.A. Henry, Offensive Systems Officer; Captain D.E. Hamilton, Defensive Systems Officer.

After 3 hours, 20 minutes, the B-1B landed at Edwards Air Force Base where it would enter a flight test program.

Rockwell B-1B 82-0001 parked at the Rockwell International facility, AF Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 3 September 1984. (Rockwell)
Rockwell B-1B 82-0001 parked at the Rockwell International Corp. facility, Palmdale, California, 3 September 1984. (MSGT Mike Dial, U.S. Air Force)

The Rockwell International B-1B Lancer is a supersonic intercontinental bomber capable of performing strategic or tactical missions. It is operated by a flight crew of four.

The B-1B is 146 feet (44.50 meters) long, with the wing span varying from 79 feet (24.08 meters) to 137 feet (41.76 meters). It is 34 feet (10.36 meters) high at the top of the vertical fin. The bomber’s empty weight is approximately 192,000 pounds (86,200 kilograms). Its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 477,000 pounds (216,634 kilograms). The payload is up to 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms).

The bomber is powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines, mounted in two-engine nacelles under the wing roots. These are rated at 17,390 pounds of thrust (17.355 kilonewtons) and produce 30,780 pounds (136.916 kilonewtons) with “augmentation.” The engine has two fan stages, a 9-stage axial-flow compressor and a 3-stage turbine. The F101-GE-102 is 180.7 inches (4.590 meters) long, 55.2 inches (1.402 meters) in diameter and weighs 4,460 pounds (2,023 kilograms).

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at Sea Level (913 miles per hour, or 1,470 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is “over 30,000 feet” (9,144 meters). The Lancer’s maximum range is “intercontinental, unrefueled.”

It can carry up to 84 Mk.82 500-pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs, 24 Mk.84 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) bombs or other weapons. The aircraft was designed with the capability to carry 24 B61 thermonuclear bombs, though, since 2007, the fleet no longer has this capability.

100 B-1B Lancers were built between 1983 and 1988. As of September 2016, 62 B-1B bombers are in the active Air Force inventory. Two of these are in the test fleet.

To comply with the START weapons treaty, B-1B 82-0001 was scrapped at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in the mid-1990s.

A Rockwell International B-1B in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
A Rockwell International B-1B in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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