Category Archives: Aviation

25 April 1956

Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base. Colonel Everest is wearing a capstan-type partial pressure suit for protection at very high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base. Colonel Everest is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at very high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)

25 April 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, United States Air Force, was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in the USAF/NACA Bell X-2 supersonic research rocket plane, serial number 46-674. This was the tenth flight of the X-2 program, and only the third powered flight.

For the first time, Everest fired both chambers of the Curtiss-Wright XLR25 rocket engine. On this flight, the X-2 reached Mach 1.40 and 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). It was the first time an X-2 had gone supersonic.

Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, circa 1955–56. (NASA Photograph ET–128)
Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, circa 1955–56. (NASA Photograph ET–128)

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

Two X-2 rocketplanes were built. The second X-2, 46-675, was destroyed during a captive flight when it while still in the bomber’s bomb bay. The explosion killed Bell test pilot Skip Ziegler and an engineer aboard the EB-50D mothership.

The X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,370 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 49-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)

The EB-50D was a highly modified four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress heavy bomber, engineered to carry research aircraft to high altitudes before releasing them for a test flight. The B-50 was an improved version of the World War II B-29A Superfortress.

Boeing B-50D-90-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)

Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., was born 10 Aug 1920, at Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Frank Kendall Everest, an electrical contractor, and Phyllis Gail Walker Everest. Attended Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West Virginia, graduating in 1939. He studied at Fairmont State Teachers College, also in Fairmont, West Virginia, and then studied engineering at teh University of Wesst Virginia in Morgantown.

Pete Everest enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 7 November 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. His enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.703 meters) tall and weighed 132 pounds (59.9 kilograms). He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 3 July 1942.

Everest married Miss Avis June Mason in Marion, West Virginia, in 1942.

He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States, 11 November 1942. He was assigned as a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying 94 combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third. Everest was promoted to the rank of Captain, 17 August 1943.

In 1944, Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations where he flew 67 missions and shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major, 1 July 1945. He was returned to the United States military 3 October 1945.

After the war, Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Everest was returned to the permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945.

At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was the test pilot on thirteen of the twenty X-2 flights.

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base. In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. He later worked as a test pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft.

During his military career General Everest was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Purple Heart; Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Prisoner of War Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four bronze stars; Asiatic-Pacific campaign Medal with two bronze stars; World War II Victory Medal; national Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters ( awards); Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960– device. General Everest was rated as a Command Pilot, and a Basic Parachutist.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr. United States Air Force (Retired), died at Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2004 at the age of 84 years.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, United states Air Force
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, United States Air Force

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 April 1945

First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps, (U.S. Air Force)
Aviation Cadet Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

RAYMOND L. KNIGHT

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: In Northern Po Valley, Italy, 24-25 April 1945.

Entered service at: Houston, Texas. Born: Texas.

G.O. No.: 81, 24 September 1945.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight on 24 and 25 April 1945 in the northern Po Valley, Italy, piloted a fighter-bomber aircraft in a series of low-level strafing missions, destroying 14 grounded enemy aircraft and leading attacks which wrecked 10 others during a critical period of the Allied drive in northern Italy. On the morning of 24 April, he volunteered to lead two other aircraft against the strongly defended enemy airdrome at Ghedi. Ordering his fellow pilots to remain aloft, he skimmed the ground through a deadly curtain of antiaircraft fire to reconnoiter the field, locating eight German aircraft hidden beneath heavy camouflage. He rejoined his flight, briefed them by radio, and then led them with consummate skill through the hail of enemy fire in a low-level attack, destroying five aircraft, while his flight accounted for two others. Returning to his base, he volunteered to lead three other aircraft in reconnaissance of Bergamo Airfield, an enemy base near Ghedi and one known to be equally well defended. Again ordering his flight to remain out of range of antiaircraft fire, Lieutenant Knight flew through an exceptionally intense barrage, which heavily damaged his Thunderbolt, to observe the field at minimum altitude. He discovered a squadron of enemy aircraft under heavy camouflage and led his flight to the assault. Returning alone after this strafing, he made 10 deliberate passes against the field despite being hit twice more by antiaircraft fire, destroying six fully loaded enemy twin-engine aircraft and two fighters. His skillfully led attack enabled his flight to destroy four other twin-engine aircraft and a fighter airplane. He then returned to his base in his seriously damaged airplane. Early the next morning, when he again attacked Bergamo, he sighted an enemy plane on the runway. Again he led three other American pilots in a blistering low-level sweep through vicious antiaircraft fire that damaged his airplane so severely that it was virtually nonflyable. Three of the few remaining enemy twin-engine aircraft at that base were destroyed. Realizing the critical need for aircraft in his unit, he declined to parachute to safety over friendly territory and unhesitatingly attempted to return his shattered airplane to his home field. With great skill and strength, he flew homeward until caught by treacherous air conditions in the Apennine Mountains, where he crashed and was killed. The gallant action of Lieutenant Knight eliminated the German aircraft which were poised to wreak havoc on Allied forces pressing to establish the first firm bridgehead across the Po River. His fearless daring and voluntary self-sacrifice averted possible heavy casualties among ground forces and the resultant slowing of the drive which culminated in the collapse of German resistance in Italy.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

Raymond Larry Knight was born 15 June 1922 in Houston, Texas. He was the third child of John Franklin Knight, a clerk, and Sarah Francis Kelly Knight. He attended John H. Reagan Senior High School in Houston, graduating in 1940.

Knight married Miss Johnnie Lee Kinchloe, also a 1940 graduate of Reagan High School, 5 June 1942. They had one son, Raymond Jr.

Knight enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, 10 Oct 1942, and trained as a fighter pilot at various airfields in Texas. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, May 1944. After advanced training, Knight was assigned to the 346th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, at Tarquinia Airfield, Italy, in November 1944. He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1945.

Lieutenant Knight flew 82 combat missions. He is credited with 14 enemy aircraft destroyed.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Mrs. Knight by Major General James Pratt Hodges at a ceremony at John H. Reagan Senior High School, 23 October 1945.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Knight was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards).

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Raymond Larry Knight, United States Army Air Corps, are interred at the Houston National Cemetery, Houston, Texas.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight (at right) and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785, marked 6D5. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. It was named “OH JOHNNIE” after his wife. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47D variant was very similar to the preceding P-47C. The Thunderbolt which Raymond Knight flew on his final mission was a P-47D-27-RE, serial number 42-26785. He had named it OH JOHNNIE after his wife. The Thunderbolt’s bubble canopy had been introduced with the Block 25 series, and Block 27 added a dorsal fillet to improve longitudinal stability which had been diminished with the new aft fuselage configuration. The P-47D-27-RE was 36 feet, 1¾ inches (11.017 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-3/8 inches (12.430 meters) The overall height was 14 feet, 7 inches (4.445 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 10,700 pounds (4,853 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms).

The P-47D-27-RE was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-59) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-59 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge. The engine drove a 13 foot, 0 inch (3.962 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric or Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-59 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,290 pounds (1,039 kilograms).

The P-47D had a maximum speed in level flight of 444 miles per hour (715 kilometers per hour) at 23,200 feet (7,071 meters) with 70 inches Hg manifold pressure (2.37 Bar), using water injection.¹ The service ceiling was 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). It had a maximum range of 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) with internal fuel, and 1,800 miles (2,897 kilometers) with external tanks.

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.

A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat, it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

¹  A rebuilt R-2800-63 was run at War Emergency Power (2,600 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m.) for 7½ hours on a test stand, and was in running condition when the test was completed.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21–25 April 1944

First Lieutenant Carter Harman, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Army)
Second Lieutenant Carter Harman, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Army)

21 April 1944: The first military helicopter combat rescue began with Lieutenant Carter Harman, 1st Air Commando Group, being ordered to proceed from Lalaghat, India with his Vought-Sikorsky YR-4B, 43-28247, 600 miles (965 kilometers) to Taro in northern Burma.

Technical Sergeant Ed “Murphy” Hladovcak, pilot of a Stinson L-1A Vigilant liaison airplane, had crashed in the jungle behind Japanese lines while transporting three wounded British soldiers. Lieutenant Harman was assigned to attempt to rescue the four men. It would be a marathon operation.

The first Stinson O-49 liaison airplane, 40-192. The type was redesignated L-1A Vigilant in April 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
The first Stinson O-49 liaison airplane, 40-192. The type was redesignated L-1A Vigilant in April 1942. The L-1A was expensive to manufacture, but had excellent short field performance. (U.S. Air Force)

It took Harman and his Sikorsky 24 hours to arrive at Taro. After a brief rest and dip in the river to cool off, he continued for another 125 miles (202 kilometers) to an airstrip in the jungle called “Aberdeen” which was well behind the enemy lines. It was from here that Sgt. Hladovcak had been operating, flying out wounded soldiers. From Aberdeen, Harman was led to the location of the downed men by another liaison airplane. The survivors were surrounded by Japanese soldiers who had found the crashed airplane and were trying to locate the four men.

Lt. Carter Harman hovering in ground effect with Sikorsky YR-4B Hoverfly 43-28247 at Lalaghat, India, March 1944. This is the helicopter with which he made the first combat rescue, 21–25 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lt. Carter Harman hovering in ground effect with Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28247 at Lalaghat, India, March 1944. This is the helicopter with which he made the first combat rescue, 21–25 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Because of the high heat, elevation and humidity increased the Density Altitude, the YR-4B’s air-cooled radial engine was unable to produce its full rated power. Also, the helicopter’s rotor blades were not as effective as they would be at lower density altitudes.

Harman planned to lift one of the survivors out of the clearing in the jungle and fly a short distance to a sand bank where other L-1 or L-5 liaison airplanes could fly them back to Aberdeen. He would repeat the operation until all four men had been rescued. However, it took the rest of the day to airlift just the first two wounded and very sick soldiers.

The Distinguished Flying Cross
The Distinguished Flying Cross

On the second flight, the helicopter’s engine was overheating and on landing it seized and could not be restarted. Sergeant Hladovcak and the remaining soldier were still in the jungle, Lieutenant Harman was stuck by the river bank and Japanese soldiers were everywhere.

On the morning of 25 April Lieutenant Harman was able to get the helicopter’s engine to start, and again, one at a time, he rescued the two remaining survivors. A liaison plane flew out the wounded soldier while Hladovcak rode along with Harman back to Aberdeen. He had never seen a helicopter before.

For his actions, Lieutenant Carter Harman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28247 was condemned 31 December 1944.

Lieutenant Carter Harman (standing, left), 1st Air Commando Group, with Sikorsky YR-4B-8-SI 43-28223, Burma, 26 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Carter Harman (standing, left), 1st Air Commando Group, with Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28223, Burma, 26 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky YR-4B was a two-place, single-engine helicopter with a single main rotor and an anti-torque tail rotor. The fuselage was 35 feet, 8.375 inches (10.881 meters) long with a main rotor diameter of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters). The tail rotor was 8 feet, 2.25 inches (2.496 meters) in diameter. Its overall length, with rotors turning, was 48 feet, 3.375 inches (4.716 meters). The helicopter had an overall height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The empty weight was 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152 kilograms). The helicopter’s fuel capacity was 30 gallons (113.6 liters)

The main rotor consisted of three tapered, fully-articulated blades built of chrome-molybdenum steel spars and spruce plywood ribs, with laminated spruce, balsa and mahogany forming the leading edge and a flexible cable forming the trailing edge. The blades were covered with two layers of doped fabric. The three-bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built with a spruce spar and alternating laminations of maple and mahogany, covered with fabric. Both the main and tail rotors had a thin brass abrasion strip covering the leading edges. 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 right side in a tractor configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

Vought-Sikorsky R-4B 43-46514
A production Vought-Sikorsky R-4B, 43-46514, in flight. This helicopter was delivered to the Royal Navy, designated Hoverfly Mk.I, KK974. It crashed in 1946. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)

The YR-4B was powered by an air-cooled, direct-drive 555.298-cubic-inch-displacement (9.100 liter) Warner Super Scarab SS185 (R-550-3) seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 6.20:1. The R-550-3 was rated at 185 horsepower at 2,175 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 200 horsepower at 2,475 r.p.m (five minute limit) for takeoff. The engine was placed backwards in the aircraft with the propeller shaft driving a short driveshaft through a clutch to a 90° gear box and the transmission. The R-550-3 weighed 344 pounds (156 kilograms).

The R-4B had a cruise speed of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 82 miles per hour (132 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) and range was 157 miles (253 kilometers).

The YR-4B was equipped with bomb racks. It could carry three 125 pound (56.7 kilogram) demolition bombs or one 325 pound (147 kilogram) depth bomb. The equipment was deleted for the R-4B.

Sikorsky built 27 YR-4Bs and 100 R-4B helicopters. Of these, 40 were assigned to the Army Air Corps, 19 to the Navy and Coast Guard, and 41 were sent to the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28225 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, 1944. A technician is preparing strobes to take stop-motion photographs of the helicopter's rotor blades while they turn at normal operating r.p.m. (NASA)
Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28225 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, 1944. A technician is preparing strobes to take stop-motion photographs of the helicopter’s rotor blades while they turn at normal operating r.p.m. (NASA)

Carter Harman was born at Brooklyn, New York, 14 June 1918, the son of Steven Palmer Harman, a newspaper editor, and Helen F. Doremus Harman.

Before the war, Harman had been a musician and author. He assisted Duke Ellington write an autobiography. Harman earned a bachelor’s degree in music composition from Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1940.

Harman enlisted as a private in the Army of the United States Army on 1 April 1942, assigned to the Air Corps. Enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (170.2 centimeters) tall and weighed 125 pounds (57 kilograms)

After World War II ended, Harman returned to his musical studies at Columbia University, New York City, receiving a master’s degree in 1949.

Harman worked as a music critic for The New York Times and Time Magazine, and also continued writing books, as well as composing for ballet and opera. He was also a music producer and became executive vice president of CRI Records (Composers Recordings, Inc.).

Harman was married three times. He married Miss Nancy Hallinan, 5 February 1946, however they later divorced. His second wife was Helen Scott. They had four children together. His third wife was Wanda Maximilien.

Carter Harman died at Berlin, Vermont, 23 January 2007 at the age of 88 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 April 1943

Graduating class of WASP Pilots pass in review.
Graduating class of WASP Pilots pass in review at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. (U.S. Air Force)

24 April 1943: The first class of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, Class 43-1, graduated from the four-month flight training program and earned their wings as U.S. Army pilots. The class entered with 38 trainees and 24 graduated. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.

The WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts. Some went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters.

WASP pilots FrancesGreen, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborne at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio, with a Boeing B-17. (U.S. Air Force)
WASP pilots Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborne at the four-engine school at Lockbourne Army Airfield, Ohio, with a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilots were not always men. These four women, members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), were assigned as engineering test pilots, testing new aircraft and modifications. The airplane behind them is a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. From left to right, Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, Hellen Skjersaa Hansen, Doris Burmeister Nathan and Elizabeth V. Chadwick Dressler. (U.S. Air Force)
Test pilots were not always men. These four women, members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), were assigned as engineering test pilots, testing new aircraft and modifications. The airplane behind them is a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. From left to right, Dorothy Dodd Eppstein, Hellen Skjersaa Hansen, Doris Burmeister Nathan and Elizabeth V. Chadwick Dressler. (U.S. Air Force)

The WASPs were not combat pilots. They tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, delivered these airplanes from factories to Air Corps bases around the country, ferried aircraft across oceans, and flew transport missions.

All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.

Major Eileen M. Collins with F-4E-31-MC Phantom II, 66-0289, at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1990. A pilot instructor on the T-38 Talon and C-141 Starlifter, Eileen Collins graduated from Class 89B at Edwards. Accepted as an astronaut for NASA, she piloted the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-63, Atlantis, STS 84, and commanded Columbia STS-93 and Discovery, STS-114.(U.S. Air Force)
Major Eileen M. Collins with F-4E-31-MC Phantom II, 66-0289, at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1990. A pilot instructor on the T-38 Talon and C-141 Starlifter, Eileen Collins graduated from Class 89B at Edwards. Accepted as an astronaut for NASA, she piloted the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-63, Atlantis, STS 84, and commanded Columbia STS-93 and Discovery, STS-114.(U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter Interceptor pilots of the 3rd Fighter Wing, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, left to right, Major Andrea Misener, 19th FS; Captain Jammie Jamiesen, 12th FS; Major Carey Jones, 19th FS; Captain Samantha Weeks, 12th FS. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter Interceptor pilots of the 3rd Fighter Wing, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, left to right, Major Andrea Misener, 19th FS; Captain Jammie Jamiesen, 12th FS; Major Carey Jones, 19th FS; Captain Samantha Weeks, 12th FS. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, Lead Test Pilot for the Boeing 777 and Chief Pilot, Boeing Training and Flight Services. (Boeing)
Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, Lead Test Pilot for the Boeing 777 and Chief Pilot, Boeing Training and Flight Services. (Boeing)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 April 1939

The Curtiss XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)
The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. Compare this to the first production P-40 Warhawk in the photograph below. (NASA)
Curtiss P-40 Warhawk 39-156. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk 39-156. (U.S. Air Force)

24 April 1939: Curtiss-Wright’s prototype fighter, the XP-40 (Model 75P), was evaluated by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Field, Virginia, in March and April 1939. NACA engineers placed the XP-40 inside the Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, which was capable of accepting airplanes with wing spans of up to 40 feet (12.2 meters).

The airplane was a production Curtiss P-36A Hawk, serial number 38-10, which had been modified by replacing its original air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C1-G (R-1830-17) 14-cylinder radial engine with a Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C13 (V-1710-19). This was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6.65:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 910 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,060 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for Takeoff. At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), the V-1710-19 had Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. The engine required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. It drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-19 was 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.483 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.75″ (1.035 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.735 meters) wide. It weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

Curtiss XP-40 prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. The technician at the lower left of the photograph provides scale. (NASA)
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. The technician at the lower left of the photograph provides scale. (NASA)

The primary benefit of the engine change was the streamlined fuselage that resulted. The new airplane was capable of a speed of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour), a 53 miles per hour (85 kilometers per hour) increase over the P-36.

Over a two-month period, NACA engineers made a number of improvements. The radiator was moved forward under the engine and the oil coolers utilized the same air scoop. The exhaust manifolds were improved as were the landing gear doors.

When they had finished, Lieutenant Kelsey flew the modified XP-40 back to Curtiss at Buffalo, New York. Its speed had been increased to 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour), a 12% improvement. Other improvements were recommended which may have increased the XP-40’s speed by an additional 18 miles per hour (29 kilometers per hour). By December 1939, the airplane had been further improved and was capable of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour).

These photographs show the full-size prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley, 24 April 1939. Two days later, the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered 524 airplanes as the P-40 Warhawk. By the time production ended in 1945, 13,738 Warhawks had been built.

Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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