Category Archives: Aviation

1 October 1942

Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784, first flight at Muroc Dry Lake, 1 October 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

1 October 1942: At Muroc Dry Lake, in the high desert north of Los Angeles, California, Bell Aircraft Corporation’s Chief Test Pilot, Robert Morris Stanley, made the first flight of the top secret prototype turbojet-powered fighter, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet, serial number 42-108784. Weather was “C.A.V.U.” (Ceiling and Visibility Unrestricted) and wind was from the west at 20 miles per hour (9 meters per second).

Bell Aircraft Corporation Chief Test Pilot Robert M. Stanley in the cockpit of an XP-59A Airacomet. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

In his report, Stanley wrote:

“4.     All take-offs were made using 15,000 r.p.m. on both engines with flaps fully up and with the airplane pulled off the ground at about 80 to 90 m.p.h. Throttle was applied promptly and acceleration during take-off appeared quite satisfactory. The run was estimated to be in the vicinity of 2,000 feet, possibly more. The first flight reached an altitude of approximately 25 feet, and landing was made using partial power without flaps. This take-off had the wind approximately 60° on the right bow and must be considered a cross-wind take-off.

“5.     Aileron and elevator action appear satisfactory, although the rudder force appears undesirably light causing the airplane to yaw somewhat for very light pedal pressures. Left rudder was needed for take-off due to cross wind.”

—Bell Aircraft Corp. Pilot’s Report 27-923-001, at Page 1-12, by Robert M. Stanley, 1 October 1942

Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784 disguised with a false propeller. (U.S. Air Force)
One of the three Bell XP-59A prototypes, circa 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Bell Aircraft Corporation P-59 Airacomet with updated national insignia, after August 1943. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Stanley made three more flights that day, as high as 100 feet (30.5 meters). The following day, Army Air Corps test pilot Colonel Laurence C. Craigie conducted the “official” first flight, reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).

A Bell XP-59A Airacomet prototype in flight near Muroc Army Airfield, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

Three XP-59A prototypes were built. The number one ship, 42-108784, was affectionately nicknamed Miss Fire, because of the initial difficulty in getting the engines to start.

The Bell XP-59A was conventional single-place airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the control surfaces were fabric-covered. The prototype was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 49 feet, 0 inches (14.935 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 3¾ inches (3.753 meters), at rest. The leading edge of the wings were swept aft  7°. The angle of incidence was +2° with -2° twist and 2½° dihedral. The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters). Its angle of incidence was +1½° with no dihedral. The vertical fin had 0° offset. The empty weight of the XP-59A was 7,319 pounds (3,320 kilograms) and its maximum gross weight was 10,089 pounds (4,576 kilograms).

A cutaway display of a General Electric I-A turbojet engine. The compressor and turbine are on a single shaft (center). One of the combustion chambers is sectioned at the upper left. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
A cutaway display of a General Electric I-A turbojet engine. The single-stage centrifugal compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine are on a single shaft (center). One of the annular combustion chambers is sectioned at the upper left. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

The experimental fighter was initially powered by two General Electric Type I-A centrifugal reverse-flow turbojet engines, serial numbers 170121 (left) and 170131 (right), each producing 1,250 pounds of thrust (5.561 kilonewtons) at 15,000 r.p.m. These were copies of the British Whittle W.2B engines. They were heavy, underpowered and unreliable.

Performance of the XP-59A was disappointing with a maximum speed of 350 miles per hour (563 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 389 miles per hour (626 kilometers per hour) at 35,160 feet (10,717 meters), significantly slower than many piston-engined fighters.

Three XP-59A prototypes and thirteen YP-59A preproduction airplanes were built. The P-59 was ordered into production and Bell Aircraft Corporation built thirty P-59A and twenty P-59B fighters. These were armed with one M4 37mm autocannon with 44 rounds of ammunition and three Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 200 rounds per gun.

Although a YP-59A had set an unofficial altitude record of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters), the Airacomet was so outclassed by standard production fighters that no more were ordered.

Lawrence D. ("Larry") Bell with his XP-59A Airacomet at Muroc Dry Lake. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)
Lawrence D. Bell with his XP-59A Airacomet at Muroc Dry Lake. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)

The race for a jet engine-powered fighter had been ongoing for several years, and the United States’ XP-59A was trailing behind. The first jet airplane, the Heinkel He 178, had made its first flight in Germany three years earlier, on 27 August 1939, though it was a proof-of-concept article, not an operational military aircraft. In the United Kingdom, the Gloster E/28.39, also a proof-of-concept aircraft, though more advanced than the Heinkel, made its first flight, 15 May 1941. The world’s first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262, made its first flight on 18 July 1942. It was nearly two years before production Me 262s entered combat, but they were devastating against bomber formations. The Gloster Meteor, the Allies’ first jet fighter, first flew 5 March 1943, and deliveries to fighter squadrons began in July 1944. The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire made its first flight 20 September 1943, but it did not become operational until after the end of World War II.

The XP-59A flew nearly five months before its British cousin, but would not be assigned to an operational squadron, the 445th Fighter Squadron, 412th Fighter Group, until June 1945.

The first American military jet aircraft, Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784, was preserved by the Army at Muroc, and the engines at Wright Field, Ohio. In 1978, these were given to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum where the prototype was later restored and placed on display.g9

The first American jet-powered aircraft, Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784 on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 September 1982

H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn with Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, N3911Z, after their 29-day around-the-world flight. (© Bettman/Corbis)

30 September 1982: H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn completed their around-the-world helicopter flight when they landed Spirit of Texas at their starting point at Dallas, Texas. They had flown the single-engine Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, serial number 45658, civil registration N3911Z, more than 26,000 miles (41,843 kilometers) in 246.5 flight hours over 29 days, 3 hours and 8 minutes.

They had begun their journey 1 September 1982. Perot and Coburn traveled across twenty-six countries. They established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for helicopter speed around the world, eastbound, having averaged 56.97 kilometers per hour (35.399 miles per hour). (Class E-1d, FAI Record File Number 1254). They also established a series of point-to-point records while enroute, with the highest speed, an average of 179.39 kilometers per hour (111.47 miles per hour), taking place on 7 September 1982, while flying Spirit of Texas from London to Marseilles (FAI Record File Number 10018).

The Bell Helicopter Company Model 206L-1 LongRanger II is a 7-place light helicopter developed from the earlier 5-place Model 206B JetRanger series. It is designed to be flown by a single pilot in the right front seat, and is certified for Visual Flight Rules.

The 206L-1 is 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) long, overall, and the two-bladed main rotor is semi-rigid and under-slung, a common feature of Bell’s main rotor design. It has a diameter of 37 feet (11.278 meters) and turns counter-clockwise (seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rotor blade has a chord of 1 foot, 1.0 inches (0.330 meter) and 11° negative twist. The blade tips are swept.

The two-bladed tail rotor assembly is also semi-rigid and is positioned on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 6.0 inches (1.676 meters).

The LongRanger II is powered by an Allison 250-C28B turboshaft engine. This engine produces 500 shaft horsepower but is de-rated to 435 horsepower, the limit of the main transmission. The engine is mounted above the roof of the fuselage, to the rear of the main transmission. Output shafts lead forward to the transmission and the tail rotor drive shaft aft to the tail rotor 90° gear box. The transmission and rotor mast are mounted angled slightly forward and to the right. This assists in the helicopter’s lift off to a hover, helps to offset its translating tendency, and keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude during cruise flight.

A vertical fin is attached at the aft end of the tail boom. The fin is offset 4° to the right to unload the tail rotor in cruise flight. Fixed horizontal stabilizers with an inverted asymmetric airfoil are attached to the tail boom. In cruise flight, these provide a downward force that keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude. Vertical fins are attached to the outboard ends of the horizontal stabilizers and above the tailboom centerline. The fins are slightly offset to the left and counteract the helicopter’s Dutch roll tendency.

The helicopter has an empty weight of approximately 2,160 pounds (979 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 4,050 pounds (1,836 kilograms).

The Model 206L LongRanger first flew in 1974 and the 206L-1 LongRanger II variant entered production in 1978. It was replaced several years later by the 206L-3. The LongRanger remains in production as the Model 206L-4.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 09.44.55Perot had purchased the LongRanger II for $750,000, specifically for this flight. Modifications started immediately and over the next three weeks an additional 151-gallon fuel tank was added giving the helicopter approximately 8 hours’ endurance. “Pop-out floats”—inflatable pontoons that can be deployed for emergency landings on water—were installed. The helicopter also carried a life raft and other emergency equipment and supplies. Additional communication, navigation equipment and radar was installed.

Spirit of Texas aboard a container ship.
N3911Z aboard a container ship.

During the circumnavigation, the helicopter burned 56,000 pounds (25,400 kilograms) of jet fuel and made 56 fueling stops, including aboard a pre-positioned container ship in the North Pacific Ocean.

The helicopter was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum.

Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II s/n 45658, N3911Z, “Spirit of Texas,” on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 September 1975

AV-02, the second prototype Hughes YAH-64 Advanced Attack Helicopter makes its first free hover at Palomar Airport, California, 30 September 1975. (Boeing)
AV-02, the second prototype Hughes YAH-64 Advanced Attack Helicopter, 74-22248, makes its first free hover at Palomar Airport, California, 30 September 1975. (Boeing)

30 September 1975: At Palomar Airport (CRQ), Carlsbad, California, Hughes Helicopter Company Chief Test Pilot Robert George (“Bob”) Ferry (LTC, USAF, Ret.) and Raleigh Ellsworth (“Bud”) Fletcher made the first flight of the YAH-64 Advanced Attack Helicopter prototype, U.S. Army serial number 74-22248. This aircraft was the second of three prototypes built by Hughes and was identified by the company as AV-02. AV-01 was a ground test prototype, while AV-02 and AV-03 (74-22249) were used for flight testing. The first flight took place one day before the first flight of the rival Bell YAH-63.

Robert G. Ferry, Chieft Test Pilot, Hughes Helicopters.

The YAH-64 was designed as a two-place, twin-engine ground attack helicopter. The pilots sit in tandem configuration like the earlier Bell AH-1G Huey Cobra. The prototype was 57.50 feet (17.526 meters) long, with rotors turning, and the fuselage had a length of 49.42 feet (15.063 meters). The overall height of 12.07 feet (3.679 meters). The four-blade fully-articulated main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above (the advancing blade is on the right), and has a diameter of 48.00 feet (14.630 meters). It turns at 289 r.p.m., giving the blades’ a tip speed of 726.36 feet per second (211.70 meters per second). The main rotor uses elastomeric lead/lag dampers and the blades are retained by laminated V-shaped stainless steel “strap packs” which are flexible to allow blade flapping and feathering. The main rotor is mounted to a hollow static mast with a concentric drive shaft inside.

The four-bladed tail rotor is unusual in that, rather than the blades being evenly spaced at 90° intervals, the blades are spaced at 55° and 125° angles. This allows for significant reductions in noise. The tail rotor is mounted on the left side of a pylon in a pusher configuration, and rotates clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left (the advancing blade is below the axis of rotation). It has a diameter of 8.33 feet (2.539 meters) and turns 1,411 r.p.m. (tip speed, 727.09 feet per second/221.62 meters per second).

A stub wing provides additional lift in forward flight and can carry various combinations of guided missiles and rockets. It has a span of 16.33 feet (14.977 meters).

Dimensions diagram for Hughes YAH-64 Advanced Attack Helicopter prototype. (U.S. Army Aviation Engineering Flight Activity)
Dimensions diagram for Hughes YAH-64 Advanced Attack Helicopter prototype, Development Test 1 configuration. (Hughes Helicopter Company)

In the original configuration, the YAH-64 had a “T-tail” with the horizontal stabilizer attached to the top of the tail rotor pylon. This caused undesirable changes in pitch attitude during flight testing and was changed with the follow-on YAH-64A pre-production prototypes.

Hughes Helicopters YAH-64 prototype, 74-22248. (vertical Flight Society)

The YAH-64 was powered by two prototype General Electric YT700-GE-700 turboshaft engines. These were rated at 1,536 shaft horsepower at 20,000 r.p.m., at Sea Level on a Standard Day. The helicopter carried fuel in two internal tanks with a total capacity of 353 gallons (1,336.25 liters). This gave the two prototypes a mission endurance of 2 hours, 42 minutes.

The two flight test aircraft, 74-22248 and its sister ship 74-22249, were the subject of extensive flight testing during the summer of 1976. At that time, the YAH-64 had an empty weight of 10,495 pounds (4,760 kilograms), loaded weight of 12,242 pounds (5,553 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight 17,900 pounds (8,119 kilograms).

The two YAH-64s were tested at Edwards Air Force Base and the nearby Naval Ordnance Test Station Chine Lake. Additional testing was conducted at Bishop, California (elevation 4,120 feet/1,256 meters) and Coyote Flats (9,500 feet/2,896 meters).

A pre-production YAH-64A Apache in flight, circa 1982. (U.S. Army)
A pre-production YAH-64A Apache in flight, circa 1982. (U.S. Army)

The helicopter could hover out of ground effect (HOGE) at its maximum gross weight at and altitude of 5,350 feet (1,631 meters) with an ambient temperature of 95 °F. (35 °C.) From an out of ground effect hover at 4,000 feet, it could climb vertically at 184 feet per second (56.1 meters per second). At maximum continuous power its cruise speed in level flight was 141 knots, slightly less than required by the Army. With one engine inoperative, the helicopter’s ceiling was 4,750 feet (1,448 meters). There was a 100 foot difference in altitude with the left and right engines.

The 30 mm Hughes XM 230 Chain Gun automatic cannon was installed on the YAH-64 with 90 rounds. The gun’s rate of fire was adjustable and it was set to 535 rounds per minute on the prototype.

The AH-64A Apache was approved for full production in 1982. In 1984, the Hughes Helicopter Company was purchased by McDonnell Douglas and renamed McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company. A facility to produce the Apache attack helicopters, as well as other civil and military helicopters, was opened in Mesa, Arizona. In 1997, MDHC was acquired by Boeing.

937 AH-64A attack helicopters were built between 1984 and 1997, when the improved AH-64D Apache Longbow entered production. Many AH-64As were remanufactured to the AH-64D configuration. More that 2,000 Apaches have been built. While most were for the U.S. Army, they fly for at least 14 other countries.

The Hughes YAH-64, 74-22248, is in the collection of the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, Ozark, Alabama.

An AH-64 Apache Longbow 99-05097 over Iraq, 2005. This aircraft was originally AH-6A A Apache 84-24287, before being remanufactured at Mesa, Arizona to the Longbow configuration, (TSGT Andy Dunaway/U.S. Army)
AH-64D Apache Longbow 99-05097 over Iraq, 2005. This aircraft was originally AH-6A Apache 84-24287, before being remanufactured to the Longbow configuration at Mesa, Arizona. (TSGT Andy Dunaway/U.S. Army)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 September 1968

The first Boeing 747 is rolled out, 30 September 1968.. (Boeing)

30 September 1968: The first Boeing 747, City of Everett, was rolled out at Boeing’s Everett, Washington plant. It was registered as N7470, and carried Boeing’s serial number, 20235. Identified internally as RA001, the Boeing 747-121 was the first “jumbo jet.”

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” The airliner’s empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

Many airlines had pre-ordered the 747. These flight attendants represent them. (Boeing)

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass turbofan engines. These can produce 46,150 pounds of thrust (205.29 kilonewtons) each, or 47,670 pounds of thrust (212.05 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½ minutes).

The Boeing 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and it’s maximum speed is 0.89 Mach (594 miles per hour/893 kilometers per hour). The maximum range at MTOW is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

Boeing 747-121 RA001 on public display, Everett, Washington, 30 September 1968. (The Museum of Flight)

The Boeing 747 has been in production for 52 years. More than 1,550 have been built. 250 of these were the 747-100 series. Recent reports are that production will end in early 2021, with completion of sixteen 747-8F freighters currently on order.

N7470 made its first flight on 9 February 1969. It last flew in 1995. City of Everett is on static display at The Museum of Flight, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington.

The first Boeing 747, N7470, after rollout at Everett, Washington, 30 September 1968. (Boeing)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 September 1949

A Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport on approach to Flughafen Berlin-Templhof, circa 1948. (LIFE Magazine)

The Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949, after fifteen months. In total the United States Air Force, United States Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force delivered 2,334,374 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 280,290 flights to Berlin.

A Douglas C-54 Skymaster approaches the end of the pierced-steel mat runway at Berlin, circa 1949. (U.S. Air Force)

At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.

101 airmen lost their lives.

A Douglas C-54 Skymaster on final approach to Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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