Category Archives: Aviation

28 March 1913

Thomas DeWitt Milling and William C. Sherman, with Burgess Model H biplane, 28 March 1913. (Photograph by Higby Photo)
Lieutenant Thomas DeWitt Milling and Lieutenant William C. Sherman, with the Burgess Model H biplane, 28 March 1913. (Higby Photo)

28 March 1913: Lieutenants Thomas DeWitt Milling and William C. Sherman, Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, United States Army, set two American Cross-Country Nonstop Records for Distance and Duration by flying a single-engine Burgess Model H Military Tractor (also known as the Burgess-Wright Model H) biplane from Texas City to San Antonio, Texas, a distance of 220 miles (354 kilometers), in 4 hours, 22 minutes.

During the flight Lieutenant Sherman drew a map of the terrain.

Aero and Hydro reported:

American Cross-Country Nonstop Records.—The Aero Club of America, on recommendation of its Contest Commitee, has adopted the following, relative to cross-country flying, nonstop records: Duration—Aviator With Passenger.—Lieutenant T. DeWitt Milling, Texas City, Tex., to San Antonio, Tex., March 28, 1913, Burgess-Wright tractor biplane, 70-horsepower Renault motor; time, four hours, 22 minutes.

Distance—Aviator With Passenger.—Lieut. T. DeWitt Milling, Texas City, Tex., to San Antonio, Tex., Burgess-Wright tractor biplane, 70-horsepower Renault motor; distance covered, 220 miles.

AERO AND HYDRO, Noel & Company, Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, Volume VI, No. 10, 7 June 1913, at Page 190, Column 1

The U.S. Army Signal Corps purchased six Model H biplanes for $7,500, each. They were assigned serial numbers S.C. 9 and S.C. 24–S.C. 28.

The Burgess Model H was a two-place, single-engine biplane which could be ordered with either wheeled landing gear or floats. It was built by the Burgess Company and the Curtiss Aeroplane and Engine Company, under license from Wright.

The biplane was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters), and weighed 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms)

The airplane was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 6.949 liter (424.036 cubic inch displacement) Renault Limited left-hand tractor 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 4.12:1. The engine produced 70 horsepower at 1,750 r.p.m., burning 50-octane gasoline. The V-8 drove a two-bladed propeller at one-half of crankshaft speed. (The propeller was driven by the camshaft.) This engine, also known as the Type WB, was manufactured by three British companies: Renault Limited, Rolls-Royce Limited, and Wolseley Motors Limited.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour).

Thomas Milling was issued the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s pilot certificate number 30, and the Army’s Military Aviator Certificate No. 1. He was the first U.S. military officer authorized to wear a military aviator badge as part of his uniform.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 March 1910

Henri Fabre flying his Hydroavian, 28 March 1910 (Monash University)
A restored image of Henri Fabre flying his Hydroavian, le Canard, at Étang de Berre on the Mediterranean coast of France, 28 March 1910 (CTIE Monash University)

28 March 1910: Henri Marie Léonce Fabre (29 November 1882 – 30 June 1984) flew his Hydroavian, the first seaplane, at Étang de Berre, a lagoon about 25 kilometers (15½ miles) west of Marseille, on the Mediterranean coast of France. The airplane, named Le Canard, flew 457 meters (1,499 feet).

Henri Fabre standing beside the 50-horsepower Gnome engine used to power the Hydroavian. (Fabre Family/AFP via Times of Malta)
Henri Fabre standing beside the 50-horsepower Gnome Omega 7 engine  and propeller used to power the Hydroavian. (Fabre Family/AFP via Times of Malta)

The Hydroavian is 8.45 meters (27 feet, 8.67 inches) long with a wingspan of 14 meters (45 feet, 11.18 inches) and height of 3.70 meters (12 feet, 1.67 inches). It has an empty weight of 380 kilograms (838 pounds) and the gross weight is 475 kilograms (1,047 pounds).

Fabre’s airplane was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 7.983 liter (487.140-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed wooden propeller in a left-hand, pusher configuration. The Omega 7 is 79.2 centimeters (2 feet, 7.2 inches) long, 83.8 centimeters (2 feet, 9.0 inches) in diameter, and weighs 75.6 kilograms (166.7 pounds). The prototype of this engine is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum.

Though it was damaged in a crash in 1911, Le Canard was restored and is in the collection of Musée de l’air et de l’espace.

Fabre Hydroavian at Monaco, April 1911 (CTIE Monash University)
Fabre Hydroavian at Monaco, April 1911 (CTIE Monash University)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 March 1977

A recent photograph looking west-northwest (300° Magnetic) along Runway 30 at Los Rodeos Airport (TFN), Tenerife, Canary Islands. (© Claudio)

27 March 1977: The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occurred when two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 583 people died.

A terrorist incident at Gran Canaria International Airport (LPA) on the island of Gran Canaria resulted in the airport being closed for flight operations. This forced many trans-Atlantic airliners to divert to the smaller Los Rodeos Airport (TFN) on Tenerife. The ramp and taxiways at Los Rodeos were congested and refuelers were overwhelmed by the increased traffic, which led to many delays.

A Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121, N750PA, similar to N736PA. (Michael Gilliand via Wikipedia)

Los Rodeos Airport has only one runway, Runway 12/30, with a parallel taxiway and four short taxiways joining the two.

Pan American World Airways’ Flight 1736, a Boeing 747-121, FAA registration number N736PA, named Clipper Victor ¹ was ready for takeoff with 380 passengers and crew, but had to “back taxi” on Runway 12 (“One-Two”) because the parallel taxiway was jammed with airplanes. The airliner proceeded east-southeast, intending to exit the runway to the parallel taxiway after passing by the congestion around the terminal.

Also on the runway was Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) Flight 4805, a Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUF, named Rijn (“Rhine”). The KLM jumbo jet had 248 passengers and crew members on board. Flight 4805 had back-taxied for the entire length of Runway 12, then made a 180° turn to align itself with Runway 30, the “active” runway.

KLM Royal Dutch Airways’ Boeing 747-206B PH-BUF, Rijn. (clipperarctic via Wikipedia)

Weather at the time of the accident was IFR, with low clouds and fog. Visibility on the runway was restricted to about 1,000 feet (305 meters). Takeoff rules required a minimum of 2,300 feet (701 meters). What happened next was a misunderstanding between the air traffic controllers and the crew of both airliners.

The control tower instructed KLM 4805 to taxi into position on Runway 30 (“Three-Zero”) for takeoff, and to hold there for release. The Pan Am airliner was told to taxi off the runway and to report when clear. The tower controllers could not see either airliner because of the fog, and their flight crews could not see each other.

The aircraft commander of the Dutch airliner, that company’s Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten, apparently misunderstood what was occurring and radioed to the tower that he was taking off. He then accelerated.

The crew in the Pan Am airliner heard the KLM pilot report that he was taking off, immediately turned left and ran the engines up to full throttle in order to try to get off the runway. With the KLM 747 accelerating through the fog, its flight crew belatedly realized that the other airliner was still ahead of them. Too late to stop, they applied full power and pulled the nose up trying to takeoff. The tail of their airplane actually dragged over sixty feet (18 meters) on the runway because its extreme nose up angle.

Computer-generated illustration of the moment of impact as KLM Flight 4805 hits Pan Am Flight 1736 on the runway at Tenerife. (PBS Nova)

KLM 4805 lifted off about 300 feet (91 meters) from Pan Am 1736, and because of the high angle of attack, its nose wheel actually passed over American airliner’s fuselage, but the rest of the Dutch airplane hit at 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). Clipper Victor was ripped in half, caught fire and exploded. Rijn crashed about 250 yards (229 meters) down the runway, and it also caught fire and exploded.

All 248 people aboard the Royal Dutch Airlines airplane were killed. Miraculously, there were 61 survivors from the Pan Am Clipper, including the co-pilot, but the remaining 335 died.

Two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway at Tenerife, 27 March 1977. (Unattributed)

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.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

The 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). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

The Boeing 747 has been in production for 48 years. More than 1,520 have been delivered to date. 205 of these were the 747-100 series. The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 as the next presidential transport aircraft.

¹ Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747 Clipper Victor was the very first Boeing 747 in service. It made its first commercial passenger flight, New York to London, 22 January 1970. Another airliner, Clipper Young America, was scheduled to  make that flight but suffered mechanical problems shortly before departure. Clipper Victor was substituted, but Pan Am changed the airliner’s name to Clipper Young America. On 2 August 1970, N736PA was hijacked to Cuba, and afterwards, to avoid the negative publicity, the name of the 747 was changed back to Clipper Victor.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 March 1968

Yuri Gagarin photographed shortly before his death in 1968. (RSC Energia)

27 March 1968: Colonel Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union,  was killed in the crash of a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTI two-place trainer near the village of Novoselova, Vladamir Oblast, Russia.

Colonel Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin, Hero of the Soviet Union.

Colonel Gagarin was on a routine training flight with an instructor, Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin. (Seregin was the commanding officer of the cosmonauts’ training regiment at the Cosmonaut Training Center.) The weather was poor, with rain, snow, wind and low clouds. His last reported altitude was 4,200 meters (13,780 feet).

A Sukhoi Su-15 on test flight inadvertently passed very close to the MiG at supersonic speed. The Sukhoi’s test had been planned for 10,000 meters (32,808 feet), but the pilot actually was flying much lower, passing through clouds, and the interceptor came within an estimated 15–20 meters (49–66 feet) of the trainer. Its wake vortices put Gagarin’s airplane into a spin from which he and Seregin were unable to recover. 55 seconds after Gagarin’s last radio transmission, the MiG-15 crashed. Both men were killed.

Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, Soviet Air Forces. (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968)

Yuriy Alekseyevich Gagarin (Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин) was born at Klushino, a village in Smolensk Oblast, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, 9 March 1934. He was the third of four children of Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina. The family, workers on a collective farm, were displaced by the German invasion of 1941.

Gagarin was drafted by the Soviet Army in 1955 and was sent to flight school. Gagarin received a commission as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force in 1957 and was promoted to senior lieutenant two years later.

Lieutenant Gagarin was one of nineteen pilots selected for the space program in 1960. This was further reduced to six cosmonaut candidates. Gagarin and Gherman Titov were the final Two candidates for the first manned space launch, with Gagarin being chosen.

Yuri Gagarin before launch. (RIA Novosti)

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space when he orbited Earth aboard Vostok I, 12 April 1961. The spacecraft was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule carried aloft by a Vostok-K rocket. Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth and began reentry over Africa. As the spacecraft was descending through 7,000 meters (20,966 feet), he ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground, landing near Engels, Saratov Oblast, at 0805 UTC.

Gagarin statue, London.
Gagarin statue, London.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 March 1966

Test pilot Jack L. Zimmerman with the record-setting Hughes YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213. (FAI)

27 March 1966: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, Hughes Aircraft Company test pilot Jack Louis Zimmerman flew the third prototype YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213, to set six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude and Time-to-Climb. The records were set in two sub-classes, based on the helicopter’s take-off weight. Fifty-three years later, one of these records still stands.

Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1966. (FAI)

Zimmerman took the YOH-6A from the surface to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 4 minutes, 1.5 seconds ;¹ and to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 7 minutes, 12 seconds.² The helicopter reached an altitude in level flight of 8,061 meters (26,447 feet).³  9921 remains the current record for helicopters in Sub-Class E-1b, with a takeoff weight of 500–1,000 kilograms (1,102–2,205pounds).

Beginning with a takeoff weight between 1,000–1,750 kilograms (2,205–3,858 pounds) (Sub-Class E-1c), Zimmerman took the “loach” to a height 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 5 minutes, 37 seconds.⁴ The helicopter reached an altitude of 5,503 meters (16,578 feet), without payload.⁵

[The field elevation of Edwards Air Force Base (EDW) is 2,210 feet (704 meters) above Sea Level. If the time-to-altitude flights had been made at nearby NAS Point Mugu (NTD) on the southern California coast, which has a field elevation 13 feet (4 meters), the times might have been significantly reduced. The air temperature at Edwards, though, was much colder.]

One day earlier, 26 March, Allison Engine Company test pilot Jack Schweibold flew the same YOH-6A  to set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing of 2,800.20 kilometers (1,739.96 miles).⁶ One week earlier, 20 March, Jack Zimmerman had set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing of 1,700.12 kilometers (1,056.41 miles).⁷ Fifty-three years later, these four World Records still stand.

The Hughes Model 369 was built in response to a U.S. Army requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter (“L.O.H.”). It was designated YOH-6A, and the first aircraft received U.S. Army serial number 62-4211. It competed with prototypes from Bell Helicopter Company (YOH-4) and Fairchild-Hiller (YOH-5). All three aircraft were powered by a lightweight Allison Engine Company turboshaft engine. The YOH-6A won the three-way competition and was ordered into production as the OH-6A Cayuse. It was nicknamed “loach,” an acronym for L.O.H.

The third prototype YOH-6A, 62-4213, testing the XM-7 twin M60 7.62 weapons system. (U.S. Army)

The YOH-6A was a two-place light helicopter, flown by a single pilot. It had a four-bladed, articulated main rotor which turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) Stacks of thin stainless steel “straps” fastened the rotor blades to the hub and were flexible enough to allow for flapping and feathering. Hydraulic dampers controlled lead-lag. Originally, there were blade cuffs around the main rotor blade roots in an attempt to reduce aerodynamic drag, but these were soon discarded. A two-bladed semi-rigid tail rotor was mounted on the left side of the tail boom. Seen from the left, the tail-rotor rotates counter-clockwise. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

The YOH-6A was powered by a T63-A-5 turboshaft engine (Allison Model 250-C10) mounted behind the cabin at a 45° angle. The engine was rated at 212 shaft horsepower at 52,142 r.p.m. (102% N1) and 693 °C. turbine outlet temperature for maximum continuous power, and 250 shaft horsepower at 738 °C., 5-minute limit, for takeoff. Production OH-6A helicopters used the slightly more powerful T63-A-5A (250-C10A) engine.

The Hughes Tool Company Aircraft Division built 1,420 OH-6A Cayuse helicopters for the U.S. Army. The helicopter remains in production as AH-6C and MH-6 military helicopters, and the MD500E and MD530F civil aircraft.

Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 is in the collection of the United States Army Aviation Museum, Fort Rucker, Alabama.

U.S. Army Hughes YOH-6A prototype 62-4213 at Le Bourget, circa 1965.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9922

² FAI Record File Number 9923

³ FAI Record File Numbers 9920 and 9921

⁴ FAI Record File Number 771

⁵ FAI Record File Number 772

⁶ FAI Record File Numbers 786, 787 and 11656.

⁷ FAI Record File Number 762.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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