2 August 1947: At 1:46 p.m., British South American Airways Flight CS59 departed Buenos Aires, Argentina enroute Santiago, Chile. The airliner was an Avro Lancastrian Mk.III, registration G-AGWH, named R.M.A. Star Dust. The flight was under the command of Captain Reginald J. Cook, D.S.O., D.F.C., D.F.M., with First Officer Norman Hilton Cook, Second Officer Donald S. Checklin, Radio Operator Dennis B. Harmer and “Stargirl” Iris Morcen Evans. On this flight, in addition to the five-person airline crew, there were just six passengers.
At 5:41 p.m., Santiago airport received a routine Morse code signal from G-AGWH indicating the flight would arrive in four minutes:
“ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 HRS STENDEC”.
The radio operator at Santiago did not understand “STENDEC” and asked the airliner’s radio operator to repeat it, which he did, twice. The airliner never arrived. A five-day search was unsuccessful. The meaning of the last word in the message has never been determined.
The fate of Star Dust remained a mystery until 1998, when two mountain climbers on Mount Tupungato—at 21,555 feet (6,570 meters), one of the highest mountains in South America—50 miles east of Santiago, found a wrecked Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine in the ice of a glacier at the 15,000 foot level (4,572 meters). A search of the glacier in 2000 located additional wreckage and it was confirmed that this was the missing Lancastrian. The crash site is at S. 33°22’15.0″, W. 69°45’40.0″.
Investigators determined that the airliner had flown into the glacier at high speed and the crash caused an avalanche which buried the wreckage.
In 2002 the remains of eight persons were recovered from the glacier, five of which were identified through DNA.
The Avro 691 Lancastrian Mk.III was a four-engine civil transport based on the World War II very long range heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster. The Mk.III variant was built specifically for the British South American Airways Corporation by A.V. Roe & Co. Ltd, at Woodford, Cheshire, England, and was an improved version of the British Overseas Airways Corporation Lancastrian Mk.I. Eighteen Mk.IIIs were built for BSAAC. G-AGWH, serial number 1280, was the second of this series. It first flew on 11 November 1945 and was registered to BSAAC 16 January 1946.
The airliner was operated by a flight crew of four and carried one flight attendant. It could carry up to thirteen passengers. The Lancastrian Mk.III was 76 feet, 10 inches (23.419 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The empty weight was 30,220 pounds (13,707.6 kilograms) and gross weight was 65,000 pounds (29,483.5 kilograms).
The Lancastrian Mk.III was powered by four 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Rolls-Royce Merlin T24/2 ¹ single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines producing 1,650 horsepower and turning three bladed propellers.
These gave the airplane a cruise speed of 245 miles per hour (394.3 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour (506.9 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,500 feet (7,772 meters) and the range was 4,150 miles (6,679 kilometers).
¹ Two of G-AGWH’s Merlin T24/2 engines had been completely overhauled and converted to the Merlin 500-2 configuration. One engine was converted to a Merlin 502. The fourth engine remained as a T24/2. All engines had less than 1,200 hours total time since new (TTSN) and the converted engines were approximately 500 hours since overhaul (TSOH).
2 August 1939: The Boeing Model 294, designated by the U.S. Army Air Corps as the XB-15, serial number 35-277, flown by a crew led by Major Caleb Vance Haynes, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 5000 Kilometers With 2000 Kilogram Payload, when they flew the experimental long range heavy bomber a distance of 3,109 miles at an average speed of 267.67 kilometers per hour (166.32 miles per hour) while carrying a payload of 2,000 kilograms (4,409.25 pounds).¹
The other members of the XB-15 crew were Captain William D. Old, Walter G. Bryte, Jr., A.C. Brandt, Master Sergeant Adolph Cattarius, Staff Sergeant William J. Heldt, Technical Sergeant Daniel L. Spicer and Staff Sergeant James E. Sands.
The Boeing Model 294, designated XB-15 by the Air Corps, was an experimental airplane designed to determine if a bomber with a 5,000 mile range was possible. It was designed at the same time as the Model 299 (XB-17), which had the advantage of lessons learned by the XB-15 design team. The XB-15 was larger and more complex than the XB-17 and took longer to complete. It first flew more than two years after the prototype B-17.
Designers had planned to use an experimental 3,421.194-cubic-inch-displacement (56.063 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged and turbosupercharged Allison V-3420 twenty-four cylinder, four-bank “double V” engine. It produced a maximum of 2,885 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The engine was not available in time, however, and four air-cooled Pratt & Whitney R-1830 (Twin Wasp) engines were used instead. With one-third the horsepower, this substitution left the experimental bomber hopelessly underpowered as a combat aircraft. (The Douglas XB-19 was retrofitted with V-3420s in 1942, and re-designated XB-19A.)
The XB-15 was a very large four-engine mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of aluminum monocoque construction with fabric-covered flight control surfaces. The XB-15 had a ten-man crew which worked in shifts on long duration flights.
The prototype bomber was 87 feet, 7 inches (26.695 meters) long with a wingspan of 149 feet (45.415 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 1 inch (5.512 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 37,709 pounds (17,105 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 70,706 pounds (32,072 kilograms)—later increased to 92,000 pounds (41,730 kilograms).
The XB-15’s wings used a symmetrical airfoil and were very highly tapered (4:1 from root to tip). They had an angle of incidence of 4½° and 4½° dihedral. The total area was 2,780 square feet (258.271 square meters). A contemporary aeronautical publication wrote, “The airfoil provides constant center of pressure, minimum profile drag with flaps up and high maximum lift with flaps down.” The XB-15’s wings were adapted by Boeing for the Model 314 Clipper flying boat.
As built, the XB-15 was equipped with four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-11 (Twin Wasp S1B3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-11 was rated at 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. and 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off. They turned three-bladed controllable-pitch propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-11 was 4 feet, 8.66 inches (1.439 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters), and weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).
The experimental airplane had a cruise speed of 152 miles per hour (245 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), and a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour ( kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The service ceiling was 18,900 feet (5,761 meters) and maximum range was 5,130 miles (8,256 kilometers).
The bomber could carry a maximum of 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of bombs in its internal bomb bay, and was armed with three .30-caliber and three .50-caliber machine guns for defense .
Only one XB-15 was built. During World War II it was converted to a transport and re-designated XC-105. In 1945 35-277 was stripped and abandoned at Albrook Field, Territory of the Canal Zone, Panama.
2 August 1909: The United States Army Signal Corps purchased a Wright Flyer for $30,000. It became the first aircraft in the United States’ military inventory and was designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1. The airplane was used to train Signal Corps pilots at Fort San Antonio, Texas. It was crashed and rebuilt several times. After just two years’ service, the airplane was retired. The Army donated Airplane No. 1 to the Smithsonian Institution.
During test flights that were conducted prior to acceptance by the Army, Orville Wright with Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois as a passenger (he was chosen because of his size and his ability to read maps) the Flyer achieved a two-way average 42.583 miles per hour (68.531 kilometers per hour), over a 5 mile (8.05 kilometers) course. The Signal Corps specification allowed a bonus of $2,500 per full mile per hour above 40 miles per hour. This increased the purchase price of the airplane from $25,000 to $30,000. The Army also required the airplane to be able to remain airborne for a minimum of one hour. Wright demonstrated its endurance at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 40 seconds.
The 1909 Military Flyer is a one-of-a-kind variant of the Wright Brothers’ Model A which was produced from 1907 to 1909. The airplane has shorter wings than the standard Model A, and slightly longer propeller blades which are turned at a different r.p.m. These changes were made to increase the Flyer’s speed through the air. The engine had been salvaged from the 1908 Model A which crashed at Fort Myer in 1908, severely injuring Orville Wright and killing Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge.
The Military Flyer is a two-place, single-engine biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires. The wings, rudders and elevators are covered with muslin. The elevators are placed forward in canard configuration with rudders aft. Roll control was by the Wright Brothers’ patented wing-warping system.
As originally built (it was repaired and slightly modified during its two years in service) the airplane was 28 feet, 11 inches (8.814 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and height of 8 feet, 1 inch (2.464 meters). The wings have a chord of 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) and vertical separation of 5 feet (1.524 meters). The lower wing has 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meter) of ground clearance. The elevators have a span of 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters), a chord of 3 feet (0.914 meter) and vertical spacing of 3 feet (0.914 meter). The parallel rudders are 4 feet, 8½ inches (1.435 meters) tall with a chord of 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). Their lateral separation is also 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). The rudder pivot point is 15 feet, 11 inches (4.851 meters) aft of the wings’ leading edge. The airplane had an empty weight of 740 pounds (335.7 kilograms).
The Military Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,325 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).
Two 8 foot, 6 inch (2.591 meter) diameter two-bladed counter-rotating propellers,are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. Driven by a chain drive, they turned 425 r.p.m.
The Military Flyer could fly 42 miles per hour (67.6 kilometers per hour) and had endurance of one hour.
Early army officers who trained with Signal Corps Airplane No. 1 included Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Frank P. Lahm and Frederic E. Humphreys.
The unrestored Wright 1909 Military Flyer is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, displayed at the National Mall. A reproduction of the airplane is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
1 August 1977: Francis Gary Powers, a pilot and news reporter for KNBC Television (Channel 4) in Los Angeles, California, was flying the company’s “Telecopter,” a camera and transmitter-equipped Bell Model 206B Jet Ranger, N4TV. He and a cameraman, George R. Spears, had been reporting on the aftermath of the disastrous Sycamore Canyon Fire in Santa Barbara County and were returning to their base, the KNBC Heliport at the television studios near the Ventura Freeway in Burbank.
At approximately 12:35 p.m., PDT, (19:35 UTC), the JetRanger was eastbound, about 1 mile southwest of Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Powers called Van Nuys Tower and requested to land there as the helicopter was low on fuel. The last transmission was: “TV Four just lost—”
Francis Gary Powers was a highly-experienced airplane pilot. At the time of the crash, Powers had 7,193 total flight hours, with 381 hours in the Bell 206. He had attended the Bell 206B Pilot Transition Training Course at the Bell Helicopter Training School, Fort Worth, Texas.
When TDiA attended the Bell Helicopter Training Academy in 1981, the crash of Power’s JetRanger was discussed by the school’s instructors in great detail, and describing Mr. Powers’ last day from the moment he left home. The high-profile accident involving Bell’s leading civil product had been thoroughly investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and by Bell’s own experts. ¹
Powers, returning from covering the fire in Santa Barbara for Channel 4 News, flew past the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA), Oxnard Airport (OXR), and Camarillo Airport (CMA), all of which were almost directly along his course, and all of which could have provided fuel for the Bell 206.
Powers passed those airports, but just a few miles short of his destination, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to the southwest of Van Nuys Airport (VNY), the busiest general aviation airport in the United States, the helicopter’s turboshaft engine stopped because of fuel starvation. The JetRanger crashed in an open field. Both Powers and his cameraman, George Robert Spears, were killed.
Examination of news photographs of the wreck show that the JetRanger was completely destroyed on impact. It appears to have struck the ground in a nose-down attitude. Surprisingly, damage to the main rotor assembly is slight, with no twisting, tearing, or failure of the doublers at the blade root, as are commonly seen.
An engine failure over a large, level open space, should have resulted in no damage to the aircraft or injuries to its occupants. The autorotation characteristics of the Bell 206-series helicopters are excellent, among the best of any helicopter. The extent of the damage to the airframe, though, when compared to the relatively slight damage to the main rotor assembly, convinces TDiA that the helicopter was not in autorotation, but in free fall. The main rotor blades were not turning within the autorotation r.p.m. range of 355–440 r.p.m.
There are reports that Powers turned the helicopter away from a group of children playing in the open field, but this would not have been possible with the main rotor turning at the very low rotational speeds demonstrated by the lack of twist damage.
This crash was caused by pilot error.
Francis Gary Powers was born 17 August 1929 in Letcher County, Kentucky. He was the son of Oliver Windfield Powers, a mortarman in the coal industry, and Ida Melinda Ford Powers.
Powers attended Milligan College at Elizabethton, Tennessee, from 1947 to 1950. He studied biology. He was a member of the school’s pre-med club, and was junior class manager of the intramural council. He was also on the varsity track team.
Francis Gary Powers entered United States Air Force in 1950, trained as a pilot and was commissioned in 1952. He flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bomber with the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron, 506th Strategic Fighter Wing, at Turner Air Force Base, Albany, Georgia. He received special training in delivery of the Mark 7 tactical nuclear weapon at Kirkland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In 1956, 1st Lieutenant Powers was released from the U.S. Air Force to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project Aquatone. He was now a civilian government employee, although he was promised that he could return to the Air Force and that he would keep his seniority and would be promoted on schedule.
Francis Gary Powers gained world-wide notoriety when the Lockheed U-2A he was flying, “Article 360,” (USAF serial number 56-6693) was shot down over Russia, 1 May 1960. Powers was captured and held prisoner at the notorious Lubyanka Prison where he underwent 62 days of interrogation at the hands of the Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security, or simply, the KGB). Powers was placed on trial in Moscow and was convicted of espionage. He was sentenced to prison for ten years.
After almost two years, he was exchanged for William August Fisher, (AKA Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher) a long-time Soviet intelligence officer that had been caught in the United States in 1957. [This story was recounted in the recent motion picture, “Bridge of Spies,” which starred Tom Hanks. The film received six Academy Award nominations in 2015.]
After his release from the Soviet Union, Powers was employed as a test pilot for Lockheed, 1962–1970. He then became an airborne traffic and news reporter for several Los Angeles-area radio and television broadcast stations.
Gary Powers and his first wife, Barbara Gay Powers, divorced in 1963. He then married Claudia Edwards Downey at Fauquier, Virginia, 26 October 1963. This was also her second marriage. They would have a son, Francis Gary Powers II. (Mrs. Barbara Powers remarried in 1964.)
On 24 November 1986, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously to Powers “For Extraordinary Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight 1 May 1960.” After reviewing his record at the request of his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., on 15 February 2000, the U.S. Air Force retroactively promoted him to the rank of Captain, effective 19 June 1957, and further credited his military service to include 14 May 1956–1 March 1963, the time he was with the CIA. The award of the Prisoner of War Medal was also authorized.
On June 15, 2012, General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded Captain Francis Gary Powers the Silver Star (posthumous).
George Robert Spears was born at Chicago, Illinois, 17 July 1934, the fourth of five children of William E. and Nora Neelom Spears. He married Annette A. Montalbano in Chicago, 26 May 1956. They had three children and lived at Northridge, California. He had worked for KNBC since June 1976.
N4TV was built as a Bell Model 206A JetRanger, serial number 433, at Hurst, Texas, in 1969. It was first owned by the Los Angeles, California, independent television station KTLA (Channel 5), and registered N555TV. The helicopter was later upgraded to the Model 206B standard with the installation of a more powerful Allison 250-C20 engine. When purchased by KNBC, a National Broadcasting Company affiliate, 433 was reregistered N4TV.
The Bell Model 206B JetRanger is a 5-place, single-engine, light civil helicopter based on Bell Helicopter Company’s unsuccessful OH-4 entrant for the U.S. Army’s Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). It is flown by a single pilot in the right front seat. Dual flight controls can be installed for a second pilot. The helicopter is 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters) long, with rotors turning. On standard skid landing gear, the overall height is 9 feet, 4 inches (2.845 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 33 feet, 4 inches (10.262 meters) and turns counterclockwise (as seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). The empty weight is approximately 1,700 pounds (771 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and its maximum gross weight is 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms).
The 206A was powered by an Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engine rated at 370 shaft horsepower at 6,016 r.p.m., and derated to 317 s.h.p., the transmission’s limit. The later 206B and 206B-2 had a 400 horsepower 250-C20 engine, and 206B-3s had 250-C20B, -C20J or -C20R engines installed, which produced 420 shaft horsepower. The helicopter’s transmission, however, is limited to 317 horsepower input.)
The JetRanger has a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour). Its best rate of climb is at 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) and best glide distance is at 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) and maximum range is 430 miles (692 kilometers).
Note: The Model 206A-1 was adopted by the U.S. Army as the OH-58A Kiowa. Though very similar in appearance to the Model 206A and 206B, the OH-58A differs significantly. Few of the parts are interchangeable between the types.
Between 1967 and 2010, Bell Helicopter built 4,491 JetRangers and 2,275 OH-58 Kiowas. Nealy 1,000 more were built under license by other manufacturers.
¹ TDiA requested the official NTSB accident investigation report nearly three years ago, and though the request received immediate acknowledgement, the report has not yet been provided.)
UPDATE: 2 years, 11 months and 23 days after TDiA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the government responded, saying that all accident records for 1977 were destroyed. They were only kept for seven years during that time.
1 August 1955: Test pilot Anthony W. LeVier made the first flight flight of the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance airplane at Groom Lake, Nevada. LeVier was conducting taxi tests in preparation for the planned first flight a few days away, when at 70 knots the U-2 unexpectedly became airborne.
LeVier later said, “I had no intentions whatsoever of flying. I immediately started back toward the ground, but had difficutly determining my height because the lakebed had no markings to judge distance or height. I made contact with the ground in a left bank of approximately 10 degrees.”
On touching down on the dry lake, the U-2’s tires blew out and the brakes caught fire. A landing gear oleostrut was leaking. Damage was minor and the airplane was soon ready to fly. Tony LeVier was again in the cockpit for the first actual test flight on 4 August.
The Lockheed U-2A is a single-place, single-engine aircraft powered by a turbojet engine, intended for very high altitude photographic reconnaissance. Thirty U-2A aircraft were designed and built for the Central Intelligence Agency by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s secret “Skunk Works” under the supervision of Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.
The company designation for the proposed aircraft was CL-282. Its fuselage was very similar to the XF-104 Starfighter and could be built using the same tooling. The reconnaissance airplane was produced under the code name Operation AQUATONE.
The U-2A was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet (24.384 meters). Its empty weight was 10,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms) and the gross weight was 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms). The engine was a Pratt and Whitney J57-P-37A which produced 10,200 pounds of thrust. This gave the U-2A a maximum speed of 528 miles per hour (850 kilometers per hour) and a ceiling of 85,000 feet (25,908 meters). It had a range of 2,200 miles (3,541 kilometers).
Because of the very high altitudes that the U-2 was flown, the pilot had to wear a David Clark Co. MC-3 partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet and faceplate. The partial-pressure suit used a system of capstans and air bladders to apply pressure to the body as a substitute for a loss of atmospheric pressure. Each suit was custom-tailored for the individual pilot.
On 4 April 1957, Article 341 was flown by Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker. At 72,000 feet (21,946 meters) the engine flamed out and the cockpit pressurization failed. Parts of the U-2 had been coated with a plastic material designed to absorb radar pulses to provide a “stealth” capability. However, this material acted as insulation, trapping heat from the engine inside the fuselage. This lead to a number of engine flameouts.
Sieker’s partial-pressure suit inflated, but the helmet’s faceplate did not properly seal. He lost conciousness and at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) the U-2 stalled, then entered a flat spin. Sieker eventually regained consciousness at lower altitude and bailed out. He was struck by the airplane’s tail and was killed. The first U-2 crashed northwest of Pioche, Nevada, and caught fire. Robert Sieker’s body was found approximately 200 feet (61 meters) away.
Because of the slow rate of descent of the airplane while in a flat spin, the impact was not severe. Portions of Article 341 that were not damaged by fire were salvaged by Lockheed and used to produce another airframe.