Category Archives: Aviation

4 December 1950

Ensign Jessse L. Brown, United States Navy, in the cockpit of a Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair, circa 1950. (Naval History and Heritage Command, USN 1146845)

4 December 1950: Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, United States Navy (13 October 1926–4 December 1950)

The following article is from the United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command:

Jesse Leroy Brown was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, into a sharecropper family. He was a school athlete who excelled at math and dreamed of being a pilot from the time he was a young boy. When he left Mississippi to attend Ohio State University in 1944, his high school principal wrote to him, “As the first of our graduates to enter a predominately white university, you are our hero.” Even though Brown had to work the midnight shift loading boxcars for the Pennsylvania Railroad to earn money for his education, he was still able to maintain a high GPA.

Brown joined the Naval Reserve to help pay for college. After he saw a poster recruiting students for a new naval aviation program, he was discouraged from applying and was told he would never make it to the cockpit of a Navy aircraft. He persisted and was finally permitted to take the qualification exams. He wrote to a childhood friend that he had made it through five hours of written tests, followed by oral tests and a rigorous physical exam ─ making it through each round of eliminations with flying colors. Despite his excellent performance and acceptance into the program, Brown told his friend, “I’m not sure the Navy really wants me.”

He received orders to Selective Flight Training in Glenview, Illinois, in March 1947, followed by additional training at Naval Air Station Ottumwa and Naval Air Station Pensacola. On 21 October 1948, at the age of 22, Brown became the first African American man to complete Navy flight training. A public information officer released a photograph and story the next day with the headline, “First Negro Naval Aviator.” The story was picked up by the Associated Press and Brown’s picture appeared in Life magazine.

Brown, now a section leader, flew a Vought F4U-4 Corsair and was assigned to fighter squadron VF-32 aboard USS Wright (CVL-49). His squadron transferred to USS Leyte (CV-32) in October 1950 as part of Fast Carrier Task Force 77 on its way to Korea to assist U.N. forces.

On 4 December 1950, on the way to Chosin Reservoir with his squadron, Brown announced over the radio, “I think I may have been hit. I’ve lost my oil pressure.” He crash-landed his Corsair on the side of a mountain in the snow.

Circling over the crash site in his own Corsair, squadron commander Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner Jr. realized something was wrong when Brown didn’t emerge from the cockpit of the wrecked aircraft. Hudner made the decision to crash-land next to Brown’s wrecked Corsair, risking court-martial, capture by the Chinese, and his own life by ignoring his commanding officer’s directive, “If a plane goes down, that’s one down. We don’t need Hollywood stuff.”

Hudner found Brown in pain, bleeding, and trapped in his aircraft by a damaged instrument panel, with no way to rescue him. A Sikorsky helicopter piloted by Marine First Lieutenant Charlie Ward arrived in response to Hudner’s radio distress call, but there was nothing that could be done to extricate Brown from the Corsair. Brown asked Hudner to tell his wife, Daisy, how much he loved her before he died in his cockpit. As daylight dwindled and the possibility of capture grew increasingly imminent, Hudner and Ward were reluctantly forced to leave Brown’s body behind.

Unable to safely recover his body, Brown’s shipmates instead decided to honor him with a warrior’s funeral. On 7 December 1950, seven aircraft loaded with napalm and piloted by Ensign Brown’s friends made several low passes over his downed Corsair. The top of Brown’s head was still visible with snow on his hair when they dropped the napalm on his plane while reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

Ensign Jesse Brown would posthumously receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. Hudner nervously anticipated a court-martial for defying a direct order and willful destruction of a Navy aircraft. Instead, he would receive the Medal of Honor for “exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate.” When USS Jesse L. Brown (DE-1089) was launched in 1973, Hudner was in attendance, standing next to Brown’s widow. In 2017, USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) was christened in Hudner’s honor.

(In addition to U.S. Navy records, this biography was supplemented with information obtained from the book, The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown, by Theodore Taylor; Avon Books, Inc.; ISBN: 0-380-97689-7; ©1998 by Theodore Taylor.)

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross (Posthumously) to Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown (NSN: 0-504477), United States Navy, for heroism in aerial flight as Pilot of a fighter plane in Fighter Squadron THIRTY-TWO (VF-32), attached to the U.S.S. LEYTE (CV-32), in hostile attacks on hostile North Korean forces. Participating in 20 strikes on enemy military installations, lines of communication, transportation facilities, and enemy troop concentrations in the face of grave hazard, at the Chosin Reservoir, Takshon, Manp Jin, Linchong, Sinuiju, Kasan, Wonsan, Chonjin, Kilchu, and Sinanju during the period 12 October to 4 December 1950. With courageous efficiency and utter disregard for his own personal safety, Ensign Brown, while in support of friendly troops in the Chosin Reservoir area, pressed home numerous attacks destroying an enemy troop concentration moving to attack our troops. So aggressive were these attacks, in the face of enemy anti-aircraft fire, that they finally resulted in the destruction of Ensign Brown’s plane by anti-aircraft fire. His gallant devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089). (US DefenseImagery DN-SC-82-00352)

3 December 1945

Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR. © IWM (A 31015)
Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., Royal Navy. © IWM (A 31015)

3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, R.N.

For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 19 February 1946.

LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.

The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.

LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.

The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.

LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.

Captain Eric ("Winkle") Brown, RNAS, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)
Lieutenant-Commander Eric (“Winkle”) Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR, with the second prototype de Havilland DH.100, LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)

HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s  flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.

HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.

Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
A landing signal officer guides Brown to land aboard HMS Ocean.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551/G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 lands aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 takes off from HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., KCVSA, Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland; Fettes College; and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.

This unidentified Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm petty officer appears to be Eric Brown.

Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Sub-Lieutenant Eric Melrose Brown, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, circa 1939.

Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys.

Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.

Ensign Eric M.Brown with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I
Sub-Lieutenant Eric M.Brown, R.N.V.R., Fleet Air Arm, with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I, circa 1941. (Unattributed)

Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.

Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Lieutenant Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.

In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.

Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949. Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft  carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.

Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)
Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)

In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.

From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.

From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.

Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC Hob FRAeS, RN
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., Royal Navy

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D. Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., retired from active duty 12 March 1970.

At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.

In 1982 and 1983, Captain Brown served as president of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.

Captain Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)
Captain Eric M. Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

3 December 1937

Alexander de Seversky and Jackie Cochran with the SEV-S1, 1937. (Cliff Henderson Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: CF_09-0044)

3 December 1937: Jackie Cochran flew a Seversky SEV-S1, R18Y,¹ a variant of the P-35 fighter, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, to Miami, Florida, in 4 hours, 12 minutes, 27.2 seconds.

On the same day, Александр Николаевич Прокофьев-Северский (Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky), the airplane’s designer, flew a second P-35-type airplane from New York to Havana, Cuba, in 5 hours, 3 minutes, 5 seconds.

The Miami Daily News reported:

. . . Jaqueline Cochran, 26-year-old New York woman flier, set a speed record of four hours and 12 minutes in a flight from New York City which ended at 3:21 p.m. yesterday at municipal airport. Averaging 278.13 miles an hour on her trip south, Miss Cochran beat the fastest time ever recorded either way between the two cities by eight minutes. That mark was set northbound by Howard Hughes. . .

. . . A New York-Havana non-stop flight record also was set yesterday when Maj. Alexander de Seversky flew the 1,350 miles in five hours and two minutes—two hours and one minute faster than Lieut. Commander Frank Hawks’ record of 1931. The new record-holder is expected to fly to Miami today.

Miami Daily News, Vol. XLII, No. 358, Saturday, 4 December 1937, Page 1, Column 8, and Page 2, Column 5

Jackie Cochran with the Seversky “SEV-S1 Executive,” X18Y, 1937. (Cliff Henderson Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: CF_09-0043)

“. . . Sasha [de Seversky] became convinced that I could win the big New York-to-Miami air race coming up. What better rebuttal could he have than to have his plane flown 300 miles per hour [483 kilometers per hour] over a measured, timed course and to have it all done by a woman? The Army Air Forces were canceling further orders because they saw the airplane as dangerously faulty and not up to the specifications they had ordered.

“Sasha installed an extra gas tank in place of a seat for me. It wasn’t very comfortable, but what was worse was that the plane had never been test-flown with a full load of gas. I took off and discovered that the center of gravity was somewhere in the nose. God, I nearly put that plane into the bay just south of what is now Kennedy Airport. It porpoised terribly for over an hour. . .

“I did get the nose up in time to avoid a swim, but until I burned out most of the fuel in the seat tank, I really had to hold on for a rough ride—up and down the sky. From Washington  D.C., on, the situation straightened out and I got the record Sasha wanted so badly. . . .”

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 150–151.

“On five different occasions I have landed after a speed flight with less than two minutes of fuel remaining and once—on a record flight from New York to Miami—my engine went dead just as my wheels touched the runway. This was because of a risk I had not considered. When I reached the destination, a squadron of Navy planes was in formation flight over the airport and I had to circle before landing.”

The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 72.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Seversky SEV-2S Executive, NR18Y. Note the passenger windows below and behind the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Seversky SEV-S1, R18Y, with Jacqueline (Jackie) Cochran in the cockpit. Note the passenger cabin, behind and below the cockpit. The airplane carries Frank Sinclair’s Bendix and Thompson Trophy race number 63 on the vertical fin. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog # 15_002036)

The SEV-S1 was a civil variant of Major de Seversky’s P-35A fighter, which was the U.S. Army Air Corps’ first all-metal, single-engine airplane with an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear.

Designed by Alexander Kartvelishvili, the airplane had originally been built as the Seversky II X, a single-place open cockpit monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was powered by an  air-cooled, supercharged 1,666.860-cubic-inch-displacement (27.315 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division GR1670A1 Whirlwind, a two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. The GR1670A1 had a compression ratio of 6.75:1 and was rated at 775 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 87-octane aviation gasoline. It drove an experimental three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller through a 16:11 gear reduction. The GR1670A1 was 45 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter, 52-25/32 inches (1.341 meters) long, and weighed 1,160 pounds (526 kilograms).

The Seversky II X was reconfigured as two-place monoplane fighter to compete in a fly-off at Wright Field against the Curtiss-Wright Model 75 Hawk and the Northrop 3A for the Air Corps fighter contract in 1935. The airplane was redesignated SEV-2XP and carried the registration mark X18Y.

The Seversky SEV-2XP X18Y in the two-place, fixed landing gear configuration. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_006753)

In mid May 1935, de Seversky was flying the prototype from the company’s Farmingdale, New York factory toward Wright Field, located near Dayton, Ohio. The airplane’s engine overheated and stopped. He made a forced landing at a small hilltop landing field near St. Clairsville, Ohio, during which the airplane was damaged. Several weeks were required to make repairs.

In the meantime, de Seversky had seen his competitors’ entries. Both were single place pursuits with retractable landing gear. He realized that his -2XP was completely outclassed.

The Curtiss-Wright Model 75, X17Y. This prototype would be developed into the P-36 Hawk and later, the P-40 Warhawk. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_008032)
The Northrop 3A, photographed 30 July 1935, the day it disappeared off the coast of southern California. No trace was found of it or the pilot, 1st Lieutenant Arthur Henry Skaer, Jr. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_005638)

The prototype was once again rebuilt. It was now also a single-place airplane with retractable landing gear. Designated SEV-1XP, X18Y was initially powered by a 1,823.129 cubic inch displacement (29.876 liters) 860-horsepower Wright Cyclone, which was quickly upgraded to a Wright GR-1820G4. This was also a single-row, nine-cylinder radial engine. The G4 had a compression ratio of 6.45:1 and required 87-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 810 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m.for takeoff. The engine was 47¾ inches (1.213 meters) long, 54¼ inches in diameter, and weighed 1,210 pounds (549 kilograms). The SEV-1XP had a fuel capacity of 160 U.S. gallons (606 liters) and carried 15 gallons (57 liters) of lubricating oil.

Seversky SEV-1XP X18Y. (Seversky Aircraft Company)
Seversky SEV-1XP X18Y (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 16_006757)

In April 1936, X18Y’s engine was once again upgraded, this time to a Wright GR-1820G5, s/n 23233.

Major Alexander de Seversky with SEV-1XP X18Y. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #16_006759)

Another engine change came in January 1937. The Wright Cyclone was replaced by a Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-13, s/n 312. With the Twin Wasp, NR18Y’s designation was changed to SEV-S1. (Department of Commerce records continued to refer to it as SEV-1XP.) The -13 was a supercharged, two row, fourteen cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1, requiring 91/93-octane aviation gasoline. It had a normal power rating of 900 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., to an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,050 horsepower at 2,700 r,p,m for takeoff. The airplane retained the same Hamilton Standard propeller that had been used with the R-1820G5, which it drove through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-13 was 48.06 inches (1.221 meters) long, 59.25 inches (1.505 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,370 pounds (621 kilograms).

In August 1937, the R-1830-13 was replaced by a R-1830 SB-G, s/n 112. Again, the same propeller was used. The SB-G had a normal rating of 900 horsepower at  2,450 r.p.m., to 6,500 feet (1,981 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. 87-octane fuel was required. The SB-G had the same gear reduction ratio as the -13. It was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 55.48 inches (1.409 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,284 pounds (582 kilograms).

On 30 August 1937, the Seversky SEV-1XP was issued a restricted registration, R18Y. As it was then configured, it had an actual empty weight of 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms) and gross weight of 6,290 pounds (2,853 kilograms).

Frank Sinclair, Seversky’s chief test pilot, flew R18Y in the 1937 National Air Races, held at Columbus, Ohio. Sinclair’s race number, 63, was painted on the vertical fin. On 4 September, he finished the Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank, California, to Columbus, in fourth place with a time of 11 hours, 2 minutes, winning a $2,000 prize. (Jackie Cochran flew a Beech Staggerwing in the Bendix, beating Sinclair and R18Y by 33 minutes.) Two days later, 6 September, Sinclair placed fourth in the Thompson Trophy pylon race. The Seversky averaged 252.360 miles per hour (406.134 kilometers per hour).

 The Seversky's passenger compartment was accessed through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Seversky SEV-2S Executive, NR18Y. Note the passenger windows below and behind the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The Seversky’s passenger compartment was accessed through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

On 27 October 1937, the Seversky’s registration reverted to X18Y.

Following an accident at Miami, 13 December 1937, the Department of Commerce suspended X18Y’s registration, noting “AIRCRAFT NOT APPROVED FOR RELICENSING”

It is believed that the prototype was scrapped.

¹ At that time, experimental and restricted category aircraft were prohibited from displaying the letter “N” at the beginning of their registration mark.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

2 December 1937

Brewster XF2A-1 prototype during flight tests. (U.S. Navy)
The Brewster XF2A-1 prototype during flight tests. (U.S. Navy)

2 December 1937: First flight, Brewster Aeronautical Corporation XF2A-1 prototype, Bu. No. 0451. The XF2A-1 was designed as a replacement for the U.S. Navy’s biplane fighter, the Grumman F3F. It was an all-metal, single-place, single-engine mid-wing monoplane with an enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear and an arresting hook for aircraft carrier operations.

The XF2A-1 was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long, with a wingspan of 35 feet, 0 inches (10.668 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 9 inches (3.581 meters). The prototype had an empty weight of 3,711 pounds (1,683 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,017 pounds (2,276 kilograms).

Brewster XF2A-1 Bu. No. 0451 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA)

The prototype Buffalo was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820G5 (R-1820-22) nine cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.45:1. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a three-bladed propeller. (Photographs show the prototype with both Curtiss Electric and Hamilton Standard propellers.) The R-1820-22 had a normal power rating of 850 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 950 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., for takeoff. The engine was 43.12 inches (1.095 meters) long, 54.25 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,105 pounds (501 kilograms).

The prototype had a maximum speed of 304 miles per hour (489 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 30,900 feet (9,418 meters). The production F2A-2 fighter had a maximum speed of 322 miles per hour (518 kilometers per hour) at 14,500 feet (4,420 meters). It could climb from Sea Level to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 9.0 minutes, and its service ceiling was 36,100 feet (11,003 meters). The F2A-2 had a maximum range of 1,085 miles (1,746. kilometers).

Brewster XF2A-1 Bu. No. 0451. (U.S. Navy)
Brewster XF2A-1 Bu. No. 0451. (U.S. Navy)

In a service test competition, the XF2A-1 outperformed Grumman’s prototype XF4F, which would later become the Wildcat. The U.S. Navy ordered it into production as the F2A-1. It was the first monoplane in fleet service.

In production, the new fighter was armed with one .50-caliber and one .30-caliber machine gun, synchronized to fire through the propeller arc.

The Brewster Model 399E (F2A-2) was ordered by the Royal Air Force and designated Buffalo Mk.I. “Buffalo” became the popular nickname for the fighter, although it was not officially adopted by the U.S. Navy.

Brewster Buffalos served during the early months of World War II, notably at Wake Island and the Battle of Midway. The airplane was outperformed by Japanese fighters and losses were heavy. It was quickly withdrawn from front line use.

The Brewster Buffalo served with several foreign countries, such as England, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands East Indies. These airplanes were significantly lighter than the the U.S. Navy F2A-3 production variants, and the Buffalo’s cockpit visibility and maneuverability was favored by their pilots.

A total of 509 Buffalos were built between 1938 and 1941.

Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo prototype Bu. No. 0451. (U.S. Navy)
Brewster XF2A-1 prototype Bu. No. 0451. (U.S. Navy)

In May 1938, the prototype XF2A-1 was tested in the Full-Scale Wind Tunnel at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Recommended changes resulted in a 10% increase in the fighter’s speed.

Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo Bu. No. 0451 in the Full-Scale Wind Tunnel at NACA Langley, circa 1938. (NASA)
Brewster F2A-1 (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

2 December 1936

Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

2 December 1936: The first Boeing YB-17, U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 36-149, made its first flight.

Although the prototype Boeing Model 299, NX13372, had crashed at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935, the Army had ordered thirteen Y1B-17 service test aircraft, serials 36-149–36-161. Prior to the model’s first flight, this designation was changed to YB-17. (The “-1-” in the original Y1B-17 designation indicated that the service test bombers were ordered using funding other than the normal appropriations for new aircraft.)

Boeing YB-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-17 had several improvements over the Model 299, which was retroactively designated XB-17. There was a long carburetor intake on top of the engine nacelles which visually distinguishes the YB-17 from the follow-on YB-17A. The main landing gear has one strut rather than the two of the Model 299.

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299B, designated YB-17 by the Army Air Corps, was 68 feet, 4 inches (20.828 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 18 feet, 4 inches (5.588 meters). It had an empty weight of 24,465 pounds (11,097 kilograms), gross weight of 34,880 pounds (15,821 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,600 pounds (19,323 kilograms).

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

Instead of the Pratt & Whitney engines installed on the 299, the YB-17 had four air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820G5 (R-1820-39) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.45:1. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction drive, in order to match the engines’ effective power range with the propellers. The R-1820-39 was rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. The R-1820-39 was 45-7/16 inches (1.154 meters) long and 54¼ inches (1.378 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,198 pounds (543.4 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the YB-17 was 217 miles per hour (349 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 256 miles per hour (412 kilometers per hour) at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). Its service ceiling was 30,600 feet (9,327 meters). The bomber’s maximum range was 3,320 miles (5,343 kilometers).

The YB-17 could carry 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber air-cooled Browning machine guns.

Boeing YB-17 36-149 nosed over on landing at Seattle, 7 December 1936. (Unattributed)

36-149 was damaged in a landing accident 7 December 1936. It was repaired and then flown to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 11 January 1937. After testing at Wright Field, 36-149 was delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia. By 1938 the bomber was back at Wright Field for additional tests.

“In the summer of 1938, Bill [Captain William C. Bentley, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, a B-17 test pilot at Langley Field] and his aircrew flew back to Seattle to pick up an additional aircraft, YB-17 tail number 36-149 from Boeing. This aircraft was different from the original thirteen. During its assembly phase at Boeing, it was packed with additional instruments for recording purposes. Once delivered to Langley, the plane was going to be subjected to a variety of stress tests in order to determine how much damage the plane could take and still operate. During its flight to Langley, Bill arrived over the field in a thunderstorm. The strength of the storm flipped the plane upside down, a stress never envisioned by the designers for such a large aircraft, much less one loaded to capacity with measuring instrumentation and a full crew. Using his fighter pilot training, Bill flew the aircraft at its maximum altitude then performed a slow roll to bring the airplane into its proper attitude. After recovering from a harrowing spin, Bill got control of the plane and landed successfully.

“Much to the crew’s amazement, the wings were slightly bent and some rivets were missing. But the measuring instrumentation had recorded all of the stress placed on the plane. . . .”

—The Touch of Greatness: Colonel William C. Bentley, Jr., USAAC/USAF, by Stewart W. Bentley, Jr., Ph.D., AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010, Chapter 2 at Page 45.

(This meant that a fourteenth YB-17, which had been built specifically as a static test article, could be completed as a Y1B-17A, 37-369.)

Boeing YB-17 at Hamilton Field, California. (U.S. Air Force)

In October 1940 36-149 was transferred to the 19th Bombardment Group at March Field, California. Finally, on 11 February 1942, it was transferred to the Air Park at Amarillo Army Air Field, a B-17 training base in Texas. It was written off 11 December 1942.

After several years of testing, the YB-17 went into production as the B-17 Flying Fortress. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island, California, ca. 1939. (Stephen Fisher)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes