Category Archives: Aviation

17 July 1996, 00:31:12 UTC

Trans World Airlines’ Boeing 747-131 N93119 at London Gatwick Airport. (Cropped detail from photograph by Burmarrad via JetPhotos.net)

17 July 1996, 8:31 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time: Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800, a Boeing 747-131, FAA registration N93119, was enroute from New York to Paris with 212 passengers and 18 crewmembers persons aboard, and had been cleared to climb from FL130 (13,000 feet, 3,962 meters) to FL150 (15,000 feet, 4,572 meters). The airliner exploded in mid-air, 8.1 miles (13.04 kilometers) south of E. Moriches, New York.

The flight crew of an Eastwind Air Lines flight reported the explosion to Air Traffic Control. Many witnesses described an ascending streak of orange light, originating near the surface and ending in a fireball. Burning debris fell into the sea. All 230 persons on board were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the explosion was a result of fuel vapor in the center wing tank being ignited by a short circuit.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “An explosion of the center wing fuel tank (CWT), resulting from ignition of the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank. The source of ignition energy for the explosion could not be determined with certainty, but, of the sources evaluated by the investigation, the most likely was a short circuit outside of the CWT that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system.

“Contributing factors to the accident were the design and certification concept that fuel tank explosions could be prevented solely by precluding all ignition sources and the design and certification of the Boeing 747 with heat sources located beneath the CWT with no means to reduce the heat transferred into the CWT or to render the fuel vapor in the tank nonflammable.”

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers,depending on seating configuration. 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 turbofan engines which produce 47,670 pounds of thrust, each, with water injection (2½ minutes). Its cruise speed is 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and it maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

Boeing 747-131 N93119 was one of the oldest 747s in service, having been delivered to TWA 27 October 1971. At the time off its destruction, the airframe had accumulated 93,303 flight hours (TTAF).

During the investigation by the national Transportation Board (NTSB) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fragments of the Boeing 747 were reaasembled. (NTSB)
During the investigation by the National Transportation Board (NTSB) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fragments of the Boeing 747 were reassembled. (NTSB)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1989

Bruce J. Hinds and Richard Couch. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

17 July 1989: The first Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, took off from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on its first flight. The crew was Northrop Chief Test Pilot Bruce J. Hinds and Colonel Richard Couch, U.S. Air Force. The top secret “stealth bomber” prototype landed at Edwards Air Force Base 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

After completing the flight test program, -1066 was placed in storage until 1993, awaiting upgrade to the Block 10 operational configuration. In 2000 it was again upgraded to the Block 30 standard. It is now named Spirit of America and assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, the first “stealth bomber,” during a test flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1965

North American Aviation XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207 takes off for the first time at AF Plant 42, 17 July 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1965: At Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, the second North American Aviation B-70 Valkyrie prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, took off on its maiden flight enroute Edwards Air Force Base where it would continue the flight test program with its sister ship.

The Valkyrie was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber, capable of flight above 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), with intercontinental range. It’s altitude allowed it to avoid interceptors of the time, but improvements in radar-guided surface-to-air missiles increased its vulnerability. Ultimately, though, political decisions ended the B-70 program.

62-0207 was flown just 46 times, for a total of 92 hours, 22 minutes of flight. Changes to the aircraft corrected the deficiencies discovered in testing the Number 1 XB-70A, 62,-201. The most visible change was 5° dihedral added to the wings for improved stability. On 16 April 1966, 62-0207 reached its maximum design speed, Mach 3.08, which it sustained for 20 minutes.

Less than one year after its first flight, 8 June 1966, the Valkyrie was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N and crashed just north of Barstow, California. North American’s B-70 test pilot, Al White, was seriously injured and co-pilot, Major Carl Cross, USAF, was killed. NASA test pilot Joe Walker, flying the F-104, was also killed.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1962

With the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane's belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)
With Major Robert M. White and the X-15 under its right wing, the Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, takes of from Edwards Air Force Base, 17 July 1962. The rocketplane’s belly is covered with frost from the cryogenic propellants. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1962: At 9:31:10.0 a.m., the Number 3 North American Aviation X-15, 56-6672, was airdropped from a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Air Force project test pilot Major Robert M. (“Bob”) White was in the cockpit. This was the 62nd flight of the X-15 Program, and Bob White was making his 15th flight in an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. The purpose of this flight was to verify the performance of the Honeywell MH-96 flight control system which had been installed in the Number 3 ship. Just one minute before drop, the MH-96 failed, but White reset his circuit breakers and it came back on line.

North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 immediately after being dropped by the Boeing NB-52 Stratofortress. (NASA)

After dropping from the B-52’s wing, White fired the X-15’s Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine and began to accelerate and climb. The planned burn time for the 57,000-pound-thrust engine was 80.0 seconds. It shut down 2 seconds late, driving the X-15 well beyond the planned peak altitude for this flight. Instead of reaching 280,000 feet (85,344 meters), Robert White reached 314,750 feet (95,936 meters). This was an altitude gain of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet), which was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record.¹ The rocketplane reached Mach 5.45, 3,832 miles per hour (6,167 kilometers per hour).

Because of the increased speed and altitude, White was in danger of overshooting his landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He passed over the north end of Rogers Dry Lake and crossed the “high key”—the point where the X-15 landing maneuver begins—too high and too fast at Mach 3.5 at 80,000 feet (24,384 meters). Without power, White made a wide 360° turn over Rosamond Dry Lake then came back over the high key at a more normal 28,000 feet (8,534.4 meters) and subsonic speed. He glided to a perfect touch down, 10 minutes, 20.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52.
A North American Aviation X-15 rocketplane just before touchdown on Rogers dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)
North American Aviation X-15 56-6672 just before touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter chase plane escorts it. The green smoke helps the pilots judge wind direction and speed. (NASA)

This was the first time that a manned aircraft had gone higher than 300,000 feet (91,440 meters). It was also the first flight above 50 miles. For that achievement, Bob White became the first X-15 pilot to be awarded U.S. Air Force astronaut wings. His 314,750-foot altitude (95,936 meters) also established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world altitude record, which will probably never be broken. To qualify, a new record would have to exceed White’s altitude by at least 3%, or more than 324,419 feet (98,882.9 meters). As the FAI-recognized boundary of Space is 328,083.99 feet (100,000 meters), any prospective challenger would have to hit a very narrow band of the atmosphere.

Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force
Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force

Major White had been the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He was the first to fly over 200,000 feet, then over 300,000 feet. He was a graduate of the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and flew tests of many aircraft at Edwards before entering the X-15 program. He made at total of sixteen X-15 flights.

A P-51 Mustang fighter pilot with the 355th Fighter Group in World War II, he was shot down by ground fire on his fifty-third combat mission, 23 February 1945, and captured. He was held as a prisoner of war until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945.

After the war, White accepted a reserve commission while he attended college to earn a degree in engineering. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, and assigned to a P-51 fighter squadron in South Korea. Later, he commanded the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber) based in Germany, and later, the 53rd TFS. During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel White, as the deputy commander for operations of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flew seventy combat missions over North Vietnam in the F-105D, including leading the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

He next went to Wright-Patterson AFB where he was director of the F-15 Eagle fighter program. In 1970 he returned to Edwards AFB as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. White was promoted to Major General in 1975.

General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 10 March 2010.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9604

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1938

Douglas Corrigan with his modified Curtiss Model 50 Robin B, NX9243, at Floyd Bennett Field, July 1938.

17 July 1938: For more than ten years it had been Clyde Groce Corrigan’s ambition to emulate his hero, Charles A. Lindbergh, and to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. An aircraft mechanic, he had worked on the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis as an employee of Ryan Aircraft Co. in San Diego, California.

Corrigan had assumed the first name “Douglas,” possibly out of admiration for “The King of Hollywood,” actor Douglas Fairbanks.

In 1933, Corrigan and his younger brother Harry Groce Corrigan, an aeronautical engineer, bought a 1929 Curtiss Model 50 Robin B, a single-engine, high-wing monoplane. The Robin was 25 feet, 8½ inches (7.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and height of 7 feet, 9½ inches (2.375 meters). In standard configuration, the Robin weighed 1,472 pounds (667.7 kilograms) empty, and 2,440 pounds (1,106.8 kilograms) loaded. Its cruise speed was 84 miles per hour (135 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour). The range was 480 miles (773 kilometers).

Corrigan continuously worked on the airplane, repairing, overhauling, re-skinning, modifying. He replaced the Robin’s original water-cooled 502.65-cubic-inch-displacement (8.237 liter) Curtiss OX-5 V-8 engine (rated at 90 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m.) with a more modern, more powerful, Wright “J-6-5.” This engine was an air-cooled, supercharged, 539.96-cubic-inch-displacement (8.848 liter) Wright R-540 Whirlwind 150 single-row 5-cylinder radial which produced 150 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed propeller. In this configuration, the airplane was a Robin J-1 (Curtiss Model 50H)He also installed extra fuel tanks. The Whirlwind 150 was 3 feet, 51.1 inches (1.044 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.0 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter, and weighed 370 pounds (168 kilograms).

The Bureau of Commerce had repeatedly refused to authorize Corrigan’s requests to make a trans-Atlantic flight as his airplane was considered unsuitable for such a flight. He decided to go anyway.

Clyde Groce (“Douglas”) Corrigan with a Stinson Junior SM-2AA, NC8431. (Dublin Journal)

In early July 1938, Douglas Corrigan made a non-stop flight from Long Beach, California to Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. He announced that he would make the return flight and had his Robin fueled with a total of 320 gallons (1,211.3 liters) of gasoline.

At 5:15 a.m., 17 July 1938, Corrigan and his Robin took off from Floyd Bennett Field and disappeared into a cloudy sky. 28 hours, 13 minutes later, he landed at Baldonnell Aerodrome (now known as Casement Aerodrome), County Dublin, Ireland.

He said that he had become disoriented in the clouds, misread his compass and flew East rather than West. He was forever after known as “Wrong Way” Corrigan.

Douglas Corrigan's modified Curtiss Robin at Baldonnell, Ireland, 18 July 1938. (Independent Newspapers/National Library of Ireland, call number IND H 3242)
Douglas Corrigan’s modified Curtiss Robin at Baldonnell, Ireland, 18 July 1938. (Independent Newspapers/National Library of Ireland, call number IND H 3242)

Corrigan’s Curtiss Robin was disassembled and returned to the United States aboard ship. The airplane as placed in storage at his home in southern California. In 1988, the airframe and components were transported to Hawthorne Airport (HHR), at Hawthorne, California, where the airplane was reassembled and placed on display. The current status of NX9243 is not known. Original records of NX9243 from the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, are in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Clyde Groce Corrigan¹ was born 22 January 1907 at Galveston, Texas. He was the first of three children of Clyde Sinclair Corrigan, a civil engineer, and Evelyn Groce Nelson Corrigan, a school teacher.

Corrigan began flight instruction in 1924, flying a Curtiss “Jenny” at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California. Lessons were expensive and his training took time. He first soloed 25 March 1926.

In 1927, Corrigan was employed by B.F. Mahoney Aircraft at San Diego, California. This soon became the Ryan Airlines Company. Corrigan is reported to have worked on the construction of Charles A. Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Douglas Corrigan wrote his autobiography, That’s My Story, which was published 1 January 1938 by E.P. Dutton & Co.

Corrigan starred as himself in the 1939 RKO Radio Pictures movie, “The Flying Irishman,” produced by Pandro S. Berman, directed by Leigh Jason, and written by Ernest Pagano and Dalton Trumbo. The movie was released in the United States on 7 April 1939.

Douglas Corrigan portrayed himself in the 1939 movie, “The Flying Irishman.” (RKO Radio Pictures)

On 17 July 1939, Corrigan married Miss Sarah Elizabeth Marvin at San Antonio, Texas. They would have three sons, Douglas, Harry and Roy.

During World War II, Corrigan flew as a test pilot for Douglas Aircraft Company and for the U.S. Army Air Corps Ferrying Command. Later, he became an orange grower. He and his wife lived at a home in the orchards near Santa Ana, California. Mrs. Corrigan died in 1966, and their youngest son, Roy William Corrigan, was killed in an airplane crash on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California, in 1972.

Clyde Groce (“Douglas”) Corrigan died at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Orange, California, 9 December 1995. He was 88 years old. He was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California, alongside his wife and son.

“Wrong Way” Corrigan with his Curtiss Robin at Hawthorne Airport (HHR), California, 1988. (Collector’s Weekly)

¹ On 12 February 1942, The State of Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, issued a corrected birth certificate, showing Corrigan’s name as “Douglas Corrigan.” The affidavit was sworn to by W.M. Marvin, father of Corrigan’s wife.  (NOTE: The original, hand-written certificate of birth gives his name as “Clyde Groce Corrigan.”) His father’s first (given) name was Clyde, and his mother’s middle name was Groce. Corrigan’s younger brother, born the following year, was Harry Groce Corrigan. It seems unlikely that the officially recorded name was in error, as sworn to by Mr. Marvin.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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