17 August 1946: First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, U.S. Army Air Forces, was the first person to eject from an aircraft in flight in the United States.
Lambert was assigned to the Air Material Command Parachute Branch, Personal Equipment Laboratory. He was an 11-year veteran of the Air Corps. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. Previous to this test, Lambert had made 58 parachute jumps.
The test aircraft was a modified Northrop P-61B-5-NO Black Widow night fighter, 42-39498,¹ redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Captain John W.McGyrt and named Jack in the Box.
The ejection seat was placed in the gunner’s position, just behind and above the Black Widow’s pilot. A 37 mm cartridge fired within a 38 inch (0.97 meter) long gun barrel launched the seat from the airplane at approximately 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). Lambert experienced 12–14 Gs acceleration.
Flying over Patterson Field at more than 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), Lambert fired the ejection seat. He and the seat were propelled approximately 40 feet (12 meters) above the airplane. After 3 seconds, he separated from the seat, and after another 3 seconds of free fall, his parachute opened automatically. Automatic timers fired smaller cartridges to release Lambert from the seat, and to open the parachute.
He later said, ” ‘I lived a thousand years in that minute,” before the pilot, pulled the release. . . ‘ Following the successful jump, blue-eyed, sandy-haired Sgt. Lambert expressed only one desire: To ‘get around the biggest steak available.’ ”
—Dayton Daily News, Vol. 70, No. 26, Sunday, 18 August 1946, Society Section, Page 10, Columns 4–6
Sergeant Lawrence parachuted safely. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read:
First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, Air Corps, 6653991, for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as a volunteer for the test of human ejection from a high speed aircraft, 17 August 1946. His courageous in the face of unknown factors that might have caused serious injury or loss of life, has contributed immeasurably to aeronautical and medical knowledge of the ejection method of escape from the aircraft.
—Air Force Enlisted Heritage Institute, AFEHRI File 19–10
Sergeant Lambert also won the Cheney Award, “for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.” The medal was presented to him by General Carl A. Spaatz, in a ceremony held at Washington D.C., 15 April 1947.
Master Sergeant Lambert was later involved in rocket sled tests with Colonel John P. Stapp, M.D., Ph.D.
¹ Another source states 42-39489, however, according to Joe Baugher’s serial number web site, this airplane was “condemned to salvage Jul 19, 1945”
17 August 1943: Mission No. 84. One year after the Eighth Air Force first attacked occupied Europe with its B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, a mass attack of 376 B-17s attacked the Messerschmitt Bf-109 factory at Regensburg, Germany, and the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt.
Over Germany for over two hours without fighter escort, 60 bombers were shot down and as many as 95, though they made it to bases in Allied territory, were so badly damaged that they never flew again. 55 air crews (552 men) were listed as missing in action.
Of the 146 B-17s of the 4th Bombardment Wing which attacked Regensburg, 126 dropped their bombs, totaling 298.75 tons (271.02 Metric tons), destroying the factory and seriously slowing the production of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. After the attack, the 4th Bomb Wing headed for bases in North Africa. 122 B-17s landed there, half of them damaged.
The 1st Bombardment Wing (Heavy) sent 230 B-17s to Schweinfurt. Weather delays caused the planned diversion of two separate attacks to be unsuccessful. Cloud buildup over the Continent forced the bombers to fly at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), nearly 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) lower than planned, increasing their vulnerability. Just 183 bombers made it to the target and dropped 424.3 tons (383.9 Metric tons) on the five factories in the target area. Then they headed back to their bases in England, under fighter attack most of the way. The 1st Bombardment Wing lost 36 bombers.
Though the raid did cut production of ball bearings as much as 34%, the losses were quickly made up from stockpiles. The two attacking forces succeeded in shooting down 25–27 German fighters.
17 August 1942: Mission No. 1. The United States VIII Bomber Command made its first heavy bomber attack on Nazi-occupied Europe when eighteen Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, headed for the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France. This was the largest and most active railroad yard in northern France.
The group began takeoffs at 1530 hours. It was escorted by several squadrons of Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters.
While six B-17s flew along the French coast as a diversion, twelve bombers flew to Rouen and were over the target from 1739 to 1746. From an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), they dropped 39,000 pounds (17,690 kilograms) of general purpose bombs.
Accuracy was good. One of the aim points, the locomotive shops, was destroyed by a direct hit. The overall results were moderate.
All of the bombers returned to their base, with the first landing at 1900. Two B-17s had been damaged. American gunners claimed damage to one Luftwaffe airplane.
The raid was commanded by Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker aboard Yankee Doodle, B-17E 41-9023, leading the second flight of six B-17s. The 97th Bombardment Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., flew as the co-pilot of the lead ship, Butcher Shop, B-17E 41-2578, with pilot Major Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. Major Tibbets was in command of the 97th’s 340th Bombardment Squadron. (He would later command the 509th Composite Group and fly the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.)
The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a major redesign. A new aft fuselage was used, incorporating larger vertical and horizontal stabilizers. A tail turret was added. A power-operated gun turret was added at dorsal and ventral positions.
The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 73 feet, 10 inches (22.504 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 2 inch (5.842 meters). Its empty weight was 32,350 pounds (14,674 kilograms), 40,260 pounds (18,262 kilograms) gross weight, and the maximum takeoff weight was 53,000 pounds (24,040 kilograms).
The B-17E was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms). 8,422 of these engines were produced by Wright Aeronautical Division and its licensees between February 1940 and August 1942.
The B-17E had a cruise speed of 195 miles per hour (314 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 318 miles per hour (512 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 36,600 feet (11,156 meters).
With a normal fuel load of 2,490 gallons (9,426 liters) the B-17E had a maximum range of 3,300 miles (5,311 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).
The B-17E Flying Fortress was armed with one .30-caliber Browning M2 Aircraft Machine Gun and eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The .30 was mounted in the nose. Power turrets mounting two .50-caliber guns, each, were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. (The first 112 B-17Es were built with a remotely-operated turret in the belly position, sighted by a periscope. A manned ball turret replaced this.) Two machine guns were in a tail turret, and one on each side at the waist.
The maximum bomb load of the B-17E was 20,800 pounds (9,435 kilograms) over very short distances. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) or four 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs.
The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing. 512 of the total were B-17Es. The last one was completed 28 May 1942. Production shifted to the further-improved B-17F.
17 August 1940: Pilot Officer William Meade Lindsley Fiske III died at St. Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, Sussex, England, as a result of injuries sustained in combat the previous day. Billy Fiske was the second American pilot to lose his life in combat during the Second World War.¹
On 16 August, No. 601 Squadron, based at RAF Tangmere, was dispatched by Fighter Command to intercept incoming Luftwaffe aircraft at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). This was Billy Fiske’s second sortie of the day. He was airborne at 12:25 p.m. In the resulting air battle, the squadron shot down eight enemy Junkers Ju 87 Sturzkampfflugzeug (“Stuka”) dive bombers.
One of the Stukas’ gunners hit Billy Fiske’s Hawker Hurricane with his Rheinmetall MG 15 machine gun. A 7.92 millimeter bullet punctured the Hurricane’s fuselage fuel tank. Fiske was able to fly the damaged fighter back to Tangmere. With the engine out, Fiske glided to a belly-landing at the airfield. He had suffered severe burns this lower body. He had to be lifted from the cockpit by rescuers, with his clothing still burning.
The squadron’s medical officer, Flying Officer Courtney B.I. Wiley, examined Fiske, and administered morphine. He was sent to the Royal West Sussex Hospital in Chichester. Dr. Wiley was “very pessimistic” about the pilot’s chances of survival. Billy Fiske died the following day. For his actions in rescuing Fiske, Dr. Wiley was awarded the Military Cross, and Corporal G.W. Jones and Aircraftsman 2nd Class C.G. Faulkner received the Military Medal.
Pilot Officer William Meade Lindsley Fiske III was buried near Tangmere, at the St. Mary and St. Blaise Church, Boxgrove, West Sussex, England, 20 August 1940.
Billy Fiske’s Hurricane was repaired and was operational within a few days.
A ceremony unveiled a memorial to Fiske at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, 4 July 1941. At the presentation, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, said, “Here was a young man for whom life held much. Under no compulsion he came to fight for Britain. He came and he fought and he died.” The plaque reads, “An American citizen who died that England might live.”
Fiske’s flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Sir Archibald Hope, wrote,
“Unquestionably Billy Fiske was the best pilot I’ve ever known. It was unbelievable how good he was. He picked up so fast it wasn’t true. He’d flown a bit before, but he was a natural as a fighter pilot. He was so terribly nice and extraordinarily modest, and fitted into the squadron very well.”
—”For Our Tomorrow,” Pilot Officer Billy Fiske, Royal Air Force Museum
William Meade Lindsley Fiske III was born 4 June 1911, at Chicago, Illinois,² the second child of William Meade Lindsley Fiske II, a banker, and Beulah Rexford Fiske. By 1920, the family was living in Montecito, California. Fiske was educated in America, France and England, where he studied economics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
On Saturday, 18 February 1928, Billy Fiske was in St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the II Olympic Winter Games. He was the driver for the United States five-man bobsleigh team, which set a record for a combined time for two runs on the famous Cresta Run, of 3 minutes, 20.5 seconds. The team was awarded the Olympic Gold Medal.
For the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, the bobsleigh teams had been cut to four men. Also, the number of runs increased from two to four. Fiske was again the driver for the American team. And again, Fiske and his team mates won the Olympic Gold Medal with a combined time of 7 minutes, 53.68 seconds.
Fiske was invited to compete in the 1936 Olympics, but declined. That same year, he and a close friend began development of what would become the ski resort at Aspen, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. He was also involved in film production financing in Hollywood.
Fiske was also an automotive sportsman. He ordered a British Racing Green 1930 Bentley 4½-Liter Supercharged (a “Blower Bentley”) to the same specifications as Sir Henry Birkin’s LeMans racing team cars. He drove it to an average speed of 121.4 miles per hour (195.4 kilometers per hour) at Brooklands’ 2¾-mile high-banked track, for which he was awarded the Outer Circuit Banking Badge.
William M.L. Fiske married Mrs. Rose Bingham Greville, formerly the Countess of Warwick, in a civil registered ceremony at Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, 8 September 1938. (Following Fiske’s death, Mrs. Fiske joined the Women’s Voluntary Service as a truck driver.)
During 1938, Fiske had learned to fly at an airfield near London, and was awarded an Aviator’s Certificate by the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain. With war approaching, he volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force, claiming that he was a Canadian citizen. He was interviewed by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sir Cyril Newall, and accepted for the Auxiliary Air Force. He was sent to No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School, Yatesbury, Wiltshire, for military flight training, and then No. 2 Flight Training School, Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. Training was in the Gloster Gladiator.
On 23 March 1940, Billy Fiske was granted a commission as an Acting Pilot Officer on probation, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (78092). He joined No. 601 Squadron at RAF Tangmere, 12 July 1940. On 13 July, he was graded Pilot Officer on probation. He flew his first flight with the squadron, and his first in the Hawker Hurricane. Between 20 July and 16 August, Pilot Officer Fiske flew 42 sorties.
On 11 August, Billy Fiske claimed a twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 shot down. On 13 August, he claimed another Bf 110 probably shot down and two more damaged. On 15 August, Fiske and his Hurricane forced a German bomber into a balloon barrage.
Fiske wrote to his older sister, Beaulah (“Peggy”) Fiske Heaton, his reasons for joining the Royal Air Force. He said that the English had
“. . . been damn good to me in good times so naturally I feel I ought to try and help out if I can. There are absolutely no heroics in my motives, I’m probably twice as scared as the next man, but if anything happens to me I at least feel I have done the right thing in spite of the worry to my family—which I certainly couldn’t feel if I was to sit in New York making dough.”
—“American Billy Fiske—One of the Few,” United States Naval Institute Blog, 16 August 2016.
Billy Fiske’s fighter was a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, P3358, with squadron markings UF H. It was from the third production block of 544 Hurricanes built by Hawker Aircraft Limited, Brooklands, between February and July 1940.
The Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane flew on 12 October 1937. The early production Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models. It was 31 feet, 4 inches (9.550 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet (12.192 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters). Its empty weight was 4,982 pounds (2,260 kilograms) and gross weight was 6,750 pounds (3,062 kilograms).
The Mk.I’s engine was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 27.01 liter (1,648.96 cubic inches) Rolls-Royce R.M.1.S. Merlin Mk.III single-overhead-cam 60° V-12, rated at 990 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,250 feet (3,734 meters), and 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 10,250 feet (3,124 meters), using 87 octane aviation gasoline. The Merlin III drove the propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction ratio. It weighed 1,375 pounds (624 kilograms).
The fixed-pitch propeller was soon replaced with a three-bladed, two-pitch propeller, and then a three-bladed constant-speed propeller. Speed trials of a Mk.I equipped with a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meters) diameter Rotol constant-speed propeller achieved a maximum True Air Speed in level flight of 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) at 3,000 r.p.m. The service ceiling was 33,750 feet (10,287 meters). The Mk.I’s range was 600 miles (966 kilometers) at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour).
The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings.
At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of the enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker, Gloster and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.
¹ Acting Flight Lieutenant James William Elias Davies, D.F.C., Royal Air Force, a Hawker Hurricane pilot assigned to No. 79 Squadron, was killed in action over the English Channel, 27 June 1940. Davies was born at Bernardsville, New Jersey, United States of America, in October 1914. He was the son of David Ashley Davies, a farm manager, and Katherine Isabel Davies. He had a twin sister, Isabella E. Davies. Flying a Bristol Beaufighter, he is credited with 8 aerial victories.
² Most sources cite Billy Fiske’s birthplace as New York City, or Brooklyn, New York. His United States of America Emergency Passport Application, dated 28 May 1924, when Fiske was 12 years old, gives his birthplace as Chicago, Illinois.
16 August 1969: Former Lockheed SR-71 test pilot Darryl Greenamyer flew his modified Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Conquest I (Bu. No. 121646, FAA registration N1111L) to 776.45 kilometers per hour (482.46 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course at Edwards Air Force Base, California.¹ In setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record speed for piston engine airplanes (Class C-1, Group I), he broke the record that had stood since 1936, set by Fritz Wendel in a prototype Messerschmitt Me 209.² The Bearcat won the National Air Races six times.
Darryl George Greenamyer was born 13 August 1936 at Southgate, California. He is the second son of George Petit Greenamyer, a gold miner, and Bette Bessent Greenamyer, a waitress.
Greenamyer served as a pilot in the United States Air Force, and as a civilian test pilot for Lockheed, flying the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird. In 1970, he was honored with the Iven C. Kincheloe Award by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots for outstanding professional accomplishment in the conduct of flight testing.
On 21 January 1977, Greenamyer married Miss Mary Terese Croft in a civil ceremony in Arlington, Virginia.
Conquest I was built by the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in 1948 as an F8F-2 Bearcat, a carrier-based light weight fighter. The production F8F-2 Bearcat was 27 feet, 8 inches (8.432 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). Its empty weight was 7,070 pounds (3,206.9 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 12,947 pounds (5,872.7 kilograms).
The production F8F-2 used an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp E12 (R-2800-30W) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 6.75:1. The R-2800-30W was rated at 1,720 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,450 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). The Takeoff and Military Power ratings were 2,250 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,600 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). These power ratings required 115/145 aviation gasoline and water/alcohol injection and 115/145 aviation gasoline. The engine drove an Aeroproducts Inc. four-bladed propeller with a diameter of 12 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.450:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-30W was 8 feet, 2.75 inches (2.508 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,560 pounds (1,161.2 kilograms).
The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour (677.5 kilometers per hour). It could climb at 4,570 feet per minute (23.2 meters per second) and had a service ceiling of 38,700 feet (11,796 meters). Its range was 1,105 miles (1,778 kilometers).
Conquest I‘s wings were shortened by 7 feet (2.134 meters). The new wingspan is 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters). The R-2800 engine of Greenamyer’s racer was modified to produce 3,100 horsepower. It drove an Aeroproducts propeller from a Douglas AD-6 Skyraider, which had a diameter of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The spinner from a North American Aviation P-51H Mustang was used.
Conquest I is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. It was given to the museum by Greenamyer in exchange for an F8F-1 Bearcat, Bu. No. 90446. It is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia.