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25 September 1978, 16:02:07 UTC

PSA Flight 182, on fire after mid-air collision, 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

25 September 1978: At 09:02:07 a.m., local time, the worst aircraft accident in California history occurred when a Boeing 727-214 airliner, civil registration N533PS, operated by Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as Flight 182, crashed at the intersection of Dwight Street and Nile Street in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, 4,830 meters (3.00 miles) northwest of Lindbergh Field (SAN), today known as San Diego International Airport.

Flight 182 was a regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from Sacramento, California to San Diego, with a stopover at Los Angeles. Captain James E. McFeron, a 17-year veteran of PSA, was in command. First Officer Robert E. Fox was the pilot flying the 727 on this leg. The Flight Engineer (also called the Second Officer) was Martin J. Wahne. Also in the cockpit, occupying the two “jump seats” were two off-duty PSA captains. Four flight attendants were on duty in the passenger cabin along with 126 passengers, which included 30 PSA employees.

In clear weather and early morning sunlight, the airliner was on an visual approach to Lindbergh. The 727 passed over the Mission Bay VORTAC (MZB), a navigation aid 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) northwest of the airport, and turned left to a heading of 090° to intercept the downwind leg of the approach.

Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field.)
Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field), center near bottom of image. Montgomery field is at the upper right.

Ahead of the 727, a single-engine light airplane, a Cessna 172, N7711G, with an instructor and student aboard, had made two practice ILS approaches to Runway 9 at Lindbergh and departed to the northwest, returning to its base at Montgomery Field (MYF), 6.4 miles (10.3 kilometers) north-northeast of SAN.

Approach Control called, Cessna 7711G, radar contact, maintain VFR at or below 3500 [1,067 meters], fly heading 070, vector (for) final approach course.” The pilot of the Cessna, David T. Boswell, acknowledged the east-north-easterly heading and the altitude restriction. About 15 seconds later, at 08:59:39, the controller informed the 727, “Additional traffic’s twelve o’clock, three miles, just north of the field, northeastbound, a Cessna One Seventy-Two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred.” [427 meters] At 08:59:50, First Officer Fox reported, Okay, we’ve got that other twelve.”

Radar tracks show that N7711G initially maintained the assigned heading but after about one minute, turned 20° right to 090°, the same heading as that of Flight 182.

At 09:00:23, Approach Control acknowledged Flight 182: “Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh Tower 133.3. Have a nice day, now!”

Flight 182 switched radio frequencies and Captain McFeron checked in with the tower: “Lindbergh, PSA 182. Downwind.” The Tower Controller responded, “PSA 182, Lindbergh Tower, traffic 12 o’clock, one mile, a Cessna.”

In the cockpit there was confusion about the reported conflicting traffic ahead. Captain McFeron asked, “Is that the one we’re looking at?” Flight Engineer Wahne replied, “Yeah—but I don’t see him now.” McFeron called the Tower, “Okay, we had it there a minute ago.” The Controller replied, “One Eighty-Two, roger.” The Captain continued, “I think he’s passed off to our right.”

Inside the cockpit, McFeron said, “He was right over there a minute ago.” Wahne agreed, “Yeah.”

Lindbergh Tower authorized Flight 182 to land, “PSA 182—cleared to land,” and McFeron acknowledged with, “PSA 182’s cleared to land.” He then asked the Flight Engineer, “Are we clear of that Cessna?” Wahne said, “Supposed to be!” McFeron responded, “I guess.” In the cockpit’s jump seat, one of the two off-duty captains said, “I hope!”

At 09:01:21, Captain McFeron stated, “Oh, yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him about one o’clock, probably behind us now.”

First Officer Fox called for the wing flaps to be lowered and then at 09:01:31 he asked for the landing gear to be lowered. At 09:01:38, Fox said, There’s one underneath [pause] I was looking at that inbound there.” Flight 182 was now descending through 2,600 feet (793 meters).

At 09:01:47, the Flight 182’s Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up the sound of the collision.

The Boeing 727 struck the Cessna 172 from above and behind, with the impact occurring on the forward underside of the 727’s right wing, approximately 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) outboard of the wing root. The airliner was heavily damaged and on fire, having lost both the number 5 and 6 leading edge flaps. The number 3 leading edge slat and number 4 inboard leading edge flap were damaged. Chordwise damage penetrated to the forward wing spar. The airplane’s System A hydraulic lines and pressurized fuel lines were routed along the wing’s leading edge, in front of the forward wing spar. The NTSB estimated that only partial hydraulic pressure would have been available. With the flight controls damaged, Flight 182 rolled and turned to the right. On a heading of approximately 200°, it crashed into residential neighborhood in a 300 mile per hour (483 kilometers per hour), 50° dive.

According to seismographs at the Museum of Natural History, San Diego, the impact occurred at 09:02:07 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (16:02:07 UTC).

The Cessna 172 was also heavily damaged and on fire. The largest piece of the Cessna impacted six blocks away from the scene of the 727 crash, near 32nd Street and Park Avenue.

PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978.
PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

All 135 persons aboard the 727, both persons on the Cessna, and seven persons on the ground were killed. Another nine persons on the ground were injured. Twenty-two homes in a four-block area were destroyed or damaged.

The last words of the flight deck personnel recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder were that of an unidentified voice saying, “Ma, I love you.”

Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Pilot in Command of Flight 182, Captain James E. McFeron, had been employed by Pacific Southwest Airlines since 1961. He held an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and was type-rated in both the Lockheed L-188 Electra and the Boeing 727. He had a total of 14,382 flight hours, with 10,482 hours in the Boeing 727.

First Officer Robert E. Fox, Jr., also held an ATP certificate. Of his 10,049 flight hours, 5,800 were in the 727. He had been with PSA for 9 years.

Flight Engineer Martin J. Wahne had worked for PSA for 11 years. He had 10,800 hours, with 6,587 hours in the Boeing 727.

The Pilot in Command of the Cessna was Gunnery Sergeant David Lee Boswell, U.S. Marine Corps, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Gunnery Sergeant Boswell held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane—Single– and Multi–Engine Land ratings. He was receiving instrument flight instruction to apply for an Instrument Rating. Boswell had 407 total flight hours, and had flown 61 hours in the previous 90 days.

The Instructor Pilot on board the Cessna was Martin B. Kazy, Jr., an employee of the aircraft owner, Gibbs Flight Center at Montgomery Field. He held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane Single– and Multi–Engine Land, and Instrument–Airplane ratings. He had a total of 5,137 flight hours. Kazy had flown 347 hours in the previous 90 days.

Pacific Southwest Airlines' Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1975. (Edge to Edge Photography)
Pacific Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1974. (Edge to Edge Photography)

The aircraft operated as PSA Flight 182 was a Boeing 727–214, serial number 19688, which made its first flight 4 June 1968. At the time of the accident, the total time on the airframe (TTAF) was 24,088.3 hours. It had made 36,557 takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing 727–200 series was a stretched version of the original –100 model. It was designed to be operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry up to 189 passengers. The –200 was 153 feet, 2 inches (46.685 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). The empty weight was 98,400 pounds (44,633 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 184,800 pounds (83,642 kilograms). The airliner was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 low-bypass axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 14,500 pounds of thrust at Sea Level for takeoff (5-minute limit), and 12,600 pounds of thrust, maximum continuous power. This gave the 727–200 a maximum cruise speed of 0.9 Mach (610 miles per hour, or 982 kilometers per hour, at 30,000 feet/9,144 meters). Its service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and the maximum range was 1,956 miles (3,148 kilometers).

1,832 727s were built by Boeing between 1963 and 1984. 1,245 of these were 727-200s.

This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center's N7711G. (Skytamer)
This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center’s N7711G. (Skytamer)

Cessna 172 N7711G was a 1975 Cessna 172M, serial number 17265788. It had 2,993 total flight hours on the airframe (TTAF). It was a single-engine, four-place light airplane with a high wing and fixed tricycle landing gear. 711G was painted white with “mustard” yellow trim. The 172M is 26 feet, 11 inches (8.201 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inch (10.973 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The empty weight is 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms) and gross weight is 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). It is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-E2D horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine rated at 150 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine drives a two-bladed McCauley fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches (1.905 meters). The engine installed on N7711G engine had 3,086 total hours since new (TSN) and 879 hours since overhaul (TSO). The 172M has a cruise speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and a maximum speed of 142 miles per hour (229 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling is 13,100 feet (3,993 meters) and its maximum range is 875 miles (1,408 kilometers).

More than 43,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

15 August 1939

Junkers Ju 87 B-1 Sturzkampfflugzeug (“Stuka”) photographed before World War II. Note the extended dive brake under the wing. (Unattributed)

15 August 1939: As Nazi Germany prepared for a war now just weeks away, the Luftwaffe gave a demonstration of its Junkers Ju 87 B-1 Stuka dive bombers for a group of generals at a test range near Neuhammer-am-Queis, Silesia:

. . . scores of generals were assembled at the training area at Neuhammer to watch a dive-bombing demonstration. Already, said Rudolf Braun, who took part with his unit (I St. G 3) there was a feeling of war in the air.

Hauptmann Rudolf Braun, Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

Normally the order of attack was the Kommandeur’s Stab Kette (Staff Flight) first, followed by Staffels 1, 2, and 3. For some unknown reason Staffel I, led by Oberleutnant Peltz, was this time ordered to attack last. It would save Rudolf Braun’s life.

The Met. reported cloud from 6,000 feet down to 2,500 with clear visibility below. At 6.00 a.m. Hauptmann Sigel led his Gruppe into attack at 12,000 feet. Half-rolling his Ju. 87 he plunged nearly vertically earthwards, with Oberleutnants Eppen and Mueller on each side.

On the ground below, the generals (including Wolfram von Richthofen, the Stuka’s chief) listened to the whining crescendo of the dive-bombers as they plummeted towards the ground. Horrified, they knew that nothing could avert disaster. The Met. report was wrong. Cloud base was at three hundred feet.

Hauptmann Sigel, yelling into his microphone, “Pull out!” managed to do so himself a few feet above the trees. But Eppen went in, Mueller went in, and both burst into flames. The nine Ju. 87s of Staffel 2 and two of Staffel 3 all went in.

Rudolf Braun and his comrades of Staffel I had heard Sigel’s warning and remained circling above the cloud layer through which columns of black smoke were now rising from the wreckage of thirteen dive bombers. I St. G 3 lost twenty-six young aircrew that day.

— Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, C.V.O., D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force. Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003, Chapter 14 at Pages 171–172.

Two Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers.

The Junkers Flugzeug-und-Motorenwerke AG Ju 87 B-1 Sturzkampfflugzeug (“diving combat aircraft”) was a two-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear, designed as a dive bomber. The airplane, commonly known as the “Stuka,” has a blocky, unstreamlined appearance. Its most identifiable feature is its sharply-tapered, inverted “gull wing.” ¹

The Ju 87 made its first flight 17 September 1935. Among the tests pilots who flew it during pre-production testing were Hanna Reitsch and aeronautical engineer Gräfin Melitta Schenk von Stauffenberg.

The Stuka was used in the murderous attacks on the Spanish market town of Guernica, 26 April 1937, and Wieluń, Poland, 1 September 1939.

The Ju 87 B-1 was the first variant to be produced in large numbers and was in service at the beginning of World War II. The airplane is 11.000 meters (36.089 feet) long with a wingspan of 13.800 meters (45.276 feet) and height of 3.770 meters (12.369 feet). The total wing area is 31.9 square meters (343.4 square feet). The B-1 variant had an empty weight of 2,745 kilograms (6,052 pounds), and gross weight of 4,235 kilograms (9,337 pounds).

Two-view illustration of the Junkers Ju 87 B-1, with dimensions in millimeters. (Junkers Ju 87 B-1 Betriebsanleitung, at Page 0 05)

The Ju 87 B-1 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged 34.989 liter (2,135.190 cubic-inch-displacement) Junkers Jumo 211 A inverted 60° V-12 engine. The 211 A had direct fuel-injected and the cylinder heads were machined for four spark plugs per cylinder. The compression ratio was 6.57:1, requiring 88-octane gasoline. It was rated at a maximum 900 Pferdestärke at 2,200 r.p.m. at 5,500 meters (18,045 feet). The engine turned a three-blade Junkers-Verstelluftschraube propeller with a diameter of 3.4 meters (11.2 feet) through a 1.55:1 gear reduction. The Jumo 211 A weighed 660 kilograms (1,455 pounds).

The Stuka B-1 had a maximum dive speed of 600 kilometers per hour (373 miles per hour). The Ju 87 B-1 had a service ceiling of 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), and range of 550 kilometers (342 miles).

The B-1 was armed with two fixed 7.92 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG17 machine guns with 1,000 rounds of ammunition per gun, and one MG 15 machine gun on a flexible mount with 900 rounds of ammunition. It could carry a single 500 kilogram (1,102 pound) bomb under the fuselage.

Junkers Ju 87 V-4 prototype, D-UBIP, WNr 4924, circa 1936.

An interesting feature the the Stuka was its automatic pull-out system. Once the bomb had been dropped, the airplane automatically began a 5–6 g recovery. This could save the airplane if the pilot became target-fixated, or blacked out.

The Ju 87 was equipped with a Zeiss gyro-stabilized bomb sight. According to an article in Air Force Times, the Stuka was a very accurate dive bomber. “. . . even the worst drops typically landed within 100 feet [30.5 meters] of the target. Good hits were either on target or no more than 15 feet [4.6 meters]off-center.”

In the same article, the legendary Royal Navy test pilot, 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., is quoted:

A dive angle of 90 degrees is a pretty palpitating experience, for it always feels as if the aircraft is over the vertical and is bunting, and all this while terra firma is rushing closer with apparent suicidal rapidity. In fact I have rarely seen a specialist dive bomber put over 70 degrees in a dive, but the Ju 87 was a genuine 90-degree screamer. . . the Ju 87 felt right standing on its nose, and the acceleration to 335 mph [539 km/h] was reached in about 4,500 feet [1,372 meters], speed thereafter creeping up to the absolute permitted limit of 375 mph [604 km/h], so that the feeling of being on a runaway roller coaster experienced with most dive bombers was missing. I must confess that I had a more enjoyable hour’s dive-bombing practice than I had ever experienced with any other aircraft of this specialist type. Somehow the Ju 87D did not appear to find its natural element until it was diving steeply. Obviously the fixed undercarriage and large-span dive brakes of the Junkers were a highly effective drag combination.”

Only two Stukas still exist, one, a Ju 87 G-2, at the RAF Museum at Hendon, and the other, a Ju 87 R-2, is at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.

¹ TDiA has not found any source that provides the details of the Ju 87’s most characteristic feature: the angles of anhedral and dihedral of its wings. TDiA estimates that the wings’ inner section has -12° anhedral, while the outer wing panels have approximately 8° dihedral.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

26–29 July 1937

Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing”, NC17081. (Westin’sClassic General Aviation Aircraft)

26 July 1937: Jackie Cochran set a United States Women’s National Speed Record ¹ of 203.895 miles per hour (328.137 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer (621.4 mile) course between the Union Air Terminal at Burbank, California, and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and return, flying a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” NC17081, serial number 136. ²

A woman in the air, therefore, had a choice of flying around in a light plane for pleasure or of obtaining for herself new fast and experimental equipment and determining the maximum that could be obtained from its use. I followed the second course. The objective of each flight was to go faster through the atmosphere or higher into it than anyone else and to bring back some new information about plane, engine, fuel, instruments, air or pilot that would be helpful in the conquest of the atmosphere.

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 58

The Oakland Tribune reported:

WOMAN MAKES SPEED FLIGHT

Coast Record May have been Set on Oakland-L.A. Hop

     Jacqueline Cochrane [sic] Odlum, wife of a wealthy New York investment broker, today claimed a non-stop speed record for women fliers between Los Angeles and Oakland.

     The 27-year-old aviatrix made the round trip between Union Air terminal and Oakland yesterday in 3 hours 2 minutes and 51 seconds, averaging 203.89 miles per hour.

     While no official record now exists for a women’s flight over the 621.37 mile distance, Mrs. Odlum said she will seek recognition of her mark by the National Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

     Mrs. Odlum probably will enter her cabin racing plane, equipped with a 600-horsepower engine, in the Bendix races in September. She has been in the Bendix races before, and, in 1934, was in the London-to-Australia air derby but abandoned her hop in Bucharest.

     Floyd Odlum, to whom the aviatrix was married last year, is eminent in the world of finance and is known as the man who built the Atlas Corporation into one of the most successful investment trusts.

Oakland Tribune, Vol. CXXVII, No. 27, Tuesday, 27 July 1937, Page 1, Column 3

On 29 July, the International News Service reported:

199 M.P.H. RECORD SET BY AVIATRIX

Jacqueline Odlum Establishes Second Flying Mark

     BURBANK, Calif., July 29—(I.N.S.)—Another women’s flying record—her second in a week—was hung up by Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, pretty aviatrix, timekeepers at the Los Angeles airport here announced today.

     Mrs. Odlum flew to Garden Grove, Cal., and back to set a new 100-kilometer speed record for women of 199 miles an hour. The previous record was held by Mrs. Louise Thaden, who did it at 196 miles and hour.

     A week ago [sic] Mrs. Odlum flew to San Francisco and back at 203.89 miles an hour to set an average speed record for 1,000 kilometers.

Lancaster New Era, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Thursday, 29 July 1937Page 15, Column 7

Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NC17081, c/n 136, National Speed Record holder, 203.895 mph (328.137 kph). This airplane is painted "Merrimac Diana Cream" with "Stearman Vermillion" striping outlined in black. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)
Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NC17081, c/n 136. This airplane is painted “Merrimac Diana Cream” with “Stearman Vermillion” striping outlined in black. (Beech Aircraft Corporation via www.beech17.net)

NC17081 was one of two special D17W biplanes that were built by the Beech Aircraft Corporation, based on the production D17S “Staggerwing.” Jackie Cochran set aviation records with both of the D17Ws. The first, c/n 136, was originally sold to famous aviator Frank Monroe Hawks, but that purchase was not completed. Cochran was given the use of the airplane by the Beechcraft.

The Beechcraft Model 17 was single-engine, single-bay biplane operated by a single pilot, and which could carry up to three passengers in an enclosed cabin. The airplane got its nickname, “Staggerwing,” from the lower wing being placed forward of the upper wing for improved pilot visibility. The airplane’s basic structure was a welded tubular steel framework with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs, with the leading edges and wing tips covered with plywood. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with electrically-operated retractable landing gear and wing flaps.

Beech Aircraft Corporation Model 17 “Staggerwings” under construction. (Beech B-111/U.S. Air Force)

The D17-series differed from earlier Beech Model 17 variants by having the fuselage lengthened to improve elevator effectiveness, and the ailerons were on the upper wing.

The D17S was  26 feet, 10.7 inches (8.197 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 3 inches (3.124 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,928 kilograms).

While most biplanes had staggered wings, the Staggerwing was unusual in having negative stagger. This not only increased the pilot’s field of vision, but improved the airplane’s stability in a stall. The leading edge of the Model 17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1–19/32 inches (0.65008 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° 0′ sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 5° 5′. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.52 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 269.5 square feet (25.04 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.

The Beechcraft D17S was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1, ³ a single-row 9-cylinder direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. This engine was rated at 400 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), maximum continuous power, and 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for take off, using 91-octane gasoline. The R-985-AN-1 was 3 feet, 7.05 inches (1.093 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 682 pounds (309 kilograms) when constructed of aluminum, or 674 pounds (306 kilograms), built of magnesium. The engine drove a Hamilton Standard propeller with a diameter 8 feet, 3 inches (2.515 meters).

The production D17S Staggerwing had a cruise speed of 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters) and range was 840 miles (1,352 kilometers).

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)
Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

Beechcraft D17W NX17081 was built for Frank Hawks with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749 cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. SC-G single-row nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. (Engine serial number 531.) This was the only geared variant of the Wasp Jr., and had a reduction ratio of 3:2. This engine was rated at 525 horsepower at 2,700 horsepower up to an altitude of 9,500 feet (2,896 meters) with 87-octane gasoline, and 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff (when using 100-octane aviation gasoline). The additional 150 horsepower greatly increased the D17W’s performance over the standard production airplane. The Wasp Jr. SC-G was 3 feet, 10.469 inches (1.180 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.75 inches (1.187 meters) in diameter and weighed 864 pounds (392 kilograms).

After Jackie Cochran’s speed record, c/n 136 was registered NC17081, re-engined with a 971.930 cubic inch (15.927 liters), 420 horsepower Wright Whirlwind R-975 and re-designated D17R. After changing ownership several times, the Wright engine was replaced with a Pratt & Whitney R-985 and once again re-designated, this time as a D17S.

Early in World War II, the former speed record holder was impressed into military service. It was registered to the Defense Supplies Corporation, Washington, D.C., 14 April 1942, but the registration was cancelled four months later, 11 August 1942. Assigned to the United States Navy, c/n 136 was once again re-designated, this time as a GB-1 Traveler, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 09776.

Beechcraft GB-1 Traveler Bu. No. 09776 was stricken off at NAS Glenview, Illinois, 30 June 1945.

Beechcraft GB-1 Traveller in U.S. Navy service. (U.S. Air Force)
A Beechcraft GB-1 Traveler in U.S. Navy service. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ A check with the National Aeronautics Association this afternoon (25 February 2016) was unable to verify this record. —TDiA

² At least one source states that this record was flown in the second Beechcraft D17W, NR18562, c/n 164.

³ This is a different engine than the R-985-1, which was military variant of the 300-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A.

A row of eleven U.S. Navy Beech GB-1 Travelers. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

6 June 1955

Massif du Mont-Blanc depuis le sommet du Brévent, 2006. Mont Blanc, north face from Brevant. (Yann via Wikipedia)
Massif du Mont-Blanc depuis le sommet du Brévent, 2006. Mont Blanc, north face from Brevant. (Yann via Wikipedia)

6 June 1955: Mont Blanc (the “White Mountain”), at 4.808,73 mètres (15,776.67 feet), is the highest mountain in the Alps, and second highest in Europe. (Because the summit consists of ice and snow, the actual elevation of the summit varies from year to year, and season to season. This is the 2013 measurement.)

Jean Moine, chief pilot of Fenwick Aviation S.A., flew a new Bell Aircraft Corporation Model 47G-2 helicopter from the company’s base at Issy-les-Moulineaux, southwest of Paris, to Chamonix in southeastern France, and then on to the village of Le Fayet. This village is located northwest of the Mont Blanc massif at an elevation of 584 meters (1,916 feet) above Sea Level.

Jean Moine, Capitaine, Com
Jean Moine in the cockpit of a Bell Model 47 helicopter. (Hélico-Fascination)

The helicopter, registered F-BHGJ, with manufacturer’s serial number 1342, was the very first Bell Model 47G-2 to be built.

Some items not necessary for the planned flight to the summit were removed from the helicopter to reduce weight: the left fuel tank, battery, generator and seat cushions. The right fuel tank contained just 40 liters (10.6 gallons) of gasoline.

At 5:15 a.m. the following morning, 6 June, Jean Moine and his passenger, André Contamine, an Alpine guide, lifted off from Le Fayet and began a long climb to the Dôme du Goûter, 2 kilometers (1¼ miles) northwest of the summit of Mont Blanc, at 4,304 meters (14,121 feet). After 32 minutes, Moine landed there at 5:43 a.m.

Jean Moine with Bell 47G-2 F-BHGJ
Jean Moine with the first Bell Model 47G-2, F-BHGJ, probably at Dôme du Goûter, 6 June 1955. The helicopter’s left fuel tank and battery have been removed. (Hélico-Fascination)

After remaining at Dôme du Goûter for five minutes, Moine and Contamine again took off, and seven minutes later, landed atop Mont Blanc at 5:55 a.m. Moine estimated the wind speed at 25 knots (13 meters per second). After four minutes at the summit, Moine again lifted off and this time, returned to Chamonix, where the helicopter landed at 6:15 a.m.

Although the Bell 47G-2 has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), with winds of 20–25 knots (10.3–12.9 meters per second), the helicopter, while stationary, was actually in translational lift. Combined with very cold temperatures (probably lower than -14.7 °C./5.5 °F.) which reduced the density altitude from ISA standard conditions, the helicopter was easily able to land and takeoff, requiring only 14 inches (0.47 bar) of manifold pressure.

This was the highest landing and takeoff by a helicopter up to that time.

Later that morning, Moine and the Bell 47G-2 made two more flights to Dôme du Goûter, first with Pierre Voisin (?) and again with Contamine.

 Jean Moine and F-BHGJ at the summit of Mont Blanc, just before 6:00 am, 6 June 1955. (André Contamine via Hélico-Fascination)
Jean Moine and F-BHGJ at the summit of Mont Blanc, just before 6:00 am, 6 June 1955. (André Contamine via Hélico-Fascination)

Two short articles in FLIGHT and Aircraft Engineer mention the Mont Blanc landing:

. . . Lands High . . .

FLYING a Bell 47G, M. Jean Moine, accompanied by the guide Contamine, took off from Le Fayet airfield (1,905ft) on Monday and landed first on the Dôme du Goûter (14,116ft) and, seven minutes later, on the summit of Mont Blanc (15,782ft). On the same day S.N.C.A.S.E. claimed the world’s helicopter height record when the Alouette II, powered by a Turboméca Artouste, reached 27,100ft. The machine took off from Buc, near Paris, climbed for 42 min and landed at Montesson. The pilot was M. Jean Boulet.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2420 Vol. 67. Friday, 10 June 1955, at Page 784

. . . and:

. . . There followed, on June 6th, a landing by Jean Moine in a Bell 47-G2 on Mont Blanc, altitude 15,781 feet, now the highest landing by a rotating wing aircraft. . .

     The actual machine which landed on the summit of Mont Blanc , the Bell 47G2, powered by a 260 h.p. Lycoming engine de-rated to 200 h.p. was seen at Le Bourget. The use of a de-rated engine, the makers claim, increases considerably the engine overhaul life and also engine maintenance problems.

      According to the pilot, Jean Moine, the mountain landing was made without difficulty, in spite of no little turbulence caused by a 20 knot wind, and there was a sufficient reserve of power, with a passenger aboard, to enable the machine to hover in the ground cushion in the normal way before touching down.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2424 Vol. 68. Friday, 8 July 1955 at Page 54

Logbook entries of Mount Blanc flight
Entries in Jean Moine’s logbook of the Mount Blanc flight, 6 June 1955.

Jean Moine was born at Paris, France at 1915. He studied at Lycée Condorcet, a high school in Paris. In 1935, he learned to fly in a Potez 36 two-place trainer at l’aéro-club at Orly. In 1937 joined the Armée de l’air (the French Air Force). With the fall of France in 1939, Capitaine Moine continued to serve with the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (the Free French Air Force.) Assigned to Groupe Bretagne (GB II/20) he flew 46 combat missions with the Glenn L. Martin Co. B-26 Marauder, a twin-engine medium bomber.

Glenn L. Martic Co. B-26 Marauder.
Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (Free French Air Force) Glenn L. Martin Company B-26G-11-MA Marauder 43-34594, nº 29, Groupe Bretagne. (Collection J. Moulin)

Captain Moine was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance (Medal of the Resistance). He was appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.

Following World War II, Jean Moine served as chief pilot for a small regional airline, Lignes Aériennes du Sud-Ouest. In 1950, Moine joined Fenwick Aviation S.A., Paris, France, as chief pilot and general manager. The company sold and operated aircraft produced by several American manufacturers, including the Bell Aircraft Corporation. He learned to fly helicopters at the Bell plant at Buffalo, New York. While there, he also studied Bell’s flight school operation. Returning to France, he organized Fenwick Aviation’s flight school at Issy-les-Moulineaux.

Moine rose to vice president and chief executive officer. He served as Fenwick’s president from 1966 to 1976.

Bell Model 47 helicopters at Fenwick Avaition,
Bell Model 47 helicopters at Fenwick Aviation, a major distributor for Bell Aircraft Corporation in Europe. (Hélico-Fascination)

Leaving Fenwinck, he joined Transair Helicopters Group. One of the missions this company performed was transporting marine pilots by helicopter to ships at sea, flying an Aérospatiale Alouette III based at Cherbourg.

In December 1975, HRH Prince Charles awarded the Berguet Trophy of the Royal Aero Club and the Aero Club of France to Moine for his outstanding contributions to rotary wing flight.

Moine served as president of l’Aéro-Club de France from 1982–1986.

When Jean Moine retired, he had accumulated a total of 7,000 flight hours, about equally divided between fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

Jean Moine, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, died 7 March 2002 at the age of 86 years.

This advertisement for the Bell 47G-2 shows an early production aircraft painted yellow. This may be c/n 1342. (Bell Helicopter Company)
This advertisement for the Bell Model 47G-2 shows an early production aircraft painted yellow and black, the standard paint scheme. (Bell Helicopter Company)

The Bell Model 47, designed by Arthur M. Young, of the Bell Aircraft Corporation, Buffalo, New York, was the first helicopter to receive civil certification from the Civil Aviation Administration, predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration. On 8 March 1946, the aircraft received CAA Type Certificate H-1.

The Bell 47G was the first helicopter manufactured by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at the company’s new plant at Fort Worth, Texas. It was also produced under license by Agusta, Kawasaki and Westland.

The Bell Model 47G and 47G-2 Trooper are nearly identical, essentially differing only in the engine used. It is a 3-place, single-engine light helicopter, operated by a single pilot. The helicopter has dual flight controls and can be flown from either the left or right. The airframe is constructed of a welded tubular steel framework with a sheet metal cockpit. The landing gear consists of two lateral, horizontal tubular cross tubes, and two longitudinal “skids,” curved upward at the front. Ground handling wheels are attached to the skids. The most distinctive feature of the Bell 47 is the large plexiglass “bubble” windshield. The main rotor flight controls use a system of bell cranks and push-pull tubes. The cyclic is hydraulically boosted. The tail rotor is controlled by pedals and stainless steel cables.

With rotors turning, the Bell 47G-2 has an overall length of 41 feet, 4.75 inches (12.618 meters). From the forward tip of the skids to the aft end of the tail rotor guard, the fuselage is 31 feet, 5.40 inches long (9.586 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 35 feet, 1.50 inches (10.706 meters). The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 8.125 inches (1.730 meters). Height to top of main rotor mast is 9 feet, 3.613 inches (2.835 meters).

The Bell 47G-2 has an empty weight of approximately 1,564 pounds (709 kilograms), depending on installed equipment. Its maximum gross weight is 2,450 pounds (1,111 kilograms), a 100 pound (45 kilogram) increase over the Franklin-powered Model 47G.

The main rotor, in common to all American-designed helicopters, rotates counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The anti-torque (tail) rotor is mounted to the right side of an angled tail boom extension, in a tractor configuration, and rotates counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

This photograph of a Bell 47 presents a good view of the stabilizer bar, pitch links and hydraulic dampers.
This photograph of a Lycoming-powered Bell 47G-2 hovering in ground effect presents a good view of the stabilizer bar, pitch links and hydraulic dampers. (Wikipedia)

The main rotor is a two-bladed, under-slung, semi-rigid assembly that would be a characteristic of helicopters built by Bell for decades. The main rotor system incorporates a stabilizer bar, positioned below and at right angles to the main rotor blades. Teardrop-shaped weights are placed at each end of the bar, on 100-inch (2.540 meters) centers. The outside diameter of the stabilizer bar is 8 feet, 6.781 inches (2.611 meters). The pilot’s inputs to the cyclic stick are damped through a series of mechanical linkages and hydraulic dampers before arriving at the pitch horns on the rotor hub. The result is smoother flight, especially while at a hover. The stabilizer bar action is commonly explained as being “gyroscopic,” but this is incorrect. (A similar system is used on the larger Bell 204/205/212 helicopters.)

The working parts of this Agusta-Bell 47G-3B-1 are clearly visible in this photograph. (M. Bazzani/Heli-Archive)

The Bell 47G and 47G-2 used laminated-wood main rotor blades, with a metal spar, covered with fabric. The blades’ trailing edge tapers slightly from root to tip. The airfoil is symmetrical, transitioning from NACA 0015 at the root to NACA 0011 at the tip. The normal operating range of the main rotor is 322–360 r.p.m. (294–360 r.p.m. for autorotation). A longitudinal hole in the blade tip for a recessed tension-adjusting nut produces a distinctive whistling sound.

The 47G-2 used a more powerful AVCO Lycoming VO-435-A1A, -A1B, -A1D, -A1E or -A1F engine in place of the Franklin 6V4-200-C32AB. The VO-435 is an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 433.972-cubic-inch-displacement (7.112 liter) vertically-opposed six-cylinder direct-drive engine. The engine has a compression ratio of 7.30:1 and requires a minimum of 80/87 octane aviation gasoline. The VO-435A series engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 250 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m., and 260 h.p. @ 3,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. Installed in the Bell 47G-2, the engine’s maximum power limit is 28.8 inches of mercury (0.975 bar) manifold pressure at 3,100 r.p.m. (200 horsepower) to increase time-between-overhaul (TBO) limits. The VO-435 is 34.73 Inches (0.882 meters) high, 33.58 inches (0.878 meters) wide and 24.13 inches (0.613 meters) deep, and weighs 393.00 pounds (178.26 kilograms) to 401.00 pounds (182.89 kilograms), depending of the specific engine variant.

Bell Model 47G, 47G-2 diagram
Bell Model 47G/47G-2 left profile.

Engine torque is sent through a centrifugal clutch to a gear-reduction transmission, which drives the main rotor through a two-stage planetary gear system. The transmission also drives the tail rotor drive shaft, and through a vee-belt/pulley system, a large fan on the forward face of the engine to provide cooling air.

The Bell 47G/G-2 has a maximum speed (VNE) of 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour) from Sea Level to 1,400 feet (427 meters). Above that altitude, VNE is reduced 3.5 miles per hour (5.6 kilometers per hour) for every 1,000 foot (305 meters) increase in altitude. On a Standard Day, the hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of the Bell 47G-2, at maximum gross weight, is 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above Sea Level, and out of ground effect (HOGE), 3,200 feet (975 meters).

Fuel is carried in two gravity-feed tanks, mounted above and on each side of the engine. The total fuel capacity is 43.0 gallons (162.8 liters), however, usable fuel is 41.0 gallons (155.2 liters). The helicopter has a maximum range of 238 miles (383 kilometers).

In production from 1946 until 1974, more than 7,000 Model 47 helicopters were built, worldwide. It is estimated that about 10% of these aircraft remain in service.

In 2010, the type certificates for all Bell 47 models were transferred to Scott’s Helicopter Service, Le Sueur, Minnesota, which continues to manufacture parts and complete helicopters.

Bell 47G-2 F-BHGJ was delivered to Fenwick Aviation SA, along with the second production G-2, 3 February 1955. It was acquired by France Aviation SA, Aéroport de Toussus le Noble, Chateaufort, south of Versailles, on 13 June 1955. It was next registered to SA Gyrafrique, Algeria, 8 November 1955. On 5 August 1960, the helicopter was once again reregistered, this time to SA Gyrasahara. Gyrafrance SA (Gyrafrance Hélicoptères), Aéroport de Frejorgues, Mauguio, became the registered owner, 23 July 1964. On 9 August 1991, the registered owner was Societe Nouvelle Gyrafrance SA, Aéroport de Montpellier–Méditerranée, Mauguio. F-BHGJ was registered to SA Aero 34, also located at the Aéroport Montpellier–Méditerranée, Mauguio, 23 March 1995, and then Aeromecanic 34 SARL, Marignane, 1 August 2001. From 12 October 2004 until 18 February 2015, the helicopter was owned by Heli System, Frontignan, on the Mediterranean coast. The first Bell 47G-2, F-BHGJ, is currently owned by Conseil Aménagement Foncier, Frontignan.

Recommended: The Bell 47 Helicopter Story, by Robert S. Petite and Jeffrey C. Evans, Graphic Publishers, Santa Ana, California, November 2013.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

2 June 1941

Consolidated Aircraft Corporation Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503 (SDASM Archives)

2 June 1941: Great Britain had been at war with Germany for 21 months. Its need for military equipment far exceeded the capacity of British industry, so the Empire looked across the North Atlantic Ocean to its former colonies, the United States of America.

The Royal Air Force ordered 140 Liberator B Mk.II bombers from Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, California. The Consolidated Model LB-30 was a variant of the U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 four-engine long-range heavy bomber, but was built expressly for the RAF and had no direct Air Corps equivalent.

AL503 was the first Liberator Mk.II. It had made its first flight 26 May 1941, and was ready to be turned over to the Royal Air Force.

AL503 crashed on its acceptance flight, 2 June 1941. The aircraft was destroyed and all five on board were killed.

Consolidated LB-32, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503, photographed 2 June 1941—the same day it crashed. (Consolidated Aircraft Corporation)
Consolidated Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503, photographed 2 June 1941—the same day it crashed. The four-gun upper turret is visible. The bomb bay is open. (Consolidated Aircraft Corporation)

The Associated Press reported the accident:

Big Bomber Made for Britain Crashes in San Diego Bay; Four Members of Crew Perish

SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 2—(AP)—A $250,000 four-motored Consolidated bomber crashed and sank in San Diego Bay today, shortly after taking off from Lindbergh Field. Consolidated Aircraft Corp. officials said four of the crew members apparently perished.

The 25-ton craft was camouflaged and ready for delivery to Great Britain.

William B. Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the Consolidated Aircraft Corp., apparently was at the controls. The Navy had taken over rescue operations, and details and names of crew members were not immediately available.

Witnesses said the huge plane left the airport on what appeared to be a normal takeoff, but that the bomber pulled up steep into a vertical climb instead of leveling off. At about 500 feet the plane apparently was in a stall.

The bomber then fell off to the left, and nosed down and the pilot, using the throttle appeared to have recovered. This difficulty was experienced over the airport, but by the time the pilot apparently had regained control of the craft it was flying over the water an an altitude of about 100 feet, the bomber again fell off to the left and the wing struck the water.

A Consolidated spokesman said the crash had “evidence of sabotage.”

The spokesman said the $250,000, 25-ton land bomber had been “thoroughly tested, and things like that just don’t happen.”

Believed dead were:

William Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the company.
Allen T. Austen, 28, Kansas City, Mo., assistant test pilot.
Bruce K. Craig, 27, Chicago, engineer.
William H. Rieser, 33, Cambridge, Mass.
Lewis M. McAannon, 25, Woodstock, Ill., chief mechanic, was seriously injured. ¹

The bodies of Wheatley, Craig and Austin had not been recovered from the shattered bomber.

The impact with the water shattered the bomber, witnesses said, and it sank. Navy and small fishing vessels went to the rescue. The plane went down in an area between the San Diego shoreline and the naval air station.

The bomber, called “Liberator” by the Royal Air Force, was of all-metal construction, and its type is regarded as one of the most advanced military weapons. The Liberator can travel 230 miles an hour with a full bomb load over a 3,000 mile range. Orders for the huge land bomber originally were placed by the French, then taken over by the British.

The first B-24 was delivered to the British last Feb. 15 when the craft Consolidated Aircraft officials said established a record non-stop transcontinental flight of 9 hours, 57 minutes for planes of more than 5,000 pounds gross weight.

—The Eugene Guard, Vol. 50, No. 152, Monday, June 2, 1941, at Page 1 Column 6 and Page 2, Column 2

This aerial photograph of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, shows the location of the PB4Y-2 crash site, and nearby, the position where the outer wing panel was found. (U.S. Navy)
This is a 1944 aerial photograph of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, part of an investigation of the crash of a brand-new Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer. The Pacific Ocean is at the upper left corner of the image. (U.S. Navy)

The Consolidated B-24 had first flown 29 December 1939. Chief Test Pilot Bill Wheatley was in command. Designed as a long-range heavy bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps, it was a high-wing, four-engine monoplane with dual vertical fins and rudders. It had retractable tricycle landing gear. The bomber was flown by two pilots, with the crew including a navigator, bombardier, radio operator and several gunners.

The Royal Air Force Liberator B. Mk.I was essentially a B-24A. The Liberator Mk.II, though,  was lengthened by extending the nose in front of the cockpit by 3 feet (0.914 meters). It was equipped with two power-operated gun turrets, one at the top of the fuselage, just aft of the wing, and a second at the tail.

The Liberator Mk.II was 66 feet, 4 inches (20.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 110 feet, 0 inches (33.528 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 0 inches (5.486 meters). It was heavier than the Mk.I as a result of the longer fuselage and the heavy power turrets. The maximum gross weight was 64,250 pounds (29,143 kilograms).

Consolidated LB30 Liberator II
Consolidated Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II

The LB-30/Mk.II was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-33) two-row fourteen-cylinder radial engines. These had a normal power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 6,100 feet (1,859 meters) and 1,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m at 14,500 feet. The takeoff/military power rating was 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-1830-33 was 4 feet, 0.06 inches (1.221 meters) in diameter and 5 feet, 3.48 inches (1.612 meters) long. It weighed 1,480 pounds (671 kilograms).

The Liberator Mk.II had a maximum speed of 263 miles per hour (423 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its service ceiling was 24,000 feet (7315 meters).

As was common with British bombers, the Liberator Mk.II was defended by Browning .303 Mk.II (7.7 × 56 mm) machine guns. Four were installed in the upper power turret and another four guns in the tail turret. Left and right waist positions each had two guns. One gun was mounted at the nose and one in the belly of the aircraft. This was a total of fourteen. The tail turret carried 2,200 rounds of ammunition and the top turret had 600 rounds.

Prime Minister Churchill's personal transport, "Commando," teh second Consolidated LB30 Liberator Mark II, AL504 © IWM (CH 14142)
Prime Minister Churchill’s personal transport, “Commando,” the second Consolidated LB30 Liberator Mark II, AL504. Its fuselage has been lengthened and tail surfaces from the PB4Y-2 Privateer installed. © IWM (CH 14142)

The second Liberator Mk.II, AL504, became the personal transport of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who named it Commando. In 1944, the aircraft was modified to the single vertical fin configuration of the PB4Y-2 Privateer. Commando disappeared over the Atlantic in 1945.

William Ballentine Wheatley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

William Ballantine Wheatley was born at Chester, New York, 17 December 1902, the first of three children of William A. Wheatley, a public school superintendent, and Mabel Ballantine Wheatley. He was twice married, first, about 1927, to Esther Leary Wheatley, of Massachussetts. They had two children, Mary and William Thomas Wheatley. His second marriage was to Miss Grace Lenore Ray, 18 April 1935, at Washington, D.C. They would have a son, John, and two daughters, Grace and Charlotte Wheatley.

After two years of college, Wheatley joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, 3 March 1925. He trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, Texas, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, 13 March 1926. On 4 May 1927, Lieutenant Wheatley was assigned to the 118th Observation Squadron, 43rd Division, Air Service, at Hartford, Connecticut, as a pilot and observer. He served in the Air Corps Reserve until 1937.

In 1928, Wheatley went to work for the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He was an air mail pilot in 1928-1929, and then, in February 1929, he became a test pilot for Reuben H. Fleet’s Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. In 1935, Consolidated moved to its new headquarters at Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California. Wheatley moved with it. He and his family lived in a 3 bedroom home about three miles northeast of the airport. In 1940, his salary as chief test pilot of Consolidated was $50,000 per year. ²

Following Wheatley’s death, Beryl Arthur Erickson was assigned as chief test pilot for Consolidated.

¹ Lewis McCannon also died as a result of the crash.

² Approximately equivalent to $1,083,439 U.S. dollars in 2023.

© 2018 Bryan R. Swopes