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25 January 1946

Jack Valentine Woolams, Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation. (John Trudell/Ancestry)

25 January 1946:¹ Near Pinecastle Army Airfield in central Florida, Bell Aircraft Corporation Senior Experimental Test Pilot Jack Woolams made the first unpowered glide flight of the XS-1 supersonic research rocketplane, 46-062.

46-062 was the first of three XS-1 rocketplanes built by Bell for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to explore flight at speeds at and beyond Mach 1, the speed of sound. The airplane had been rolled out of Bell’s plant at Buffalo, New York, on 27 December 1945. The rocket engine, which was being developed by Reaction Motors, Inc., at Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, was not ready, so the experimental aircraft was carrying ballast in its place for the initial flight tests.

Jack Woolams with the second Bell XS-1, 46-063. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The XS-1 was to be air-dropped from altitude by a modified heavy bomber so that its fuel could be used for acceleration to high speeds at altitude, rather than expended climbing from the surface. Bell manufactured B-29B Superfortresses at its Atlanta, Georgia, plant and was therefore very familiar with its capabilities. A B-29, 45-21800, was selected as the drop ship and modified to carry the rocketplane in its bomb bay.

Boeing B-29-96-BW Superfortress 45-21800 carries a Bell XS-1 rocketplane. (Bell Aircraft Museum)

Pinecastle Army Airfield was chosen as the site of the first flight tests because it had a 10,000 foot (3,048 meter) runway and was fairly remote. There was an adjacent bombing range and the base was a proving ground for such aircraft as the Consolidated B-32 Dominator. (Today, Pinecastle A.A.F. is known as Orlando International Airport, MCO.)

Bell XS-1 46-062 was placed in a pit at Pinecastle A.A.F. so that the B-29 drop ship in the background could be positioned over it. (NASA)
Bell XS-1 46-062 was placed in a pit at Pinecastle A.A.F. so that the B-29 drop ship in the background could be positioned over it. (NASA)

The B-29 carrying the XS-1 took off from Pinecastle at 11:15 a.m., and began its climb to altitude. Woolams was in the forward crew compartment. As the bomber reached approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), he entered the bomb bay and climbed down into the cockpit of the research aircraft. At the drop altitude, the B-29 was flying at 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour) with the inboard propellers feathered and flaps lowered to 20°.

The XS-1 dropped away smoothly. Woolams flew the rocketplane to a maximum 275 miles per hour (443 kilometers per hour), indicated air speed, during this first glide test. He described the rocketplane as, “solid as a rock, experiencing absolutely no vibration or noise. At the same time, it felt as light as a feather during maneuvers due to the lightness, effectiveness and nice balance between the controls.” Woolams described the visibility from the cockpit as “not good, but adequate.”

The duration of the first glide flight was about ten minutes. Woolams misjudged his approach to Pinecastle and landed slightly short of the runway, on the grass shoulder, but the XS-1 was not damaged.

The conclusion of Woolams’ flight report is highly complementary of the experimental airplane:

#000000; font-family: courier new, courier;">11.  Of all the airplanes the writer has flown, only the XP-77 and the Heinkel 162 compare with the XS-1 for maneuverability, control relationship, response to control movements, and lightness of control forces. Although these impressions were rather hastily gained during a flight which lasted only 10 minutes, it is the writer’s opinion that due to these factors and adding to them the security which the pilot feels due to the ruggedness, noiselessness, and smoothness of response of this airplane, it is the most delightful to fly of them all.

#0000ff;">#000000;">—PILOT’S REPORT, Flight , by Jack Woolams

Jack Woolams made ten glide flights with 46-062, evaluating its handling characteristics and stability. The aircraft was returned to Bell to have the rocket engine installed, and it was then sent to Muroc Army Airfield in the high desert of southern California for powered flight tests. (Muroc A.A.F. was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in 1949.)

Bell XS-1 46-062 was later named Glamorous Glennis by its military test pilot, Captain Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps. On 14 October 1947, Chuck Yeager flew it to Mach 1.06 at 13,115 meters (43,030 feet). Today the experimental aircraft is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

The Bell XS-1, later re-designated X-1, was the first of a series of rocket-powered research airplanes which included the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, the Bell X-2, and the North American Aviation X-15, which were flown by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, NACA and its successor, NASA, at Edwards Air Force Base to explore supersonic and hypersonic flight and at altitudes to and beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere.

An X-1 under construction at teh Bell Aircraft Corporation plant, Buffalo, New York. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)
An X-1 under construction at the Bell Aircraft Corporation plant, Buffalo, New York. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

The X-1 has an ogive nose, similar to the shape of a .50-caliber machine gun bullet, and has straight wings and tail surfaces. It is 30 feet, 10.98 inches (9.423 meters) long with a wing span of 28.00 feet (8.534 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 10.20 inches (3.307 meters).

46-062 was built with a thin 8% aspect ratio wing, while 46-063 had a 10% thick wing. The wings were tapered, having a root chord of 6 feet, 2.2 inches (1.885 meters) and tip chord of 3 feet, 1.1 inches (0.942 meters), resulting in a total area of 130 square feet (12.1 square meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 2.5° with -1.0° twist and 0° dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 5.05°.

The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 11.4 feet (3.475 meters) and an area of 26.0 square feet (2.42 square meters). 062’s stabilizer has an aspect ratio of 6%, and 063’s, 5%.

The fuselage cross section is circular. At its widest point, the diameter of the X-1 fuselage is 4 feet, 7 inches (1.397 meters).

46-062 had an empty weight is 6,784.9 pounds (3,077.6 kilograms), but loaded with propellant, oxidizer and its pilot with his equipment, the weight increased to 13,034 pounds (5,912 kilograms).

The X-1 was designed to withstand an ultimate structural load of 18g.

Front view of a Bell XS-1 supersonic research rocketplane at the Bell Aircraft plant, Buffalo, New York. (Bell Aircraft Museum)

The X-1 was powered by a four-chamber Reaction Motors, Inc., 6000C4 (XLR11-RM-3 ) rocket engine which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (26,689 Newtons). This engine burned a 75/25 mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Fuel capacity is 293 gallons (1,109 liters) of water/alcohol and 311 gallons (1,177 liters) of liquid oxygen. The fuel system was pressurized by nitrogen at 1,500 pounds per square inch (103.4 Bar).

The X-1 was usually dropped from the B-29 flying at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and 345 miles per hour (555 kilometers per hour). It fell as much as 1,000 feet (305 meters) before beginning to climb under its own power.

The X-1’s performance was limited by its fuel capacity. Flying at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), it could reach 916 miles per hour (1,474 kilometers per hour), but at 70,000 feet (21,336 meters) the maximum speed that could be reached was 898 miles per hour (1,445 kilometers per hour). During a maximum climb, fuel would be exhausted as the X-1 reached 74,800 feet (2,799 meters). The absolute ceiling is 87,750 feet (26,746 meters).

Bell X-1 46-062 on the dry lake bed at Muroc Army Airfield, circa 1947. (NASM)

The X-1 had a minimum landing speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour) using 60% flaps.

There were 157 flights with the three X-1 rocket planes. The number one ship, 46-062, Glamorous Glennis, made 78 flights. On 26 March 1948, with Chuck Yeager again in the cockpit, it reached reached Mach 1.45 (957 miles per hour/1,540 kilometers per hour) at 71,900 feet (21,915 meters).

The third X-1, 46-064, made just one glide flight before it was destroyed 9 November 1951 in an accidental explosion.

The second X-1, 46-063, was later modified to the X-1E. It is on display at the NASA Dryden Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Glamorous Glennis is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, next to Charles A. Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Bell X-1, 46-062, Glamorous Glennis, on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (NASM)
Bell X-1 46-062, Glamorous Glennis, on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (NASM)

Jack Valentine Woolams was born on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1917, at San Francisco, California. He was the second of three children of Leonard Alfred Woolams, a corporate comptroller, and Elsa Mathilda Cellarius Woolams. He grew up in San Rafael, California, and graduated from Tamalpais School in 1935.

Jack Woolams, 1941

After two years of study at The University of Chicago, in 1937 Woolams entered the Air Corps, U.S. Army, as an aviation cadet. He trained as a pilot at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. On graduation, 16 June 1938, he was discharged as an aviation cadet and commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve. He was assigned to Barksdale Army Air Field, Louisiana, where he flew the Boeing P-26 and Curtiss P-36 Hawk.

On 10 February 1939, Lieutenant Woolams was one of three Air Corps officers thrown into the waters of Cross Lake, near Shreveport, Louisiana, when the boat, owned by Woolams, capsized in 4 foot (1.2 meters) waves. Woolams and Lieutenant J.E. Bowen were rescued after 4 hours in the water, but the third man, Lieutenant Wilbur D. Camp, died of exposure.

Lieutenant Woolams transferred from active duty to inactive reserve status in September 1939 in order to pursue his college education at The University of Chicago, where he was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi (ΑΔΦ) fraternity. While at U. of C., he played on the university’s football and baseball teams, and was a member of the dramatic society. Woolams graduated 18 July 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree in Economics.

Mr. and Mrs. Jack V. Woolams, 16 June1941. (Unattributed)

Jack Woolams married Miss Mary Margaret Mayer at the bride’s home in Riverside, Illinois, 16 June 1941. They would have three children. Miss Mayer was also a 1941 graduate from the University of Chicago. She had been Woolams’ student in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

Woolams became a production test pilot for the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. He tested newly-built Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters. As he became more experienced, he transitioned to experimental testing with the P-39, P-63 King Cobra, and the jet-powered P-59 Airacomet.

Jack Valentine Woolams, Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation, circa 1946. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

On 28 September 1942, Jack Woolams flew a highly-modified Bell P-39D-1-BE Airacobra, 41-38287, from March Field, near Riverside, California, to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., non-stop. The duration of the flight was approximately 11 hours. The modifications were intended to allow P-39s to be flown across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and on to the Soviet Union for delivery under Lend Lease.

During the summer of 1943, Woolams flew the first Bell YP-59A Airacomet, 42-108771, to an altitude of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters) near Muroc Army Air Field in California.

On 5 January 1945, Woolams was forced to bail out of a Bell P-59A-1-BE, 44-22616. He suffered a deep laceration to his head as he left the airplane. He lost his flight boots when the parachute opened, and on landing, had to walk barefoot through knee-deep snow for several miles to reach a farm house. The deep snow prevented the company’s ambulance from getting to Woolams. Bell Aircraft president Lawrence D. Bell sent the company’s second prototype Bell Model 30 helicopter, NX41868, flown by test pilot Floyd Carlson, to transport a doctor, J.A. Marriott, M.D., to the location. Another Bell test pilot, Joe Mashman, circled overhead in a P-63 King Cobra to provide a communications link. Later in the day, an ambulance was able to get through the snow to take Woolams to a hospital.

Wreckage of Bell P-59A-1-BE Airacomet 44-22616. Jack Woolams bailed out of this airplane 5 January 1945. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

Woolams was scheduled to make the first powered flight of the XS-1 during October 1946.

Jack Woolams was killed Friday, 30 August 1946, when his red Thompson Trophy racer, Cobra I, a modified 2,000-horsepower Bell P-39Q Airacobra, crashed into Lake Ontario at over 400 miles per hour. His body was recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard four days later.

Bell Aircraft Corporation experimental test pilots Jack Woolams and Tex Johnston with their modified Bell P-39Q Airacobras, Cobra I and Cobra II. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

¹ This article was originally dated 19 January 1946. There were known discrepancies as to the date of the first flight from various reliable sources. Recently discovered test flight reports, provided to TDiA by Mr. Roy T. Lindberg, Historian of the Niagara Aerospace Museum, Niagara Falls, New York, have confirmed that the date of the first flight was actually 25 January 1946. The article has been been revised accordingly, as well as to incorporate new information from these reports.

TDiA is indebted to Mr. Lindberg for providing this and other documentation.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

19 January 1937

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the H-1 Racer, NX258Y, 19 January 1937. (LIFE Magazine)
Howard Hughes climbs out of the cockpit of the H-1 Racer, NX258Y, at Newark Metropolitan Airport, 19 January 1937. “Grimy from the smoke of his exhaust stacks the lanky pilot climbed out of his cramped cockpit and grinned.” (LIFE Magazine)

19 January 1937: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., departed Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 2:14 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (10:14 UTC) aboard his Hughes Aircraft Company H-1 Racer, NR258Y. He flew non-stop across the North American continent to Newark Metropolitan Airport, Newark, New Jersey, and arrived overhead at 12:42:25 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (17:42:25 UTC).

Hughes completed the 2,490-mile (4,007.3 kilometer) flight in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds, at an average speed of 332 miles per hour (534 kilometers per hour). He broke the existing record, which he himself had set just over one year previously in a Northrop Gamma, by more than two hours.¹ (The 1937 flight is not recognized as an FAI record.)

Hughes H-1 NX258Y
Hughes H-1 NX258Y. (Hughes Aircraft Company)

The New York Times reported:

  All landplane distance speed records were broken yesterday by Howard Hughes, millionaire sportsman pilot, who reached Newark Airport 7 hours 28 minutes and 25 seconds after he took off from Los Angeles, Calif. He was forced to stay aloft until the runway at the field was clear and landed at 1:03 P.M. His average speed was 332 miles an  hour for the 2,490 miles he traveled.

     Grimy from the smoke of his exhaust stacks the lanky pilot climbed out of his cramped cockpit and grinned. In recounting his experiences on the flight he said that the skies were overcast all the way and he had to fly on top of the clouds . . .

     It was 2:14 o’clock in the morning and pitch dark when he opened the throttle at the Union Air Terminal at Burbank and released the 1,100 horsepower sealed in the fourteen cylinders of his supercharged Twin Row Wasp engine. The sleek gray and ble low-winged monoplane, designed and built under his own direction, staggered, accelerated and then literally vaulted into the air. Within a few seconds Hughes climbed into the low-hanging clouds and swung eastward . . .

     At 14,000 feet, at which altitude he flew most of the way, he passed over the clouds, set his course and leveled off. He throttled his engine back until it was delivering only 375 horsepower and hunched himself over his instrument panel . . .

     His arrival at Newark was unheralded and a surprise. It was thought that he was going to land at Chicago. The new United Air Lines extra-fare plane was loaded for its initial run and already had its door locked when the propeller whir of the hurling racer apparently made the buildings tremble from sound vibration as Hughes swept low across the field. William Zint of the Longines Watch Company, official timer for the National Aeronautic Association, noted the time. It was exactly 42 minutes and 25 seconds after noon.

     Hughes pulled up in a sweeping chandelle maneuver and circled. The United Air Liner was already on the runway when Hughes swung back toward the flaps on his wing to slacken speed for landing . . . and the plane settled fast toward the earth. Still the pilot had no signal from the control tower where the dispatchers act as traffic patrols at the busiest airport in the world. Hughes had to open his throttle again and cruise around the field for some time before the green light at last came on. The United plane was then well on its course toward Chicago. Hughes’s plane slid in over the airport boundary, dropped it’s retractable undercarriage and tail wheel and touched both wheels and tail wheel in a perfect three-point landing at 1:02:30 P.M. . . .

#0000ff;">#000000;">— Excerpted from an article in The New York Times, Wednesday, 20 January 1937, Page 1 at Columns 6 and 7.

After landing at Newark, Hughes told newspaper reporters, “I flew at 14,000 feet most of the way,” Hughes said, “with my highest speed 370 miles an hour. I used about 200 of the 280-gallon load. I am very tired—a bit shaky.”

[Richard W.] Palmer met Hughes at Newark Airport. The two men shook their heads at each other. “I knew she was fast,” Hughes told his chief engineer, “but I didn’t know she was that fast.”

Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 19.—(AP)

Howard Hughes with his H-1 Racer, NR258Y.
Howard Hughes with his H-1 Racer, NR258Y.

The Hughes H-1 (FAA records describe the airplane as a Hughes Model 1B, serial number 1) was a single-seat, single-engine low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed by Richard W. Palmer. Emphasis had been placed on an aerodynamically clean design and featured flush riveting on the aluminum skin of the fuselage. The airplane is 27 feet, 0 inches long (8.230 meters) with a wingspan of 31 feet, 9 inches (9.677 meters) and height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). (A second set of wings with a span of 25 feet (7.6 meters) was used on Hughes’ World Speed Record ² flight, 13 September 1935.) The H-1 has an empty weight of 3,565 pounds (1,617 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,492 pounds (2,491 kilograms).

The H-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr., a two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine. Pratt & Whitney produced 18 civil and 22 military versions of the Twin Wasp Jr., in both direct drive and geared configurations, rated from 650 to 950 horsepower. It is not known which version powered the H-1, but various sources report that it was rated from 700 to 1,000 horsepower. The engine drove a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller.

Hughes H-1 NX258Y at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes H-1 NX258Y, left front quarter, at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes H-1 NX258Y, right profile. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes H-1 NX258Y, right profile, at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes  H-1 NX258Y. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
The Hughes Aircraft Co. H-1 Racer, NR258Y at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Hughes Aircraft Co. H-1 Racer, NR258Y at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13237: World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course, 417.0 kilometers per hour (259.1 miles per hour)

² FAI Record File Number 8748: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, 567.12 kilometers per hour (352.39 miles per hour)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

18 January 1906

Graf von Zeppelin's LZ 2 at Lake Constance, 1906. (RAF Museum)
Graf von Zeppelin’s LZ 2 at Lake Constance, 1906. (RAF Museum)

17 January 1906: Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin’s second airship, Luftschiff Zeppelin 2, designed by Ludwig Dürr, made its first—and only—flight, at Lake Constance (Bodensee), a large lake at the base of Alps.

Ludwig Dürr (1878–1956)
Ludwig Dürr (1878–1956)

LZ 2 was 127 meters (416 feet, 8 inches) long and 11.70 meters (38 feet, 5 inches) in diameter. It had a volume of 10,400 cubic meters (367,273 cubic feet). The rigid structure was built of triangular-section girders that combined light weight and strength. Hydrogen gas contained in bags inside the airship’s envelope gave it buoyancy.

Ladislas d’Orcy described the airship:

. . . Hull-frame of aluminum-alloy lattice girders, cross-braced by wire stays, and subdivided into compartments for independent gas-cells. No ballonets. Fabric skin. Trim controlled by lifting planes. Cars rigidly connected. Gangway affording passage between the cars.

D’Orcy’s Airship Manual, by Ladislas d’Orcy, M.S.A.E., The Century Company, New York, 1917, at Page 127

The airship was powered by two 85 horsepower Daimler-Motoren-Gesellchaft gasoline-fueled engines designed by Karl Maybach. They turned four three-bladed propellers at 820 r.p.m. It was capable of reaching 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour). The airship’s ceiling was 2,800 feet (853 meters).

L’AÉROPHILE reported:

Une nouvelle sortie—la derniére—eut lieu le jeudi 18 janvier 1906. Parti de son garage et parvenu à 500 mètres environ, le ballon était désemparé, et après avoir passé au-dessus de Raverasburg, Kisslegg et Sommerstadt, venait s’abattre en territoire suisse, à Allgaen. Certains correspondants assurent qu’il était monte par l’inventeur, , des officiers allemands et des hommes d’équipage qui n’eurent pas de mal. Mais, dans la chute, das avaries irréparables se produisirent si bien que le comte Zeppelin, decouragé, ne continuera pas ses essais. #000000;">¹

L’AÉROPHILE, 14º Année, Noº 1, Janvier 1906, at Page 32

THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER reported:

AERONAUT’S ILL LUCK.

CABLE TO THE ENQUIRER AND N. Y. HERALD.

(Copyright, 1906, by N. Y. Herald Company.)

     Berlin, January 18.—Count Zeppelin made a second trial to-day with hi snew airship. Starting from Lake Constance, the airship passed over Ravensberg, Kisslegg and Sommersledat and landed at Allgaen. It was seriously damaged in the storm, and further trials will be impossible at present.

THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, Vo. LXIII, No. 10, Friday, 19 January 1906, Page 2. Column 1

An engine failure forced the ship to make an emergency landing close to a small town named Sommersried, Allgäu, in southern Germany, and was so badly damaged by a storm during the night that it had to be scrapped.

Wreckage of LZ 2.
Wreckage of LZ 2.

¹ Google Translation: “A new exit-the last-took place on Thursday, January 18, 1906. From his garage and reached about 500 meters, the balloon was clueless/distraught, and after passing over Raverasburg, Kisslegg and Sommerstadt, came crashing down in Swiss territory, in Allgaen. Some correspondents assert that he was mounted by the inventor, German officers and crewmen who were not hurt. But in the fall, irreparable damage occurred so that Count Zeppelin, discouraged, did not continue his attempts.”

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

15 January 2009: “The Miracle on the Hudson”

U.S. Airways’ Airbus Industrie A320-214 N106US. (Bureau of Aviation Accidents Archives)

15 January 2009: At 3:25 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 departed from Runway 4 at LaGuardia International Airport (LGA) enroute to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) with a stop at Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT). On board were 150 passengers and 5 crewmembers. The pilot-in-command was Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III, and the co-pilot was First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles.

Flight 1549 (radio call sign, “Cactus Fifteen-Forty-Nine”) was an Airbus Industrie A320-214, with registration N106US.

Captain Chesley B. Sullnberger
Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, U.S. Airways

Captain Sullenberger was a 1973 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and had served as a pilot in McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs until 1980, when he left the Air Force and began a career as an airline pilot with Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA). To date, “Sully” had flown 19,663 total hours with 4,765 hours in the Airbus A320.

First Officer Skiles was also a highly experienced pilot with 15,643 total hours, but this was his very first flight aboard the A320 after completing the airline’s pilot transition course.

First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles
First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, U.S. Airways

First Officer Skiles was the pilot flying on the first leg of the flight. The airliner was climbing and gaining airspeed, when at 3:27:11, it collided with a large flock of Canada Geese at an altitude of 2,818 feet (859 meters), approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) from the runway. Birds were ingested in both engines which immediately lost thrust. Captain Sullenberger took over the controls while Skiles began the engine restart procedure.

A portion of the Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript follows:

15:27:07  Sullenberger: #0000ff;">After takeoff checklist complete.

15:27:10.4 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">Birds.

15:27:11 Skiles: #800000;">Whoa.

15:27:11:4 (Sound of thump/thud(s), followed by shuddering sound.)

15:27:12 Skiles: #800000;">Oh (expletive deleted).

15:27:13 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">Oh yeah. (Sound similar to decrease in engine noise/frequency begins.)

15:27:14 Skiles: #800000;">Uh oh.

15:27:15 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">We got one rol — both of ’em rolling back.

15:27:18 (Rumbling sound begins and continues until approximately 15:28:08.)

15:27:18.5 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">Ignition, start.

Canada geese (Branta candensis maxima) in flight.
Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) in flight.

15:27:32.9 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. Uh this is uh Cactus Fifteen-Thirty-Nine #000000;">[sic]#0000ff;"> hit birds, we’ve lost thrust (in/on) both engines we’re turning back  towards LaGuardia.

15:27:42 LaGuardia Departure Control: #008000;">OK uh, you need to return to LaGuardia? Turn left heading of uh Two Two Zero.

15:27:43 (sound similar to electrical noise from engine igniters begins.)

15:28:02 Skiles: #800000;">Airspeed optimum relight. Three hundred knots. We don’t have that.

15:28:03 Flight Warning Computer: #ff0000;">Sound of single chime.

15:28:05 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">We don’t.

15:28:05 LGA Departure Control: #008000;">Cactus Fifteen-Twenty-Nine [sic]#008000;">, if we can get it for you do you want to try to land Runway One Three?

15:28:05 Skiles: #800000;">If three nineteen. . .

15:28:10.6 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">We’re unable. We may end up in the Hudson.

Break Transcript

The cockpit of a U.S. Airways Airbus A320-214, N108UW, the same type airliner as the flown by Sullenberger and Skiles. Photograph © Quinn Savit. Used with permission.
The cockpit of a U.S. Airways Airbus A320-214, N108UW, the same type airliner flown by Sullenberger and Skiles. (Photograph © Quinn Savit. Used with permission.)

15:29:28 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">We’re gonna be in the Hudson.

15:29:33 LGA Departure Control: #008000;">I’m sorry say again Cactus?

15:29:53 LGA Departure Control: #008000;">Cactus Fifteen-Forty-Nine radar contact is lost you also got Newark Airport off your two o’clock in about seven miles.

15:29:55 Ground Proximity Warning System: #ff0000;">PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP.

15:30:01 Skiles: #800000;">Got flaps out.

15:30:03 Skiles: #800000;">Two hundred fifty feet in the air.

15:30:04 Ground Proximity Warning System: #ff0000;">TOO LOW. TERRAIN.

15:30:06 Ground Proximity Warning System: #ff0000;">TOO LOW. GEAR.

15:30:06 Skiles: #800000;">Hundred and seventy knots.

15:30:09 Skiles: #800000;">Got no power on either one? Try the other one.

15:30:09 Radio from another flight: #800080;">Two One Zero uh Forty-Seven-Eighteen. I think he said he’s going in the Hudson.

15:30:15 Ground Proximity Warning System: #ff0000;">CAUTION TERRAIN.

15:30:16 Skiles: #800000;">Hundred and fifty knots.

15:30:17 Skiles: #800000;">Got flaps two, you want more?

15:30:19 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">No let’s stay at two.

15:30:21 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">Got any ideas?

15:30:22 LGA Departure Control: #008000;">Cactus Fifteen-Twenty-Nine #000000;">[sic]#008000;"> if you can uh. . . you got uh Runway uh Two Nine available at Newark it’ll be two o’clock and seven miles.

15:30:23 Ground Proximity Warning System: #ff0000;">CAUTION TERRAIN.

15:30:23 Skiles: #800000;">Actually not.

15:30:24  Ground Proximity Warning System: #ff0000;">TERRAIN TERRAIN. PULL UP. PULL UP. (“Pull Up” repeats until the end of the recording.)

15:30:38 Sullenberger: #0000ff;">We’re gonna brace.

End Transcript

Flight track of U.S. Airways Flight 1549. (National Transportation Safety Board)

Though air traffic controllers had made runways available at the three closest airports for an emergency landing, Flight 1549 did not have enough airspeed and altitude to reach any of them. Despite the best efforts of Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles to restart the two damaged engines, there was no alternative but to ditch the airliner into the Hudson River.

The A320 hit the water in a slight nose-up attitude at approximately 130 knots (150 miles per hour, 241 kilometers per hour). The airliner quickly slowed then began drifting with the tide. The force of the impact had twisted the airframe and the cargo door seals began to leak. N106US began to settle into the water.

Cabin attendants opened the doors and activated the emergency slides, which acted as flotation rafts. Passengers quickly evacuated the airliner and many of them stood on the wings to stay out of the frigid water.

U.S. Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson River on the afternoon of 15 January 2009.
U.S. Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson River on the afternoon of 15 January 2009.

Before he left his airplane, Captain Sullenberger twice went through the cabin to make sure than no one was left aboard. He was the last person to leave Flight 1549.

Rescue efforts were immediately under way. Everyone on board was saved, and there were just five serious injuries sustained during the emergency.

This accident is known as “The Miracle on the Hudson” and the crew of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 are regarded as national heroes.

This was the most successful ditching on an airliner since Pan American World Airways Flight 6, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser named Sovereign of the Skies, went down in the Pacific Ocean, 15 October 1956.

U.S. Airways Airbus A320 N106US floating on the Hudson River, 15 January 2009. (Steven Day/AP/NBC News)

U.S. Airways Flight 1549 was flown with an Airbus Industrie A320-214, s/n 1024, registration N106US. It was built at Aéroport de Toulouse – Blagnac, France in 1999. At the time of the accident, N106US had 25,241.08 total flight hours on the airframe in 16,299 cycles.

The A320-200 series is a medium-range, narrow body twin engine airliner, introduced during the mid-1980s. It uses “fly-by-wire” systems and was the first airliner with “side stick controllers.” The airliner is flown by a pilot and co-pilot.

The A320-214 is 37.57 meters (123 feet, 3 inches) long with a wingspan of 34.10 meters (111 feet, 11 inches) and overall height of 11.76 meters (38 feet, 7 inches). Average empty weight of the airplane is 42,600 kilograms (93,917 pounds) and the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 78 tonnes (171,961 pounds).

N106US was powered by two CFM International CFM56-5B4/P high bypass turbofans engines, producing up to 120.102 kilonewtons (27,000 pounds of thrust) each. It is a two-spool axial-flow engine with a single-stage fan, 13 stage (4 low- and 9 high-pressure stages) compressor section and 4-stage (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) turbine section. The engine is 72.0 inches (1.829 meters) in diameter, 102.4 inches (2.601 meters) long and weighs 5,250 pounds (2,381 kilograms).

Rescue operation of Cactus 1549, 15 January 2009. (Wikipedia)

The A320-200 series has a cruising speed of 0.78 Mach (828 kilometers per hour, 515 miles per hour) at 11,000 meters (36,090 feet) and a maximum speed of 0.82 Mach (871 kilometers per hour, 541 miles per hour) at the same altitude. The airliner’s service ceiling is 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) and the maximum range, fully loaded, is 6,100 kilometers (3,790 miles).

The Airbus A320 series is still in production. As of 31 December 2018, 8,605 A320s had been built.

N106US remains in the condition that it was in when removed from the Hudson River. It i stored outside at the departure end of Runway 36C, Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Charlotte, North Carolina.

Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III retired from U.S. Airways 10 March 2010. First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles remained with the airline, although he took an extended leave of absence.

U.S. Airways' Airbus A320-214 N106US on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina. (RadioFan)
U.S. Airways’ Airbus A320-214 N106US was previously on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina. The museum is not presently in operation and N106US is stored outside. (RadioFan)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes