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8 May 1929

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek waves from the cockpit of the Wright XF3W-1 Apache. (NASM)

8 May 1929: Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew the prototype Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, to 11,930 meters (39,140 feet) over NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C. ¹ The record was certified by the National Aeronautic Association.

Lieutenant Soucek was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement.

Flight reported:

New Altitude Record Claimed

     It is announced in Washington that Lieut. Apollo Soucek, U.S.N., claims to have created a new height record of 40,000 ft. on May 8. In the course of his flight he encountered a temperature of 60 deg. F. below zero. [-51 °C.]

FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1064. (No. 20. Vol. XXI.) May 16, 1929, Page 405 at Column 2

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy.

Lieutenant Soucek set two other World Records with the XF3W-1 Apache. On 4 June 1929, with the Apache configured as afloat plane, he flew it to an altitude of 11,753 meters (38,560 feet). ² The following year, 4 June 1930, he flew the Apache to 13,157 meters (43,166 feet). ³

Wright XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, at NACA Langley. (NASA)

Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A7223, was a prototype for a single-place, single-engine fighter for the U.S. Navy. The XF3W-1 was a single-bay biplane with a fuselage constructed of steel tubing, covered with doped fabric. The wings were constructed of wood. It was 22 feet, 1 inch (6.731 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 4 inches (8.331 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). It had an empty wight of 1,414 pounds (641 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,128 pounds (965 kilograms). Only one XF3W-1 was built.

The XF3W-1 was designed to use the new air-cooled, supercharged 1,176.036-cubic-inch-displacement (19.272 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1200 Simoon 9-cylinder radial engine, which was rated at 350 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. The R-1200 weighed 640 pounds (290 kilograms).

Pratt & Whitney Wasp A Serial Number 1, (R-1340), Radial 9 Engine at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

After taking delivery of the prototype, the Navy installed the number two Pratt & Whitney Wasp A engine. (The XF3W-1 was the first airplane to fly with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, 5 May 1926.) The Wasp A was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch displacement (22.021 liters) nine-cylinder radial direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 410 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline. The Wasp A was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) used the XF3W-1 for engine and cowling tests at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL), Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia. Which engine was installed at the time of Lieutenant Soucek’s record flight is uncertain.

The XF3W-1’s engine was supercharged by a NACA Model 2E Roots-type supercharger, built by the Allison Engineering Company. This supercharger, serial number 1, is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

The XF3W-1 was also configured as a float plane.

162 m.p.h., 38,560′

Wright Aeronautical XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, 28 August 1926. (NASA)

Apollo Soucek was born 24 February 1897, at Lamont, Oklahoma. He was a son of Bohemian immigrants, Johann Grothard Soucek, a blacksmith, and Ludmila Pishny Soucek. He had a brother, two years his junior, named Zeus.

Midshipman Apollo Soucek, U.S. Naval Academy, 1921. (The Lucky Bag)

Soucek received an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland. He entered on 9 June 1917 as a member of the Class of 1921. While at Annapolis, “Soakem” Soucek played baseball and football. In The Lucky Bag it was written, “When you want a man you can rely on and trust ’till there’s skating in Hell, just page old Soakem—he’s there with the goods.”

Midshipman Soucek graduated and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, with a date of precedence of 3 June 1921.

Ensign Soucek’s first assignment was aboard the New Mexico-class battleship, USS Mississippi (BB-41).

In February 1924, Ensign Soucek was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight instruction. He was designated a Naval Aviator in October 1924. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as assistant flight officer aboard the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1).

USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)

Soucek was next transferred to Observation Squadron 1 (VO-1), Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard USS Maryland (BB-46), a Colorado-class battleship. He had collateral duty as the ship’s assistant navigator.

In 1925, Lieutenant (j. g.) Souceck served aboard USS Aroostock (CM-3), a minesweeper which had been converted to an aircraft tender, and in 1926, was assigned to the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadephia, Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Soucek was promoted to lieutenant, 3 June 1927, and he began a tour of duty with the Bureau of Aeronautics, 29 June 1927. He specialized in engines in the Bureau’s Material Division.

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek married Miss Agnes Eleanor O’Connor at Washington, D.C., 27 May 1930.

In 1931, Lieutenant Soucek served with Fighting Squadron 1B (VF-1B). He returned to duty at the Naval Aircraft Factory in 1933.

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, 16 March 1932. The airplane is a Boeing F4B-2, A8801, assigned to VF-1, USS Saratoga (CV- 3). Lieutenant Soucek is wearing the green uniform of a U.S. Naval Aviator. (U.S. Navy via Davis-Monthan Airfield Register)

In 1936, Lieutenant Souceck served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4).

USS Ranger (CV-4). (U.S. Navy)

Souceck was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 3 June 1937, and was assigned as commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 2 (VF-2). In 1938, he returned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, working in both the Flight Division and the Personnel Division.

In 1940, Lieutenant Commander Soucek served as navigator aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5).

Souceck was promoted to the rank of commander,  27 August 1941. He was assigned as Air Officer aboard the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8). When the carrier’s executive officer was promoted, Commander Soucek was assigned as Hornet‘s executive officer, serving under Captain Marc A. Mitscher. Hornet participated in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942; the Battle of Midway; and the Solomons Campaign.

Commander Soucek was promoted to the rank of captain (temporary), 20 August 1942, with date of rank 20 June 1942.

Hornet was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 27 October 1942. Captain Soucek was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the battle.

USS Hornet (CV-8) under attack during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942. (U.S. Navy)

Captain Soucek next was as assistant chief of staff for operations, U.S Pacific Fleet, then the Naval Air Training Command. He was promoted to the rank of rear admiral (temporary), 23 July 1944. After the war, reverted to the permanent rank of captain, with the 23 July 1944 date of rank.

On 27 October 1945, Captain Soucek became the first commanding officer of the Midway-class aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). He was appointed Commander, Carrier Division 14, in January 1946. He remained in command of Roosevelt until relieved, 2 March 1946.

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), (U.S. Navy)

After leaving Roosevelt, Soucek was assigned as Commander Fleet Air Wing 1.

From July 1947 through 1949, Rear Admiral Soucek was Commander, Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. In late 1949, he was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Aviation Plans, and then, in 1950, Director, Aviation Plans, in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

In 1951 Rear Admiral Soucek was appointed Naval Attaché for Air at the United States Embassy, London, England. His wife, Agnes, died that year.

Soucek returned to combat during the Korean War. In 1952, he commanded Carrier Division 3 and Task Force 77 from his flagship, USS Boxer (CV-21). He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Two Vought F4U-5N Corsairs fly past USS Boxer (CV-21), off Korea, 4 September 1951. (U.S. Navy)

Rear Admiral Soucek became Chief, Bureau of Aeronautics, 18 June 1953.

In 1954, Rear Admiral Soucek became a member of the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution National Air Museum, serving without compensation.

Soucek suffered a heart attack in February 1955. Unable to return to full duty, he was transferred to the Retired List on 1 July 1955.

Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, died at his home in Washington, D.C., 19 July 1955. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8257

² FAI Record File Number 11747

³ FAI Record File Number 8237

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

17 April 1944

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

17 April 1944: The first production Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, was delivered to the Air Transport Command at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia. The new transport carried the markings of Transcontinental and Western Airlines (T.W.A.), and was flown by that company’s owner, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., and T.W.A.’s president, William John (“Jack”) Frye.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 ready to depart Lockheed Air Terminal, 17 April 1944. (Image scanned from Queen of the Skies, by Claude G. Luisada. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2014. Chapter 5, Page 76, Fig. 5–1.)

The C-69 departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 3:56:45 a.m., Pacific War Time. The other crew members were Edward T. Bolton, Navigator; R. L. Proctor, Flight Engineer; and Charles L. Glover, Radio Operator. Also on board were 12 passengers representing the Air Corps, T.W.A. and Lockheed.¹

The Dayton Herald reported:

Constellation Sets Record; To Be in Dayton Thursday

(BULLETIN)

     WASHINGTON, April 17.—(UP)—The giant transport Constellation landed at Washington National Airport at 1:59 p.m. EWT today, setting a new trans-continental airplane speed record.

     The huge four-motor transport made the crossing from Burbank, Calif., in approximately 7 hours and three minutes on the basis of unofficial timing. Howard Hughes, who set the previous record, piloted the plane here for delivery to the Army.

     The Constellation, Transcontinental and Western Airline’s (TWA) super transport, which left Burbank, Calif., today for delivery to the air transport command at Washington, will fly to Wright Field Thursday afternoon, Material Command officials said here.

Considered the largest land-based cargo plane in the country, the “Constellation” took off from Lockheed Air Terminal at 5:56 a.m., (Dayton time) today with veteran pilot Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, TWA president, co-designers of the plane, as pilot and co-pilot, respectively. It passed over Butler Mo., 50 miles south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m. (Dayton time).

     Materiel Command officials said the plane was expected to make the trip in nine hours. They estimated she could fly from Los Angeles, Calif., to Honolulu in 12 hours.

     Also aboard were Lt. Col. Clarence Shoop, resident Material Command inspector at the Lockheed Burbank plant, 17 Lockheed and TWA technical experts and a civilian air expert.

     The ship originally was designed to carry 57 passengers, TWA officials said. The airline company commissioned Lockheed to build the plane two years ago.

     Hughes described the trip as a “routine delivery mission” and would not say whether he would attempt to break any speed records or whether the flight would be non-stop.

     “It all depends on the performance of the Connie,” he said.

     The 40-ton ship, which has a cruising speed of 300 miles an hour, took off with enough gasoline for a non-stop trip. Cargo and airline planes in general use now cruise at around 180 miles an hour. Her takeoff was clocked by Larry Therkelsen, National Aeronautical Association timekeeper and official timer of the national air races before the war.

     The Constellation is powered by four, 2,000-horsepower Wright air-cooled, radial engines, with 18 cylinders each, the Materiel Command said. It has three-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers and is equipped with a pressurized cabin for stratosphere flights. Its service ceiling is from 20,000 to 35,000 feet.

The Dayton Herald, Vol. 65, No. 91, Monday, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, c/n 049-1962, was the first production airplane. It had been flown to Las Vegas, Nevada, on the previous day, where T.W.A. personnel applied the company’s livery to the Army Air Corps-owned airplane. Flown by Lieutenant Colonel C. A. Shoup, it then returned to Burbank to prepare for the transcontinental flight.

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The plan called for Howard Hughes to fly as pilot-in-command for the first half of the flight, with Captain Frye in the right seat. They would switch positions at the half-way point. Both men were experienced four-engine pilots but the Constellation was new to them. In the previous week, they had each made two training flights in the C-69, with Hughes flying 2.9 hours and Frye, 3.4.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962), the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00013)

Initially, the transport followed T.W.A.’s normal transcontinental route. It had climbed to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) by the time it reached Kingman, Arizona. The night sky was “CAVU”—ceiling and visibility unrestricted—and there was a bright last-quarter moon shining. Passing north of Winslow, Arizona, the C-69 left the T.W.A. route and turned north to pick up a Great Circle course.

Flying over northern New Mexico, they encountered turbulence and thunderclouds. Hughes climbed to 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) to remain clear of the clouds. Light ice began forming on the airplane as they crossed over Kansas. They climbed into colder, drier air at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962). (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00019)

Over the eastern part of the state, Jack Frye took over as pilot command and he and Hughes switched places in the cockpit. The C-69 crossed over Butler, Missouri, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m., Central War Time (8:20 a.m., P.W.T.).

—ST. LOUIS STAR-TIMES, Vol. 58—No. 168, Monday Evening, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

The Constellation crossed overhead Cincinnati, Ohio, at 11:48 a.m., C.W.T. Stormy weather delayed their descent until after crossing the Ohio River.

The Constellation flew overhead National Airport at 1:54 p.m., Eastern War Time (10:54 a.m., P.W.T.). They circled overhead while traffic cleared the runway, then landed four minutes later.

The Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, flown by Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, lands at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, at 1:58 p.m., E.W.T., 17 April 1944. Image edited. (Original image: UNLV Digital Collection whh 001297).

The C-69’s log book showed the Burbank to overhead National Airport flight as having taken 6 hours, 56 minutes, 15 seconds.² The Aircraft Yearbook for 1945 gives the record time as “6 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds.” ³

Because of wartime security concerns, the Air Corps would not allow Lockheed or TWA to release specific information about the flight, other than to say that it had broken the existing transcontinental speed record. The Great Circle distance from Lockheed Air Terminal to Washington National is 2,000 nautical miles (2,302 statute miles/3,705 kilometers). Assuming that the route was flown without any deviations, the average speed of the C-69 would have been 288 knots (331 miles per hour/533 kilometers per hour).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001301)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001302)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310, wheels stop. National Airport, 17 April 1944. (LIFE Magazine)

At the time, the only airplanes which were larger than the C-69 were the prototype Douglas B-19 long range bomber and the Martin Mars flying boat. A large crowd watched the arrival of the new airplane. Dignitaries meeting the flight were General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, Chief the U.S. Army Air Forces, and Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones, with Oswald Ryan and Josh Lee of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Secretary of Commerce Jesse Holman Jones, Howard Hughes and Jack Frye. “She performed perfectly marvelously,” said Frye. “She handled like a pursuit ship and flies like a dream.” (UNLV Digital Collections whh001313)
Flight crew and passengers of transcontinental flight. Howard Hughes is 8th from left.  (UNLV Digital Collection whh01324)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001317)

After the arrival ceremonies, the new Lockheed C-69 Constellation was handed over to the Air Corps Air Transport Command and taken to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to begin its military flight tests.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 after rollout at Lockheed Burbank, August 1943. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

As stated above, 43-10310, c/n 1962, was the first production C-69 Constellation, following the XC-69 prototype, 43-10309, c/n 1961. It had been designed and built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Burbank, California, for Transcontinental and Western Airlines. The C-69 made its first flight in August 1943, and remained with Lockheed for manufacturer’s tests.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer and radio operator. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The C-69 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R3500–35 (Cyclone 18 711C18BA2) engines. Also known as the Duplex Cyclone, these were a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.85:1, which required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff (five minute limit), The 745C18BA2 was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,707 pounds (1,228 kilograms). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. Wright produced 58 of these engines between August 1942 and October 1944.

The C-69 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

During the War, Lockheed Constellations were operated for the War Department by T.W.A. and Pan American Airways.

On 31 March 1947,  War Assets Administration sold 43-10310 for spare parts. It was salvaged to repair other C-69 and L-049 airplanes.

In 1952, Lockheed rebuilt -310 for Inter-National Airways, Inc., which leased it to Flying Tiger Line. It was assigned civil registration NC38936.

NC38936 was destroyed by fire after landing accident during training/certification flight at Burbank, 22 January 1953.

Lockheed Martin C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Fire Destroys Huge Plane on L.A. Test Hop

     A rebuilt, four-engine Constellation was destroyed by fire last night seconds after it landed at Lockheed Air Terminal. Ten persons aboard the aircraft escaped without injury.

     The huge craft, owned by Inter-Continental Airways, Inc., had made its second test landing for two Civil Aeronautics Authority inspectors when the main landing-gear section burst into flames which quickly spread to the fuselage and other parts of the ship, according to airport tower observers.

     The plane’s landing gear apparently failed to function properly as the ship touched down and caused the plane to skid on its belly with the propellers scraping the runway, according to the observers.

Changes in Plane

     The Constellation was the second in the C-69 series built by Lockheed Aircraft and during the last two years had undergone changes in construction prior to being chartered by Flying Tiger Lines from the Inter-Continental Airways, according to William Sosnow, purchasing agent for the latter company.

     Burbank and Lockheed Fire Departments fought the fire and kept the flames from spreading to nearby hangars and other aircraft. Fire officials said the plane, valued at $1,000,000, was a total loss.

Final Checkout

     Sosnow said the plane had received CAA partial approval Wednesday and that last night’s pilot training flight was to complete the inspection routine. It was to have flown to Oakland today for its first pay passengers, he said.

     Aboard the plane, Lockheed officials said, were CAA Inspectors M.H. Griffith and Sam Chandler, Senior Pilot C.G. Fredericks, Pilots Lawrence Raab, Sheldon Eichel, August Martin and Leo Gardner; Flight Engineers Frank Lutomski and Robert R. Jackson and Radioman Morris H. Sherry.

     All the crewmen were employed by Inter-Continental.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXI, Friday Morning, 23 January 1953, Part 1, Page 1, Column 3

The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives, (BAAA, or B3A) data base states:

“The crew was engaged in a local test flight. On final approach, during the last segment, the crew inadvertently raised the gears. The four engine aircraft belly landed and slid for dozen yards before coming to rest in flames. While all five crew members were unhurt, the aircraft was lost.”

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

¹ LCOL Clarence A. Shoop USAAC. TWA: Lawrence J. Chiappino, Test Pilot; Leo Baron, Robert L. Loomis, pilot; Ed J. Minser, Chief Meteorologist; Orville R. Olson, chief clerk, Kansas City traffic department; Lee Spruill, Richard De Campo, Flight Engineer. Lockheed: Rudy L. Thoren, Chief Flight Test Engineer; Richard Stanton; Thomas Watkins. S.J. Solomon, Chairman, Airlines Committee for Aviation Policy

² TDiA checked with the National Aeronautic Association, which does not have any information about this flight.

³ The AIRCRAFT YEAR BOOK For 1945, Howard Mingos, Editor. Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc., Lanciar Publishers, Inc., New York. Chapter IV, Page 123.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

16 April 1912

Harriet Quimby, September 1910. (Edmunds Bond/The Boston Globe)

16 April 1912: American aviatrix Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in a Blériot XI monoplane. She departed Dover at 5:30 a.m. and crossed a fog-shrouded channel to land at Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, 1 hour, 9 minutes later. Her only instruments were a hand-held compass and a watch.

FLIGHT reported:

MISS QUIMBY FLIES THE CHANNEL.

ALTHOUGH Miss Harriet Quimby has made an enviable reputation for herself as a capable pilot in America, her native country, she has not been very well-known on this side of the Atlantic, and no doubt few of our readers who read the announcement in FLIGHT a week or so back that she was coming to Europe, looked for her so soon to make her mark by crossing the Channel. Contrary to what one would expect, the feat was carried through without any fuss or elaborate preparations, and only a few friends, including Mr. Norbet Chereau and his wife and Mrs Griffith, an American friend, knew the attempt was being made and were present at the start. Miss Quimby had ordered a 50-h.p. Gnome-Blériot, which arrived from France on Saturday, and was tested on Sunday by Mr. Hamel. On Tuesday morning, as previously arranged, after Mr. Hamel had taken the machine for a preliminary trial flight, Miss Quimby, who had been staying at Dover under the name of Miss Craig, took her place in the pilot’s seat, and at 5.38 left Deal, rising by a wide circle and steering a course, by the aid of the compass, for Cape Grisnez. Dover Castle was passed at a height of 1,500 feet, and by the time the machine was over the sea, it was at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. Guided solely by compass, Miss Quimby arrived above the Grisnez Lighthouse a little under an hour later, and making her way towards Boulogne she came down at Equihen by a spiral vol plané not far from the Blériot sheds.

     To Miss Quimby, therefore belongs the honour of being the first of the fair sex to make the journey, unaccompanied, across the Channel on an aeroplane; and, appropriately enough, as the first crossing of an aeroplane by a “mere man” was on a Blériot machine, her mount was of that type. Miss Trehawke Davies, it will be remembered, was the first lady to cross the Channel in an aeroplane, but she was a passenger with Mr. Hamel on his Blériot monoplane.

FLIGHT, No. 173. (No. 16, Vol. IV.), 20 April 1912 at Page 345

Quimby was the first woman to fly across the channel, but that was not her only “first”: On 11 August 1911, after 33 flight lessons over a four-month period at the Moisant Aviation School at Hempstead, Long Island, New York, she had become the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license, Number 37, from the Aero Club of America. She was called as “America’s First Lady of the Air.” Miss Quimby was widely known for her “plum-colored” satin flying suit.

Miss Harriet Qumby, 1911, (Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

Harriet Quimby was born 11 May 1875 at Arcadia, Michigan. She was the fourth child of William F. Quimby, a farmer, and Ursula M. Cook Quimby. The family moved to California in 1887, initially settling in Arroyo Grande, and then San Francisco. There, she worked as an actress, and then a writer for the San Francisco Call newspaper, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Quimby also wrote a number of screenplays for early Hollywood movies which were directed by D.W. Griffiths.

Harriet Quimby was killed at Quincy, Massachusetts, 1 July 1912, when her Blériot XI, circling the airfield at 1,500 feet (457 meters) suddenly pitched down and she and her passenger were thrown out. Miss Quimby was buried at the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

Miss Harriet Quimby with her Blériot monoplane.

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. It was 26.24 feet (7.998 meters) long with a wingspan of 25.35 feet (7.727 meters) and overall height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

Blériot Type XI, front view.
Blériot Type XI, side view.
Blériot Type XI, top view.

Miss Quimby’s airplane, though, was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 7.983 liter (487.140-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed wooden propeller in a left-hand, tractor configuration. The Omega 7 is 79.2 centimeters (2 feet, 7.2 inches) long, 83.8 centimeters (2 feet, 9.0 inches) in diameter, and weighs 75.6 kilograms (166.7 pounds). The prototype of this engine is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum.

The Anzani-powered Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 76 kilometers per hour (47 miles per hour) and its service ceiling was 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani 72° W3 ("fan" or "semi-radial") 3-cylinder engine.
Harriet Quimby, wearing her purple satin flying suit, pulls the Chauvière Intégrale propeller of the Blériot XI to start the air-cooled Anzani W3 (“fan” or “semi-radial”) three-cylinder engine.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

13 April 1931

Ruth Nichols with her Lockheed Vega. Her records are painted on the engine cowling. (FAI)
Ruth Nichols with the Lockheed Vega. Her records are painted on the engine cowling. (FAI)

13 April 1931: Ruth Rowland Nichols set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 338.99 kilometers per hour (210.64 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course at Carlton, Minnesota.¹

Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr. He had named the airplane The New Cincinnati.

Ruth Nichols Sets Air Mark With 210.65 Miles an Hour

New York Girl on One Dash Attains 226.88 Miles Over measured Course at Detroit

     Detroit, April 13.—All records for airplane speed with a woman pilot were shattered today when Miss Ruth Nichols, Rye, New York, raced over the three kilometer course at Grosse Ile an an average speed of 210.65 miles an hour. Amelia Earhart Putnam formerly held the record at 181.1 miles per hour.²

     Miss Nichols, using a Lockheed Vega plane, powered with a Wasp motor, made four flights over the measured course. On one dash she attained a speed of 226.88 miles an hour.

Hazardous Flight

     The course, one of these recognized in the United States, is laid out along the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad Line. In addition to the rails for guide lines, white strips of cloth marked the route.

     After a few warm-up turns over the course Miss Nichols signalled she was ready. The flight was doubly hazardous because she was forced to fly extremely low.

     The plane used was the same in which she set the altitude record recently eclipsed by Miss Elinor Smith.³

     Miss Nichols, who in the last few months had shattered about all the aviation records there are for women—although her altitude record was broken by Elinor Smith—was the main feature of the aviation show.

     There was a good crowd to cheer the tall, smiling Rye woman when she climbed from her record-breaking plane.

     “It really isn’t anything to do,” she said. “All a girl needs is a good ship and nerve.”

May Fly the Atlantic

     She sensed her speed, followed strips of white cloth which outlined teh course, and in a very matter of fact way established the record.

     She was asked concerning reports she planned a transatlantic flight, and answered:

     “Fly the ocean? Well, why shouldn’t a girl do the trick?” she said. “There is no reason why one shouldn’t be able. The main requirement is a good ship, I think. If I get one, I may do it. This plane is the same one in which I set a record of 30 hours, 12 minutes for a flight from Los Angeles to New York and return, It has flown many thousands of miles in addition, and was used in the altitude flight. You saw what it did today.”

      When Miss Nichols’ plane reached its top speed of 226.88 miles an hour she was but 51.60 miles behind the world’s record for land planes, held by Adjutant Bonnett, of France, who went 278.48.

     Inside the mammoth aviation show hangar today air enthusiasts discovered they were walking about the aisles with Henry Ford.

     The motor car magnate visited the show with W. B. Mayo, Ford engineer, and his two grandsons, Henri II and Benson Ford. Ford viewed the exhibit of his own giant liners and then inspected other exhibits.

     He took particular interest in new inventions displayed. He was in the hangar an hour and a half before his presence became known generally.

     Yesterday 18,000 went through the gates, while thousands more stood about City Airp0ort to watch the planes. They say among other things the unofficial setting of a new altitude mark by light planes.

     Kenneth Scholter, 19-year-old pilot from Hudson, Ohio, attained 19,500 feet ina tiny Aeronca monoplane, powered by a 30 horsepower motor yesterday.

The Brooklyn Daily Times, Monday, 13 April 1931, Page 1, Columns 2–3

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, the Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could be configured to carry four to six passengers.

The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of molded plywood. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood.

The Model 5 Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Nichols’ airplane was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. The engine drove a two-bladed controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard propeller through direct drive. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.3-7 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

“Ruth Nichols was the only woman to hold simultaneously the women’s world speed, altitude, and distance records for heavy landplanes. She soloed in a flying boat and received her pilot’s license after graduating from Wellesley College in 1924, becoming the first woman in New York to do so. Defying her parents wishes to follow the proper life of a young woman, in January 1928 she flew nonstop from New York City to Miami with Harry Rogers in a Fairchild FC-2. The publicity stunt brought Nichols fame as “The Flying Debutante” and provided headlines for Rogers’ airline too. Sherman Fairchild took note and hired Nichols as a northeast sales manager for Fairchild Aircraft and Engine Corporation. She helped to found the Long Island Aviation Country Club, an exclusive flying club and participated in the 19,312-meter (12,000-mile) Sportsman Air Tour to promote the establishment of clubs around the country. She was also a founder of Sportsman Pilot magazine. Nichols set several women’s records in 1931, among them a speed record of 339.0952 kph (210.704 mph), an altitude record of 8,760 meters (28,743 feet), and a nonstop distance record of 3182.638 kilometers (1,977.6 miles). Her hopes to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean were dashed by two crashes of a Lockheed Vega in 1931, in which she was severely injured, and again in 1932. In 1940, Nichols founded Relief Wings, a humanitarian air service for disaster relief that quickly became an adjunct relief service of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) during World War II. Nichols became a lieutenant colonel in the CAP. After the war she organized a mission in support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and became an advisor to the CAP on air ambulance missions. In 1958, she flew a Delta Dagger at 1,609 kph (1,000 mph) at an altitude of 15,544 meters (51,000 feet). A Hamilton variable pitch propeller (which allowed a pilot to select a climb or cruise position for the blades), from her Lockheed Vega is displayed in the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Nichols’ autobiography is titled Wings for Life.”

— Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Women In Aviation and Space History, The Golden Age of Flight.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12282

² FAI Record File Number 12326: 291.55 kilometers per hour (181.16 miles per hour), Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., 5 July 1930

³ FAI Record File Number 12228: 8,761 meters (27,743.44 feet), Jersey City Airport, New Jersey, U.S.A., 6 March 1931

Ruth Nichols with Walter D. Wood, National Aeronautic Association, who is holding the sealed barograph after setting FAI World Altitude Record. (FAI)

© 2024, Bryan R. Swopes

6 March 1965

The flight crew of the Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, Bu. No. 152104. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, CDR James R. Williford and LT David A. Beil. (FAI)

6 March 1965: A U.S. Navy Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter named Dawdling Dromedary, Bu. No. 152104, piloted by Commander James R. Williford and Lieutenant David A. Beil, with Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class Paul J. Bert, took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12), alongside NAS North Island, San Diego, California, at 4:18 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, (12:18 UTC) and flew non-stop, without refueling, to land aboard another aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), off Mayport, Florida, at 11:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (04:10 UTC). The distance flown was 3,388.70 kilometers (2,105.64 miles) with an elapsed time of 16 hours, 52 minutes, and set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Without Landing.¹ This exceeded the previous record distance by more than 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).²

CDR James R. Williford climbs aboard the Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King “Dawdling Dromedary,” Bu. No. 152104. (Naval Aviation Museum 1985-105.002b)

On takeoff, Dawdling Dromedary had a gross weight of 23,000 pounds (10,433 kilograms), about 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms over its normal operating weight. Its fuel load was 1,690 gallons (6,397 liters) and it had only 60 gallons (227 liters) remaining on landing.

After clearing Guadalupe Pass between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, (5,414 feet, 1650 meters) the crew shut down one the the SH-3A’s two turboshaft engines in an effort to reduce fuel consumption. They flew on a single engine for 9½ hours, restarting the second engine as they descended through 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) over Jacksonville, Florida.

Commander Williford, head of the Rotary Wing Branch, Flight Test Division, at the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, was quoted in Naval Aviation News for the May 1965 issue:

“Since weight counted, the heater had been removed. We therefore wore rubber boots, long underwear, etc., but still were thoroughly chilled upon arrival. The temperature at 15,000 feet [4,572 meters] was -11° [-23.9 °C.] that night.

“The C-131 chase aircraft crew was amazed at our accuracy of navigation with a lone omni. Actually, it was such a clear day it was the old type of piloting, that is, ‘just north of that reservoir’ or ‘one mile south of that city,’ etc. We flew through mountain passes until Guadalupe, thence great circle route to Mayport.

“For the trip, +10 knots [18.5 kilometers per hour] tailwind average was needed, and it appeared we weren’t going to make it for the first 8–9 hours because we were behind in our time vs. distance plot. But as we climbed higher—climbing being limited by retreating blade stall—we gained stronger and more favorable winds. By the time we reached Valdosta, Georgia, we had about 35 knots [64.8 kilometers per hour] pushing us. That was a nice feature because the Okefenokee Swamp at night is no place for an autorotation with empty fuel tanks.”

—Commander James R. Williford, United States Navy, Naval Aviation News, May 1965, NavWeps No. 00-75R-3, at Pages 8–9.

The crew of the record-setting Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), 6 March 1965. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, Lieutenant David A. Biel, Commander James R. Williford. (U.S. Navy)

[Co-pilot David A. Beil was killed 12 March 1969 while testing a Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne compound helicopter. See TDiA at: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/12-march-1969/ ]

Dawdling Dromedary is the same Sikorsky SH-3A, Bu. No. 152104, that set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed record for helicopters of 339 kilometers per hour (210.6 miles per hour), 5 February 1962, flown by Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, USN, and Captain Louis K. Keck, USMC.³

The Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King was the first of the S-61 series of military and civil helicopters, designated as HSS-2 until 1962. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. The fuselage is designed to allow landing on water. The XHSS-2 made its first flight 11 March 1959. The helicopter was originally used as an anti-submarine helicopter.

The SH-3A is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotors and tail can be folded for more compact storage aboard aircraft carriers, shortening the aircraft to 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% NR, the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m.

The SH-3A was powered by two General Electric T58-GE-6 turboshaft engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 900 horsepower, and Military Power rating of 1,050 horsepower. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum. (Later models were built with more powerful T58-GE-8 engines. Early aircraft were retrofitted.)

The SH-3A has a cruise speed of 125 knots (144 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 135 knots (155 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The design maximum gross weight is 16,237 pounds (7,365 kilograms). The SH-3A had a combat endurance of 4 hours.

In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft have remained in service and have been upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.

Sikorsky produced the last S-61 helicopter in 1980, having built 794. Production has been licensed to manufacturers in England, Italy, Canada and Japan. They have produced an additional 679 Sea Kings.

Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Bu. No. 14xxxx, the Dawdling Dromedary. (FAI)
Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Bu. No. 152104, the Dawdling Dromedary. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2179

² FAI Record File Number 2180: 2,170.70 kilometers (1,348.81 miles), set by Captain Michael N. Antoniou, U.S. Army, flying a Bell YUH-1D Iroquois, 60-6029, from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Rogers, Arkansas, 27 September 1964.

³ FAI Record File Number 13121. (See TDiA, 5 February 1962.)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes