Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

23 June 1913

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky, 1914. (Karl Karlovich Bulla)
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky, 1914. (Karl Karlovich Bulla)

23 June 1913: While parked at St. Petersberg, Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky’s S-21, Русский Витязь (Russky Vityaz or “Russian Knight”), the world’s first four-engine airplane, and, at the time, the world’s largest airplane, was crushed by an engine that had fallen off of a single-engine Morane-Saulnier airplane that was flying overhead.

Igor Sikorsky began work on the S-21 in 1911, while chief engineer for Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zavod at St. Petersburg, and it first flew 10 May 1913. It was a four-engine biplane operated by a crew of three and could carry up to seven passengers in two enclosed cabins. These cabins were large enough that the passengers could stand and move  around.

The S-21 was 20 meters (65.6 feet) long. The upper wing had a span of 27 meters (88.6 feet) and the lower wing, 20 meters (65.6 feet). Overall height of the airplane was 4 meters (13.1 feet). Its empty weight was 3,400 kilograms (7,496 pounds) and the gross weight was 4,000 kilograms (8,818 pounds).

Sikorsky S-21 in flight, 1913
Sikorsky S-21 in flight, 1913

Russky Vityaz was powered by four water-cooled Argus Motoren G.m.b.H. As 1 inline four-cylinder engines in a tractor configuration. These produced 100 horsepower, each, and turned two-bladed fixed-pitch propellers. The biplane had a maximum speed of 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour), service ceiling of just 600 meters (1,969 feet) and range of 170 kilometers (106 miles).

Rather than try to repair the wrecked S-21, Sikorsky decided to build something even bigger: the Sikorsky S-22 Ilya Muromets.

Igor Sikorsky emigrated to the United States of America in 1919, where he designed and built large seaplanes for airline use before focusing on the development of the helicopter, beginning with the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300. His company remains in operation today and produces some of the most widely used military and commercial helicopters.

 Igor Sikorsky's S-21, Russky Vityaz, four-engine airplane, 1913. (RIA Novosti)
Igor Sikorsky’s S-21 four-engine airplane, Russky Vitaz 1913. (RIA Novosti)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 June 1966

XB-70A-2-NA Valkyrie 62-0207 leading a formation of aircraft powered by General Electric engines. Joe Walker’s F-104 is just below the B-70’s right wing tip. (U.S. Air Force)

8 June 1966: During a publicity photo formation flight, a Lockheed F-104N Starfighter, N813NA, flown by NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker, was caught in the wingtip vortices of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie, 62-0207, the second prototype Mach 3+ strategic bomber. The Starfighter rolled up and across the Valkyrie. The two airplanes collided, with the F-104 taking off the Valkyrie’s vertical fins, then exploding.

Lockheed F-104N N813NA collided with North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 and exploded, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-70’s pilot, Alvin S. White, was able to eject, though he was severely injured. Joe Walker and B-70 co-pilot Major Carl S. Cross, United States Air Force, were killed.

The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. Fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
The B-70 is out of control and going down in this photograph. A large section of the left wing is missing. JP-8 fuel is spraying out of damaged tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

Still photographs and motion picture film of the formation were being taken from Clay Lacy’s Gates Lear Jet. The photos were for a General Electric publicity campaign showing U.S. military aircraft that were powered by GE engines. Air Force procedures for requesting and approval of publicity flights were not properly followed and it is likely this flight would not have been approved had they been.

XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. (U.S. Air Force)
The XB-70A-2 Valkyrie has rolled inverted and pitched nose down. The outer section of the left wing is missing. The trailing edge and tip tank of the Lear Jet photo plane’s right wing are in the foreground. (U.S. Air Force)

Reportedly, just prior to the collision, Walker radioed, “I’m opposing this mission. It is too turbulent and it has no scientific value.”

The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burnds on the desert floor, north of Barstow, california, 8 June 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
The wreckage of the North American Aviation XB-70A-2 Valkyrie 62-0207 burns on the desert floor at N. 35°03’47”, W. 117°01’27”, north of Barstow, California, 8 June 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 June 1948

Captain Glen W. Edwards, U.S. Air Force (1918–1948)
Captain Glen Walter Edwards, United States Army Air Force

5 June 1948: Flying at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), north of Muroc Air Force Base, California, the second Northrop YB-49 “flying wing,” serial number 42-102368, was testing stall recovery performance with a crew of five aboard. The pilot was Major Daniel A. Forbes, Jr., United States Air Force, and the co-pilot was Captain Glen W. Edwards. The aircraft suffered a catastrophic structural failure with the outer wing panels tearing off. The experimental airplane crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of the small desert town of Mojave. The entire crew, which included 1st Lieutenant Edward L. Swindell, flight engineer, and civilian engineers Charles H. LaFountain and Clare C. Lesser, were killed.

The YB-49 was an experimental jet engine-powered bomber, modified from a propeller-driven Northrop XB-35. It was hoped that the all-wing design would result in a highly efficient airplane because of its very low drag characteristics. However, the design could be unstable under various flight conditions.

A few months after the crash, the first YB-49 was destroyed in a taxiing accident and the project cancelled. It would be 41 years before the concept would be successful with the Northrop B-2 Spirit.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367. (U.S. Air Force)

42-102367 had been converted from the second YB-35 pre-production test aircraft. The original Flying Wing’s four Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major (R-4360-21) radial engines were replaced by eight Allison J35-A-5 turbojet engines and several aerodynamic improvements were made.

The YB-49 was a very unusual configuration for an aircraft of that time. There was no fuselage or tail control surfaces. The crew compartment, engines, fuel, landing gear and armament was contained within the wing. Air intakes for the turbojet engines were placed in the leading edge of the wing. The exhaust nozzles were at the trailing edge. Four small vertical fins for improved yaw stability were also at the trailing edge.

Northrop YB-49 (U. S. Air Force)

The YB-49 had a length of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters), wingspan of 172 feet (52.426 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). It weighed 88,442 pounds (40,117 kilograms) empty and the gross weight was 193,938 pounds (87,969 kilograms).

The YB-49 was powered by eight General Electric-designed, Allison Engine Company-built J35-A-5 engines. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-5 was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.79 kilonewtons) at 7,700 r.p.m. (static thrust, Sea Level). The engine was 14 feet, 0.0 inches (4.267 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms). (This same engine variant was used in the North American Aviation XP-86, replacing its original Chevrolet-built J35-C-3.)

During testing the YB-49 reached a maximum speed of 493 miles per hour (793 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters). Cruise speed was 429 miles per hour (690 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,929 meters). Maximum range was 3,575 miles (5,753 kilometers).

Only two Northrop YB-49s were built and they were tested by Northrop and the Air Force for nearly two years, and though an additional nine YB-35s were ordered converted, the B-49 was not placed into production.

A Northrop YB-49 over Muroc AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Glen Walter Edwards was born at Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, 5 March 1916, the second son of Claude Gustin Edwards, a real estate salesman, and Mary Elizabeth Briggeman Edwards. The family immigrated to the United States in August 1923 and settled near Lincoln, California. He attended Lincoln High School, where he was a member of the Spanish Club and worked on the school newspaper, “El Eco.” He graduated in 1936.

Lt. Glen W. Edwards

Edwards attended Placer Junior College, Auburn, California, before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. He graduated in 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree, and then enlisted in the United States Army as an aviation cadet, 16 July 1941.

Following pilot training, Edwards was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 6 February 1942. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, Army of the United States, 16 September 1942. Lieutenant Edwards flew the Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber with the 86th Bombardment Squadron (Light), 47th Bomb Group, in North Africa and fought at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, 19–24 February 1943. He was next promoted to captain, 28 April 1943. He also flew during the invasion of Sicily, in late 1943.

Two U.S. Army Air Force Douglas A-20B-DL Havoc light bombers, 41-3014 and 41-3134, in Tunisia, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Edwards was assigned as a test pilot in 1944. After World War II came to an end the U.S. Army and Air Corps were demobilized to 1/16 of their peak levels (from 8,200,000 to 554,000). Edwards was retained but reverted to the rank of 1st lieutenant. He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards)

Glen Edwards earned a masters degree in engineering (M.S.E.) from Princeton University in 1947. Lieutenant Edwards was transferred to the United States Air Force after it was made a separate service, 18 September 1947.

Topeka Air Force Base in Kansas was renamed Forbes Air Force Base. Muroc Air Force Base was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in honor of Captain Edwards.

Captains Edwards’ remains were buried at the Lincoln Cemetery, Lincoln, California.

Edwards Air Force Base, California, looking northeast, photographed in 2007. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1973

Tupolev Tu-144S CCCP-77102 at the Paris Air Show. © Aris Pappas

3 June 1973: While maneuvering at low altitude at the Paris Air Show, the first production Tupolev Tu-144S, CCCP-77102, Aeroflot’s new Mach 2+ supersonic airliner, broke apart in midair and crashed into a residential area. All six crew members and eight people on the ground died. Another 25 were injured.

The Tu-144 was built by Tupolev OKB at the Voronezh Aviation Plant (VASO), Pridacha Airport, Voronezh. It was a large delta-winged aircraft with a “droop” nose for improved low speed cockpit visibility and retractable canards mounted high on the fuselage behind the cockpit. It was flown by a crew of 3 and was designed to carry up to 140 passengers.

The airliner was 65.50 meters (214.895 feet) long, with a wingspan of 28.80 meters (94.488 feet). The tip of the vertical fin was 10.50 meters (34.449 feet) high. Empty weight was 85,000 kilograms (187,393 pounds) and the maximum takeoff weight was 180,000 kilograms (396,832 pounds).

The Tu-144S was powered by four Kuznetsov NK-144F afterburning turbofan engines, producing 45,000 pounds of thrust, each.

The airliner’s cruise speed was Mach 1.88 (2,000 kilometers per hour/1,243 miles per hour) with a maximum speed of Mach 2.15 (2,285 kilometers per hour/1,420 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 20,000 meters (65,617 feet).

The cause of the accident is not known, other than the obvious structural failure, but there is speculation that the Tu-144 was trying to avoid another airplane. You Tube has several video clips of the accident. This one, beginning at 1:10, has the best visuals of the inflight break up:

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1961

Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)
Major Eugene Moses, Navigator, 1st Lieutenant David F. Dickerson, Defensive Systems Officer, and Major Elmer E. “Gene” Murphy, Aircraft Commander, with Colonel James K. Johnson, stand in front of the Convair B-58, The Firefly, 11 May 1961. All three airmen were killed when their B-58 crashed at the Paris Air Show, 3 June 1961. (University of North Texas Libraries)

3 June 1961: At the Paris Air Show, Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, France, the Blériot, Harmon and Mackay Trophy-winning Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 58-2451, The Firefly, crashed, killing the aircrew, Major Elmer E. Murphy, Major Eugene Moses, and First Lieutenant David F. Dickerson. The B-58 was totally destroyed.

Only days earlier, The Firefly—with a different aircrew—had set a new speed record for its flight from New York to Paris.

On leaving Le Bourget for the return trip to the United States, Major Murphy engaged in low-altitude aerobatics. There are reports that while performing a slow roll, the bomber entered a cloud bank. The pilot lost visual reference, but the roll caused the attitude indicator to exceed its limits. Disoriented and without instrument flight capability, the B-58 crashed.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler, 59-2451, The Firefly.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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