Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

24 January 1963

Boeing B-52C-40-BO Stratofortress 53-400, the same type as 53-406, which crashed on Elephant Mountain, 24 January 1963. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

24 January 1963: A Boeing B-52C-40-BO Stratofortress, 53-0406, call sign “Frosh 10,” of the 99th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, was conducting a low-altitude training flight using terrain-following radar. Eight crewmen were aboard. Flying at or below 500 feet (152 meters) above ground level (AGL) and at 280 knots (322 miles per hour, 519 kilometers per hour) the bomber encountered wind gusts of up to 40 knots (21 meters per second).

As the turbulence became severe, the aircraft commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dante E. Bulli, began a climb to avoid it. At approximately 2:52 p.m., EST, however, the vertical fin attachment failed and the B-52 began rolling to the right and pitching down. Colonel Bulli, unable to control the airplane, ordered the crew to abandon the bomber.

B-52C 53-0406 crashed into the west side of Elephant Mountain, a 3,774 foot (1,150 meters) forest-covered mountain, 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Greenville, Maine. Only three men, Colonel Bulli, co-pilot Major Robert J. Morrison and navigator Captain Gerald J. Adler, were able to get out of the B-52, but Major Morrison died when he hit a tree. Lieutenant Colonel Joe R. Simpson, Jr., Major William W. Gabriel, Major Robert J. Hill, Jr., Captain Herbert L. Hansen, Captain Charles G. Leuchter and Technical Sergeant Michael F. O’Keefe were also killed.

Large sections of Frosh 10 are still on Elephant Mountain. The crash site is a popular hiking destination.

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress had been designed as a very high altitude penetration bomber, but changes in Soviet defensive systems led to a change to very low altitude flight as a means of evading radar. This was subjecting the airframes to unexpected stresses. Several crashes resulted from structural failures during turbulence.

Less than one year later, Boeing was conducting flight tests of the B-52 in turbulence, using a highly-instrumented B-52H. That airplane also lost its vertical fin when it encountered severe turbulence in Colorado. The Boeing test pilots aboard were able to save the bomber and landed it six hours later.

Boeing B-52H-170-BW Stratofortress 61-023, "Ten-Twenty-Three", after losing the vertical fin, 10 January 1964. (Boeing)
Boeing B-52H-170-BW Stratofortress 61-023, “Ten-Twenty-Three”, after losing the vertical fin, 10 January 1964. (Boeing)
Colonel Dante E. Bulli, United States Air Force

Dante E. Bulli was born at Cherry, Illinois, 17 July 1922, the second child of Italian immigrants Giovanni Bulli, a salesman, and Anna Gareto Bulli.  He attended Hall High School before working on the aircraft assembly lines of the Lockheed Aircraft Company in California.

Bulli enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States, 5 December 1943, and promoted to first lieutenant, 5 December 1946.

In 1947 Lieutenant Bulli married Miss Evelyn Lewis, also from Cherry, Illinois.

“Dan” Bulli was a combat veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He flew B-24 Liberators, the B-29 Superfortress and B-52 Stratofortress. He retired from the Air Force in 1974.

Colonel Dante E. Bulli died at Omaha, Nebraska, 30 December 2016, at the age of 94 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

24 January 1961

Boeing B-52G-75-BW Stratofortress 57-6471, similar to 58-0187. The numeral "3" on the vertical fin and the white cross-in-back square on the top of the fuselage identify this B-52 as a Boeing flight test aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52G-75-BW Stratofortress 57-6471, similar to 58-0187. The numeral “3” on the vertical fin and the white cross-in-back square on the top of the fuselage identify this B-52 as a Boeing flight test aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

24 January 1961: “Keep 19,” a Boeing B-52G-95-BW Stratofortress, serial number 58-0187, of the 4241st Strategic Wing, was on a 24 hour airborne alert mission off the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The bomber was commanded by Major Walter S. Tulloch, U.S. Air Force, with pilots Captain Richard W. Hardin and First Lieutenant Adam C. Mattocks. Other crewmembers were Major Eugene Shelton, Radar Navigator; Captain Paul E. Brown, Navigator; First Lieutenant William H. Wilson, Electronics Warfare Officer; Major Eugene H Richards, Electronics Warfare Instructor; Technical Sergeant Francis R. Barnish, Gunner. It was armed with two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs, each with an explosive yield of 3–4 megatons.

The B-52 refueled in flight from an air tanker. The tanker’s crew notified Major Tulloch that the B-52’s right wing was leaking fuel. The leak was severe and more than 5,400 gallons (37,000 pounds/17,000 kilograms) of jet fuel was lost in less than three minutes. The B-52 headed for Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

Boeing B-52G-95-BW Stratofortress 58-0190, the same type as Keep 19. (U.S. Air Force)

As they descended, the unbalanced condition made the bomber increasingly difficult to control. The bomber went out of control and Major Tulloch ordered the crew to abandon the doomed ship. Five crewmen ejected and one climbed out through the top hatch. (Lieutenant Mattocks is believed to be the only B-52 crewmember to have successfully escaped through the upper hatch.)

58-0187 broke apart and exploded. Its wreckage covered a two square mile (5.2 square kilometers) area. Three crewmen, Majors Shelton and Richards, and Sergeant Barnish, were killed.

As the B-52 broke up, its two Mark 39 bombs fell free of the bomb bay. One buried itself more than 180 feet (55 meters) deep. The other’s parachute retarding system operated properly and it touched down essentially undamaged. It was quickly safed by an explosive ordnance team and hauled away.

One of teh two Mk 39 bombs that fell from the B-52 as it broke up near Goldsboro, South Carolina, 24 January 1961.
One of the two Mk 39 bombs that fell from the B-52 as it broke up near Goldsboro, North Carolina, 24 January 1961. The parachute retarding  system had deployed, allowing the bomb to touch down with minimal damage.

Recovery of the buried bomb was very difficult. After eight days, the ordnance team had recovered most of the bomb, including the 92 detonators and conventional explosive “lenses” of the “primary,” the first stage implosion section. The uranium-235/plutonium-239 “pit”—the very core of the bomb— was recovered on 29 January. The “secondary,” however, was never found.

Most of the Mark 39 bomb was uncovered from an excavation at the farm field near Goldsboro, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

The secondary contains the fusion fuel, but it cannot detonate without the explosion of the primary. Although the secondary remains buried, there is no danger of an explosion.

“During a B-52 airborne alert mission structural failure of the right wing resulted in two weapons separating from the aircraft during aircraft breakup at 2,000 – 10,000 feet altitude. One bomb parachute deployed and the weapon received little impact damage. The other bomb fell free and broke apart upon impact. No explosion occurred. Five of the eight crew members survived. A portion of one weapon, containing uranium, could not be recovered despite excavation in the waterlogged farmland to a depth of 50 feet. The Air Force subsequently purchased an easement requiring permission for anyone to dig there. There is no detectable radiation and no hazard in the area.”

An accident of this type, involving the loss of nuclear weapons is known by the military code name BROKEN ARROW. Though official statements were that there was no danger that either of the bombs could have exploded, others indicate that five of the six steps (or six of seven) required for a thermonuclear detonation did occur. Only the aircraft commander’s arming switch had not been activated.

Bomb, Mark 39Y1 Mod 2, P/N 300611-00, serial number 4215, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Behind it is a Convair B-36 Peacemaker ten-engine strategic bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mark 39 was a two-stage, radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb. It was in production from 1957–1959, with more than 700 built. It was fully fused, meaning it could be detonated by contact with the ground, as an air burst, or “lay down”— a series of parachutes would slow the bomb and it would touch down on its target before detonating. This allowed the bomber time to get clear.

The Mark 39 was considered a light weight weapon, weighing 6,500–6,750 pounds (2,950–3,060 kilograms). The bomb’s length was approximately 11 feet, 8 inches (3.556 meters), with a diameter of 2 feet, 11 inches (0.889 meters). The explosive yield of the Mark 39 was 3–4 megatons. (For reference, the 1956 nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, Redwing Cherokee, had a yield of 3.8 megatons.)

Fireball from detonation of TX-15 weapon, Operation Redwing Cherokee, 21 May 1956. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)

The Mark 39 was withdrawn from service in the mid-1960s and replaced with the more powerful Mk 41.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

23 January 1971

Captain Eugene A. Cernan, U.S.N., in the cockpit of NASA 947, a Bell 47G-3B-1, as it hovers in ground effect, circa 1970. (NASA)
Eugene A. Cernan, backup commander, Apollo 14. (NASA)

23 January 1971: NASA Astronaut Eugene Andrew (“Gene”) Cernan, backup commander for Apollo 14, was flying NASA 947, a 1967 Bell Model 47G-3B-1 helicopter, (N947NA, serial number 6665), on a proficiency flight. He intended to practice vertical approaches as a warmup for a lunar landing.

With full fuel tanks, NASA 947 was heavy. Cernan decided to burn off some fuel by flying along the Indian River before the vertical approaches:

     “That gave me a reason to loaf around the sky for a while and invest the extra fuel in some fun flying.

     “Small boats dotted the clear water below and bright islands mounded here and there on the river. Hardly a ripple disturbed the mirrorlike surface. After so many months of hard work and concentration, I couldn’t resist the temptation for a bit of mischief known among pilots as ‘flat-hatting.’ So I nosed over and swooped down from a couple of hundred feet to dance the chopper around island beaches and among the boaters, steadily getting closer to the surface. . .

     “Without realizing the danger, I flew into a trap that was the plague of seaplane pilots. Without ripples, the water provided no depth perception and my eyes looked straight through the clear surface to the reflective river bottom. I had lost sight of the water. But I was in control, or at least I thought so. . . until the toe of my left skid dug into the Indian River.

     “. . . I twisted the collective with my left hand and  applied more power, pulling back on the controls, trying to get the machine to climb out of trouble. A plume of water erupted beneath the skid, then the canopy struck and a rushing tidal wave filled my vision as the helicopter lost any semblance of aerodynamic design. In a single flashing instant, it went from a speed of 100 knots to flat zero with a lurch as severe as any I had ever felt landing on an aircraft carrier or staging in a spacecraft. I crashed with a spectacular explosion.”

The Last Man on the Moon, by Eugene Cernan and Don Davis, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999, at Page 258

Gene Cernan hovering one of NASA’s Bell 47 helicopters, circa 1971. (NASA via The Drive)

The Bell 47 was torn apart by the impact. The cabin section, with Cernan still strapped inside, sank to the bottom of the river. As a Naval Aviator, he was trained in under water egress. He freed himself from the wreck and made his way to the surface. Gasoline from the ruptured fuel tanks was floating on the water and had caught fire. Cernan suffered some minor burns, but was otherwise unhurt. He was rescued by fishermen who were nearby.

The location of the crash was in the Indian River near Malabar, Florida.

An accident investigation board, led by Astronaut James A. Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, concluded that the accident was pilot error, in that Cernan had misjudged his altitude when flying over the water.

Colonel James A. McDivitt

A week after the flight crew for Apollo 17 was announced, in a meeting with Dr. Robert R. (“Bob”) Bob Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, and Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., Deputy Director of MSC and Director of Flight Operations, Colonel James Alton McDivitt, U.S. Air Force, NASA’s Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program (and who had commanded Gemini 4 and Apollo 9), insisted that Gene Cernan be grounded for poor judgement and not assigned as commander of Apollo 17.

Chris Kraft wrote:

     “Why didn’t you ask me about this crew?” he [McDivitt] demanded. “Cernan’s not worthy of this assignment, he doesn’t deserve it, he’s not a very good pilot, he’s liable to screw everything up, and I don’t want him to fly.

     I was shocked at how strongly Jim was reacting. “Why didn’t you ask me” he pleaded. “Why didn’t you ask me?” Then he shocked me further. “If you don’t get rid of him, I’ll quit.”

     . . . I called McDivitt and told him that Cernan was staying. . .

     “Thank you,” he said. “You’ll have my resignation shortly.”

Flight: My Life in Mission Control, by Christopher C. Kraft and James L. Schefter, Dutton, New York, 2001, Chapter 23, at Pages 346 and 347

Gene Cernan, along with Ronald E. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center aboard Apollo 17, 7 December 1972. On 11 December, he and Schmitt landed at the Taurus-Littrow Valley at the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis.

On 14 December 1972, Eugene Andrew Cernan was the last human to stand on the surface of The Moon.

Eugene A. Cernan at the Taurus-Littrow Valley during the third EVA of the Apollo 17 mission. (Harrison H. Schmitt/NASA)

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

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

Bell 47G-3B1 NASA 822 (N822NA, s/n 6670) in the original factory paint scheme. (NASA EC82-18422A)

The Bell Model 47G-3B-1 was issued Type Certificate 2H-3 on 25 January 1963. It is a 3-place, single-engine light helicopter, operated by a single pilot. The helicopter has dual flight controls and can be flown from either the left or right. The airframe is constructed of a welded tubular steel framework with a sheet metal cockpit. The landing gear consists of two lateral, horizontal tubular cross tubes, and two longitudinal “skids,” curved upward at the front. Ground handling wheels can be attached to the skids. The most distinctive feature of the Bell 47 is the large plexiglass “bubble” canopy. The main rotor flight controls use a system of bell cranks and push-pull tubes. The cyclic and collective are hydraulically boosted. The tail rotor is controlled by pedals and stainless steel cables.

NASA 822, one of NASA’s Bell Model 47G-3B-1 helicopters (N822NA, s/n 6670), photographed 12 August 1977 at the Dryden Flight Research Center. Chief Pilot Donald L. Mallick is in the cockpit. (NASA EC77-8296)

With rotors turning, the Bell 47G-3B-1 has an overall length of 43 feet, 5.55 inches (13.247 meters). From the forward tip of the skids to the aft end of the tail rotor guard, the fuselage is 32 feet, 7.40 inches long (9.942 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 37 feet, 0.50 inches (11.290 meters). The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 10.1 inches (1.781 meters). Height to top of main rotor mast is 9 feet, 3.7 inches (2.837 meters).

The Bell 47G-3B-1 has an empty weight of approximately 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms), depending on installed equipment. Its maximum gross weight is 2,950 pounds (1,338 kilograms).

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

The main rotor is a two-bladed, under-slung, semi-rigid assembly that would be a characteristic of helicopters built by Bell for decades. The main rotor system incorporates a stabilizer bar, positioned below and at right angles to the main rotor blades. Teardrop-shaped weights are placed at each end of the bar, on 100-inch (2.540 meters) centers. The outside diameter of the stabilizer bar is 8 feet, 6.8 inches (2.611 meters). The pilot’s inputs to the cyclic stick are damped through a series of mechanical linkages and hydraulic dampers before arriving at the pitch horns on the rotor hub. The result is smoother, more stable flight, especially while at a hover. The stabilizer bar action is commonly explained as being “gyroscopic,” but this is incorrect. (A similar system is used on the larger Bell 204/205/212 helicopters.)

The Bell 47G-3B-1 used tip-weighted high-inertia metal main rotor blades. The airfoil is symmetrical, using the NACA 0015 profile. The operating range of the main rotor is 322–370 r.p.m.

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

The 47G-3B-1 used an AVCO Lycoming TVO-435-B1A, -B1B, -D1A, or -D1B engine. The TVO-435 is an air-cooled, turbosupercharged 433.976-cubic-inch-displacement (7.112 liter) vertically-opposed, six-cylinder overhead-valve engine with a compression ratio of 7.30:1. It is equipped with a Garrett AiResearch T-1108 turbosupercharger, which provides a constant manifold pressure with decreasing pressure altitude. The engine idles at 1,500 r.p.m. Its normal operating range is 3,000 to 3,200 r.p.m. (3,100–3,200 r.p.m., above 10,000 feet, or 3,048 meters). The TVO-435-B1 has a maximum continuous power rating of 220 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m., with a manifold pressure of 27.5 inches Hg (0.931 Bar); and a maximum 270 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. at 32.8 inches Hg (1.111 Bar) (-B1) or 32.0 inches (1.084 Bar) (-D1) at Sea Level, for takeoff (5-minute limit).

The TVO-435 is 34.73 Inches (0.882 meters) high, 33.58 inches (0.878 meters) wide and 24.13 inches (0.613 meters) deep, and weighs 464.00 pounds (178.26 kilograms) to 481.00 pounds (182.89 kilograms), depending of the specific engine variant.

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

Instrument panel of an Agusta-Bell 47G-3B-1. (M. Bazzani/Heli-Archive)

The Bell 47G-3B1 has a maximum cruise speed of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour) from 1,000 to 4,500 feet (305–1,372 meters). This decreases to 70 miles per hour up to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 50–60 miles per hour (80–97 kilometers per hour) up to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The helicopter’s maximum speed (VNE) is 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) from Sea Level to 4,500 feet (1,372 meters). Above that altitude, VNE is reduced 7 miles per hour (11.3 kilometers per hour) for every 1,000 foot (305 meters) increase in altitude. Above 15,000 feet, the VNE continues to decrease at 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour) per 1,000 feet (305 meters).

The Bell 47G-3B-1 demonstrated the ability to over in ground effect (HIGE) at a gross weight of 2,850 pounds (1,293 kilograms) at the summit of Pike’s Peak, 14,115 feet (4,302 meters), in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The Density Altitude was approximately 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). At the same gross weight, it hovered out of ground effect (HOGE) at 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), Density Altitude. The helicopter has a maximum altitude limitation of 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).

Fuel is carried in two gravity-feed tanks, mounted above and on each side of the engine. The total fuel capacity is 61.6 gallons (233.2 liters), however, usable fuel is 57 gallons (216 liters). The helicopter has a maximum range of 273 miles (441 kilometers).

In production from 1946 until 1974, more than 7,000 Model 47 helicopters were built, worldwide. Production of the Model 47G-3B-1 began in March 1962 and a total of 337 of were built. The initial sales price was $46,950 (equivalent to $346,740 in 2018 dollars). NASA bought two -G-3B-1s in 1967. Another 415 were built for military customers, designated TH-13T.

This Bell TH-13T-BF Sioux, 66-4292, was in military service from 1966–1972. It is currently registered as N666SM with the civil designation of Bell 47G-3B-1. (FlugKerl2/Wikipedia)

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

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

17 January 1966

Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker 58-0004 refuels Boeing B-52G-75-BW Stratofortress 57-6741. These are the same type aircraft that were involved in the 1966 Palomares Incident. (Boeing)

17 January 1966: A United States Air Force Boeing B-52G-115-BW Stratofortress, 58-0256, and its 7-man crew, along with a second B-52, were flying an Airborne Nuclear Alert patrol over the Mediterranean Sea. The bomber, call sign “Tea 16,” was armed with four Mark 28 nuclear bombs carried in its bomb bay.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., the two B-52s rendezvoused with two Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotankers, based at Morón Air Base, Spain, for the second aerial refueling of the mission. The aircraft were at 31,000 feet (9,448 meters) off the southern coast of Spain.

Major Larry G. Messinger, a veteran of World War II, aboard as a relief pilot, was flying Tea 16 from the left seat. The aircraft commander, Captain Charles J. Wendorf, was in the right, co-pilot’s seat, while 1st Lieutenant Richard J. Rooney, the assigned co-pilot, rode in a jump seat behind them.

Major Messinger later said, “We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit. . . .”

A boom operator’s view as a B-52 Stratofortress refuels. (John E. Considine/NASM)

B-52G 58-0256 collided with the refueling boom of “Troubadour 14” (KC-135A 61-0273). The boom penetrated the bomber’s fuselage, broke structural members and the left wing broke off. The B-52 exploded. The fully-loaded tanker, on fire, went into a steep dive. At 1,600 feet (488 meters), it also exploded.

The four crewmen aboard the tanker were killed. Three of the seven men on the B-52 ejected, and the co-pilot, who was not in an ejection seat, literally fell out of the disintegrating bomber. The navigator’s parachute did not open and he was killed. Three others were unable to escape the doomed airplane and were also killed.

Wreckage of B-52G 58-0256 at Palomares, Spain, January 1966. (Kit Talbot/The New York Times)

As the B-52 broke apart, the four nuclear bombs it carried in the bomb bay fell free. Three of them fell near the fishing village of Palomares. In two of these, the conventional explosives that “implode” the plutonium to start a chain reaction, detonated on impact, but a nuclear explosion did not occur. However, plutonium was scattered over the area. The third bomb was recovered intact, though it was slightly damaged. The retarding parachute of the fourth Mark 28 opened and it was carried offshore by the wind and fell into the Mediterranean Sea.

A massive recovery operation took place. The fourth bomb was recovered after five months. It had come to rest in an underwater canyon at a depth of 2,550 feet (777 meters).

1,400 tons of soil was packed into more than 6,000 steel drums and taken to the United States.
1,400 tons of soil was packed into more than 6,000 steel drums and taken to the United States.

558 acres (226 hectares) of land in and around Palomares was contaminated. The soil was removed and placed in steel barrels for transportation to the United States for burial at the Savannah River Plant, a nuclear reservation in South Carolina.

Three airmen position a B28Y1 1.1 megaton thermonuclear bomb for loading aboard a B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)
Three airmen position a B28Y1 thermonuclear bomb for loading aboard a B-52 Stratofortress. (TSgt. Boyd Belcher, U.S. Air Force)

The Mark 28 was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb which was designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and produced from January 1958 to May 1966. In 1968, it was redesignated B28. More than 4,500 were manufactured in as many as 20 variants. Explosive yield varied between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons. The B28Y1 in the photograph above is a 1.1 megaton weapon. The bomb remained in service until 1991.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

16 January 1942

Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., Douglas DC-3-362 NC1943, the same type aircraft as NC1946. (Boeing Images)

16  January 1942: Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., Flight 3, was a transcontinental passenger flight enroute to Los Angeles, California from New York City.

The airplane was a Douglas DC-3-362, registered NC1946.

The pilot in command was Captain Wayne C. Williams, an 11-year employee of T&WA. He had 12,204 hours total flight time with more than 3,500 hours in DC-3s. He had flown 204 hours at night within the previous six months. The co-pilot was S. Morgan Gillette, who had been with T&WA for a little less that 1 year, 6 months. He had 1,330 hours of flight time with 650 in DC-3s.

Transcontinental and Western Air Douglas DC-3 NC1945, sister ship of NC1946, TWA Flight 3. (TWA)

After a refueling stop at Las Vegas Airport, the airliner departed at 7:07 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, on the final leg of the flight to the Lockheed Air Terminal at  Burbank, California (officially, the Bob Hope Airport, but now known as Hollywood Burbank Airport). It was dark, but the weather was clear. Because of wartime regulations, the lighted airway beacons on the route had been extinguished.

Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., DC-3-362 NC1944. (Nelson Ronsheim)

At 7:20 p.m., PST, Flight 3 crashed into a vertical cliff face on Potosi Mountain, an 8,517-foot (2,596 meters) mountain 32 miles (51.5 kilometers) southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The DC-3 was completely destroyed and all 22 persons aboard were killed, including actress Carole Lombard, Mrs. Clark Gable.

In planning the flight, the crew had made an error in the compass course for this leg of the flight. Their written flight plan, filed with the airline’s operations department, indicated a compass course of 218° which took them directly to the mountain.

Carole Lombard (6 October 1908–16 January 1942)
Carole Lombard (Paramount Studios)

Carole Lombard (née Jane Alice Peters) was one of the most successful motion picture actresses in Hollywood. She was born at Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1908, and had her first motion picture role in 1921. At age 16, she was under contract to the Fox Film Corporation and as was customary, was given a more dramatic name. She was primarily a comedic actress though she also had several dramatic roles.

Lombard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in “My Man Godfrey” which starred William Powell, to whom she was married 1931–1933. In 1938, Lombard married actor Clark Gable.

Carole Lombard had been on a War Bonds tour and was returning home to Hollywood. She was seated in an aisle seat in the third row, next to a U.S. Army private. Her mother, Elizabeth Peters, was seated directly across the aisle.

Transcontinental and Western Flight 3 crash site
Scene of the crash of Transcontinental and Western Flight 3 on Petosi Mountain, Nevada. The point of impact was at an elevation of 7,770 feet (2,368 meters). (Bettman Archive via Lost Flights)
Crash site, T&WA Flight 3 on Petosi Mountain, Nevada.
Rescue/recovery team at the crash site of T&WA Flight 3 on Petosi Mountain, Nevada, 18 January 1942. (Civil Aeronautics Authority, Bureau of Aviation Safety)
TWA Flight 3 crashed on this vertical face of Mount Potosi, Nevada, 16 January 1942, killing all on board. (Harlan Stockman)
TWA Flight 3 crashed into this vertical face of Potosi Mountain, Nevada, 16 January 1942, killing all on board. (Harlan Stockman)

NC1946 was a DC-3-362, c/n 3295, built in February 1941 for Transcontinental and Western Air by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Santa Monica, California. It was an all-metal, twin-engine civil transport with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot and could carry up to 21 passengers.

The DC-3-362 was 64 feet, 5 inches (19.634 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters). It was 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters) high. The airplane weighed approximately 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 25,200 pounds (11,431 kilograms).

NC1946 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 GR-1820G202A nine-cylinder radial engines with compression ratio of 6.7:1. These engines had a Normal Power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for Takeoff, burning 91/96 octane aviation gasoline. They drove three-bladed, constant-speed, full-feathering Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The GR-1820G202A was 4 feet, 2.04 inches (1.271 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

The DC-3  had a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 237 miles per hour (381 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The airplane had a service ceiling 24,000 feet (7,315 meters), and its range was 1,025 miles (1,650 kilometers).

The Douglas DC-3 was in production for 11 years with 10,655 civil and C-47 military airplanes built, and another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 are still in commercial service.

Petosi Mountain, looking west. (Detail from photograph by Stan Shebs)
Petosi Mountain, looking west. (Detail from photograph by Stan Shebs)

Commercial Aviation Archaeology has a very informative site on this accident at:

https://www.lostflights.com/Commercial-Aviation/11642-TWA-TWA-Douglas-DC-3/

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather