Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

22 March 1956

Boeing P2B-1S, Bu. No. 84029, at Edwards AFB, 22 March 1956. (NASA)

22 March 1956: While carrying the U.S. Navy’s Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, problems developed aboard both the research rocketplane and the “mothership.” The modified four-engine heavy bomber, a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-29-95-BW Superfortress (which had been transferred to the U.S. Navy and redesignated P2B-1S Superfortress), had a runaway propeller on the Number 4 engine, outboard on the right wing. The propeller broke apart from excessive rotational speed, slicing through the Number 3 engine, the fuselage, and striking the Number 2 engine.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

NACA research test pilot John Barron (“Jack”) MacKay, in the cockpit of the Skyrocket, had called “No drop!” because of problems with the rocketplane, but he was jettisoned so that the mothership could maintain flight and make an emergency landing.

McKay dumped the Skyrocket’s propellants and glided to the lake bed.

John Barron McKay, NACA/NASA Research Test Pilot. (NASA)

“Each rocket-plane pilot had worked out, in conjunction with the pilot of the mother ship, a procedure to follow if any emergency developed in either plane. Jack McKay, who had developed into a very able test pilot, and I had agreed with Butchart that if something went wrong after either of us had entered the cockpit of the Skyrocket and had closed the canopy, he would immediately jettison the rocket plane, leaving the rocket-plane pilot to look after his own hide. As a matter of fact, McKay and Butchart later ran into such an emergency. One day something went haywire in a propeller on the B-29 mother plane. As agreed, Butchart instantly cut loose the Skyrocket. A split second later the B-29 prop tore loose and cartwheeled through the space the Skyrocket had just vacated. McKay landed without difficulty; but had Butchart not cut the parasite plane loose, the prop would have ripped into its fuel tanks, causing an explosion that would have killed everyone, including McKay.”

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960, Chapter 21 at Pages 201–202.

The Superfortress pilots, Stanley Paul Butchart and Neil Alden Armstrong, landed the plane safely on the lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Neil Armstrong would land on The Moon 13 years later.

The P2B1-S is jacked up inside a hangar at Edwards AFB so the the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket can be loaded aboard.
The P2B-1S is jacked up inside a hangar at Edwards AFB so the the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket can be loaded aboard. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 March 1987

Captain Dean Paul Martin, United States Air Force. “Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.” (Deana Martin Collection)

The men and women who volunteer to protect our country put their lives at risk every day—even during peacetime and when close to home.

On 21 March 1987, Captain Dean Paul Martin, Jr., United States Air Force, a fighter pilot assigned to the 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, paid the ultimate price when his McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0923, slammed into 11,501.6-foot (3,505.7 meter) San Gorgonio Mountain. The airplane hit at the 5,500-foot level (1,676 meters), inverted, at 560 miles per hour (901 kilometers per hour). Also killed was Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.Air Force, the Weapons System Officer.

McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, 64-0923, 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163d Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard. (Photograph courtesy of Ernest Pellen via Phantom Phanatics)

Captain Martin was piloting the #2 aircraft, Grizzly 72, in a flight of three. They took off from March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California, in trail, and made a maximum performance climb through multiple layers of cloud and falling snow. Much of the time it was not possible to maintain visual contact, and formation was maintained with radar.

The flight leader, Grizzly 71, requested to climb to a higher altitude to get clear of the clouds but Air Traffic Control was not able to authorize that because of a large volume of civilian traffic above them. Martin was unable to maintain formation, and knowing that mountains were near, requested a left turn. The controller authorized the turn, but had to repeat himself several times due to frequency congestion.

The pilot of the #3 aircraft, Grizzly 73, briefly caught sight of Martin’s Phantom through a break in the clouds. He saw Grizzly 72 begin a sharp left roll and its afterburners ignite before it disappeared into the clouds again.

It is probable that Captain Martin lost spatial orientation because of the steep climb under acceleration while passing in and out of cloud layers.

McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II 64-0923, 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, in an earlier “wrap around” camouflage pattern. (Photograph courtesy of Ernest Pellen via Phantom Phanatics)

There may have been another factor, though: Martin was divorced from his second wife, Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill, but had hopes of a reconciliation. While obtaining a briefing in the weather office just prior to this flight, a worker there asked Martin what he thought about Hamill’s re-marriage two weeks earlier. Martin had been unaware of this and was visibly shaken by the news. This may have been an additional distraction at just the wrong time.

At any rate, Dean Paul Martin joined the Air Force to make something of himself and to make a meaningful contribution. He wanted to be more than “Dean Martin’s son” or an entertainer. The crash on San Gorgonio Mountain is a sad end to a noble venture.

Martin had told his sister, Deana,

“I will always be with you. Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.”

Peace is Our Profession. But it is always a perilous occupation. Rest in Peace, Gentlemen.

San Gorgonio Mountain in the San Bernardino Mountains, at 11,501.6 feet (3,505.7 meters), is the highest peak in Southern California. (skmnational.org)

Dean Paul Martin, Jr., was born 17 November 1951 in Santa Monica, California. He was the first of three children of entertainer Dean Martin and Dorothy Jean Biegger Martin. He was educated at the Urban Military Academy in Brentwood, California, and was a pre-med student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, he played football and tennis. Martin later completed his degree at the University of Southern California (USC).

“Dino, Desi and Billy,” circa 1965. Left to right: Dean Paul Martin, Jr.; Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV; and William Hinsche. (Reprise Records)

During the mid-1960s, Martin, then known as “Dino,” was a member of the singing group, “Dino, Desi and Billy,” with Desi Arnaz, Jr., and William Hinsche. Their most successful songs were “I’m a Fool” and “Not the Lovin’ Kind.”

“Dino” Martin earned a private pilot license at the age of 16 years.

He was a professional tennis player, and, later, was a wide receiver for the World Football League Las Vegas Casinos, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mr. and Mrs. Dean Paul Martin, Jr., (née Olivia Osuna Hussey), 17 April 1971.

On 17 April 1971, Martin married Miss Olivia Hussey in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Miss Hussey is best known for her portrayal of Juliet Capulet in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” 1968). They had a son, Alexander. The couple were divorced 24 January 1979 in Los Angeles, California.

Also in 1979, Martin starred with actress Ali McGraw in Paramount Pictures’ “The Players.” Martin’s character was a professional tennis player.

Ali McGraw and Dean Paul Martin on the set of “The Players, “1979. (Paramount Pictures)

Dean Paul Martin, Jr., joined the United States Air Force 5 November 1980, and underwent pilot training in the Cessna T-37 Tweet and Northrop T-38A Talon at Columbus Air Force Base, near Columbus, Mississippi. He trained as fighter pilot in the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix, Arizona, completing the course in November 1981. He was assigned to the 193d Tactical Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, based at March Air Force Base, Riverside County, California. He initially served as a Weapons System Officer in the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, before upgrading to aircraft commander.

A spokesman for the California Air National Guard, Major Steve Mensik, said, “Captain Martin was one of the better pilots, an exceptional athlete who handled himself well in the cockpit.”

Lieutenant and Mrs. Dean Paul Martin, Jr., (née Dorothy Stuart Hamill), 8 January 1982.

Martin married Olympic Gold Medalist Miss Dorothy Stuart Hamill, 8 January 1982, in Beverly Hills, California. They divorced in 1984.

Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.A.F.

Captain Martin’s remains were buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Ramon Ortiz was born 31 August 1947, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean Sea and an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Ortiz joined the United States Air Force 22 December 1973 and served on active duty until 13 November 1980.

Captain Ortiz’ remains were buried at Palm Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 March 1943

Cornelia Clark Fort, with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)
Cornelia Clark Fort with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the airplane factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots.

A flight of Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainers, 41-22226, 41-22666 and 41-23050. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM A19600288000a)

The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane, BT-13A 42-42450, flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but struck her wing.

Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

The Associated Press reported:

Woman Ferry Pilot Killed

     LONG BEACH, Calif., March 22. (AP)—The army air transport command’s ferrying division has announced the death of Cornelia Fort, twenty-three-year-old Nashville, Tenn., pilot.

Miss Fort was killed, the command said, on a routine ferrying flight yesterday at Merkel, Tex. She was the second woman to sign up with the women’s auxiliary ferrying squadron, and had had 1100 hours in the air.

Cause of the accident has not been learned, the command reported.

     Fifteen months ago, a private flying instructor, Miss Fort was giving a lesson over Honolulu when the Japs attacked. Her surprised student almost piloted their plane into an enemy ship before she grabbed the controls, she related later.

Following her evacuation  from the Hawaiian islands, she joined the auxiliary ferrying squadron and was stationed here. Miss Fort was the daughter of Cornelia Clark Fort of Fortland farms, near Nashville.

Reno Evening Gazette, Vol. 77, No. 69, Monday, 22 March 1943, Page 7, Column 5

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active duty with the United States military. She was 24 years old. Miss Fort was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennesee.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee, 5 February 1919, the fourth of five children of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort and Louise Clark Fort. Her father was a prominent surgeon who co-founded the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The family lived at Fortland, an estate east of Nashville.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (1936 Milestones)

Cornelia attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, then studied at the Ogontz School in Philadelphia. (Amelia Earhart had also attended Ogontz.) In 1937, Miss Fort transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, Yonkers, New York, where she studied Literature. Miss Ford graduated 10 June 1939.

After taking a flight with a friend, Jack Caldwell, in January 1940, she pursued an interest in aviation, starting flight lessons the following day.  Miss Ford had earned her pilot certificate and flight instructor certificate by June 1940, which made her the first woman to become an instructor at Nashville. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she first went to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she taught for about three months, then went on to Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii.

On 7 December 1941 Cornelia Fort was practicing touch-and-goes with a student at John Rodgers Airport, near Honolulu.

Shortly before 8:00 a.m., Miss Fort saw a silver military-type airplane approaching her Cadet at high speed. She took over the flight controls from Mr. Suomala and put the trainer into a steep climb. The other airplane flew directly under, close enough that she felt the vibrations of its engine. She saw that its wings carried the “rising sun” insignia of the Empire of Japan.

Fort landed the Cadet at John Rogers Airport, which was being attacked by Japanese airplanes. Another trainer on the ground was destroyed by machine gunfire and its instructor killed.

“WAFS WELCOMED—Mrs. Nancy H. Love (left), commander, is shown in this photo greeting Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Command recruits at New Castle, Del. The fledglings are, left to right, Cornelia Fort, Helen Clark, Aline Rhonie and Betty Gillies.” (AP Wirephoto, The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), Vol. 65—No. 137, Thursday, 24 September 1942, Page 28, Columns 5–8)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Cornelia Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942. In September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Miss Fort was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)
Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)

Air & Space/Smithsonian quoted from a letter written by Fort in a January 2012 article:

“I dearly loved the airports, little and big. I loved the sky and the airplanes, and yet, best of all I loved the flying. . . I was happiest in the sky at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down, and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”

—Cornelia Clark Fort, 1942.

Cornelia Clark Fort’s military identification card. (Nashville Public Library)

Frank Edward Stamme, Jr., was born at Dorchester, Illinois, 3 January 1920. He was the first of four children of Frank Edward Stamme, a machinist, and Bertha Catherine Peters Stamme.

Stamme enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Francisco, California, 5 November 1941. He had brown hair, gray eyes, was 6 feet, 1 inch ( meters) tall and weighed 159 pounds. Stamme was released from military service 16 January 1947. He died 19 February 1987 at San Pablo, California.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant 42-43130, the same type aircraft flown by Cornelia Fort and Frank Stamme, 21 March 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 0 inches (12.802 meters) and height of 11 feet, 4-3/8 inches (3.464 meters). It had an empty weight of approximately 3,375 pounds (1,531 kilograms) and “maximum recommended flying weight” of 4,745 pounds (2,152 kilograms).

The BT-13A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1, -AN-3, or R-985-25 nine-cylinder radial engine. These engines had a compression ratio of 6:1, with Normal Power ratings from 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at Sea Level to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They were direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed variable-pitch propeller. These engines were 3 feet, 6.38 inches (1.076 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.75 inches (1.162 meters) in diameter and weighed from 648 to 685 pounds (294–311 kilograms).

The BT-13A had a maximum speed (VNE) of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,650 feet (6,599 meters) and range was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Vultee built 9,525 BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant basic trainers between 1940 and 1945. Of these, 7,037 were the BT-13A and SNV-1 variant. By the end of World War II, the Vultee Valiant was considered obsolete and was replaced in U.S. service by the North American AT-6 Texan.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 March 1945

Tony LeVier and the first prototype Lockheed XP-80A, 44-83021, in flight over southern California’s high desert, 1945. (Lockheed Martin)
Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier

20 March 1945: Tony LeVier was conducting a test flight of the first prototype Lockheed XP-80A, 44-83021, near Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base).

The XP-80A was developed from the original XP-80 prototype, but was larger to incorporate a more powerful General Electric I-40 turbojet engine in place of the original Allis-Chalmers J36 (a license-built version of the British Halford H.1B).

The I-40 was a single-shaft turbojet which used a double-inlet, single-stage, centrifugal-flow compressor, fourteen straight-through combustors and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The engine had a maximum speed of 11,500 r.p.m. and produced 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.79 kilonewtons). The I-40 was 48 inches (1.22 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms). The I-40 would be produced by Allison Division of General Motors as the J33 series.

General Electric I-40 turbojet engine cross section. (NASA)

At 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), LeVier put the XP-80A into a dive, intending to level off at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) for a high-speed run. However, at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), the single-stage turbine inside the jet engine failed and fragments tore through the prototype’s fuselage. The tail section of the airplane was cut off and the XP-80A went out of control.

An example of a turbine failure in a Lockheed P-80. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The XP-80A was not equipped with an ejection seat and LeVier had difficulty getting out, but finally escaped at about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

44-83021 crashed near the town of Rosamond and was completely destroyed. Tony LeVier’s parachute was swinging and he was severely injured when he hit the ground. His injuries kept him from flying for the next six months.

Lockheed XP-80A 44-83021 (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XP-80A 44-83021 (U.S. Air Force)

The Lockheed XP-80A was a single-place, single engine prototype fighter. It was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 0 inches (11.887 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It had an empty weight of 7,225 pounds (3,277 kilograms) and gross weight of 9,600 pounds (4,354 kilograms).

Armament consisted of six Browning .50-caliber AN-M2 machine guns with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Two XP-80As were built. These were followed by twelve YP-80A Shooting Star service test aircraft. The Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star was ordered into production with an initial contract for 500 aircraft. This was soon followed by a second order for 2,500 fighters.

Wreckage of XP-80A 44-83021 loaded on a flat bed trailer. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of XP-80A 44-83021 loaded on a flat bed trailer. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 March 1937

Amelia Earhart's damaged Lockheed Electra 10E, at Luke Field, Ford Island, 20 March 1937. Earhart is standing in the open cockpit hatch. (AP/Wichita Eagle)
Amelia Earhart’s damaged Lockheed Electra 10E, at Luke Field, Ford Island, 20 March 1937. Earhart is standing in the open cockpit hatch. (AP/Wichita Eagle)

20 March 1937: After completing repairs and preparation for the second leg of her around-the-world flight—Hawaii to Howland Island—Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, was moved from Wheeler Field to Luke Field on Ford Island on 19 March to take advantage of the longer, fully paved runway.

Paul Mantz had warmed the engines at 5:00 a.m., 20 March, then shut them down. He would not be aboard for this flight. Amelia Earhart, Captain Manning and Captain Noonan boarded the Electra at 5:30 a.m. and Earhart restarted the engines. At 5:40 a.m., she began to taxi to the northeast corner of the runway. Weather was good, with a ceiling of 3,000 feet, visibility 3,500 feet in pre-dawn darkness, and wind from the south at 2 miles per hour.

At 5:53 a.m., Amelia Earhart accelerated for takeoff. A United States Army Board of Investigation report describes what happened next:

THE CRASH:

On reaching the end Miss Earhart turned and after a brief delay opened both throttles. As the airplane gathered speed it swung slightly to the right. Miss Earhart corrected this tendency by throttling the left hand motor. The airplane then began to swing to the left with increasing speed, characteristic of a ground loop. It tilted outward, right wing low and for 50 or 60 feet was supported by the right wheel only. The right-hand landing-gear suddenly collapsed under this excessive load followed by the left. The airplane spun sharply to the left on its belly amid a shower of sparks from the mat and came to rest headed about 200 degrees from its initial course. There was no fire. Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt. The visible damage to the airplane was as follows:- Right wing and engine nacelle severely damaged, left engine nacelle damaged on under side, right hand rudder and end of stabilizer bent. The engines were undamaged. The oil tanks were ruptured. . . .

FINDINGS:  . . . after a run of 1200 feet the airplane crashed on the landing mat due to collapse of the landing gear as a result of an uncontrolled ground loop; the lack of factual evidence makes it impossible to establish the reason for the ground loop; that as a result of the crash the airplane was damaged to an extent requiring major overhaul. . . .

—excerpts from PROCEEDINGS OF A BOARD OF OFFICERS CONVENED TO INVESTIGATE THE CRASH OF MISS AMELIA EARHART AT LUKE FIELD, 20 MARCH 1937

The Electra was extensively damaged. There were no injuries, but the Electra was sent back to Lockheed at Burbank, California, aboard the passenger liner, SS Lurline, for repair.

At the time of the accident, NR16020 had flown 181 hours, 17 minutes, total time since new (TTSN). 

Paul Mantz, who was not aboard during the crash, stands in the Electra's cockpit. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are standing on the wing, 20 March 1937.
Paul Mantz, who was not aboard during the crash, stands in the Electra’s cockpit. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are standing on the wing, 20 March 1937. (AP/Wichita Eagle)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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