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.
77106 is 65.50 meters (215 feet, 6.6 inches) long, with a wingspan of 28.00 meters (91 feet, 10.4 inches). The tip of the vertical fin was 11.45 meters (37 feet, 6.8 inches) high. The 144S has a total wing are of 503 square meters (5,414 square feet). Its empty weight is 91,800 kilograms (202,384 pounds) and the maximum takeoff weight is 195,000 kilograms (429,901 pounds). (A number of Tu-144S airliners had extended wing tips, increasing the span to 28.80 meters (94 feet, 5.9 inches) and the wing area to 507 square meters (5,457 square feet).
The Tu-144S was powered by four Kuznetsov NK-144A engines. The NK-144 is a two-spool axial-flow turbofan engine with afterburner. It uses a 2-stage fan section, 14 stage compressor section (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It is rated at 147.0 kilonewtons (33,047 pounds of thrust) for supersonic cruise, and 178.0 kilonewtons (40,016 pounds of thrust) with afterburner for takeoff. The NK-144A is 5.200 meters (17 feet, 0.7 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.1 inches) in diameter and weighs 2,827 kilograms (6,233 pounds).
The 144S has a cruise speed of Mach 2.07 (2,200 kilometers per hour/1,367 miles per hour) with a maximum speed of Mach 2.35 (2,500 kilometers per hour/1,553 miles per hour). The service ceiling is approximately 20,000 meters (65,617 feet). Its practical range is 3,080 kilometers (1,914 miles).
In actual commercial service, the Tu-144 was extremely unreliable. It was withdrawn from service after a total of just 102 commercial flights, including 55 passenger flights.
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.
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.
The Sunday Herald (Provo, Utah) reported:
. . . The B-58 took off with five other American supersonic jets for the demonstration and flew back over the airfield at normal speed.
Then the plane started to make what looked from the ground like a “barrel” maneuver, a roll over, and suddenly disappeared from the view of the audience at the airfield. . . .
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published the following:
. . . According to reports from [John] Randel [correspondent for the Paris edition of the New York Herald-Tribune] and the Associated Press, this is the way the crash occurred:
The delta-wing bomber streaked passed the control tower and disappeared into the overcast. No one at Le Bourget Airport, where the air show was being staged, saw any sign of the crash, which occurred about 5 p.m. Paris time (10 a.m. Fort Worth time).
But at the little town of Louvres, three miles north of the airport, there was a tremendous explosion.
The needle-nose bomber plunged into a wheat field. This was about 10 minutes after takeoff.
The nearest building was from 500 to 800 yards away.
Louvres police said they did not know whether the plane exploded in air or when it hit the ground.
Fuel from the plane caught fire, sending up billows of smoke. Huge craters were cut into the ground by plummeting wreckage, indicating an aerial explosion.
About 10 fire trucks were soon at the scene spraying water on the burning debris.
One report said the plane had completed a slow roll and was trying a snap roll when two or three of its four engines ripped off. This report was strictly unofficial. . . .
2 June 1941: Great Britain had been at war with Germany for 21 months. Its need for military equipment far exceeded the capacity of British industry, so the Empire looked across the North Atlantic Ocean to its former colonies, the United States of America.
The Royal Air Force ordered 140 Liberator B Mk.II bombers from Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, California. The Consolidated Model LB-30 was a variant of the U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 four-engine long-range heavy bomber, but was built expressly for the RAF and had no direct Air Corps equivalent.
AL503 was the first Liberator Mk.II. It had made its first flight 26 May 1941, and was ready to be turned over to the Royal Air Force.
AL503 crashed on its acceptance flight, 2 June 1941. The aircraft was destroyed and all five on board were killed.
The Associated Press reported the accident:
Big Bomber Made for Britain Crashes in San Diego Bay; Four Members of Crew Perish
SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 2—(AP)—A $250,000 four-motored Consolidated bomber crashed and sank in San Diego Bay today, shortly after taking off from Lindbergh Field. Consolidated Aircraft Corp. officials said four of the crew members apparently perished.
The 25-ton craft was camouflaged and ready for delivery to Great Britain.
William B. Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the Consolidated Aircraft Corp., apparently was at the controls. The Navy had taken over rescue operations, and details and names of crew members were not immediately available.
Witnesses said the huge plane left the airport on what appeared to be a normal takeoff, but that the bomber pulled up steep into a vertical climb instead of leveling off. At about 500 feet the plane apparently was in a stall.
The bomber then fell off to the left, and nosed down and the pilot, using the throttle appeared to have recovered. This difficulty was experienced over the airport, but by the time the pilot apparently had regained control of the craft it was flying over the water an an altitude of about 100 feet, the bomber again fell off to the left and the wing struck the water.
A Consolidated spokesman said the crash had “evidence of sabotage.”
The spokesman said the $250,000, 25-ton land bomber had been “thoroughly tested, and things like that just don’t happen.”
Believed dead were:
William Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the company. Allen T. Austen, 28, Kansas City, Mo., assistant test pilot. Bruce K. Craig, 27, Chicago, engineer. William H. Rieser, 33, Cambridge, Mass. Lewis M. McAannon, 25, Woodstock, Ill., chief mechanic, was seriously injured. ¹
The bodies of Wheatley, Craig and Austin had not been recovered from the shattered bomber.
The impact with the water shattered the bomber, witnesses said, and it sank. Navy and small fishing vessels went to the rescue. The plane went down in an area between the San Diego shoreline and the naval air station.
The bomber, called “Liberator” by the Royal Air Force, was of all-metal construction, and its type is regarded as one of the most advanced military weapons. The Liberator can travel 230 miles an hour with a full bomb load over a 3,000 mile range. Orders for the huge land bomber originally were placed by the French, then taken over by the British.
The first B-24 was delivered to the British last Feb. 15 when the craft Consolidated Aircraft officials said established a record non-stop transcontinental flight of 9 hours, 57 minutes for planes of more than 5,000 pounds gross weight.
—The Eugene Guard, Vol. 50, No. 152, Monday, June 2, 1941, at Page 1 Column 6 and Page 2, Column 2
The Consolidated B-24 had first flown 29 December 1939. Chief Test Pilot Bill Wheatley was in command. Designed as a long-range heavy bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps, it was a high-wing, four-engine monoplane with dual vertical fins and rudders. It had retractable tricycle landing gear. The bomber was flown by two pilots, with the crew including a navigator, bombardier, radio operator and several gunners.
The Royal Air Force Liberator B. Mk.I was essentially a B-24A. The Liberator Mk.II, though, was lengthened by extending the nose in front of the cockpit by 3 feet (0.914 meters). It was equipped with two power-operated gun turrets, one at the top of the fuselage, just aft of the wing, and a second at the tail.
The Liberator Mk.II was 66 feet, 4 inches (20.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 110 feet, 0 inches (33.528 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 0 inches (5.486 meters). It was heavier than the Mk.I as a result of the longer fuselage and the heavy power turrets. The maximum gross weight was 64,250 pounds (29,143 kilograms).
The LB-30/Mk.II was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-33) two-row fourteen-cylinder radial engines. These had a normal power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 6,100 feet (1,859 meters) and 1,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m at 14,500 feet. The takeoff/military power rating was 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-1830-33 was 4 feet, 0.06 inches (1.221 meters) in diameter and 5 feet, 3.48 inches (1.612 meters) long. It weighed 1,480 pounds (671 kilograms).
The Liberator Mk.II had a maximum speed of 263 miles per hour (423 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its service ceiling was 24,000 feet (7315 meters).
As was common with British bombers, the Liberator Mk.II was defended by Browning .303 Mk.II (7.7 × 56 mm) machine guns. Four were installed in the upper power turret and another four guns in the tail turret. Left and right waist positions each had two guns. One gun was mounted at the nose and one in the belly of the aircraft. This was a total of fourteen. The tail turret carried 2,200 rounds of ammunition and the top turret had 600 rounds.
The second Liberator Mk.II, AL504, became the personal transport of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who named it Commando. In 1944, the aircraft was modified to the single vertical fin configuration of the PB4Y-2 Privateer. Commando disappeared over the Atlantic in 1945.
William Ballantine Wheatley was born at Chester, New York, 17 December 1902, the first of three children of William A. Wheatley, a public school superintendent, and Mabel Ballantine Wheatley. He was twice married, first, about 1927, to Esther Leary Wheatley, of Massachussetts. They had two children, Mary and William Thomas Wheatley. His second marriage was to Miss Grace Lenore Ray, 18 April 1935, at Washington, D.C. They would have a son, John, and two daughters, Grace and Charlotte Wheatley.
After two years of college, Wheatley joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, 3 March 1925. He trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, Texas, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, 13 March 1926. On 4 May 1927, Lieutenant Wheatley was assigned to the 118th Observation Squadron, 43rd Division, Air Service, at Hartford, Connecticut, as a pilot and observer. He served in the Air Corps Reserve until 1937.
In 1928, Wheatley went to work for the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He was an air mail pilot in 1928-1929, and then, in February 1929, he became a test pilot for Reuben H. Fleet’s Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. In 1935, Consolidated moved to its new headquarters at Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California. Wheatley moved with it. He and his family lived in a 3 bedroom home about three miles northeast of the airport. In 1940, his salary as chief test pilot of Consolidated was $50,000 per year. ²
Following Wheatley’s death, Beryl Arthur Erickson was assigned as chief test pilot for Consolidated.
¹ Lewis McCannon also died as a result of the crash.
² Approximately equivalent to $1,083,439 U.S. dollars in 2023.
30 May 1949: While testing a radical “flying wing” aircraft, the Rolls-Royce Nene-powered Armstrong Whitworth A.W.52, TS363, test pilot John Oliver (“Jo”) Lancaster, D.F.C., encountered severe pitch oscillations in a 320 mile per hour (515 kilometer per hour) dive. Lancaster feared the aircraft would disintegrate.
In the very first use of the Martin-Baker Mk1 ejection seat in an actual emergency, Lancaster fired the seat and was safely thrown clear of the aircraft. He parachuted to safety and was uninjured. The aircraft was destroyed.
The Martin-Baker MK1 was developed by Bernard Ignatius (“Benny”) Lynch, B.E.M., a ground fitter for Martin-Baker Aircraft Co., Ltd., who tested it himself, ejecting from a test aircraft at 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) and 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). He eventually made more than 30 ejections. Lynch was awarded the British Empire Medal in the King’s 1948 New Year Honours.
The seat was launched with a two cartridge ejection gun, with an initial velocity of 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). After rising 24 feet (7.3 meters), a static line fired a drogue gun, deploying a 24-inch (0.61 meter) drogue parachute to stabilize the seat. The static line also actuated the seat’s oxygen supply. The pilot manually released himself from the seat, and opened his parachute by pulling the rip cord.
As of 31 May 2023, 7,695 airmen worldwide have been saved by Martin-Baker ejection seats. 69 of these were with the Mk1.
The Armstrong Whitworth A.W.52 was an all-metal, experimental two-place, twin engine, tailless “flying wing” airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The concept was that of an air mail aircraft. The cockpit was pressurized and offset to the left of the aircraft centerline. The two turbojet engines are in nacelles positioned almost entirely within the wing. The A.W.52 was 37 feet, 4 inches (11.354 meters) long with a wingspan of 90 feet (27.4 meters) and height of 14 feet, 4 inches (4.343 meters).
The wings were swept in two sections. From the fuselage to just outboard of the engines, the leading edges were swept to 17° 34′. From that point, called “the knuckle” in contemporary descriptions, the sweep increased to 34° 6′ to the wing tips. (A line from the ¼-chord points at the wing root and tip gave a sweep of 24¾°.) The inner wing had no dihedral, and the outer wing had 1° dihdreal. The wing incorporated a -5° twist between the root and tip. The total wing area was 1,314 square feet (122.1 square meters). Vertical fins and rudders are attached at the wing tips.
The airplane incorporated boundary layer control to delay the wing stalling in the area of the ailerons. It also used engine heat for deicing,
The A.W.52 had a empty weight of 19,662 pounds (9,055 kilograms) total weight of 32,700 pounds (14,832 kilograms).
The A.W.52 was powered by two Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I engines. The Nene was a single-shaft turbojet developed from the RB.40 Derwent. It had first been run in October 1944. The Nene was considerably larger than the Derwent and produced nearly double the thrust. It had a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons) at 12,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. The second A.W.52 prototype, TS368, used two Derwent engines.
The A.W.52 had a maximum speed at Sea Level of 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour) and 480 miles per hour (772 meters) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). Its maximum range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers), flying 330 miles per hour (531 kilometers per hour) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters).
28 May 1971: At 12:08 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (16:08 UTC), a twin-engine Aero Commander 680E, N601JJ, flying through rain and fog, crashed into 3,056-foot (931 meter) Brush Mountain, approximately 16 miles (26 kilometers) west-northwest of Roanoke, Virginia. The point of impact was about 400 feet (122 meters) below the mountain’s summit. All six persons on board were killed. The wreckage burned.
Witnesses had seen the airplane flying in and out of clouds at very low altitude, and at one point attempting a landing on a highway.
One of the passengers aboard the Aero Commander was 45-year-old Audie Leon Murphy, recipient of the Medal of Honor and the most highly-decorated American soldier of World War II. Other passengers were Claude Crosby, Kim Dodey, Jack Littleton and Raymond Prater, business associates of Murphy.
The Aero Commander was flown by Herman Levelle Butler of El Paso, Texas. Born in Louisiana, 30 December 1927, Butler had served as a seaman 2nd class in the United States Navy during World War II. He held a private pilot certificate with ratings for single- and multi-engine airplanes. Significantly, he was not instrument rated. Butler had flown more than 8,000 hours, but the Aero Commander was new to him. He only had 6 hours in type.
Just over a year earlier, 14 March 1970, Herman Butler had crashed a Piper PA-23 Apache light twin-engine airplane 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Angeline County Airport (LFK), Lufkin, Texas. Both engines stopped when the airplane ran out of fuel. Butler had unsuccessfully attempted to land on a highway on that occasion, as well, but the airplane stalled and crashed into trees. The Piper was destroyed, though Butler was only slightly injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the 28 May 1971 crash. It determined that the probable cause of the accident was:
. . . the pilot’s attempt to continue visual flight into adverse weather conditions at an altitude too low to clear the mountainous terrain. The board also finds that the pilot attempted to continue flight into instrument weather conditions which were beyond his operational capabilities.
Major Audie Leon Murphy, United States Army (Retired), had served in nine military campaigns in the Mediterranean and European Theaters during World War II, and later served in the Korean War. His military accomplishments are too numerous to describe here, but they were truly heroic.
Murphy wrote about them in his autobiography, To Hell and Back (Henry Holt and Company, 1949) which was adapted into one of the most successful motion pictures of the 1950s, and in which Murphy portrayed himself.
The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America’s Most Decorated Hero of World War II, by David A. Smith, was published in 2015.
Murphy was a very popular Hollywood actor, though he suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of his combat experiences. He was twice married. He raised horses in California and Texas.
During a military career that spanned two wars, Major Audie Leon Murphy, United States Army, was awarded the Medal of Honor; Distinguished Service Cross; Silver Star with bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); Legion of Merit; Bronze Star with “V” Device and bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); Purple Heart with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards); Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver star, four bronze stars and one arrowhead device (nine campaigns); World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Combat Infantryman Badge; Marksman Badge with Rifle Component Bar; Expert Badge with Bayonet Component Bar.
France appointed Murphy a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur (French Legion of Honor – Grade of Chevalier—Knight), and awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, the Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the French Liberation Medal. Leopold III, King of Belgium, awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre with 1940 Palm. He was authorized to wear the French Fourragère in the colors of the Croix de Guerre.
For his service as technical advisor for a 1960 film, “The Broken Bridge,” Murphy was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The State of Texas awarded him the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.
Audie Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
Washington 25, D.C., 9 August 1945
General Orders No. 65
MEDAL OF HONOR – Award
I. MEDAL OF HONOR. – By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:
Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:
EDWARD F. WITSELLG.C. MARSHALL Major GeneralChief of Staff Acting for the Adjutant General
Major Audie L. Murphy’s remains are interred at the Arlington National Cemetery, Section 46, Site 366-11, Arlington County, Virginia.
N601JJ was an Aero Commander 680E, serial number 680-491-161. It had been built in 1957 by the Aero Design and Engineering Company, at Bethany, Oklahoma. The airplane had just been acquired by Colorado Aviation, Inc., of Texico, New Mexico, and in fact, the registration certificate was not issued by the Federal Aviation Administration until 8 June 1971, eleven days after the crash.
The Aero Commander 680E is a six-place, twin-engine, high-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It can be flown by one or two pilots, and is equipped for flight in instrument conditions. The airplane is 35 feet, 2 inches (10.719 meters) long with a wingspan of 49 feet, 6 inches (15.088 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 6 inches (4.420 meters). Its empty weight is approximately 4,475 pounds (2,230 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 7,500 pounds (3,402 kilograms).
The 680E is powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 479.624-cubic-inch-diplacement (7.860 liter) Lycoming GSO-480-B1A6 horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines with a compression ratio of 7.3:1. The -B1A6 is rated at 320 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and 340 horsepower at 3,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The engines drive three-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters) through a 77:120 (0.642:1) gear reduction. The GSO-480-B1A6 is 4 feet, 1.31 inches (1.253 meters) long, 2 feet, 9.08 inches (0.840 meters) high and 2 feet, 9.12 inches (0.841 meters) wide. It weighs 513.00 pounds (232.693 kilograms)
The Aero Commander 680E has a maximum structural cruise speed of 210 miles per hour (338 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed (Vne) is 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 25,360 feet (6,980 meters). The maximum range is 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).
The U.S. Air Force selected the Aero Commander 680E as a transport for President Dwight Eisenhower. Designated L-26C-AD, fifteen were acquired, with two being used by the White House. The Air Force designation was later changed to U-4B. In U.S. Army service, the airplane was designated U-9C.