Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

27 March 1977

A recent photograph looking west-northwest (300° Magnetic) along Runway 30 at Los Rodeos Airport (TFN), Tenerife, Canary Islands. (© Claudio)

27 March 1977: The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occurred when two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 583 people died.

A terrorist incident at Gran Canaria International Airport (LPA) on the island of Gran Canaria resulted in the airport being closed for flight operations. This forced many trans-Atlantic airliners to divert to the smaller Los Rodeos Airport (TFN) on Tenerife. The ramp and taxiways at Los Rodeos were congested and refuelers were overwhelmed by the increased traffic, which led to many delays.

A Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121, N750PA, similar to N736PA. (Michael Gilliand via Wikipedia)

Los Rodeos Airport has only one runway, Runway 12/30, with a parallel taxiway and four short taxiways joining the two.

Pan American World Airways’ Flight 1736, a Boeing 747-121, FAA registration number N736PA, named Clipper Victor¹ was ready for takeoff with 380 passengers and crew, but had to “back taxi” on Runway 12 (“One-Two”) because the parallel taxiway was jammed with airplanes. The airliner proceeded east-southeast, intending to exit the runway to the parallel taxiway after passing by the congestion around the terminal.

Also on the runway was Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) Flight 4805, a Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUF, named Rijn (“Rhine”). The KLM jumbo jet had 248 passengers and crew members on board. Flight 4805 had back-taxied for the entire length of Runway 12, then made a 180° turn to align itself with Runway 30, the “active” runway.

KLM Royal Dutch Airways’ Boeing 747-206B PH-BUF, Rijn. (clipperarctic via Wikipedia)

Weather at the time of the accident was IFR, with low clouds and fog. Visibility on the runway was restricted to about 1,000 feet (305 meters). Takeoff rules required a minimum of 2,300 feet (701 meters). What happened next was a misunderstanding between the air traffic controllers and the crew of both airliners.

The control tower instructed KLM 4805 to taxi into position on Runway 30 (“Three-Zero”) for takeoff, and to hold there for release. The Pan Am airliner was told to taxi off the runway and to report when clear. The tower controllers could not see either airliner because of the fog, and their flight crews could not see each other.

The aircraft commander of the Dutch airliner, that company’s Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, misunderstood what was occurring and radioed to the tower that he was taking off. He then accelerated.

The crew in the Pan Am airliner heard the KLM pilot report that he was taking off, immediately turned left and ran the engines up to full throttle in order to try to get off the runway. With the KLM 747 accelerating through the fog, its flight crew belatedly realized that the other airliner was still ahead of them. Too late to stop, they applied full power and pulled the nose up trying to takeoff. The tail of their airplane actually dragged over sixty feet (18 meters) on the runway because its extreme nose up angle.

Computer-generated illustration of the moment of impact as KLM Flight 4805 hits Pan Am Flight 1736 on the runway at Tenerife. (PBS Nova)

KLM 4805 lifted off about 300 feet (91 meters) from Pan Am 1736, and because of the high angle of attack, its nose wheel actually passed over American airliner’s fuselage, but the rest of the Dutch airplane hit at 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). Clipper Victor was ripped in half, caught fire and exploded. Rijn crashed about 250 yards (229 meters) down the runway, and it also caught fire and exploded.

All 248 people aboard the Royal Dutch Airlines airplane were killed. Miraculously, there were 61 survivors from the Pan Am Clipper, including the co-pilot, but the remaining 335 died.

Two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway at Tenerife, 27 March 1977. (Unattributed)

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

The 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

The Boeing 747 has been in production for 48 years. More than 1,520 have been delivered to date. 205 of these were the 747-100 series. The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 as the next presidential transport aircraft.

¹ Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747 Clipper Victor was the very first Boeing 747 in service. It made its first commercial passenger flight, New York to London, 22 January 1970. Another airliner, Clipper Young America, was scheduled to  make that flight but suffered mechanical problems shortly before departure. Clipper Victor was substituted, but Pan Am changed the airliner’s name to Clipper Young America. On 2 August 1970, N736PA was hijacked to Cuba, and afterwards, to avoid the negative publicity, the name of the 747 was changed back to Clipper Victor.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 March 1968

Yuri Gagarin photographed shortly before his death in 1968. (RSC Energia)

27 March 1968: Colonel Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union,  was killed in the crash of a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTI two-place trainer near the village of Novoselova, Vladamir Oblast, Russia.

Colonel Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin, Hero of the Soviet Union.

Colonel Gagarin was on a routine training flight with an instructor, Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin. (Seregin was the commanding officer of the cosmonauts’ training regiment at the Cosmonaut Training Center.) The weather was poor, with rain, snow, wind and low clouds. His last reported altitude was 4,200 meters (13,780 feet).

A Sukhoi Su-15 on test flight inadvertently passed very close to the MiG at supersonic speed. The Sukhoi’s test had been planned for 10,000 meters (32,808 feet), but the pilot actually was flying much lower, passing through clouds, and the interceptor came within an estimated 15–20 meters (49–66 feet) of the trainer. Its wake vortices put Gagarin’s airplane into a spin from which he and Seregin were unable to recover. 55 seconds after Gagarin’s last radio transmission, the MiG-15 crashed. Both men were killed.

Vostok I with Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, 12 April 1961.
Vostok I with Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, 12 April 1961.

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space when he orbited Earth aboard Vostok I, 12 April 1961. The spacecraft was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule carried aloft by a Vostok-K rocket. Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth and began reentry over Africa. As the spacecraft was descending through 7,000 meters (20,966 feet), he ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground, landing near Engels, Saratov Oblast, at 0805 UTC.

Gagarin statue, London.
Gagarin statue, London.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 March 1955

Pan American World Airways' Boeing 377-10-26 Stratocruiser serial number 15932, N1032V.
Clipper Unites States, Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377-10-26 Stratocruiser serial number 15932, N1032V. (Unattributed)

26 March 1955: At 8:15 a.m., Pan Am Flight 845/26, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, N1032V, named Clipper United States, departed Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA, or “SeaTac”) on a flight to Sydney, Australia, with an intermediate stop at Portland, Oregon and Honolulu, Hawaii. The airliner departed Portland (PDX) at 10:21 a.m., with a crew of 8 and 15 passengers on board.

Captain Herman S. Joslyn was in command, with First Officer Angus Gustavus Hendrick, Jr., Second Officer Michael F. Kerwick, Flight Engineer Donald Read Fowler and Assistant Flight Engineer Stuart Bachman. The cabin crew were Purser Natalie R. Parker, Stewardess Elizabeth M. Thompson, and Steward James D. Peppin.

Clipper United States was cruising at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) when a severe vibration began, lasting 5–8 seconds. The Number 3 engine (inboard, right) was violently torn off of the starboard wing. The damage to the airplane resulted in severe buffeting. The nose pitched down and airspeed increased. Captain Joslyn reduced engine power to limit airspeed. The Stratocruiser quickly lost 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Because of damage to the engines’ electrical system, the flight engineer was not able to increase power on the remaining three engines. The Boeing 377 was too heavy at this early stage in the flight to maintain its altitude.

At 11:12 a.m. (19:12 UTC) the flight crew ditched the Stratocruiser into the north Pacific Ocean. approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of the Oregon coastline. [N. 43° 48′ 15″, W. 125° 12′ 40″] The conditions were ideal for ditching, but the impact was hard. Seats were torn loose, and several occupants were injured. Evacuation began and all three life rafts were inflated. The water temperature was 47 °F. (8.3  °C.).

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 22.15.47
Miss Natalie R. Parker (Medford Mail Tribune)

The Stratocruiser floated for about 20 minutes before sinking. Of the 23 persons on board, four, passengers John Peterson, David Darrow,  First Officer Hendrick, and Flight Engineer Fowler, died of injuries and exposure.

The actions of one of Flight 845/26’s crewmembers was particularly mentioned in the Civil Aeronautics Board accident investigation report:

“The purser, a woman, [Natalie R. Parker¹] although suffering from shock swam and towed the only seriously injured passenger to the nearest raft, some 200 feet [61 meters] distant.”

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-304 File No. 1-0039, 15 November 1955, History of the Flight

A North American Aviation F-86F Sabre flown by Captain W. L. Parks, 142nd Fighter Interceptor Group, Oregon Air National Guard, located the scene of the ditching and observed smoke flares which led to two life rafts tied together. A Lockheed Constellation was also inbound to the scene from the south. After confirming that Air Force rescue aircraft were on the way, Captain Parks returned to Portland, very low on fuel.

The survivors were rescued after two hours by the crew of USS Bayfield (APA-33), a U.S. Navy attack transport.

The U.S. Navy attack transport USS Bayfield (APA-33) during the rescue of the survivors of Pan Am Flight 845/26, 26 March 1955. A civilian tanker stands by to assist. Two of the airliner's life rafts are visible at the right edge of this photograph. One is at the end of the smoke trail crossing the center of the image. The other is a bright object at the right lower corner. (U.S. Navy)
The U.S. Navy attack transport USS Bayfield (APA-33) during the rescue of the survivors of Pan Am Flight 845/26, 26 March 1955. A Standard Oil Co. tanker, SS Idaho Falls, stands by to assist. Two of the airliner’s life rafts are visible at the right edge of this photograph. One is at the end of the smoke trail crossing the center of the image. The other is a bright object at the right lower corner. (U.S. Coast Guard)

During the Civil Aeronautics Board hearings into the accident, Vice Chairman Joseph P. Adams commended the flight’s purser, Miss Parker:

“. . . all of us feel inspired that a fellow citizen, or just a fellow human being, can rise to such an occasion in the manner in which you did. It is most commendable, Miss Parker.”

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-304 File No. 1-0039, 15 November 1955, Footnote 3

Because the engine and propeller were not recovered, the exact nature of the failure could not be determined, but the most likely cause was considered to be a fracture of a propeller blade resulting in a severely unbalanced condition, followed by the violent separation of the engine from the wing. This was the fifth time that a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser had lost an engine following the failure of a hollow-steel Hamilton Standard 2J17 propeller blade.

When the flight engineer attempted to increase the propeller r.p.m. on the three engines simultaneously, an electrical overload occurred which opened the master circuit breaker. This prevented any power increase.

Clipper United States was a Boeing Model 377-10-26, serial number 15932, registered N1032V. It was one of twenty of a specific variant built for Pan American World Airways. The airliner had been delivered to Pan Am on 21 May 1949. At the time of its loss, it had flown a total of 13,655 hours.

A color photograph of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in flight. (Pan Am)
A color photograph of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in flight. (Pan Am)

The Model 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms).

N1032V was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 engines. These were four-row, 28-cylinder, radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The B6 had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters), and Maximum Continuous Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). The Takeoff Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with water/alcohol injection.² The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The Wasp Major B6 was 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter and 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long. It weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms), dry. The propeller assembly weighed 761 pounds (345 kilograms).

Clipper America, a Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)
Clipper America, a Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

 

¹ Miss Natalie R. Parker was born 2 June 1925, the first child of Carold J. Parker, a potato chip manufacturer, and Ruth A. Parker, of Portland, Oregon. She was a 1944 graduate of Medford High School, and she then attended Reed College at Portland.

Miss Parker enlisted in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, U.S. Public Health Service, in 1945 and trained as a nurse at the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland, graduating 13 June 1948.

She joined Pan American World Airways in 1951.

 

² During a demonstration of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major engine (military designation, R-4360) a regular production engine was taken from the assembly line and run for 22 continuous hours at 4,400 horsepower, then checked and run for another hour at 4,850 horsepower. It was then run for 100 hours at 3,000 horsepower, and 50 hours at 3,500 horsepower. When the engine was disassembled for inspection., it remained in serviceable condition.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 March 1956

Martin XB-51 46-685, the number one prototype, on takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin XB-51 46-685, the number one prototype, on takeoff. (Lockheed Martin)

25 March 1956: At approximately 10:50 a.m., the first of two prototype Martin XB-51 three-engine attack bombers, serial number 46-685, crashed on takeoff from Runway 22 at El Paso International Airport (ELP). The pilot, Major James O. Rudolph, United States Air Force, survived the crash although he was  seriously burned. Staff Sergeant Wilbur R. Savage, 28, engineer, was killed. Major Rudolph died of injuries 16 April 1956.

Pieces of wreckage were marked “Gilbert XF-120” which had been painted on the airplane for the filming of the William Holden, Lloyd Nolan movie, “Toward The Unknown.” (Toluca Productions, 1956). The second prototype, 46-686, had previously crashed at Edwards AFB.

A newspaper article from the El Paso Times is quoted below [I have corrected some typographical errors]:

03/26/1956

Bill Feather
El Paso Times

A sleek jet bomber, carrying a full load of fuel, crashed while attempting a take-off at International Airport Sunday morning, killing the flight engineer and seriously injuring the pilot.

The XB-51, the only one of its type in existence, smashed through the fence at the end of the southwest runway and then began to disintegrate, spreading wreckage along a 250-yard trail.

Only the tail section of the three-engine bomber was left intact.

Name of the dead man, a 28-year-old staff sergeant was withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Flying the aircraft was Maj. James O. Rudolph, 36, one of the top test pilots in the Air Force.

He suffered severe burns and was taken Sunday afternoon in an emergency flight to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio.

The XB-51, based at Edwards Air Force Base in Muroc, Calif., was being flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where it was to be used in the filming of a Warner Brothers movie, “Toward the Unknown.”

Identification of the aircraft was confused for a short time after the crash.

A piece of wreckage with the notation “Gilbert XF-120” was found nearby.

HAD REFUELED

Air Force spokesmen explained that the XF designation had been painted on the plane for use in the movie.

The airplane had been refueled at International Airport and started its takeoff at 10:30 a.m.

Witnesses said the plane got about three feet above the ground and suddenly settled. The tail dragged first and then the rest of the airplane settled, running at high speed.

It ripped through a barbed wire fence at the end of the runway, raced across Airport Road and then began to go to pieces.

After crashing, it burned and several explosions threatened firemen, rescuers and spectators who crowded around the flaming aircraft.

First person to the scene of the crash was Eddie C. Wilkerson, 1106 Del Monte Drive, tennis coach at Austin High School.

“I was just turning into the road to the airport when the plane was taking off. I don’t believe it ever got airborne.

“I looked back and saw a big ball of smoke, so I just wheeled my car around.”

Wilkerson said that when he arrived, the major was lying on the ground about 15 feet from the burning wreckage.

“His clothes were burning so I started tearing them off.”

Other witnesses to the crash arrived and helped Wilkerson move the major to a safer place, away from the intense heat of the flaming aircraft.

Capt. John D. Chandler, a doctor at the Biggs Hospital, was at the airport when the crash occurred and he was one of the first persons at the scene. He administered aid to the injured man until an ambulance arrived. Later Capt. Chandler flew to San Antonio with Maj. Rudolph.

A fire truck from International Airport was rushed to the scene almost as soon as the plane stopped its forward motion.

Sunday drivers were attracted to the scene by the tower of smoke and the heavy traffic delayed the arrival of fire trucks from Biggs Air Force Base.

The plane was one of two XB-51s built by Martin Aircraft Co. and was completed in 1953.

The first one crashed at Muroc, Calif., in 1952.

Air Force spokesmen said the aircraft was comparable to the B-47, which was accepted instead of the XB-51 for use in the Air Force.

Its three jet engines one in each wing and on in the fuselage, were capable of driving the craft at tremendous speeds. The aircraft had broken the sound barrier, spokesmen said.

Its sleek lines gave it the appearance of a fighter rather than a medium bomber.

Normally, the airplane carried a crew of three.

Recently it had been used in assisting the Army in missile and anti-aircraft development at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

A board of officers was investigation the crash and two Air Force colonels arrived at Biggs Air Force Base from Muroc Sunday afternoon.

Military police from Ft. Bliss and Air Police patrolled the area about the crash Sunday afternoon, keeping away the curious.

— http://elpasotimes.typepad.com/morgue/2011/03/today-in-1956-plane-crash-kills-engineer-pilot-injured-as-bomber-falls-.html

James Otto Rudolph was born at Marion, Ohio, 8 February 1920, the first of two children of of Frank Otto Rudolph, a German immigrant who was employed as a secretary for the YMCA, and Helen Claire Shafer Rudolph.

Following two years of college, Rudolph enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Detroit, Michigan, 17 March 1941. He was 6 feet, 1inch (1.854 meters) tall and weighed 175 pounds (79.4 kilograms). He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Reserve, 31 October 1941,and was promoted to First Lieutenant, Army of the United States (Air Corps), 5 August 1942. He was again promoted, to Captain, and again, 15 June 1943. Following the end of World War II, Rudolph was promoted to the rank of Major, 19 September 1946. He remained in the Air Force, but with military needs shrinking, he reverted to the rank of First Lieutenant, with date of rank, 7 December 1944.

James Rudolph married Clara D.    in 194–

Major Rudolph graduated from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School, Class 54-A, 2 July 1954. As a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, Rudolph was a project pilot in the FICON program in which Republic RF-84K Thunderflash reconnaissance planes were carried by modified Convair RB-36D bombers.

During his military career, Major Rudolph had been awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards).

After the crash on 25 March 1956, Major Rudolph was taken to Brooke Army Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, suffering from 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 38% of his body. He contracted septicemia and died there, 16 April 1956. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first Martin XB-51, 46-585, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

The Glenn L. Martin Co. XB-51 was a prototype jet-powered attack bomber. It was an unusual design for its time. The airplane had mid-mounted, variable-incidence swept wing, a T-tail and tandem landing gear with a configuration similar to that used on the Boeing B-47 Stratojet (and which had been tested using a Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber.)

The XB-51 was operated by a pilot in a single-place cockpit with a bubble canopy, and a navigator station inside the fuselage, below and behind the pilot. The prototype was 85 feet, 1 inch (25.933 meters) long with a wingspan of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 4 inches (5.283 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 29,584 pounds (13,419 kilograms) and gross weight of 55,923 pounds (25,366 kilograms).

The wings of the XB-51 were swept to 35° and had 6° anhedral. The wings’ angle of incidence (the relation of the chord to the fuselage longitudinal axis) could be adjusted to increase lift for takeoff and landing. They also were equipped with leading edge slats for improved low speed performance. Instead of ailerons, the XB-51 used spoilers.

Lloyd Nolan (“General Bill Banner”) and William Holden (“Major Lincoln Bond”) with the “Gilbert XF-120” in the 1956 Hollywood movie, “Toward the Unknown.” (Toluca Productions via Turner Classic Movies)

Power was supplied by three General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engines, with two located in nacelles outboard of the forward fuselage on 45° pylons, and a third installed in the tail with its intake on top of the fuselage. The J47-GE-13 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. It was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.13 kilonewtons) at Sea Level. The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds (1,145 kilograms). A Rocket Assisted Takeoff (RATO) system was also installed.

The XB-51 had a cruise speed of 532 miles per hour (856 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 645 miles per hour (1,038 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level—0.x Mach). The service ceiling was 40,500 feet (12,344 meters) and range was 1,075 miles (1,730 kilometers).

Armament was planned for a maximum bombload of 10,400 pounds (4,717 kilograms) carried internally in a rotary bomb bay, and eight M39 20 mm revolving autocannon mounted in the nose with 1,280 rounds of ammunition.

Martin XB-51 46-685 during engine start and ground run-up. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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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.

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.

“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 P2B1-S 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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