Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

15 January 2009: “The Miracle on the Hudson”

U.S. Airways’ Airbus Industrie A320-214 N106US. (Bureau of Aviation Accidents Archives)

15 January 2009: At 3:25 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 departed from Runway 4 at LaGuardia International Airport (LGA) enroute to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) with a stop at Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT). On board were 150 passengers and 5 crewmembers. The pilot-in-command was Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III, and the co-pilot was First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles.

Flight 1549 (radio call sign, “Cactus Fifteen-Forty-Nine”) was an Airbus Industrie A320-214, with registration N106US.

Captain Chesley B. Sullnberger
Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, U.S. Airways

Captain Sullenberger was a 1973 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and had served as a pilot in McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs until 1980, when he left the Air Force and began a career as an airline pilot with Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA). To date, “Sully” had flown 19,663 total hours with 4,765 hours in the Airbus A320.

First Officer Skiles was also a highly experienced pilot with 15,643 total hours, but this was his very first flight aboard the A320 after completing the airline’s pilot transition course.

First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles
First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, U.S. Airways

First Officer Skiles was the pilot flying on the first leg of the flight. The airliner was climbing and gaining airspeed, when at 3:27:11, it collided with a large flock of Canada Geese at an altitude of 2,818 feet (859 meters), approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) from the runway. Birds were ingested in both engines which immediately lost thrust. Captain Sullenberger took over the controls while Skiles began the engine restart procedure.

A portion of the Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript follows:

15:27:07  Sullenberger: After takeoff checklist complete.

15:27:10.4 Sullenberger: Birds.

15:27:11 Skiles: Whoa.

15:27:11:4 (Sound of thump/thud(s), followed by shuddering sound.)

15:27:12 Skiles: Oh (expletive deleted).

15:27:13 Sullenberger: Oh yeah. (Sound similar to decrease in engine noise/frequency begins.)

15:27:14 Skiles: Uh oh.

15:27:15 Sullenberger: We got one rol — both of ’em rolling back.

15:27:18 (Rumbling sound begins and continues until approximately 15:28:08.)

15:27:18.5 Sullenberger: Ignition, start.

Canada geese (Branta candensis maxima) in flight.
Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) in flight.

15:27:32.9 Sullenberger: MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. Uh this is uh Cactus Fifteen-Thirty-Nine [sic] hit birds, we’ve lost thrust (in/on) both engines we’re turning back  towards LaGuardia.

15:27:42 LaGuardia Departure Control: OK uh, you need to return to LaGuardia? Turn left heading of uh Two Two Zero.

15:27:43 (sound similar to electrical noise from engine igniters begins.)

15:28:02 Skiles: Airspeed optimum relight. Three hundred knots. We don’t have that.

15:28:03 Flight Warning Computer: Sound of single chime.

15:28:05 Sullenberger: We don’t.

15:28:05 LGA Departure Control: Cactus Fifteen-Twenty-Nine [sic], if we can get it for you do you want to try to land Runway One Three?

15:28:05 Skiles: If three nineteen. . .

15:28:10.6 Sullenberger: We’re unable. We may end up in the Hudson.

Break Transcript

The cockpit of a U.S. Airways Airbus A320-214, N108UW, the same type airliner as the flown by Sullenberger and Skiles. Photograph © Quinn Savit. Used with permission.
The cockpit of a U.S. Airways Airbus A320-214, N108UW, the same type airliner flown by Sullenberger and Skiles. (Photograph © Quinn Savit. Used with permission.)

15:29:28 Sullenberger: We’re gonna be in the Hudson.

15:29:33 LGA Departure Control: I’m sorry say again Cactus?

15:29:53 LGA Departure Control: Cactus Fifteen-Forty-Nine radar contact is lost you also got Newark Airport off your two o’clock in about seven miles.

15:29:55 Ground Proximity Warning System: PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP. PULL UP.

15:30:01 Skiles: Got flaps out.

15:30:03 Skiles: Two hundred fifty feet in the air.

15:30:04 Ground Proximity Warning System: TOO LOW. TERRAIN.

15:30:06 Ground Proximity Warning System: TOO LOW. GEAR.

15:30:06 Skiles: Hundred and seventy knots.

15:30:09 Skiles: Got no power on either one? Try the other one.

15:30:09 Radio from another flight: Two One Zero uh Forty-Seven-Eighteen. I think he said he’s going in the Hudson.

15:30:15 Ground Proximity Warning System: CAUTION TERRAIN.

15:30:16 Skiles: Hundred and fifty knots.

15:30:17 Skiles: Got flaps two, you want more?

15:30:19 Sullenberger: No let’s stay at two.

15:30:21 Sullenberger: Got any ideas?

15:30:22 LGA Departure Control: Cactus Fifteen-Twenty-Nine [sic] if you can uh. . . you got uh Runway uh Two Nine available at Newark it’ll be two o’clock and seven miles.

15:30:23 Ground Proximity Warning System: CAUTION TERRAIN.

15:30:23 Skiles: Actually not.

15:30:24  Ground Proximity Warning System: TERRAIN TERRAIN. PULL UP. PULL UP. (“Pull Up” repeats until the end of the recording.)

15:30:38 Sullenberger: We’re gonna brace.

End Transcript

Flight track of U.S. Airways Flight 1549. (National Transportation Safety Board)

Though air traffic controllers had made runways available at the three closest airports for an emergency landing, Flight 1549 did not have enough airspeed and altitude to reach any of them. Despite the best efforts of Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles to restart the two damaged engines, there was no alternative but to ditch the airliner into the Hudson River.

The A320 hit the water in a slight nose-up attitude at approximately 130 knots (150 miles per hour, 241 kilometers per hour). The airliner quickly slowed then began drifting with the tide. The force of the impact had twisted the airframe and the cargo door seals began to leak. N106US began to settle into the water.

Cabin attendants opened the doors and activated the emergency slides, which acted as flotation rafts. Passengers quickly evacuated the airliner and many of them stood on the wings to stay out of the frigid water.

U.S. Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson River on the afternoon of 15 January 2009.
U.S. Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson River on the afternoon of 15 January 2009.

Before he left his airplane, Captain Sullenberger twice went through the cabin to make sure than no one was left aboard. He was the last person to leave Flight 1549.

Rescue efforts were immediately under way. Everyone on board was saved, and there were just five serious injuries sustained during the emergency.

This accident is known as “The Miracle on the Hudson” and the crew of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 are regarded as national heroes.

This was the most successful ditching on an airliner since Pan American World Airways Flight 6, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser named Sovereign of the Skies, went down in the Pacific Ocean, 15 October 1956.

U.S. Airways Airbus A320 N106US floating on the Hudson River, 15 January 2009. (Steven Day/AP/NBC News)

U.S. Airways Flight 1549 was flown with an Airbus Industrie A320-214, s/n 1024, registration N106US. It was built at Aéroport de Toulouse – Blagnac, France in 1999. At the time of the accident, N106US had 25,241.08 total flight hours on the airframe in 16,299 cycles.

The A320-200 series is a medium-range, narrow body twin engine airliner, introduced during the mid-1980s. It uses “fly-by-wire” systems and was the first airliner with “side stick controllers.” The airliner is flown by a pilot and co-pilot.

The A320-214 is 37.57 meters (123 feet, 3 inches) long with a wingspan of 34.10 meters (111 feet, 11 inches) and overall height of 11.76 meters (38 feet, 7 inches). Average empty weight of the airplane is 42,600 kilograms (93,917 pounds) and the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 78 tonnes (171,961 pounds).

N106US was powered by two CFM International CFM56-5B4/P high bypass turbofans engines, producing up to 120.102 kilonewtons (27,000 pounds of thrust) each. It is a two-spool axial-flow engine with a single-stage fan, 13 stage (4 low- and 9 high-pressure stages) compressor section and 4-stage (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) turbine section. The engine is 72.0 inches (1.829 meters) in diameter, 102.4 inches (2.601 meters) long and weighs 5,250 pounds (2,381 kilograms).

Rescue operation of Cactus 1549, 15 January 2009. (Wikipedia)

The A320-200 series has a cruising speed of 0.78 Mach (828 kilometers per hour, 515 miles per hour) at 11,000 meters (36,090 feet) and a maximum speed of 0.82 Mach (871 kilometers per hour, 541 miles per hour) at the same altitude. The airliner’s service ceiling is 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) and the maximum range, fully loaded, is 6,100 kilometers (3,790 miles).

The Airbus A320 series is still in production. As of 31 December 2018, 8,605 A320s had been built.

N106US is displayed at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina, in the condition that it was in when removed from the Hudson River.

Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III retired from U.S. Airways 10 March 2010. First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles remained with the airline, although he took an extended leave of absence.

U.S. Airways' Airbus A320-214 N106US on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina. (RadioFan)
U.S. Airways’ Airbus A320-214 N106US on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina. (RadioFan)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 January 1982

Air Florida's Boeing 737-222 N62AF, photographed at JFK, 11 April 1981. © Howard Chaloner. Photograph used with permission.
Air Florida’s Boeing 737-222 N62AF, photographed at JFK, 11 April 1981. © Howard Chaloner. Photograph used with permission.

13 January 1982: At 3:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (20:59 UTC), Air Florida Flight 90, a Boeing 737-222, registration N62AF, s/n 19556, began its takeoff roll at Washington National Airport (DCA). The airliner, with a flight crew of two and three cabin attendants, carried 74 passengers en route Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with an intermediate stop at Tampa.

The departure was delayed 1 hour, 45 minutes when the airport closed due to a snowstorm. When the airport reopened, heavy snow was still falling.

Snow and ice had accumulated on the airliner’s wings and fuselage. The airplane had previously been de-iced but the flight crew elected not to repeat the procedure. Further, they did not activate the engine anti-ice system.

During the takeoff the engines were slow to accelerate and the airplane took much longer than normal to gain flight speed. Though it did become airborne, the 737 reached an altitude of just 352 feet (107 meters) when it stalled and struck the 14th Street Bridge, and then crashed into the Potomac River.

The airliner broke through the ice covering the river and sank. There were only five survivors.

Eagle 1, a Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger II of the U.S. Park Police, hovers over the Potomac River to rescue survivors. (Charles Pereira, U.S. Park Police)
Eagle 1, a Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger II of the U.S. Park Police, hovers over the Potomac River to rescue survivors. (Charles Pereira, U.S. Park Police)

In addition to those who died aboard the 737, four persons on the 14th Street Bridge were killed when the airliner struck their cars.

Many people who witnessed the crash tried to help the survivors by going in to the freezing water to reach them.

The U.S. Park Police responded with a 1979 Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II helicopter, Eagle 1, (N22PP, serial number 45287) flown by Officers Donald W. Usher and Melvin E. Windsor. The pilot, Don Usher, hovered low, sometimes with the skids of the helicopter in the water, while Gene Windsor tried to reach the survivors.

Officer M.E. Windsor stands on the skids of the Bell 206L-1 and holds on to a survivor of Flight 90, 13 January 1982. (UPI)
Officer M.E. Windsor stands on the right skid of the Bell 206L-1 and holds on to a survivor of Flight 90, 13 January 1982. (UPI)

A passenger in the water,  Arland D. Williams, Jr., twice caught lines that had been lowered from the helicopter, but in both cases, he passed them to others in the water:

Arland D. Williams, Jr. 1935–1982 (Image from Nick Falkner, WordPress)
Arland D. Williams, Jr., 1935–1982. (Image from Nick Falkner, WordPress)

“He was about 50 years old, one of half a dozen survivors clinging to twisted wreckage bobbing in the icy Potomac when the first helicopter arrived. To the copter’s two-man Park Police crew he seemed the most alert. Life vests were dropped, then a flotation ball. The man passed them to the others. On two occasions, the crew recalled last night, he handed away a lifeline from the hovering machine that could have dragged him to safety. The helicopter crew who rescued five people, the only persons who survived from the jetliner, lifted a woman to the riverbank, then dragged three more persons across the ice to safety. Then the lifeline saved a woman who was trying to swim away from the sinking wreckage and the helicopter pilot, Donald W. Usher, returned to the scene but the man was gone.”

— “A Hero – Passenger Aids Others, Then Dies.” The Washington Post, January 14, 1982.

“So the man in the water had his own natural powers. He could not make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger, and that is a power of nature too. The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he held it to a standoff. He was the best we can do.”

— Rosenblatt, R., “The Man in the Water,” Time Magazine, January 25, 1982

Probable Cause

          The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flightcrew’s failure to use engine anti-ice during ground operation and takeoff, their decision to takeoff with snow/ice on the airfoil surfaces of the aircraft, and the captain’s failure to reject the takeoff during the early stage when his attention was called to anomalous engine instrument readings. Contributing to the accident were the prolonged ground delay between deicing and the receipt of ATC takeoff clearance during which the airplane was exposed to continual precipitation, the known inherent pitchup characteristics of the B-737 aircraft when the leading edge is contaminated with even small amounts of snow or ice, and the limited experience of the flightcrew in jet transport winter operations.

NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT NTSB-AAR-82-8, 10 August 1982, Section 3.2 at Page 82

The National Transportation Safety Board also wrote, “The Safety Board commends the heroic actions of the helicopter pilot and crewman who participated in the rescue effort.”

Boeing 737-200 three-view illustration with dimensions.

The Boeing 737-200 series is a short-to-medium range narrow body twin-engine civil transport. It had a flight crew of two and could carry a maximum of 136 passengers.

The 737-200 is 100 feet, 2 inches (30.531 meters) long with a wingspan of 93 feet (28.346 meters) and overall height of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters). Its empty weight is 69,700 pounds (31,615 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 115,500 pounds (52,390 kilograms).

The airliner is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9A low-bypass axial-flow turbofan engines, each producing 14,500 pounds of thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level. JT8D-9A was a two-spool engine with a 2-stage fan section, 11-stage compressor (4 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), nine combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The JT8D-9A was 42.5 inches (1.080 meters) in diameter, 123.5 inches (3.137 meters) long, and weighed 3,196 pounds (1,450 kilograms).

Maximum speed of the 737-200 is 0.82 Mach (544 miles per hour/780 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling is 35,000 feet (10,700 meters).

The 737-200 first flew 8 August 1967. 1,095 –200s were built. The last one in service with an American airline, Aloha Airlines, was retired 21 March 2008.

U.S. PArk Police "Eagle 1", a bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, N22PP, hovers over the bank of the Potomac River, 13 January 1982.
U.S. Park Police helicopter “Eagle 1”, a Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, N22PP, hovers over the bank of the Potomac River, 13 January 1982. (Unattributed)

The Bell Helicopter Company Model 206L-1 LongRanger II is a 7-place light helicopter developed from the earlier 5-place Model 206B JetRanger series. It is designed to be flown by a single pilot in the right front seat, and is certified for Visual Flight Rules.

The 206L-1 is 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) long, overall, and the two-bladed main rotor is semi-rigid and under-slung, a common feature of Bell’s main rotor design. It has a diameter of 37 feet (11.278 meters) and turns counter-clockwise (seen from above) at 395 r.p.m. (100% NR). (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rotor blade has a chord of 1 foot, 1.0 inches (0.330 meter) and 11° negative twist. The blade tips are swept.

The two-bladed tail rotor assembly is also semi-rigid and is positioned on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 6.0 inches (1.676 meters).

The LongRanger II is powered by an Allison 250-C28B turboshaft engine. This engine produces 500 shaft horsepower but is de-rated to the limit of the main transmission, 435 horsepower at 104% N1 (52,980 r.pm.). The engine is mounted above the roof of the fuselage, to the rear of the main transmission. Output shafts lead forward to the transmission and aft to the tail rotor 90° gear box. The transmission and rotor mast are mounted angled slightly forward and to the left. This assists in the helicopter’s lift off to a hover, helps to offset its translating tendency, and keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude during cruise flight.

A vertical fin is attached at the aft end of the tail boom. The fin is offset 4° to the right to unload the tail rotor in cruise flight. Fixed horizontal stabilizers with an inverted asymmetric airfoil are attached to the tail boom. In cruise flight, these provide a downward force that keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude. Vertical fins are attached to the outboard ends of the horizontal stabilizers and above the tailboom centerline. The fins are slightly offset to the left and counteract the helicopter’s Dutch roll tendency.

The helicopter has an empty weight of approximately 2,160 pounds (979 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 4,050 pounds (1,836 kilograms).

The LongRanger II has a maximum speed, VNE, of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) up to 3,000 feet (914 meters). Its best rate of climb, VY, is at 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) and best speed in autorotation (minimum rate of descent and maximum distance) is at 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour), resulting in a glide ratio of about 4:1.

The Model 206L LongRanger first flew in 1974 and the 206L-1 LongRanger II variant entered production in 1978. It was replaced several years later by the 206L-3. The LongRanger remains in production as the Model 206L-4.

Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II serial number 45287 was issued an Airworthiness Certificate 17 August 1979. N22PP was transferred to the Department of the Interior, Northwest Region, at Boise, Idaho, in April 1998 and re-registered N613. At Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, 30 October 2000, N613 was substantially damaged when its tail rotor blades failed due to improper manufacturing techniques. (NTSB Report DEN01LA012) The helicopter was repaired and returned to service. Its engine had been upgraded to an Allison 250-C30P. The helicopter’s FAA registration was cancelled 10 October 2014.

Officer Melvin E. ("Gene") Windsor received the U.S. Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Carnegie Hero Medal and the U.S. Department of the Interior Valor Award. (Vanessa Barnes Hillian/The Washington Post)
Officer Melvin E. (“Gene”) Windsor received the U.S. Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Carnegie Hero Medal and the U.S. Department of the Interior Valor Award. (Vanessa Barnes Hillian/The Washington Post)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 January 1942

Heinkel He 280 V-1 DL+AS with engine intake fairings.

13 January 1942:

“. . .The first ejection seats were developed independently during World War II by Heinkel and SAAB. Early models were powered by compressed air and the first aircraft to be fitted with such a system was the Heinkel He 280 prototype jet-engined fighter in 1940. One of the He 280 test pilots, Helmut Schenk, became the first person to escape from a stricken aircraft with an ejection seat on 13 January 1942 after his control surfaces iced up and became inoperable. The fighter, being used in tests of the Argus As 014 impulse jets for Fieseler Fi 103 missile development, had its usual HeS 8A turbojets removed, and was towed aloft from Rechlin, Germany by a pair of Bf 110C tugs in a heavy snow-shower. At 7,875 feet (2,400 m), Schenk found he had no control, jettisoned his towline, and ejected. . . .”

—Wikipedia

Heinkel He 280 V1, DL+AS, the first prototype. The engine intakes and exhausts are faired over. This aircraft was lost 13 January 1942. Helmut Schenk successfully ejected from it. (Unattributed)
A Heinkel He 111 bomber tows the prototype He 280 V1 DL+AS on a snowy runway.
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12 January 1937

Wreck of Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315, Los Pinetos Peak, near newhal, California, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)
Wreck of Western Air Express Flight 7, a Boeing Model 247D, NC13315, at Los Pinetos Peak near Newhall, California, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)

12 January 1937: Western Air Express Flight 7, a Boeing 247D airliner, NC13315, had originated at Salt Lake City, Utah, and after a stop at Las Vegas, Nevada, continued on toward Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. Aboard were a crew of three and ten passengers.

In fog and falling snow, Captain William Walker Lewis and co-pilot Clifford P. Owens crossed over Saugus, California,

“. . . at 5,200 feet [1,585 meters], aircraft was already 300 feet [91 meters] too low. . . Pilot tried to contact Burbank without any success. Due to low visibility caused by fog, pilot did not realize he was flying at an insufficient altitude. In a descent rate of 525 feet per minute [2.667 meters per second], aircraft hit Pinetos Peak.”

— Bureau of Air Commerce report.

According to statements after the accident, Captain Lewis suddenly saw a ridge immediately ahead, and unable to avoid it, cut his engines and raised the nose in an attempt to reduce the impact. The accident occurred at 11:07 a.m., Pacific Time.

Illustration from the Los Angeles Times, Vol. LVI, Wednesday, 13 January 1937, Page 6, Columns 3–6.

The crash was heard by patients at the Olive View Sanitorium and ranchers on the north side of the mountains. Two hours later, passenger Arthur S. Robinson arrived at the hospital and said, “Get help up there for the twelve others. It was a forced landing—they’re all injured but I believe they’re all alive.”

Boeing 247D NC13315, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)
Boeing 247D NC13315, 12 January 1937. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)

One passenger, James A. Braden, president of the Braden-Sutphin Ink Co., of Cleveland, Ohio, was killed immediately. The co-pilot, Owens, and three more of the passengers died of injuries within the next several days.

One of those who died was famed adventurer and film maker Martin Johnson. His wife, Osa Johnson, was also aboard Flight 7 and was seriously injured. Another survivor, Robert T. Anderson, would later own Pea Soup Anderson, a famous restaurant in Buellton, California.

Osa and Martin Johnson. (Osa and Martin Johnson Safari Museum)
Osa and Martin Johnson. (Osa and Martin Johnson Safari Museum)

The Boeing Model 247 is considered to be the first modern airliner because of its all-metal, semi-monocoque construction, cantilevered wing and retractable landing gear. It was 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) faster than its contemporaries, and could climb on one engine with a full load.

The Model 247 was operated by a pilot, co-pilot and a flight attendant and carried up to ten passengers. The airplane was 51 feet, 5 inches (15.672 meters) long, with a wingspan of 74 feet, 1 inch (22.581 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The empty weight was 8,921 pounds (4,046.5 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 16,805 pounds (7,622.6 kilograms).

The Duralamin skin panels were anodized, rather than painted, for corrosion protection. This saved weight, and resulted in the 247’s characteristic gray-green color.

Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315. The nose baggage compartment door is open. (Ed Coates Collection)
Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315. The nose baggage compartment door is open. (Ed Coates Collection)

The airliner was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S1H1-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.03:1. The S1H1-G had a Normal Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., to 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction, when installed on the 247D. The Wasp S1H1-G was 3 feet, 11.80 inches (1.214 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.61 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 930 pounds (422 kilograms).

The Boeing 247 had a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) with a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (303 kilometers per hour. It had a range of 745 miles (1,199 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 25,400 feet (7,742 meters).

75 Model 247s were built. 60 were operated by Boeing Air Transport.

[Note: the windshield was canted forward to prevent instrument panel lighting from reflecting into the cockpit at night. Unfortunately, ground lighting was reflected instead. This was soon changed to a rearward slant and resulted in a slight increase in speed.]

Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315, 1933. (SCVhistory.com)
Western Air Express Boeing 247D NC13315, 1933. (Santa Clarita Valley History in Pictures)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 January 1938

A Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42.
A Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42.

11 January 1938: Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, took off from Pago Pago, American Samoa, enroute Auckland, New Zealand. The airplane had a crew of seven, commanded by Captain Edwin C. Musick, the airline’s senior pilot, and a cargo of mail.

About two hours out, the number four engine began leaking oil. Captain Musick ordered the engine shut down. The flight radioed that they were returning to Pago Pago. They never arrived. Wreckage, a large oil slick, various documents and articles of the crew’s clothing were found by the U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS Avocet (AVP-4), 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) west of the island. It was apparent that the S-42 had exploded in mid-air.

The cause of the explosion is not known with certainty but based on Captain Musick’s handling of a similar problem with one of  Samoan Clipper‘s  engines on an earlier flight, a possible cause can be suggested.

Pan American Airways’ Samoan Clipper. (Hawaii Aviation)

On the earlier flight, the number four engine had begun seriously overheating and Musick ordered the flight engineer to shut it down. Because of the decreased power with only three engines, Captain Musick ordered the crew to begin dumping fuel to decrease the weight of the airplane before landing.

Pan American had tested the fuel dumping characteristics of the Sikorsky S-42 using dye, and had learned that because of the air flow patterns around the wings, the fluid tended to accumulate around the trailing edge of the wings and that it could actually be sucked into the wings themselves.

As fuel was being dumped on the previous flight, fuel vapors were present in the cabin, requiring all electrical systems to be shut off—even though it was night. Liquid gasoline was also dripping into the cockpit from the wing above.

Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734 at Pago Pago, 24 December 1937. (Unattributed)

Samoan Clipper had been very heavy with fuel when it departed for the long transoceanic flight to Auckland. Presuming that Captain Musick once again ordered fuel to be dumped prior to landing back at Pago Pago, and that the vapors collected around the wings, the fuel could have been detonated by the electrical motors which were used to lower the flaps for flight at slower speed, or by coming into contact with the hot exhaust of the engines.

Two independent investigations were carried out by Pan American and by the United States Navy, and both came to this conclusion.

Captain Edwin Charles Musick, Chief Pilot, Pan American Airways. (1894–1938)

There were no survivors of the explosion. Killed along with Captain Musick were Captain Cecil G. Sellers, Second Officer P.S. Brunk, Navigator F.J. MacLean, Flight Engineer J.W. Stickrod, Flight Mechanic J.A. Brooks and Radio Operator T.D. Findley.

The Sikorsky S-42B was a four-engine long-range flying boat built for Pan American Airways by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Technologies at Stratford, Connecticut. It was 68 feet (20.726 meters) long with a wingspan of 118 feet, 2 inches (36.017 meters). The S-42 had an empty weight of 19,764 pounds ( kilograms) and gross weight of 38,000 pounds ( kilograms). It could carry up to 37 passengers.

The S-42B was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S1E-G had a Normal Power rating of 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., to 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms).

The S-42B has a cruise speed 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 188 miles per hour (303 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The service ceiling was 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), and it could maintain 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) with three engines. Its range was 1,930 miles (3,106 kilometers).

Boris Vasilievich Sergievsky. (Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

During flight testing of the S-42, Sikorsky test pilot Boris Vasilievich Sergievsky, with co-pilot Raymond B. Quick, set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for payload and altitude.¹  Later, Captain Musick, with Sergievsky and world-famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, flew the S-42 to set eight Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for speed.²

Ten Sikorsky S-42, S-42A and S-42B flying boats were built for Pan Am. None remain in existence.

Pan American Airways' Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, moored at mechanic's Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, December 1937. The flying boat in the background is a Short S.23 Empire, G-ADUT, named Centaurus. (Turnbull Library)
Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, moored at Mechanic’s Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, December 1937. The flying boat in the background is a Short S.23 Empire, G-ADUT, named Centaurus. (Turnbull Library)

¹ 26 April 1934 FAI Record File Numbers: 11583: Greatest load to 2,000 meters (6,562 feet): 7,533 kilograms (16,652 pounds).  17 May 1934: 11582 and 11978: Altitude with a 5,000 Kilogram (11,023 pounds) Load, 6,220 meters (20,407 feet).

² 1 April 1934 FAI Record File Numbers: 11517: Speed over a closed circuit of 1,000 Kilometers (621.3 statute miles), 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11518:  . . .  with a 500 Kilogram (1,102 pounds) Payload, 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11519:  . . . with a 1,000 Kilogram (2,205 pounds) Payload, 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.);  11520: . . . with a 2,000 kilogram (4,409 pounds) Payload, 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11521: Speed over a closed circuit of 2,000 Kilometers (1,242.7 statute miles), 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h); 11522:  . . . with a 500 Kilogram Payload, 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h.); 11523:  . . . with a 1,000 Kilogram Payload, 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h.); 11524: . . . with a 2,000 Kilogram Payload, 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h.).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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