Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

5 October 1930

Rigid Airship R101, G-FAAW, at mooring mast. (The Airship Heritage Trust)
Rigid Airship R.101, G-FAAW, at its mooring mast, RAF Cardington. (The Airship Heritage Trust)
Flight Lieutenant Herbert Carmichael Irwin, AFC, Royal Air Force (1894 –1930)
Flight Lieutenant Herbert Carmichael Irwin, A.F.C., Royal Air Force.

5 October 1930: Two days after receiving its Certificate of Airworthiness from the Air Ministry, the British rigid airship R.101, registration G-FAAW, was on its maiden voyage from Cardington, Bedfordshire, England, to Karachi, India, with 12 passengers and a crew of 42. The new airship was under the command of Flight Lieutenant Herbert Carmichael (“Bird”) Irwin, A.F.C., Royal Air Force, a highly experienced airship commander.

Among the passengers were Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air, Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Civil Aviation, and several senior Royal Air Force officers who had been involved in the planning and development of the airship.

R.101 was the largest aircraft that had been built up to that time. Not until the Hindenburg was built five years later would there be anything bigger. Its teardrop shape and been developed in wind tunnel testing and actual flights with R33, which had been extensively modified to obtain detailed flight data.

R.101 required a minimum flight crew of fifteen: a first officer, two second officers, two helmsmen and ten engineers.

The airship was 777 feet, 2½ inches (236.893 meters) long and 131 feet, 9 inches (40.157 meters) in diameter. The airship had an overall height of 141 feet, 7 inches (43.155 meters). Built of stainless steel girders which were designed and constructed by Boulton & Paul Ltd., and covered with doped fabric, buoyancy was created by hydrogen gas contained in bags spaced throughout the envelope. The airship had an empty weight of 113 tons (114,813 kilograms), and 169.85 tons (380,464 kilograms) of gross lift capacity.

The maximum gas capacity of the airship was 5,508,800 cubic feet (155,992 cubic meters). The hydrogen weighed 71.2 pounds per 1,000 cubic feet (32.3 kilograms/28.3 cubic meters).

The airship’s fuel capacity was 9,408 gallons (42,770 liters) and it carried 215 gallons (977 liters) of lubricating oil.

R.101 was powered by five steam-cooled, 5,131.79-cubic-inch-displacement (84.095 liters) William Beardmore & Company Ltd. Tornado Mark III inline 8-cylinder heavy-oil compression-ignition (diesel) engines. These were developed from railroad engines. Each engine weighed 4,773 pounds (2,165 kilograms). They could produce 650 horsepower, each, at 935 r.p.m., but because of vibrations resulting from the very long crankshaft, engine speed was reduced to 890 r.pm., which decreased power output to 585 horsepower. Two of the engines, designated Mark IIIR, could be stopped then restarted to run in the opposite direction to slow or reverse the airship.

The engines turned 16 foot (4.877 meter) diameter two-bladed wooden propellers, which gave R101 a maximum speed of 71 miles per hour (114.3 kilometers per hour), with a sustained cruising speed of 63 miles per hour (101.4 kilometers per hour).

A  400 man ground handling crew walks R.101 out of its shed at Cardington, Bedfordshire. This photograph shows the immense size of the airship. (The Airship Heritage Trust)

R.101 departed its base at Cardington, Bedfordshire, on 4 October and soon encountered rain and high winds which continually blew it off course. The course was constantly adjusted to compensate and by 2:00 a.m., 5 October, the airship was in the vicinity of Beauvais Ridge in northern France, “which is an area notorious for turbulent wind conditions.”

At 0207 hours, R.101 went into an 18° dive which lasted approximately 90 seconds before the flight crew was able to recover. It then went into a second 18° degree dive and impacted the ground at 13.8 miles per hour (22.2 kilometers per hour). There was a second impact about 60 feet (18 meters) further on and as the airship lost buoyancy from the ruptured hydrogen bags, it settled to the ground. Escaping hydrogen was ignited and the entire airship was engulfed in flames.

Of the 54 persons on board, only 8 escaped, but 2 of those would soon die from injuries in the hospital at Beauvais.

The stainless steel girder structure of R.101 is all that remains after the fire. (Wikipedia)

This was a national disaster. The dead were honored with a state funeral, and all 48 lay in state at the Palace of Westminster.

The cause of the crash of R.101 is uncertain, but it is apparent that for some reason it rapidly lost buoyancy forward. It was considered to have been very well designed and built, but as it was state-of-the-art, some of the design decisions may have led to the disaster.

The wreckage of R.101 on Beauvais Ridge, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. (The Airship Heritage Trust)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1920

Ensign William Merrill Corry, Jr., United States Navy, March 1913. (F. Brunel/United States Navy Bureau of Personnel)

Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., United States Navy, was assigned as aviation aide to Admiral William Braid Wilson, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). On Saturday, 2 October 1920, Lieutenant Commander Corry, in company with Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Arthur C. Wagner, Reserve Force, United States Navy, flew from Mitchel Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, to Hartford, Connecticut. Their airplane was a two-place, single-engine Curtiss JN-4 biplane. The flight was intended as a cross-country flight for the two pilots to maintain proficiency.

On arrival at Hartford, because there was no airfield in the vicinity, the pair landed on the grounds of the Hartford Golf Club. They stayed over the weekend as guests of Colonel Hamilton R. Horsey, formerly chief-of-staff of the 26th Division, U.S. Army, during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives of World War I, and Lieutenant Colonel James S. Howard.

At about 3:00 p.m., on Sunday, 3 October, Corry and Wagner were ready to return to Mineola. Lieutenant (j.g.) Wagner was flying from the forward cockpit, while Lieutenant Commander Corry was in the rear cockpit.

The Curtiss took off toward the north and at about 50 feet (15 meters) altitude, turned toward the southwest. As the airplane passed over the golf course club house, Corry waved to Colonel Horsey. The airplane approached a large grove of trees, then turned right, back to the north. The engine stopped and the airplane nose-dived into the ground from about 75 feet (23 meters).

The Hartford Courant reported:

Burned wreckage of the Curtiss JN-4 biplane flown by Wagner and Corry, 2–3 October 1920. (The Hartford Courant)

     The machine hit the ground at a sharp angle and immediately turned over endwise, the propeller catching in the ground. Commander Corry was catapulted from his seat, but Wagner, who had strapped himself into his seat, was less fortunate. As the machine turned over it burst into flames, enveloping him in a wash of blazing gasoline from the broken tank.

Corry’s Bravery.

     Commander Corry, picking himself up from the ground, was the first to rush to the aid of his comrade. It was in this way that his coat caught fire with the resulting burns to his hands and face. He was unable to pull Wagner free and it was not until Walter E. Patterson of the Travelers Insurance Company, and Martin Keane, an attache of the club, added their efforts this was successfully accomplished. Club members rushed from the clubhouse with several gallons of olive and sweet oil and were on hand almost as soon as the stricken man was freed from his seat. While the burning clothing was being removed from Wagner’s body, Benjamin Allen, a porter in the club, quickly wrapped his coat around Corry’s head and thus cut off any chance of the flames reaching the officer’s nose or eyes.

     Allen then, with Corry helping, removed the coat and smothered the other smouldering pieces of clothing. Corry’s hands and face were so badly burned that not a trace of skin was left untouched. Several ribs were  also broken.

Wagner Game.

     Wagner was rolled over on the ground by willing hands to extinguish the flames and with the help of the two men who had dragged him from his place beneath the plane, such of his clothing as still remained unburned was stripped from his body to make way for dressings in olive and sweet oil, which by this time were available. He was wrapped in swaths of oil soaked linen and cotton sheeting to allay the agony of his burns. Every scrap of clothing was almost entirely consumed and his shoes were burned to a crisp. Throughout the process, Wagner, fully conscious, was directing the efforts of the willing helpers, despite the fact that his face was beyond recognition, with nose and ears burned from his head.

     He remained game even to the time when he was being tenderly lifted to the ambulance, when he thanked those who had helped telling them that he was sure they had done all they could. . .

. . . In spite of a heroic fight for life, covering nearly eight hours from the time he received his burns, Wagner died soon after 10 o’clock. The tremendous display of pluck and vitality shown by the man through all of his agony was the marvel of all the physicians and nurses in the hospital. . . .

The Hartford Courant, Monday Morning, 4 October 1920, Page 1, Column 8, and Page 2, Column 1.

Four days later, 7 October 1920,¹ Lieutenant Commander Corry also died of his injuries. He was just 31 years old.

For his bravery in attempting to rescue Lieutenant (j.g.) Wagner, Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., United States Navy, was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation reads:

“For heroic service in attempting to rescue a brother officer from a flame -enveloped airplane. On 2 October 1920,² an airplane in which Lt. Comdr. Corry was a passenger crashed and burst into flames. He was thrown 30 feet clear of the plane and, though injured, rushed back to the burning machine and endeavored to release the pilot. In so doing he sustained serious burns, from which he died 4 days later.”

Medal of Honor, United States Navy and Marine Corps, 1919–1942.

William Merrill Corry, Jr., was born 5 October 1889 at Quincy, Florida. He was the second of six children of William Merrill Corry, a tobacco dealer, and Sarah Emily Wiggins Corry.

Midshipman William Merrill Corry, Jr., U.S. Naval Academy, 1910.

“Bill” Corry was admitted to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, as a midshipman, 20 June 1906. He was a classmate of future Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. On 7 July 1910, Midshipman Corry was assigned to the 16,000 ton Connecticut-class battleship USS Kansas (BB-21). He was commissioned an Ensign, United States Navy, 7 March 1912.

Ensign Corry was promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 7 March 1915. He was assigned to the naval aeronautic station (Y-13) at Pensacola, Florida, 7 July 1915. On completion of flight training, Lieutenant (j.g.) Corry was designated Naval Aviator No. 23, 16 March 1916.

26 November 1916, Lieutenant (j.g.) Correy was assigned to the Tennessee-class armored cruiser USS Seattle (ACR-11). In 1917 he was assigned to USS North Carolina (ACR-12).

The United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917. On 22 August 1917, Lieutenant (j.g.) Corry was sent to France for for duty with the U.S. Naval Aviation Forces in Europe. Corry was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, 7 March 1918. He was placed in command of the aviation school at Le Croisic, on the western coast of  France, 7 November 1917. While there he was awarded the Navy Cross, “for distinguished and heroic service as an Airplane Pilot making many daring flights over the enemy’s lines, also for untiring and efficient efforts toward the organization of U.S. Naval Aviation, Foreign Service, and the building up of the Northern Bombing project.” (The Northern Bombing Group targeted bases supporting German submarine operations.) France appointed him a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

Lieutenant Corry took command of the Naval Air Station at Brest, France, 7 June 1918. He was promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Commander, 1 July 1918. He remained at Brest until the Armistice, 11 November 1918. He was involved in the demobilization of U.S. forces in France and Belgium. He also served in various staff assignments.

Lieutenant Commander Corry was ordered to return to the United States as aide for aviation to the Chief-of-Staff Atlantic Fleet. He sailed from Antwerp, Belgium on  2 June 1920, aboard SS Finland, bound for New York.

Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry, Jr., Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, is buried at the Eastern Cemetery, Quincy, Florida.

Following his death, the United States Navy named an auxiliary landing field at Pensacola. Florida, Corry Field, in his honor. A nearby airfield assumed the name in 1928, and is presently called NAS Pensacola Corry Station.

Three United States Navy warships have also been named USS Corry. On 25 May 1921, a Clemson-class “flush-deck” or “four-stack” destroyer, USS Corry (DD-334), was commissioned. It was decommissioned in 1930.

USS Corry (DD-334), early 1920s. (Pier Studio, San Diego)

The Gleaves-class destroyer USS Corry (DD-463) was launched 28 July 1941, christened by Miss Jean Constance Corry, with Miss Sara Corry as Maid of Honor. The new destroyer was commissioned 18 December 1941. Corry is notable for its participation in anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic, sinking U-801 on 17 March 1944. Corry rescued 47 sailors from that submarine, and another 8 from U-1059, which was sunk two days later.

Corry was herself sunk by during an artillery duel with a German coastal battery off Utah Beach, Normandy, 6 June 1944. Of the destroyer’s crew of 276 men, 24 were killed and 60 were wounded. Broken in half, the ship sank in shallow water. The American Flag at her masthead remained visible above the water as the ship settled on the sea bed.

USS Corry (DD-463) prepares to rescue survivors of U-801, 17 March 1944. (U.S. Navy)

The Gearing-class destroyer USS Corry (DD-817) was commissioned 27 February 1946 at Orange, Texas. The ship’s sponsor was Miss Gertrude Corry, niece of Lieutenant Commander Corry. Corry served the U.S. Navy until decommissioned 27 February 1981 after 35 years of service. It was turned over to Greece and renamed HS Kriezis (D-217). The ship was finally retired in 1994, and scrapped in 2002.

USS Corry (DD-817), a Gearing-class destroyer, alongside USS Baltimore (CA-68), Mediterranean Sea, 1952. (QM2 George Panos, United States Navy)

Lieutenant (junior grade) Arthur C. Wagner, Reserve Force, United States Navy,  was born 18 August 1988. He was the son of William Wagner and Elizabeth Genting (?) Wagner.

At the time of his death, Lieutenant Wagner was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Ship Plane Division, Mitchel Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York. He had previously served aboard USS Nevada (BB-36). In 1919 he trained as a pilot at Naval Air Station Pensacola, and was then assigned to USS Shawmut (CM-4), a minelayer which had been reclassified as an airplane tender.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Arthur C. Wagner was buried at the Old Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 October 1920.

¹ While many sources give the date of Corry’s death as 6 October 1920, probate documents filed with the County of Gadsen court on 5 November 1920, and signed by Corry’s mother, Sarah E. Corry, give the date as 7 October 1920. Further, The Hartford Courant, in its Thursday, 7 October 1920 edition, at Page 1, Column 2 and 3, reported: “Lieutenant Commander William M. Corry, in charge of the Curtiss naval airplane which crashed to earth at Hartford Golf Club last Sunday afternoon, died at the Hartford Hospital at 2:30 o’clock this morning of burns. . . .”

² Most sources place the date of the crash as 2 October 1920. Contemporary newspapers, though, e.g., The Hartford Courant, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Chicago Tribune, reported the date as 3 October 1920.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 September 1912

Lieutenant Lewis Cassidy Rockwell, 10th Infantry, United States Army. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

28 September 1912: Second Lieutenant Lewis Cassidy Rockwell was flying a Wright Model B, Signal Corps Aeroplane No. 4, at the United States Army training field at College Park, Maryland, where he was being trained as a military aviator. Corporal Frank S. Scott, U.S. Army Signal Corps, a mechanic on these airplanes, rode as a passenger aboard Lieutenant Rockwell’s airplane.

A contemporary newspaper article describes what happened next:

Washington, Sept 28. – Two more lives were sacrificed to aviation at the United States army aviation field, College Park, Md., today when an army aeroplane fell thirty-five feet to the ground instantly killing Corporal Frank S. Scott and so seriously injuring Second Lieutenant Lewis C. Rockwell that he died a few hours later. Hundreds of people, including fellow army officers, breathlessly witnessed the accident.

“Lieutenant Rockwell had started up with Corporal Scott as a passenger to make a test flight in his trial for a military aviator’s license. They had been in the air about eight minutes, ascending to a height of five hundred feet, then gliding down, had gotten within thirty-five of the ground. At this point the aviator turned the machine upward again and something went wrong. Instantly the aeroplane buckled and crashed to the ground.

Corporal Frank S. Scott, Signal Corps, U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force)

“Scott was hurled several hundred feet from the machine while Rockwell lay a few feet away from him. Brother officers found Scott lifeless. Rockwell, his head buried partly in the earth, still showed signs of life but was unconscious. He was rushed to a hospital. He never regained consciousness. Brother officers who witnessed the accident were at a loss to account for it.”

The Daily Journal and Tribune, Knoxville, Tennessee, 29 September 1912.

According to an article published by the Scott Air Force Base History Office,

“The flight started out in routine fashion of Sept. 28, 1912. Lieutenant Rockwell did a solo. The clumsy aircraft banged and coughed its way into the air, fluttering over College Park at the remarkable speed of 40 miles per hour. Assured that everything was in proper working order, the lieutenant landed and picked up Corporal Scott. The two men took off in the open biplane; and, after reaching an altitude of 150 feet, leveled off and soared for about 10 minutes. Coming in for a landing, the frail craft developed trouble and nosed downward. For tragic seconds, its 30 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine popped at full power, but the biplane continued its long dive, hurtling to earth with a crushing impact.

     “Nothing was left but a heap of splintered wood and torn canvas. Corporal Scott was dead when the running soldiers reached the scene of the crash. Lieutenant Rockwell was rushed to Washington’s Walter Reed hospital, but died on the operating table. More than 300 people witnessed the crash.”

—Air University, NCO and Enlisted Resources, NCO/Enlisted History

Corporal Scott was the first United States enlisted soldier to be killed in an airplane crash. The crash was also the first in which two or more persons were killed.

Both men were buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

When it became customary to name Air Service facilities in honor of military aviation personnel killed during the early experimental days of military aviation, the airfield at Belleville, Illinois, was named Scott Field in honor of Corporal Scott. It is now Scott Air Force Base.

The Air Service training field was later moved from College Park, Maryland, to San Diego, California. The new air field there was named Rockwell Field, after Lt. Lewis Rockwell. It is now NAS North Island.

The Wright Model B, Air Service No. 4, after the crash at College Park, Maryland, 28 September 1912. (U.S. Air Force)

The Wright Model B was a two-place, single-engine biplane. The elevator was at the rear, rather than in canard position as had been the earlier Wright airplanes. (This configuration was known as “headless.”) Roll control was through the Wright Brother’s patented wing-warping system. It was 26 feet (7.925 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet (11.887 meters). It weighed 800 pounds (363 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms).

Lieutenant Lewis C. Rockwell, 10th United States Infantry Regiment, at controls of a Wright Model B at College Park, Maryland, 1912. (U.S. Air Force)

The Model B was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,325 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8½ foot (2.591 meters) diameter, two-bladed, counter-rotating propellers, driven by a chain drive, are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. They turned 445 r.p.m.

The Wright Model B had a maximum speed of approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) and its range was 110 miles (177 kilometers).

Approximately 100 Model B aeroplanes were built by the Wrights and under license by Burgess from 1910 to 1914. Three are known to exist.

A reproduction of a Wright Model B

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 September 1956

Captain Milburn G. Apt, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, with a Bell X-2. (U. S. Air Force)

27 September 1956: Captain Milburn G. (“Mel”) Apt, United States Air Force, was an experimental test pilot assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. After Frank Everest and Iven Kincheloe had made twelve powered flights in the Bell X-2 supersonic research aircraft, Mel Apt was the next test pilot to fly it.

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)
The second of two Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplanes, 46-675, on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. On 12 May 1953 this X-2 exploded during a captive test flight, killing Bell’s test pilot Jean L. “Skip” Ziegler. (NASA)

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

Bell X-2 46-674 after drop from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell X-2 46-674 after drop from Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096. (U.S. Air Force)

With Mel Apt in the cockpit on his first rocketplane flight, the B-50 carried the X-2 to 31,800 feet (9,693 meters). After it was dropped from the bomber, Apt ignited the rocket engine and began to accelerate. He passed Mach 1 at 44,000 feet (13,411 meters) and continued to climb. Apt flew an “extraordinarily precise profile” to reach 72,200 feet (22,007 meters) where he put the X-2 into a dive. The rocket engine burned 12.5 seconds longer than planned, and at 65,589 feet (19,992 meters) the X-2 reached Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour, 3,377 kilometers per hour).

Milburn Apt was the first pilot to exceed Mach 3. He was The Fastest Man Alive.

Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, 1955–56. Note the supersonic diamond-shaped shock waves in the rocket engine's exhaust. (Bell aircraft Corporation)
Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, 1955–56. Note the supersonic diamond-shaped shock waves in the rocket engine’s exhaust. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

It was known that the X-2 could be unstable in high speed maneuvers. The flight plan called for Apt to slow to Mach 2.4 before beginning a gradual turn back toward Rogers Dry Lake where he was to land, but he began the turn while still at Mach 3. Twenty seconds after engine burn out, the X-2 began to oscillate in all axes and departed controlled flight. His last radio transmission was, “There she goes.” ¹

Mel Apt was subjected to acceleration forces of ± 6 Gs. It is believed that he was momentarily unconscious. Out of control, the X-2 fell through 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in an inverted spin. Apt initiated the escape capsule separation, in which the entire nose of the X-2 was released from the airframe. It pitched down violently and Mel Apt was knocked unconscious again. He regained consciousness a second time and tried to parachute from the escape capsule, but was still inside when it hit the desert floor at several hundred miles per hour. Mel Apt was killed instantly.

Since 1950, Milburn G. Apt was the thirteenth test pilot killed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Wreckage of the Bell X-2, 46-674. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of the Bell X-2, 46-674, in the Kramer Hills, east of Edwards Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of the Bell X-2, 46-674. (NASM 9A08208)

Milburn Grant Apt was born at Buffalo, Kansas, 8 April 1924. He was the third child of Oley Glen Apt, a farmer, and Ada Willoughby Apt.

“Mel” Apt enlisted as a private in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve, United States Army, 9 November 1942. On 23 June 1943, Private Apt was appointed an Aviation Cadet. After completing flight training, Cadet Apt was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). He was promoted to First Lieutenant, A.U.S., 4 September 1945. Apt was released from active duty on 11 August 1946. On 10 October 1947, he was reclassified as a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank 8 April 1945.

In February 1950, Lieutenant Apt, then stationed at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, married Miss Faye Lorrie Baker of Phoenix. They would have two children.

Mel Apt earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, in 1951, and a second bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He then attended the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, graduating in September 1954. Apt was assigned to the Fighter Operations Branch, Air Force Flight Test Center, as a test pilot.

On 22 December 1954, Captain Apt was flying a chase plane during a test at Edwards. The test aircraft crash-landed on the dry lake and caught fire with its pilot trapped inside. Mel Apt, with his bare hands, rescued the other test pilot, saving his life. For this courageous act, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

Captain Apt was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flight in the X-2. The medal was presented to his widow in a ceremony at Edwards in March 1957.

Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, was 32 years old at the time of his death. His remains were buried at the Buffalo Cemetery, Buffalo, Kansas.

Captain Iven Carl Kincheloe and Captain Milburn Grant Apt (seated in cockpit) with the Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1956. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

¹ Recommended: Coupling Dynamics in Aircraft: A Historical Perspective, by Richard E. Day, Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, California NASA Special Publications 532, 1997.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 September 1946

Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., OBE. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., O.B.E. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

27 September 1946: Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., O.B.E., Chief Test Pilot of the de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., and the son of the firm’s founder, was killed during a test flight of a prototype DH.108 Swallow, TG306.

Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., in the cockpit of the second DH.108 Swallow prototype, TG/306. (Flight)
Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., in the cockpit of the second DH.108 Swallow prototype, TG306. (FLIGHT)

De Havilland had taken off from the company airfield at Hatfield at 5:26 p.m. for a planned 45 minute flight. Flying over the Thames Estuary, east of London, England, de Havilland put the swept-wing jet into a high-speed dive from 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). As it approached 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) at 0.88 Mach, (658 miles per hour, 1,060 kilometers per hour), the shock waves building up along the wings’ leading edges disrupted the air flow over the wings, causing them to stall. TG306 pitched violently downward. A NASA report called this “. . . an undamped violently divergent longitudinal pitching oscillation at Mach 0.875. . . .”  The extreme aerodynamic loads cracked the main spar and both wings failed. The DH.108 crashed into Egypt Bay, Gravesend, Kent.

The wreck was located the following day. The body of Geoffrey de Havilland was found ten days later. He had suffered a broken neck and fractured skull as a result of his head striking the canopy during the violent oscillations of the aircraft.

(Grace’s Guide)

FLIGHT reported:

Geoffrey de Havilland was one of the outstanding test pilots in the country, and his work has played a vital part in the perfecting of such noteworthy types as the Mosquito, Hornet, Vampire and 108. His death is a serious blow not only to the company but to the country, for in the exploration of the unknown threshold of sonic flight, a combination of skill and cool courage are qualities demanding the utmost of test pilots. Geoffrey de Havilland had these qualities in a very high degree.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No.1971, Vol. 1, Thursday, 3 October 1946, at page 364

De Havilland DH.108 TG/306. (Unattributed)
De Havilland DH.108 TG306. (Unattributed)

The DH.108 was a single-seat, single-engine jet fighter prototype with swept wings and no conventional tail. It was similar in configuration to the Messerschmitt Me-163 rocket-powered interceptor. The first two prototypes, TG283 and TG306, were built using production English Electric DH.106 Vampire F.I fuselages. TG283 had a 43° sweep to the wings’ leading edge, while TG306 had a 45° sweep. The airplane was powered by a de Havilland Goblin 3 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine (a development of the Halford H.1) which produced 3,350 pounds of thrust (14.90 kilonewtons).

The first and third DH.108s also crashed. VW120 was destroyed on 15 February 1950 when it crashed after a dive. The left wing had separated and the pilot, Squadron Leader Stuart Muller-Rowland, also suffered a broken neck as a result of the airplane’s violent oscillations. On 1 May 1950, while conducting low-speed tests, TG283 went into an inverted spin. Squadron Leader George E.C. Genders, AFC, DFM, bailed out but his parachute did not open before he hit the ground and he was killed.

Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., exits the cockpit of one of the company's jet aircraft. (Photograph Courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., OBE, exits the cockpit of a DH.108 Swallow prototype. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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