Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

10–14 July 1938

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (New York Public Library)
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., ca. 1937 (New York Public Library)

10–14 July 1938: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., along with a crew of four, departed Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, on a flight to circle the Northern Hemisphere. His airplane was a Lockheed Super Electra Special, Model 14-N2, registered NX18973. Aboard were Harry P. McLean Connor, co-pilot and navigator; 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Thurlow, United States Army Air Corps, navigator; Richard R. Stoddart, a field engineer for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), radio operator; Edward Lund, flight engineer. Lieutenant Thurlow was the Air Corps’ expert on aerial navigation. Stoddart was an expert in radio engineering. Thurlow, Stoddart and Lund were also rated pilots.

This photograph by aviation photographer Rudy Arnold shows the “nose art” of the Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra, “New York World’s Fair 1939.” Lieutenant Herain Thurlow is “sighting in” the airplane’s navigation instruments prior to the around-the-world flight.(Rudy Arnold Collection, National Air and Space Museum)

Before they took off from Floyd Bennett Field, the Lockheed was christened New York World’s Fair 1939, in keeping with an agreement that Hughes had made with Grover Whalen and the fair’s organizers.

Howard Hughes' Lockheed Model 14-N@ Super Electra, starting its right engine at Floyd Bennett Field, approximately 7:00 p.m., 10 July 1938. (Unattributed)
Howard Hughes’ Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra starting its right engine at Floyd Bennett Field, 10 July 1938. (Unattributed)

Howard Hughes and his crew departed Floyd Bennett Field at 7:19:10 p.m. on 10 July. The route of the flight was from Floyd Bennett Field to Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France, a distance of 3,641 miles (5,860 kilometers), flown in an elapsed time of 16 hours, 38 minutes; Moscow, Russia, USSR, 1,640 miles (2,639 kilometers), 7:51; Omsk, Siberia, 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers), 7:27; Yakutsk, Yakut ASSR, 2,158 miles (3,473 kilometers), 10:31; Fairbanks, Alaska, 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers), 12:17; Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2,441 miles (3,928 kilometers), 12:02; and back to Floyd Bennett Field, 1,054 miles (1,696 kilometers) 4:26.

They arrived at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:34 p.m., 14 July. The distance flown was approximately 14,800 miles (23,818 kilometers) (sources differ). The total duration was 91 hours, 14 minutes, 10 seconds. The actual flight time was 71 hours, 11 minutes, 10 seconds. Average speed for the flight was 206.1 miles per hour (331.7 kilometers per hour).

The flight crew of Horad Hughes around-the-world flight, left to right, Hughes,
The flight crew of Howard Hughes’ around-the-world flight, left to right: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., wearing a fedora and a white shirt; 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Thurlow, U.S. Army Air Corps; Harry P. McLean Connor; Richard R. Stoddart; and Edward Lund. Standing at the far left of the photograph is Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair 1939 Committee, who christened the airplane. (Tamara Thurlow Field via Air & Space Smithsonian)

The international organization for flight records, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, requires that a circumnavigation cross all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, 22,858.729 miles (36,787.559 kilometers). Howard Hughes’ “around the world flight” circled the Northern Hemisphere and was at least 8,058 miles (12,968 kilometers) short of the required distance, so no official record was set. (The same is true of Wiley H. Post’s two earlier “around the world” flights which used a similar route.)

The Robert J. Collier Trophy. (Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum)
The Robert J. Collier Trophy. (NASM)

The National Aeronautic Association awarded the Aero Club Trophy (after 1944, known as the Robert J. Collier Trophy, or simply, The Collier Trophy) to Howard Hughes and his associates, “For their epoch making round the world flight in 91 hours and 14 minutes.” The Collier is an annual award, “. . . for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”

The Lockheed Super Electra 14-N2, serial number 1419, was offered to Hughes by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, at no cost.

Company officials believed that publicity generated by an around-the-world flight would justify the expense. The airplane underwent modification for two months at the Burbank factory. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation provided new engines. Fuel capacity was increased to 1,844 gallons (6,980.3 liters). Three radio systems were installed.

The Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a medium-sized airliner. It was flown by two pilots and could carry up to 12 passengers. Based on aerodynamic studies carried out by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson on the earlier Model 10 Electra, the airplane was configured with an “H-tail”, with vertical fins and rudders placed at the ends of the horizontal stabilizer. This was a characteristic design feature for Lockheed aircraft through the 1950s.

Cutaway drawing of Howard Hughes' Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra, NX18973. (New York Public Library)
Cutaway drawing of Howard Hughes’ Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra, NX18973. (New York Public Library)

The Model 14 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). Hughes’ Model 14-N2 Special differed, but a Model 14-WF-62 airliner version had an empty weight of 10,750 pounds (4,876 kilograms), gross weight of 15,650 pounds (7,098 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms). The airliner had maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters).

NX18973 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone GR-1820-G102 nine-cylinder radial engines with a normal power rating of 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m for take-off.  The engines had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 91-octane gasoline. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction. The GR-1820-102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).

Lockheed Moedl 14-N2 Super Electra NX18973, New York World's Fair 1939, arrives at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island New York, 14 July 1938. (Associated Press)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra NX18973, “New York World’s Fair 1939,” arrives at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York, 2:34 p.m., 14 July 1938. (Associated Press)

Representative performance figures are maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters). NX19783 had an estimated maximum range of 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers).

Following Hughes’ flight, NX18973 was returned to Lockheed. The manufacturer then sold the Super Electra to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was assigned fuselage identification AX688. (A militarized version of the Super Electra was produced as the Hudson light bomber.)

On 10 November 1940, the Super Electra took off from Nairobi, Kenya, on a transcontinental ferry flight to from South Africa to Egypt. There were high winds and it was raining. After climbing to 500 feet (152 meters) AGL, the Lockheed banked to the left. It stalled, entered a spin and crashed. The wreck caught fire. All persons on board were killed.

Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra Special, c/1419, NX18973. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra Special, c/n 1419, NC18973. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra NC18973 at Alameda, California, 1940. (Bill Larkins/Wikipedia)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 July 1965

McDonnell F-4B-23-MC Bu. No. 152276, the 1,000th McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

7 July 1965: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the 1,000th production F-4 Phantom II, an F-4B, to the United States Navy. Phantom II MSN 1034 was an F-4B-23-MC Phantom II, assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 152276.

The fighter was assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VFMA-314), the “Black Knights,” at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. On  the morning of 24 January 1966, Bu. No. 152276 was flown by Captain Doyle Robert Sprick, USMC, with Radar Intercept Officer 2nd Lieutenant Delmar George Booze, USMC, as one of a flight of four F-4s assigned to drop napalm on a target 7 miles (11 kilometers) southwest of Hue-Phu Bai.

At 10:05 a.m., Captain Albert Pitt, USMC, flying F-4B-22-MC Bu. No. 152265, with RIO 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Neal Helber, USMC, radioed that he, in company with Captain Sprick, was off the target and returning to Da Nang.

Neither airplane arrived. A search was started at 11:00 a.m. The two-day search was unsuccessful. It is presumed that the two Phantoms collided. All four aviators were listed as missing, presumed killed in action.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 July 1946

Hughes XF-11 44-70155 at Culver City, California, 7 July 1946. A Lockheed C-69 Constellation is in the background. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)
Hughes XF-11 44-70155 at Culver City, California, 7 July 1946. The prototype Lockheed XC-69 Constellation, 43-10309, now registered NX67900, is in the background. Note the XF-11’s counter-rotating propellers. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)

7 July 1946: At the Hughes Aircraft Company’s private airport in Culver City, California, the first of two prototype XF-11 photographic reconnaissance airplanes took of on its first flight. In the cockpit was Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.

Howard Hughes in teh cocpit of the first prototype XF-11, 44-70155, with all propellers turning, at Culver City, California. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)
Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the first prototype XF-11, 44-70155, with all propellers turning, at Culver City, California. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)

The Hughes XF-11 was designed to be flown by a pilot and a navigator/photographer. Its configuration was similar to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Northrop P-61 Black Widow, as well as the earlier Hughes D-2. The prototype was 65 feet, 5 inches (19.939 meters) long with a wingspan of 101 feet, 4 inches (30.886 meters) and height of 23 feet, 2 inches (7.061 meters). The empty weight was 37,100 pounds (16,828.3 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 58,300 pounds (26,444.4 kilograms).

The XF-11 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-4360-31 (Wasp Major TSB1-GD) four row, 28-cylinder radial engines. This engine had a compression ratio of 7:1. It had a normal power rating of 2,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The R-4360-31 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 9 feet, 6.25 inches (2.902 meters) long and weighed 3,506 pounds (1,590 kilograms). The engines drove a pair of counter-rotating four-bladed propellers through a 0.381:1 gear reduction.

The planned maximum speed was 450 miles per hour (724 kilometers per hour), service ceiling 44,000 feet (13,411 meters) and planned range was 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers).

The first prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70155, taking off from the Hughes Aircraft Company's private airport, Culver City, California. 7 July 1946.(University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)
The first prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70155, taking off from the Hughes Aircraft Company’s private airport, Culver City, California. 7 July 1946. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)

After about an hour of flight, a hydraulic fluid leak caused the rear propeller of the right engine to go into reverse pitch. Rather than shutting the engine down and feathering the propellers to reduce aerodynamic drag, Hughes maintained full power on the right engine but reduced power on the left, attempting to limit adverse yaw to the right side.

Unable to make it back to the Culver City airport, Hughes planned to land at the Los Angeles Country Club. At 7:20 p.m., the airplane crashed into three houses on North Whittier Drive, Beverly Hills, California. The fire destroyed the prototype and one of the houses and heavily damaged the others. Howard Hughes was seriously injured in the crash.

Burning wreckage of Hughes' prototype XF-11 in the yard at 808 N. Whittier Street, Beverly Hills, California. (Unattributed)
Burning wreckage of Hughes’ prototype XF-11 in the yard at 808 N. Whittier Drive, Beverly Hills, California. (Los Angeles Times)

The investigating board criticized Hughes for not following the flight test plan, staying airborne too long, and deviating from a number of standard test flight protocols. The cause of the actual crash was determined to be pilot error.

A second XF-11 was completed and flew in April 1947, again with Hughes in the cockpit. The project was cancelled however, in favor of the Northrop F-15 Reporter and Boeing RB-50 Superfortress, which were reconnaissance aircraft based on existing combat models already in production.

The second prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70156, on a test flight near Anacapa Island, off the coast of Southern California, April 1946. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
The second prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70156, on a test flight near Anacapa Island, off the coast of Southern California, 1947. This airplane does not have counter-rotating propellers. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1912

William Willard, at left, and Harriet Quimby, just prior to takeoff at Squantum, Massachusetts, 1 July 1912. (John F. Gray)

1 July 1912: While flying her new two-place Blériot XI monoplane, at the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts, Harriet Quimby and her passenger, William A. P. Willard, Jr., organizer of the Meet, flew out over the water:

“As the pair returned from circling the Boston Light far out in the bay, the sky had turned a dazzling orange. Five thousand spectators watched as the monoplane approached over the tidal flats, strikingly silhouetted against the blazing sky. Without any warning, the plane’s tail suddenly rose sharply, and Willard was pitched from the plane. The two-passenger Blériot was known for having balance problems, and without Willard in the rear seat, the plane became gravely destabilized.

“For a moment it seemed that Quimby was regaining control of the plane. But then it canted forward sharply again, and this time Quimby herself was thrown out. The crowd watched in horror as the two plunged a thousand feet to their deaths in the harbor. Ironically, the plane righted itself and landed in the shallow water with minimal damage.

“Quimby was 37 years old.”

—excerpt from PBS NOVA article, “America’s First Lady of the Air,” by By Peter Tyson

An unidentified man at the left of this photograph is carrying the body of Harriet Quimby.
An unidentified man at the left of this photograph is carrying the body of Harriet Quimby. (Detail from photograph by Leslie Jones, Boston Herald/Boston Public Library)

The cause of the accident is unknown and there was much speculation at the time. What is known is that neither Quimby nor Willard were wearing restraints. Also, the Blériot XI was known to be longitudinally unstable. With the nose pitched down the tail plane created more lift, which caused the nose to pitch down even further.

Massachusetts Standard Certificate of Death, Harriett Quimby.

Harriet Quimby was born 11 May 1875 at Arcadia, Michigan. She was the fourth child of William F. Quimby, a farmer, and Ursula M. Cook Quimby. The family moved to California in 1887, initially settling in Arroyo Grande, and then San Francisco. There, she worked as an actress, and then a writer for the San Francisco Call newspaper, and Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Quimby also wrote a number of screenplays for early Hollywood movies which were directed by D.W. Griffiths.

Harriet Quimby portrayed a fishermaiden in D.W. Griffith’s “Lines of White on a Sullen Sea,” 1911. (IMDb)

Harriet Quimby was the first American woman to become a licensed pilot. After 33 flight lessons over a four-month period at the Moisant Aviation School at Hempstead, Long Island, New York, on 1 August 1911, Harriet Quimby took her flight test and became the first woman to receive a pilot’s license, Number 37, from the Aero Club of America. She was called as “America’s First Lady of the Air.”

Harriet Quimby, September 1910. (Edmunds Bond/The Boston Globe)

Miss Quimby was well-known throughout the United States and Europe, and she wore a “plum colored” satin flying suit. But she was a serious aviator. Just twelve weeks earlier, on 6 April 1912, Harriet Quimby became only the second pilot to fly across the English Channel when she flew a Blériot XI from Dover to Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, in 1 hour, 9 minutes. Her only instruments were a hand-held compass and a watch.

Harriet Quimby was buried at the Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.

The wreck of Harriet Quimby’s Bleriot XI at Squantum, Massachussetts, 1 July 1912.
The wreck of Harriet Quimby’s Blériot XI at Squantum, Massachussetts, 1 July 1912. Earle Lewis Ovington is standing at center, and Miss Quimby’s mechanician, Monsieur Hardy, is at the right edge of the image.

Miss Quimby’s airplane was a tandem seat variant of the Blériot XI single-seat, single-engine monoplane, designed by Raymond Saulnier and built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot. The basic airplane was 24 feet, 11 inches (7.595 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11 inches (8.509 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10 inches (2.692 meters). The wings had a chord of 6 feet (1.829 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 507 pounds (229.9 kilograms).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by an air-cooled, 3.774 liter (230.273 cubic inches) R.E.P.  two-row, seven-cylinder fan engine (or “semi-radial”) which produced 30 horsepower at 1,500 r.p.m., driving a four-bladed paddle-type propeller. The R.E.P. engine weighed 54 kilograms (119 pounds). This engine was unreliable and was soon replaced by an air-cooled 3.534 liter (215.676 cubic inch) Alessandro Anzani & Co., 60° (some sources state 55°) three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Hélice Intégrale Chauvière two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller, which had a diameter of 6 feet, 8 inches (2.032 meters). The Anzani W-3 was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which produced 25 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. It was 1.130 meters (3 feet 8.49 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.01 inches) high, and 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.35 inches) wide. The engine weighed 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds).

The Blériot XI had a maximum speed of 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was (3,280 feet) 1,000 meters.

Miss Harriet Quimby, 1911, (Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 June 1956

United Airlines' Douglas DC-7 City of San Francisco, sister ship of Mainliner Vancouver.
United Airlines’ Douglas DC-7 City of San Francisco, N6301C, sister ship of Mainliner Vancouver. (UAL)

30 June 1956: At approximately 10:32 a.m., two airliners, United Airlines’ Douglas DC-7 serial number 44288, Mainliner Vancouver, Civil Aeronautics Administration registration N6324C, and Trans World Airlines’ Lockheed L-1049-54-80 Super Constellation serial number 4016, Star of the Seine, N6902C, were over the Grand Canyon at 21,000 feet (6,400 meters).

Both airliners had departed Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 9:00 a.m. TWA Flight 2 was headed for Kansas City Downtown Airport with 64 passengers and 6 crew members. United Flight 718 was enroute to Chicago Midway Airport with 53 passengers and 5 crew members.

The airplanes were over the United States desert southwest, which, at that time, was outside of radar-controlled airspace. They were flying around towering cumulus clouds to comply with regulations that they “remain clear of clouds.”

The airplanes collided at about a 25° angle. The accident report describes the impact:

“First contact involved the center fin leading edge of the Constellation and the left aileron tip of the DC-7. The lower surface of the DC-7 left wing struck the upper aft fuselage of the L-1049 with disintegrating force. The collision ripped open the fuselage of the Constellation from just forward of its tail to near the main cabin door. The empennage of the L-1049 separated almost immediately. The plane pitched down and fell to the ground. Most of the left outer wing of the DC-7 had separated and aileron control was restricted. . . .” 

This illustration depicts the collision. (Milford Joseph Hunter/LIFE Magazine)

The Constellation struck the ground near Temple Butte at an estimated 475 miles per hour (765 kilometers per hour). The DC-7’s left wing was so badly damaged that it went into an uncontrolled left spin and crashed at Chuar Butte. All 128 persons on the two airliners were killed.

This, as well as other accidents, resulted in significant changes in the United States air traffic control system.

A Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, sister ship of Star of the Seine, photographed over the Grand Canyon. (TWA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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