Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

4 November 1941

Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer's serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer’s serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed Martin)
Ralph B. Virden. (Los Angeles Times)
Ralph B. Virden. (Los Angeles Times)

4 November 1941: Lockheed test pilot Ralph B. Virden was conducting high speed dive tests in the first Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, Air Corps serial number 39-689 (Lockheed’s serial number 122-2202).

As the airplane’s speed increased, it approached what is now known as its Critical Mach Number. Air flowing across the wings accelerated to transonic speeds and began to form shock waves. This interrupted lift and caused a portion of the wing to stall. Air no longer flowed smoothly along the airplane and the tail surfaces became ineffective. The YP-38 pitched down into a steeper dive and its speed increased even more.

Designed by famed aeronautical engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the YP-38 had servo tabs on the elevator that were intended to help the pilot maintain or regain control under these conditions. But they increased the elevator’s effectiveness too well. As Virden pulled out of the dive, the YP-38’s tail came off.

The YP-38 crashed into the kitchen of Jack Jensen’s home at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. Fire erupted. Ralph Virden was killed. The airplane’s tail section was located several blocks away.

Another view of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. It's factory serial number, "2202," is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)
Another photograph of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. The factory serial number, “2202,” is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)

39-689 was the first of thirteen YP-38 service test aircraft that had been ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after the XP-38 prototype, 37-457, had crashed on a transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. 39-689 made its first flight 16 September 1940 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls. With hundreds of production P-38s being built, Lockheed continued to use the YP-38 for testing.

Newspaper phototograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)
Newspaper photograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)

The YP-38s were service test prototypes of a single-place, twin engine long range fighter with a unique configuration. There was not a fuselage in the normal sense. The cockpit, nose landing gear, and armament were contained in a central nacelle mounted to the wing. Two engines and their turbochargers, cooling systems and main landing gear were in two parallel booms. The booms end with vertical fins and rudders, with the horizontal stabilizer and elevator between them. The P-38 was 37 feet, 9 inches (11.506 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). The YP-38 had an empty weight 11,171 pounds (5,067 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,500 pounds (6,123 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight 14,348 pounds (6,508 kilograms).

The YP-38 was powered by two counter-rotating, liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.60-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison V-1710-27 right-hand tractor and V-1710-29 left-hand tractor, single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines (Allison Engineering Co. Models F2R and F2L) with a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. In a change from the XP-38, the propellers rotated outboard at the top of their arc. The V-1710-27/-29 engines were 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 3 feet, 0-17/32 inches (0.928 meters) high. The V-1710-27/-29 weighed 1,305 pounds (592 kilograms)

The YP-38 had a maximum speed of 405 miles per hour (651.8 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and it could climb  from the surface to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in six minutes. Normal range 650 miles (1,046 kilometers).

Lockheed built one XP-38, thirteen YP-38s, and more than 10,000 production fighter and reconnaissance airplanes. At the end of World War II, orders for nearly 2,000 more P-38 Lightnings were cancelled.

Boeing president Claire L. Egvtedt and United Air Lines Captain Ralph B. Virden examine a scale model of the Boeing 247D airliner. (Boeing)
Boeing Airplane Company President Clairmont L. Egvtedt and United Air Lines Captain Ralph B. Virden examine a scale model of the Boeing 247D airliner. (Boeing)

Ralph B. Virden was born 11 June 1898, the son of Hiram and Carrie Virden of Audobon Township, Illinois. He was four years younger than his sister, Ruth. He attended Bradley Polytechnic Institute at Peoria, Illinois. At the age of 17, 15 October 1918, Ralph Virden enlisted in the U.S. Army. With the end of World War I less than one month later, he was quickly discharged, 7 December 1918.

During the mid-1920s, Virden flew as a contract mail pilot. He held Airline Transport Pilot Certificate No. 628, and was employed by Gilmore Aviation and Pacific Air Transport. For thirteen years, Virden was a pilot for United Air Lines. He joined Lockheed Aircraft Company as a test pilot in 1939. He had flown more than 15,000 hours.

Virden lived at 4511 Ben Ave., North Hollywood, California, with his wife, Florence, and 19-year-old son, Ralph, Jr., who was also employed at Lockheed.

After Virden’s death, Lockheed, the Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) undertook an extensive test program of the P-38.

The Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
The second Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Langley Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 #2 in the NACA full-scale wind tunnel at Langley, Virginia. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690 (122-2203), in the NACA Langley Research Center’s full-scale wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1927

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)

4 November 1927: Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, United States Army Air Corps, a balloon pilot since 1921, has carried out a series of ascents to study the effects of very high altitude on air crews.

Gray lifted off from Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois, at 2:13 p.m., in a helium-filled balloon with an open wicker gondola suspended below. The balloon, Air Corps serial number S 30-241, was constructed of rubberized silk and coated with aluminum paint. It had a volume of 70,000 cubic feet (1,982.2 cubic meters). In the gondola were instruments for measuring altitude and temperature, as well as two sealed recording barographs provided by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). Captain Gray was dressed in heavy leather clothing for protection against the cold. Three gas cylinders of oxygen were provided for breathing at altitude.

This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne's gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne’s gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)

Early in the ascent, high winds carried him to the south, and though accompanied by four airplanes, their pilots quickly lost sight of Gray’s balloon. It disappeared into a heavy overcast 20 minutes after takeoff and rose to a peak altitude of 42,470 feet (12,944.9 meters) at 4:05 p.m.

Based on Captain Gray’s notes and data from the barographs, it was concluded that his ascent was at a much slower rate than his previous altitude flights. At 3:17 p.m., he wrote “Clock frozen.” Without the clock, Gray was unable to calculate his time aloft and the amount of breathing oxygen remaining. Estimates prior to lift off were that the supply would run out at 4:38 p.m. The balloon had only descended to 39,000 feet (11,887 meters) by 4:28 p.m. The barographs showed an increase in rate of descent at this time, indicating that Captain Gray was venting helium from the balloon to try to descend faster. The descent slowed, however, suggesting that Gray had lost consciousness.

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The balloon and gondola were found near Sparta, Tennessee at 5:20 p.m., with Hawthorne Gray’s body curled in the bottom of the gondola. Captain Gray suffered a loss of oxygen which resulted in his death.

Captain Gray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 November 1950

Mont Blanc, western face. The summit was most recently measured at 4,810.06meters. 18 meters of snow and ice cover the actual rock peak, at 4,792 meters.
Mont Blanc, western face. The summit was most recently measured at 4,810.06 meters (15,781.04 feet). 18 meters (59 feet) of snow and ice cover the actual rock peak, at 4,792 meters.

3 November 1950: Air India Flight 245, a Lockheed L-749A Constellation, VT-CQP, Malabar Princess, was on a flight from Bombay, India, to London, England, with intermediate stops at Cairo, Egypt and Geneva, Switzerland. The aircraft was under the command of Captain Alan R. Saint, with co-pilot Vijay Yeshwant Korgaokar, three navigators and a radio operator.

At 9:43 a.m., Malabar Princess crashed into the Rochers de la Tournette (Tournette Spur) on the west side of Mont Blanc at an approximate elevation of 15,344 feet (4,677 meters). All 48 persons on board were killed.

Air India's Lockheed L-749A Constellation, VT-CQP, Malabar Princess. (ETH Zürich)
Air India’s Lockheed L-749A Constellation, VT-CQP, Malabar Princess. (ETH Zürich)

Air India International was the national airline of India, having been formed from Tata Airlines. On 8 June 1948, Air India’s first scheduled flight departed Bombay for Cairo, Geneva and London. The airliner was Malabar Princess.

On 24 January 1966, Air India Flight 101, a Boeing 707-437, VT-DMN, named Kanchenjunga,¹ crashed at almost the same location on Mount Blanc. All 117 persons on board were killed.

The Lockheed L-749A Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four, with two to four flight attendants. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 97 feet, 4 inches (29.667 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.490 meters) and an overall height of 22 feet, 5 inches (6.833 meters). It had an empty weight of 56,590 pounds (25,669 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 107,000 pounds (48,534 kilograms).

The L-749A was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 749C18BD1 two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They had a Normal Power rating of 2,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and Takeoff Power rating 2,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. (five minute limit). The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss-Electric propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. This engine featured “jet stacks” which converted the piston engines’ exhaust to usable jet thrust, adding about 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour) to the airplane’s speed. The 749C18BD1 was  6 feet, 6.52 inches (1.994 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,915 pounds (1,322 kilograms).

The L-749 had a cruise speed of 345 miles per hour (555 kilometers per hour) and a range of 4,995 miles (8,039 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).

A sister ship of Malabar Princess, this is Air India's Lockheed L-749A Constellation VT-CQS. (Lockheed via R.A. Schofield. Photograph used with permission.)
A sister ship of Malabar Princess, this is Air India’s Lockheed L-749A Constellation VT-CQS. (Lockheed via R.A. Schofield. Photograph used with permission.)

The Air India Flight 245 crash was the basis for a novel, La neige en deuil (“The Snow in Mourning”), written by Henri Troyat (née Lev Aslanovic Tarassov), which in turn inspired the 1956 Edward Dymtryk motion picture, “The Mountain.” The film starred Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner and Anna Kashfi.² Tracy was nominated by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for an award for his performance.

The great American actor Spencer Tracy starred as a mountain guide in Edward Dmytryk's 1956 motion picture, "The Mountain." (Paramount)
The great American actor Spencer Tracy starred as Alpine mountain guide “Zachary Teller” in Edward Dmytryk’s 1956 motion picture, “The Mountain.” (Paramount)

¹ Kanchenjunga is the name of the world’s third highest mountain, an “eight thousander” located 125 kilometers (78 miles) east-southeast of Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Its summit is 8,598 meters (28,209 feet) above Sea Level. It is considered to be a sacred mountain. Climbers are not allowed there.

² Anna Kashfi (née Joan O’Callaghan) was the first Mrs. Marlon Brando.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 November 1926

Chief Pilot Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s modified De Havilland DH-4, Number 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circe 1926. (SDA&SM)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circa 1926. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

3 November 1926: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, chief pilot of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, was flying a night air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois. His airplane was a modified De Havilland DH-4B, U.S. Postal Service Airmail Plane Number 109.

Lindbergh was flying Contract Air Mail Route 2, or “C.A.M. No. 2.” He departed St. Louis at 4:20 p.m. and made his first stop at Springfield, Illinois, at 5:15 p.m. He then continued on the second stage, Springfield to Peoria, Illinois.

Visibility was poor, about a half-mile (800 meters) in fog. Lindbergh flew at 600 feet (183 meters) but was unable to see the ground. Near the air field at Peoria, he could see lights from 200 feet (61 meters) altitude, but was unable to land.

After circling for 30 minutes, he continued toward Chicago. Lindbergh occasionally saw lights on the ground through the fog, but with his fuel running low, he decided that he was going to have to abandon his airplane. He headed out over more open country and climbed to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters).

Robertson Aircraft Corporation Dh-4 No. 109. The airplane's fuselage is painted "Tuscan Red" and the wings and tail surafces are silver. The lettering on the side is white. (Minnesota Historical Society)
Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio/Minnesota Historical Society)

At 8:10 p.m., the de Havilland’s fuel supply was exhausted and the engine stopped. Lindbergh switched off the battery and magnetos, then stepped over the side. He immediately pulled the ripcord of his parachute and safely descended to the ground.

Airmail Plane Number 109 crashed on the farm of Charles and Lillie Thompson, near Covell, a small town southwest of Bloomington, Illinois. Lindbergh had been unable to find the wreck in the darkness, but in daylight, it was clearly visible just 500 feet (152 meters) from the Thompson’s house.

This was the fourth time that Charles Lindbergh has used a parachute to escape from an airplane. The last time was just six weeks earlier.

Charles A. Lindbergh (fourth from left) with the wreckage of Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 112, 16 September 1926. (Yale University Library)

He resigned from Robertson Aircraft and formed a group to finance and build the Spirit of St. Louis. Charles Augustus Lindbergh flew his new airplane across the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop, solo, 20–21 May 1927.

Robertson Aircraft Corporation's four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112.
Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112. The airplanes’ fuselages are painted “Tuscan Red” and their wings and tail surfaces are silver. The lettering on their sides is white. No. 112 is the last airplane in this group. “Lucky Lindy” bailed out of it on the night of 16 September 1926.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. The DH.4 (DH-4 in American service) was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The fuselage and wings were constructed of wood and covered with doped fabric. The airplane was produced by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

The DH-4 was 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) and height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,391 pounds, (1,085 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,297 pounds (1,949 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 67 gallons (254 liters).

Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by Liberty 12 aircraft engines in place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built DH.4 version. The L-12 was water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The Liberty 12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and the Packard Motor Car Company. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4 had a maximum speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Many DH-4s were rebuilt as DH-4Bs. These can be identified by the relocated pilot’s cockpit, which was moved aft, closer to the observer’s position. The an enlarged fuel tank was place ahead of the pilot’s cockpit. Following World War II, many were rebuilt with tubular metal frames for the fuselage, replacing the original wooden structure. These aircraft were redesignated DH-4M.

The prototype American DH-4, Dayton-Wright-built airplane, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Aviation and Space Museum.

Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation's de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 November 1953

Air Force officers examine the wreck of teh prototype Convair YF-102, 52-994, near Edwards AFB, 2 November 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Air Force officers examine the wreck of the prototype Convair YF-102, 52-7994, near Edwards AFB, 2 November 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

On 2 November 1953, the Convair YF-102 prototype, 52-7994 was severely damaged when its Pratt & Whitney J57-P-11 engine flamed out during a test flight. The cause was traced to the engine’s Bendix fuel control. Dick Johnson was unable to restart the engine and was forced to make a gear-up landing in the desert, not far from Edwards Air Force Base. Johnson was seriously injured. The prototype was written off.

Wreck of Convair YF-102 52-7994 near Edwards Air Force Base, 2 November 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Wreck of Convair YF-102 52-7994 near Edwards Air Force Base, 2 November 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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