Tag Archives: Airliner

13 December 1955

DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO is decorated with a flower lei on its arrival at Honolulu International Airport, 13 December 1955. (Zoggavia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO is decorated with a flower lei on its arrival at Honolulu International Airport, 13 December 1955. (Zoggavia)

13 December 1955: The first landing of a commercial jet airliner on United States territory took place when a de Havilland DH.106 Comet 3, G-ANLO, flown by de Havilland’s chief test pilot, John Cunningham, with co-pilot Per Buggé, arrived at Honolulu International Airport, on the Island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.

The Comet 3 was on an around-the-world tour. The 3,212 mile (5,169 kilometer) flight from Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Honolulu (HNL) took 6 hours, 41 minutes. The Comet remained at Hawaii for two days and gave a series of demonstration flights before continuing on its journey. The next leg, to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a distance of 2,771 miles (4,460 kilometers), took 5 hours, 40 minutes.

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO ay the Farnborough Airshow, September 1954. (RuthAS via Wikipedia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO at the Farnborough Airshow, September 1954. (RuthAS via Wikipedia)

The de Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 was a further development of the Comet 2 series. It was 15 feet (4.572 meters) longer with a length of 111 feet, 6 inches (33.985 meters), a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992. The area of the wings and tail surfaces had been increased. It was powered by four Rolls Royce Avon 521 turbojet engines, rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust, each.

The airliner was designed to carry 58–76 passengers on flights ranging to 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers). In addition to the increased length, visual differences from the previous Comets were the circular passenger windows, and wing tanks extending forward from the wings’ leading edges.

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO, left quarter, at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, 1955. (Dphne Seager)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO, left quarter, at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, 1955. (Daphne Seager)

Only two Comet 3s were built and one was used as a static test article. Production continued with the Comet 4, which had even greater improvements. G-ANLO remained a development prototype and was modified several times. It was turned over to the Ministry of Supply and re-registered XP915. The airplane was used in instrument landing tests and later converted to a mockup of the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR1 maritime patrol aircraft. It was taken out of service in 1973.

Group Captain John Cunningham CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, AE, was the highest scoring Royal Air Force night fighter pilot of World War II, credited with shooting down 20 enemy airplanes. He was responsible for the myth that eating carrots would improve night vision.

Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (Daily Mail)
Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force, 1917–2002. (Daily Mail)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 December 1984

NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The "X" is the planned touchdown point. The "rhino" barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)
NASA 833, a remotely-piloted Boeing 720 airliner, pulls up after a practice approach to the impact point on Rogers Dry Lake. The “X” is the planned touchdown point. The “rhino” barriers are at the runway threshold. (NASA)

After four years of planning and preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intentionally crashed a Boeing 720 airliner to test an experimental fuel additive intended to reduce post-crash fires, and to assess passenger survivability. An anti-misting agent was added to standard commercial JP-5 jet fuel to create AMK, or “Anti-Misting Kerosene.” The airliner’s fuel tanks were filled with the AMK mixture, totaling 16,060 gallons (10,794 liters). Instrumented crash test dummies were placed in the passengers seats.

NASA 833, the Boeing 720-027 airliner, FAA registration N833NA, was a remotely-piloted aircraft. NASA test pilot Fitzhugh Lee (“Fitz”) Fulton, Jr., flew NASA 833 from a ground station, the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility. More than 60 flights had been made prior to the actual test.

Fitz Fulton in the CID.
Fitz Fulton in the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility

The test was planned so that the airliner would make a shallow 3.8° approach to a prepared runway on the east side of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. It was to land on its belly in a wings-level attitude, then slide into a group of barriers, called “rhinos,” which would slice open the wing tanks. The fuselage and passenger cabin would remain intact. NASA and the FAA estimated that this would be “survivable” for all occupants.

Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a "Dutch roll." The airliner's nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)
Just before touchdown, the Boeing 720 entered a “Dutch roll.” The airliner’s nose yawed to the left and the left wing dipped, striking the ground sooner than was planned. All four engines are still at full throttle. NASA 833 is to the right of the runway center line. (NASA)

As the Boeing 720 descended on its Final Approach, its nose yawed to the right and the airplane went to the right of the runway center line. It then yawed back to the left and entered an out-of-phase oscillation called a “Dutch roll.” The decision height to initiate a “go-around” was 150 feet (45.7 meters) above the surface of the lake bed. Fitz Fulton thought he had enough time to get NASA 833 back on the center line and committed to the test landing. However, the Dutch roll resulted in the airliner’s left wing impacting the ground with the inboard engine on the left wing (Number Two) just to the right of the center line.

NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)
NASA 833 slews left as it approaches the test apparatus. The Boeing 720 has reached the intended touchdown point but is out of position, still to the right of center line and misaligned. (NASA)

According to the test plan, all four of the airliner’s engines should have been brought to idle, but they remained at full throttle. The left wing’s impact yawed the airliner to the left and, rather than the fuselage passing through the rhino barriers undamaged, the passenger compartment was torn open. Another rhino sliced into the Number Three engine (inboard, right wing), opening its combustion chamber. With the fuel tanks in the wings ruptured, raw fuel was sprayed into the engine’s open combustion chamber which was still at full throttle.

 As the airliner slides through the "rhino" barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)
As the airliner slides through the “rhino” barriers, they rip open the fuel tanks, the Number Three engine and the passenger compartment. The raw fuel immediately ignited. (NASA)

The raw fuel ignited and exploded into a fireball. Flames immediately entered the passenger compartment. As the 720 slid on the runway it continued to rotate left and the right wing broke off though the fuselage remained upright.

NASA 833's right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)
NASA 833’s right wing breaks off, rupturing the fuel tanks. Nearly 8,000 gallons (30,000 liters) of jet fuel pours out into the fireball. (NASA)

As the right wing came off the ruptured fuel tanks emptied most of the raw fuel directly into the fireball.

The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)
The flaming wreckage of NASA 833 slides to a stop on Rogers Dry Lake. Fire fighters needed more than one hour to extinguish the fire. (NASA)

Over an hour was required to extinguish the flames. The test of the flame-reducing fuel additive was a complete failure. Test engineers estimated that 25% of the occupants might have survived the crash, however, it was “highly speculative” that any could have escaped from the burning, smoke-filled passenger compartment.

Fithugh L. "Fitz" Fulton, Jr. (NASA)
Fitzhugh Lee “Fitz” Fulton, Jr., with NASA 905, a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and Enterprise (OV-101). (NASA)

Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., was born at Blakely, Georgia, 6 June 1925, the first of two sons of Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, a livestock salesman, and Manila Fulton. He was educated at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University) and the University of Oklahoma. He was awarded a bachelor of arts degree from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Fulton entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, and was trained as a pilot. He married Miss Erma I. Beck at Tucson, Arizona, 16 December 1945. They would have three children.

Following World War II, participated in Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, July 1946. Lieutenant Fulton flew the Douglas C-54 Skymaster four-engine transport during the Berlin Airlift, making 225 sorties, and then the Douglas B-26 Invader light attack bomber during the Korean War.

Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in teh cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)
Captain Fitz Fulton, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas B-26 Invader, circa 1952. (Air & Space Magazine)

Fulton graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952. He served as project test pilot for the Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber and flew the B-58 to a World Record Altitude of 26,017.93 meters (85,360.66 feet) on 14 September 1962.¹

Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Fitz Fulton in the cockpit of a Convair B-58. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

At Edwards Air Force Base, he flew the B-52 “mother ships” for the X-15 Program. He flew the North American XB-70A Valkyrie faster than Mach 3. When Fulton retired from the Air Force in 1966, he was a lieutenant colonel assigned as Chief of Bomber and Transport Test Operations.

Fitz Fulton continued as a research test pilot for NASA, flying as project pilot for the YF-12A and YF-12C research program. He flew all the early test flights of the NASA/Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and carried the space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. By the time he had retired from NASA, Fulton had flown more than 16,000 hours in 235 aircraft types.

Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., died at Thousand Oaks, California, 4 February 2015, at the age of 89 years..

Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.
Colonel Joseph Frederick Cotton and Lieutenant Colonel Fitzhugh Lee Fulton, Jr., with a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie.

NASA 833 (c/n 18066) was ordered by Braniff Airways, Inc., as N7078, but the sale was not completed. The airplane first flew 5 May 1961 and it was delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration as a test aircraft one week later, 12 May 1961, registered N113. A few years later the identification was changed to N23, then back to N113, and then once again to N23. In 1982, the Boeing 720 was transferred to NASA to be used in the Controlled Impact Demonstration. At this time it was registered as N2697V. A final registration change was made to N833NA.

NASA 833 at Edwards Air Force Base, prior to the Controlled Impact Demonstration. (Paul)

The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements were made to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag, though it retained the span of the 707.

The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff. The JT3D-1 was a dual axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The maximum cruise speed of the Boeing 720 was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). The range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).

Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Boeing 720-027 N113. (FAA)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 14652 and 14656

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 November 1959

Boeing 720-022 c/n 17907, N7201U. (Boeing)
Boeing 720-022 c/n 17907, N7201U, parked on the taxiway at the south shore of Lake Washington. (Boeing)

23 November 1959: The first Boeing 720 airliner, a 720-022, registered as N7201U, made its first flight at Renton, Washington. The 720 was a development of the 707 and no prototype was built. N7201U was used by Boeing for flight testing and was then delivered to United Airlines, 1 October 1960. The airline named the new 720 Jet Mainliner Capt. F. M. Crismore. Over the next two years, United acquired 29 Boeing 720s.

N7201U was sold to Contemporary Entertainment, owned by singer Bobby Sherman and his manager, Ward Sylvester, in January 1973. It was repainted in a gold and black livery and christened The Starship. As a VIP transport, it was used by such rock bands as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper and Elton John. It was last chartered by Peter Frampton.

N7201U was withdrawn from service in 1977 and after being stored for several years, was broken up at Luton Airport near London, England, in 1982.

The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag.

Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.

The Boeing 720 was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 149 passengers. It was 136 feet, 2 inches (41.25 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.90 meters) and overall height of 41 feet, 7 inches (12.65 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 103,145 pounds (46,785 kilograms) and Maximum Takeoff Weight of 220,000 pounds (100,800 kilograms).

The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff. The JT3D-1 was a dual axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The maximum cruise speed was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). Range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).

The last flight of a Boeing 720 was on 9 May 2012, when a 720B aircraft used by Pratt and Whitney Canada as a test aircraft was placed in the National Air Force Museum of Canada at Trenton, Ontario.

United Airlines' Boeing 720-022, N7201U. (Unattributed)
United Airlines’ Boeing 720-022, N7201U. The airliner’s name, “Jet Mainliner Capt. F. M. Crismore,” is visible under the cockpit windows. (Bill Larkins via Wikipedia)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 November 1935

Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper
Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, over Oakland, California, 1936. (Unattributed)
Captain Edwin C.Musick
Captain Edwin Charles Musick

22 November 1935: The Pan American Airways flying boat, China Clipper, a Martin M-130, NC14716, departed Alameda, California (an island in San Francisco Bay) at 3:46 p.m., Friday, and arrived at Honolulu at 10:39 a.m., Saturday, completing the first leg of a five-day trans-Pacific flight to Manila.

The aircraft commander was Captain Edwin Charles Musick, with First Officer Robert Oliver Daniel (“Rod”) Sullivan. The navigator was Frederick Joseph Noonan, who would later accompany Amelia Earhart on her around-the-world flight attempt. There were also a Second Officer and two Flight Engineers. The cargo consisted of 110,000 pieces of U.S. Mail.

Pan Am personnel called the Clipper “Sweet Sixteen,” referring to her Civil Aeronautics Board registration number, NC14716. The airplane and Humphrey Bogart starred in a 1936 First National Pictures movie, “China Clipper.”

Captain Edwin Musick and R.O.D. Sullivan, at the center of the image, next to the China Clipper before leaving San Francisco Bay with the first transpacific airmail, 22 November 1935. The three men at the right of the image are (left to right) Postmaster General James Farley, Assistant Postmaster General Harllee Branch and Pan American Airways’ President Juan Trippe.

NC14716 was the first of three Martin M-130 four-engine flying boats built for Pan American Airways and was used to inaugurate the first commercial transpacific air service from San Francisco to Manila in November, 1935. Built at a cost of $417,000 by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, it was delivered to Pan Am on October 9, 1935. The airplane’s serial number was 558. It was operated by a flight crew of 6–9, depending on the length of the flight, plus cabin staff, and could carry 18 passengers on overnight flights or a maximum 36 passengers.

Martin M-130 China Clipper, NC14716, at Honolulu, Ohau, Hawaiian Islands. (Unattributed)
Martin M-130 China Clipper, NC14716, at Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. (Unattributed)

The Martin M-130 was 90 feet, 10.5 inches (27.699 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 0 inches (39.624 meters). It was 24 feet, 7 inches (7.493 meters) high. Its maximum takeoff weight was 52,252 pounds (23,701 kilograms).

The flying boat was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S2A5-G two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1.  They had a normal power rating 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S2A5-G was 3 feet, 11.88 inches (1.216 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.441 meters) long, and weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour) and a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and the range was 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers).

Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, moored at some distant exotic locale.
Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, moored at some distant exotic locale. (Unattributed)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 November 1995

Boeing lead test pilot for the 777, Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, in the right seat of a Boeing 777-200LR. (Boeing)
Boeing lead test pilot for the 777, Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, in the right seat of a Boeing 777-200LR. (Boeing)

10 November 1995: Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for distance flown by a commercial aircraft when she and a crew of 7 additional pilots flew a Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner, N6066Z, non-stop from Hong Kong (HKG) to London Heathrow (LHR), a distance of 21,601.33 kilometers (13422.44 miles), in 22 hours, 22 minutes.¹ During the flight, Captain Darcy-Henneman also set two speed records. The 777 averaged 981.57 kilometers per hour (609.92 miles per hour) from Los Angeles to New York,² and 910.54 kilometers per hour (565.78 miles per hour) from New York to London.³

Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, Boeing's lead test pilot for the 777, on the flight deck of N6066Z during the World Record flight. (Boeing)
Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, right, Boeing’s lead test pilot for the Model 777, on the flight deck of N6066Z during the World Record flight. (Geoff Thomas/Boeing)

Suzanna Darcy joined Boeing’s engineering department in 1974. She learned to fly with the Boeing Employees Flying Association. Darcy graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Aeronautical Engineering. She then became a ground school instructor for Boeing’s Model 757 and 767 airliners.

In 1985, Boeing assigned Darcy-Hanneman as a production test pilot, the first woman to hold that position with the company. She was also the first woman to earn a captain’s rating on the 747-400, and is also rated on the 737, 757, 767 and 777.  She performed flight testing on the 737-300 and was the project test pilot for the 777-200LR.

“Capt. Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann, the first female test pilot of Boeing, peers from the cockpit of a 777-200LR at Everett’s Boeing Plant in 2005.” (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

In 2008, Captain Darcy-Hanneman became Chief Pilot, Boeing Commercial Airplane Services. She is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and was inducted into the Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2010.

Boeing 777-200LR N6066Z. (Unattributed)
Boeing 777-200LR N6066Z. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12181

² FAI Record File Number 12182

³ FAI Record File Number 12183

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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