Tag Archives: Airliner

30 May 1958

Douglas DC-8-11 N8008D takes of from Long Beach Airport, 10:10 a.m., 30 May 1958.
Douglas DC-8-11 N8008D takes of from Long Beach Airport, 10:10 a.m., 30 May 1958. The heavy dark exhaust smoke is a result of water injection. (Los Angeles Public Library)

30 May 1958: Douglas Aircraft Company Flight Operations Manager and engineering test pilot Arnold G. Heimerdinger, with co-pilot William M. Magruder and systems engineer Paul H. Patten, were scheduled to take off from Long Beach Airport (LGB) on the coast of southern California, at 10:00 a.m., to make the first flight of the new Douglas DC-8 jet airliner, c/n 45252, FAA registration N8008D.

Crowds of spectators, estimated as many as 50,000 people, were surrounding the airport. For this first test flight, the Federal Aviation Administration required a minimum of five miles visibility. Typical Southern California coastal low clouds and fog caused a ten minute delay.

Taking off at 10:10 a.m., N8008D climbed out to the south over the Pacific Ocean. Escorted by a company-owned Douglas DC-7 engineering and photo plane and a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star chase, the DC-8 climbed to 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) and went through a series of pre-planned flight maneuvers and systems checks. Heimerdinger took the airliner north to Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, where the full flight test program would be carried out. The total duration of the first flight was 2 hours, 10 minutes.

In an article written the following year, Heimerdinger said that the DC-8 was easy to fly and never presented any difficulties during the test program.

Douglas DC-8 N8008D accompanied by a Cessna T-37. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Douglas DC-8 N8008D accompanied by a U.S. Air Force Cessna T-37 chase plane during a test flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The Douglas DC-8 Jetliner is a commercial airliner, a contemporary of the Boeing 707 and Convair 880. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 177 passengers. It was powered by four turbojet engines mounted on pylons suspended below the wings. The wings’ leading edges were swept to 30° as were the vertical fin and horizontal tailplane. The airplane is 150 feet, 6 inches (45.872 meters) long with a wingspan of 142 feet, 5 inches (43.409 meters) and overall height of 42 feet, 4 inches (12.903 meters). N8008D was a Series 10 version. It had an empty weight of 119,767 pounds (54,325 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 273,000 pounds (123,831 kilograms).

N8008D was originally powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines, the same engines which powered its Boeing rival. It is a two-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was rated at 11,200 pounds of thrust (49.82 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.05 kilonewtons) with water/methanol injection). The JT3C is 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms). The engines were later upgraded to JT3D-1 turbofan engines which produced 17,000 pounds of thrust.

The DC-8-10 series had a cruising speed of 0.82 Mach (542 miles per hour/872 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its maximum range was 5,092 miles (8,195 kilometers).

On 21 August 1961, a Douglas DC-8-43, N9604Z, c/n 45623, Line Number 130, flown by Chief Test Pilot William Magruder, Paul Patten, Joseph Tomich and Richard Edwards, climbed to 50,090 feet (15,267 meters) near Edwards Air Force Base. Magruder put the DC-8 into a dive, and the airplane reached Mach 1.012 (668 miles per hour/1,075 kilometers per hour) while descending through 41,088 feet (12,524 meters). The airliner maintained this supersonic speed for 16 seconds.

This was the first time that a civil airliner had “broken the Sound Barrier.” An Air Force F-100 Super Sabre and F-104 Starfighter were chase planes for this flight. Reportedly, the F-104 was flown by the legendary test pilot, Colonel Chuck Yeager.

Douglas DC-8-43 N9604Z is accopmanied by a U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, near Edwards Air Force base, California.
Douglas DC-8-43 N9604Z, in Canadian Pacific livery, is accompanied by a U.S. Air Force Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter, 56-0749, near Edwards Air Force Base, California. The dark sky suggests that the airplanes are at a very high altitude. (Unattributed)

N9604Z was powered by four Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.12 Mk 509 two-shaft axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 17,500 pounds of thrust (77.844 kilonewtons) at 9,990 r.p.m. The 509 is 11 feet, 3.9 inches (3.452 meters) long, 3 feet, 6.2 inches (1.072 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,542 pounds (2,060 kilograms).

N9604Z was delivered to Canadian Pacific Airlines, 15 November 1961, registered CF-CPG, and named Empress of Montreal. It later flew under CP Air as Empress of Buenos Aires. It was scrapped at Opa Locka Municipal Airport, north of Miami, Florida, in May 1981.

In 1960, N8008D was converted to the DC-8-51 configuration. With a change to the more powerful JT3D-1 turbofan engines, the airliners maximum takeoff weight was increased to 276,000 pounds (125,191 kilograms).

After the flight test and commercial certification program was completed, on 21 June 1961, Douglas leased N8008D to National Airlines, based at Miami, Florida. One year later, 20 June 1961, it was sold to Trans International Airlines. TIA leased the DC-8 to Lufthansa, 11 May 1965, and to Canadian Pacific, 1 October 1966. It was re-registered CF-CPN and named Empress of Santiago.

Douglas DC-8-51 N8008D, owned by Trans International Airways, was photographed at London Gatwick Airport, 23 July 1966. (RuthAS)
Douglas DC-8-51 N8008D, owned by Trans International Airways, was photographed at London Gatwick Airport, 23 July 1966. (RuthAS)

TIA sold the DC-8 to Delta Airlines, Atlanta, Georgia, 1 October 1967. It reverted to its FAA-assigned registration, N8008D. Delta gave it fleet number 800.

In March 1979, Delta sold N8008D to F.B. Myers and Associates. On 1 April, F.B. Myers leased the it to Aerovias de México, S.A. de C.V. (Aeroméxico). The DC-8 was assigned Mexican registration XA-DOE and named Quintana Roo.

The first Douglas DC-8 was placed in storage at Marana-Pinal Airpark, north of Tucson, Arizona, 7 January 1982. In May 1989, it was sold to Agro Air, a Caribbean regional cargo airline. It remained at Marana and was used as a source of parts. In 2001, c/n 45252 it was scrapped.

Between 1959 and 1972, Douglas produced 556 DC-8s in passenger and freighter configurations.

A.G. Heimerdinger
Arnold George Heimerdinger, Flight Operations Manager, Douglas Aircraft Company. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Arnold George Heimerdinger was born in Manchester Township, Michigan, 7 December 1910. His parents were Charles and Minnie L. Uphaus Heimerdinger. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. Heimerdinger married Miss Mary Aileen Eggert 19 August 1935.

A.G. Heimerdinger was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy, 27 November 1942 and served as a Naval Aviator until he was released from active duty, 14 October 1945.

Heimerdinger worked as an engineering test pilot for the Federal Aviation Administration, and he flew certification tests of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Convair 240 and 340 Metroliner, and the Lockheed L-640 and L-1049 Constellation.

He joined the Douglas Aircraft Company at Santa Monica, California, in 1952 and remained with the company until he retired in 1974. He was the project test pilot for the Douglas DC-6B and the DC-7. Transferring to Douglas’ Long Beach Division, a few miles southeast, he was project test pilot for the DC-8 and DC-9 jet airliners.

Arnold G. “Heimie” Heimerdinger died at Santa Monica, California, 17 July 1975.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 April 1988

N401PW, the first Boeing 747-400 airliner. (Boeing)

29 April 1988: Boeing test pilots James C. Loesch and Kenneth Higgins take the new Boeing 747-400, serial number 23719, registration N401PW, for its first flight from Paine Field, landing at Boeing Field 2 hours 29 minutes later.

The 747-400 was a major development of the 747 series. It had many structural and electronics improvements over the earlier models, which had debuted 18 years earlier. New systems, such as a “glass cockpit”, flight management computers, and new engines allowed it to be flown with a crew of just two pilots, and the position of Flight Engineer became unnecessary.

The most visible features of the –400 are its longer upper deck and the six-foot tall “winglets” at the end of each wing, which improve aerodynamic efficiency be limiting the formation of wing-tip vortices.

On 27 June 1988, this 747-400 set a Maximum Takeoff Weight record for airliners by lifting off at Moses Lake, Washington at 892,450 pounds (405,659 kilograms). (FAI Record File Number 2203) At the time of its first flight, Boeing had already received orders for 100 747-400s. It would become the most popular version, with 694 aircraft built by the time production came to an end 15 March 2007.

Cockpit of a Boeing 747-400 airliner.
Cockpit of a Boeing 747-400 airliner. 

The Boeing 747-400 airliner can carry between 416 and 660 passengers, depending on configuration. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.6 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.4 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.4 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,800 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,890 kilograms).

Northwest Boeing 747-451 N661US
Northwest Boeing 747-451 N661US on approach to Osaka. (Wikipedia Commons)

While the prototype was powered by four Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines, production airplanes could be ordered with PW4062, General Electric CF6 or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, providing thrust ranging from 59,500 to 63,300 pounds.

The –400 has a cruise speed of 0.85 Mach (567 miles per hour, 912 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (614 miles per hour, 988 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,450 kilometers).

Northwest Airlines' Boeing 747-451 N661US on approach to Osaka Kansai International Airport, 11 June 2007. (Photograph courtesy of Dennis Lau)
Northwest Airlines’ Boeing 747-451, N661US, on approach to Osaka Kansai International Airport, 11 June 2007. (Photograph courtesy of Dennis Lau)

After the test program was completed, the prototype 747-400 was outfitted for airline service. It was operated by Northwestern Airlines and is currently in service with Delta Air Lines. It has been re-registered as N661US, and carries the Delta fleet number 6301.

N661US was the aircraft operated as Northwest Airlines Flight 85 on 9 October 2002 when it suffered a rudder hardover while over the North Pacific Ocean. The aircraft went into a sudden 40° left bank when a hydraulic power unit for the lower rudder failed due to a fatigue fracture. This incident is considered to be an excellent example of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) as the flight crew successfully landed the airplane at Anchorage, Alaska.

Boeing 747-451 N661US, Delta Air Lines, landing at Tokyo-Narita International Airport, 25 July 2009. (Photograph courtesy of Kazuchika Naya)
Boeing 747-451 N661US, Delta Air Lines, landing at Tokyo-Narita International Airport, 25 July 2009. (Photograph courtesy of Kazuchika Naya)

After flying its final revenue flight, 9 September 2015, as Flight 836, Honolulu to Atlanta, N661US was stored at Delta Technical Operations and will eventually be displayed at the Delta Flight Museum, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 April 1937

Pan American Airways' Martin M-130, China Clipper, at Macau, 1937.
Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130, China Clipper, at Macau, 1937.

28 April 1937: The first transpacific flight by a commercial passenger airliner is completed when Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130, China Clipper, arrived at Hong Kong. The flight had departed San Francisco Bay, California, on 21 April with 7 revenue passengers and then proceeded across the Pacific Ocean by way of Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, Manila, Macau, and finally Hong Kong. The Reuters news agency briefly reported the event:

AIR LINK AROUND WORLD FORGED.

China Clipper Lands At Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, April 28.

The Pan-American Airways flying boat China Clipper landed at 11:55 this morning from Manila and Macao. This links the Pan-American and Imperial Airways, completing the commercial air link round the world. —Reuter.

The Straits Times, 28 April 1937, Page 1, Column 4.

Pan American Airways' China Clipper, a Martin M-130, NC14716, over San Francisco, California.
Pan American Airways’ China Clipper, a Martin M-130, NC14716, over Oakland, California. (Unattributed)

The China Clipper, 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 was operated by a flight crew of 6 to 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, 1,829.389-cubic-inch displacement (29.978 liters) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S2A5-G engines. These were two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The S2A5-G was rated at 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 87-octane gasoline. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The engine was 3 feet, 11.88 inches (1.216 meters) in diameter and 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.441 meters) long. It 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 its 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)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 March 1955

Pan American World Airways' Boeing 377-10-26 Stratocruiser serial number 15932, N1032V.
Clipper Unites States, Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377-10-26 Stratocruiser serial number 15932, N1032V. (Unattributed)

26 March 1955: At 8:15 a.m., Pan Am Flight 845/26, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, N1032V, named Clipper United States, departed Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA, or “SeaTac”) on a flight to Sydney, Australia, with an intermediate stop at Portland, Oregon and Honolulu, Hawaii. The airliner departed Portland (PDX) at 10:21 a.m., with a crew of 8 and 15 passengers on board.

Captain Herman S. Joslyn was in command, with First Officer Angus Gustavus Hendrick, Jr., Second Officer Michael F. Kerwick, Flight Engineer Donald Read Fowler and Assistant Flight Engineer Stuart Bachman. The cabin crew were Purser Natalie R. Parker, Stewardess Elizabeth M. Thompson, and Steward James D. Peppin.

Clipper United States was cruising at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) when a severe vibration began, lasting 5–8 seconds. The Number 3 engine (inboard, right) was violently torn off of the starboard wing. The damage to the airplane resulted in severe buffeting. The nose pitched down and airspeed increased. Captain Joslyn reduced engine power to limit airspeed. The Stratocruiser quickly lost 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Because of damage to the engines’ electrical system, the flight engineer was not able to increase power on the remaining three engines. The Boeing 377 was too heavy at this early stage in the flight to maintain its altitude.

At 11:12 a.m. (19:12 UTC) the flight crew ditched the Stratocruiser into the north Pacific Ocean, approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of the Oregon coastline. [N. 43° 48′ 15″, W. 125° 12′ 40″] The conditions were ideal for ditching, but the impact was hard. Seats were torn loose, and several occupants were injured. Evacuation began and all three life rafts were inflated. The water temperature was 47 °F. (8.3  °C.).

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 22.15.47
Miss Natalie R. Parker (Medford Mail Tribune)

The Stratocruiser floated for about 20 minutes before sinking. Of the 23 persons on board, four, passengers John Peterson, David Darrow, First Officer Hendrick, and Flight Engineer Fowler, died of injuries and exposure.

The actions of one of Flight 845/26’s crew members was particularly mentioned in the Civil Aeronautics Board accident investigation report:

“The purser, a woman, [Natalie R. Parker¹] although suffering from shock swam and towed the only seriously injured passenger to the nearest raft, some 200 feet [61 meters] distant.”

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-304 File No. 1-0039, 15 November 1955, History of the Flight

A North American Aviation F-86F Sabre flown by Captain W. L. Parks, 142nd Fighter Interceptor Group, Oregon Air National Guard, located the scene of the ditching and observed smoke flares which led to two life rafts tied together. A Lockheed Constellation was also inbound to the scene from the south. After confirming that Air Force rescue aircraft were on the way, Captain Parks returned to Portland, very low on fuel.

The survivors were rescued after two hours by the crew of USS Bayfield (APA-33), a U.S. Navy attack transport.

The U.S. Navy attack transport USS Bayfield (APA-33) during the rescue of the survivors of Pan Am Flight 845/26, 26 March 1955. A civilian tanker stands by to assist. Two of the airliner's life rafts are visible at the right edge of this photograph. One is at the end of the smoke trail crossing the center of the image. The other is a bright object at the right lower corner. (U.S. Navy)
The U.S. Navy attack transport USS Bayfield (APA-33) during the rescue of the survivors of Pan Am Flight 845/26, 26 March 1955. A Standard Oil Co. tanker, SS Idaho Falls, stands by to assist. Two of the airliner’s life rafts are visible at the right edge of this photograph. One is at the end of the smoke trail crossing the center of the image. The other is a bright object at the right lower corner. (U.S. Coast Guard)

During the Civil Aeronautics Board hearings into the accident, Vice Chairman Joseph P. Adams commended the flight’s purser, Miss Parker:

“. . . all of us feel inspired that a fellow citizen, or just a fellow human being, can rise to such an occasion in the manner in which you did. It is most commendable, Miss Parker.”

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-304 File No. 1-0039, 15 November 1955, Footnote 3

Because the engine and propeller were not recovered, the exact nature of the failure could not be determined, but the most likely cause was considered to be a fracture of a propeller blade resulting in a severely unbalanced condition, followed by the violent separation of the engine from the wing. This was the fifth time that a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser had lost an engine following the failure of a hollow-steel Hamilton Standard 2J17 propeller blade.

When the flight engineer attempted to increase the propeller r.p.m. on the three engines simultaneously, an electrical overload occurred which opened the master circuit breaker. This prevented any power increase.

Clipper United States was a Boeing Model 377-10-26, serial number 15932, registered N1032V. It was one of twenty of a specific variant built for Pan American World Airways. The airliner had been delivered to Pan Am on 21 May 1949. At the time of its loss, it had flown a total of 13,655 hours.

A color photograph of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in flight. (Pan Am)
A color photograph of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in flight. (Pan Am)

The Model 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms).

N1032V was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 engines. These were four-row, 28-cylinder, radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The B6 had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters), and Maximum Continuous Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). The Takeoff Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with water/alcohol injection.² The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The Wasp Major B6 was 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter and 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long. It weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms), dry. The propeller assembly weighed 761 pounds (345 kilograms).

Clipper America, a Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)
Clipper America, a Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

¹ Miss Natalie R. Parker was born 2 June 1925, the first child of Carold J. Parker, a potato chip manufacturer, and Ruth A. Parker, of Portland, Oregon. She was a 1944 graduate of Medford High School, and she then attended Reed College at Portland.

Miss Parker enlisted in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, U.S. Public Health Service, in 1945 and trained as a nurse at the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland, graduating 13 June 1948.

She joined Pan American World Airways in 1951.

² During a demonstration of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major engine (military designation, R-4360) a regular production engine was taken from the assembly line and run for 22 continuous hours at 4,400 horsepower, then checked and run for another hour at 4,850 horsepower. It was then run for 100 hours at 3,000 horsepower, and 50 hours at 3,500 horsepower. When the engine was disassembled for inspection, it remained in serviceable condition.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 March 1966

British Overseas Airways Corporation's Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFE. (BOAC)
British Overseas Airways Corporation’s Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, G-APFE. (British Airways)

5 March 1966: British Overseas Airways Corporation Speedbird 911, an around-the-world flight, departed Tokyo-Haneda Airport (HND) at 1:58 p.m., enroute Hong Kong-Kai Tak (HKG), with 113 passengers and 11 crew members. The airliner was a Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, serial number 17706, with British registration G-APFE. It was nearly six years old, having been delivered 29 April 1960, and had 19,523 hours on the airframe.

Shortly before takeoff, the flight crew requested a change from an IFR flight plan to VFR, with a course that would take the airliner near Mount Fujiyama. The 707 climbed to an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,875 meters) as it approached the mountain from the southwest. The weather was very clear. A weather station on Mount Fuji recorded wind speeds of 60–70 knots (111–130 kilometers per hour).

Speedbird 911, Boeing 707 G-APFE, in a flat spin. The tail section and engines are missing, the right wing is broken and the airplane is trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks.
Speedbird 911, Boeing 707 G-APFE, in a flat spin. The tail section and engines are missing, the right wing is broken and the airplane is trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. (JSDF)

Flying upwind toward Fujiyama at 320–370 knots (592–685 kilometers per hour), Speedbird 911 encountered severe Clear Air Turbulence that resulted in a catastrophic structural failure of the airframe. The vertical fin attachment failed and as it fell away, struck the left horizontal stabilizer, breaking it off. Next, the ventral fin and all four engine pylons failed due to extreme side loads. The 707 went in to a flat spin, trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. The entire tail section broke away, the right wing failed, and the nose section came off.

The 707 left a debris field  that was 10 miles (16 kilometers) long. Speedbird 911 crashed in a forest on the lower flanks of Mount Fujiyama at about the 3,500 foot (1,066 meter) level. The forward section crashed about 1,000 feet (300 meters) away from the main wreckage. All 124 persons aboard were killed.

Disintegrating Speedbird 911 trails fuel vapor as it falls toward Mount Fujiyama, 5 March 1966.
Disintegrating Speedbird 911 trails fuel vapor as it falls toward Mount Fujiyama, 5 March 1966. (JSDF)

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The aircraft suddenly encountered abnormally severe turbulence over Gotemba City which imposed a gust load considerably in excess of the design limit.”

The accident was photographed by the Japanese Self Defense Forces from the East Fuji Maneuver Area, located in the foothills of the volcano. A passenger aboard Speedbird 911 had been filming with an 8 mm movie camera. The camera and film were recovered from the wreckage and the film was developed as part of the investigation. The film showed that the aircraft had experienced severe turbulence immediately before the accident.

A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was sent to look for the accident site. When the fighter approached Mount Fujiyama, it also encountered severe turbulence, to the point that the pilot feared the small fighter would break up in flight. After returning to base, the A-4 was grounded for inspection. Its accelerometer indicated that it had experienced acceleration forces ranging from +9 Gs to -4 Gs.

Mount Fujiyama, an active stratovolcano, i steh tallest mountain in Japan, at 12,389 feet (3,776.24 meters). It i sapproximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo on the island of Hinshu.
Mount Fujiyama, an active stratovolcano, is the tallest mountain in Japan, at 12,389 feet (3,776.24 meters). It is approximately 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo on the island of Honshu. (Alpsdake)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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