Tag Archives: Altitude Record

7 June 1919

“Portrait of famous French aviatrix Baroness de la Roche on July 1, 1919, taken after she broke the world’s record for altitude reached by a woman. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis)” —YAHOO!

7 June 1919: Numerous sources report that the Baroness de la Roche (née Élisa Léontine Deroche) set a “world record” for women with a Caudron G.3 biplane, sometime during June 1919.

There is considerable variation among these sources, though, with dates variously given as 7 June, 12 June, 17 June, or most often, simply June. And the altitude which she is credited is also confused, varying from 3,900 meters, 4,260 meters, 4,500 meters, 4,785 meters, 4,800 meters, and even 5,150 meters.

The actual facts are uncertain. Mme. Deroche’s flight was not certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Mme. Deroche with a Deutsche Schaferhund.

A contemporary source of aviation news reported:

A Women’s Height Record

     Flying a small Caudron G.3 biplane, Baroness de la Roche, during a flight which lasted  1 hr. 49 mins., went up to an altitude of 3,900 metres (12,870 ft.), which is claimed, in Paris, as a woman’s record.

     Miss Ruth Law has cabled from New York claiming that in September 1917, she went up to 4,240 metres.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 546, Vol. XI, No. 24, 12 June 1919, Page 780, Column 2

Women’s Height Record

     In view of the fact that Miss Ruth Law had claimed to have bettered the performance of Baroness de la Roche the other day, when she flew to a height of 3,900 metres (12,870 ft.), a new attempt was made on June 12. Starting from Issy on a Caudron biplane, Baroness de la Roche climbed steadily until she reached a height of 4,800 metres (15,840 ft.) Coming down she lost her way in a mist, but eventually landed safely at Gastins, 8 kiloms. from Nangis, after a flight of 2 hrs. 7 mins.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Columns 1 and 2

For comparison,

Pushing up World’s Height Record

     Not satisfied with his height record of last week Lieut. Casole [sic] on June 14 took his Nieuport up to 10,100 metres (33,330 feet) during a flight from Villacoublay which lasted 1 hr. 55 mins. As in his previous flights, he used a Nieuport, fitted with a 300 h.p. Hispano-Suiza motor. His previous highest was 9,500 metres (31,350 ft.) and not 51,350 ft., as a printer’s error made it appear in our last issue.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Columns 1

While Jean Casale’s ¹ record of 9,520 meters (31,234 feet), set 14 June 1919,² is recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the FAI did not recognize records set by women until 28 June 1929. Neither Mme. Deroche or Miss Law have any records listed in the FAI’s online data base.

Société des Avions Caudron G.3. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

The Caudron G.3 is the same type airplane flown by Adrienne Bolland when she crossed the Andes Mountains of South America nearly two years later.

The Caudron G.3 was a World War I reconnaissance airplane and flight trainer manufactured by Société des Avions Caudron. It is called a sesquiplane because the lower wing is significantly shorter than the upper. The G.3 was a single-engine aircraft that was built in single- and two-place variants. The engine and cockpit are contained in a very short fuselage, supporting the wings and landing gear. Tail control surfaces are mounted on an open framework tail boom.

Caudron G.3 swsquiplane. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

The Caudron G.3 was 6.90 meters (22 feet, 7 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 13.26 meters (43 feet, 6 inches). The height of the aircraft was 2.60 meters (8 feet, 5 inches). The airplane had an empty weight of 420 kilograms (926 pounds) and maximum weight of 736 kilograms (1,623 pounds).

The G.3 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 10.910 liter (665.791 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5:1. It was rated at 70 cheval vapeur (1 ch = 0.99 horsepower) at 1,100 r.p.m., and 80 cheval vapeur  at 1,200 r.p.m., but able to produce a maximum 92 cheval vapeur (90.77 horsepower) at 1,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The 9C was 0.810 meters (2 feet, 7.9 inches) long, 0.930 meters (3 feet, 6.1 inches) in diameter and weighed 119 kilograms (262 pounds).

The Caudron G.3 had a maximum speed of 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour) and service ceiling of 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). Its range was 330 kilometers (205 miles).

By the end of World War I, Caudron had built 2,402 G.3s.

Élisa Léontine Deroche

Élisa Léontine Deroche was born 22 August 1882 at nº 61, Rue de la Verrerie, in the 4e arrondissement, Paris, France. She was the daughter of Charles François Deroche, a plumber, and Christine Calydon Gaillard Deroche. In her early life she had hoped to be a singer, dancer and actress. Mlle. Deroche used the stage name, “Raymonde de Laroche.”

Mlle. Deroche married M. Louis Léopold Thadome in Paris, 4 August 1900. They divorced 28 June 1909.

She had a romantic relationship with sculptor Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, who was also one of the earliest aviators, and it was he who inspired her to become a pilot herself. They had a son, André, born in 1909. Delagrange was killed in an airplane accident in 1910. They never married.

After four months of training under M. Chateu, an instructor for Voison, at Chalons, she made her first solo flight on Friday, 22 October 1909. On 8 March 1910, Élisa Léontine Deroche was the first woman to become a licensed pilot when she was issued Pilot License #36 by the Aéro-Club de France.

Pilot Certificate number 36 of the Aéro-Club de France was issued to Mme de Laroche. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

In a 30 October 1909 article about her solo flight, Flight & The Aircraft Engineer referred to Mme. Deroche as “Baroness de la Roche.” This erroneous title of nobility stayed with her in the public consciousness. Deroche participated in various air meets, and on 25 November 1913, made a non-stop, long-distance flight of four hours duration, for which she was awarded the Coupe Femina by the French magazine, Femina.

On 20 February 1915, Mme. Deroche married Jacques Vial at Meudon, Hauts de Seine, Île-de-France, France.

During World War I she was not allowed to fly so she served as a military driver.

Mme. Deroche was at Le Crotoy in northern France, co-piloting an experimental airplane, a civil variant of the Caudron G.3. The aircraft suddenly  pitched down and crashed, killing Deroche and the pilot, M. Barrault. Mme. Deroche was 36 years old. Élisa Léontine Deroche was buried at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France.

¹ Sous Lieutenant Jean Pie Hyacinthe Paul Jerome Casale, Marquis de Montferato

² FAI Record File Number 15455

© Bryan R. Swopes

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1 May 1965

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, flies test mission near Edwards Air Force Base, Califrnia. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, flies test mission near Edwards Air Force Base, Califrnia. (U.S. Air Force)

1 May 1965: Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 established five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed: 3,351.507 kilometers per hour (2,070.102 m.p.h.) over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course; 2,644.22 kilometers per hour (1,643.04 miles per hour) over a 500 Kilometer Closed Circuit; and 2,718.01 kilometers per hour (1,688.89 miles per hour) over a 1,000 Kilometer Closed Circuit. On the same day, 6936 set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 24,463 meters (80,259 feet).

The World Record-setting flight crews, from left to right, Captain James P. Cooney, Major Walter F. Daniel, Colonel Robert L. Stephens, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre and Major Neil T. Warner. (U.S. Air Force)
The World Record-setting flight crews, from left to right, Captain James P. Cooney, Major Walter F. Daniel, Colonel Robert L. Stephens, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre and Major Neil T. Warner. (U.S. Air Force)

The YF-12A interceptor prototype was flown by pilots Major Walter F. Daniel and Colonel Robert L. Stephens, with fire control officers Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre, Major Neil T. Warner and Captain James P. Cooney. Colonel Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Andre were awarded the Thompson Trophy for the “J” Division, 1965. Their trophy is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 during speed record trials. The white cross on the aircraft's belly was to assist timers and observers. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 taking off from Edwards Air Force Base during the speed record trials, 1 May 1965. The white cross on the aircraft’s belly was to assist timers and observers. (U.S. Air Force)

FAI Record File Num #3972 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 1 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 718.01 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A (06936)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #3973 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 2 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 718.01 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A (06936)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8534 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 24 463 m
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant R.L. Stephens (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8855 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 500 km without payload
Performance: 2 644.22 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8926 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 2 718.006 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #9059 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 3 331.507 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant R.L. Stephens (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

World Speed Record holders and Thompson Trophy winners, Colonel Robert F. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre. (U.S. Air force)
World Speed Record holders and Thompson Trophy winners, Colonel Robert L. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre. (U.S. Air Force)

60-6936 was one of three Mach 3 YF-12A interceptors designed and built by Kelly Johnson’s “Skunk Works”. It was developed from the CIA’s Top Secret A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance airplane. The YF-12A was briefly known as the A-11, which was a cover story to hide the existence of the A-12. Only three were built. The Air Force ordered 93 F-12B interceptors into production as a replacement for the Convair F-106A Delta Dart, but for three straight years Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds that had been appropriated. In 1968, the F-12B project was cancelled.

On 24 June 1971, 60-6936 suffered an in-flight fire while on approach to Edwards Air Force Base. The crew successfully ejected and the airplane crashed a few miles to the north of EDW. It was totally destroyed.

The only surviving example of a YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The 1965 Thompson Trophy on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
The 1965 Thompson Trophy on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1934

Renato Donati prepares for high altitude flight, 11 April 1934. (Caproni)
Renato Donati prepares for high altitude flight, 11 April 1934. (Caproni)

11 April 1934: Commander Renato Donati of Italy’s Regia Aeronautica flew a modified Caproni Ca.114 two-place biplane from Montecielo Airport, outside Rome, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record altitude of 14,433 meters (47,352 feet).¹

At such high altitudes, airman must not only be provided with oxygen, but it must be under positive pressure. In this photograph, Commander Donati is being prepared for the flight with a special pressurized suit made of “gutta percha” (a type of rubberized fabric).

Renato Donati in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.113 A.Q., 11 April 1934. (Caproni)
Renato Donati in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.114, 11 April 1934. (Caproni)

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:

     ROME, April 11.—Renato Donati, 40 year old Italian war ace, hung up a world’s altitude record today when he spiraled his specially constructed Caproni airplane nine miles up into the skies of Rome, to the very limit of the earth’s air envelope.

     Seventy-five minutes after he took off from the Monticello airport on his Icarian adventure Donati dropped back onto the field. He collapsed from the nervous and physical shock of sucah a swift change of atmospheric conditions, for his instruments registered a height of 14,500 meters [47,560 feet] and temperature of 66 degrees below zero, Centigrade [67.3 degrees below zero Fahrenheit]. With medical aid Donato quickly recovered. . .

Chicago Daily Tribune, Volume XCIII.—No. 88, Thursday 12 April 1934, Page 11, column 1. Article written by David Darrah, Chicago Tribune Press Service.

Renato Donati after his world record-setting flight, 11 April 1934.

The Società Italiana Caproni, Milano Ca.114 (also identified as the Caproni Ca. 113 Alta Quota) was developed from the Ca.113 trainer.  It was powered by a British-built Bristol Pegasus, the same type used by the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition to fly over Mount Everest the previous week. It was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) nine-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It drove a four-blade ground-adjustable metal propeller.

The production Ca.113 was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear, built in Italy and at Caproni’s subsidiary in Bulgaria. The airplane was designed to be aerobatic. It first flew in 1931. It was constructed of steel tubing and wood, covered wit aluminum sheet and doped fabric. The Ca.113 was  24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 5 inches (10.490 meters) and height of 9 feet, 2 inches (2.794 meters). The lower wing was staggered behind the upper. It had an empty weight of 1,797 pounds (815 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,348 pounds (1,065 kilograms).

The Ca.113 was powered by a license-built Alfa Romeo engine developed from the Bristol Pegasus.

The Ca.113 had a maximum speed of 143 miles per hour ( kilometers per hour), and was capable of climbing to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) in 15 minutes.

The following year, Commander Donati’s Ca.114 (Ca.113 R, equipped with a Alfa Romeo Pegasus S.2 engine) was flown by aviatrix Contessa Carina Negrone, to a women’s record altitude of 12,043 meters (39,511 feet).²

Caproni Ca.113 A.Q.
Caproni Ca.114.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8170

² FAI Record File Number 12166

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1931

Amelia Earhart with Pitcairn Autogiro Co. PCA-2 #4, X760W, at Pitcairn Field, Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931. (Purdue University)
Amelia Earhart with Pitcairn Autogiro Co. PCA-2 #4, NX760W, at Pitcairn Field, Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931. (Purdue University)

8 April 1931: Amelia Earhart, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, reached an altitude of 18,415 feet (5,613 meters) ¹ over Warrington, Pennsylvania. The duration of the flight, her second of the day, was 1 hour, 49 minutes. She landed at 6:04 p.m.

A sealed barograph was carried aboard to record the altitude for an official record. Following the flight, the barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification.

08 Apr 1931, Pennsylvania, USA --- Original caption: Miss Amelia Earhart in two altitude tests with an autogiro plane, at the Pitcairn Airfield, Willow Grove, Pa., soars to height of 18,500 feet in the first, and surpasses that mark by 500 feet in the second. If her barographs correspond with those marks, she in all probability will have established a world record for men as well as women. She is the only woman who ever piloted one of the "windmill" types of craft. Photo shows Amelia Earhart handing Major Luke Christopher, her barograph after her first flight. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Amelia Earhart, in the cockpit of a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, handing a barograph to Major Luke Christopher, National Aeronautic Association. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

An autogyro is a rotary wing aircraft that derives lift from a turning rotor system which is driven by air flow (autorotation). Unlike a helicopter, thrust is provided by an engine-driven propeller. The engine does not drive the rotor.

The Pitcairn Autogyro Company’s PCA-2 was the first autogyro certified in the United States. Operated by a single pilot, it could carry two passengers. The fuselage was constructed of welded steel tubing, covered with doped fabric and aluminum sheet.

Amelia Earhart with the Pitcairn PCA-2 aurtogyro, NX760W.
Amelia Earhart with a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro.

The PCA-2 was 23 feet, 1 inch (7.036 meters) long, excluding the rotor. The low-mounted wing had a span of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters), and the horizontal stabilizer and elevators had a span of 11 feet, 0 inches. (3.353 meters). The overall height of the autogyro was 13 feet, 7 inches (4.140 meters). The PCA-2 had an empty weight of 2,233 pounds (1,013 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

The four-bladed rotor was semi-articulated with horizontal and vertical hinges to allow for blade flapping and the lead-lag effects of Coriolis force. Unlike the main rotor of a helicopter, there was no cyclic- or collective-pitch motion. The rotor system was mounted at the top of a pylon and rotated counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The rotor had a diameter of 45 feet, 0 inches (13.716 meters). The blades were approximately 22 feet (6.7 meters) long, with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 10 inches (0.559 meters). Each blade was constructed with a tubular steel spar with mahogany/birch plywood ribs, a formed plywood leading edge and a stainless steel sheet trailing edge. They were covered with a layer of very thin plywood. A steel cable joined the blades to limit their lead-lag travel.

The aircraft was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright R-975E Whirlwind 330 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The R-975E produced a maximum 330 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 73-octane gasoline. The engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch propeller through direct drive. The engine weighed 635 pounds (288 kilograms).

The PCA-2 had two fuel tanks with a total capacity of 52 gallons (197 liters). It also had a 6½ gallon (24.6 liter) oil tank to supply the radial engine.

The PCA-2 had a maximum speed of 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). It had a service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a range of 290 miles (467 kilometers).

Pitcairn Autogyro Co. PCA-2 NX760W at East Boston Airport, October 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
Pitcairn Autogyro Co. PCA-2 NX760W at East Boston Airport, October 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

¹ Most sources state that Earhart set a “world altitude record” on this flight. The National Aeronautic Association, which certifies aviation records in the United States, has no such record in its files. Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) records show that Earhart set three world speed records in 1930, and a world distance record in 1932. She is not credited with an altitude record, or any flight record in an autogyro.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 April 1933

Lord Clydesdale, flying Westland WP-3 G-ACAZ, approaching the summit of Mt. Everest, 3 April 1933. (The Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition via National Geographic)

3 April 1933: Squadron Leader Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale ¹ (Lord Clydesdale)—at the time, the youngest squadron leader in the Royal Air Force and in command of 602 Squadron—as Chief Pilot of the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition, flew a modified Westland PV-3 biplane, G-ACAZ, in formation with Westland PV-6, G-ACBR, over the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, elevation 29,029 feet (8,848 meters). The PV-6 was piloted by Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, also of 602 Squadron. The two airplanes took off from Purnia, in the northeast of India, at 8:25 a.m., and returned three hours later.

Aboard Lord Clydesdale’s airplane was observer Lieutenant Colonel Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker OBE (“Blacker of the Guides”), and on McIntyre’s was Sidney R. G. Bonnett, a cinematographer for Gaumont British News. During the ascent to Everest, Bonnett damaged his oxygen hose and lost consciousness due to hypoxia.

Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale, photographed 12 November 1929 by Bossano Ltd. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Bristol Pegasus S.3 was considered to be the only aircraft engine in the world that would be capable of powering an airplane with the necessary personnel and equipment high enough to fly over Everest. It was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) nine-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It had a Takeoff Power rating of 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with a three minute limit. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller manufactured by The Airscrew Company Ltd., through either a 0.5:1 or 0.655:1 gear reduction.

After deciding on the engine, the Expedition had to select an airplane. The Westland PV-3 was chosen because it had the highest rate of climb of any airplane ever tested by the Royal Air Force.

Westland WP-3 G-ACAZ, after modifications for the Houston Everest Expedition.

The Westland Aircraft Works PV-3 was a private venture prototype torpedo bomber, based on the earlier Westland Wapiti. It had an all-metal structure and folding wings. Only one was built, and no orders for the airplane were placed. The airplane was modified for the Houston Everest Expedition. The gunner’s open position behind the pilot’s cockpit was replaced with an enclosed cabin for an observer and cameras. The original Bristol Jupiter X.FA engine was replaced by the more powerful Bristol Pegasus S.3 and a large-diameter propeller.

The Houston-Westland was 34 feet, 2 inches (10.414 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 8 inches (3.556 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 3,420 pounds (1,551.3 kilograms) and loaded weight of 5,100 pounds (2,313.3 kilograms).

The PV-3 had a maximum speed of 163 miles per hour (262.3 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Burmah-Shell provided a special fuel for operations at very high altitude.

Westland PV-6 G-ACBR

The Westland PV-6 was also a private venture prototype. It was later converted to the Wallace I configuration.

The airplanes carried Williamson Automatic Eagle III survey cameras that would take photographs of the surface at specific intervals as the airplanes flew over known survey locations. It was planned that a photographic mosaic of the terrain and an accurate map could be drawn.

Dame Fanny Lucy Houston, DBE (then, Baroness Byron), by Bassano, Ltd, circa 1910. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The expedition was financed by Lucy, Lady Houston, DBE, who offered to provide up to £15,000 to finance the project. The flight helped to demonstrate the need for specialized equipment for high altitude flight.

For his accomplishment, Lord Clydesdale—later, Air Commodore His Grace The Duke of Hamilton KT GCVO AFC PC DL FRCSE FRGS—was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, Royal Air Force. (602 Squadrom Museum)
Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre, AFC, Royal Air Force. (602 Squadron Museum)

Mount Everest, known in Nepal as सगरमाथा (Sagarmāthā), is a mountain in the Mahalangur Range of the the Himalayas. Its peak is believed to be the highest point on Earth. The mountain was “discovered” by the Western world in 1856, during the decades-long Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Identified as Peak XV, the height of the mountain was measured at 29,002 feet ² (8,839.8 meters) above Sea Level. The Royal Geographical Society named the mountain Everest after Colonel Sir George Everest, FRS, FRAS, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. At present, the agreed height of Everest is 8,848 meters (29,029 feet). The upper portion of the mountain is primarily marble and is covered by several meters of ice and snow.

Everest as seen from the south. Compare this photograph to the one above.

¹ In 1940, Lord Hamilton succeeded his father, Lieutenant Alfred Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 13th Duke of Hamilton and 10th Duke of Brandon, as 14th Duke of Hamilton and 11th Duke of Brandon.

² Interestingly, in The Map Makers (John Noble Wilford, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1981), it was reported that the Great Survey actually calculated the height of the mountain at 29,000 feet (8,839.2 meters), but it was felt that this value would be taken as an approximation rather than an exact value, so 2 feet were added, resulting in the generally known height of 29,002 feet (8,839.8 meters).

The elevation of the summit may have changed due to a Magnitude 7.8 earthquake that occurred 25 April 2015, and a M 7.3 aftershock on 12 May 2015. Nepal’s Survey Department plans a new survey.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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