20 March 1937: After completing repairs and preparation for the second leg of her around-the-world flight—Hawaii to Howland Island—Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, was moved from Wheeler Field to Luke Field on Ford Island on 19 March to take advantage of the longer, fully paved runway.
Paul Mantz had warmed the engines at 5:00 a.m., 20 March, then shut them down. He would not be aboard for this flight. Amelia Earhart, Captain Manning and Captain Noonan boarded the Electra at 5:30 a.m. and Earhart restarted the engines. At 5:40 a.m., she began to taxi to the northeast corner of the runway. Weather was good, with a ceiling of 3,000 feet, visibility 3,500 feet in pre-dawn darkness, and wind from the south at 2 miles per hour.
At 5:53 a.m., Amelia Earhart accelerated for takeoff. A United States Army Board of Investigation report describes what happened next:
On reaching the end Miss Earhart turned and after a brief delay opened both throttles. As the airplane gathered speed it swung slightly to the right. Miss Earhart corrected this tendency by throttling the left hand motor. The airplane then began to swing to the left with increasing speed, characteristic of a ground loop. It tilted outward, right wing low and for 50 or 60 feet was supported by the right wheel only. The right-hand landing-gear suddenly collapsed under this excessive load followed by the left. The airplane spun sharply to the left on its belly amid a shower of sparks from the mat and came to rest headed about 200 degrees from its initial course. There was no fire. Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt. The visible damage to the airplane was as follows:- Right wing and engine nacelle severely damaged, left engine nacelle damaged on under side, right hand rudder and end of stabilizer bent. The engines were undamaged. The oil tanks were ruptured. . . .
FINDINGS: . . . after a run of 1200 feet the airplane crashed on the landing mat due to collapse of the landing gear as a result of an uncontrolled ground loop; the lack of factual evidence makes it impossible to establish the reason for the ground loop; that as a result of the crash the airplane was damaged to an extent requiring major overhaul. . . .
—excerpts from PROCEEDINGS OF A BOARD OF OFFICERS CONVENED TO INVESTIGATE THE CRASH OF MISS AMELIA EARHART AT LUKE FIELD, 20 MARCH 1937
The Electra was extensively damaged. There were no injuries, but the Electra was sent back to Lockheed at Burbank, California, aboard the passenger liner, SS Lurline, for repair.
At the time of the accident, NR16020 had flown 181 hours, 17 minutes, total time since new (TTSN).
17 March 1937, 4:37 p.m.: Amelia Mary Earhart departed Oakland Municipal Airport, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay, starting the first leg of her around-the-world flight. Also aboard were her friend and adviser, Albert Paul Mantz, navigator Frederick J. Noonan and radio operator/navigator Harry Manning. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020.
Captain Frederick J. Noonan was formerly the Chief Navigator of Pan American Airways, and had extensive experience in transoceanic flight. Captain Harry Manning commanded ocean liners. He would later serve as captain of SS United States, the flagship of America’s Merchant Marine, and as the Commodore of United States Lines.
Amelia Earhart’s 1936 Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, was the fifth of fifteen built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California (now, Hollywood Burbank Airport, BUR). Designed to carry as many as ten passengers, NR16020 had been modified to carry fuel for 20 hours of flight. Amelia first flew the Electra with a Lockheed test pilot, Elmer C. McLeod, 21 July 1936, and took delivery on her 39th birthday, 24 July. The airplane cost $80,000.
The Lockheed Electra 10 was designed by Hall Hibbard, and was Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s first assignment when he went to work at Lockheed. It was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 0 inches (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters).
While the basic Model 10 had an empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms), Amelia Earhart’s modified Electra 10E Special had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3,295.4 kilograms), partly as a result of the additional fuel tanks which had been installed. Fully fueled, NR16020 carried 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) of gasoline.
NR19020 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 single-row nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage supercharger. The S3H1 had a Normal Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m for Takeoff, using 80/87 aviation gasoline. The direct-drive engines turned two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 9 feet, 7/8-inch (2.675 meters). The Wasp S3H1 was 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.092 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
16 January 1957: Operation Powerflite. At 1:00p.m. PST, five Boeing B-52B Stratofortress eight-engine jet bombers of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy), departed Castle Air Force Base, near Merced, California, on a non-stop around-the-world flight. 45 hours, 19 minutes later, three B-52s landed at March Air Force Base, Riverside, California, completing the 24,325 miles (39,147 kilometer) flight at an average speed of 534 miles per hour (859 kilometers per hour). Two of the bombers had mechanical problems. One returned to the United States and one landed in England.
The lead Stratofortress, B-52B-35-BO 53-0394, Lucky Lady III, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Morris. Morris had been co-pilot aboard Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50A Superfortress that flew around the world in 1949. Also aboard Morris’ bomber was Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., commanding 15th Air Force. The other two B-52s were 53-0397, La Victoria, commanded by Major George Kalebaugh, and 53-0398, Lonesome George, commanded by Captain Charles W. Fink.
Each B-52 carried a flight crew of nine men, including three pilots and two navigators.
Four inflight refuelings from piston-engine Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers were required.
All 27 crewmembers of the three bombers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Curtis LeMay. The Mackay Trophy for “the most meritorious flight of the year” was awarded to the 93rd Bombardment Wing.
Lucky Lady III was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It was scrapped in 1984. 53-0397 went to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in 1966, preceded by 53-0398 in 1965.
This record-breaking around the world flight was dramatized in the 1957 Warner Bros. movie “Bombers B-52,” which starred Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
The 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) was the first operational Air Force unit to receive the B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B 52-8711, on 29 June 1955. Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.
The airplane was 156 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept 35°. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).
Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.
The B-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).
Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the range was essentially world-wide.
Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute.
The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 megatons.
Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of 27 September 2016, 77 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.
5 January 1939: After she had been missing for 18 months, Judge Clarence Elliot Craig of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles County declared Amelia Mary Earhart legally dead in absentia,¹ at the request of her husband, George Palmer Putnam II. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937.
George Palmer Putnam and Amelia Earhart had met in 1928 while he was interviewing prospects for a transatlantic flight to be sponsored by Mrs. Amy Phipps Guest. She was selected to make the flight and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, aboard Donald Woodward’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship, which was flown by Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon. (See This Day in Aviation, 17–18 June 1928) They were married 7 February 1931 at his parents’ home in Noank, Connecticut.
Judge Craig appointed Mr. Putnam as the executor of Earhart’s estate, which contemporary news reports said was “estimated at more than $10,000.”
Less than five months later, on 21 May 1939, Mr. Putnam married Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigny James, an author, at Boulder City, Nevada. This was Putnam’s third marriage. It would end in divorce in 1945.
¹ Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles, Probate Case File 181709
2 December 1955: The prototype de Havilland DH-106 Comet 3, G-ANLO, departed Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire, England, with Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham and Per Buggé in the cockpit. R.W. Chandler was the navigator/radio operator. Other crew members included Chief Flight Engineer E. Brackstone Brown, and flight engineers R.V. Ablett and J. Hamilton.
Several de Havilland executives and engineers were among the passengers. Captain A.P.W. Cane of British Overseas Airways Corporation and Captain I.D.V. Ralfe of Qantas were aboard to observe to new airliner in operation.
Departure had been scheduled for 5:30 a.m., local time, but heavy fog delayed the flight. 5 hours, 3 minutes later, the Comet 3 landed at Cairo, Egypt, after flying 2,076 nautical miles (2,389 statute miles, 3,845 kilometers). Rather than continuing on as had originally been planned, the crew remained over night at Cairo.
G-ANLO left Cairo the following morning and with refueling stops at Bombay, Maharashtra India; Singapore, Colony of Singapore; and Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia; the airliner arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 4 December, after a total of 19 hours, 5 minutes of flight. The distance traveled was 8,728 nautical miles (10,044 statute miles, 16,164 kilometers). During the Singapore-Darwin leg, the Comet 3 cruised at 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). More than 20,000 people were waiting at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport to see the new jetliner arrive.
Group Captain Cunningham made demonstration flights from Sydney to Melbourne, Canberra and Perth.
G-ANLO then continued to Auckland, New Zealand, flying the 1,166 nautical miles (1,342 miles, 2,159 kilometers) in 2 hours, 43 minutes. From Auckland to Nadi Airport, Fiji, 1,153 nautical miles (1,326 miles, 2,135 kilometers), took 2 hours, 52 minutes.
The next leg of the around the world tour, Fiji to Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, was completed on 13 December. The Comet 3 covered the 2,791 nautical miles (3,212 statute miles, 5,169 kilometers) in 6 hours, 44 minutes. G-ANLO remained at Honolulu for the next two days.
On 15 December, the Comet 3 left Honolulu for Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 2,408 nautical miles (2,771 statute miles, 4,460 kilometers). The duration of this flight was 5 hours, 40 minutes. The Comet 3 flew across Canada to Toronto, Ontario, 1,898 nautical miles (2,184 statute miles, 3,515 kilometers) in 3 hours, 56 minutes, then on to Montreal, Quebec, arriving there on 20 December.
The final leg of the flight, Montreal to London Heathrow Airport, 2,907 nautical miles (3,345 statute miles, 5,384 kilometers) was completed in 6 hours, 9 minutes, on 27 December 1955.
This was the first around-the-world flight by a jet-powered aircraft. The total distance flown by the Comet 3 was 24,324 nautical miles (27,991.6 statute miles/45,048.1 kilometers) The total flight time was 56 hours, 17 minutes.
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 (44.48 kilonewtons), 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.
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. In 1958 the wings were shortened and the external wing tanks removed. The airplane was redesignated Comet 3B. It was turned over to the Ministry of Supply and re-registered XP915, 20 June 1961. 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 1966 and scrapped.
Group Captain John Cunningham C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., was born 1917 and educated at Croydon. In 1935 he became an apprentice at De Havilland’s and also joined the Auxiliary Air Force, where he trained as a pilot. Cunningham was called to active duty in August 1939, just before World War II began.
Promoted to Group Captain in 1944, Cunningham 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.
Following the War, John Cunningham returned to de Havilland as a test pilot. Following the death of Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., in 1946, Cunningham became the de Havilland’s chief test pilot. He remained with the firm through a series of mergers, finally retiring in 1980.
He set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed and altitude record with the company’s DH.100 Vampire jet fighter, TG278: 799.644 kilometers per hour (496.876 miles per hour) over a 100 kilometer course at Lympne Airport, 31 August 1947.¹ He flew the DH.100 to 18,119 meters (59,446 feet) over Hatfield Aerodrome, 23 March 1948.² On 24 April 1950, Cunningham flew a DH.104 Dove light transport from London to Cairo at an average speed of 686.56 kilometers per hour (426.61 miles per hour), setting a world record for speed over a recognized course.³
Group Captain Cunningham died 21 July 2002 at the age of 84 years.
Per Olivarius Buggé (also known as Peter Bugge) was born at Kristiansund, Norway in 1918. He joined the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 1938. After Germany invaded the country, Buggé escaped to Sweden, April 1940, and in February 1941 arrived in Great Britain. He served with the Royal Air Force for the remainder of the War, flying Bristol Beaufighters and de Havilland Mosquitos with No. 604 Squadron and No. 85 Squadron (while it was under the command of Squadron Leader John Cunningham).
After the War Buggé flew for British Overseas Airways Corporation and Swedish Airlines. In 1949, he joined de Havilland as a test pilot, and stayed with the company after it was absorbed by Hawker Siddeley. He died in 1998.