Tag Archives: Bell Aircraft Corporation

6 June 1955

Massif du Mont-Blanc depuis le sommet du Brévent, 2006. Mont Blanc, north face from Brevant. (Yann via Wikipedia)
Massif du Mont-Blanc depuis le sommet du Brévent, 2006. Mont Blanc, north face from Brevant. (Yann via Wikipedia)

6 June 1955: Mont Blanc (the “White Mountain”), at 4.808,73 mètres (15,776.67 feet), is the highest mountain in the Alps, and second highest in Europe. (Because the summit consists of ice and snow, the actual elevation of the summit varies from year to year, and season to season. This is the 2013 measurement.)

Jean Moine, chief pilot of Fenwick Aviation S.A., flew a new Bell Aircraft Corporation Model 47G-2 helicopter from the company’s base at Issy-les-Moulineaux, southwest of Paris, to Chamonix in southeastern France, and then on to the village of Le Fayet. This village is located northwest of the Mont Blanc massif at an elevation of 584 meters (1,916 feet) above Sea Level.

Jean Moine, Capitaine, Com
Jean Moine in the cockpit of a Bell Model 47 helicopter. (Hélico-Fascination)

The helicopter, registered F-BHGJ, with manufacturer’s serial number 1342, was the very first Bell Model 47G-2 to be built.

Some items not necessary for the planned flight to the summit were removed from the helicopter to reduce weight: the left fuel tank, battery, generator and seat cushions. The right fuel tank contained just 40 liters (10.6 gallons) of gasoline.

At 5:15 a.m. the following morning, 6 June, Jean Moine and his passenger, André Contamine, an Alpine guide, lifted off from Le Fayet and began a long climb to the Dôme du Goûter, 2 kilometers (1¼ miles) northwest of the summit of Mont Blanc, at 4,304 meters (14,121 feet). After 32 minutes, Moine landed there at 5:43 a.m.

Jean Moine with Bell 47G-2 F-BHGJ
Jean Moine with the first Bell Model 47G-2, F-BHGJ, probably at Dôme du Goûter, 6 June 1955. The helicopter’s left fuel tank and battery have been removed. (Hélico-Fascination)

After remaining at Dôme du Goûter for five minutes, Moine and Contamine again took off, and seven minutes later, landed atop Mont Blanc at 5:55 a.m. Moine estimated the wind speed at 25 knots (13 meters per second). After four minutes at the summit, Moine again lifted off and this time, returned to Chamonix, where the helicopter landed at 6:15 a.m.

Although the Bell 47G-2 has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), with winds of 20–25 knots (10.3–12.9 meters per second), the helicopter, while stationary, was actually in translational lift. Combined with very cold temperatures (probably lower than -14.7 °C./5.5 °F.) which reduced the density altitude from ISA standard conditions, the helicopter was easily able to land and takeoff, requiring only 14 inches (0.47 bar) of manifold pressure.

This was the highest landing and takeoff by a helicopter up to that time.

Later that morning, Moine and the Bell 47G-2 made two more flights to Dôme du Goûter, first with Pierre Voisin (?) and again with Contamine.

 Jean Moine and F-BHGJ at the summit of Mont Blanc, just before 6:00 am, 6 June 1955. (André Contamine via Hélico-Fascination)
Jean Moine and F-BHGJ at the summit of Mont Blanc, just before 6:00 am, 6 June 1955. (André Contamine via Hélico-Fascination)

Two short articles in FLIGHT and Aircraft Engineer mention the Mont Blanc landing:

“. . . Lands High . . .

“FLYING a Bell 47G, M. Jean Moine, accompanied by the guide Contamine, took off from Le Fayet airfield (1,905ft) on Monday and landed first on the Dôme du Goûter (14,116ft) and, seven minutes later, on the summit of Mont Blanc (15,782ft). On the same day S.N.C.A.S.E. claimed the world’s helicopter height record when the Alouette II, powered by a Turboméca Artouste, reached 27,100ft. The machine took off from Buc, near Paris, climbed for 42 min and landed at Montesson. The pilot was M. Jean Boulet.”

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2420 Vol. 67. Friday, 10 June 1955, at Page 784

. . . and:

“. . . There followed, on June 6th, a landing by Jean Moine in a Bell 47-G2 on Mont Blanc, altitude 15,781 feet, now the highest landing by a rotating wing aircraft. . .

     “The actual machine which landed on the summit of Mont Blanc , the Bell 47G2, powered by a 260 h.p. Lycoming engine de-rated to 200 h.p. was seen at Le Bourget. The use of a de-rated engine, the makers claim, increases considerably the engine overhaul life and also engine maintenance problems.

“According to the pilot, Jean Moine, the mountain landing was made without difficulty, in spite of no little turbulence caused by a 20 knot wind, and there was a sufficient reserve of power, with a passenger aboard, to enable the machine to hover in the ground cushion in the normal way before touching down.”

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2424 Vol. 68. Friday, 8 July 1955 at Page 54

Logbook entries of Mount Blanc flight
Entries in Jean Moine’s logbook of the Mount Blanc flight, 6 June 1955.

Jean Moine was born at Paris, France at 1915. He studied at Lycée Condorcet, a high school in Paris. In 1935, he learned to fly in a Potez 36 two-place trainer at l’aéro-club at Orly. In 1937 joined the Armée de l’air (the French Air Force). With the fall of France in 1939, Capitaine Moine continued to serve with the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (the Free French Air Force.) Assigned to Groupe Bretagne (GB II/20) he flew 46 combat missions with the Glenn L. Martin Co. B-26 Marauder, a twin-engine medium bomber.

Glenn L. Martic Co. B-26 Marauder.
Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (Free French Air Force) Glenn L. Martin Company B-26G-11-MA Marauder 43-34594, nº 29, Groupe Bretagne. (Collection J. Moulin)

Captain Moine was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance (Medal of the Resistance). He was appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.

Following World War II, Jean Moine served as chief pilot for a small regional airline, Lignes Aériennes du Sud-Ouest. In 1950, Moine joined Fenwick Aviation S.A., Paris, France, as chief pilot and general manager. The company sold and operated aircraft produced by several American manufacturers, including the Bell Aircraft Corporation. He learned to fly helicopters at the Bell plant at Buffalo, New York. While there, he also studied Bell’s flight school operation. Returning to France, he organized Fenwick Aviation’s flight school at Issy-les-Moulineaux.

Moine rose to vice president and chief executive officer. He served as Fenwick’s president from 1966 to 1976.

Bell Model 47 helicopters at Fenwick Avaition,
Bell Model 47 helicopters at Fenwick Aviation, a major distributor for Bell Aircraft Corporation in Europe. (Hélico-Fascination)

Leaving Fenwinck, he joined Transair Helicopters Group. One of the missions this company performed was transporting marine pilots by helicopter to ships at sea, flying an Aérospatiale Alouette III based at Cherbourg.

In December 1975, HRH Prince Charles awarded the Berguet Trophy of the Royal Aero Club and the Aero Club of France to Moine for his outstanding contributions to rotary wing flight.

Moine served as president of l’Aéro-Club de France from 1982–1986.

When Jean Moine retired, he had accumulated a total of 7,000 flight hours, about equally divided between fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

Jean Moine, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, died 7 March 2002 at the age of 86 years.

This advertisement for the Bell 47G-2 shows an early production aircraft painted yellow. This may be c/n 1342. (Bell Helicopter Company)
This advertisement for the Bell Model 47G-2 shows an early production aircraft painted yellow and black, the standard paint scheme. (Bell Helicopter Company)

The Bell Model 47, designed by Arthur M. Young, of the Bell Aircraft Corporation, Buffalo, New York, was the first helicopter to receive civil certification from the Civil Aviation Administration, predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration. On 8 March 1946, the aircraft received CAA Type Certificate H-1.

The Bell 47G was the first helicopter manufactured by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at the company’s new plant at Fort Worth, Texas. It was also produced under license by Agusta, Kawasaki and Westland.

The Bell Model 47G and 47G-2 Trooper are nearly identical, essentially differing only in the engine used. It is a 3-place, single-engine light helicopter, operated by a single pilot. The helicopter has dual flight controls and can be flown from either the left or right. The airframe is constructed of a welded tubular steel framework with a sheet metal cockpit. The landing gear consists of two lateral, horizontal tubular cross tubes, and two longitudinal “skids,” curved upward at the front. Ground handling wheels are attached to the skids. The most distinctive feature of the Bell 47 is the large plexiglass “bubble” windshield. The main rotor flight controls use a system of bell cranks and push-pull tubes. The cyclic is hydraulically boosted. The tail rotor is controlled by pedals and stainless steel cables.

With rotors turning, the Bell 47G-2 has an overall length of 41 feet, 4.75 inches (12.618 meters). From the forward tip of the skids to the aft end of the tail rotor guard, the fuselage is 31 feet, 5.40 inches long (9.586 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 35 feet, 1.50 inches (10.706 meters). The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 8.125 inches (1.730 meters). Height to top of main rotor mast is 9 feet, 3.613 inches (2.835 meters).

The Bell 47G-2 has an empty weight of approximately 1,564 pounds (709 kilograms), depending on installed equipment. Its maximum gross weight is 2,450 pounds (1,111 kilograms), a 100 pound (45 kilogram) increase over the Franklin-powered Model 47G.

The main rotor, in common to all American-designed helicopters, rotates counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The anti-torque (tail) rotor is mounted to the right side of an angled tail boom extension, in a tractor configuration, and rotates counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

This photograph of a Bell 47 presents a good view of the stabilizer bar, pitch links and hydraulic dampers.
This photograph of a Lycoming-powered Bell 47G-2 hovering in ground effect presents a good view of the stabilizer bar, pitch links and hydraulic dampers. (Wikipedia)

The main rotor is a two-bladed, under-slung, semi-rigid assembly that would be a characteristic of helicopters built by Bell for decades. The main rotor system incorporates a stabilizer bar, positioned below and at right angles to the main rotor blades. Teardrop-shaped weights are placed at each end of the bar, on 100-inch (2.540 meters) centers. The outside diameter of the stabilizer bar is 8 feet, 6.781 inches (2.611 meters). The pilot’s inputs to the cyclic stick are damped through a series of mechanical linkages and hydraulic dampers before arriving at the pitch horns on the rotor hub. The result is smoother flight, especially while at a hover. The stabilizer bar action is commonly explained as being “gyroscopic,” but this is incorrect. (A similar system is used on the larger Bell 204/205/212 helicopters.)

The Bell 47G and 47G-2 used laminated-wood main rotor blades, with a metal spar, covered with fabric. The blades’ trailing edge tapers slightly from root to tip. The airfoil is symmetrical, transitioning from NACA 0015 at the root to NACA 0011 at the tip. The normal operating range of the main rotor is 322–360 r.p.m. (294–360 r.p.m. for autorotation). A longitudinal hole in the blade tip for a recessed tension-adjusting nut produces a distinctive whistling sound.

The 47G-2 used a more powerful AVCO Lycoming VO-435-A1A, -A1B, -A1D, -A1E or -A1F engine in place of the Franklin 6V4-200-C32AB. The VO-435 is an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 433.972-cubic-inch-displacement (7.112 liter) vertically-opposed six-cylinder direct-drive engine. The engine has a compression ratio of 7.30:1 and requires a minimum of 80/87 octane aviation gasoline. The VO-435A series engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 250 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m., and 260 h.p. @ 3,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. Installed in the Bell 47G-2, the engine’s maximum power limit is 28.8 inches of mercury (0.975 bar) manifold pressure at 3,100 r.p.m. (200 horsepower) to increase time-between-overhaul (TBO) limits. The VO-435 is 34.73 Inches (0.882 meters) high, 33.58 inches (0.878 meters) wide and 24.13 inches (0.613 meters) deep, and weighs 393.00 pounds (178.26 kilograms) to 401.00 pounds (182.89 kilograms), depending of the specific engine variant.

Bell Model 47G, 47G-2 diagram
Bell Model 47G/47G-2 left profile.

Engine torque is sent through a centrifugal clutch to a gear-reduction transmission, which drives the main rotor through a two-stage planetary gear system. The transmission also drives the tail rotor drive shaft, and through a vee-belt/pulley system, a large fan on the forward face of the engine to provide cooling air.

The Bell 47G/G-2 has a maximum speed (Vne) of 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour) from Sea Level to 1,400 feet (427 meters). Above that altitude, Vne is reduced 3.5 miles per hour (5.6 kilometers per hour) for every 1,000 foot (305 meters) increase in altitude. On a Standard Day, the hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of the Bell 47G-2, at maximum gross weight, is 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) above Sea Level, and out of ground effect (HOGE), 3,200 feet (975 meters).

Fuel is carried in two gravity-feed tanks, mounted above and on each side of the engine. The total fuel capacity is 43.0 gallons (162.8 liters), however, usable fuel is 41.0 gallons (155.2 liters). The helicopter has a maximum range of 238 miles (383 kilometers).

In production from 1946 until 1974, more than 7,000 Model 47 helicopters were built, worldwide. It is estimated that about 10% of these aircraft remain in service.

In 2010, the type certificates for all Bell 47 models were transferred to Scott’s Helicopter Service, Le Sueur, Minnesota, which continues to manufacture parts and complete helicopters.

Bell 47G-2 F-BHGJ was delivered to Fenwick Aviation SA, along with the second production G-2, 3 February 1955. It was acquired by France Aviation SA, Aéroport de Toussus le Noble, Chateaufort, south of Versailles, on 13 June 1955. It was next registered to SA Gyrafrique, Algeria, 8 November 1955. On 5 August 1960, the helicopter was once again reregistered, this time to SA Gyrasahara. Gyrafrance SA (Gyrafrance Hélicoptères), Aéroport de Frejorgues, Mauguio, became the registered owner, 23 July 1964. On 9 August 1991, the registered owner was Societe Nouvelle Gyrafrance SA, Aéroport de Montpellier–Méditerranée, Mauguio. F-BHGJ was registered to SA Aero 34, also located at the Aéroport Montpellier–Méditerranée, Mauguio, 23 March 1995, and then Aeromecanic 34 SARL, Marignane, 1 August 2001. From 12 October 2004 until 18 February 2015, the helicopter was owned by Heli System, Frontignan, on the Mediterranean coast. The first Bell 47G-2, F-BHGJ, is currently owned by Conseil Aménagement Foncier, Frontignan.

Recommended: The Bell 47 Helicopter Story, by Robert S. Petite and Jeffrey C. Evans, Graphic Publishers, Santa Ana, California, November 2013.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 June 1954

Major Arthur Warren "Kit" Murray, U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-1A at Edwards AFB, 20 July 1954. Major Murray is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a K-1 helmet. (NASA)
Major Arthur Warren “Kit” Murray, U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-1A at Edwards AFB, 20 July 1954. Major Murray is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit with a K-1 helmet. (NASA)

4 June 1954: at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Arthur W. “Kit” Murray flew the experimental Bell X-1A research rocketplane to an altitude of 89,810 feet (27,374 meters). He flew high enough that the sky darkened and he was able to see the curvature of the Earth. Newspapers called him “America’s first space pilot.”

The X-1A reached Mach 1.97. Encountering the same inertial coupling instability as had Chuck Yeager, 20 November 1953, though at a lower speed, the X-1A tumbled out of control. The rocket plane lost over 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) altitude before Murray could regain control. For this accomplishment, Major Murray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

One week earlier, 28 May 1954, Murray had flown the X-1A to an unofficial world record altitude of 90,440 feet (27,566 meters).

Arthur Murray, 1936. (The Argus)

Arthur Warren Murray was born at Cresson, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, 26 December 1918. He was the first of two children of Charles Chester Murray, a clerk, and Elsie Espy Murray.

Arthur Murray attended Huntingdon High School, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, graduating 4 June 1936, and then studied Juniata College, also in Huntingdon, 1937–1938.

Arthur Murray, 1938. (The Nineteen Thirty-Seven Alfarata)

Kit Murray enlisted in the Field Artillery, Pennsylvania National Guard, 17 November 1939. (Some sources state that he served in the U.S. Cavalry.) Murray had brown hair and blue eyes, was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms). Following the United States’ entry into World War II, Sergeant Murray requested to be trained as a pilot. He was appointed a flight officer (a warrant officer rank), Army of the United States, on 5 December 1942. On 15 October 1943 Flight Officer Murray received a battlefield promotion to the commissioned rank of second lieutenant, A.U.S.

Between 6 January  and 22 October 1943, Murray flew over 50 combat missions in the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk across North Africa. After about ten months in the Mediterranean Theater, he returned to the United States, assigned as an instructor flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bomber, stationed at Bradley Field, Hartford, Connecticut.

Republic P-47 Thunderbolts at Bradley Field, Connecticut, 9 September 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Murray married Miss Elizabeth Anne Strelic, who had immigrated from Czechoslovakia with her family as an infant, at Atlantic City, New Jersey, 29 December 1943. They would have six children, and foster a seventh. They later divorced. (Mrs. Murray died in 1980.)

Lieutenant and Mrs. Arthur W. Murray, 1943. (Murray Family Collection)

Murray was promoted to 1st lieutenant, A.U.S., 8 August 1944. His next assignment was as a maintenance officer. He was sent to Maintenance Engineering School at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois, and from there to the Flight Test School at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Murray was the first test pilot to be permanently assigned to Muroc Army Air Field (later, Edwards Air Force Base). Other test pilots, such as Captain Chuck Yeager, were assigned to Wright Field and traveled to Muroc as necessary.

Murray’s A.U.S. commission was converted to first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 15 October 1946. The U.S. Air Force became a separate military service in 1947, and Lieutenant Murray became an officer in the new service.

Major Arthur Warren (“Kit”) Murray, United States Air Force, with a Northrop F-89 Scorpion interceptor, 1954. (The New York Times)

Murray was involved in testing new Air Force fighters such as the Bell P-59 Airacomet, Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, Republic P-84 Thunderjet, McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo; and the Douglas XB-43 Jetmaster and North American Aviation B-45 Tornado jet bombers. He also flew the experimental aircraft such as the X-1A, X-1B, X-4 and X-5. Murray spent six years at Edwards before going on to other assignments.

Colonel Arthur Warren (“Kit”) Murray, U.S. Air Force.

Later, 1958–1960, Major Murray was the U.S. Air Force project officer for the North American Aviation X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane at Wright Field.

Colonel Murray retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1961. He next worked for Boeing in Seattle, Washington, from 1961 to 1969, and then Bell Helicopter in Texas.

On 4 April 1975, Kit Murray married his second wife, Ms. Ann Tackitt Humphreys, an interior decorator, in Tarrant County, Texas.

Colonel Arthur Warren Murray, United States Air Force (Retired), died at West, Texas, 25 July 2011, at the age of 92 years.

NASA 800, a highly modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress, carries the Bell X-1A to altitude over Edwards AFB. (NASA)
A highly modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress carries the Bell X-1A to altitude over Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

The Bell X-1A was a follow-on project to the earlier X-1. It was designed and built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York, to investigate speeds above Mach 2 and altitudes above 90,000 feet (27,432 meters). It was carried to altitude by a modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress, then dropped for the research flight.

The rocketplane was 35 feet, 7 inches (10.846 meters) long with a wingspan of 28 feet (8.534 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 8 inches (3.251 meters). It had an empty weight of 6,880 pounds (3,120.7 kilograms) and gross weight of 16,487 pounds (7,478.3 kilograms).

The X-1A was powered by a Reaction Motors XLR-11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engine which produced 6,000 pounds of thrust. It had a maximum speed of Mach 2.44 (Yeager) and reached an altitude of 90,440 feet (27,566.1 meters) (Murray).

Bell X-1A 48-1384. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell X-1A 48-1384. (U.S. Air Force)

The X-1A was destroyed by an internal explosion, 20 July 1955.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 May 1953

Jean L. "Skip" Ziegler, with the Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.
Jean L. “Skip” Ziegler, with a Bell X-5 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1952. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

12 May 1953: A Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress, 46-011, modified to carry a Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, was engaged in a captive test flight at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) over Lake Ontario, between Canada and the United States. The number two X-2, 46-675, was in the bomb bay.

The bomber was equipped with a system to keep the X-2’s liquid oxygen tank filled as the cryogenic oxidizer boiled off. With Bell’s Chief of Flight Research, test pilot Jean Leroy (“Skip”) Ziegler, in the bomb bay above the X-2, the system operation was being tested.

There was an explosion. The X-2 fell from the bomber and dropped into Lake Ontario, between Trenton, Ontario, Canada, and Rochester, New York, U.S. A. Skip Ziegler and an engineer aboard the bomber, Frank Wolko, were both lost. A technician, Robert F. Walters, who was in the aft section of the B-50 with Wolko, was badly burned and suffered an injured eye.

The B-50’s pilots, William J. Leyshon and David Howe, made an emergency landing at the Bell Aircraft Corporation factory airport at Wheatfield, New York (now, the Niagara Falls International Airport, IAG). The bomber was so heavily damaged that it never flew again.

Heavy fog over the lake hampered search efforts. Neither the bodies of Ziegler and Wolko or the wreckage of the X-2 were found.

A Bell X-2 rocketplane is loaded aboard the Boeing B-50A Superfortress "mothership," 46-011. (U.S. Air Force)
A Bell X-2 rocketplane is loaded aboard the Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress “mothership,” 46-011. (U.S. Air Force)

After a series of explosions of early rocketplanes, the X-1A, X-1-3, X-1D and the X-2,  investigators discovered that leather gaskets which were used in the fuel system had been treated with tricresyl phosphate (TCP). When this was exposed to liquid oxygen an explosion could result. The leather gaskets were removed from the other rocketplanes and the explosions stopped.

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. Two X-2s were built.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes.

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

The X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,370 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)
Bell X-2 46-675 on its transportation dolly at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1952. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 April 1956

Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base. Colonel Everest is wearing a capstan-type partial pressure suit for protection at very high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest, U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-2 at Edwards Air Force Base. Colonel Everest is wearing a David Clark Co. T-1 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at very high altitude. (U.S. Air Force)

25 April 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, test pilot Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, United States Air Force, was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocket plane, serial number 46-674. This was the tenth flight of the X-2 program, and only the third powered flight.

For the first time, Everest fired both chambers of the Curtiss-Wright XLR25 rocket engine. On this flight, the X-2 reached Mach 1.40 and 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). It was the first time an X-2 had gone supersonic.

Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, circa 1955–56. (NASA Photograph ET–128)
Bell X-2 46-674 in flight over Southern California, circa 1955–56. (NASA Photograph ET–128)

The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.

In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).

The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)

Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.

Bell X-2 46-674 on final approach. (NASA)

The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.

Two X-2 rocketplanes were built. The second X-2, 46-675, was destroyed during a captive flight, 12 May 1953. The explosion killed Bell test pilot Skip Ziegler and Frank Wolko, an engineer aboard the B-50A mothership. The B-50 made an emergency landing but was so badly damaged that it never flew again.

The X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,370 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).

Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 49-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing EB-50D Superfortress 48-096 with a Bell X-2 (U.S. Air Force)

The EB-50D was a highly modified four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress long range heavy bomber, engineered to carry research aircraft to high altitudes before releasing them for a test flight. The B-50 was an improved version of the World War II B-29A Superfortress.

Boeing B-50D-95-BO (S/N 48-096) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force/Bill Pippin Collection, 1000aircraftphotos.com)
Boeing B-50D-90-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress 48-096 prior to modification to an EB-50D X-2 carrier. (U.S. Air Force)

Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., was born 10 Aug 1920, at Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Frank Kendall Everest, an electrical contractor, and Phyllis Gail Walker Everest. Attended Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West Virginia, graduating in 1939. He studied at Fairmont State Teachers College, also in Fairmont, West Virginia, and then studied engineering at teh University of Wesst Virginia in Morgantown.

Pete Everest enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 7 November 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. His enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.703 meters) tall and weighed 132 pounds (59.9 kilograms). He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 3 July 1942.

Everest married Miss Avis June Mason in Marion, West Virginia, in 1942.

He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States, 11 November 1942. He was assigned as a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying 94 combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third. Everest was promoted to the rank of Captain, 17 August 1943.

In 1944, Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations where he flew 67 missions and shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major, 1 July 1945. He was returned to the United States military 3 October 1945.

After the war, Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Everest was returned to the permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945.

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with a Bell X-1 supersonic research rocketplane, 46-062, circa 1950. (mach-buster.co.uk)

At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was the test pilot on thirteen of the twenty X-2 flights.

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1956. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base.

In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. He later worked as a test pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft.

During his military career General Everest was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Purple Heart; Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Prisoner of War Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four bronze stars; Asiatic-Pacific campaign Medal with two bronze stars; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960– device. General Everest was rated as a Command Pilot, and a Basic Parachutist.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr. United States Air Force (Retired), died at Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2004 at the age of 84 years.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, United states Air Force
Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force. (U.s. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 April 1938

The Bell XP-39 prototype in the original turbosupercharged configuration. The intercooler and waste gates created significant aerodynamic drag. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)
The Bell XP-39 prototype, 38-326, in the original turbosupercharged configuration. The intercooler and waste gates created significant aerodynamic drag. (U.S. Air Force)

6 April 1938:¹ After being shipped by truck from the Bell Aircraft Company factory at Buffalo, New York, the XP-39 prototype, 38-326, made its first flight at Wright Field, Ohio, with test pilot James Taylor ² in the cockpit.

Bell XP-39 Airacobra 38-326. (U.S. Air Force)

The Bell XP-39 Airacobra was a single-place, single-engine prototype fighter with a low wing and retractable tricycle landing gears. The airplane was primarily built of aluminum, though control surfaces were fabric covered.

As originally built, the XP-39 was 28 feet, 8 inches (8.738 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 10 inches (10.922 meters). The prototype had an empty weight of 3,995 pounds (1,812 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,550 pounds (2,517 kilograms).

The Bell XP-39 Aircobra in original configuration. (Allison Engine Historical Society)
The Bell XP-39 Aircobra in original configuration. (U. S. Air Force)

The XP-39 was unarmed, but it had been designed around the American Armament Corporation T9 37 mm autocannon, later designated Gun, Automatic, 37 mm, M4 (Aircraft).³ The cannon and ammunition were in the forward fuselage, above the engine driveshaft. The gun fired through the reduction gear box and propeller hub.

Bell P-39 Airacobra center fuselage detail with maintenance panels open. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The XP-39 was originally powered by a liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged and supercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-E2 (V-1710-17), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The V-1710-17 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and Takeoff/Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet, burning 91 octane gasoline. The engine was installed in an unusual configuration behind the cockpit, with a two-piece drive shaft passing under the cockpit and turning the three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a remotely-mounted 1.8:1 gear reduction gear box. The V-1710-17 was  16 feet, 1.79 inches  (4.922 meters) long, including the drive shaft and remote gear box. It was 2 feet, 11.45 inches (0.900 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

Bell XP-39 Airacobra 38-326 in the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia. (NASA)
Bell XP-39 Airacobra 38-326 in the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia, 9 August 1939. The fuselage has had all protrusions removed. (NASA)

During the test flight, Taylor flew the XP-39 to 390 miles per hour (628 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). The service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters).

Bell XP-39 Airacobra 38-326 in the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia. (NASA)

After initial flight testing, the XP-39 was sent to NACA at Langley Field, Virginia for wind tunnel tests. Improvements in aerodynamics were recommended and the airplane was rebuilt as the XP-39B with an Allison V-1710-E5 (V-1710-37) engine. The turbosupercharger had been removed, which reduced the airplane’s power at altitudes above 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The V-1710-37 had a maximum power of 1,090 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 13,300 feet (4,054 meters). This resulted in the P-39 being used primarily as a ground-attack weapon. The XP-39B, with test pilot George Price in the cockpit, was damaged when when its landing gear did not fully extend, 6 January 1940. It was repaired and test flights resumed.

Bell Model 12 (XP-39) prototype 38-326, at Bell Aircraft Co., Buffalo, New York
Bell XP-39B Airacobra prototype, 38-326, at the Bell Aircraft Corporation airfield, Buffalo, New York, 1940. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

On 6 August 1940, Captain Ernest K. Warburton stalled the prototype on landing. The impact resulted in significant structural damage, beyond economic repair. The airplane was later scrapped.

9,584 Bell P-39 Airacobras were built during World War II. More than half were sent to the Soviet Union.

Bell XP-39 prototype, serial number 38-326. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)
Bell XP-39B prototype, serial number 38-326. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

¹ Reliable sources indicate the date of the first flight as both 1938 and 1939. The Bell Helicopter Company web site, “The History of Bell Helicopter: 1935–1949” states 1938.

LCDR James B. Taylor, Jr., U.S.N.

² James Taylor may have been Lieutenant Commander James Blackstone Taylor, Jr., (1897–1942), Naval Aviator No. 437, a well-known U.S. Navy test pilot.

³ The 37-mm Aircraft Gun Matériel M4 is a recoil-operated aircraft weapon designed by John M. Browning. It has an overall length of 7 feet, 5 inches (2.26 meters). The barrel, or “tube,” is 5 feet, 5 inches (1.65 meters) long with a caliber of 1.457 inches (37.0 millimeters) and weighs 55 pounds (25 kilograms). The barrel is part of the recoiling section of the gun and moves rearward 9-5/8 inches (245 millimeters). The weight of the gun with a loaded 30-round magazine is 306.4 pounds (138.98 kilograms). The M4 fires a high-explosive tracer round with a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet per second (607 meters per second). Each M54 shell is 9.75 inches (248 millimeters) long and weighs 1.93 pounds, of which the projectile makes up 1.34 pounds (0.608 kilograms). The cannon has a cyclic rate of fire of 125–150 rounds per minute.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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