Tag Archives: Benjamin Scovill Kelsey

11 February 1939

Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream, New York. (Associated Press)
Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Associated Press)

11 February 1939: Barely two weeks after its first flight, First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill (“Ben”) Kelsey, U.S. Army Air Corps, took the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, on a record-breaking transcontinental flight from March Field, Riverside, California, to Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York.

Lieutenant Kelsey departed March Field at 6:32 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, (9:32 a.m., Eastern) and flew to Amarillo, Texas for the first of two refueling stops. He arrived there at 12:22 p.m., EST, and remained on the ground for 22 minutes. The XP-38 took off at 12:44 p.m., EST, and Kelsey flew on to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He landed there at 3:10 p.m. EST.

Kelsey was met by Major General H.H. Arnold, and it was decided to continue to New York. The XP-38 was airborne again at 3:28 p.m., EST, on the final leg of his transcontinental flight.

The prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457, being refueled at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, during the transcontinental speed record flight, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
The prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, being refueled at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, during the transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

Kelsey was overhead Mitchel Field, New York at 4:55 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, but his landing was delayed by other airplanes in the traffic pattern.

On approach, the XP-38 was behind several slower training planes, so Lieutenant Kelsey throttled back the engines. When he tried to throttle up, the carburetor venturis iced and the engines would not accelerate, remaining at idle. The airplane crashed on a golf course short of the airport.

Wreckage of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
Wreckage of the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

The total elapsed time was 7 hours, 45 minutes, 36 seconds but Kelsey’s actual flight time was 7 hours, 36 seconds. The prototype had averaged 340 miles per hour (547 kilometers per hour) and had reached 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) during the Wright Field-to-Mitchel Field segment.

Kelsey’s transcontinental flight failed to break the transcontinental speed record set two years earlier by Howard R. Hughes by 17 minutes, 11 seconds. It should be noted, however, that Hughes H-1 Racer flew non-stop from coast to coast, while the XP-38 required two time-consuming fuel stops.

Wreck of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 on the Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
Wreck of the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, on the Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

The XP-38 was damaged beyond repair, but its performance on the transcontinental flight was so impressive that 13 YP-38s were ordered from Lockheed by the Air Corps.

Overhead view of the wrecked prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (U.S. Army)
Overhead view of the wrecked prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (U.S. Army)

Designed by an engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard, which included the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the XP-38 was a single-place, twin-engine fighter designed for very high speed and long range. It was an unusual configuration with the cockpit and armament in a center nacelle, with two longitudinal booms containing the engines and propellers, turbochargers, radiators and coolers. The Lightning was equipped with tricycle landing gear. The nose strut retracted into the center nacelle and the two main gear struts retracted into bays in the booms. To reduce drag, the sheet metal used butt joints with flush rivets.

The XP-38 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). Its empty weight was 11,507 pounds (5,219.5 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,904 pounds (6,306.75 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,416 pounds (6,992.6 kilograms).

Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. When installed on the P-38, these engines rotated in opposite directions. The XP-38 used a pair of experimental C-series Allisons, with the port V-1710-C8 (V-1710-11) engine being a normal right-hand tractor configuration, while the starboard engine, the V-1710-C9 (V-1710-15), was a left-hand tractor. Through a 2:1 gear reduction, these engines drove the two 11-foot (3.353 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers inward to counteract the torque effect of the engines and propellers. (Viewed from the front of the airplane, the XP-38’s starboard propeller turned clockwise, the port propeller turned counter-clockwise. The direction of rotation was reversed in the YP-38 service test prototypes and production P-38 models.) The engines have long propeller gear drive sections to aid in streamlining aircraft, and are sometimes referred to as “long-nose Allisons.”

The V-1710-11 and -15 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. They had a continuous power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for takeoff. The combination of a gear-driven supercharger and an exhaust-driven General Electric B-1 turbosupercharger allowed these engines to maintain their rated power levels to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The -11 and -15 were 7 feet, 10.46 inches (2.399 meters) long. The -11 was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.93 inches (0.7348 meters) wide. It weighed 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms). The -15 was 3 feet, 4.71 inches (1.034 meters) high, 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.7351 meters) wide, and weighed 1,305 pounds (591.9 kilograms).

The XP-38 had a maximum speed of 413 miles per hour (664.66 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582.4 meters).

The XP-38 was unarmed, but almost all production Lightnings carried a 20 mm auto cannon and four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose. They could also carry bombs or rockets and jettisonable external fuel tanks.

Testing continued with thirteen YP-38A pre-production aircraft and was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 January 1939

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

27 January 1939: First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, United States Army Air Corps, made the first flight of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 Lightning, serial number 37-457, at March Field, Riverside County, California.

First Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey, USAAC, in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-36A Hawk, at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey, USAAC, in the cockpit of a Curtiss P-36A Hawk, at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

This was a short flight. Immediately after takeoff, Kelsey felt severe vibrations in the airframe. Three of four flap support rods had failed, leaving the flaps unusable.

Returning to March Field, Kelsey landed at a very high speed with a 18° nose up angle. The tail dragged on the runway. Damage was minor and the problem was quickly solved.

Designed by an engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard, which included the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the XP-38 was a single-place, twin-engine fighter designed for very high speed and long range. It was an unusual configuration with the cockpit and armament in a center nacelle, with two longitudinal booms containing the engines and propellers, turbochargers, radiators and coolers. The Lightning was equipped with tricycle landing gear. The nose strut retracted into the center nacelle and the two main gear struts retracted into bays in the booms. To reduce drag, the sheet metal used butt joints with flush rivets.

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype had been built built at Lockheed’s factory in Burbank, California. On the night of 31 December 1938/1 January 1939, it was transported to March Field aboard a convoy of three trucks. Once there, the components were assembled by Lockheed technicians working under tight security.

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Left profile, Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457

The XP-38 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). Its empty weight was 11,507 pounds (5,219.5 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,904 pounds (6,306.75 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,416 pounds (6,992.6 kilograms).

The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. When installed on the P-38, these engines rotated in opposite directions. The XP-38 used a pair of experimental C-series Allisons, with the port V-1710-C8 (V-1710-11) engine being a normal right-hand tractor configuration, while the starboard engine, the V-1710-C9 (V-1710-15), was a left-hand tractor. Through a 2:1 gear reduction, these engines drove the 11-foot (3.353 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers inward to counteract the torque effect of the engines and propellers. (Viewed from the front of the airplane, the XP-38’s starboard propeller turned clockwise, the port propeller turned counter-clockwise. The direction of rotation was reversed in the YP-38 service test prototypes and production P-38 models.) The engines have long propeller gear drive sections to aid in streamlining aircraft, and are sometimes referred to as “long-nose Allisons.”

The V-1710-11 and -15 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. They had a continuous power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for takeoff. The combination of a gear-driven supercharger and an exhaust-driven General Electric B-1 turbosupercharger allowed these engines to maintain their rated power levels to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The -11 and -15 were 7 feet, 10.46 inches (2.399 meters) long. The -11 was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.93 inches (0.7348 meters) wide. It weighed 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms). The -15 was 3 feet, 4.71 inches (1.034 meters) high, 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.7351 meters) wide, and weighed 1,305 pounds (591.9 kilograms).

A 1939 Allison Engine Company V-1710-33 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms) and produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. During World War II, this engine cost $19,000. (NASM)
A 1939 Allison Engine Company V-1710-33 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms) and produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. During World War II, this engine cost $19,000. (NASM)

The XP-38 had a maximum speed of 413 miles per hour (664.66 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582.4 meters).

The XP-38 was unarmed, but almost all production Lightnings carried a 20 mm auto cannon and four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose. They could also carry bombs or rockets and jettisonable external fuel tanks.

Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype XP-38 was damaged beyond repair when, on approach to Mitchel Field, New York, 11 February 1939, both engines failed to accelerate from idle due to carburetor icing. Unable to maintain altitude, Lieutenant Kelsey crash landed on a golf course and was unhurt.

Testing continued with thirteen YP-38A pre-production aircraft and was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier in the cockpit of P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1938

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype on its first flight, 14 October 1938. Test pilot Ed Elliot is in the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype on its first flight, 14 October 1938. Test pilot Ed Elliot is in the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Everett Edward Elliot (1919–1981). Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test Pilot and Engineers)
Everett Edward Elliot (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test Pilot and Engineers)

14 October 1938: At Buffalo, New York, test pilot Everett Edward Elliot made the first flight in the new Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Model 75P, a prototype for a single-engine pursuit plane which had been designated XP-40 by the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Curtiss-Wright’s Chief Engineer, Donovan Berlin, had taken the tenth production P-36A Hawk, Air Corps serial number 38-10, and had its air-cooled radial engine replaced with a Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C13 (V-1710-19). This was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6.65:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 910 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,060 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for Takeoff. At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), the V-1710-19 had Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. The engine required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. It drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-19 was 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.483 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.75″ (1.035 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.735 meters) wide. It weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

At 1,829.39-cubic-inches (29.978 liters), the original Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C1-G (R-1830-17) 14-cylinder radial engine had greater displacement and produced 80 horsepower more for takeoff than the Allison V-12. The long, narrow V-12, though, allowed for a much more streamlined engine cowling for higher speed and greater efficiency.

Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype. (SDASM)
The Curtiss XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)
The Curtiss XP-40 in the original configuration at Langley Field. (NASA)

In the early testing, the XP-40 was much slower than expected, reaching only 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour). (The P-36A Hawk had a maximum speed of  313 miles per hour). Engineers experimented with different placement for the coolant radiator, oil coolers and the engine air intake. The Air Corps project officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, had the prototype sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia, where the full-size airplane was placed inside a wind tunnel.

Lt. Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, U.S. Army Air Corps, in  the cockpit of a Curtiss P-36A Hawk at Wright Field, 1938. (U.S. Air Force)

Over a two-month period, NACA engineers made a number of improvements. The radiator was moved forward under the engine and the oil coolers utilized the same air scoop. The exhaust manifolds were improved as were the landing gear doors.

When they had finished, Lieutenant Kelsey flew the modified XP-40 back to Curtiss. Its speed had been increased to 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour), a 12% improvement.

By December 1939 the airplane had been further improved and was capable of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour).

The Curtiss XP-40 prototype in a wind tunnel at Langley Field, 24 April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. (NASA)

The Curtiss Hawk 75P, XP-40 38-10, was 31 feet, 1 inch (9.574 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.354 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.734 meters). It had an empty weight of 5,417 pounds (2,457.1 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 6,870 pounds (3,116.2 kilograms).

The prototype had a maximum speed of 342 miles per hour (550 kilometers per hour) at 12,200 feet (3,719 meters) with a gross weight of 6,260 pounds (2,839.5 kilograms). Its range was 460 miles (740 kilometers) flying at 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) with 100 gallons (378.5 liters) of fuel. With 159 gallons (601.9 liters) and with speed reduced to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour), the XP-40 had a maximum range of 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers).

The prototype was armed with two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted above the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

The Air Corps placed an initial order for 524 P-40s. This was the largest single order for airplanes by the U.S. military up to that time. The first production model was the P-40 Warhawk, armed with two .50-caliber machine guns. There was only one P-40A variant which was a P-40 modified as a camera aircraft. The definitive pursuit model was the P-40B Warhawk, which retained the two .50-caliber guns of the P-40 and added two Browning M2 .30-caliber machine guns to each of the wings.

A Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, Hamilton Field, California, 1940. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-40B was best known as the airplane flown by the American Volunteer Group fighting for China against the Japanese. They were called the “Flying Tigers”. Between 1939 and 1945, Curtiss built 13,738 P-40s in many configurations. They flew in combat in every theater of operations during World War II.

A Curtiss Hawk 81-A3 (P-40B Warhawk) of the American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 September 1929

Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, in rear cockpit of the Consolidated NY-2 Husky, NX7918, a trainer equipped with experimental flight instruments. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, in rear cockpit of the Consolidated NY-2 Husky, NX7918, a trainer equipped with experimental flight instruments. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

24 September 1929: Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Corps, made the first completely blind airplane takeoff flight and landing, solely by reference to instruments on board his aircraft. Flying from the rear cockpit of a civil-registered two-place Consolidated NY-2 Husky training airplane, NX7918, Doolittle had his visual reference to earth and sky completely cut off by a hood enclosure over his cockpit. A safety pilot, Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, rode in the forward cockpit, but the entire flight was conducted by Doolittle. He took off from Mitchel Field, climbed out, flew a 15 mile set course and returned to Mitchel Field and landed.

The experimental gyroscopic compass, artificial horizon and a precision altimeter were developed by Elmer Sperry, Jr., and Paul Kollsman, both of Long Island, New York. Funding for the Full Flight Laboratory at Mitchel Field was provided by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.

Jimmy Doolittle with the Consolidated NY-2, NX7918. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The following contemporary magazine article gives some details of Jimmy Doolittle’s instrument flight:

“THE outstanding development in aviation recently, and one of the most significant so far in aviation history was the ‘blind’ flight of Lieut. James H. Doolittle, daredevil of the Army Air Corps, at Mitchel Field, L. I., which led Harry P. Guggenheim, President of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, Inc. to announce that the problem of fog-flying, one of aviation’s greatest bugbears, had been solved at last.

“There has been ‘blind flying’ done in the past but never before in the history of aviation has any pilot taken off, circled, crossed, re-crossed the field, then landed only a short distance away from his starting point while flying under conditions resembling the densest fog, as Lieut. ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle has done, in his Wright-motored ‘Husky’ training-plane. It was something uncanny to contemplate.

“The ‘dense fog’ was produced artificially by the simple device of making the cabin of the plane entirely light-proof. Once seated inside, the flyer, with his co-pilot, Lieut. Benjamin Kelsey, also of Mitchel Field, were completely shut off from any view of the world outside. All they had to depend on were three new flying instruments, developed during the past year in experiments conducted over the full-flight laboratory established by the Fund at Mitchel Field.

“The chief factors contributing to the solution of the problem of blind flying consist of a new application of the visual radio beacon, the development of an improved instrument for indicating the longitudinal and lateral position of an airplane, a new directional gyroscope, and a sensitive barometric altimeter, so delicate as to measure the altitude of an airplane within a few feet of the ground.

“Thus, instead of relying on the natural horizon for stability, Lieut. Doolittle uses an ‘artificial horizon’ on the small instrument which indicates longitudinal and lateral position in relation to the ground at all time. He was able to locate the landing field by means of the direction-finding long-distance radio beacon. In addition, another smaller radio beacon had been installed, casting a beam fifteen to twenty miles in either direction, which governs the immediate approach to the field.

“To locate the landing field the pilot watches two vibrating reeds, tuned to the radio beacon, on a virtual radio receiver on his instrument board. If he turns to the right or left of his course the right or left reed, respectively, begins doing a sort of St. Vitus dance. If the reeds are in equilibrium the pilot knows it is clear sailing straight to his field.

“The sensitive altimeter showed Lieut. Doolittle his altitude and made it possible for him to calculate his landing to a distance of within a few feet from the ground. . . .”

ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, April 1930

Instrument panel of rear cockpit of Jimmy Doolittle’s Consolidated NY-2 Husky, NX7918 at Mitchel Field, 1929. (Smithsonian Institution)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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