Tag Archives: Bomber

1 August 1939

The flight crew of the FAI World Altitude Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to right: Captain Pearl H. Robey, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and R. Swofford. (FAI)

1 August 1939: Captains Clarence S. Irvine and Pearl H. Robey, United States Army Air Corps, used the Boeing Y1B-17A Flying Fortress (Model 299F), serial number 37-369, to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude with a 5,000 Kilogram Payload. The bomber climbed to 10,371 meters (34,026 feet) with a payload of 11,023 pounds.¹ ²

On the same day, Irvine and Robey flew the Y1B-17 from Dayton, Ohio to St. Jacob, Illinois, setting an FAI World Record for Speed Over 1,000 Kilometers with a 5,000 Kilogram Payload, averaging 417.46 kilometers per hour (259.40 miles per hour).³

The flight crew of the FAI World Speed Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to Right: Capatain C.J. Crane, P.G. Miller, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and Captain pearl H. Robey. (FAI)
The flight crew of the FAI World Speed Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to Right: Captain Carl J. Crane, P.G. Miller, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and Captain Pearl H. Robey. (FAI)

The single Y1B-17A (Boeing Model 299F) was originally ordered as a static test article, but when that was determined to be unnecessary, it was used as an engine test aircraft. It was equipped with four 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-1820-51 (Cyclone G59) single-row nine-cylinder radial engines. Moss/General Electric turbo-superchargers were installed, initially on top of the wings, but were moved to the bottom of the engine nacelles.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (FAI)

The supercharged Wright R-1820-39 (Cyclone R-1820-G5) engines of the YB-17s were rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, 775 horsepower at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., for take off. By contrast, the YB-17A’s R-1820-51 engines were rated at 800 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for take off. But the turbochargers allowed the engines to maintain their Sea Level power rating all the way to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Both the -39 and -51 engine had a 16:11 propeller gear reduction ratio. The R-1820-51 was 3 feet, 9.06 inches (1.145 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.12 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,200.50 pounds (544.54 kilograms). 259 were produced by Wright between September 1937 and February 1940.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (U.S. Air Force)

The turbo-superchargers installed on the YB-17A greatly improved the performance of the bomber, giving it a 55 mile per hour (89 kilometer per hour) increase in speed over the supercharged YB-17s, and increasing the bomber’s service ceiling by 7,000 feet (2,132 meters). The turbo-superchargers worked so well that they were standard on all following B-17 production models.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Boeing Y1B-17A was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.363 meters). Its empty weight was 26,520 pounds (12,029 kilograms). The maximum gross weight was 45,650 pounds (20,707 kilograms)

The Model 299F had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour), a maximum speed of 271 miles per hour (436 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The maximum range was 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) load of bombs, the range was 2,400 miles (3,862 kilometers).

The Y1B-17A could carry eight 600 pound (272 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber machine guns.

Following the engine tests, 37-369 was re-designated B-17A.

The Boeing Y1B-17A in flight near Mt. Rainier on 28 February 1938. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8318

² This record-setting flight was dramatized in the motion picture “Test Pilot,” (1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy. This movie is now 80 years old and has a melodramatic plot, but is well worth seeing for aviation history enthusiasts.

³ FAI Record File Number 10443

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 July 1935

Boeing Model 299, NX13372, photographed during its first flight, 28 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, photographed during its first flight, 28 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)
Boeing test pilot Les Tower. (Boeing)
Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot Leslie R. Tower.

28 July 1935, At Boeing Field, Seattle, Chief Test Pilot Leslie Ralph (“Les”) Tower and Louis Waite took off on the maiden flight of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, a prototype four-engine long range heavy bomber. For approximately one-and-a-half hours, Tower flew back and forth between Tacoma and Fort Lewis. When he landed, he said, “It handles just like a little ship—a little bigger, of course.”

The Boeing Model 299 was a four-engine bomber operated by a crew of eight. It  was designed to meet a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal for a multi-engine bomber that could carry a 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bomb load a distance of 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) at a speed greater than 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). Design of the prototype began in June 1934 and construction was started 16 August 1934. The Air Corps designated it B-299, and later, XB-17. It did not carry a military serial number, being marked with civil registration NX13372.

The Boeing Model 299 with Mount Rainier. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing Model 299 with Mount Rainier. (U.S. Air Force)

The Model 299 was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.554 meters). Its empty weight was 21,657 pounds (9,823 kilograms). The maximum gross weight was 38,053 pounds (17,261 kilograms).

The prototype was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liter) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S1E-G was rated at 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 87-octane gasoline. They turned 11 foot, 6 inch (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms)

Boeing Model 299. (U.S.  Air Force)

In flight testing, the Model 299 had a cruise speed of 204 miles per hour (328 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 236 miles per hour (380 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 24,620 feet (7,504.2 meters). Its maximum range was 3,101 miles (4,991 kilometers). Carrying a 2,573 pounds (1,167 kilograms) load of bombs, the range was 2,040 miles (3,283 kilometers).

Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.
Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.

The XB-17 could carry eight 500 pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five air-cooled Browning .30-caliber machine guns.

Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, photographed 24 July 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, photographed 24 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)

NX13372 was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. An Army Air Corps pilot making his first familiarization flight neglected to remove the control locks. This incident led directly to the creation of the ”check list” which is used by all aircraft crew members.

Waist gun position of the Boeing 299. (U.S. Air force)
Waist gun position of the Boeing 299. (The Boeing Company)

Designated XB-17 by the Army Air Corps, this airplane and the YB-17 pre-production models that followed would undergo several years of testing and improvement before entering production as the B-17 Flying Fortress, a legendary airplane of World War II. By the end of the war 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

Leslie Ralph Tower was born at Sisseton, South Dakota, 21 January 1903. He was the first of three children of Ralph R. Tower, a farmer who would later serve as a state senator for Montana, and Mayme Amanda Johnson Tower, a Swedish immigrant.

Les Tower attended high school at Polson, Montana, graduating in 1922. He then attended the University of Washington, where he studied engineering. He was a member of the Radio Club.

Tower enlisted in the United States Army as an aviation cadet, training at Brooks and Kelly airfields in Texas. He then served with the 2nd Bombardment Squadron at Langley Field, Virginia.

In 1925 Tower started working for Boeing as a draftsman, but soon began test flying new airplanes, which included the B-9 bomber and the Model 247 commercial airliner. He also demonstrated and delivered Boeing airplanes around the world.

On 20 August 1935, Tower and Louis Wait flew the Model 299 from Seattle to Dayton, approximately 2,100 miles, in 9 hours, 3 minutes, averaging 233 miles per hour (375 kilometers per hour).

Les Tower was aboard the XB-17 as an observer during the 30 October flight. He saw that the control locks had not been released and tried to reach them, but was unable. In the fire that followed the crash, Tower suffered severe burns to his face, right arm and both legs.

Leslie Ralph Tower died of his injuries 19 November 1935 at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. His remains were transported by train, escorted by Army airplanes, and were buried at Lakeview Cemetery, Polson, Montana.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 July 1943

22 July 1943: A Royal Air Force official photographer visited No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, at their base at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, England. These photographic images are part of the Ministry of Information Second World War Colour Transparency Collection.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson with members of his crew. Left to right: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Pilot Officer P M Spafford, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant R E G Hutchinson, wireless operator; Pilot Officer G A Deering and Flying Officer H T Taerum, gunners. (Imperial War Museum TR 1127)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson with members of his crew. Left to right: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Pilot Officer P M Spafford, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant R E G Hutchinson, wireless operator; Pilot Officer G A Deering and Flying Officer H T Taerum, gunners. (Imperial War Museum TR 1127) 
Wing Commander Guy Gibson sitting in a poppy field reading a book. (Imperial War Museum TR 1125)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson sitting in a poppy field reading a book. (Imperial War Museum TR 1125)
The crew of Lancaster ED285/`AJ-T' sitting on the grass, posed under stormy clouds. Left to right: Sergeant G Johnson; Pilot Officer D A MacLean, navigator; Flight Lieutenant J C McCarthy, pilot; Sergeant L Eaton, gunner. In the rear are Sergeant R Batson, gunner; and Sergeant W G Ratcliffe, engineer. Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy (fourth from left) and his crew of No. 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) at RAF Scampton, 22 July 1943.
The crew of Lancaster ED285/`AJ-T’ sitting on the grass, posed under stormy clouds. Left to right: Sergeant G Johnson; Pilot Officer D A MacLean, navigator; Flight Lieutenant J C McCarthy, pilot; Sergeant L Eaton, wireless operator. In the rear are Sergeant R Batson, gunner; and Sergeant W G Ratcliffe, engineer.
Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy (fourth from left) and his crew of No. 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) at RAF Scampton, 22 July 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1128)
Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, pilot of ED929/`AJ-L' on the dams raid, with Flight Lieutenant R D Trevor-Roper, who flew as Gibson's rear gunner on the dam's raid; and Squadron Leader G W Holden. (Imperial War Museum TR 1129)
Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, pilot of ED929/`AJ-L’ on the dams raid, with Flight Lieutenant R D Trevor-Roper, who flew as Gibson’s rear gunner on the dam’s raid; and Squadron Leader G W Holden. (Imperial War Museum TR 1129)
Flight Lieutenant Harold Sydney Wilson and crew. They did not fly on the Dams raid owing to illness. Left to right: Flight Sergeant Trevor H Payne, front gunner; Pilot Officer Thomas W Johnson, flight engineer; Sergeant Eric Hornby, rear gunner; Sergeant Lloyd G Mieyette, wireless operator; Pilot Officer George H Coles, bomb-aimer; Flying Officer James A Rodger, navigator; and Flight Lieutenant Harold S Wilson. All were killed when their Lancaster was shot down on the night of 15 /16 September 1943 during the raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. (Imperial War Museum TR 1126)
Flight Lieutenant Harold Sydney Wilson and crew. They did not fly on the Dams raid owing to illness. Left to right: Flight Sergeant Trevor H Payne, front gunner; Pilot Officer Thomas W Johnson, flight engineer; Sergeant Eric Hornby, rear gunner; Sergeant Lloyd G Mieyette, wireless operator; Pilot Officer George H Coles, bomb-aimer; Flying Officer James A Rodger, navigator; and Flight Lieutenant Harold S Wilson. All were killed when their Lancaster was shot down on the night of 15 /16 September 1943 during the raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. (Imperial War Museum TR 1126)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson at his desk with Squadron Leader D J H 'Dave' Maltby, one of his flight commanders. (Imperial War museum TR 1122)
Wing Commander Guy Gibson at his desk with Squadron Leader D J H ‘Dave’ Maltby, one of his flight commanders. (Imperial War Museum TR 1122)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1989

Bruce J. Hinds and Richard Couch. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

17 July 1989: The first Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, took off from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, on its first flight. The crew was Northrop Chief Test Pilot Bruce J. Hinds and Colonel Richard Couch, U.S. Air Force. The top secret “stealth bomber” prototype landed at Edwards Air Force Base 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

After completing the flight test program, -1066 was placed in storage until 1993, awaiting upgrade to the Block 10 operational configuration. In 2000 it was again upgraded to the Block 30 standard. It is now named Spirit of America and assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Northrop B-2A Spirit, 82-1066, the first “stealth bomber,” during a test flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 July 1965

North American Aviation XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207 takes off for the first time at AF Plant 42, 17 July 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

17 July 1965: At Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, the second North American Aviation B-70 Valkyrie prototype, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, took off on its maiden flight enroute Edwards Air Force Base where it would continue the flight test program with its sister ship.

The Valkyrie was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber, capable of flight above 70,000 feet (21,336 meters), with intercontinental range. It’s altitude allowed it to avoid interceptors of the time, but improvements in radar-guided surface-to-air missiles increased its vulnerability. Ultimately, though, political decisions ended the B-70 program.

62-0207 was flown just 46 times, for a total of 92 hours, 22 minutes of flight. Changes to the aircraft corrected the deficiencies discovered in testing the Number 1 XB-70A, 62-0001. The most visible change was 5° dihedral added to the wings for improved stability. On 16 April 1966, 62-0207 reached its maximum design speed, Mach 3.08, which it sustained for 20 minutes.

Less than one year after its first flight, 8 June 1966, the Valkyrie was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N and crashed just north of Barstow, California. North American’s B-70 test pilot, Al White, was seriously injured and co-pilot, Major Carl Cross, USAF, was killed. NASA test pilot Joe Walker, flying the F-104, was also killed.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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