Tag Archives: Browning .303 Mark II Machine Gun

16 August 1940

Flight Lieutenant James B. Nicolson, VC, RAF
Flight Lieutenant Eric James Brindley Nicolson, Royal Air Force. Photographed by Robert L.S. Calcheside. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 07.19.56Air Ministry.

15th November, 1940.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery : —

Flight Lieutenant James Brindley NICOLSON (39329) — No. 249 Squadron.

During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16th August, 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs.

Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.

The London Gazette, Number 34993, Friday, 15 November 1940, at Page 6569, Column 1

Wing Commander Nicolson’s medals at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London. (greentool2002)

Peter Townsend wrote about Nick Nicolson’s battle in his history of the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles:

Flight Lieutenant Eric J.B. Nicolson, VC, RAF (Detail from photograph by Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1700 4700-16)

“Flight Lieutenant J.B. Nicolson of 249 Squadron was patrolling in his Hurricane west of Tangmere at seventeen thousand feet. He dived on some Ju. 88s when suddenly his Hurricane staggered. From somewhere behind bullets and cannon shells ripped through the hood, hit him in the foot and pierced his centre-tank. A searing mass of flame filled the cockpit. As he whipped into a steep turn he saw the offender, a Me. 110, slide below, diving hard. A wild resolve, stronger than reason, seized Nicolson. The cockpit a furnace, his dashboard ‘dripping like treacle’ and his hands fused by heat onto throttle and stick, he yelled, ‘I’ll get you, you Hun.’ And he went firing until the Me. 110 fell, until the frightful agony of his burns had passed the threshold of feeling. Then he struggled out of the cockpit and still wreathed in flames fell until the rush of cold air extinguished them. Only then did his mutilated hand fumble for the ripcord and somehow find strength to pull it. As if his sufferings were not already enough, some imbecile of a Home Guard fired at Nicolson and hit him fifty feet above the village of Millbrook in Hampshire.

“The gallant Nicolson was awarded the Victoria Cross. Of three thousand fighter pilots who fought in the battle ‘to defend the cause of civilization’ Nicolson alone among the defenders received the supreme award for valour. It was enough. The twenty-three-year-old pilot was typical of his young comrades. Alone in their tiny cockpits miles above the earth, there courage was of a peculiar kind which no medal, no material standard, could ever properly measure.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 23 at Pages 328–329.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hawker Hurricane marked as the aircraft flown by Flt. Lt. Nicolson, 16 August 1940. (© IoW Sparky)
The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hawker Hurricane marked as the aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant Nick Nicolson, GN A, 16 August 1940. (© IoW Sparky)

Nick Nicolson’s fighter was a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, P3576, with squadron markings GN A. It was in the third production block of 544 Hurricanes built by Hawker Aircraft Limited,  Brooklands, between February and July 1940.

The Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane flew on 12 October 1937. The early production Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models. It was 31 feet, 4 inches (9.550 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet (12.192 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters). Its empty weight was 4,982 pounds (2,260 kilograms) and gross weight was 6,750 pounds (3,062 kilograms).

The Mk.I’s engine was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 27.01 liter (1,648.96 cubic inches) Rolls-Royce R.M.1.S. Merlin Mk.III single-overhead-cam 60° V-12, rated at 990 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,250 feet (3,734 meters), and 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 10,250 feet (3,124 meters), using 87 octane aviation gasoline. The Merlin III drove the propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction ratio. It weighed 1,375 pounds (624 kilograms).

The fixed-pitch propeller was soon replaced with a three-bladed, two-pitch propeller, and then a three-bladed constant-speed propeller. Speed trials of a Mk.I equipped with a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meters) diameter Rotol constant-speed propeller achieved a maximum True Air Speed in level flight of 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) at 3,000 r.p.m. The service ceiling was 33,750 feet (10,287 meters). The Mk.I’s range was 600 miles (966 kilometers) at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour).

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings.

At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of the enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker, Gloster and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

Eric James Brindley Nicolson was born 29 April 1917 at Hampstead, London, England. His parents were Leslie Gibson Nicolson and Dorothea Hilda Ellen Brindley. He was educated at the Tonbridge School in Kent, a private school which was founded in 1553. Nicolson was employed as an experimental engineer at Sir Henry Ricardo’s Engine Patents, Ltd.,  Shoreham, West Sussex, until joining the Royal Air Force in October 1936. On 21 December 1936, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. After flight training, P/O Nicolson served with No. 72 Squadron at RAF Church Fenton, North Yorkshire, August 1937–May 1940. He was promoted to Flying Officer, 12 May 1939.

On 29 July 1939, Eric Nicolson was married to Miss Muriel Caroline Kendall of Kirby Wharfe, Yorkshire.

Flying Officer Nicolson was assigned to No. 249 Squadron at RAF Leconfield, East Riding of Yorkshire, 15 May 1940, as an acting flight commander, and then promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 September 1940.

Following the action of 16 August, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was hospitalized at the burn unit of Princess Mary’s Hospital, RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire, and then sent to a convalescent facility at Torquay, Devon. On 12 January 1941, he was promoted to Squadron Leader.

Nicolson returned to duty 24 February 1941, with 54 Operational Training Unit. From 21 September 1941 to 16 March 1942, he commanded No. 1459 Flight at RAF Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire. This was a night fighter unit, flying the Douglas Boston (P-70 Havoc). He was next assigned as a staff officer at Headquarters, 293 Wing, Royal Air Force, Alipore, West Bengal, India. After another staff assignment, Squadron Leader Nicolson was given command of 27 Squadron, a de Havilland Mosquito squadron at Agartala, in northeast India.

Nick Nicolson was promoted to Wing Commander 11 August 1944 and assigned to 3rd Tactical Air Force Headquarters in the Comilla Cantonment, East Bengal.

Wing Commander Eric James Brindley Nicolson, V.C., D.F.C., died 2 May 1945, while flying as an observer aboard a No. 355 Squadron Consolidated Liberator B Mk.VI, KH210, “R” (B-24J-85-CF 44-44071). At approximately 0250 hours, two engines caught fire. The bomber, piloted by Squadron Leader G.A. De Souza, RAF, and Flight Sergeant Michael Henry Pullen, Royal Australian Air Force, ditched in the Bay of Bengal, approximately 130 miles (209 kilometers) south of Calcutta. Of the eleven on board, only Pullen and one of the gunners survived.

Nicolson was the only RAF Fighter Command pilot awarded the Victoria Cross during World War II.

This Liberator Mk.VI KH166 (B-24J-80-CF 44-10731) is the same type as the bomber on which Wing Commander Nicolson was killed, 2 May 1945
This Liberator Mk.VI KH166 (B-24J-80-CF 44-10731) is the same type as the bomber on which Wing Commander Nicolson was killed, 2 May 1945.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 June 1941

Consolidated Aircraft Corporation Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503 (SDASM Archives)

2 June 1941: Great Britain had been at war with Germany for 21 months. Its need for military equipment far exceeded the capacity of British industry, so the Empire looked across the North Atlantic Ocean to its former colonies, the United States of America.

The Royal Air Force ordered 140 Liberator B Mk.II bombers from Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, California. The Consolidated Model LB-30 was a variant of the U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 four-engine long-range heavy bomber, but was built expressly for the RAF and had no direct Air Corps equivalent.

AL503 was the first Liberator Mk.II. It had made its first flight 26 May 1941, and was ready to be turned over to the Royal Air Force.

AL503 crashed on its acceptance flight, 2 June 1941. The aircraft was destroyed and all five on board were killed.

Consolidated LB-32, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503, photographed 2 June 1941—the same day it crashed. (Consolidated Aircraft Corporation)
Consolidated Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II, AL503, photographed 2 June 1941—the same day it crashed. The four-gun upper turret is visible. The bomb bay is open. (Consolidated Aircraft Corporation)

The Associated Press reported the accident:

Big Bomber Made for Britain Crashes in San Diego Bay; Four Members of Crew Perish

SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 2—(AP)—A $250,000 four-motored Consolidated bomber crashed and sank in San Diego Bay today, shortly after taking off from Lindbergh Field. Consolidated Aircraft Corp. officials said four of the crew members apparently perished.

The 25-ton craft was camouflaged and ready for delivery to Great Britain.

William B. Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the Consolidated Aircraft Corp., apparently was at the controls. The Navy had taken over rescue operations, and details and names of crew members were not immediately available.

Witnesses said the huge plane left the airport on what appeared to be a normal takeoff, but that the bomber pulled up steep into a vertical climb instead of leveling off. At about 500 feet the plane apparently was in a stall.

The bomber then fell off to the left, and nosed down and the pilot, using the throttle appeared to have recovered. This difficulty was experienced over the airport, but by the time the pilot apparently had regained control of the craft it was flying over the water an an altitude of about 100 feet, the bomber again fell off to the left and the wing struck the water.

A Consolidated spokesman said the crash had “evidence of sabotage.”

The spokesman said the $250,000, 25-ton land bomber had been “thoroughly tested, and things like that just don’t happen.”

Believed dead were:

William Wheatley, 39, Chester, N.Y., chief test pilot for the company.

Allen T. Austen, 28, Kansas City, Mo., assistant test pilot.

Bruce K. Craig, 27, Chicago, engineer.

William H. Rieser, 33, Cambridge, Mass.

Lewis M. McAannon, 25, Woodstock, Ill., chief mechanic, was seriously injured. ¹

The bodies of Wheatley, Craig and Austin had not been recovered from the shattered bomber.

The impact with the water shattered the bomber, witnesses said, and it sank. Navy and small fishing vessels went to the rescue. The plane went down in an area between the San Diego shoreline and the naval air station.

The bomber, called “Liberator” by the Royal Air Force, was of all-metal construction, and its type is regarded as one of the most advanced military weapons. The Liberator can travel 230 miles an hour with a full bomb load over a 3,000 mile range. Orders for the huge land bomber originally were placed by the French, then taken over by the British.

The first B-24 was delivered to the British last Feb. 15 when the craft Consolidated Aircraft officials said established a record non-stop transcontinental flight of 9 hours, 57 minutes for planes of more than 5,000 pounds gross weight.

—The Eugene Guard, Vol. 50, No. 152, Monday, June 2, 1941, at Page 1 Column 6 and Page 2, Column 2

This aerial photograph of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, shows the location of the PB4Y-2 crash site, and nearby, the position where the outer wing panel was found. (U.S. Navy)
This is a 1944 aerial photograph of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, part of an investigation of the crash of a brand-new Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer. The Pacific Ocean is at the upper left corner of the image. (U.S. Navy)

The Consolidated B-24 had first flown 29 December 1939. Chief Test Pilot Bill Wheatley was in command. Designed as a long-range heavy bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps, it was a high-wing, four-engine monoplane with dual vertical fins and rudders. It had retractable tricycle landing gear. The bomber was flown by two pilots, with the crew including a navigator, bombardier, radio operator and several gunners.

The Royal Air Force Liberator B. Mk.I was essentially a B-24A. The Liberator Mk.II, though,  was lengthened by extending the nose in front of the cockpit by 3 feet (0.914 meters). It was equipped with two power-operated gun turrets, one at the top of the fuselage, just aft of the wing, and a second at the tail.

The Liberator Mk.II was 66 feet, 4 inches (20.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 110 feet, 0 inches (33.528 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 0 inches (5.486 meters). It was heavier than the Mk.I as a result of the longer fuselage and the heavy power turrets. The maximum gross weight was 64,250 pounds (29,143 kilograms).

Consolidated LB30 Liberator II
Consolidated Model LB-30, Liberator B Mk.II

The LB-30/Mk.II was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-33) two-row fourteen-cylinder radial engines. These had a normal power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 6,100 feet (1,859 meters) and 1,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m at 14,500 feet. The takeoff/military power rating was 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-1830-33 was 4 feet, 0.06 inches (1.221 meters) in diameter and 5 feet, 3.48 inches (1.612 meters) long. It weighed 1,480 pounds (671 kilograms).

The Liberator Mk.II had a maximum speed of 263 miles per hour (423 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its service ceiling was 24,000 feet (7315 meters).

As was common with British bombers, the Liberator Mk.II was defended by Browning .303 Mk.II (7.7 × 56 mm) machine guns. Four were installed in the upper power turret and another four guns in the tail turret. Left and right waist positions each had two guns. One gun was mounted at the nose and one in the belly of the aircraft. This was a total of fourteen. The tail turret carried 2,200 rounds of ammunition and the top turret had 600 rounds.

Prime Minister Churchill's personal transport, "Commando," teh second Consolidated LB30 Liberator Mark II, AL504 © IWM (CH 14142)
Prime Minister Churchill’s personal transport, “Commando,” the second Consolidated LB30 Liberator Mark II, AL504. Its fuselage has been lengthened and tail surfaces from the PB4Y-2 Privateer installed. © IWM (CH 14142)

The second Liberator Mk.II, AL504, became the personal transport of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who named it Commando. In 1944, the aircraft was modified to the single vertical fin configuration of the PB4Y-2 Privateer. Commando disappeared over the Atlantic in 1945.

William Ballentine Wheatley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

William Ballantine Wheatley was born at Chester, New York, 17 December 1902, the first of three children of William A. Wheatley, a public school superintendent, and Mabel Ballantine Wheatley. He was twice married, first, about 1927, to Esther C. Wheatley, of Massachussetts. His second marriage was to Miss Grace Lenore Ray, 18 April 1935, at Washington, D.C. They would have a son and two daughters.

After two years of college, Wheatley joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, 3 March 1925. He trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, Texas, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, 13 March 1926. On 4 May 1927, Lieutenant Wheatley was assigned to the 118th Observation Squadron, 43rd Division, Air Service, at Hartford, Connecticut, as a pilot and observer. He served in the Air Corps Reserve until 1937.

In 1928, Wheatley went to work for the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He was an air mail pilot in 1928-1929, and then, in February 1929, he became a test pilot for Reuben H. Fleet’s Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. In 1935, Consolidated moved to its new headquarters at Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California. Wheatley moved with it. He and his family lived in a 3 bedroom home about three miles northeast of the airport. In 1940, his salary as chief test pilot of Consolidated was $50,000 per year. ²

Following Wheatley’s death, Beryl Arthur Erickson was assigned as chief test pilot for Consolidated.

¹ Lewis McCannon also died as a result of the crash.

² Approximately $862,500 U.S. dollars in 2017.

© 2018 Bryan R. Swopes

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20 May 1941

NAA test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of P-51B-10-NA 42-106435. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation test pilot Robert C. Chilton standing on the wing of P-51B-10-NA Mustang 42-106435. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

20 May 1941: North American Aviation, Inc., test pilot Robert Creed Chilton took the first XP-51 for its maiden flight at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. The XP-51 was the fourth production Mustang Mk.I built for the Royal Air Force, (North American serial number 73-3101) and assigned registration number AG348.

The Mustang was reassigned to the U.S. Army Air Force, designated as XP-51, serial number 41-038, and sent to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, for evaluation.

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348 at Mines Field, California, 1941. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph 73-0-9. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348, Mines Field, California, 1941. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph 73-0-10. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348 at Mines Field, California, 1941. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)

Later, the XP-51 was extensively tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A.) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia.

Today, the restored XP-51 is in the collection of the E.A.A. AirVenture Museum at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA LMAL 27030)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA)

The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches (11.373 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches (3.721 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds (2,849 kilograms) and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 at NACA Langley. (NASA)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 at NACA Langley. Note the increased length of the carburetor intake. (NASA)

The Mustang was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The -F3R had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). It had a Takeoff and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., to 11,800 feet (3,597 meters). The engine turned a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-F3R was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.54 inches (0.928 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

The Mustang Mk.I had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters), the Allison’s critical altitude, and cruise speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 30,800 feet (9,388 meters) and range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right profile. (NASA LAML)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right profile. (NASA)

The Mustang Mk.I was armed with four air-cooled Browning .303 Mk.II aircraft machine guns, two in each wing, and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with one in each wing and two mounted in the nose under the engine.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboroatory. (NASA LAML 27045)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right three-quarter view. (NASA)

The Mk.I was 30 m.p.h. faster than its contemporary, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, though both used the same engine. Below 15,000 feet, the Mustang was also 30–35 m.p.h faster than a Supermarine Spitfire, which had a more powerful Roll-Royce Merlin V-12.

The XP-51 would be developed into the legendary P-51 Mustang. In production from 1941 to 1945, a total of 16,766 Mustangs of all variants were built.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, rear view. (NASA LMAL 27033)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, rear view. (NASA)

Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.

At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.

In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.

Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.

On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Republic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.

From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.

Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.

In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.

Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.

North American Aviation XP-51 at Wright Field. (Charles M. Daniels Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 15_002838)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 January 1941

BT308, the Avro Lancaster prototype, at RAF Ringway, 9 January 1941. (Avro Heritage Museum)
Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, O.B.E. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

9 January 1941: Test pilot Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, O.B.E., (1896–1953) makes the first flight of the Avro Lancaster prototype, BT308, at RAF Ringway, Cheshire, England, south of Manchester.

Throughout World War II, 7,377 of these long range heavy bombers were produced for the Royal Air Force. The majority were powered by Rolls-Royce or Packard Merlin V-12 engines—the same engines that powered the Supermarine Spitfire and North American P-51 Mustang fighters.

The bomber was designed by Roy Chadwick, F.R.S.A., F.R.Ae.S., the Chief Designer and Engineer of A. V. Roe & Company Limited, based on the earlier twin-engine Avro Manchester Mk.I. Because of this, it was originally designated as the Manchester Mk.III, before being re-named Lancaster. Chadwick was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 2 June 1943, for his work.

The first prototype, BT308, was unarmed and had three small vertical fins.

Avro 683 Lancaster prototype BT308, shortly after the first flight at Manchester, 9 January 1941. (A.V.Roe via R.A.Scholefield) Photograph used with permission.
Avro 683 Lancaster prototype BT308, shortly after the first flight at RAF Ringway, Manchester, England, 9 January 1941. (A.V.Roe via R.A.Scholefield) Photograph is from The R.A. Scholefield Collection and is used with permission.

With the second prototype, DG595, the small center vertical fin was deleted and two larger fins were used at the outboard ends of a longer horizontal tailplane. DG595 was also equipped with power gun turrets at the nose, dorsal and ventral positions, and at the tail.

Avro Lancaster DG595, the second protoype of the Royal Air Force four-engine heavy bomber. This armed prototype has the twin-tail arrangement of the production aircraft. (Unattributed)
Avro Lancaster DG595, the second protoype of the Royal Air Force four-engine long range heavy bomber. This armed prototype has the twin-tail arrangement of the production aircraft. (Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Air Ministry clearance form for Avro 638 Lancaster BT308. Shown on page 1 are the aircraft's engine type and serial numbers.
Air Ministry clearance form for Avro 683 Lancaster BT308. Shown on page 1 are the aircraft’s engine type and serial numbers.
Air Ministry test flight clearance form, Page 2.
Air Ministry test flight clearance form, Page 2. This form is signed by the airplane’s designer, Roy Chadwick, 5 January 1941.

The first production model, Lancaster Mk.I, was operated by a crew of seven: pilot, flight engineer, navigator/bombardier, radio operator and three gunners. It was a large, all-metal, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was 68 feet, 11 inches (21.001 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet, 0 inches (31.090) meters and an overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The Mk.I had an empty weight of 36,900 pounds (16,738 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 68,000 pounds (30,909 kilograms).

BT308 and early production Lancasters were equipped with four liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter), Roll-Royce Merlin XX single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, which were rated at 1,480 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). The Merlins drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed airscrews (propellers), which had a diameter of 13 feet, 0 inches (3.962 meters), through a 0.420:1 gear reduction.

DG595 was used for performance testing at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. The Mark I had a maximum economic cruise speed of 267 miles per hour (430 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters), and a maximum speed of 286 miles per hour (460 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) at a gross weight of 45,300 pounds (20,548 kilograms).¹ Its service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) at 64,500 pounds (29,257 kilograms). It had a range of  2,530 miles (4,072 kilometers) with a 7,000 pound (3,175 kilogram) bomb load.

The Lancaster was designed to carry a 14,000 pound (6,350 kilogram) bomb load, but modified bombers carried the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam bomb. For defense, the standard Lancaster had eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power-operated turrets, with a total of 14,000 rounds of ammunition.

According to the Royal Air Force, “Almost half all Lancasters delivered during the war (3,345 of 7,373) were lost on operations with the loss of over 21,000 crew members.”

Only two airworthy Avro Lancasters are in existence.

The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster Mk.I, PA474. This airplane was built in 1945 by Vickers Armstongs Ltd. at Broughton, Wales, United Kingdom. (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight)
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster Mk.X FM213, flies formation with an Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet. The bomber is marked VR A and nicknamed “Vera.” FM213 was built by Victory Aircraft Ltd., Malton, Ontario, Canada. (Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum)

¹ Speeds shown are True Air Speed (T.A.S.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 December 1941

Kawasaki Ki-48 Army Type 99 twin-engine light bomber. Allied reporting name, “Lily.”

20 December 1941: For the first time, the 1st American Volunteer Group engaged aircraft of the Empire of Japan in combat. 1st and 2nd Squadrons, based at Kunming, China, intercepted ten Kawasaki Ki-48-I Army Type 99 twin-engine light bombers of the 82nd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai.

Japan and China had been at war since 1937. The Japanese aircraft were based at the Gia Lâm airport, near Hà Nội in occupied French Indochina. They had frequently attacked Kunming, a Chinese city at the northern end of the Burma Road, and had previously been unopposed. For this mission, the bomber squadron initially had a fighter escort, but the fighters turned back at the Indo-China/China border.

The AVG had established a network of observers which would report enemy aircraft in time for the fighters to take off to intercept them. Having received the warning of inbound aircraft, the 1st and 2nd AVG squadrons were ordered into battle.

1st American Volunteer Group fighter pilots run toward their shark-mouthed Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2s, “somewhere in China.” (Defense Media Network)

Sources vary widely as to the number of AVG aircraft involved, but there may have been as many as 16 Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3s from the 1st Squadron, and 8 more from the 2nd Squadron. There is a general consensus that the fighters shot down three of the Japanese bombers, and that a fourth went down while returning to base. Other sources say that only one of the ten Ki-48s made it back to its base. AVG pilots claimed five bombers shot down and two damaged. One Hawk 81 ran out fuel and was damaged beyond repair in a forced landing.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 of the 1st American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
CAMCO assembly facility for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 fighters for AVG (74250 A.C.) (SDASM)
Curtiss-Wright 81-A3, 1st American Volunteer Group, circa 1942.
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN ROYAL AIR FORCE SERVICE: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (CH 17252) The first Curtiss Tomahawks, Marks I and IIA, to enter squadron service with the RAF, in the hands of No. 403 Squadron RCAF at Baginton, Warwickshire. The Squadron operated the Tomahawk for only a short time, yielding them in favour of Supermarine Spitfires in May 1941. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210781
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN RAF SERVICE 1939-1945: CURTISS HAWK 81A TOMAHAWK. (ATP 10993F) Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184: cockpit interior, port side. Photograph taken at Air Service Training Ltd, Hamble, Hampshire. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127117
Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIb, AK184, at Hamble, Hampshire © IWM.

RAF order for 100 Tomahawk IIb (Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A2 ) was released to be available for AVG. They were built as hybrids of the Tomahawk Mk.IIb and the P-40C Warhawk, though the airplanes intended for the AVG differed in details from either the standard Britsih or American fighters. The airplanes were painted in the standard RAF brown and green camouflage patterns. The completed airplanes were knocked down, crated, then shipped from New York. They were reassembled at a CAMCO facility near Rangoon, Burma.

Two Curtiss-Wright Tomahawk Mk.IIBs on a test flight following assembly at No. 107 Maintenance Unit, Kasfareet, Egypt. Copyright: © IWM.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81 was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit (fighter). It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The Hawk 81 was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters).

The Tomahawk/Warhawk was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597ubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which had a Continuous Power Rating of 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., from Sea Level to 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 14,300 feet (4,359 meters) for Take Off and Military Power. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun. In British service, the Tomahawk was armed with an additional four Browning .303 Mark II machine guns, with two in each wing. The American P-40, P-40B and P-40C Warhawks had two or four Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns as wing-mounted guns.

The “blood chit” was sometimes sewn on AVG pilots’ jackets.

The AVG pilots were employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). Most were former United States military pilots who had been secretly recruited. They were required to resign their officers’ commissions. Importantly, they were all civilians—not members of the Chinese military–nor were they otherwise employed by the government of China. They each had a one year contract, 4 July 1941–4 July 1942. They were paid a monthly salary, more than three times their former military pay, and were also paid a bonus for each enemy airplane they shot down.

(Note: This article is an incomplete draft)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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