Tag Archives: Charles Lester Morris

14 January 1942

Les Morris at the controls of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (XR-4, serial number 41-18874) on its first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 13 January 1942. (SikorskyHistorical Archives)
Les Morris at the controls of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (XR-4, serial number 41-18874) on its first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 14 January 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

14 January 1942: Chief Test Pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris (1908–1991) made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A at Stratford, Connecticut. The first flight lasted approximately 3 minutes, and by the end of the day, Morris had made 6 flights totaling 25 minutes duration.

“One-half left front close-up head-and-shoulders view of test pilot Charles L. “Les” Morris posed seated in the cockpit of the Sikorsky VS-300 helicopter (r/n NX28996), March 29, 1943.” (Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-HGC-1408

The VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls.

The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted to the aft end of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated counter-clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s right side.

The VS-316A was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).

The original engine installed in the VS-316A was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 499.805-cubic-inch-displacement (8.190 liter) Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab SS-50 seven-cylinder radial  engine with a compression ratio of 5.55:1. The SS-50 was a direct-drive engine, with a maximum continuous power rating of 109 horsepower at 1,865 r.p.m., and 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. 73-octane gasoline was required. The SS50 was 2 feet, 5 inches (0.737 meters) long, 3 feet, 0-9/16 inches (0.929 meters) in diameter and weighed 306 pounds (139 kilograms).

gor Ivanovich Sikorsky and Charles Lester Morris with the XR-4 at Wright Field, Ohio, May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Orville Wright and Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky with the XR-4 at Wright Field, Ohio, May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

Numerous modifications were made, including lengthening the main rotor blades, covering them with metal, and upgrading the engine to a 200 horsepower Warner R-550-1 Super Scarab. The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 August 1943

The second Sikorsky XR-5, 43-28237 (c/n 34). (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

18 August 1943: At Bridgeport, Connecticut, Sikorsky chief test pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-327, c/n 33. Also known as the Sikorsky Model S-48, the U.S. Army Air Corps designated the helicopter XR-5 and assigned the serial number 43-28236.

The XR-5 was a significant improvement over the earlier R-4. Its narrow fuselage was streamlined and the cockpit had excellent visibility. The R-4’s box-like fuselage interfered with the downward flow of air from the main rotor, and this was a consideration in the shape of the new helicopter.

The Sikorsky XR-5 (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

There were five XR-5 helicopters, followed by twenty-six YR-5A service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7½ inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1½ inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,714.6 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,222.6 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Chief Test Pilot Les Morris with Captain Jackson E. Beighle, U.S. Army Air Corps, hovers a Sikorsky YR-5A, 43-46603, at Bridgeport, with ten additional passengers, 29 November 1945. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

On 13 September 1943, Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner was hovering out of ground effect at 75 feet (23 meters) when 43-28236 suffered a tail rotor failure. The helicopter made a hard landing and was dignificantly damaged. Neither Viner nor his passenger were injured.

In 1944, while flying to a war bond rally in Nebraska, XR-5 43-28236 suffered an engine failure and crash landed. The helicopter was damaged beyond repair and was stripped for parts.

Thanks to regular This Day in Aviation reader Mike for suggesting this subject.

Igor Sikorsky in the cockpit of a production R-5 helicopter. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 May 1942

Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, Ohio, 17 May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Vought-Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, Ohio, 17 May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
The Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, 17 May 1942. Left to right: E. Walsh, A. Planefisch, Igor Sikorsky, Orville Wright, R. Alex, Les Morris, B. Labensky. (Sikorsky Archives)

17 May 1942: After a 761 mile (1,224.7 kilometer) flight over five days, test pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris and Igor Sikorsky arrived at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to deliver the U.S. Army’s first helicopter, the Vought-Sikorsky XR-4. Morris hovered directly up to the base administration building and landed there. He and Sikorsky were greeted by a large group of people which included Lieutenant Colonel Hollingsworth Franklin (“Frank”) Gregory, the Army’s designated rotorcraft expert, and pioneer aviator Orville Wright.

From the Sikorsky factory at Stratford, Connecticut, to Wright Field, Ohio, was 761 miles (1,224.7 kilometers), direct. Because of the XR-4’s low speed and short range (weight limitations restricted the quantity of gasoline it could carry) the distance was covered in sixteen separate flights with a total flight time of 16 hours, 10 minutes. The longest single flight lasted 1 hour, 50 minutes, a new world’s record for helicopter flight endurance. Igor Sikorsky joined Les Morris for the final leg of the flight.

The Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls. The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right). The three-blade tail rotor was mounted to the right of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade was below the axis of rotation.)

The XR-4 was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).

The VS-316A had originally been powered by a 499.8-cubic-inch-displacement (8.19 liter) air-cooled Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab SS-50 (R-500-1) seven-cylinder radial engine, rated at 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. In the XR-4 configuration, the engine was upgraded to an air-cooled, direct-drive 555.298-cubic-inch-displacement (9.100 liter) Warner Super Scarab SS185 (R-550-3) seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 6.20:1. The R-550-3 was rated at 185 horsepower at 2,175 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 200 horsepower at 2,475 r.p.m (five minute limit) for takeoff. The engine was placed backwards in the aircraft with the propeller shaft driving a short driveshaft through a clutch to a 90° gear box and the transmission. The R-550-3 weighed 344 pounds (156 kilograms).

The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Vought-Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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