Tag Archives: Circumnavigation

16–18 January 1957

The three Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses at March AFB, 18 January 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
The three Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses at March AFB, 18 January 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

16 January 1957: Operation POWER FLITE. At 1:00 p.m. PST, five Boeing B-52B Stratofortress eight-engine jet bombers of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy), departed Castle Air Force Base, near Merced, California, on a non-stop around-the-world flight. 45 hours, 19 minutes later, three B-52s landed at March Air Force Base, Riverside, California, completing the 24,325 miles (39,147 kilometer) flight at an average speed of 534 miles per hour (859 kilometers per hour).

The lead Stratofortress, B-52B-35-BO 53-0394, Lucky Lady III, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Morris. Morris had been co-pilot aboard Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50A Superfortress that flew around the world in 1949. Also aboard Morris’ bomber was Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., commanding 15th Air Force.

Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of B-52B 53-0394. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Three of the  bombers were considered primary, with two “spares.” Each B-52 carried a flight crew of nine men, including three pilots and two navigators.

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress refuels in flight from a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. The KC-97 had to enter a shallow dive to increase its speed, while teh B-52 flew in landing configuration to fly slow enough to stay with the tanker. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress refuels in flight from a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. The KC-97 had to enter a shallow dive to increase its speed, while the B-52 flew in landing configuration to stay with the tanker. (U.S. Air Force)

Four inflight refuelings from piston-engine Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers were required. More than 100 KC-97s participated in Operation POWER FLITE.

One of the primary B-52s, La Victoria, 53-0397, commanded by Major George Kalebaug, was unable to refuel in flight because of ice build-up in its refueling receptacle. The bomber diverted to Goose Bay, Labrador. A second B-52, a spare, as planned, left the flight over North Africa, diverting to an air base in England.

All 27 crewmembers of the three bombers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Curtis LeMay. The Mackay Trophy for “the most meritorious flight of the year” was awarded to the 93rd Bombardment Wing.

Lucky Lady III was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It was scrapped in 1984. 53-0397 went to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in 1966, preceded by 53-0398 in 1965.

Flight helmets of the crew of Lucky Lady III, March AFB, 18 January 1957. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)
Flight helmets of the crew of Lucky Lady III, March AFB, 18 January 1957. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)

This record-breaking around the world flight was dramatized in the 1957 Warner Bros. movie “Bombers B-52,” which starred Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Poster for the 1957 motion picture, "Bombers B-52".
Poster for the 1957 motion picture “Bombers B-52” (Warner Bros.)

The 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) was the first operational Air Force unit to receive the B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B 52-8711, on 29 June 1955.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156.6 feet, (47.73 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet (56.39 meters) and overall height of 48.3 feet, (14.72 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings had a 6° angle of incidence and 2° 30′ anhedral. The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 36° 54′. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1WA turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 8,250 pounds of thrust (36.700 kilonewtons), each, Maximum Continuous Power; 9,500 pounds (42.258 kilonewtons), Military Power (30 minute limit); or 11,400 pounds (50.710 kilonewtons) with water injection (5 minute limit). The J57-P-1WA was 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 13 feet, 1.7 inches (4.006 meters) long, and weighed 4,210 pounds (1,910 kilograms).

The B-52B had a cruise speed of 453 knots (521 miles per hour/839 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and a maximum speed of 547 knots (630 miles per hour/1,013 kilometers per hour) at 19,900 feet (6,065 meters). The service ceiling with the maximum bomb load was 48,650 feet (14,829 meters), and 55,350 feet (16,855 meters) for a ferry mission.

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress

Maximum ferry range was 6,460 nautical miles (7,434 statute miles/11,964 kilometers). With the maximum bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 2,620 nautical miles (3,015 statute miles/4,852 kilometers), or 3,135 nautical miles (3,608 statute miles/5,806 kilometers) with the design load. With inflight refueling, though, the bomber’s range was essentially world-wide.

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. (Some B-52s were armed with four M24A1 20 mm autocannons with 400 rounds per gun.)

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a maximum of 27 1,000-pound conventional explosive bombs. For strategic missions, the bomber carried one Mark 6 nuclear bomb, which had a yield ranging from 8 to 160 kilotons, depending on Mod, or two Mark 21 thermonuclear bombs, each with a yield of 4–5 megatons.

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of 27 September 2016, 77 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

Boeing B-52B-35-BO Stratofortress 53-0394, Lucky Lady III. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–17 November 1965

Flying Tiger Lines’ Boeing 707-320C N322F. (Unattributed)
Flying Tiger Line’s Boeing 707-349C N322F. (Flying Tiger Line Pilots Association)

14–17 November 1965: Captains Fred Lester Austin, Jr., and Harrison Finch, two retired Trans World Airlines pilots, took off from Honolulu on a 26,230-mile (42,213 kilometer), 57 hour, 27 minute flight around the world—from Pole to Pole!

The pair leased a brand new Boeing 707-349C, c/n 18975, registered N322F, from Flying Tiger Line. Nick-named Pole Cat, the airplane was crewed by a total of five pilots, all rated captains. In addition to Austin and Finch, there were Captain Jack Martin, Chief Pilot of Flying Tigers Line; Captain Robert N. Buck, TWA; and Boeing Senior Engineering Test Pilot James R. Gannett. Three navigators and three flight engineers completed the flight crew. John Larsen, TWA’s chief navigator, did most of the planning and the other two navigators and all three flight engineers were Flying Tiger Line employees.

COL Willard F. Rockwell, Sr.
COL Willard F. Rockwell, Sr.

Most of the cost of the flight was paid for by Colonel Willard F. Rockwell, Sr., founder of the Rockwell Corporation, who was one of 27 passengers aboard. The airliner was equipped with an experimental Litton Systems Inertial Navigation System (INS) and the very latest Single Side Band (SSB) communications equipment from Collins Radio.

The flight departed HNL and flew north to the North Pole, then south to London Heathrow, where they stopped for fuel. Unexpected runway restrictions limited the 707’s takeoff weight, so they had to make an extra fuel stop at Lisbon, Portugal before flying to Buenos Aires, Argentina. After another fuel stop there, they continued south, circled the South Pole four times, then headed north to Christchurch, New Zealand. From there, they continued on to Honolulu.

Total elapsed time for the flight was 62 hours, 27 minutes, 35 seconds with just under 5 hours on the ground.

Flying Tiger line’s Boeing 707-349C, N322F.

Flying Tiger Line’s Boeing 707-349C (an airline-specific variant of the 707-320C) was a “combi” that could be configured to carry passengers and/or cargo. The –320 series was a stretched version of the original 707-120 airliner, with longer, redesigned wings and tail plane, as well as a taller vertical fin for increased stability during low-speed flight. It was operated by a flight crew of four on international flights.

The 707-320 series was 152 feet, 11 inches (46.609 meters) long with a wingspan of 145 feet, 9 inches (44.425 meters) and overall height of 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters). It had an empty weight of 146,400 pounds (66,406 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 333,600 pounds (151,318 kilograms).

The –320 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3D-3 or JT3D-7 turbofan engines which produced 18,000 and 19,000 pounds of thrust, each, respectively. This engine was a civil variant of the military TF33 series. The JT3D-7 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 2-stage fan, 14-stage compressor (7 intermediate-, 7 high-pressure stages) and 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The JT3D-7 had a maximum power rating of 19,285 pounds of thrust at 10,300 r.p.m. N2, (five-minute limit). The engine was 136.64 inches ( meters) long, 53.00 inches ( meters) wide and 56.00 inches ( meters) high, and weighed 4,340 pounds ( kilograms).

At MTOW, the 707-320 required 10,840 feet (3,304 meters) of runway for takeoff. 15 knots slower than a 707-120, the –320 had a maximum speed of 480 knots (552 statute miles per hour/889 kilometers per hour). The airliner’s range with maximum fuel was 5,750 nautical miles (6,617 statute miles/10,649 kilometers).

Boeing built a total of 1,010 707s. Of these, 337 were –320Cs. N322F was delivered to Flying Tiger Line 27 September 1965. It was sold to Caledonian Airways in 1968 and registered as G-AWTK. In 1970, Caledonian merged with British United and became British Caledonian. 18975 was then registered as G-BDCN, and named County of Renfrew. It was sold to TAAG Angola Airlines in 1977. The African cargo line registered 18975 as D2-TAC, D2-TOB and D2-TOI. Internet records list it as “written off” 15 February 1988.

Flying Tiger Line Boeing 707-349C N322F. (Flying Tigers Mechanics)
Flying Tiger Line Boeing 707-349C N322F. (Flying Tigers Mechanics)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 September 1982

H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn with Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, N3911Z, after their 29-day around-the-world flight. (© Bettman/Corbis)

30 September 1982: H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn completed their around-the-world helicopter flight when they landed Spirit of Texas at their starting point at Dallas, Texas. They had flown the single-engine Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, serial number 45658, civil registration N3911Z, more than 26,000 miles (41,843 kilometers) in 246.5 flight hours over 29 days, 3 hours and 8 minutes.

They had begun their journey 1 September 1982. Perot and Coburn traveled across twenty-six countries. They established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for helicopter speed around the world, eastbound, having averaged 56.97 kilometers per hour (35.399 miles per hour). (Class E-1d, FAI Record File Number 1254). They also established a series of point-to-point records while enroute, with the highest speed, an average of 179.39 kilometers per hour (111.47 miles per hour), taking place on 7 September 1982, while flying Spirit of Texas from London to Marseilles (FAI Record File Number 10018).

The Bell Helicopter Company Model 206L-1 LongRanger II is a 7-place light helicopter developed from the earlier 5-place Model 206B JetRanger series. It is designed to be flown by a single pilot in the right front seat, and is certified for Visual Flight Rules.

The 206L-1 is 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) long, overall, and the two-bladed main rotor is semi-rigid and under-slung, a common feature of Bell’s main rotor design. It has a diameter of 37 feet (11.278 meters) and turns counter-clockwise (seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rotor blade has a chord of 1 foot, 1.0 inches (0.330 meter) and 11° negative twist. The blade tips are swept.

The two-bladed tail rotor assembly is also semi-rigid and is positioned on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 6.0 inches (1.676 meters).

The LongRanger II is powered by an Allison 250-C28B turboshaft engine. This engine produces 500 shaft horsepower but is de-rated to 435 horsepower, the limit of the main transmission. The engine is mounted above the roof of the fuselage, to the rear of the main transmission. Output shafts lead forward to the transmission and the tail rotor drive shaft aft to the tail rotor 90° gear box. The transmission and rotor mast are mounted angled slightly forward and to the right. This assists in the helicopter’s lift off to a hover, helps to offset its translating tendency, and keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude during cruise flight.

A vertical fin is attached at the aft end of the tail boom. The fin is offset 4° to the right to unload the tail rotor in cruise flight. Fixed horizontal stabilizers with an inverted asymmetric airfoil are attached to the tail boom. In cruise flight, these provide a downward force that keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude. Vertical fins are attached to the outboard ends of the horizontal stabilizers and above the tailboom centerline. The fins are slightly offset to the left and counteract the helicopter’s Dutch roll tendency.

The helicopter has an empty weight of approximately 2,160 pounds (979 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 4,050 pounds (1,836 kilograms).

The Model 206L LongRanger first flew in 1974 and the 206L-1 LongRanger II variant entered production in 1978. It was replaced several years later by the 206L-3. The LongRanger remains in production as the Model 206L-4.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 09.44.55Perot had purchased the LongRanger II for $750,000, specifically for this flight. Modifications started immediately and over the next three weeks an additional 151-gallon fuel tank was added giving the helicopter approximately 8 hours’ endurance. “Pop-out floats”—inflatable pontoons that can be deployed for emergency landings on water—were installed. The helicopter also carried a life raft and other emergency equipment and supplies. Additional communication, navigation equipment and radar was installed.

Spirit of Texas aboard a container ship.
N3911Z aboard a container ship.

During the circumnavigation, the helicopter burned 56,000 pounds (25,400 kilograms) of jet fuel and made 56 fueling stops, including aboard a pre-positioned container ship in the North Pacific Ocean.

The helicopter was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum.

Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II s/n 45658, N3911Z, “Spirit of Texas,” on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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23–26 August 1929

Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 August 1929. (M.J. Ford)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (18xx—1954)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868—1954)

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.
A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside.
Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 August 1929

Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868–1954)

8 August 1929: The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ 127 was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

The route of the flight was from Lakehurst NAS to the LZ 127 home base at Friedrichshafen. Germany. After refueling, it continued across Europe, Russia and Siberia, non-stop to Tokyo, Japan, where it moored and refueled at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station. This leg crossed 7,297 miles (11,743 kilometers) in 101 hours, 49 minutes. After five days in Japan, Graf Zeppelin headed east across the Pacific Ocean to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean. The distance was 5,986 miles (9,634 kilometers) and took 79 hours, 54 minutes. The transcontinental flight from Los Angeles back to the starting point at Lakehurst NAS, 2,996 miles (4,822 kilometers), took 51 hours, 13 minutes.

The total elapsed time for the circumnavigation was 21 days, 5 hours, 31 minutes. The route covered 20,651 miles (33,234 kilometers). The actual flight time was 12 days, 12 hours, 13 minutes, an average of 68.786 miles per hour (110.7 kilometers per hour).

Airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127. (Alexander Cohrs)

Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights and carried more than 13,000 passengers. It is estimated that it flew more than 1,000,000 miles. After the Hindenburg accident, it was decided to replace the hydrogen buoyancy gas with non-flammable helium. However, the United States government refused to allow the gas to be exported to Germany. With no other source for helium, in June 1938, Graf Zeppelin was deflated and placed in storage.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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