21 January 1976: The first scheduled supersonic passenger airliners, British Airways’ Concorde G-BOAA and Air France’ Concorde F-BVFA, took off simultaneously at 11:40 a.m. G-BOAA departed London Heathrow enroute Bahrain, and F-BVFA departed Paris enroute Rio de Janero, with a stop at Dakar.
The British Airways’ flight, using call sign “Speedbird Concorde,” was crewed by Captain Norman Victor Todd, Captain Brian James Calvert and Flight Engineer John Lidiard. Chief Test Pilot Ernest Brian Trubshaw, CBE, MVO, was also aboard.
G-BOAA arrived on time at 15:20. F-BVFA, after a delay at Dakar, arrived at Rio de Janeiro at 19:00.
20 January 1932: Imperial Airways’ Handley Page HP.42, G-AAXF, named Helena, departed Croydon Aerodrome, South London, England, on the first leg of the airline’s new transcontinental mail service to South Africa. The flights would leave Croydon at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday and arrive at Cape Town on Friday, ten days later.
The route was London, Cairo, Khartoum, Juba, Nairobi, Mbeya, Salisbury, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The initial flights carried mail only, but scheduled passenger service was soon added. The cost of the flight from London to Cape Town was £130.
The HP.42 was a large four-engine biplane built by Handley Page Limited, Hertfordshire, for Imperial Airlines’ long-distance routes. There were two models, the HP.42, for the eastern routes to India and Africa, and the HP.45 for the western flight. (Imperial Airways designated them as “H.P. 42E” and “H.P. 45W.”) The HP.42 could carry 20 passengers and a large amount of baggage. The HP. 45 could carry up to 38 passengers, but less baggage. The variants used different engines. Two of the HP.45 variant, of which Helena was one, were converted to the HP.42 configuration.
The HP.42 was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry six passengers in a forward compartment and twelve aft. The airliner was 89 feet, 9 inches (27.356 meters) long. The upper wing had a span of 130 feet (39.624 meters). The overall height of the airplane was 27 feet (8.230 meters). The empty weight was 17,740 pounds (8,047 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms.)
The HP.42 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,752.788-cubic-inch-displacement (28.723 liter) Bristol Jupiter XI F 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 5:1, which had a normal power rating of 460 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and produced a maximum of 510 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., each. Two engines were mounted in nacelles between the upper and lower wings, and two were mounted on the lower wing. All four engines were left-hand tractors, driving four-bladed propellers through a 2:1 gear reduction. The Jupiter XI weighed 880 pounds (399 kilograms).
The HP.42 had a cruise speed of 96 miles per hour (155 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed was 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). Its range was 500 miles (805 kilometers).
During ten years of operation, no lives had been lost on an H.P. 42, a record believed unique in civil aviation. Several aircraft were placed in service with the Royal Air Force at the beginning of World War II. Helena was damaged in a hard landing, and after inspection, was scrapped. By 1941, all H.P. 42s had been destroyed.
3 January 1981: Pan American World Airways retired its last Boeing 707 airliner. Pan Am had been the launch customer for the 707. On 20 October 1955 the airline ordered 20 707s, and later ordered 130 more. The first one, Clipper America, a 707-121, N707PA, was delivered 15 August 1958. On 26 October 1958, N711PA, also named Clipper America, made the first regularly scheduled transatlantic flight by a jet airliner. (At least three Pan Am 707s carried the name Clipper America. N709PA was renamed Clipper Tradewind. N710PA, was renamed Clipper Caroline. N711PA was renamed Clipper Mayflower.)
The Boeing Model 707-121 was a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings were swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer.
The 707-121 was 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stood 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms).
The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49,820 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).
At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,352.8 meters) of runway to take off.
The 707-121 had a maximum speed of 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It’s range was 2,800 nautical miles (5,186 kilometers).
The Boeing 707 was in production from 1958 to 1979. 1,010 were built. Production of 707 airframes continued at Renton until the final one was completed in April 1991. As of 2011, 43 707s were still in service.
31 December 1985: At 5:14 p.m., Central Standard Time, a Douglas DC-3C, N711Y, registered to Century Equipment, Inc., crash-landed in a field near DeKalb, Texas. The airplane struck a wire and several trees and was extensively damaged. The airplane, already on fire, was completely destroyed.
The pilot and co-pilot escaped through cockpit windows, but all seven passengers, including singer Rick Nelson, died.
N711Y was a Douglas C-47A-25-DK Skytrain twin-engine military transport, serial number 42-108981, built at the Midwest City Douglas Aircraft Company Plant, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, circa 1943–1944. Following U.S. military service, the transport was operated in Brazil. The Skytrain had been converted to a civil DC-3C in 1959, and registered N136H. At one time the airplane had been owned by the DuPont family, and later by singer Jerry Lee Lewis.
At 5:08 p.m., the pilot informed Air Traffic Control that he had a problem and was going to divert from the intended destination of Dallas, Texas, to Texarkana. At 5:11 p.m., ATC received a call from N711Y saying that there was smoke in the cockpit. It was then seen on radar to be descending. The airplane disappeared from radar at 5:14 p.m.
Witnesses reported seeing the airplane descending in a left turn to line up with a farm field. It was trailing smoke and small pieces of metal fell off which started several small fires. The DC-3 struck two power wires suspended about 30 feet (9 meters) above the ground, a utility pole and several trees.
The pilot and co-pilot, who were both severely burned, gave differing statements as to what had occurred. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that there had been an in-flight fire in the passenger cabin which had probably started in the on-board cabin heater. The board concluded that the pilot in command did not follow proper procedures or check lists.
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is an all-metal twin-engine, low wing monoplane transport with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, a navigator and a radio operator. The wing is fully cantilevered and the fuselage is of semi-monocoque construction. Control surfaces are fabric-covered.
The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). Empty weight of the C-47A is 17,257 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms).
The C-47 is powered by two 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These had a maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., at Sea Level, for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms). (N711Y had been re-engined with Pratt & Whitney R-1830-75 engines, rated at 1,350 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m.)
The C-47 has a cruising speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and service ceiling of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).
The C-47 could carry 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of cargo, or 28 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 14 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with three attendants.
The C-47A served with the United States Air Force until 1971. Hundreds of C-47s and DC-3s are still operational, worldwide.
29 December 1972: Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, was enroute from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York, to Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida, with a crew of 13 and 163 passengers. The flight was under the command of Captain Robert Albin Loft, a 32-year-veteran of Eastern Air Lines. The co-pilot was First Officer Albert John Stockstill, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who had flown with Eastern as a flight engineer for 12 years before upgrading to first officer the previous year. The Second Officer (flight engineer) was Donald Louis Repo. He was employed as a mechanic by Eastern in 1947, and had qualified as a flight engineer in 1955.
On approach to MIA, the flight crew lowered the landing gear. The indicator light for the nose gear did not illuminate. Captain Loft informed the Miami control tower that he was abandoning the approach and requested a holding pattern. Miami Approach Control placed Flight 401 in a “race track” pattern at 2,000 feet (610 meters), west of MIA.
The flight crew confirmed that the landing gear was operating properly, and confirmed that the incandescent light bulb for the gear position indicator was burned out. Still, all three members of the flight crew, as well as a fourth Eastern Air Lines employee who was in the cockpit, continued to investigate the light’s malfunction. While they did so, the airplane entered a very gradual descent which went unobserved by the crew.
The following partial transcript is from the airplane’s Cockpit Voice Recorder:
Miami Approach Control: “Eastern, ah Four Oh One how are things comin’ out there?” [2341:40]
Eastern Air Lines Flight 401: “Okay, we’d like to turn around and come back in.” [2341:44]
Miami Approach Control: “Eastern Four Oh One turn left heading one eight zero.” [2341:47]
First Officer: “We did something to the altitude.” [2342:05]
Captain: “What?” [2342:05]
First Officer: “We’re still at two thousand, right?” [2342:07]
At 11:42:12 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Flight 401 impacted the surface of an Everglades swamp, 18.7 miles (30.1 kilometers) west-northwest of the end of Runway 9L. The TriStar hit the ground at 227 miles per hour (365 kilometers per hour) in a 28° left bank. Of the 176 persons on board, 99 were killed and 75 were injured. 2 of the injured died later.
The cause of the accident was “pilot error.” In the simplest terms, the crew failed to Fly The Airplane while dealing with an inconsequential technical issue. At the time, this was the highest number of fatalities in an aircraft accident in the United States.
PROBABLE CAUSE: “The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the fight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final 4 minutes of flight, and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground. Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew’s attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed.”
— Aircraft Accident Report, Eastern Air Lines, Inc. L-1011, N310EA, Miami, Florida, December 29, 1972, Report Number NTSB-AAR-73-14, Adopted 14 June 1973, Chapter 2.2 at Pages 23–24
Following the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, and the similar crash of a United Air Lines DC-8, Flight 173, at Portland, Oregon, 28 December 1978, airlines developed a system called Cockpit Resource Management to ensure that the flight crews stayed focused on cockpit priorities while dealing with unexpected issues.
Flight 401 was a Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar, a long-range variant of the “wide body” airliner, FAA registration N310EA, (serial number N193A-1011) which had been delivered to Eastern Air Lines 18 August 1972 had entered service three days later. At the time of the crash, it had 986 hours, total time on the airframe (TTAF).
The L-1011 was a very technologically advanced airliner, operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry a maximum of 330 passengers. The –385 was 14 feet shorter than the previous TriStar versions, with a length of 164 feet, 2.5 inches (50.051 meters). It had longer wings, spanning 164 feet, 4 inches (50.089 meters). Its overall height was 55 feet, 4 inches (16.865 meters). Empty, it weighed 245,400 pounds (111,312 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weigh was 510,000 pounds (231,332 kilograms) and maximum landing weight, 368,000 pounds (166,922 kilograms).
N310EA was powered by three Rolls-Royce RB.211-22C turbofan engines, with two suspended on pylons under the wings and one in the rear of the fuselage. They produced 42,000 pounds of thrust (186.83 kilonewtons), each.
The L-1011-385-1 had a maximum speed of 0.95 Mach. Its cruising speed was 604 miles per hour (972 kilometers per hour). Range with maximum passengers was 6,151 miles (9,899 kilometers). The service ceiling was 43,000 feet (13,106 meters).
The Lockheed L-1011 was in production from 1968 to 1984. 250 of the airliners were built at Palmdale, California.