14 August 1942: The 27th Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine), 1st Fighter Group, VIII Fighter Command, was ferrying its Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters across the North Atlantic Ocean from Presque Isle, Maine to England as part of Operation Bolero. Iceland was a mid-Atlantic fuel stop on the Northern Ferry Route.
Just over a week earlier, 6 August 1942, 30 Curtiss P-40C Warhawks of the 33rd Fighter Squadron had been flown off the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7). Among the 32 Army Air Corps pilots who boarded the carrier with the fighters at Norfolk, Virginia, was Second Lieutenant Joseph D.R. Shaffer, U.S.A.A.C., service number O-427002.
On the morning of 14 August, a Royal Air Force Northrop N-3PB Nomad of No. 330 Squadron (Norwegian) tracked a German Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C-4 Condor four-engine maritime reconnaissance bomber, marked NT+BY, flying near a convoy south of the island. The bomber then proceeded northward and overflew the peninsula west of Reykjavik.
Lieutenant Shaffer, his squadron now assigned to the 342d Composite Group, Iceland Base Command, one of the units responsible for the air defense of Iceland, located and attacked the Condor with his P-40, damaging one of the bomber’s engines.
At 11:15 a.m., two P-38s of the 27th Squadron, flown by Major John W. Weltman and Second Lieutenant Elza E. Shahan, followed up Shaffer’s attack. Shahan was flying Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning, serial number 41-7540.
The Fw 200 was hit in and around the bomb bay. It exploded and went into the sea approximately 8 miles northwest of Grotta Point. Its crew, F Ofw. Fritz Kühn, Ofw. Phillip Haisch, Ofw. Ottmar Ebner, Uffz. Wolgang Schulze, Ofw. Arthur Wohlleben and Ofw. Albert Winkelmann were all killed.
This was the very first U.S. Army Air Forces air combat victory in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Lieutenants Shaffer and Shahan both shared credit for the victory. They were awarded the Silver Star for their actions.
6 August 1945: At 0245 hours, a four-engine, long range heavy bomber of the 509th Composite Group, United States Army Air Forces, took off from North Field on the island of Tinian in the Marshall Group, on the most secret combat mission of World War II.
The Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress, 44-86292, under the command of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., was carrying Bomb Unit L-11, the first nuclear weapon to be used during war. This was a 9,700-pound (4,400 kilogram) “gun type” fission bomb, the Mark I, code-named Little Boy. It contained 64 kilograms (141.1 pounds) of highly-enriched uranium. The bomb was 120 inches (3.048 meters) long with a diameter of 28 inches (0.711 meter). Although it was a very inefficient weapon, it was considered to be such reliable design that it had not been tested.
On the morning before the mission, Colonel Tibbets had his mother’s name painted on the nose of the airplane: Enola Gay. He had personally selected this bomber, serial number 44-86292, while it was still on the assembly line at the Glenn L. Martin Company plant at Bellevue, Nebraska, 9 May 1945. The B-29 was accepted by the Army Air Corps on 15 May and flown to the 509th’s base at Wendover, Utah, by Captain Robert A. Lewis, a B-29 aircraft commander who would act as Tibbets’ co-pilot on the atomic bombing mission.
The B-29 Superfortress was designed by the Boeing Airplane Company as its Model 345. Produced in three major version, the B-29, B-29A and B-29B, it was built by Boeing at Wichita, Kansas and Redmond, Washington; by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Marietta, Georgia; and the Glenn L. Martin Company at Fort Crook (now Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska. A total of 3,943 Superfortresses were built.
The B-29 was the most technologically advanced airplane built up to that time, and required an immense effort by American industry to produce.
The B-29 Superfortress was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and an overall height of 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters). The standard B-29 had an empty weight of 74,500 pounds (33,793 kilograms) and gross weight of 120,000 pounds (54.431 kilograms).
The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.
Enola Gay had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).
With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. Enola Gay carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.
With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the new engines were more reliable. Enola Gay had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).
At 09:15:17 a.m., (mission time, 8:15 a.m., local), Enola Gay was at 31,000 feet (9,450 meters) over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on the island of Honshu, an industrial center with a population of about 340,000 people. The bombardier initiated the automatic release sequence and the the atomic bomb was dropped. It fell for 44.4 seconds and detonated at an altitude of 1,968 feet (600 meters), about 800 feet (244 meters) from the aiming point, the Aioi Bridge over the Ota River.
Ground Zero, the point on the surface directly below the explosion, was the Shima Hospital. The overpressure is estimated to have been 4.5–6.7 tons per square meter. The two-story brick building was completely obliterated. Of the patients, technicians, nurses and doctors inside, nothing remained.
The resulting explosion was approximately equivalent in explosive force to the detonation of 16,000 tons (14,515 metric tons) of TNT (16 “kilotons”). An estimated 70,000 people were killed immediately, and another 70,000 were wounded. As many as 160,000 people may have died as a result of the atomic bombing by the end of 1945. More would follow over the next few years.
An area of the city with a radius of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the point of detonation (“hypocenter”) was totally destroyed, and combined with the fires that followed, 4.7 square miles (12.17 kilometers²) of the city were destroyed. 69% of all buildings in Hiroshima were completely destroyed and another 6% damaged.
As soon as the bomb was released, Colonel Tibbets turned his B-29 away to avoid the blast. It was just over 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) from the detonation point when the shock waves hit, but no damage resulted. The bomber was then flown back to Tinian, landing after an elapsed time of 12 hours, 13 minutes.
Enola Gay was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Tucson, Arizona, 26 July 1946, and was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution just over one month later, 30 August 1946. For decades it sat in storage at different locations around the country, but finally a total restoration was performed. Today, the B-29 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.
10–14 July 1938: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., along with a crew of four, departed Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, on a flight to circle the Northern Hemisphere. His airplane was a Lockheed Super Electra Special, Model 14-N2, registered NX18973. Aboard were Harry P. McLean Connor, co-pilot and navigator; 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Thurlow, United States Army Air Corps, navigator; Richard R. Stoddart, a field engineer for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), radio operator; Edward Lund, flight engineer. Lieutenant Thurlow was the Air Corps’ expert on aerial navigation. Stoddart was an expert in radio engineering. Thurlow, Stoddart and Lund were also rated pilots.
Before they took off from Floyd Bennett Field, the Lockheed was christened New York World’s Fair 1939, in keeping with an agreement that Hughes had made with Grover Whalen and the fair’s organizers.
Howard Hughes and his crew departed Floyd Bennett Field at 7:19:10 p.m. on 10 July. The route of the flight was from Floyd Bennett Field to Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France, a distance of 3,641 miles (5,860 kilometers), flown in an elapsed time of 16 hours, 38 minutes; Moscow, Russia, USSR, 1,640 miles (2,639 kilometers), 7:51; Omsk, Siberia, 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers), 7:27; Yakutsk, Yakut ASSR, 2,158 miles (3,473 kilometers), 10:31; Fairbanks, Alaska, 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers), 12:17; Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2,441 miles (3,928 kilometers), 12:02; and back to Floyd Bennett Field, 1,054 miles (1,696 kilometers) 4:26.
They arrived at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:34 p.m., 14 July. The distance flown was approximately 14,800 miles (23,818 kilometers) (sources differ). The total duration was 91 hours, 14 minutes, 10 seconds. The actual flight time was 71 hours, 11 minutes, 10 seconds. Average speed for the flight was 206.1 miles per hour (331.7 kilometers per hour).
The international organization for flight records, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, requires that a circumnavigation cross all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, 22,858.729 miles (36,787.559 kilometers). Howard Hughes’ “around the world flight” circled the Northern Hemisphere and was at least 8,058 miles (12,968 kilometers) short of the required distance, so no official record was set. (The same is true of Wiley H. Post’s two earlier “around the world” flights which used a similar route.)
The National Aeronautic Association awarded the Aero Club Trophy (after 1944, known as the Robert J. Collier Trophy, or simply, The Collier Trophy) to Howard Hughes and his associates, “For their epoch making round the world flight in 91 hours and 14 minutes.” The Collier is an annual award, “. . . for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”
The Lockheed Super Electra 14-N2, serial number 1419, was offered to Hughes by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, at no cost.
Company officials believed that publicity generated by an around-the-world flight would justify the expense. The airplane underwent modification for two months at the Burbank factory. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation provided new engines. Fuel capacity was increased to 1,844 gallons (6,980.3 liters). Three radio systems were installed.
The Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a medium-sized airliner. It was flown by two pilots and could carry up to 12 passengers. Based on aerodynamic studies carried out by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson on the earlier Model 10 Electra, the airplane was configured with an “H-tail”, with vertical fins and rudders placed at the ends of the horizontal stabilizer. This was a characteristic design feature for Lockheed aircraft through the 1950s.
The Model 14 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). Hughes’ Model 14-N2 Special differed, but a Model 14-WF-62 airliner version had an empty weight of 10,750 pounds (4,876 kilograms), gross weight of 15,650 pounds (7,098 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms). The airliner had maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters).
NX18973 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone GR-1820-G102 nine-cylinder radial engines with a normal power rating of 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m for take-off. The engines had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 91-octane gasoline. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction. The GR-1820-102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).
Representative performance figures are maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters). NX19783 had an estimated maximum range of 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers).
Following Hughes’ flight, NX18973 was returned to Lockheed. The manufacturer then sold the Super Electra to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was assigned fuselage identification AX688. (A militarized version of the Super Electra was produced as the Hudson light bomber.)
On 10 November 1940, the Super Electra took off from Nairobi, Kenya, on a transcontinental ferry flight to from South Africa to Egypt. There were high winds and it was raining. After climbing to 500 feet (152 meters) AGL, the Electra banked to the left. It stalled, entered a spin and crashed. The wreck caught fire. All persons on board were killed.
2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Army Air Corps, of the 99th Fighter Squadron (which was briefly attached to the 324th Fighter Group) was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield on the coast of Tunisia and was patrolling the island of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.
On 2 July, however, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano, Italy. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.
“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”
Lieutenant Hall was officially credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II. Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first for the squadron, but it was also the only enemy airplane to have been shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1943.
Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L differed from the majority of P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine instead of the Allison V-1710.
The P-40L was a lightened version of the P-40F, with fuel tanks removed from the wings. Armament was reduced from six to four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with only 201 rounds of ammunition per gun. Identifying features of the P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).
The P-40L was 33 feet, 4 inches (10.160 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,340 pounds (2,576 kilograms) and the gross weight was 8,200 pounds (3,719 kilograms).
The V-1650-1 was the first version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin to be built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was developed from the Merlin XX and designated Merlin 28. The Packard V-1650-1 was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine. This engine was rated at 1,385 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., and produced a maximum of 1,435 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-1 weighed 1,512 pounds (686 kilograms).
The P-40L had a maximum speed of 368 miles per hour (592 kilometers per hour).
Charles Blakesly Hall was the second child of Franklin Hall, a 30-year-old kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, 25 years old, and also from Mississippi. Charles was born 25 August 1920 at his parents home, 742 N. Columbia Street, Brazil, Indiana. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1938 and then attended Eastern Illinois University. He majored in Pre-Med, and was active in sports. Hall worked as a waiter while attending college.
After three years of college, on 12 November 1941, Hall enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. Military records indicate that he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall (170 centimeters) and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).
Charles Hall was part of a group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which had been established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away, and the cadets transitioned into operational aircraft at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Additional flight trained took place at Cochran Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.
On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on 3 July 1942. (Serial number 0790457)
The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.
Hall was the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.
Major Hall transferred to the Air Force Reserve. From 1949 until 1967, he worked at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, as a civil service employee until retiring in 1967. He then worked at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Hall was married for several years to Maxine Jesse Payne. He later married Miss Lola Delois Hall of Oklahoma City. They had two children and remained together until his death, 22 November 1971.
¹ A study of U.S. Army Air Force claims of enemy aircraft destroyed (Andrew Arthy and Morten Jessen, 2013) indicates that no Focke Wulf Fw 190s were present at the time, however, Messerchmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 were defending the target against B-25s and P-40s. Two were lost on that day. The authors suggest that opposing aircraft were often misidentified.
27 June 1952: The Bell X-2 research rocketplane, with test pilot Jean Leroy (“Skip”) Ziegler at the controls, was airdropped from a “mothership,” a Boeing B-50A-5-BO Superfortress, 46-011, over Edwards Air Force Base, California. This was the first flight of the X-2 Program, and was an unpowered glide flight for pilot familiarization. On touch down, the nose wheel collapsed and the aircraft slid across the dry lake bed, but was not seriously damaged.
Two X-2 rocketplanes, serial numbers 46-674 and 46-675, were built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation, which has also built the X-1 series. The second X-2 was the first one to fly.
The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket. In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from Stainless Steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.
The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).
The X-2 was powered by a throttleable Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.
A four-engine Boeing B-50a Superfortress bomber, serial number 46-011, was modified as the ”mothership.” A second Superfortress, B-50D-95-BO 48-096, was also modified to carry the X-2, and was redesignated EB-50D. During the flight test program, the X-2 reached a maximum speed of Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour, 3,370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum altitude of 126,200 feet (38,466 meters).
On 12 May 1953, less than one year after the first glide flight, Skip Ziegler was in the cockpit of 46-675 while it was being carried on a captive test flight aboard the B-50A Superfortress. An internal explosion destroyed the X-2 and killed Ziegler and another crewman aboard the mothership. The rocketplane fell into Lake Ontario and neither it nor Ziegler’s body were ever recovered. The Superfortress was able to land, but was so badly damaged that it never flew again.