Tag Archives: Distinguished Flying Cross

13 September 1931

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 at the London Science Museum. (sciencemuseum.org.uk)

13 September 1931: Having won the previous two Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider international seaplane races, the United Kingdom was in the position of permanently winning the famous Schneider Trophy if it were to win a third consecutive race.

The 1931 race was the twelfth in a series of annual or semiannual races which were first held in 1913, specifically for seaplanes. Teams from several nations, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States, competed with float-equipped airplanes built specifically for the races. The national team which won three consecutive races would win the series and take home the Trophy. Italy had won three times (1920, 1921, and 1926); the United States, twice (1923, 1925); and France, one time (1913). The United Kingdom had previously won in 1922, 1927 and 1929.

Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight, 1931. (Unattributed)

Having won the race in 1929, Great Britain was the host nation for 1931. Like the 1929 race, the 1931 race was held over The Solent, a body of water between the harbor city of Portsmouth, England, and the Isle of Wight. Instead of the four-sided polygon used previously, the 1931 race course was a triangle of 50 kilometers (31.07 statute miles). Competitors would make seven circuits of the course, with all left-hand turns, for a total distance of 350 kilometers (217.48 statute miles).

Competitors would fly seven counter-clockwise laps of the 50-kilometer triangular race course (FLIGHT)

Italy had been developing the Macchi-Castoldi M.C. 72 with its 3,100-horsepower, 24-cylinder Fiat AS.6 engine, but the airplane was not ready by the required date. The United States was unwilling to invest the required money and had not entered since the 1927 race. France also was not prepared to compete. Both France and Italy formally announced their intention not to compete on 4 September 1931.

This meant that only a single British airplane was required to complete the race course to win the race and permanent possession of the trophy. Three airplanes were ready, one Supermarine S.6 and two new S.6Bs.

Three racing aircraft of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight at RAF Calshot for the 1931 Schneider Trophy Race. Left to right, #7, Supermarine S.6B S.1596; #4, Supermarine S.6 N.248; and #1, Supermarine S.6B S.1595. (FLIGHT)

Postponed because of rain and fog on the previous day, the 1931 race started at 1:02:10 p.m., Sunday, 13 September, with the firing of the starting gun from HMS Medea. Flight-Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman, Royal Air Force, in a blue and silver Supermarine S.6B, number S.1565, taxied across the start line at 1:10:19 p.m.

Race rules required that competitors take off, circle and land on the water. They were then required to taxi on the water for two minutes, before taking off a second time to begin the officially timed race laps. Observers reported that Flight-Lieutenant Boothman’s performance of the preliminary test was flawless. He taxied into position for his second takeoff and was airborne with a 40 second run.

Flight-Lieutenant John N. Boothman (FLIGHT)

Boothman’s lap times were:

Lap 1: 552.15 kilometers per hour (343.1 miles per hour)

Lap 2: 551.5 kilometers per hour (342.7 miles per hour)

Lap 3: 547.1 kilometers per hour (340.0 miles per hour)

Lap 4: 544.5 kilometers per hour (338.3 miles per hour)

Lap 5: 546.5 kilometers per hour (339.6 miles per hour)

Lap 6: 546.1 kilometers per hour (339.4 miles per hour)

Lap 7: 543.5 kilometers per hour (337.7 miles per hour)

Overall average speed: 547.3 kilometers per hour (340.08 miles per hour)

Air Ministry,

9th October, 1931.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Air Force Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force:—

Flight Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman.

In recognition of his achievement in winning the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931.

Supermarine S.6B, S.1596. (BAE Systems)

S.1595 was Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplane, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two S.6Bs, with the second identified as S.1596.

Cutaway illustration of the Supermarine S.6B. (George Horace Davis)

The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 (BAE Systems)

In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 (BAE Systems)

S.1595 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R29. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). A special fuel, a mixture of benzol, methanol and acetone with TCP anti-detonation additive, was used.

Lucy, Lady Houston, with the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight, 1931. R.J. Mitchell, designer of the S-series racers, is standing at right. (Royal Air Force Museum)

There would have been no 1931 British Schneider Trophy Race team without the generous contribution of Lucy, Lady Houston, D.B.E., who donated £100,000 to Supermarine to finance the new aircraft. Lady Houston would later sponsor the 1933 Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition.

The winning aircraft, S.1595, is in the collection of the Science Museum, London.

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 (BAE Systems)

John Nelson Boothman was born at Harrow, northwest London, England, 19 February 1901. He was the son of Thomas John Boothman, a railway clerk, and Mary Burgess Boothman. He  became interested in aviation while very young, and took his first flight at the age of 10, as a passenger of Samuel Franklin Cody, the first pilot to fly a powered airplane in England.

Boothman was educated at Harrow High School. In 1918, when he was 16 years old, Boothman volunteered as a driver with the Croix-Rouge française (French Red Cross), serving in the Balkans until World War I came to an end. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

On his return to England, he took flying lessons and joined the Royal Air Force. He received a short-service commission as a Pilot Officer (probationary), 29 March 1921. He trained at No. 1 Flight Training School. He then joined No. 4 Squadron at Constantinople. On 22 March 1922, Boothman was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer. He was promoted to Flying Officer 29 September 1922.

Also in 1922, Pilot Officer Boothman married Miss Gertrude Andrews. They would have one son.

Flying Officer Boothman returned to England in 1924 and was assigned as a flight instructor at the Central Flying School. He was also a member of an aerial demonstration team.

After five years of service, on 1 January 1926 Boothman’s commission as a Flying Officer, Royal Air Force, was made permanent. He returned to the Middle East, joining No. 55 Squadron in Iraq, 21 September 1926. This was a bombing squadron, equipped with the de havilland DH-9A. Boothman was promoted to Flight-Lieutenant 1 July 1927. He served with the Air Staff before going on to No. 30 Squadron, which also flew DH-9As, as a flight commander, 24 February 1928.

Flight-Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman, Royal Air Force.

Flight-Lieutenant Boothman was assigned as a test pilot at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, Felixstowe, Suffolk, 10 February 1930. On 11 May 1931, he became a member of the High-Speed Flight at RAF Calshot.

After winning the Schneider Trophy Race, on 3 October 1931, Flight-Lieutenant Boothman was assigned as a flight commander with No. 22 Squadron, a test squadron supporting the Aeroplane Experimental Establishment at RAF Martlesham Heath. During 1932, he became seriously ill and was removed from duty for several months. He returned to duty 13 August 1932 as a test pilot in the Experimental Section at RAE Farnborough. He then served as Chief Flying Instructor, Central Flying School.

Flight-Lieutenant Boothman attended the Royal Air Force Staff College in 1935. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader, 1 December 1935. From 4 January 1936, he was assigned to Air Staff, Headquarters, Coastal Command. On 26 March 1937, Squadron Leader Boothman was assigned to Air Staff, Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Far East.

Boothman was promoted to Wing Commander, 1 January 1939. In September he was placed in command of No. 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. This was a light bomber squadron which flew Bristol Blenheims and Handley Page Hampdens.

During the early stages of World War II, Wing Commander Boothman was assigned to Air Staff—Directorate of Operations (Home), and Air Staff, Headquarters, Bomber Command. He returned to RAF Waddington in March 1940 as the station’s commanding officer. He was promoted to Group Captain (temporary), 1 March 1941, then sent to the United States as an adviser to the U.S. Army Air Forces. Boothman returned to England as commanding officer of RAF Finningley, South Yorkshire.

On 6 June 1943, Group Captain Boothman was promoted to the rank of Acting Air Commodore, and assigned as Air Officer Commanding, No. 106 Wing. The wing controlled all photographic reconnaissance units in the United Kingdom. In 1 December 1943, Air Commodore Boothman’s rank was changed from Acting to Temporary.

In July 1944 Air Commodore Boothman was assigned as Commandant, Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A. & A.E.E.) at RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. In the King’s Birthday Honours, 1944, Air Commodore Boothman was invested Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Military Division (C.B.).

On 2 July 1945, was promoted to Acting Air Vice Marshal and appointed Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Technical Requirements). On 9 October 1945, The U.S. Army Air Forces awarded him the the medal of Commander, Legion of Merit.

Air Vice Marshal John Nelson Boothman D.F.C., A.F.C., Royal Air Force, is presented the Legion of Merit by General Carl A. Spaatz, United States Army Air Forces. (Smithsonian Institution)

Air Vice Marshal Boothman once again returned to Iraq in 1948 as Air Officer Commanding, Air Headquarters, Iraq.

On 4 September 1950, he was promoted to Acting Air Marshal, and Controller of Supply (Air), Ministry of Supply. On 15 November 1953, Air Marshal Boothman became Commander in Chief, Coastal Command and Commander in Chief (Air) Eastern Atlantic Area.

In the King’s Birthday Honours list, 7 June 1951, Air Marshal Boothman, C.B., D.F.C., A.F.C., was promoted to Knight Commander of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.).

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours, June 1954, Air Marshal Sir John Boothman, K.B.E., D.F.C., A.F.C., was invested Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (K.C.B.).

On 1 October 1954, Sir John was promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. He retired from the Royal Air Force in 1956.

Air Chief Marshal Sir John Nelson Boothman, K.C.B., K.B.E., D.F.C., A.F.C., Royal Air Force, died 29 December 1957 at the age of 57 years.

Air Vice Marshal Sir John Nelson Boothman, 1946. (Photographed by Walter Stoneman)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 September 1952

de Havilland DH.110 WG236
de Havilland DH.110 WG236. (U.S. Naval Aviation News)

6 September 1952: At the Farnborough Air Show, an annual event held at the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough, Hampshire, England, de Havilland test pilot John Douglas Derry, D.F.C., with flight test observer Anthony Max (“Tony”) Richards, put the prototype DH.110, WG236, into a supersonic dive from 40,000 feet (12,182 meters), pulling out just short of the airfield and the estimated 120,000 spectators.

John Douglas Derry, D.F.C. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Anthony Max Richards (Flight)

Derry then made a high-speed, low-level circuit of the airfield, and as he straightened out, the airplane broke apart and crashed onto Observation Hill.

Both Derry and Richards were killed, as were 29 spectators. Another 63 were injured.

Flight reported:

     This melancholy affair has, inevitably, received wide publicity, and several inaccurate reports have been printed. A member of the staff of Flight who witnessed the accident describes it as follows: “Two small white puffs of cloud appeared in a clear patch of sky north of the airfield, presumably showing where the D.H.110 had exceeded Mach 1 in its dive. After about a minute there were two loud reports in split-second succession. The lower part of the dive must have been near-sonic, for the aircraft appeared overhead—at about 1,000–1,500ft—at almost the same instant; the supersonic ‘bangs’ had scarcely overtaken the 110, although they had evidently been produced at least 12 miles away. The aircraft flew out of sight to turn and line-up for a low flight above the main runway, which it made from the south-west at a speed estimated as 600–650 m.p.h. It then turned left into the circuit and flew back over the northern boundary at about 400ft. The break-up appeared to begin just before a steep 90-degree turn towards the enclosures. Small fragments came away from the 110, which gained height as the two Avons and the nose became detached from the airframe. One engine fell on a crowded slope behind the caravan parks, causing most of the casualties; the other landed harmlessly farther south. The nose, following the same path as the power-units, hit the grass just in front of the packed enclosure parallel with the runway and broke up. A number of small pieces landed on the runway itself while the airframe, minus tail-unit, nose and engines, dropped comparatively gently into the north-west corner of the airfield.”

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2277, Vol. LXII. Friday, 12 September 1952, at Page 344, Column 1

This image shows the de Havilland DH-110 breaking up in flight. One of the engines has fallen free and is trailing smoke. (Unattributed)
This image shows the de Havilland DH.110 breaking up in flight. One of the engines has fallen free and is trailing smoke. (Unattributed)

Film taken from the ground showed that as the airplane came level, the starboard outboard wing separated, followed by the port outboard wing. The aircraft pitched violently upward with an acceleration of more than 12 Gs, and the cockpit, engines and tail then disintegrated.

The DH-110’s swept wings placed the ailerons well aft of the airplane’s center of gravity. When the pilot began his bank to the right, away from the crowd, he also began to climb. This caused the wing outer panels to twist, resulting in unexpected stresses. The right wing failed in torsion. The resulting roll then caused the left wing to fail.

The flight crew was not faulted.

Changes were made in the location of the spectators and maneuvering aircraft at the airshow from that time forward.

John Derry's crash, as his D,H,plane hits the ground after breaking the sound barrier in flight, Farnborough air display, 1952 (Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
The de Havilland DH.110 prototype impact at RAE Farnborough, 6 September 1952. This photograph was taken by a spectator, Herbert Orr. (Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
de Havilland DH.110 crash site. (Unattributed)
de Havilland DH.110 crash site. (Unattributed)
The scene of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show disaster. (Coventry Telegraph)
The scene of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show disaster. (Coventry Telegraph)

The de Havilland DH.110 was a prototype all-weather interceptor intended for operation by the Fleet Air Arm from the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers. It was a two-place, twin-engine swept-wing fighter capable of supersonic speed. WG236 was the first prototype, which made its first flight the previous year, 26 September 1951. At the time of the accident WG236 had flown approximately 125 hours. The second prototype, WG240, had been scheduled to fly the demonstration for the air show, but had to be replaced for maintenance reasons.

The DH.110 used the twin-tailboom configuration of de Havilland’s DH.100 Vampire and DH.112 Venom fighters, but the wings were swept to 45°.

WG236 was 51 feet, 8 inches (15.748 meters) long with a wingspan of 51 feet, 0 inches (15.545 meters) and height of approximately 11 feet (3.35 meters). Its maximum takeoff weight was 35,000 pounds (15,876 kilograms).

WG236 was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 engines The RA.3 was a single-spool axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. It was rated at 6,500-pounds-thrust (28.91 kilonewtons). The second prototype used the more powerful RA.7.

The DH.110 had a maximum speed of 610 knots (0.924 Mach) at Sea Level, and 536 knots (0.936 Mach) at 40,000 feet (12,182 meters).

Planned armament for the production fighter was four 30 millimeter ADEN cannon.

De Havilland DH.110 WG236. (BAE Systems)

Both airmen were posthumously awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD

St. James’s Palace. S.W. 1

12th September, 1952

     The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the publication of the names of the persons shown below as having received an expression of Commendation for valuable service in the air:—

QUEEN’S COMMENDATIONS FOR VALUABLE SERVICE IN THE AIR.

John Douglas Derry, D.F.C. (deceased), Test Pilot, de Havilland Aircraft Company, Ltd.

Anthony Max Richards (deceased), Flight Test Observer, de Havilland Aircraft Company, Ltd.

For services when testing an experimental aircraft.

John Douglas Derry was born 5 December 1921 at Cairo, Egypt. He was one of four children of Douglas Erith Derry, M.C., M.B., Ch.B., Professor of Anatomy at the Government Medical School there, and Margaret G. Ramsay Derry.

Derry was educated at the Dragon School, a preparatory school for boys in Oxford, England, and at Charterhouse, in Surrey. In 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aerial gunner and radio operator. He was assigned as a crewman on Lockheed Hudson bombers with Coastal Command, before being sent to Canada for pilot training in 1943. On his return to England he was “seconded” to the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Hawker Typhoon

Derry returned to combat operations in October 1944, flying Hawker Typhoons on close air support missions with No. 182 Squadron. Shortly after, he was transferred to No. 181 Squadron as a flight commander. In March 1945, Derry returned to No. 182 as the squadron’s commanding officer.

Distinguished Flying Cross (RAF Museum)

On 29 June 1945, Acting Squadron Leader Derry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation, published in The London Gazette, reads:

This officer has participated in a large number of sorties as air gunner and later pilot. He has at all times displayed great determination and skill and his courage has been of the highest order. In April 1945, he led his squadron in an attack against enemy gun positions. Despite intense opposition the attack was pressed home with great accuracy. The success of this operation was due in no small measure to Squadron Leader Derry’s gallant and skillful leadership. This officer has set a fine example to all.

—Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 26th of JUNE, 1945, Numb. 37154, at Page 3405, Column 1.

Bronzen Leeuw

Her Majesty, Wilhelmina, The Queen of The Netherlands, awarded Acting Squadron Leader Derry the Bronzen Leeuw (Bronze Lion).

After No. 182 Squadron was disbanded 30 September 1945, Squadron Leader Derry was appointed commanding officer of the Day Fighter Leader School at the Central Flying School, flying the Hawker Tempest.

After being released from service, Derry became an experimental and production test pilot for Vickers Supermarine. In October 1947, he moved to de Havilland.

On 12 April 1948, Derry flew a de Havilland DH.108 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers without Payload, averaging 974.026 kilometers per hour (605.232 miles per hour).¹ On 6 September 1948, Derry exceeded the speed of sound in the de Havilland DH.108. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Club. The Royal Automobile Society awarded Derry The Segrave Trophy, “for the most outstanding demonstration of transportation by land, air or water: The Spirit of Adventure.”

The Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Society. (RAS)

     More than one member of Flight‘s staff was proud to know John Derry—a fine-looking young man and an inspiring personality—and on occasions to talk of flying and testing with him. We recall his cheerful unassuming manner, his completely straightforward and natural approach to any topic, and his firm opinion upon matters which he himself had studied and investigated. He was undoubtedly one of what we now call the new generation of test pilots, men who must be able to back their flying experience and skill as pilots with a full technical understanding.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2277, Vol. LXII. Friday, 12 September 1952, at Page 344, Column 2

John Derry was married with two children.

“I am never happier than when I am in the air.”

—Squadron Leader John Douglas Derry, D.F.C.

John Douglas Derry, D.F.C.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8877

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1946

Sergeant Lawrence Lambert is ejected from a P-61B Black Widow, 17 August 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
Sergeant Lawrence Lambert is ejected from the Northrop XP-61B Black Widow, 17 August 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Sgt. Lawrence Lambert

17 August 1946: First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, U.S. Army Air Forces, was the first person to eject from an aircraft in flight in the United States.

Lambert was assigned to the Air Material Command Parachute Branch, Personal Equipment Laboratory. He was an 11-year veteran of the Air Corps. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. Previous to this test, Lambert had made 58 parachute jumps.

The test aircraft was a modified Northrop P-61B-5-NO Black Widow night fighter, 42-39498,¹ redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Captain John W.McGyrt and named Jack in the Box.

The ejection seat was placed in the gunner’s position, just behind and above the Black Widow’s pilot. A 37 mm cartridge fired within a 38 inch (0.97 meter) long gun barrel launched the seat from the airplane at approximately 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). Lambert experienced 12–14 Gs acceleration.

Flying over Patterson Field at more than 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), Lambert fired the ejection seat. He and the seat were propelled approximately 40 feet (12 meters) above the airplane. After 3 seconds, he separated from the seat, and after another 3 seconds of free fall, his parachute opened automatically. Automatic timers fired smaller cartridges to release Lambert from the seat, and to open the parachute.

He later said, ” ‘I lived a thousand years in that minute,” before the pilot, pulled the release. . . ‘ Following the successful jump, blue-eyed, sandy-haired Sgt. Lambert expressed only one desire: To ‘get around the biggest steak available.’ ”

Dayton Daily News, Vol. 70, No. 26, Sunday, 18 August 1946, Society Section, Page 10, Columns 4–6

Sergeant Lawrence parachuted safely. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read:

First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, Air Corps, 6653991, for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as a volunteer for the test of human ejection from a high speed aircraft, 17 August 1946. His courageous in the face of unknown factors that might have caused serious injury or loss of life, has contributed immeasurably to aeronautical and medical knowledge of the ejection method of escape from the aircraft.

Air Force Enlisted Heritage Institute, AFEHRI File 19–10

Sergeant Lambert also won the Cheney Award, “for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.” The medal was presented to him by General Carl A. Spaatz, in a ceremony held at Washington D.C., 15 April 1947.

Master Sergeant Lambert was later involved in rocket sled tests with Colonel John P. Stapp, M.D., Ph.D.

¹ Another source states 42-39489, however, according to Joe Baugher’s serial number web site, this airplane was “condemned to salvage Jul 19, 1945”

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 August 1960

Captain Kittinger steps out of the Excelsior III gondola, 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) above the Earth, 7:12 a.m., 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

16 August 1960: At 7:12 a.m., Captain Joseph William (“Red”) Kittinger II, U.S. Air Force, stepped out of a balloon gondola, 102,800 feet (31,333 meters, 19.47 miles) above the Tularosa Valley, New Mexico. This was his third balloon ascent and high altitude parachute jump during Project Excelsior, a series of experiments to investigate the effects of high altitude bailouts.

For protection at the extreme high altitude—above 99% of the atmosphere—Joe Kittinger wore a modified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit and MA-3 helmet. Over this was a coverall garment to keep the pressure suit’s lacings and capstans from catching on anything as he jumped from the balloon gondola. He breathed a combination of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium. During the 1 hour, 31 minute ascent, the pressure seal of Kittinger’s right glove failed, allowing his hand to painfully swell with the decreasing atmospheric pressure.

In temperatures as low as -94 °F. (-70 °C.) Captain Kittinger free-fell for 4 minutes, 36 seconds, and reached a speed of 614 miles per hour (988 kilometers per hour). During the free fall descent, he trailed a small drogue parachute for stabilization. His 28-foot (8.5 meter) diameter main parachute opened at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) and he touched the ground 9 minutes, 9 seconds later. The total duration of Kittinger’s descent was 13 minutes, 45 seconds. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second) and the Harmon Trophy.

Joseph Kittinger had previously worked on Project Man High, and would go on to a third high altitude balloon project, Stargazer.

A recovery team assists Captain Kittinger after his 102,800-foot free fall, 16 August 1960. The helicopter in the background is a Piasecki H-21. (U.S. Air Force)

After returning to operations, Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. After two tours flying the Douglas B-26K Invader, he transitioned to the McDonnell F-4D Phantom II and returned to Southeast Asia for a voluntary third tour with the famed 555th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (“The Triple Nickel”). He is credited with shooting down a MiG 21 fighter.

Almost to the end of his third combat tour, Lieutenant Colonel Kittinger was himself shot down and and he and his Weapons System Officer were captured. They spent 11 months at the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Captain Joseph W. Kitinger, United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 July 1943

Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Forces
Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Corps

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, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano,  in western Sicily. 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.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190¹ that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

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).

Aviation Cadet Charles B. Hall, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1941 (NASM)

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)

Lieutenant Charles B. Hall married Miss Maxine Jessie Parish, a stenographer, in Vigo County, Indiana, 14 December 1942.

Captain and Mrs. Charles B. Hall (Maxine Parrish Hall), circa 1945. (William R. Thompson Digital Collection, Illinois Heartland Library System 2007-1-526-27)

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.

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.

Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major General John K. Cannon, Commanding General, Twelfth Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major Hall transferred to the Air Force Reserve. He worked at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, as a civil service employee from 1949 until retiring in 1967. He then worked at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Hall later married Miss Lola Delois Miles of Oklahoma City. They had two children and remained together until his death, 22 November 1971.

Major Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Air Force (Retired), was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, flew this Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895, when he shot down an enemy airplane, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L (Curtiss-Wright Model 87-B3) 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, and armament 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-40F and 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 Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk was a lightened version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered P-40F. This P-40F is armed with six .50-caliber machine guns, while the P-40L carried just four. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40L was 33 feet, 3-23/32 inches (10.15286 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 3½ inches (11.36650 meters) and height of 10 feet, 7-25/32 inches (3.24564 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,870 pounds (3,116 kilograms) and the gross weight was 9,416 pounds (4,271 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. It had a compression ratio of 6.0:1, and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m., and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The Military Power rating was 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters), and 1,120 horsepower at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters). The engine drove an 11-foot (3.353 meter) diameter, 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).

Curtiss-Wright built 13,738 P-40-series aircraft. 3,866 of these were the P-40L variant.

This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Sculptor Joel Randall)

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.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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