Tag Archives: Distinguished Flying Cross

17 November 1954

Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Delta 2 WG774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Delta 2 WG774. (Wikipedia)
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, OBE, DSC and Bar. (The Telegraph)
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, OBE, DSC and Bar. (The Telegraph)

17 November 1954: Lionel Peter Twiss, Chief Test Pilot for Fairey Aviation Company Ltd., was flying the company’s experimental supersonic airplane, the Fairey Delta 2, WG774, from the aircraft test center at RAF Boscombe Down. This was the FD.2’s fourteenth flight.

When about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the airfield and climbing through 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the airplane’s fuel supply was interrupted and the engine flamed out.

Unwilling to lose a valuable research aircraft, Twiss decided to stay with the Delta 2 rather than ejecting, and he glided back to Boscombe Down. Without the engine running, the aircraft had insufficient hydraulic pressure to completely lower the landing gear and only the nosewheel strut locked in place. The FD.2 touched down at 170 miles per hour (274 kilometers per hour) and was seriously damaged. It was out of service for nearly a year. The wings had to be replaced and those which had originally been built for structural tests were used.

Damaged Fairey Delta 2 WG774 at Boscombe Down. (Prototypes.com)

For his effort to save a valuable research aircraft, Peter Twiss was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. Notice of the award was published in The London Gazette, 22 February 1955, at Page 1094:

Lionel Peter Twiss, Test Pilot, Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. (Hillingdon, Middlesex.)

     For services when an aircraft, undergoing tests, sustained damage in the air.

Her Majesty and Prince Phillip look over the Fairey Delta 2 with Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss.
Her Majesty and Prince Phillip look over a Fairey Delta 2 with Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss in 1956. (Daily Mail)

On 10 March 1956, Phillip Twiss flew WG774 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15km/25km Straight Course at an average speed over a 9-mile course, flown between Chichester and Portsmouth at and altitude of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Two runs over the course were made, with first averaging 1,117 miles per hour (1,798 kilometers per hour) and the second, in the opposite direction, was 1,147 miles per hour. (1,846 kilometers per hour). The FD.2 had averaged 1,822 Kilometers per hour (1,132 miles per hour)—Mach 1.731.¹

Twiss had broken the previous record of 1,323.312 kilometers per hour (822.268 miles per hour) which had been set by Colonel Horace A. Hanes, USAF, flying a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre over Edwards Air Force Base, California. (FAI Record File # 8867)

Test Pilot Peter Twist shakes hands with Robert L. Lickey, designer of the Fairey Delta 2. (The New York Times)
Test Pilot Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, DFC and Bar, shakes hands with Robert Lang Lickley, Chief Engineer of Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., and designer of the Fairey Delta 2. (The New York Times)

Peter Twiss was the first British pilot, and the FD.2 the first British airplane, to exceed 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 kilometers per hour) in level flight. Twiss is also the last British pilot to have held a World Absolute Speed Record.

For his services as a test pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, D.F.C. and Bar, was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 13 June 1957.

Fairey Delta 2 (FD.2) WG774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Delta 2 (FD.2) WG774, 13 March 1956. (Unattributed)

The Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., Delta 2 WG774 (c/n F9421) is the first of two single-place, single engine delta-wing research aircraft which had been designed and built to investigate transonic and supersonic speeds. It first flew 6 October 1953 with Chief Test Pilot Peter Twiss in the cockpit. In its original configuration, the FD.2 is 51 feet, 7½ inches (15.735 meters) long with a wingspan of 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) and overall height of 11 feet (3.353 meters). The wings’ leading edge were swept to 59.9° with an angle of incidence of +1.5°. Ailerons and flaps were at the trailing edge and acted in place of elevators. In its original configuration it had an empty weight of approximately 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and the all-up weight at takeoff was 14,109 pounds (6,400 kilograms).

The FD.2 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon RA.28R afterburning turbojet engine which produced 9,530 pounds of thrust (42.392 kilonewtons), or 11,820 pounds (52.578 kilonewtons) with afterburner (“reheat”). This was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 15-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The RA.28 was 10 feet, 3.0 inches (3.124 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,869 pounds (1,301 kilograms).

WG774 and its sistership, WG777, were used for flight testing throughout the 1960s. WG774 was modified as a test aircraft to study various features of the planned British Aerospace Concorde. The landing gear struts were lengthened and the fuselage extended by six feet. It received a “drooped” nose section for improved pilot visibility during takeoff and landings. New wings were installed which had an ogee-curved leading edge. With these modifications WG774 was redesignated BAC 221. In this configuration, WG774 was tested to Mach 1.65 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).

WG774 was retired in the early 1970s. It is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England.

Fairey Aviation FD.2 WG7774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Aviation FD.2 WG774, 2 September 1955. (Unattributed)

Lionel Peter Twiss was born 23 July 1921 at Lindfield, Sussex, England. He was educated at the Sherborne School, a prestigious boarding school for boys, in Dorset. He briefly worked as a tea taster following school, but in 1939 enlisted in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He was trained as a fighter pilot.

Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) Lionel Peter Twiss, R.N.V.R., was assigned as the pilot of a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. (Hurricanes could be launched by catapult from merchant ships to defend against Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor reconnaissance bombers.)

He next flew the Fairey Fulmar fighter from HMS Argus (I49) in support of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Twiss is credited with shooting down one enemy fighter and damaging a bomber. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 22 September 1942. He and his squadron transitioned to the Supermarine Seafire aboard HMS Furious (49) and were in action during the invasion of North Africa. He was awarded a Bar, denoting a second award, to his D.F.C.

After returning to England in 1943, Twiss was trained as a night fighter pilot and flew the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito with an RAF night fighter unit on intruder missions over France. In 1944 he shot down two more enemy airplanes.

Twiss was in the third class of the Empire Test Pilots’ School and after graduation was assigned to Fairey Aviation. With the end of World War II, Lieutenant-Commander Twiss left the Royal Navy and continued working as a test pilot at Fairey.

Peter Twiss ended his career testing aircraft in 1959, having flown more than 4,500 hours in nearly 150 different aircraft. His autobiography, Faster than the Sun, was published in 1963.

Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, O.B.E., D.F.C. and Bar, died 31 August 2011 at the age of 90 years.

Peter Twiss with a scale model of the Fairey Delta 2. (The Teegraph)
Peter Twiss with a scale model of the Fairey Delta 2. (The Telegraph)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8866

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1927

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)

4 November 1927: Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, United States Army Air Corps, a balloon pilot since 1921, has carried out a series of ascents to study the effects of very high altitude on air crews.

Gray lifted off from Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois, at 2:13 p.m., in a helium-filled balloon with an open wicker gondola suspended below. The balloon, Air Corps serial number S 30-241, was constructed of rubberized silk and coated with aluminum paint. It had a volume of 70,000 cubic feet (1,982.2 cubic meters). In the gondola were instruments for measuring altitude and temperature, as well as two sealed recording barographs provided by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). Captain Gray was dressed in heavy leather clothing for protection against the cold. Three gas cylinders of oxygen were provided for breathing at altitude.

This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne's gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne’s gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)

Early in the ascent, high winds carried him to the south, and though accompanied by four airplanes, their pilots quickly lost sight of Gray’s balloon. It disappeared into a heavy overcast 20 minutes after takeoff and rose to a peak altitude of 42,470 feet (12,944.9 meters) at 4:05 p.m.

Based on Captain Gray’s notes and data from the barographs, it was concluded that his ascent was at a much slower rate than his previous altitude flights. At 3:17 p.m., he wrote “Clock frozen.” Without the clock, Gray was unable to calculate his time aloft and the amount of breathing oxygen remaining. Estimates prior to lift off were that the supply would run out at 4:38 p.m. The balloon had only descended to 39,000 feet (11,887 meters) by 4:28 p.m. The barographs showed an increase in rate of descent at this time, indicating that Captain Gray was venting helium from the balloon to try to descend faster. The descent slowed, however, suggesting that Gray had lost consciousness.

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The balloon and gondola were found near Sparta, Tennessee at 5:20 p.m., with Hawthorne Gray’s body curled in the bottom of the gondola. Captain Gray suffered a loss of oxygen which resulted in his death.

Captain Gray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 October 1963

Convair B-58A-20-CF Hustler 61-2059, Greased Lightning. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Sidney Kubesch with his wife, Joanna Alice Cole Kubesch, 16 October 1963. (Kokomo Tribune)
Major Sidney J. Kubesch, U.S. Air Force, with his wife, Joanna Alice Cole Kubesch, at RAF Greenham Common, 16 October 1963. (Kokomo Tribune)

16 October 1963: Operation Greased Lightning. Major Sidney J. Kubesch, Major John Barrett and Captain Gerard Williamson flew from Tokyo, Japan, to London England, non-stop, in 8 hours, 35 minutes, 20.4 seconds. Their airplane was a Convair B-58A-20-CF Hustler, serial number 61-2059, named Greased Lightning. It was assigned to the 305th Bombardment Wing, 19th Air Division, at Bunker Hill Air Force Base, Indiana.

Five inflight refuelings were required to complete the flight. The bomber had to slow from its supersonic cruise to rendezvous with the tankers. The B-58’s average speed was 692.71 miles per hour (1,114.81 kilometers per hour). The speed from Tokyo to Anchorage, Alaska was 3 hours, 9 minutes, 42 seconds at an average 1,093.4 miles per hour (1,759.7 kilometers per hour); and speed from Anchorage to London, 5 hours, 24 minutes, 54 seconds at 826.9 miles per hour (1.330.8 kilometers per hour).

Greased Lightning‘s speed record still stands.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.56.36The three crewmen were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major Sidney Kubesch, Aircraft Commander, John Barrett, Navigator and Gerard Williamson. (Kokomo Tribune)
Major Sidney J. Kubesch, Aircraft Commander, Major John Barrett, Navigator and Captain Gerard Williamson. (Kokomo Tribune)

The B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wing’s leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder, and there are no flaps.

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine, rated at 10,300 pounds of thrust (45.82 kilonewtons), and 15,600 pounds (69.39 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.2 inches (5.136 meters) long and 3 feet, 2.0 inches (0.965 meters) in diameter.

The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of a W-39 warhead, and/or Mk.43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The W-39 warhead, the same used with the Redstone IRBM or Snark cruise missile, was carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel for the aircraft. The smaller bombs were carried on underwing hardpoints. For defense, there was a General Electric M61 Vulcan 20×102 mm six-barreled rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of linked ammunition, controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-20 CF 61-2059 is in the collection of the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.

Convair B-58A-20-CF 61-2059, “Greased Lightning,” at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska. (SASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 October 1927

Costes and Le Brix flew this Breguet XIX GR, No. 1685, named Nungesser-Coli, across the South Atlantic Ocean 14–15 October 1927.
Dieudonné Costes

14–15 October 1927: Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew a Breguet XIX GR, serial number 1685, across the South Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Louis, Senegal, to Port Natal, Brazil.

This was the first non-stop South Atlantic crossing by an airplane. The 2,100-mile (3,380 kilometer) flight took just over 18 hours.

The two aviators were on an around-the-world flight that began 10 October 1927 at Paris, France, and would be completed 14 April 1928, after traveling 34,418 miles (57,000 kilometers).

Costes had been a test pilot for Breguet since 1925. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I and was credited with six aerial victories. He had been appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and the Médaille militaire.

Following the around-the-world flight, the Congress of the United States, by special act, awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1929, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded him its Gold Air Medal, and the International League of Aviators awarded him the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Joseph Le Brix (1899–1931)
Joseph Le Brix

Capitain de Corvette Joseph Le Brix was a French naval officer. He had trained as a navigator, aerial observer and pilot. For his service in the Second Moroccan War, he was appointed to the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Like Costes, Le Brix was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress.

The Breguet XIX GR (“GR” stands for Grand Raid) had been named Nungesser-Coli in honor of the two pilots who disappeared while attempting a crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the White Bird, 8 May 1927. It was developed from the Type XIX light bomber and reconnaissance airplane, which entered production in 1924. A single-engine, two-place biplane with tandem controls, it was primarily constructed of aluminum tubing, covered with sheet aluminum and fabric. The biplane was a “sesquiplane,” meaning that the lower of the two wings was significantly smaller than the upper. Approximately 2,400 Breguet XIXs were built.

Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 january 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 January 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

No. 1685 was a special long-distance variant, with a 2,900–3,000 liter fuel capacity (766–792 gallons). It was further modified to add 1 meter to the standard 14.83 meter (48 feet, 7.9 inches) wingspan, and the maximum fuel load was increased to 3,500 liters (925 gallons).

The original 590 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Hb engine was replaced with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Lb. This was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403-liter (1,916.33-cubic-inch-displacement) overhead valve 60° V-12 engine, with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The 12Lb produced 630 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., burning 85 octane gasoline. The engine was 1.850 meters (6 feet, 0.8 inches) long, 0.750 meters (2 feet, 5.5 inches) wide and 1.020 meters (3 feet, 4.2 inches) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).

The Breguet XIX had a speed of 214 kilometers per hour (133 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 7,200 meters (23,620 feet).

The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l'air et de l'espace (MAE) du Bourget.
The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l’air et de l’espace (MAE) du Bourget.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 October 1958

The Project MANHIGH III balloon and gondola, shortly after launch at Holloman AFB, 1151 UTC, 8 October 1958. (Al Fenn/LIFE Magazine)
The Project MANHIGH III balloon and gondola, shortly after launch at Holloman AFB, 6:51 a.m., 8 October 1958. (Al Fenn/LIFE Magazine)

8 October 1958: At Holloman Air Force Base, southeast of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Project MANHIGH III balloon was launched at 6:51 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (13:51  UTC). The helium balloon lifted a 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) pressurized gondola. Inside was Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, U.S. Air Force.

Over the next three hours, the balloon ascended to an altitude of 99,700 feet (30,389 meters)¹ over the Tularosa Basin.

From this altitude, “Demi” McClure radioed to Dr. David G. Simon, who had flown a previous MANHIGH mission, “I see the most fantastic thing, the sky that you described. It’s blacker than black, but it’s saturated with blue like you said. . . I’m looking at it, but it seems more like I’m feeling it. . . I have the feeling that I should be able to see stars in this darkness, but I can’t find them, either—I have the feeling that this black is so black it has put the stars out.”

The purpose of the MANHIGH flights was to conduct scientific research through the direct observations of the pilot while in contact with ground-based scientists and engineers, and to gather physiological data about the stresses imposed on a human body during extreme high altitude flight.

Lieutenant Clifton M. McClure, U.S. Air Force (1932–2001)
1st Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, United States Air Force

Lieutenant McClure was born at Anderson, South Carolina, 8 November 1932, the son of Clfton M. McClure, Jr., a bookkeeper (who would serve as a U.S. Marine Corps officer during World War II) and Frances Melaney Allen McClure. He attended the Anderson High School, graduating in 1950. He earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in ceramic engineering from Clemson University. He had been an instructor pilot, flying the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star jet trainer, at air bases in Texas, but was then assigned to the Solar Furnace Project at Holloman AFB.

Prior high-altitude balloon flights had shown the need for extreme physiological fitness, and McClure was selected through a series of medical and physical evaluations similar to those that would later be used to select astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. He was considered to be physiologically and psychologically the best candidate for MANHIGH flights.

The MANHIGH III balloon was manufactured by Winzen Research, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota. It had a capacity of approximately 3,000,000 cubic feet (84,950 cubic meters) and was filled with helium.

The gondola was built of three cast aluminum cylindrical sections with hemispherical caps at each end. It was 9 feet (2.743 meters) high with a diameter of 3 feet (0.914 meters). Inside were cooling and pressurization equipment ,and equipment for various scientific experiments.

Lieutenant McClure wore a modified David Clark Company MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet for protection. He breathed a mixture of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium.

During the flight, Lieutenant McClure became dehydrated. Later, temperatures inside the gondola rose to 118 °F. (47.8 °C.). The cooling system was unable to dissipate heat from McClure’s body, and his body core temperature rose to 108.6 °F. (42.6 °C.). After twelve hours, it was decidede to end the flight. MANHIGH III touched down a few miles from its departure point at 2342 UTC, 9 October 1958.

After his participation in Project MANHIGH, Clifton McClure applied to become an astronaut in Project Mercury. He was turned down because his height—6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters)— exceeded the limits imposed by the small Mercury space capsule. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the MANHIGH III flight. He later flew Lockheed F-104 Starfighters with the South Carolina Air National Guard.

Clifton Moody McClure III died at Huntsville, Alabama, 14 January 2000, at the age of 67 years.

Lieutenant Clifton M. McClure, USAF, seated inside the MANHIGH III gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

¹Sources vary. A NASA publication, Dressing For Altitude, cites McClure’s maximum altitude as 98,097 feet (29,900 meters) (Chapter 4, Page 162). The Albuquerque Tribune reported McClure’s altitude as 99,600 feet (30,358 meters), (Vol. 36, No. 163, Saturday, 11 October 1958, Page 7 at Column 6. The National Museum of the United States Air Force states 99,700 feet (30,389 meters). 99,700 feet is also cited in Office of Naval Research Report ACR-64, “Animals and Man in Space,” 1962.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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