3 May 1952: A ski-equipped United States Air Force Douglas C-47A Skytrain, piloted by Lieutenant Colonels William P. Benedict and Joseph O. Fletcher, USAF, was the first airplane to land at the North Pole.¹ The navigator was 1st Lieutenant Herbert Thompson. Staff Sergeant Harold Turner was the flight engineer and Airman 1st Class Robert L. Wishard, the radio operator.
Also on board was Arctic research scientist Dr. Albert P. Crary and his assistant, Robert Cotell. Additional personnel were Fritza Ahl, Master Sergeant Edison T. Blair and Airman 2nd Class David R. Dobson.
Colonel Fletcher was commanding officer of the 58th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska. He was responsible for establishing Drift Ice Stations within the polar ice cap for remote weather observation bases. Ice Island T-3 was renamed Fletcher’s Ice Island in his honor. He became a world authority on Arctic weather and climate. Various geographic features, such as the Fletcher Abyssal Plain in the Arctic Ocean, and the Fletcher Ice Rise in the Antarctic are also named for him.
The airplane flown on this expedition was Douglas C-47A-90-DL Skytrain 43-15665.
The Douglas C-47 in the photograph below is similar to the Skytrain that Benedict and Fletcher landed at the North Pole, however it is a screen image from the RKO/Winchester Pictures Corporation motion picture, “The Thing from Another World,” which was released just one year earlier, 29 April 1951. Howard Hawks’ classic science fiction film involves an Air Force C-47 Skytrain crew that flies in support of a remote Arctic research station.
The Douglas C-47A 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).²
The C-47A 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 were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). 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).
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-DL 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.
43-15665 crashed on Fletcher’s Ice island 3 November 1952. It has since sunk to the floor of the Arctic Ocean.
¹ At least one source states that a Soviet expedition aboard three Lisunov Li-2 transports (a license-built Douglas DC-3) landed near the North Pole on 23 April 1948.
² Data from AAF Manual 51-129-2, Pilot Training Manual for the C-47 Skytrain
2 May 1925: At Santa Monica, California, the Douglas Aircraft Company C-1, A.S. 25-425, made its first flight. The new aircraft was requested by the U.S. Army Air Service to fill the role of a cargo transport. The single-engine, two-bay biplane had a crew of two in an open cockpit and could carry 6–8 passengers in an enclosed compartment, or 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) of cargo. A trapdoor in the floor allowed heavy cargo to be lifted directly into the airplane.
The Douglas C-1 was 35 feet, 4 inches (10.770 meters) long with a wingspan of 56 feet, 7 inches (17.247 meters) and height of 14 feet (4.267 meters). The transport’s empty weight was 3,836 pounds (1,740 kilograms) and its loaded weight was 6,443 pounds (2,922 kilograms).
The C-1 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. It turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).
The Liberty L12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and Packard. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.
The C-1 had a maximum speed of 116 miles per hour (187 kilometers per hour), though its cruising speed was 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 14,850 feet (4,526 meters) and its range was 385 miles (620 kilometers)
In addition to a passenger and cargo transport, the Douglas C-1 was used experimentally as a medical evacuation aircraft and as an aerial refueling tanker. Nine C-1 and C-1A transports were built, and seventeen slightly larger C-1Cs.
The C-1 was the first U.S. Air Force airplane to use the designation “C-” to indicate a cargo transport. That designator is still in use today.
15 April 1970, 01:09:40 UTC: T plus 077:56:40.0: The Apollo 13 Saturn S-IVB-508 third stage impacted the surface of The Moon north of Mare Cognitum. (S. 2° 33′ 00″, W. 27° 52′ 48″)The S-IVB hit the lunar surface at a velocity of 2.58 kilometers per second (5,771 miles per hour). The impact energy was 4.63 x 1017 ergs (1.04 kiloton).
The impact was detected by seismometers placed on the Moon by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. This was part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP.
The Apollo 12 seismometer was located 135 kilometers (83.9 miles) from the Apollo 13 third stage impact. The signals were used to calibrate the instrument package, which was in service from 1969 to 1977.
The Saturn V third stage was designated Saturn S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds (118,841 kilograms). The third stage had one Rocketdyne J-2 engine which used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. Itproduced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,033.10 kilonewtons). The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.
14 April 1947: Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot Eugene Francis (“Gene”) May took the Number 1 U.S. Navy/NACA/Douglas D-558-I Skystreak high-speed research aircraft, Bu. No. 37970, for its first flight at at Muroc Army Airfield. The aircraft had been transported from the Los Angeles factory to Muroc by truck.
The Skystreak was a joint United States Navy/National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) research aircraft designed to explore flight at high subsonic speed. The Phase I Skystreak was designed by a team led by Douglas Chief Engineer Edward Henry Heinemann. Flight testing was conducted at the NACA High Speed Flight Station at Muroc Army Airfield (later known as Edwards Air Force Base). Three D-558-Is were built, followed by the Phase II, swept-wing, Mach 2, D-558-II Skyrocket rocketplane.
The D-558-I carried extensive flight test instrumentation for its time. The wings had 400 orifices for air pressure sensors. During the test series, aircraft stability in the range of 0.82–0.99 Mach was investigated. One of the Skystreaks may have briefly exceeded Mach 1 as it came out of a dive.
Unlike some of the other experimental high speed aircraft of the time, it took off from the ground under its own power rather than being carried aloft by a mother ship. While those other aircraft could briefly reach much higher speeds, the D-558-I was able to fly for extended periods in the high-subsonic range, providing scientists and engineers with a tremendous amount of data.
The research airplane was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The fuselage of the D-558-I was constructed of an aluminum framework covered with sheet magnesium. It was designed for an ultimate load factor of 18 gs. The wings and tail surfaces were aluminum. The airplane was painted scarlet (not orange, like its contemporary, the Bell X-1) and was known as “the crimson test tube.” The D-558-I was 35 feet, 1.5 inches (10.706 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 1.6 inches (3.698 meters). Gross weight 10,105 pounds (4,584 kilograms). It carried 230 gallons (871 liters) of kerosene in its wings.
The D-558-I was powered by a single Allison J35-A-11 turbojet engine. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-11 was rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons). The engine was 12 feet, 1.0 inches (3.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,455 pounds (1,114 kilograms).
Bu. No. 37970 made 101 of the 228 Phase I flights. It set a world speed record 1,031.178 kilometers per hour (640.744 miles per hour), flown by Commander Turner F. Caldwell Jr., U.S. Navy, 20 August 1947.¹ (Major Marion E. Carl, U.S. Marine Corps, flew the second Skystreak, Bu. No. 37971, to 1,047.356 kilometers per hour (650.797 miles per hour),² breaking Caldwell’s record.)
After Douglas completed the contractor’s test series, the Number 1 Skystreak was turned over to the NACA High Speed Flight Station and designated NACA 140. It was not as highly instrumented as the Number 2 and Number 3 Skystreaks and was not flown, but was used as a source for spare parts for the other D-558-Is.
Douglas D-558-I Skystreak Bu. No. 37970 is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.
Organization: 364th Bombardment Squadron, 305th Bombardment Group (H), 8th Air Force
Place and Date: Over Germany, 11 April 1944
Entered Service: Chicago
Born: 2 May 1918, Chicago, Ill.
General Orders: War Department. General Orders No. 5. January 15, 1945
Citation: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Edward Stanley Michael, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as pilot of a B-17 aircraft on a heavy bombardment mission to Germany, April 11, 1944. The group in which 1st Lt. Michael was flying was attacked by a swarm of fighters. His plane was singled out and the fighters pressed their attacks home recklessly, completely disregarding the Allied fighter escort and their own intense flak. His plane was riddled from nose to tail with exploding cannon shells and knocked out of formation, with a large number of fighters following it down, blasting it with cannon fire as it descended. A cannon shell exploded in the cockpit, wounded the copilot, wrecked the instruments, and blew out the side window. 1st Lt. Michael was seriously and painfully wounded in the right thigh. Hydraulic fluid filmed over the windshield making visibility impossible, and smoke filled the cockpit. The controls failed to respond and 3,000 feet were lost before he succeeded in leveling off. The radio operator informed him that the whole bomb bay was in flames as a result of the explosion of 3 cannon shells, which had ignited the incendiaries. With a full load of incendiaries in the bomb bay and a considerable gas load in the tanks, the danger of fire enveloping the plane and the tanks exploding seemed imminent. When the emergency release lever failed to function, 1st Lt. Michael at once gave the order to bail out and 7 of the crew left the plane. Seeing the bombardier firing the navigator’s gun at the enemy planes, 1st Lt. Michael ordered him to bail out as the plane was liable to explode any minute. When the bombardier looked for his parachute he found that it had been riddled with 20mm fragments and was useless. 1st Lt. Michael, seeing the ruined parachute, realized that if the plane was abandoned the bombardier would perish and decided that the only chance would be a crash landing. Completely disregarding his own painful and profusely bleeding wounds, but thinking only of the safety of the remaining crewmembers, he gallantly evaded the enemy, using violent evasive action despite the battered condition of his plane. After the plane had been under sustained enemy attack for fully 45 minutes, 1st Lt. Michael finally lost the persistent fighters in a cloud bank. Upon emerging, an accurate barrage of flak caused him to come down to treetop level where flak towers poured a continuous rain of fire on the plane. He continued into France, realizing that at any moment a crash landing might have to be attempted, but trying to get as far as possible to increase the escape possibilities if a safe landing could be achieved. 1st Lt. Michael flew the plane until he became exhausted from the loss of blood, which had formed on the floor in pools, and he lost consciousness. The copilot succeeded in reaching England and sighted an RAF field near the coast. 1st Lt. Michael finally regained consciousness and insisted upon taking over the controls to land the plane. The undercarriage was useless; the bomb bay doors were jammed open; the hydraulic system and altimeter were shot out. In addition, there was no airspeed indicator, the ball turret was jammed with the guns pointing downward, and the flaps would not respond. Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, he landed the plane without mishap.
By 11 April 1944, four of Lt. Michael’s original crew had been replaced. For the six remaining, Eight Air Force Mission 298 would be their twenty-sixth combat mission. (The combat tour had just been increased from 25 missions to 30.)
On that day, 917 B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers, along with an escort of 819 P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighters were dispatched to strike aircraft production centers in Germany. The mission was divided into three sections. Lieutenant Michael’s B-17 was one of the 341 in the first section, and one of the 127 which were assigned to attack a ball bearing plant at Stettin, Germany (now, Szczecin, Poland).
While on the approach to the target, Bertie Lee came under continuous attack by enemy fighters. The airplane was heavily damaged and several crew members, including Lieutenant Michael, were severely wounded. Two engines were out and several incendiary bombs in the bomb bay caught fire.
When Michael found that he was unable to jettison the bomb load, he ordered his crew to bail out. Four gunners and the airplane’s navigator jumped. The flight engineer/top turret gunner was badly injured and could not put on his parachute. Lieutenant Michael put on the ‘chute for him, and as he jumped, Michael pulled the parachute’s rip cord.
All of those who escaped from Bertie Lee were captured and held as prisoners of war. One was so badly injured, though, that Germany repatriated him to the United States.
Of the original aircraft sent on the mission, 52 B-17s were lost, 4 (including Bertie Lee) were damaged beyond repair, and another 313 damaged. 12 B-24s were lost, 1 damaged beyond repair, and 63 damaged. Seven of the P-47s were shot down and 16 damaged. Nine P-51s were shot down and 13 damaged. The P-38s were unscathed.
19 U.S. airman were listed as Killed in Action, 31 wounded, and 668 missing in action.
Gunners and fighter pilots claimed 124 enemy fighters shot down.
Mission 298 was one of the worst single-day losses of World War II.
1st Lieutenant Michael was hospitalized for months while he recovered from his wounds, and was sent back to the United States to recover.
The Medal of Honor was presented to 1st Lieutenant Edward S. Michael by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America, in a ceremony at The White House, Washington, D.C., 10 January 1945.
Edward Stanley Michael was born at Chicago, Illinois, 2 May 1918. He was the son of Stanley William Michael and Lillian Harriet Konior Michael. He attended Chicago High School, graduating in 1936. By 1940, Edward Michael was employed as a machinist.
On 2 November 1940, Michael enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. He was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 148 pounds. He served at Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, and was present during the air attack of 7 December 1941. Private First Class Michael was appointed an aviation cadet, 5 June 1942. He graduated from flight training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 12 April 1943. He trained as a multi-engine pilot at Douglas Army Airfield, in Cochise County, Arizona, and then underwent training as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot at Geiger Army Airfield, Spokane, Washington.
2nd Lieutenant Michael married Miss Bertie Lee Parks, whom he had met while training in Arizona, at Geiger Field, on 21 October 1943. He would later name his B-17G 42-37931, Bertie Lee, in her honor. They would divorce in 1956.
Michael was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 25 Jan 1944.
Lieutenant Michael remained in the Air Corps following the War. On 5 July 1946 his wartime Army of the United States rank was converted to 1st Lieutenant, United States Army Air Forces, with date of rank effective 12 April 1946.
Captain Michael returned to flight status ferrying aircraft from Love Field, Dallas, Texas, and was the assigned to Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., for air transport operations. When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1948, Captain Michael was transferred.
Michael graduated from the Air University at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, in April 1949. He was next assigned to the 1729th Air Transport Squadron, Military Air Transport Service (M.A.T.S.) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and remained there for three years. In September 1952, Captain Michael was assigned as operations officer of the 1503rd Air Support Squadron at NAS Agana, Guam, in the Marianas Islands, followed by assignment to the 1500th Air Base Wing, Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii.
In 1957, Major Michael was trained as a B-47 Stratojet pilot at McConnell Air Force Base, near Wichita, Kansas, then served with the 4347th Combat Training Wing at McConnell.
Major Michael married his second wife, Ms. Louise Erdman, 21 November 1958, at Salt Lake City, Utah.
Major Michael was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 1 August 1963.
Lieutenant Colonel Edward Stanley Michael retired from the United States Air Force on 12 February 1971, after 30 years of military service.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, during his military service Lieutenant Colonel Michael was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Purple Heart; the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters (five awards); the Air Force Commendation Medal; Army Commendation Medal; Presidential Unit Citation; Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Army Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze service star; European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal with bronze campaign star; World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal; National Defense Servce Medal with bronze star (two awards); and the Air Force Training Ribbon with one silver and one bronze oak leaf cluster (six awards).
Edward Stanley Michael died at Fairfield, California, 10 May 1998, at the age of 76 years. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Springville, Utah.
Bertie Lee was a B-17G-20-DL Flying Fortress, 42-37931 (Douglas serial number 8897), built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California, in October 1943. It was delivered to Denver, Colorado, on 13 October. On 5 November 1943, the B-17 was flown to Grand Island Army Air Field, Nebraska; then to Bangor, Maine on 7 November. It was flown across the Atlantic Ocean to England, arriving at RAF Chelveston (USAAF Station 105) on 5 January 1944. The bomber was assigned to the 364th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and given the fuselage identification markings WF-D.
When 42-37931 was assigned to Lieutenant Michael and his combat crew, he named the airplane Bertie Lee, after his wife.
Bertie Lee was damaged beyond repair when it crash-landed at RAF Grimsby on 11 April 1944. It was later scrapped.