Tag Archives: Fédération Aéronautique Internationale

20 March 1966

Test pilot Jack L. Zimmerman with the record-setting Hughes YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213. (FAI)
Hughes Aircraft Division test pilot Jack L. Zimmerman with the record-setting Hughes YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213. (FAI)

20 March 1966: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, Hughes Aircraft Company test pilot Jack L. Zimmerman flew the third prototype YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213, to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing of 1,700.12 kilometers (1,056.41 miles).¹ Fifty-one years later, this record still stands.

One week later, Zimmerman would set six more World Records ² with the “Loach.”

Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1966. (FAI)
Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1966. (FAI)

The Hughes Model 369 was built in response to a U.S. Army requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter (“L.O.H.”). It was designated YOH-6A, and the first aircraft received U.S. Army serial number 62-4211. It competed with prototypes from Bell Helicopter Company (YOH-4) and Fairchild-Hiller (YOH-5). All three aircraft were powered by a lightweight Allison Engine Company turboshaft engine. The YOH-6A won the three-way competition and was ordered into production as the OH-6A Cayuse. It was nicknamed “loach,” an acronym for L.O.H.

The YOH-6A was a two-place light helicopter, flown by a single pilot. It had a four-bladed, articulated main rotor which turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) Stacks of thin stainless steel “straps” fastened the rotor blades to the hub and were flexible enough to allow for flapping and feathering. Hydraulic dampers controlled lead-lag. Originally, there were blade cuffs around the main rotor blade roots in an attempt to reduce aerodynamic drag, but these were soon discarded. A two-bladed semi-rigid tail rotor was mounted on the left side of the tail boom. Seen from the left, the tail-rotor rotates counter-clockwise. (The advancing blade is on top.)

The third prototype YOH-6A, 62-4213, testing the XM-7 minigun. (U.S. Army)
The third prototype YOH-6A, 62-4213, testing the XM-7 twin M60 7.62 mm weapons system. (U.S. Army)

The YOH-6A was powered by a T63-A-5 turboshaft engine (Allison Model 250-C10) mounted behind the cabin at a 45° angle. The engine was rated at 212 shaft horsepower at 52,142 r.p.m. (102% N1) and 693 °C. turbine outlet temperature for maximum continuous power, and 250 shaft horsepower at 738 °C., 5-minute limit, for takeoff. Production OH-6A helicopters used the slightly more powerful T63-A-5A (250-C10A) engine.

The Hughes Tool Company Aircraft Division built 1,420 OH-6A Cayuse helicopters for the U.S. Army. The helicopter remains in production as AH-6C and MH-6 military helicopters, and the MD500E and MD530F civil aircraft.

Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 is in the collection of the United States Army Aviation Museum, Fort Rucker, Alabama.

U.S. Army Hughes YOH-6A prototype 62-4213 at Le Bourget, circa 1965.
U.S. Army Hughes YOH-6A prototype 62-4213 at Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, 19 June 1965.(R.A. Scholefield via AVIAFORA)
Jack Zimmerman (The Maroon 1940)

Jack Louis Zimmerman was born 1 September 1921 at Chicago, Illinois, the second of three children of Bernard Zimmerman, an electrician, and Esther Rujawski Zimmerman. Jack graduated from Hirsch high School in Chicago in 1940. He then studied engineering at the University of Chicago, but left to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He graduated from flight school in 1943 and was commissioned a second lieutenant.

Lieutenant Zimmerman was sent to Freeman Field, Indiana, as part of the Army’s first class of student helicopter pilots, training on the Sikorsky R-4. On completion of training he was assigned to a Liberty ship in the western Pacific as part of a Project Ivory Soap Aviation Repair Unit.

Taking off from the Army Transport Service ship USAT Maj. Gen. Robert Olds (formerly, the Liberty ship, SS Daniel E. Garrett), Lieutenant Zimmerman’s helicopter crashed into the sea. For his heroic actions in saving a passenger’s life, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal:

Soldier’s Medal

“For heroism displayed in rescuing an enlisted man from drowning on 1 November 1944. While taking off from the flight deck of the SS Daniel E. Garrett, Lieutenant Zimmerman with Private William K. Troche as passenger was forced to land at sea. Lieutenant Zimmerman at the risk of his life made several dives into the plane when his passenger had difficulty in extricating himself from the craft. When Private Troche’s life preserver failed to operate properly, Lieutenant Zimmerman supported him in the water for approximately 30 minutes and afterwards pulled him to a life preserver, which had been thrown from the ship. The heroism displayed by Lieutenant Zimmerman on this occasion reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.” —http://collectair.org/zimmerman.html

Following World War II, Jack Zimmerman was employed as a commercial pilot, and then a test pilot for the Seibel Helicopter S-4 and YH-24 light helicopters, and when the company was bought by Cessna, he continued testing the improved Cessna CH-1 and UH-41 Seneca. In 1963, Zimmerman began working as a test pilot for the Hughes Tool Company’s Aircraft Division. He retired in 1982.

Jack Louis Zimmerman died at San Diego, California, on his 81st birthday, 1 September 2002.

¹ FAI Record File Number 762

² FAI Record File Numbers 771, 772, 9920, 9921, 9922, and 9923

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–15 March 1957

U.S. Navy ZPG-2 Bu. No. 141561, “Snow Bird,” prior to departure at NAS South Weymouth, Boston, Massachusetts, 4 March 1957 (NASM)

4 March 1957: At 6:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, a United States Navy non-rigid airship, Goodyear ZPG-2, Bu. No. 141561, departed NAS South Weymouth, Boston, Massachussetts, on a long-dstance flight to demonstrate the capabilities of a modern lighter-than-air military “blimp.” The airship had been involved in cold-weather testing and had been given the name, Snow Bird. During this flight, the blimp used the radio call sign “Planner 12.”

CDR Jack R. Hunt, USNR, briefs the crew of Snow Bird prior to departure, 4 March 1957. (Flying Magazine)

Snow Bird was under the command of Commander Jack Reed Hunt, U.S.N.R., a fifteen-year veteran of airship operations. There were two additional pilots, Commander Ronald W. Hoel, U.S.N., and Lieutenant Commander Robert S. Bowser, U.S.N. The crew also consisted of three navigators, Lieutenant Stanley W. Dunton, Lieutenant Charles J. Eadie, and Lieutenant John R. Fitzpatrick. The remainder of the crew were Chief Aviation Electronicsman (ALC) Lee N. Steffan, crew chief and radio; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class (AD1) Thomas L. Cox, flight mechanic; Aviation Electricians’s Mate 1st Class (AE1) Carl W. Meyer, electrician; Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class (AG1) William S.Dehn, Jr., aerologist and photographer; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class (AD2) James R. Burkett, Jr., flight mechanic; Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) George A. Locklear, rigger and cook; and Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AT2) Frank J. Maxymillian, radio. Also on board the air ship was a civilian flight engineer, Mr. Edgar L Moore, a Goodyear Aircraft Corporation Field Representative.

Goodyear ZPG-2. (U.S. Navy)

Snow Bird headed east across the Atlantic Ocean, passing north of the Azores on 7 March. At this point, the airship had burned off enough fuel that it was light enough to cruise on one engine. This allowed a much greater range. Late in the third day the flight, the blimp reached the west coast of Portugal, having completed the first Atlantic crossing by a lighter-than-air craft in 12 years.

Snow Bird turned south, heading for Casablanca on the west coast of North Africa, which it reached the morning of 8 March. The airship continued south along the African coast before turning west to re-cross the ocean. The route took the blimp past the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, and then onward to the Virgin Islands. Arriving back in the United States, Snow Bird made landfall at Miami Beach on the afternoon of 14 March.

A radio message was sent to the crew of Planner 12 by Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations:


Not finished with its voyage, the airship nest headed to Dry Tortugas at the far western end of the Florida Keys, and then finally landed at NAS Key West, Florida, on 15 March.

ZPG-2 Flight Track (Flying Magazine)

Snow Bird had traveled 9,448 miles (15,205 kilometers) without landing or refueling. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) lists this as “the longest recorded airship flight. This exceeded the distance record set by Graf Zeppelin, flying from Friedrichshaven, Germany, to Tokyo, Japan, (11,247 kilometers) 15–19 August 1929. From takeoff at NAS South Weymouth to landing at NAS Key West, the total duration of the flight was 264 hours, 14 minutes.

The crew was met by a large group of dignitaries. Commander Reed was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross by Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr., United States Navy, one of the greatest military leaders of World War II.

Commander Hunt was later presented the Harmon International  Trophy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

An AEW variant U.S. Navy Goodyear ZPG airship. (The Noon Balloon)

Goodyear ZPG-2 Bu. No. 141561 was built by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation at Akron, Ohio. It was the 11th of 12 “N-class” airships which were used for patrol, anti-submarine warfare ASW), and when equipped with radar, for airborne early warning (AEW).

The ZPG-2 is 343 feet (105 meters) long and the envelope has a maximum diameter of 76 feet (23 meters). A two-deck control car was suspended beneath the envelope. The airship had an overall height of 107 feet (33 meters). Bouyancy was provided by 1,011,000 cubic feet (28,628 cubic meters) of Helium.

There are four fins placed in a X-pattern at the tail of the ZPG-2, called ruddervators. (These were similar to the fins used on the experimental submarine USS Albacore (AGSS-569) several years later.) The ruddervators allowed the airship to be controlled by a single control column, a change from the two controls used previously. Also, the decreased vertical span of the fins allowed greater ground clearance, so that the blimp coul takeoff at steeper angles than if it had been equipped with the standard cruciform fins.

The Goodyear ZPG-2 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,301.868 cubic inch displacement (21.334 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1300-2 (Cyclone 7 865C7BA1) seven-cylinder radial engines mounted outside the control car. The R-1300-2 was a direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. It was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., for takeoff, using 91/96 octane aviation gasoline. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable pitch, reversible propellers. The R-1300-2 was 48.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 50.45 inches (1.281 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,067 pounds (484 kilograms).

The ZPG-2 had a cruise speed of 57 miles per hour (92 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). Its normal endurance was three days.

Bu. No. 141561’s cockpit, nose cone and a frame of a ruddervator are displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Jack Reed Hunt

Jack Reed Hunt was born at Red Oak, Iowa, 18 May 1918. He was the second of seven children of Smith Reed Hunt, a baker, and Blanche Luise Seefeldt Hunt. The family moved to southern California, where Jack grew up.

Jack R. Hunt joint the United States Navy on 4 April 1942. He was trained as an airship pilot and flight instructor. Hunt was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, 1 October 1942, and promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 October 1943. Hunt remained in the Navy following World War II. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander 1 August 1951, and to Commander, 1 July 1956.

From 1963 until 1984, Jack Hunt was the president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a fully-accredited aerospace university.

Hunt was married three times (Bethel, Donna and Lynne) and had seven children. He died 7 January 1984, at the age of 65 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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Benjamin Scovill Kelsey (9 March 1906–3 March 1981)

First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, Air Corps, United States Army, circa 1937. Captain Kelsey is wearing the badge of a Senior Pilot. The ribbon below his “wings” represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (Kelsey Family Collection)

Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, an aeronautical engineer and test pilot, despite his youth and junior rank, was one of the most influential Air Corps officers in the shaping of United States military air power during the years leading up to World War II.

Ben Kelsey was born in the Kelsey family home at 22 Johnson Street, Waterbury, Connecticut, on 9 February 1906. He was the son of Benjamin Richard Kelsey, an agent for the Waterbury Blank Book Co., and Elizabeth Anna Scovill Kelsey. His mother’s family, the Scovills, were a prominent manufacturing family in Connecticut. Kelsey’s father died 2 Dec 1909.

Kelsey attended Crosby High School in Waterbury. He had an early interest in aviation, and he began flight lessons  at the age of 14. He enrolled with the Curtiss Flying School, located at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York. The school offered 500 minutes (8 hours, 20 minutes) of flight instruction for $500. Kesley soloed 11 August 1923.

Kelsey was able to buy a Curtiss “Jenny” airframe from the school, and accumulated parts and an OX-5 engine to put it into flying condition.

Ben Kelsey (center) and his Curtiss Jenny. (Kelsey Family Collection)

Kelsey was granted an aviator’s certificate, No. 6843, by the National Aeronautic Association of U.S.A. (N.A.A.), on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, about 1926. When the United States Department of Commerce began issuing pilot licenses after 1928, Kelsey qualified for Transport License No. 3200. He also held Department of Commerce Mechanic’s License No. 1368. (These, as well as a number of other licenses and identification cards belonging to Kelsey are held in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.)

B. S. Kelsey (1928 Technique)

Ben Kelsey entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1924, with a major in mechanical engineering. He was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), the Tau Beta Pi (ΤΒΠ) fraternity, and The Scabbard and Blade, a national military fraternity. He was president of the Aeronautical Engineering Society, a member of the Mechanical Engineering Society and the Society of Automotive Engineers (S.A.E.). Outside of academics, Kelsey participated in the varsity team sports of swimming and crew, and was a member of the Varsity Club and the Tech Boat Club. He also joined the M.I.T. Flying Club.

Kelsey graduated from M.I.T. in 1928 with a scientiae baccalaureus (S.B.) degree in Mechanical Engineering. He stayed on at the university as a Research Assistant to William G. Brown, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics, in the Department of Aeronautical Engineering.

Benjamin Scovill Kelsey was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 2 May 1929 (accepted 16 June 1929). Because of his experience as a pilot and his training in aeronautical engineering, Lieutenant Kelsey was assigned to work with First Lieutenant James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle at the Guggenheim Full Flight Laboratory at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. Funded by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, Lieutenants Doolittle and Kelsey worked with Elmer Sperry, Jr., and Paul Kollsman to develop instruments and techniques to take off, fly, and land airplanes in clouds and fog.

On 24 September 1929, Lieutenant Kelsey, in the forward cockpit of a civil-registered, two-place, Consolidated NY-2 Husky biplane, NX7918, acted as a safety pilot while Doolittle flew the airplane from the rear cockpit. Doolittle had his visual reference to earth and sky completely cut off by a hood enclosure over his cockpit. He made the first completely blind airplane takeoff flight and landing, solely by reference to instruments on board his aircraft.

Jimmy Doolittle’s Consolidated NY-2 in flight. A hood covers the rear cockpit, preventing the pilot from seeing outside. Kelsey rode in the forward cockpit as a safety pilot. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Lieutenant Kelsey was then assigned to the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, and the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, both located in San Antonio, Texas. He completed the Air Corps Pursuit Course in 1930.

On completion of his military flight training, Lieutenant Kelsey was assigned to the 77th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, based at Mather Field, Sacramento, California, and then Barksdale Field in Louisiana. The squadron flew the Boeing P-12 biplane pursuit.

Kelsey was still a very junior officer in the Air Corps. In July 1931, he was number 231 on the list of second lieutenants.

Second Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, 77th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at March Field, Riverside, California, 1931. The airplane is a Boeing P-12E. (Kelsey Family Collection)

Lieutenant Kelsey returned to M.I.T. to complete a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He was awarded a scientiae magister (S.M.) degree in Aeronautics in 1932.

The United States government had contracted with commercial aviation businesses to deliver the U.S. Mail by air. A corrupt contracting process was used by the Postal Service, however, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt cancelled those contracts and ordered the Air Corps to start delivering the mail, effective 19 February 1934.

The Air Corps organized the Army Air Corp Mail Operation. The Western Region, based at Salt Lake City, Utah, was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold (later, General of the Air Force). 2nd Lieutenant Kelsey was transferred from the navigator’s school at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, to the A.A.C.M.O. Western Region. He and other Air Corps pilots flew at night, in winter weather, on a triangular route from Salt Lake City to Reno and Elko, Nevada.  Initially, the airplanes used were the Boeing P-12 pursuits, but they were able to carry only a small amount of mail. The Curtiss A-12 Shrike was then used for the mail delivery.

Curtiss A-12 Shrike (SDASM)

During this time, Lieutenant Kelsey also worked with Captain Albert F. Hegenberger on an instrument flight research program that allowed Air Corps pilots to conduct a flight from start up to shut down, including takeoffs and landings in “zero-zero” conditions, solely by reference to instruments.

Kelsey was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 1 October 1934. He was next assigned as the Pursuit Projects Officer, Material Division, at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 17 May 1931. (U.S. Air Force)
Caryl Rathje, 1933. (Kelsey Family Collection)

1st Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey married Miss Caryl Rathje, 16 August 1935. Miss Rathje was the fourth of seven children of William John Rathje, president of the Mid-City Trust & Savings Bank in Chicago. Her mother was Mary Eliza Philpot Rathje.

Caryl had graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1929 and then attended Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois. She was a member of the Beta Chapter Alpha Phi (ΑΦ) sorority. While at Northwestern, Miss Rathje sang 1st soprano in the Glee Club and was secretary of the Daughters of Neptune swimming team.

The wedding, performed by Rev. Clyde Melsee, took place in the bride’s home in Chicago, Illinois.

The Kelseys would have three children, Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, Jr., Peter Rathje Kelsey, and David W. Kelsey.

1st Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, Air Corps, United States Army, with a Curtiss-Wright P-36A Hawk, Air Corps serial number 38-2, at Wright Field, Ohio, circa 1938. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)

Kelsey continued his assignment at Wright Field: “Engineer, Procurement Branch. Project Officer, Pursuit, Engineering Procurement Branch, Material Division.” It was his task to evaluate all pursuit aircraft in current service with the Air Corps, and to assess its future needs. He was in contact aircraft and engine manufacturers, and evaluated similar aircraft types in foreign military service. He performed as an aeronautical engineer, a test pilot and a forecaster of aviation technology.

Martin B-10 over Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 1941. (Harold Wahlberg/Wikipedia)

On Christmas Eve, 1936, Lieutenant Kelsey was flying a twin-engine Martin B-10 bomber from Mitchel Field, New York, to Wright Field. The flight was not uneventful.

Lieut. Ben Kelsey, returning to Wright Field one night in a Martin B-10B, had reached the vicinity of Columbus, Ohio, when the left engine quit “as though the switches were cut.” After some gas valve and ignition switch manipulating, the engine started up with the gas valve in the “off” position, gasoline flowing freely from the exhaust pipe. On starting, the flames ignited the gasoline on the wing, which also ignited the fabric rear portion of the wing. The engine then began to operate normally and, after deciding against taking a chance on the Columbia Airport fire fighting facilities, Lieut. Kelsey raced the fire to Wright Field. A few inches from the aileron the fire lost, and Lieut. Kelsey, after a few practice cloud landings, shot a “hot” flapless landing successfully at Wright Field with only a little more than half the left wing surface remaining. When asked why he didn’t jump, he answered: “I had an electric train in the back for the boy.”

Air Corps NEWS LETTER, Vol. XX, No. 3, 1 February 1937, at Page 3, Column 1

For his actions that night, Lieutenant Kelsey was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Distinguished Flying Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Benjamin S. Kelsey, U.S. Army Air Corps, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. On 24 December 1936, at about 7:30 p.m., Lieutenant Kelsey was piloting an airplane from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, flying at an altitude of approximately 1,800 feet when he left motor instantaneously failed and the left wing burst into flames. By his outstanding courage, sound judgment, and at the risk of his life Lieutenant Kelsey maintained control of the airplane and, with great difficulty due to the darkness of the night and the glare from the burning airplane, effected a safe landing at Wright Field, thereby preventing the destruction to valuable Government property.

General Orders: War Department: American Decorations, 1937 – 1938 (Supplement II-1939)

Action Date: December 24, 1936

Bell XFM-1 36-351, prototype heavy fighter. (Charles Daniels Photo Collection, SDASM, 15_002692)

On 1 September 1937, Lieutenant Kelsey made the first flight of the Bell Aircraft Corporation XFM-1 Airacuda at Buffalo, New York. This was a prototype twin-engine heavy fighter. The Airacuda was Bell’s first military aircraft and was technologically advanced, but also had many flaws. Kelsey found that the airplane would immediately enter a spin when flown with one engine. It was also unstable in pitch, as the “pusher” arrangement would cause pitch angle to climb as engine power was increased. This was the same problem that had caused the Air Service to ground all pusher-type aircraft in February 1914, and to prohibit their future use.

This Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C4 V-12 engine, s/n 9 (V-1710-7, A.C. No. 43-7) was the first V-1710 to be flown. It had Maximum Continuous power rating of, 1,000 h.p. at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level. (NASM)

The XFM-1 was powered by two Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-9 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. These were very early models of the type, but the Allison V-12 would be a significant feature in several future aircraft which were proposed by Kelsey.

In February 1937, the Air Corps issued a proposal to aircraft manufacturers, written by Lieutenant Kelsey and Lieutenant Gordon P. Saville, for a twin-engine, high-altitude interceptor. This would be developed into the Lockheed Aircraft Company’s legendary P-38 Lightning. Ben Kelsey made the first flight of the XP-38 at March Field, Riverside, California, 27 January 1939. The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Allison V-1710   engine.

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

Attempting a transcontinental speed record to draw public attention to the Air Corps’ need for technologically advanced aircraft, Kelsey flew the prototype XP-38 from March Field to Mitchel Field. On approach to Mitchel, the XP-38 was behind several slower training planes, so Lieutenant Kelsey throttled back the engines. When he tried to throttle up, the carburetor venturis iced and the engines would not accelerate, remaining at idle. With insufficient power to maintain altitude, the airplane crashed on a golf course short of the airport.

Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream, New York. (Associated Press)

The XP-38 was damaged beyond repair, but its performance on the transcontinental flight was so impressive that 13 YP-38A pre-production aircraft were ordered from Lockheed by the Air Corps. Testing continued with the YP-38A and was the new fighter was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

The Bell XP-39 prototype, 38-326, in the original turbosupercharged configuration. The intercooler and waste gates created significant aerodynamic drag. (Bell Aircraft Corporation)

Another Air Corps proposal written by Lieutenants Kelsey and Saville resulted in the Bell XP-39 Airacobra. This aircraft was also powered by an Allison V-1710, placed in a position behind the cockpit. The XP-39 made its first flight 6 April 1938. 9,584 Bell P-39 Airacobras were built during World War II.

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)

Curtiss-Wright’s Chief Engineer, Donovan Reese Berlin, had taken the tenth production P-36A Hawk, Air Corps serial number 38-10, and had its air-cooled radial engine replaced with a liquid-cooled Allison V-1710-C13 V-12 engine. Although the P-36A’s original Pratt & Whitney R-1830-17 14-cylinder radial engine had greater displacement and produced 80 horsepower more for takeoff than the Allison V-12, the long, narrow V-12 allowed for a much more streamlined engine cowling for higher speed and greater efficiency.

The XP-40 was disappointingly slow when compared to the P-36A, however. Kelsey had the prototype sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Research Center at Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia, where the full-size airplane was placed inside a wind tunnel.

Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype in the NACA wind tunnel at Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia, 24 April 1939. The technician at the lower left of the photograph provides scale. (NASA)

Over a two-month period, NACA engineers made a number of improvements. The radiator was moved forward under the engine and the oil coolers utilized the same air scoop. The exhaust manifolds were improved as were the landing gear doors.

When they had finished, Lieutenant Kelsey flew the modified XP-40 back to Curtiss. Its speed had been increased to 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour), a 12% improvement.

Between 1939 and 1945, Curtiss built 13,738 P-40s in many configurations. They flew in combat in every theater of operations during World War II.

1st Lieutenant Kelsey was promoted to the rank of captain in May 1939. In July 1940, Captain Kelsey was sent to England as a military attaché. He observed combat operations during the Battle of Britain, and was able to fly the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters. Kelsey arranged to have two Spitfire Mk.Va fighters, R7347 and W3119, shipped to the United States for evaluation at Wright Field and NACA Langley.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Va, R7347, at NACA Langley, circa 1941. (NASA)

Captain Kelsey returned to the United States, departing Galway, Ireland, 5 July 1940, aboard the United States Lines passenger liner S.S. Washington. The ship was under the command of Captain Harry Manning, who had been one of two navigators intended to fly with Amelia Earhardt around the world in 1937. Kelsey arrived at the Port of New York on 13 July. [Interestingly, on 11 June 1940, S.S. Washington had been stopped off the coast of Portugal by a Kriegsmarine U-boat, U-101, and the passengers and crew were given ten minutes to abandon ship before it was to be sunk. The submarine’s captain, Kapitänleutnant Fritz Frauenheim, realized that he had mistaken the ship for another, and signaled to Captain Manning, “Thought you were another ship. Please go on, go on.”]

S.S. Washington, 1940

With World War II underway, Britain could not produce enough combat aircraft to meet its immediate needs. The British Purchasing Commission had asked North American Aviation to produce Curtiss-Wright Tomahawks (P-40s) under license. N.A.A. responded with a proposal for an all-new fighter, the NA-73X, which would be powered by the Allison V-1710,  could be designed and built in the same time it would take to establish a P-40 assembly plant in California. On 10 April 1940, the Commission authorized North American to proceed. The prototype made its first flight on 26 October 1940, and it was placed in production as the Mustang Mk.I.

The fourth and tenth production Mustang Mk.Is, AG348 and AG354, were diverted to the Army Air Corps, designated XP-51 and assigned serial numbers 41-038 and 41-039. Both aircraft were extensively flight tested at Wright Field and by NACA at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. The airplane was ordered into production as the P-51A Mustang.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 during flight testing at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

Lee Atwood, North American’s chief engineer and later president, wrote:

Ben Kelsey, in my opinion, was among the most effective Air Corps officers of World War II. His active liaison between combat and aircraft engineering was extremely productive and resulted in aircraft and weapons improvements in a timely manner and when most critically needed. I first met Ben when he was the project officer on the P-38 and he became interested in the P-51 at an early stage. Undoubtedly, he did all he could to bring it along. He had a low key, but very convincing approach.

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II, by John Fredrickson, Voyageur Press, 2015, Chapter 8 at Page 147

Captain Kelsey was promoted to the rank of major (temporary) 15 March 1941. On 10 October 1941, he was appointed a major in the wartime Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

As the United States prepared for an unavoidable involvement in World War II, its military forces underwent a massive expansion. Promotions for serving officers came much more rapidly than had been the case during the pre-war years. Normally, they would retain their permanent rank in the United States Army while rising to higher rank and responsibility in the Army of the United States.

Major Kelsey was promoted to lieutenant colonel (temporary) on 5 January 1942, and to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S., on 1 February 1942. Four weeks later, 1 March 1942, he was advanced to colonel, A.U.S.

Lockheed P-38F Lightnings at Iceland during the summer of 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Kelsey was involved in the planning and operation of the North Atlantic Ferry Route (Operation Bolero), by which aircraft were moved from the United States to Europe, by way of Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Ireland. He flew a Lockheed P-38F Lighting of the 14th Fighter Group on the first crossing by this route in June 1942.

(Left to right) Colonel Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, Colonel John Koehler Gerhart, Major John O. Zahn, Major Cass Sheffield Hough, Colonel John Nicholas Stone, 1st Fighter Group, 30 June 1942 (American Air Museum in Britain FRE 10064)

Colonel Kelsey resumed his assignment as chief of the Pursuit Branch at Wright Field. On 9 April 1943, Kelsey was at Lockheed in southern California, testing a P-38G-10-LO Lightning, 42-12937. He had entered a high-speed dive at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). When he attempted to engage the new “dive flap,” intended to control some of the compressibility effects that pilots had encountered, the control lever broke away. Kelsey applied full rudder and aileron. The P-38’s left wing and tail broke away, and the remaining part of the airplane entered an inverted spin. Kelsey bailed out, suffering a broken ankle. The airplane crashed near Calabasas, California (13.5 miles, or 21.8 kilometers, from where I am now writing).

Wreckage of Lockheed P-38G-10-LO Lightning 42-12937, after Colonel Kelsey was forced to bail out, 9 April 1943. Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies guard the scene at the southwest edge of the San Fernando Valley. This is the present location of the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, just north of the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) and Parkway Calabasas, Calabasas, California. (P-38 National Association and Museum)

Colonel Kelsey was named chief of the Flight Research Branch, Flight Test Division, at Wright Field, in July 1943.

In November 1943, Colonel Kelsey was assigned as deputy chief of staff, Headquarters, IX Fighter Command, based at Army Air Forces Station 449 (RAF Middle Wallop) in Hampshire, England. Shortly after, he was reassigned as chief of operations, Eighth Air Force. While in England, Colonel Kelsey flew 21 combat missions.

Mrs. Kelsey with Colonel Kelsey, circa 1946. The medal below the ribbon bars is the Croix de Guerre avec palme, awarded by the government of France. (Kelsey Family Collection)

Following the end of the war, Colonel Kelsey returned to Wright Field. He reverted to his permanent rank of major, Army Air Forces, 2 May 1946. He then had a series of staff assignments. After the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service on 18 September 1947, Major Kelsey was appointed a major, U.S. Air Force, with a date of rank 2 May 1946. Major Kelsey was promoted to the rank of colonel U.S. Air Force, 2 April 1948.

Colonel Kelsey attended the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C., from August 1948 to June 1949. He then became an instructor at the College. Kelsey next served as Deputy Director for Research and Development at Air Force headquarters. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general (temporary) on 5 September 1952.

In 1954, General Kelsey was the Air Force representative to the Research Airplane Committee which proposed the hypersonic X-15 rocketplane, which would be built by North American Aviation.

North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)

On 30 December 1955, Brigadier General Kelsey reverted to his permanent rank of colonel. He retired from the Air Force 31 December 1955, after 26 years, 7 months, 30 days of military service.

During his military career, Colonel Kelsey had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters (three awards). France and Belgium each decorated him with their Croix de Guerre.

In 1944, Colonel Kelsey had been honored with the Octave Chanute Award of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”

In 1959, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology bestowed on Kelsey its Jerome C. Hunsaker Visiting Professor of Aerospace Systems. Professor Kelsey delivered the annual Minta Martin Lecture, “Size Considerations in Optimum Aircraft.”

The National Air and Space Museum selected Colonel Kelsey as the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History for 1979. With this fellowship, he wrote The Dragon’s Teeth?: The Creation of United States Air Power in World War II (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982).

Colonel Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, United States Air Force (Retired), died at Sherwood Farm, Stevensburg, Virginia 3 March 1981, at the age of 74 years. His remains were cremated.

This Day in Aviation is indebted to Ms. Tiffany Kelsey, Ben Kelsey’s granddaughter, for her invaluable assistance.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6–8 March 1949

Beechcraft 35 Bonanza N80040, Waikiki Beech, at NASM.

6–8 March 1949: William Paul Odom, a former captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps who had flown “The Hump” during World War II, departed Honolulu Airport on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, flying the fourth prototype Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza, N80040, which he had named Waikiki Beech, enroute to Teterboro, New Jersey, non-stop. He arrived there after 36 hours, 1 minute, setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line of 7,977.92 kilometers (4,957.24 miles),¹ averaging 137.64 miles per hour (221.5 kilometers per hour). The Bonanza had 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of gasoline remaining, having consumed 272.25 gallons (1,030.6 liters).

The Hawaii Aeronautics Commission Annual Report mentioned the flight:

March 1949

     4—Bill Odom returns for second attempt of Honolulu-New York non-stop flight.

     6—Bill Odom leaves on second Honolulu-New jersey non-stop flight and lands at Teterboro, New jersey on March 8, exactly 36 hours and 1 minute after leaving Honolulu Airport, setting a new distance record of 4,957.24 miles for light airplane and longest non-stop solo flight in his converted Beech Bonanza plane which was appropriately christened “Waikiki Beech.” Flight was made with only $75 worth of gasoline.

Bill Odom flew Waikiki Beech on a national publicity tour for the Beech Aircraft Corporation.
Bill Odom flew “Waikiki Beech” on a national publicity tour for the Beech Aircraft Corporation.

N80040 was the fourth prototype Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza. (The first two were static test articles.)

The Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza is a single-engine, four-place all-metal light civil airplane with retractable landing gear. The Bonanza has the distinctive V-tail with a 30° dihedral which combined the functions of a conventional vertical fin and rudder, and horizontal tail plane and elevators.

The Model 35 was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 10 inches (10.008 meters) and height of 6 feet, 6½ inches (1.994 meters). It had an empty weight of 1,458 pounds (661 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,550 pounds (1,157 kilograms.)

NX80040, s/n 4, and the following production models were powered by an air-cooled, 471.24-cubic-inch-displacement (7.72 liter) Continental Motors, Inc., E185 horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder engine. This engine was rated at 165 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. (NX80150, s/n 3, had been equipped with a 125-horsepower Lycoming O-290-A.) The Bonanza had a two-bladed electrically-controlled variable pitch R-100 propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters) made of laminated wood.

Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza NX80040. This is the fourth prototype. It is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)
Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza NX80040. This is the fourth prototype. It is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The “V-tail Bonanza” had a maximum speed of 184 miles per hour (296 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a cruise speed of 175 miles per hour ( 282 kilometers per hour)at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its service ceiling was 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). With full fuel, 40 gallons (151.4 liters), the airplane had a range of 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

The Beechcraft 35 was in production from 1947 to 1982. More than 17,000 Model 35s and the similar Model 36 were built.

William Paul Odom was born at Raymore, Missouri, 21 October 1919, He was the first of three children of Dennis Paul Odom, a farmer, and Ethel E. Powers Odom.

Odom, then an airport radio operator, married Miss Dorothy Mae Wroe at Brentwood, Pennsylvania, 3 December 1939.

Odom flew for the Chinese National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) from 1944 to 1945, flying “The Hump,” the air route over the Himalayas from India to China.

William P. Odom. (FAI)
William P. Odom. (FAI)

William P. Odom had flown a Douglas A-26B Invader, NX67834, named Reynolds Bombshell, around the world in 3 days, 6 hours 55 minutes, 56 seconds, 12–16 April 1947. He made a second around the world flight, 7–11 August 1947, again flying the A-26. The duration of this second trip was 3 days, 1 hour, 5 minutes, 11 seconds. (Neither flight was recognized as a record by the FAI.)

In April 1948, Odom flew a Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express transport for the Reynolds Boston Museum China Expedition.

Odom had made another FAI World Record flight with Waikiki Beech, from from Honolulu, to Oakland, California, an official distance of 3,873.48 kilometers (2,406.87 miles).²

With these records and record attempts, Bill Odom persuaded Jackie Cochran to buy a radically-modified P-51C Mustang named Beguine (NX4845N) for him to fly at the 1949 National Air Races at Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio.

Though he had never flown in a pylon race, Odom had qualified the P-51 Beguine for the 105 mile Sohio Trophy Race, held 3 September 1949. He won the race, averaging 388.393 miles per hour (625.058 kilometers per hour. He had also entered the Thompson Trophy Race, qualifying with a speed of 405.565 miles per hour (652.694 kilometers per hour.)

The Thompson Trophy Race was held on 5 September. On the second lap, Odom’s P-51 went out of control and crashed into a house near the airport. Bill Odom, along with a woman and child on the ground, were killed.

William Paul Odom’s remains were buried at the Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, Mississippi.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9112

² FAI Record File Number 14512

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 March 1910

Royal Aero club license issued to J.T.C. Moor-Brabazon, 8 March 1910. (RAF Museum)
Royal Aero Club License No. 1, issued to J.T.C. Moor-Brabazon, 8 March 1910. (RAF Museum)

8 March 1910: John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon (later, the 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara, G.B.E., M.C., P.C.) was the first airplane pilot to be issued an aviator’s certificate by the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom. He already held certificate number 40 of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. He was issued Certificate Number 1 in England.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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