Tag Archives: Fighter

13 November 1942

Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)

13 November 1942: Lieutenants Harold E. Comstock and Roger B. Dyar were fighter pilots assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, at Bridgeport, Connecticut. They were often sent to test new P-47 Thunderbolt fighters at the Republic Aviation Corporation factory in nearby Farmingdale, New York:

Lieutenant Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Army Air Corps, with his P-47 Thunderbolt, 1943.

Because of the need to manufacture airplanes quickly and the close proximity to the Republic Aviation factory, active duty pilots were used for some of the test flights of the new P-47. On 13 November 1942, Lts. Comstock and Dyar were ordered to test a new type of radio antenna on the P-47C. Lt. Comstock climbed to an indicated altitude of 49,600 feet (15,118 meters) while trying to reach 50,000 feet. Due to poor response from the controls, he decided to let the aircraft fall off rather than risk a spin. He started to dive straight down and after passing below 40,000 feet he found that his controls had frozen. He then felt a bump and was unable to move the controls as the aircraft continued to dive. Even with maximum exertion, he was unable to move the control stick so he started to roll the trim tab back and after passing below 30,000 feet, the aircraft started to pull out of the dive and he recovered between 20,000 and 25,000 feet.

Lt. Dyar started his dive and encountered the same conditions. After landing, Lt. Comstock reported what happened and the chief designer of the P-47 Thunderbolt, Alexander Kartveli, questioned Lt. Comstock at length and made numerous calculations. Republic Aviation soon issued a press release claiming that Lts. Comstock and Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound. This was picked up in the national media and also drawn in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. Soon after the press release, the 56th Fighter Group received a telegram from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold that “there would be no more discussion about the dive.” The actual speed attained was probably less than the speed of sound but this speed which caused the flight controls to lock up was referred to as “compressibility.” This effect was encountered by many pilots flying in combat but training and proper procedures allowed them to recover from it. In 1959, the Air Force published “A Chronology of American Aerospace Events” and included an entry for 15 November 1942 which stated “Lts. Harold Comstock and Roger Dyar set a new speed record for airplanes when they power-dived their P-47 fighters at 725 mph from 35,000 feet over an east coast air base.” While the Air Force acknowledged the speed of 725 miles per hour, it is not known whether the P-47 could actually exceed the speed of sound in a dive. Capt. Roger Dyar was killed in action on 26 June 1943.Wikipedia

The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)
The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)

Almost certainly, the diving Thunderbolts did not exceed the speed of sound:

In July 1944 Major [Frederic Austin] Borsodi [Chief, Fighter Test Branch, Army Air Forces Material Command, Wright Field] made a number of full power vertical dives from 40,000 feet in a North American P-51D to assess the compressibility effects on the aircraft’s handling. He achieved a maximum Mach number of 0.86, at which point severe buffeting of the empennage was noted. . . many World War II pilots remained firmly convinced that they had taken their propeller-driven fighters supersonic in steep dives, often as local shock waves rattled their craft and caused the angle of those dives to become uncontrollably steeper. More often than not the center of lift moved aft on their wings, and Mach-induced turbulence blanketed the normal control surfaces on the tail. For the lucky ones, the descent into denser air slowed the airplane, while the higher temperatures at lower altitude meant that the Mach number for a given true airspeed was lower. Consequently, local shock waves tended to disappear. A normal recovery as from any steep dive, could usually be effected. . . the later [Supermarine] Spitfires, with a demonstrated ceiling of 45,000 feet, a much thinner wing of elliptical planform, and a lower profile liquid-cooled engine, could never register a maximum speed greater than 0.9 Mach number. That is the highest recorded speed, by a substantial margin of any propeller driven fighter. Oh yes, in the course of one such dive, on entering the denser air around 20,000 feet, the Spitfire’s propeller and much of the engine cowling parted company with the rest of the aircraft. Getting to 0.90 Mach number wasn’t easy. . . the speed of sound at sea level and 59° Fahrenheit is 761 miles per hour. At an altitude of 40,000 feet, where our standard atmosphere charts tell us that the temperature is -67° Fahrenheit, sound travels at 662 miles per hour.

Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, at Pages 6–7, 24–27.

Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Harold E. Comstock, circa 1940.

Harold Elwood Comstock was born 20 December 1920 at Fresno, California. He was the son of Clinton Elwood Comstock, a telephone company repairman, and Leona M. Sutherland Comstock. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Fresno, in February 1939. February 1939. Comstock then entered Fresno State College. He was a member of the F.S.C. Pilots Club and the Aero Mechanics Club.

Harold Comstock was appointed an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 10 October 1941. He was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 149 pounds (67.6 kilograms). After completing flight training, on 3 July 1942 Comstock was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve. Comstock was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 29 May 1943. Lieutenant Comstock advanced to the rank of captain, A.U.S., on 12 March 1944, and to major, A.U.S., 17 September 1944. On 3 July 1945, Major Comstock’s permanent Air-Reserve rank was advanced to first lieutenant.

UN Y, Bunny Comstock’s P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326. (U.S. Air Force)

Harold Comstock flew two combat tours in Europe with the 56th Fighter Group during World War II. He completed his second tour as commanding officer of the group’s 63rd Fighter Squadron. He flew 138 combat missions and is officially credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, with 2 probably destroyed and 3 damaged, and another 3 destroyed on the ground.

Low on fuel after a combat mission, Lieutenant Comstock’s Republic P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326 crashed at Lyons Farm, Mutford, Suffolk, England, 3 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

During his World War II service, Major Comstock was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Air Medal with 11 oak leaf clusters (12 awards) and the Purple Heart.

Miss Barbara Lucille Joint, circa 1940.

Lieutenant Comstock married Miss Barbara Lucille Joint, also from Fresno, 10 June 1942 at Bridge City, Texas. They would have two children, Harold Eric Comstock, and Roger Joseph Comstock.

On 16 May 1947, Major Comstock was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Air-Reserve. On 10 October 1947, Comstock’s permanent military rank became fist lieutenant, Air Corps, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945. When the United States Air Force was established as an independent branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, Comstock’s commission was converted. (1st Lieutenant, No. 7779.)

During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Comstock commanded the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 27th Tactical Fighter Wing from 1965 to 1968. He flew another 132 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-100D Super Sabre, and 38 as commander of an airborne command and control unit of the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron. Colonel Comstock’s final assignment was as commanding officer, 602nd Tactical control Group, Bergrstom Air Force base.

Colonel Comstock retired from the Air Force on 30 September 1971. He was twice awarded the Legion of Merit, and he held the Distinguished Flying Cross with six Oak Leaf Clusters, a Purple Heart, and 17 Air Medals.

Harold E. Comstock died at Clovis, California in 2009.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47C variant was completed 14 September 1942, only one month before Bunny Comstock’s famous dive. An early change (P-47C-1) was the addition of 8 inches (0.203 meters) to the forward fuselage for improved handling. The P-47C-5-RE was 36 feet, 1-3/16 inches (11.003 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-5/16 inches (12.429 meters) The overall height was 14 feet 3-5/16 inches (4.351 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 9,900 pounds (4,490.6 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 14,925 pounds (6,769.9 kilograms).

The P-47C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-21) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-21 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger and the supercharged air was then carried forward to supply the engine. The engine drove a 12 foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,265 pounds (1,027 kilograms). Approximately 80% of these engines were produced by the Ford Motor Company. It was also used as a commercial aircraft engine, with optional propeller gear reduction ratios.

The P-47C had a maximum speed in level flight of 433 miles per hour (697 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and it could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 7 minutes, 12 seconds. It had a maximum range of 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The maintenance technicians show the fighter's enormous size. (Daily Mail)
Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The four maintenance technicians show the fighter’s enormous size. (Daily Mail)

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored.

602 P-47Cs were built in the five months before the P-47D entered production. A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 November 1950

This painting by famed aviation artist Keith Ferris depicts 1st Lieutenant Russell Brown’s Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star as he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 over Korea, 8 November 1950. (Keith Ferris)

8 November 1950: First Lieutenant Russell J. Brown, United States Air Force, 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, is credited with shooting down a Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighter near the Yalu River while flying a Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star. This may have been the very first time that a jet fighter had been shot down by another jet fighter.

Sources vary, reporting the serial number of Lieutenant Brown’s fighter as 49-713 or 49-717.

A contemporary newspaper quoted Brown:

1st Lieutenant Russell J. Brown. (Air Force Times)

Brown gave a colorful description of the fight in history’s first jet-versus-jet battle last week. He said:

“We had just completed a strafing run on Sinuiju antiaircraft positions and were climbing when we got word that enemy jets were in the area.

“Then we saw them across the Yalu, doing acrobatics.

“Suddenly they came over at about 400 miles an hour. We were doing about 300. They broke formation right in front of us at about 18,000 or 20,000 feet. They were good looking planes—shiny and brand, spanking new.”

INS, Tokyo, November 13

Soviet records reported no MiG 15s lost on 8 November. Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov, 72nd Guards Fighter Aviation Unit, reported being attacked by an F-80 under circumstances that suggest this was the engagement reported by Lieutenant Brown, however Kharitonov succeeded in evading the American fighter after diving away and jettisoning his external fuel tanks.

A Soviet MiG 15 pilot, Lieutenant Khominich, also of the 72nd Guards, claimed shooting down an American F-80 on 1 November, but U.S. records indicate that this fighter had been destroyed by anti-aircraft fire.

What is clear is that air combat had entered the jet age, and that the Soviet Union was not only supplying its swept wing MiG 15 to North Korea and China, but that Soviet Air Force pilots were actively engaged in the war in Korea.

Russian technicians service a MiG-15bis o fteh 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)
Russian technicians service a MiG 15bis of the 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 is a single-seat, single engine turbojet-powered fighter interceptor, designed to attack heavy bombers. Designed for high sub-sonic speed, the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35°. The wings were very thin to minimize aerodynamic drag.

The fighter was 10.102 meters (33 feet, 1.7 inches) long, with a wingspan of 10.085 meters (33 feet, 1 inch). Its empty weight was 3,253 kilograms (7,170 pounds) and takeoff weight was 4,963 kilograms (10,938 pounds).

The Rolls-Royce Nene I and Nene II jet engines had been used in the three MiG 15 prototypes. The British engines were reverse-engineered by Vladimir Yakovlevich Klimov and manufactured at Factory No. 45 in Moscow as the Klimov VK-1. The VK-1 used a single-stage axial-flow compressor, 9 combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. It produced a maximum 26.5 kilonewtons of thrust (5,957 pounds of thrust). The VK-1 was 2.600 meters (8 feet, 6.4 inches) long, 1.300 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches) in diameter, and weighed 872 kilograms (1,922 pounds).

The MiG 15 had a maximum speed of 1,031 kilometers per hour (557 knots) at 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and 1,050 kilometers per hour (567 knots) at Sea Level.

Armament consisted of one Nudelman N-37 37 mm cannon and two  Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon.

MIG 15 Red 2057A Chinese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, South Korea. A defecting North Korean pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok flew it to Kimpo 1953. It was examined and test flown. This MiG 15 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).
MIG 15 Red 2057. A North Korean Peoples’ Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, Republic of South Korea. A defecting North Korean pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, flew it to Kimpo on 21 September 1953. It was taken to Okinawa, examined and test flown by U.S.A.F. test pilots, including Major Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager. This MiG 15 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).

The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was redesignated F-80 in 1948. It was a single-seat, single-engine airplane, designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base) 8 January 1944. The P-80A entered production in 1945. Improved versions, the P-80B and P-80C (F-80C) followed.

A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star on display at the Air Force Armaments Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The fighter is marked as F-80C-10-LO 49-713, 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, Kimpo, Korea, 1950.
Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star 49-432 on display at the Air Force Armaments Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The fighter is marked as F-80C-10-LO 49-713, assigned to the 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, Kimpo, Korea, 1950.

The F-80C was 34 feet, 5 inches (10.490 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 9 inches (11.811 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters). It weighed 8,420 pounds empty (3,819 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 16,856 pounds (7,645 kilograms).

The F-80C was powered by either a General Electric J33-GE-11, Allison J33-A-23 or J33-A-35 turbojet engine. The J33 was a development of an earlier Frank Whittle-designed turbojet. It used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, eleven combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine section. The J33-A-35 had a Normal Power rating of 3,900 pounds of thrust (17.348 kilonewtons) at 11,000 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 4,600 pounds (20.462 kilonewtons) at 11,500 r.p.m., for Takeoff.  It was 107 inches (2.718  meters) long, 50.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms).

The F-80C had a maximum speed of 594 miles per hour (956 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 543 miles per hour (874 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 46,800 feet (14,265 meters). The maximum range was 1,380 miles (2,221 kilometers).

The F-80C Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted in the nose.

A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, makes a JATO-assisted takeoff from an airfield in the Republic of South Korea, circa 1950. (U.S. Air Force)

Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star 49-713, flown by Albert C. Ware, Jr., was lost 10 miles north of Tsuiki Air Base, Japan, 23 March 1951.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 November 1935

Test pilot George Bulman in the cockpit of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083.

6 November 1935: The prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, first flew at the Brooklands Aerodrome, Weybridge, Surrey, with Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot, Flight Lieutenant Paul Ward Spencer (“George”) Bulman, M.C., A.F.C., Royal Air Force Reserve,¹ in the cockpit. The airplane would be named “Hurricane” and become one of the most successful fighter aircraft of World War II.

Designed by Sydney Camm to meet a Royal Air Force Specification for a high speed monoplane interceptor, the airplane was developed around the Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine.

Sir Sydney Camm, CBE, FRAeS
Sir Sydney Camm, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S. (1893–1966)

The Hurricane was built in the traditional means of a light but strong framework covered by doped linen fabric. Rather than wood, however, the Hurricane’s framework used high strength steel tubing for the aft fuselage. A girder structure covered in sheet metal made up the forward fuselage. A primary consideration of the fighter’s designer was to provide good visibility for the pilot. The cockpit sits high in the fuselage and gives the airplane its characteristic hump back profile. The cockpit was enclosed by a sliding canopy. The landing gear was retractable.

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, front view. (World War Photos)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, the prototype Hawker Hurricane, photographed prior to its first flight. Note the flush exhaust ports and wooden fixed-pitch propeller. Photograph © IWM (MH 5475)
Right Profile of the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083. (© IWM-MH-5190)
Right profile of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083. © IWM (MH-5190)
Left profile (IWM)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083. Left profile. © IWM (ATP 8654D)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, left rear quarter view. (World War Photos)

The Rolls-Royce PV-12 (“PV” stood for Private Venture) was a developmental liquid-cooled 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liter) 60° V-12 that would become the legendary Merlin aircraft engine. The PV-12 first ran in 1933 and initially produced 700 horsepower.

The engine was progressively improved and by the time the Hurricane prototype first flew, it was equipped with a supercharged Rolls-Royce Merlin C, Air Ministry serial number 111144. The Merlin C had a Normal Power rating of 1,029 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m, at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), with +6 pounds per square inch boost. The V-12 engine turned a Watts two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller through a gear reduction drive (possibly 0.420:1).

Right profile of the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083. Photograph © IWM (MH 5190)
Right quarter view of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, in flight. Photograph © IWM (MH 5190)

An Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) test pilot, Flight Sergeant Samuel (“Sammy”) Wroath (366485), flew K5083 at the Martlesham Heath in early 1936. He wrote, “The aircraft is simple to fly and has no apparent vices.”

In early flight testing, K5083 had a maximum speed of 253 miles per hour (407 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, an reached 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour) at 16,200 feet (4,938 meters), with the Merlin turning 2,960 r.p.m., with +5.7 pounds of boost (0.39 Bar). The speed exceeded the RAF’s requirement by 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour).

The prototype was able to take off in as little as 795 feet (242 meters) and to climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just 5 minutes, 42 seconds. It reached 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8 minutes, 24 seconds. The peak altitude reached was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The prototype’s estimated service ceiling was 34,500 feet (10,516 meters)and the estimated absolute ceiling was 35,400 feet (10,790 meters).

In May 1939 Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 was classified as a ground instruction airframe, with serial number 1112M. Reportedly, it remained in airworthy condition until 1942. Its status after that is not known.

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 with “alighting gear” extended. (World War Photos)

The Hawker Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane, L1547, flew on 12 October 1937. The Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models.

The first production Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, L1547, circa October 1937. This airplane, assigned to No. 312 Squadron, was lost 10 October 1940, when it caught fire during a training flight near RAF Speke. The pilot, Sergeant Otto Hanzliĉek, parachuted from the airplane, but he landed in the Mersey River and drowned.

The Hurricane Mk.I was 31 feet, 5 inches (9.576 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 0 inches (12.192 meters), and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters) in three-point attitude. The wings had a total area of 257.6 square feet (23.9 square meters). Their angle of incidence was 2° 0′, and the outer wing panels had 3° 30′ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 5° 6′. The empty weight of the Hurricane I was 5,234 pounds (2,374 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 6,793 pounds (3,081 kilograms).

The Hurricane Mk.I was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.II or Mk.III. The Mk.III was rated at 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,250 feet (4,953 meters). The engine turned a propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters).

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 (BAE Systems)

The Mk.I’s best economical cruising speed was 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and its maximum speed was 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) and 6,440 pounds (2,921 kilograms). The airplane’s range was 585 miles (941 kilometers). The Hurricane Mk.I could climb to 20,000 feet in 9.7 minutes.

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303 Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings, with 334 rounds of ammunition per gun.

“No. 111 Squadron was responsible for the introduction of the Hurricane to the RAF with the first aircraft arriving at Northolt in December 1937, in advance of the official acceptance date of 1 January 1938. The CO, S/Ldr John Gillan, flew L1555 in record time from Edinburgh to Northolt on 10 February 1938.” (Daily Mail)

Peter Townsend described the Hurricane in his book, Duel of Eagles:

“. . . By December [1938] we had our full initial equipment of sixteen aircraft. The Fury had been a delightful play-thing; the Hurricane was a thoroughly war-like machine, rock solid as a platform for eight Browning machine-guns, highly manoeuvrable despite its large proportions and with an excellent view from the cockpit. The Hurricane lacked the speed and glamour of the Spitfire and was slower than the Me. 109, whose pilots were to develop contempt for it and a snobbish preference for being shot down by Spitfires. But figures were to prove that during the Battle of Britain, machine for machine, the Hurricane would acquit itself every bit as well as the Spitfire and in the aggregate (there were more than three Hurricanes to two Spitfires) do greater damage among the Luftwaffe.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 13 at Pages 153–154. 

Hawker Hurricanes at Brooklands. (BAE Systems)

At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of all enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until July 1944. The final Hurrican, a Mk.IIc, PZ865, was flown for the first time by P.W.S. Bulman on 24 July 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd., Gloster Aircraft Company, Austin Motor Company, and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

The final Hawker Hurricane, a Mk.IIc, PZ865, “The Last of the Many!” Chief Test Pilot P.W.S. “George” Bulman also took this fighter for its first flight, 22 July 1944. (BAE Systems)
P.W.S. Bulman with PZ865, July 1944.
Group Captain “George” Bulman flying the final Hawker Hurricane, PZ865, a Mk.IIc.

¹ Later, Group Captain Paul Ward Spencer Bulman, C.B.E., M.C., A.F.C. and Bar.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 October 1940

North American Aviation NA-73X prototype, left front quarter view. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

26 October 1940: At Mines Field, Los Angeles, California (now, Los Angeles International Airport), free lance test pilot Vance Breese took the prototype North American Aviation NA-73X, civil registration NX19998, on a five-minute first flight. Later in the day, Breese flew the NA-73X another ten minutes. He would make six more test flights between 26 October and 13 November, totaling approximately 3 hours, 30 minutes of flight time.

With Great Britain at war with Nazi Germany, the Royal Air Force was the primary defender of the island nation. Airplane manufacturers were turning out Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires as rapidly as possible, but they were barely keeping up with combat losses. England needed more fighters. They had taken over an order for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A1 fighters which had been built for France, but which had not been shipped by the time France surrendered. The RAF called these fighters the Tomahawk Mark I (P-40 Warhawk in U.S. service).

North American Aviation’s NA-73X fighter prototype, engine idling, with Vance Breese in the cockpit at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 October 1941. (North American Aviation Inc.)

The British Purchasing Commission asked North American Aviation in Los Angeles, California, to build additional Tomahawks under license from Curtiss-Wright. North American countered with a proposal to design a completely new and superior fighter around the P-40’s Allison V-12 engine, and begin production in no more time than it would take to get a P-40 production line up and running. The Purchasing Commission agreed, and with a letter of understanding, North American began work on the NA-73X on 1 May 1940. They were to produce 320 fighters before 30 September 1941, approximately 50 per month, at a total price of $14,746,964.35.

Vance Breese in the cockpit of the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field, preparing for a test flight. (North American Aviation)

In a contract amendment dated 9 December 1940, the British Purchasing Commission directed that the NA-73 would be identified by the name, “Mustang.”

The prototype NA-73X, North American serial number 73-3097, was a single-seat, single-engine, low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the flight control surfaces were fabric covered. The airplane was designed for the maximum reduction in aerodynamic drag. The fuselage panels were precisely designed and very smooth. Flush riveting was used. The Mustang was the first airplane to use a laminar-flow wing. The coolant radiator with its intake and exhaust ducts was located behind and below the cockpit. As cooling air passed through the radiator, it was heated and expanded, so that as it exited, it actually produced some thrust.

The prototype was 32 feet, 2–5/8 inches (9.820 meters) long, with a wing span of 37 feet, 5/16 inch (11.286 meters). Empty weight of the NA-73X was 6,278 pounds (2,848 kilograms) and normal takeoff weight was 7,965 pounds (3,613 kilograms).

The NA-73X was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam 60° V-12 engine, with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and a single-stage, single-speed supercharger. This was a right-hand tractor engine (the V-1710 was built in both right-hand and left-hand configurations) which drove a 10 foot, 6 inch (3.200 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction.

The V-1710-39 had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level; Take Off Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with 44.5 inches of manifold pressure (1.51 Bar), 5 minute limit; and a War Emergency Power rating of 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., with 56 inches of manifold pressure (1.90 Bar). The V-1710-F3R was 3 feet, ¾ inches (0.934 meters) high, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long. It had a dry weight of 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

North American Aviation’s prototype fighter, NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. (North American Aviation)

The NA-73X had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters). The service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters). The fuel capacity was 180 gallons (681.37 liters), giving the airplane a range of 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

NX19998 was substantially damaged on 20 November 1940 when North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul B. Balfour, unable to make it back to Mines Field after the Allison engine failed, made a forced landing in a plowed field just west of Lincoln Boulevard. The prototype flipped over and landed upside down. Sources differ as to the cause of the engine failure, with some citing carburetor icing and others suggesting that Balfour failed to switch fuel tanks and the engine stopped running due to fuel starvation. Balfour was replaced by Robert C. Chilton and NA-73X was rebuilt.

Robert C. Chilton flying the rebuilt NA-73X on an early familiarization flight. (North American Aviation)

Bob Chilton said that “. . . NA-73X was a clean-flying aircraft with no bad vices. It was quite pleasant in the air and handled very similar to later production articles.”

There was only one NA-73X prototype. Its status is not known. Chilton recalled, “. . . NA-73X was just pushed aside after it had been retired from its last flight. It probably ended up on the company’s junk pile, but I do not recall seeing it there.” The prototype may have been given to a local industrial trade school.

Vance Breese
Vance Breese (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Vance Breese was born 20 April 1904 at Keystone, Washington, He was the first of five children of Lee Humbert Breese, a machinist, and Anna E. Dixon Breese.

Breese founded the Breese Aircraft Company in 1926, based at San Francisco, California, and then, as the Breese-Wilde Corporation, moved to Oregon. The company produced the Breese-Wilde Model 5, a single-engine light airplane. Two of these, Aloha and Pabco Flyer, flew in the notorious 1927 Dole Air Race from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. Pabco Flyer crashed on takeoff when its landing gear collapsed. Aloha finished in second place.

Breese formed a partnership with Gerard Vultee in 1932, with the Airplane Development Corporation at Detroit Michigan. They produced the Vultee V-1A, an 8 passenger light transport. He was also involved in an express mail company, Air Express Corporation.

Maerican Airlines Vultee !A NC13768, designed by Gerard Vultee and Vance Breese.
American Airlines Vultee 1A NC13768, designed by Gerard Vultee and Vance Breese.

Vance Breese was well known as a test pilot, making a number of first flights and conducting flight tests for various airplane manufacturers. As a test pilot, Breese pioneered the use of recording equipment during flight testing. He used a Dictaphone to record his notes, and a cine camera to film the instruments during the flight.

Breese was married three times. He first married Miss Kathryn (“Kitty”) M. McConnell in 1922. They divorced. Later, Breese married Eleanor Louise Buckles at Los Angeles, California, 18 November 1946. They had a son, Vance Breese, Jr., who became a well-known motorcycle racer and land speed record holder. They divorced in 1967. Breese then married Mireille E. Demartelley (AKA Mireille E. Hunt), 13 July 1967, at Santa Barbara, California.

He died at Santa Monica, California, 26 June 1973, at the age of 69 years. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 October 1979

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II, 78-0744, the last of 5,057 Phantoms built at St. Louis, 25 October 1979. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

25 October 1979: The 5,057th and very last Phantom II—an F-4E-67-MC, U.S. Air Force serial number 78-0744—was rolled out at the McDonnell Douglas Corporation plant, Lambert Field (STL), St. Louis, Missouri, and the production line was closed.

78-0744 was transferred to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) under the Foreign Military Sales program Peace Pheasant II and assigned to the 17th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Cheongju International Airport (CJJ). One source says that it was “written off” but details are lacking.

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II 78-0744 in United States Air Force markings. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-4E-67-MC Phantom II 78-0744 in United States Air Force markings. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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