Tag Archives: Fighter

10 July 1940

The Battle of Britain begins.

“The Few.” Royal Air Force pilots run to their fighters to defend England from attacking German Luftwaffe bombers during the Battle of Britain. © IWM (HU 49253)

Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.

The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.

Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.
Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.

Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.

During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”

Luftwaffe aircraft:

A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, circa 1940. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, 31 December 1939. (Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber, circa September–October 1940. (Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt me 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt Bf 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Bundesarchiv)

Royal Air Force aircraft:

Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Imperial War Museum)
Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Royal Air Force Museum)
Hawker Hurrican Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. (B.V. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)
Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. Flying the same type, also with the identification letters VY-K, Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, DFC, was shot down by a Do 17 named Gustav Marie, over the English Channel, 10 July 1940. After the war, Townsend became good friends with the bomber’s gunner, Werner Borner. (Mr. B.J. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)

Highly recommended: Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 July 1980

The prototype Strike Eagle, a modified F-15B-4-MC, 71-0291, banks away to show a full load of bombs and its conformal fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

8 July 1980: The prototype McDonnell Douglas F-15 Strike Eagle, a fighter-bomber variant converted from the second two-seat F-15B Eagle trainer, F-15B-4-MC 71-0291, made its first flight. Originally designated TF-15A, -0291 first flew nearly seven years earlier, 18 October 1973.

The Strike Eagle was begun as a private venture by McDonnell Douglas. Designed to be operated by a pilot and a weapons system officer (WSO), the airplane can carry bombs, missiles and guns for a ground attack role, while maintaining its capability as an air superiority fighter. It’s airframe was a strengthened and its service life doubled to 16,000 flight hours. The Strike Eagle became an Air Force project in March 1981, and  went into production as the F-15E. The first production model, 86-0183, made its first flight 11 December 1986.

The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is a two-place twin-engine multi-role fighter. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¾ inches (13.049 meters) and height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). It weighs 31,700 pounds (14,379 kilograms) empty and has a maximum takeoff weight of 81,000 pounds (36,741 kilograms). The F-15E is powered by two Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofan engines which produce 17,800 pounds of thrust (79.178 kilonewtons) each, or 29,100 pounds (129.443 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

This McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is carrying AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM 9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 2,000-pound laser guided bombs, targeting designators and jettisonable fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)
This McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle is carrying AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM 9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs, targeting designators and jettisonable fuel tanks. (U.S. Air Force)

The Strike Eagle has a maximum speed of Mach 2.54 (1,676 miles per hour, (2,697 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and is capable of sustained speed at Mach 2.3 (1,520 miles per hour, 2,446 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 60,000 feet (18,288 meters). The fighter-bomber has a combat radius of 790 miles (1,271 kilometers) and a maximum ferry range of 2,765 miles (4,450 kilometers).

Though optimized as a fighter-bomber, the F-15E Strike Eagle retains an air-to-air combat capability. The F-15E is armed with one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon with 512 rounds of ammunition, and can carry four AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and four AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided missiles, or a combination of Sidewinders, Sparrows and AIM-120 AMRAAM long range missiles. It can carry a maximum load of 24,500 pounds (11,113 kilograms) of bombs and missiles for ground attack.

71-0291 remained at McDonnell Douglas as a dedicated test aircraft. During that time it was painted in many different camouflage schemes. In these photographs, it is painted in the “European 1” camouflage.

71-0291 was retired from the active inventory in the early 1990s and was used for battle damage repair training at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. It is reported to be on display at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in RSAF colors and markings.

The prototype McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle (modified from F-15B-4-MC 71-0291) is parked on the ramp at the McDonnell Douglas facility at St. Louis. (U.S. Air Force)
The prototype McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle (modified from F-15B-4-MC 71-0291) is parked on the ramp at the McDonnell Douglas facility at St. Louis. This camouflage scheme is called European 1. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 July 1943

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

2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Army Air Corps, of the 99th Fighter Squadron (which was briefly attached to the 324th Fighter Group) was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield on the coast of Tunisia and was patrolling the island of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.

On 2 July, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano,  in western Sicily. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.

“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”

Lieutenant Hall was officially credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II. Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first for the squadron, but it was also the only enemy airplane to have been shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1943.

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

Charles Blakesly Hall was the second child of Franklin Hall, a 30-year-old kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, 25 years old, and also from Mississippi. Charles was born 25 August 1920 at his parents home, 742 N. Columbia Street, Brazil, Indiana. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1938 and then attended Eastern Illinois University. He majored in Pre-Med, and was active in sports. Hall worked as a waiter while attending college.

After three years of college, on 12 November 1941, Hall enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. Military records indicate that he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall (170 centimeters) and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).

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

Charles Hall was part of a group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which had been established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away, and the cadets transitioned into operational aircraft at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Additional flight trained took place at Cochran Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.

On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on 3 July 1942. (Serial number 0790457)

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

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

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

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

Hall was the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L (Curtiss-Wright Model 87-B3) differed from the majority of P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine instead of the Allison V-1710.

The P-40L was a lightened version of the P-40F, with fuel tanks removed from the wings, and armament reduced from six to four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with only 201 rounds of ammunition per gun. Identifying features of the P-40F and P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk was a lightened version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered P-40F. This P-40F is armed with six .50-caliber machine guns, while the P-40L carried just four. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40L was 33 feet, 3-23/32 inches (10.15286 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 3½ inches (11.36650 meters) and height of 10 feet, 7-25/32 inches (3.24564 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,870 pounds (3,116 kilograms) and the gross weight was 9,416 pounds (4,271 kilograms).

The V-1650-1 was the first version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin to be built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was developed from the Merlin XX and designated Merlin 28. The Packard V-1650-1 was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine. It had a compression ratio of 6.0:1, and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m., and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The Military Power rating was 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters), and 1,120 horsepower at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters). The engine drove an 11-foot (3.353 meter) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-1 weighed 1,512 pounds (686 kilograms).

The P-40L had a maximum speed of 368 miles per hour (592 kilometers per hour).

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

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

¹ A study of U.S. Army Air Force claims of enemy aircraft destroyed (Andrew Arthy and Morten Jessen, 2013) indicates that no Focke Wulf Fw 190s were present at the time, however, Messerchmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 were defending the target against B-25s and P-40s. Two were lost on that day. The authors suggest that opposing aircraft were often misidentified.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 June 1942

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981.
Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (Northrop Grumman)

26 June 1942: The Grumman XF6F-1, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 02981, prototype for the Navy and Marine Corps F6F Hellcat fighter, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and Test Pilot Robert Leicester Hall flying, made a 25-minute first flight at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation plant, Bethpage, Long Island, New York.

The first Hellcat was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Twin Cyclone GR2600B676 (R-2600-10) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. This engine had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. The R-2600-10 was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. It turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-2600-10 was 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 2.91 inches (1.903 meters) long. It weighed 2,115 pounds (959 kilograms).

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (Northrop Grumman)

Beginning with the second prototype, Bu. No. 02982, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) 18-cylinder engine became the standard powerplant. The R-2800-10 was an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat Bu. No. 02981 in flight. (Northrop Grumman)

The first prototype was quickly re-engined to the Pratt & Whitney radial and redesignated XF6F-3. Bob Hall flew it with the new engine on 30 July 1942. A few weeks later, 17 August, the Hellcat’s new engine failed and Hall crash-landed at Crane’s Farm. The airplane was moderately damaged and Hall was seriously injured.

Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane's Farm, Long Island, New York, August 1942. (Grumman)
Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane’s Farm, Long Island, New York, 17 August 1942. (Northrop Grumman)

The airplane was rebuilt and continued in the test program. It was eventually converted to the XF6F-4 with a two-speed turbocharged Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-27) which produced 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. It was armed with four 20 mm cannon.

The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4, seen here at NACA, langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)
The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4 configuration, seen here at NACA, Langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)

The Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook.

The F6F-3 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters) in three-point position. It has an empty weight of 9,207 pounds (4,176 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,575 pounds (5,704 kilograms).

A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F6F-3 Hellcat was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) engine with water injection, rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The normal power rating was 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at  22,500 feet (6,858 meters). The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943.(U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)

In clean configuration, the F6F-3 had a maximum speed of 321 miles per hour (517 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). It could climb to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 3.2 minutes, and to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.0 minutes. The service service ceiling was 38,800 feet (11,826 meters). It had a combat radius of 335 nautical miles (386 miles/620 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 1,540 miles (2,478 kilometers).

The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 2,400 rounds of ammunition.

The Grumman Hellcat was the most successful fighter of the Pacific war, with a kill-to-loss ratio of 19:1. It was in production from 1942 to 1945 and remained in service with the United States Navy until 1956. A total of 12,275 were built by Grumman at Bethpage. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.

High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F Hellcat prepares to takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)
High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat prepares to takeoff from USS Yorktown (CV-10), November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
Robert Leicester Hall

Robert Leicester Hall was born at Taunton, Massachussetts, 22 August 1905. He was the son of Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.

Hall attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1927 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.).

In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie, a secretary at the plant. They were married in 1930, and lived in a rented home on St. James Avenue, Chicopee City, Massachusetts. Their son, Robert Jr., was born 5 November 1931.

Also in 1931, Hall began working for Granville Brothers Aircraft at Springfield, Massachusetts. He designed the Gee Bee Model Z Super Sportster air racer. He left Granville Brothers in 1933 to go to work for the Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio. There he designed the Stinson Reliant.

In 1936, Bob Hall became the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. He designed the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, and F8F Bearcat fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. As corporate vice president, he supervised the design of the F9F Panther and Cougar jet fighters.

Hall married his second wife, Rhoda C. Halvorsen, 18 January 1939, at New York City, New York.

Hall retired from Grumman in 1970. Two of his sons, Eric and Ben Hall, founded Hall Spars and Rigging of Bristol, Rhode Island.

Robert Leicester Hall died at Newport, Rhode Island, 25 February 1991, at the age of 85 years.

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 4778, Long Island, New York, circa 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 June 1924

Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, Air Service, United States Army (FAI)
Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, Air Service, United States Army (FAI)

23 June 1924: Lieutenant Russell Lowell Maughan, Air Service, United States Army, took off from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, at 3:58 a.m., Eastern Time, and flew across the country to land at Crissy Field, at the Presidio of San Francisco, California at 9:46 p.m., Pacific Time. He covered a distance of 2,670 miles (4,297 kilometers) in 21 hours, 47 minutes. Maughan’s actual flight time was 20 hours, 48 minutes. He averaged 128.37 miles per hour (206.59 kilometers per hour).

His Dawn-To-Dusk transcontinental flight took place on a mid-summer day in order to take advantage of the longer hours of daylight, and he flew from East to West, to follow the advancing Sun across the sky.

Major General Mason Patrick, Chief o fteh Air Service, with Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, 8 July 1924. (Library of Congress)
Major General Mason Matthews Patrick, Chief of the Air Service, with Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, 8 July 1924. (Library of Congress)

Lieutenant Maughan made stops at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio; St. Joseph, Missouri; North Platte, Nebraska; Cheyenne, Wyoming and Salduro Siding, Utah. The stop at Dayton took 1 hour, 20 minutes when a mechanic over-tightened a fuel line fitting and damaged it. When he arrived at “Saint Joe,” the grass field was wet from rains, restricting his takeoff weight. Unable to carry a full load of fuel, he took off with a reduced load and then made a previously unplanned stop at North Platte, Nebraska, where he topped off his fuel tank.

Planned route of Maughan’s Dawn-to-Dusk transcontinental flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Russell Maughan was an experienced combat pilot and test pilot. He had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during World War I, and he had competed in numerous air races and had set several speed records.

The airplane flown by Lieutenant Maughan was the fourth production Curtiss PW-8 Hawk, a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter, serial number A.S. 24-204. It was modified by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company at its Long Island, New York, factory. Curtiss removed the fighters’s two .30-caliber machine guns and added 100 gallons (378.5 liters) to the airplane’s standard fuel capacity of 77 gallons (291.5 liters).

The Curtiss PW-8 Hawk was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 1,145.111-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss D-12 dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which was developed by Arthur Nutt, based on the earlier Curtiss K-12 which had been designed by Charles B. Kirkham. The D-12 had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. During testing, it produced a 475 horsepower at 2,320 r.p.m. using a 50/50 mixture of 95-octane gasoline and benzol. The D-12 was a right-hand tractor direct-drive engine. It turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, forged aluminum propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The Curtiss D-12 was 56¾ inches (1.441 meters) long, 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide and 34¾ inches (0.882 meters) high. It weighed 678.25 pounds (307.65 kilograms).

The PW-8 had a cruise speed of 136 miles per hour (219 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 171 miles per hour (275 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling was 20,350 feet (6,203 meters) and its range was 544 miles (875 kilometers).

In the early years of military aviation, pilots undertook various dramatic flights to create public awareness of the capabilities military aircraft. Of this transcontinental flight, Maughan said, “The real reason for my flight across the United States in the sunlight hours of one day was that the chief of the Air Service wanted to show Congress just how unprotected are the people of the Pacific Coast.”

Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan with Curtiss PW-8 Hawk A.S. 24-204, 10 June 1924. (National Air and Space Museum)

Curtiss PW-8 Hawk A.S. 24-204 was damaged beyond repair at Selfridge Field, Michigan, 11 May 1926.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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