Tag Archives: Fighter

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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17 October 1922

A Vought VE-7SF takes off from USS Langley (CV-1). (National Naval Aviation Museum)
A Vought VE-7 takes off from USS Langley (CV-1). (National Naval Aviation Museum)

17 October 1922: Lieutenant Commander Virgil Childers (“Squash”) Griffin, Jr., United States Navy, made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the U. S. Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7 fighter from the deck of USS Langley (CV-1) while the ship was anchored in the York River along the west side of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

A Vought VE-7 taking off from USS Langley, 1922. The second airplane is an Aeromarine. (U.S. Navy)
A Vought VE-7 taking off from USS Langley, 1922. The second airplane is an Aeromarine 39 trainer. (U.S. Navy)

USS Langley was the United States Navy’s first aircraft carrier. The ship was named in honor of an American scientist, Samuel Pierpont Langley. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922. As an aircraft carrier, Langley had a complement of 468 men, including the air wing. The ship was 542 feet, 2.5 inches (165.27 meters) in length, overall, with a beam of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.96 meters) and draft of 22 feet, 1 inch (6.73 meters). The aircraft carrier had a full load displacement of 15,150 long tons (15,393 Metric tons).

Langley was powered by a General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 6,500 shaft horsepower. She could make 15.5 knots (17.8 miles per hour; 28.7 kilometers per hour). The aircraft carrier had a maximum range of 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers).

USS Langley (CV-1) with Vought VE-7SF fighters on the flight deck, at anchor off Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, 18 March 1926. In the background are a USS Tennessee-class and two USS New Mexico-class battleships. (U.S. Navy)

In addition to her air group of up to 36 airplanes, Langley was defended by four 5-inch/51-caliber guns (127 mm × 6.477 meters). This gun could fire a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) shell a distance of 15,850 yards (14, 493 meters) when elevated to 20°. Its maximum rate of fire was 9 rounds per minute.

As the more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, and reclassified as AV-3, 21 April 1937.

USS Langley was badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers during the Battle of the Java Sea, 27 February 1942, having been struck by five bombs. The ship was scuttled approximately 75 miles south of Tjilatjap, Java, to prevent capture, when her escorting destroyers fired two torpedoes into her.

USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)
USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)

The Chance Vought VE-7 was originally ordered as a two-place trainer, but its performance and handling qualities were so good that it was widely used as a fighter. The VE-7SF was a single-place, single-engine biplane built for the U.S. Navy.

The VE-7 was 22 feet 5-3/8 inches (6.842 meters) long, with a wingspan of 34 feet, 4 inches (10.465 meters), and height of 8 feet 7½ inches (2.629 meters). The two-bay wings were separated by a vertical gap of 4 feet, 8 inches (1.422 meters) and the leading edge of the  lower wing was staggered 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) behind that of the upper wing. Both wings had 1.25° dihedral. The upper wing had +1.75° incidence, lower wing had +2.25°. The VE-7 had weighed 1,392 pounds (631 kilograms) empty and had gross weight of 1,937 pounds (879 kilograms)

Vought VE-7SF 2-F-16. (Chance Vought)
Vought VE-7SF 2-F-16. (Chance Vought)

The VE-7 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 716.69-cubic-inch-displacement (11.744 liters) Wright-Hispano E3 Alert single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-8 engine, rated at 215 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 8’8″ (2.642 meters). The Wright E3 weighed 465 pounds (211 kilograms).

The VE-7 had a maximum speed of 106  miles per hour (171 kilometers per hour) and service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its maximum range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

The fighter was armed with two Vickers .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

Chance Vought VE-7, 2-F-16, assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) (Chance Vought)
Chance Vought VE-7SF, 2-F-16, assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) (Chance Vought)

Rear Admiral Jackson R. Tate, U.S. Navy (Retired) described the first takeoff:

“We were operating just north of the Tongue of the Shoe, seaward of the main channel from Norfolk, Va. A trough about 6 feet long, set up on sawhorses was rigged at the aft end of the flight deck. When the tail skid of the VE-7 used in the test was placed in the trough, she was in the flight attitude.

“We had no brakes, so the plane was held down on the deck by a wire with a bomb release at the end. This was attached to a ring in the landing gear. ‘Squash’ Griffin climbed in, turned up the Hispano Suiza engine to its full 180 hp and gave the “go” signal. The bomb release was snapped and the Vought rolled down the deck. Almost before it reached the deck-center elevator it was airborne. Thus, the first takeoff from a U.S. carrier.”

United States Navy aircraft carrier USS. George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) (Mass Coomunications Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtiss, U.S. Navy)
United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77). (Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtis, U.S. Navy)

Virgil Childers Griffin, Jr., was born at Montgomery, Alabama, 18 April 1891. He was the first of three children of Virgil Childers Griffin, secretary of the Railroad Commission of Alabama, and Mary Lee Besson Griffin.

Midshipman Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., U.S.N.A.

Griffin was admitted as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 25 June 1908, a member of the Class of 1912. Four years later he graduated. Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 8 June 1912, with a date of precedence 28 April 1908.

On 14 July 1912, Ensign Griffin was assigned to the 16,000 ton battleship, USS South Carolina (BB-26). Griffin was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 8 June 1915. He remained aboard South Carolina until June 1916.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Griffin applied for flight trainning, and on completion, was designated Naval Aviator # 41.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. On 8 June 1917, Lieutenant (j.g.) Griffin was one of one hundred Naval Aviators who “arrived safely in France for any duty that may present itself. . . They are the first of the American fighting forces to reach France.” On 8 June 1918, Griffin was promoted to lieutenant (permanent rank). He was in command of the U.S. Navy sea plane base at Saint-Trojan, in southwestern France. Griffin was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander (temporary), 21 September 1918 (Constructive date of precedence 28 February 1907).

Lieutenant Commander Griffin returned to the United States in 1919. He was assigned to the Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C., first to the Naval Operations Aviation Divivision, and in 1920, Naval Operations Inspection Division. Later in 1920, Griffin was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Ship Plane Division, Mitchel Field, Mineola, New York.

On 8 December 1920, Lieutenant Commander Griffin married 25-year-old Alabama native Miss Elize Whiting Hall, at Mobile, Alabama.

In 1923, Lieutenant Commander Griffin returned to sea duty aboard USS Langley. he was next stationed at NAS Pensacola, Florida, 1924–1925. He served aboard USS Lexington (CV-2), 1926–1927. In 1929, Griffin returned to Langley, before being assigned Scoutig Squadron TWO (VS-2B) aboard USS Saratoga, flying the Vought O2U-2 Corsair.

On 29 December 1931, Griffin was promoted to commander. He was stationed at NAS Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, in 1932.

Commander Griffin once again returned to Langley, as the aircraft carrier’s executive officer, 1933–1934.

In 1937, Commander Griffin was commanding officer, NAS Anacostia, Washington D.C. He had additional duties in the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics.

In 1938 and 1939, Commander Griffin was chief of staff and aide to the Commander, Carrier Division TWO (ComCarDiv 2), aboard USS Yorktown.

Consolidated PBY-3 of Patrol Wing FIVE, circa 1939. (U.S. Navy)

Later in 1939, Commander Griffin was assigned as commanding officer Patrol Wing FIVE. The wing included patrol squadrons VP-51, VP-52, VP-53 VP-54, and the airplane tenders USS Gannet (AVP-8), USS Thrush (AVP-3), USS Owl (AM-2) and USS Patoka (AV-6).

Griffin was promoted to the rank captain, 1 November 1939. On 1 May 1940, Captain Griffin was placed in command of NAS Isle Grande, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Captain Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., U.S. Navy, with Mrs. Ernest Hemingway (née Martha Ellis Gelhorn), circa 1942. (National Museum of the United States Navy) 80-G-13028a

Captain Virgil Childers Griffin, Jr., retired from the United States Navy, 1 January 1947. He died at San Diego, California, 27 March 1957, at the age of 66 years. He was buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1938

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype, 38-10, on its first flight, 14 October 1938. Test pilot Ed Elliot is in the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) 16_008532

14 October 1938: At Buffalo, New York, test pilot Everett Edward Elliot made the first flight in the new Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Model 75P, a prototype for a single-engine pursuit plane which had been designated XP-40 by the U.S. Army Air Corps.

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 the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C13 (V-1710-19).

Donovan Reese Berlin. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The V-1710-19 was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6.65:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 910 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,060 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for Takeoff. At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), the V-1710-19 had Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. The engine required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. It drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-19 was 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.483 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.75 inches (1.035 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.735 meters) wide. It weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

Curtiss-Wright XP-40 38-10 (SDASM 16_008531)

At 1,829.39-cubic-inches (29.978 liters), the original Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C1-G (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, though, allowed for a much more streamlined engine cowling for higher speed and greater efficiency.

XP-40 16_008533
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype. (SDASM 16_008534)
The Curtiss XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)
The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 in the original configuration at Langley Field. (NASA)
Everett Edward Elliot (1907–1981).

In the early testing, the XP-40 was much slower than expected, reaching only 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour). (The P-36A Hawk had a maximum speed of  313 miles per hour). Engineers experimented with different placement for the coolant radiator, oil coolers and the engine air intake. The Air Corps project officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, had the prototype sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia, where the full-size airplane was placed inside a wind tunnel.

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.

By December 1939 the airplane had been further improved and was capable of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour).

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype in a wind tunnel at Langley Field, 24 April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. (NASA)

The Curtiss Hawk 75P, XP-40 38-10, was 31 feet, 1 inch (9.574 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.354 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.734 meters). It had an empty weight of 5,417 pounds (2,457.1 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 6,870 pounds (3,116.2 kilograms).

The prototype had a maximum speed of 342 miles per hour (550 kilometers per hour) at 12,200 feet (3,719 meters) with a gross weight of 6,260 pounds (2,839.5 kilograms). Its range was 460 miles (740 kilometers) flying at 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) with 100 gallons (378.5 liters) of fuel. With 159 gallons (601.9 liters) and with speed reduced to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour), the XP-40 had a maximum range of 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers).

The prototype was armed with two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted above the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

The Air Corps placed an initial order for 524 P-40s. This was the largest single order for airplanes by the U.S. military up to that time. The first production model was the P-40 Warhawk, armed with two .50-caliber machine guns. There was only one P-40A variant which was a P-40 modified as a camera aircraft. The definitive pursuit model was the P-40B Warhawk, which retained the two .50-caliber guns of the P-40 and added two Browning M2 .30-caliber machine guns to each of the wings.

A Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, Hamilton Field, California, 1940. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-40B was best known as the airplane flown by the American Volunteer Group fighting for China against the Japanese. They were called the “Flying Tigers”. 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.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 (Tomahawk IIb) of the American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1954

North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, George S. Welch, with the first prototype YF-100A Super Sabre, 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)

12 October 1954: North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot George S. Welch, testing the ninth production F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, serial number 52-5764, made a planned 7.3 G pullout from a Mach 1.55 dive to verify the aircraft’s design limits.

A Boeing B-47 Stratojet crew flying at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) reported that Welch’s F-100 winged over and began a rapid descent, passing within four miles (6.4 kilometers) of their position and diving at a very high speed. The aircraft appeared to be under control but then suddenly disintegrated.

The Super Sabre had encountered Inertial Roll Coupling. It went out of control and then disintegrated. Its nose folded over the windshield, crushing Welch in his seat. The vertical fin broke away. The ejection seat fired but because of the supersonic speeds the parachute was shredded.

Welch was still alive when rescue teams arrived. He died while being flown to a hospital by helicopter.

George S. Welch, North American Aviation test pilot, wearing his orange flight helmet. An F-86 Sabre is in the background. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Photo Archives)

Inertial roll coupling led to the death of test pilot Mel Apt when his rocket-powered airplane, the Bell X-2, went out of control at Mach 3.2 It nearly killed Chuck Yeager when he lost control of the Bell X-1B at Mach 2.4. It is a complex phenomenon which I will briefly attempt to explain:

To increase maximum speed of transonic and supersonic airplanes during the late 1940s and early 1950s, their wings and tail surfaces were made smaller in order to decrease aerodynamic drag. At the same time, the fuselage became longer and the placement of engines, armament, landing gear, fuel, etc., within the fuselage concentrated the airplane’s mass near its center. While the gyroscopic effects of the turbojet engine contributed some degree of longitudinal stability, the torque effect made rolls to the left occur more easily, but with a higher rate than a roll to the right. The resistance to a change in attitude—inertia—decreased at the same time that the control surfaces’ ability to control the airplanes’ attitude also decreased. The airplanes became unstable.

This North American Aviation F-100-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5761, is from the same production black as the aircraft flown by George Welch, 12 October 1954. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-100-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5761, is from the same production block as the aircraft flown by George Welch, 12 October 1954. This photograph shows FW-761 with the original short vertical fin of the F-100A. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre  52-5763, sister ship of the airplane flown by George Welch, 12 October 1954. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

When George Welch tried to pull the F-100 out of its supersonic dive, the airplane’s speed began to decrease as the angle of attack increased. The wings’ ability to stabilize the natural roll instability of the fuselage’s concentrated mass was lessened, and the ailerons could not provide sufficient control to counteract this rolling tendency. The low vertical fin of the original F-100A did not provide adequate directional stability. The Super Sabre rolled and then yawed, entering a side slip. This caused the Super Sabre to pitch down and it was suddenly out of control in all three axes. The physical forces exceeded the strength of the aircraft structure and it came apart.¹

[Aerodynamicists and Aeronautical Engineers: Your corrective comments are welcome.]

Wreckage of North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954. (U.S. Air Force)
Wreckage of North American Aviation F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre 52-5764, 12 October 1954. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Following the death of George Welch, NACA High Speed Flight Station research test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield spent three months conducting flight tests of the F-100A, demonstrating its inertial roll coupling characteristics using three different vertical fins. F-100A-5-NA 52-5778 was Crossfield’s test aircraft.

Scott Crossfield flew the F-100A-5-NA, 52-5778, in flight testing at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, October–December 1954. (NASA)
Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield flew this F-100A-5-NA, 52-5778, in flight testing at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, October–December 1954. (NASA)

The North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre was designed as a supersonic day fighter. Initially intended as an improved F-86D and F-86E, the “Sabre 45” soon developed into an almost completely new airplane. The Super Sabre had a 49° 2′ sweep to the leading edges of the wings and horizontal stabilizer. The total wing area was 385.2 square feet (35.79 square meters). The wings had an angle of incidence of 0°, with no twist or dihedral. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings and there were no flaps, resulting in a high stall speed in landing configuration. The horizontal stabilizer was moved to the bottom of the fuselage to keep it out of the turbulence created by the wings at high angles of attack. The F-100A had a distinctively shorter vertical fin than the YF-100A. The upper segment of the vertical fin was swept 49° 43′.

There were two service test prototypes, designated YF-100A, followed by the production F-100A series. The first ten production aircraft (all of the Block 1 variants) were used in the flight testing program.

The F-100A Super Sabre was 47 feet, 1¼ inches (14.357 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters). With the shorter vertical fin, the initial F-100As had an overall height of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters), 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) less than the YF-100A.

Following Welch's accident, NACA designed a new vertical fin for the F-100A. Ii was taller but also had a longer chord. This resulted in a 10% increase in area. (NASA E-1573)
Following Welch’s accident, the NACA High Speed Flight Station tested the Super Sabre and designed a new vertical fin for the F-100A. The two F-100As in this photograph are both from the second production block (F-100A-5-NA). 52-5778, on the left, has the new fin, while 52-5773 retains the original short fin. The new fin is taller but also has a longer chord. This resulted in a 10% increase in area. (NASA)

The F-100A had an empty weight of 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms), and its maximum takeoff weight was 28,971 pounds (13,141 kilograms). It had an internal fuel capacity of 744 gallons (2,816 liters) and could carry two 275 gallon (1,041 liter) external fuel tanks.

The early F-100As were powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 afterburning turbojet engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (2 high- and 1 low-pressure stages). Its continuous power rating was 8,000 pounds of thrust (35.586 kilonewtons). The Military Power rating was 9,700 pounds (43.148 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). Maximum power was 14,800 pounds (43.148 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 20 feet, 9.7 inches (6.342 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.9 inches (1.014 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,075 pounds (2,303 kilograms). Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine.

The Super Sabre was the first U.S. Air Force fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight. It could reach 760 miles per hour (1,223 kilometers) at Sea Level. (Mach 1 is 761.1 miles per hour at Sea Level, 1,224.9 kilometers per hour, under Standard Atmospheric Conditions.) The maximum speed of the F-100A was 759 knots (873 miles per hour/1,406 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.32—at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,500 feet (14,478 meters). The fighter’s combat radius was 402 nautical miles (463 statute miles/745 kilometers). The maximum ferry range with external fuel was 1,124 nautical miles (1,493 statute miles/2,082 kilometers).

The F-100 was armed with four M-39 20 mm autocannons, capable of firing at a rate of 1,500 rounds per minute. The ammunition capacity of the F-100 was 200 rounds per gun.

North American Aviation built 199 F-100A Super Sabres at its Inglewood, California, plant before production shifted to the F-100C fighter bomber variant. Approximately 25% of all F-100As were lost in accidents.

his is the fifth production F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5760, in flight southeast of San Bernardino, California. This fighter is from the same production block as 52-5764, the fighter being tested by George Welch, 12 October 1954. In this photograph, FW-760 has the taller vertical fin that was designed to improve the Super Sabre's controlability. (U.S. Air Force)
This is the fifth production F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, 52-5760, in flight southeast of San Bernardino, California, 24 June 1955. This fighter is from the same production block as 52-5764, the fighter being tested by George Welch, 12 October 1954. In this photograph, FW-760 has the taller vertical fin that was designed by NACA to improve the Super Sabre’s stability. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

George Welch was born George Lewis Schwartz, Jr., in Wilmington, Delaware, 10 May 1918. He was the first of two sons of George Lewis Schwartz, a chemist at the Dupont Experimental Station in Wilmington, and Julia Welch Schwartz. His parents changed his surname to Welch, his mother’s maiden name, so that he would not be effected by the anti-German prejudice that was widespread in America following World War I.

He studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University, Indiana, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939. Welch graduated from pilot training at Kelly Field, Texas, and on 4 October 1940, was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Second Lieutenant Kenneth M. Taylor and Second Lieutenant George S. Welch, 47th Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, the two Curtiss P-40B Warhawk pilots who shot down 8 Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 7 December 1941. Both officers were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (U.S. Air Force)

George S. Welch is best remembered as one of the heroes of Pearl Harbor. He, along with Second Lieutenant Kenneth M. Taylor, were the only two fighter pilots to get airborne from Haleiwa Auxiliary Airfield during the Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii, 7 December 1941. Flying a Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, he shot down three Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter. Taylor also shot down four Japanese airplanes. For this action, Lieutenant General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold recommended the Medal of Honor, but because Lieutenants Welch and Taylor had taken off without orders, an officer in their chain of command refused to endorse the nomination. Both fighter pilots were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, George Welch was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards), the Presidential Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), American Defense Service medal with one service star, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver and one bronze star (six campaigns), and the World War II Victory Medal.

George Welch, circa 1943. (Unattributed)
George Welch, circa 1943. (Unattributed)

Welch received the nickname, “Wheaties,” because he was the first military officer to be featured on a box of Wheaties cereal. (Wheaties, “The Breakfast of Champions,” was a toasted wheat bran cereal produced by General Mills. It normally featured champion athletes on its distinctive orange-colored boxes.)

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat and recuperating in Australia. There he met Miss Janette Alice Williams and they were soon married. Welch returned to the United States with his new wife. They had a son, Giles, born in October 1947. Their home was in Brentwood, California.

North American Aviation approached General Arnold to recommend a fighter pilot who could bring his combat experience to testing new fighters. Welch was one of two that General Arnold suggested. The general authorized Welch’s release from active duty so that he could join North American. Welch held the rank of major, Air Reserve, from 13 November 1944 to 1 April 1953.

George S. Welch, now a civilian test pilot forNorth American Aviation, Inc., sits on the canopy rail of a P-51H Mustang, circa 1945. (North American Aviation Inc.)
George S. Welch, now a civilian test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., sits on the canopy rail of a P-51H Mustang, circa 1945. (North American Aviation Inc.)

Welch went on to test fly the North American P-51H Mustang, FJ-1 Fury, F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre.

George Welch made the first flight of the XP-86 prototype, 1 October 1947. There is some evidence that on that flight, and during a subsequent flight on 14 October, Welch exceeded the speed of sound while in a dive. It has been said that during the Korean War, while teaching U.S. Air Force pilots how to best use the F-86 Sabre, he shot down several enemy MiG-15 jet fighters.

George S. Welch is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Section 6, Site 8578-D.

¹ Recommended: Coupling Dynamics in Aircraft: A Historical Perspective, by Richard E. Day, Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, California. NASA Special Publications 532, 1997.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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