Tag Archives: First Flight

25 May 1953

George S. Welch with North American YF-100A 52-5754. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

25 May 1953: North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch took the YF-100A Super Sabre, U.S. Air Force serial number 52-5754, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base. The airplane reached Mach 1.03.

Development of the Super Sabre began with an effort to increase the speed of the F-86D and F-86E Sabre fighters. The wings had more sweep and the airfoil sections were thinner. A much more powerful engine would be needed to achieve supersonic speed in level flight. As design work on the “Sabre 45” proceeded, the airplane evolved to a completely new design. Initially designated XF-100, continued refinements resulted in the first two aircraft being redesignated YF-100A.

North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of YF-100A 52-5754 at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The two YF-100As, 52-5754 and 52-5755, were 47 feet, 11¼ inches (14.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 7 inches (11.151 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). The wings were swept to 45° at 25% chord, and had 0° angle of incidence and 0° dihedral. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings to eliminate their twisting effects at high speed. The airplane had no flaps. The pre-production prototypes weighed 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 24,789 pounds (11,244 kilograms).

The new air superiority fighter was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 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). The J57-P-7 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 8,000 pounds of thrust (35.586 kilonewtons) at 5,875 r.p.m., N1, and 9550 r.p.m., N2. The engine’s Military Power rating was 9,700 pounds thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) at 6,275 r.p.m./9,900 r.p.m., for 30 minutes; and 14,800 pounds thrust (65.834 kilonewtons) at 6,275 r.p.m./9,900 r.p.m. with afterburner, limited to five minutes. 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, which had the same ratings.

Cutaway illustration ofa North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre. (Boeing)
Cutaway illustration of a North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre. (Boeing)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754, 19 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
The prototype North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre, 52-5754, with the North American F-100 team. Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch is in the center of the front row, seated. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The YF-100A had a maximum speed of 660 miles per hour (1,062 kilometers per hour) at 43,350 feet (13,213 meters). The service ceiling was 52,600 feet (16,033 meters). Range with internal fuel was 422 miles (679 kilometers).

During testing, 52-5754 reached Mach 1.44 in a dive. On 29 October 1953, Colonel Frank K. Everest set a world speed record of 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour) with 754.¹

In service with the United States Air Force, the Super Sabre’s mission changed from air superiority fighter to fighter bomber. It was used extensively during the Vietnam War. North American Aviation, Inc., built 2,294 single and tandem-seat Super Sabres between 1954 and 1959.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 25 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 lands on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

George Welch was born George Lewis Schwartz, in Wilmington, Delaware, 10 May 1918. 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, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test. (U.S. Air Force)

George S. Welch is best remembered as one of the heroes of Pearl Harbor. He was one of only two fighter pilots to get airborne 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. For this action, Lieutenant General H.H. “Hap” Arnold recommended the Medal of Honor, but because Lieutenant Welch had taken off without orders, an officer in his chain of command refused to endorse the nomination. He received 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.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat, and when North American Aviation approached him to test the new P-51H Mustang, General Arnold authorized his resignation. Welch test flew the P-51, FJ-1 Fury, F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre. He was killed 12 October 1954 when his F-100A Super Sabre came apart in a 7 G pull up from a Mach 1.5 dive.

North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The extended pitot boom is used to calibrate instruments early in the flight test program. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754 with external fuel tanks, parked on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8868

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 May 1941

NAA test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of P-51B-10-NA 42-106435. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation test pilot Robert C. Chilton standing on the wing of P-51B-10-NA Mustang 42-106435. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

20 May 1941: North American Aviation, Inc., test pilot Robert Creed Chilton took the first XP-51 for its maiden flight at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. The XP-51 was the fourth production Mustang Mk.I built for the Royal Air Force, (North American serial number 73-3101) and assigned registration number AG348 .

The Mustang was reassigned to the U.S. Army Air Force, designated as XP-51, serial number 41-038, and sent to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, for evaluation.

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348 at Mines Field, California, 1941. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348, Mines Field, California, 1941. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)
North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG348 at Mines Field, California, 1941. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)

Later, the XP-51 was extensively tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A.) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia.

Today, the restored XP-51 is in the collection of the E.A.A. AirVenture Museum at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA LMAL 27030)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA)

The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches (11.373 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches (3.721 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds (2,849 kilograms) and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 at NACA Langley. (NASA)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 at NACA Langley. (NASA)

The Mustang was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The -F3R had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). It had a Takeoff and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., to 11,800 feet (3,597 meters). The engine turned a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-F3R was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.54 inches (0.928 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

The Mustang Mk.I had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters), the Allison’s critical altitude, and cruise speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 30,800 feet (9,388 meters) and range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right profile. (NASA LAML)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right profile. (NASA)

The Mustang Mk.I was armed with four air-cooled Browning .303 Mk.II aircraft machine guns, two in each wing, and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with one in each wing and two mounted in the nose under the engine.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboroatory. (NASA LAML 27045)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right three-quarter view. (NASA)

The Mk.I was 30 m.p.h. faster than its contemporary, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, though both used the same engine. Below 15,000 feet, the Mustang was also 30–35 m.p.h faster than a Supermarine Spitfire, which had a more powerful Roll-Royce Merlin V-12.

The XP-51 would be developed into the legendary P-51 Mustang. In production from 1941 to 1945, a total of 16,766 Mustangs of all variants were built.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, rear view. (NASA LMAL 27033)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, rear view. (NASA)

Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.

At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.

In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.

Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.

On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Republic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.

From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.

Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.

In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.

Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 May 1934–18 May 1935

Tupolev ANT-20 eight-engine civil transport. (Tupolev)
M.M. Gromov

19 May 1934: Soviet test pilot Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov made the first flight of the Tupolev ANT-20 Maxim Gorky. This was the largest airplane of its time. Designed by Andrei Tupolev to carry 72 passengers, the giant airplane was operated by eight crew members.

Used primarily as a Soviet propaganda tool, it also carried a powerful broadcast radio station, a printing shop, and loudspeakers.

Constructed of corrugated sheet metal for rigidity and strength, the ANT-20 was 107 feet, 11¼ inches (32.899 meters) long, with a wingspan of 206 feet, 8¼ feet inches (62.998 meters) and height of 34 feet, 9¼ inches (10.598 meters). Its empty weight was 62,700 pounds (28,440.2 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 116,600 pounds (52,888.9 kilograms)

Tupolev ANT-20 six-engine civil transport. Two additional engines would be added later. (Tupolev)

The ANT-20 was powered by eight liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,896.1-cubic-inch-displacement (46.928 liter) Mikulin AM-34FRN single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., each. They drove two-bladed propellers. Two of the engines were mounted above the fuselage, in a push-pull configuration.

This photograph shows the corrugated sheet metal used for the skin of the ANT-20's wings and fuselage.
Corrugated sheet metal was used for the skin of the ANT-20’s wings and fuselage.

Maxim Gorky had a maximum speed of 137 miles per hour (220.5 kilometers per hour), a service ceiling of 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) and a range of 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

Just 364 days after its first flight, 18 May 1935, Maxim Gorky crashed following a mid-air collision during a formation flight over Moscow. 45 people were killed.

The ANT-20 flies over Red Square with an airplane off each wing.
M.M. Gromov, 1917

Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov was born 24 February 1899, at Tver, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northwest of Moscow. He was the son of Mikhail Konstantinovich Gromov, an “intellectual” who had studied medicine at Moscow University, and Lyubov Ignayevna Gromov, a midwife. The family were of the nobility, but poor.

The younger Gromov attended the Resurrection Real School, and then the Moscow Higher Technical School for Aviation. He graduated in 1917. Gromov was taught to fly by Boris Konstantinovich Welling, a pioneer in Russian long-distance flights. After working as a flight instructor, Gromov began test flying. He became the chief test pilot for the Tupolev Design Bureau. By the outbreak of World War II, he had test flown twenty-five different airplanes.

In 1926, Gromov made a non-stop long-distance flight in a Tupolev ANT-3, from Moscow via Berlin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw and back to Moscow. The flight took 34 hours. In 1934, he flew a Tupolev ANT-25 12,411 kilometers (7,712 miles) in a closed circuit over 75 hours. For this accomplishment, he was named a Hero of the Soviet Union.

From 12–14 July 1937, Gromov set a world record for distance in a straight line, flying an ANT-25 from Moscow to San Jacinto, California, a distance of 10,148 kilometers (6,306 miles).¹ The duration of this flight was 62 hours, 17 minutes.

n March 1941, Gromov became the first director of the Flight Research Institute at Zhukovsky, southeast of Moscow. The Institute was later named the M.M. Gromov Flight Research Institute, in his honor.

In 1942, during The Great Patriotic War, Gromov commanded the Soviet long range air forces on the Kalinin Front. He next commanded the 3rd Air Army, 1942–1943, and the 1st Air Army, 1943–1944. In 1945, he returned to test flying.

Colonel General Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov, 1946

Following the War, Gromov continued to work in the aviation industry, but following a disagreement with the Minister of Aviation, Pyotr Vasilyevich Dementiev, over the issue of quality vs. quantity and the safety of the test pilots, he retired. Later, he entered politics and was twice elected to the Supreme Soviet.

During his military career, in addition to the Gold Star Medal of Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel General Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gromov was awarded the Order of Lenin four times, the Order of the Red Banner (four), and the Order of the Red Star (three). He died 22 January 1985.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9300

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 May 1941

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 original configuration. Not the absence of small vertical fins on horizontal stabilizer. The horizontal paint stripe was used as an indication of heating by the turbojet engine (Gloster)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G in the original configuration. Not the absence of small vertical fins on horizontal stabilizer. The horizontal paint stripe was used as an indication of heating by the turbojet engine (Gloster)
Phillip E.G. Sayer (Flight)
Phillip E.G. Sayer (Flight)

15 May 1941: Having been delayed by weather until 7:40 p.m., Gloster Aircraft Co., Ltd., Chief Test Pilot Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer taxied into position on the long, hard-surfaced runway at RAF Cranwell, stood on the brakes and advanced the throttle. When the engine reached 16,000 r.p.m., Sayer released the brakes and the little airplane began to roll forward.

Acceleration was slow. Relying on the feel of the flight controls rather than a pre-calculated airspeed, Sayer lifted off after 600–700 yards (550–640 meters), at about 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). At 1,000 feet (305 meters), he retracted the landing gear and continued to climb at reduced r.p.m. He reached a maximum 240 miles per hour (386 kilometers per hour) Indicated Air Speed at 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

Sayer landed after a 17-minute first flight.

Gerry Sayer's knee board notations from the Gloster E.28/39 first flight, 15 May 1941. (Hartley Moyes, courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Gerry Sayer’s knee board notations from the Gloster E.28/39 first flight, 15 May 1941. (Hartley Moyes, courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The airplane was the Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, registration W4041/G, the first of two prototype fighters powered by a turbojet engine. (The “/G” in the registration indicates that, for security reasons, the airplane is at all times to be under guard when on the ground.) It was a single-seat, single-engine, low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction. The E.28/39 had retractable tricycle landing gear, one of the first fighter-type aircraft with that configuration.

The Gloster E.28/39 was 25 feet, 3 inches (6.696 meters) long with a wingspan of 29 feet, 0 inches (8.839 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). It had a fuel tank of just 81 gallons (368 liters) capacity. The prototype’s takeoff weight was 3,341 pounds (1,515 kilograms).

Power Jets, Ltd. Whittle Supercharger Type 1 turbojet engine, as seen from the front. (Science Museum Group)
Power Jets, Ltd., Whittle Supercharger Type W.1 turbojet engine, as seen from the front. Air enters the compressor through barely visible intakes in the sides of the cast aluminum alloy compressor case. (Science Museum Group)
Whittle W.1 combustion chambers and exhaust as seen from the rear. The turbine section was water-cooled. (Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library)
Whittle W.1 combustion chambers and exhaust as seen from the rear. The turbine section was water-cooled. (Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library)

W4041/G was powered by a single Power Jets, Ltd., Whittle Supercharger Type W.1. The turbojet used a single-stage, centrifugal-flow compressor, ten reverse-flow combustion chambers, and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The turbine had 72 blades. The W.1 produced 860 pounds of thrust (3,825.47 Newtons) at 16,500 r.p.m., burning paraffin (kerosene).

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, front. (Gloster)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, front. (Gloster)

The E.28/39 had a single large air intake at the nose. This split into two ducts which passed around each side of the the cockpit, following the inner contours of the fuselage, and then entered a plenum chamber. Intake air was compressed approximately 4:1 and passed to the combustion chambers. Fuel was mixed with this heated, compressed air, then ignited. Flame temperatures approached 600 °C. (1,112 °F.) This very hot, expanding gas flowed through spiral ducts to the turbine blades, causing the turbine disc to spin to a maximum 17,750 r.p.m., above 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

The turbine drove the compressor at the front of the engine through a central drive shaft. The exhaust gas left the engine and passed through a straight pipe to the rear of the fuselage. The high velocity gas exiting the tail of the aircraft—thrust—resulted in the aircraft being propelled forward at a proportional velocity.

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, rear (Gloster)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, rear (Gloster)

Because of limitations in materials technology, the Whittle W.1 had a limited service life of just ten hours. To keep the most time available for flight tests, early static and taxi tests of the Gloster prototype were made using an engine built from non-airworthy parts and spare components. This engine was designated W.1X.

Over the next thirteen days, Gerry Sayer made fourteen flights, totaling ten hours. The E.28/39 reached a maximum of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). W4041/G was restricted to 2g maneuvers because of stress placed on the cast aluminum compressor case.

Gloster test pilots conducted three series of flight tests with W.4041/G. With Gloster test pilot John Grierson in the cockpit, on 24 June 1943, W4041/G climbed to 41,600 feet (12,680 meters) in 27 minutes, and reached an absolute maximum altitude of 42,170 feet (12,853 meters). This flight completed Gloster’s flight test program and the airplane was turned over to RAE Farnborough.

A second Gloster E.28/39 was built, W4046/G. Using an improved Whittle W.2/700 turbojet engine, the second prototype reached a maximum speed of 505 miles per hour (813 kilometers per hour) in level flight at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)—0.74 Mach.

On 30 July 1943, W4046 was lost when its ailerons jammed at high altitude. The pilot bailed out and parachuted safely, but the prototype jet airplane was destroyed.

Wreckage of W4046/G
Wreckage of the second prototype Gloster E.28/39, W4046/G

On 27 April 1946, Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G was placed in the National Aeronautical Collection, Science Museum, South Kensington, 27 April 1946.

Chief Test Pilot Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer, Esq., was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the New Years Honours list, 30 December 1941. He was killed in flying accident 22 October 1942, probably the result of a mid-air collision.

RECOMMENDED: “No Airscrew Necessary. . .” by Robert J. Blackburn, Flight and Aircraft Engineer, No. 2131, Vol. LVI., Thursday, 27 October 1949, at pages 553–558

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, W4041/G, piloted by Squadron Leader J. Moloney, takes off from RAE Farnborough for a test flight. (Flight Lieutenant Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force Official Photographer. © Imperial War Museum CH 14832A)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, W4041/G, now in standard camouflage and RAF markings, piloted by Squadron Leader J. Moloney, takes off from RAE Farnborough for a test flight. Note the small outboard vertical fins on the horizontal stabilizer. (Flight Lieutenant Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force Official Photographer. © Imperial War Museum CH 14832A)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 May 1949

English Electric A.1 VH799, first of four prototypes of the Canberra bomber. (BAE Systems)
English Electric A.1 VH799, first of four prototypes of the Canberra bomber. (BAE Systems)
Bee Beamont with an English Electric Canberra
Bee Beamont with an English Electric Canberra

Friday, 13 May 1949: At Warton Aerodrome, Lancashire, Chief Test Pilot Roland Prosper Beamont, C.B.E., D..S.O and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, made the first test flight of the English Electric A.1 prototype, VN799, a very high altitude light bomber powered by two turbojet engines.

VN799 was the first of four prototypes. Three were equipped with Rolls-Royce

The newly completed airplane had been rolled out 2 May, and over the next several days underwent a series of static and taxi tests. The prototype was painted overall “plate blue.”

Rollout of English Electric A.1 VN799
Rollout of English Electric A.1 VN799 at Warton Aerodrome, 2 May 1949.
Airworthiness certificate
Ministry of Aircraft Production authorization for the Canberra’s first flight. The test pilot is specified by name. The serial numbers of the two Rolls-Royce jet engines are also listed.

“Bee” Beamont flew the prototype for approximately one-half hour. Other than a problem in yaw, which would be corrected with minor modifications to the vertical fin and rudder over the next several test flights, the aircraft performed very well. Months earlier, the bomber had been ordered into production “off the drawing board.”

English Electric A.1 VN799. Note the rounded vertical fin of this early configuration.
English Electric A.1 VN799. Note the rounded vertical fin of this early configuration.

British bombers have traditionally been named for cities. Canberra, capitol of Australia, was selected as the new airplane’s name in January 1950.

The English Electric B. Mk. I was a twin engine mid-wing bomber, operated by a pilot and navigator/bombardier. The Mk. I was 63 feet, 11 inches (19.482 meters) long, with a wing span of 66 feet, 3 inches (20.193 meters), and overall height of 15 feet, 6.9 inches. (4.747 meters). The wing used a symmetrical airfoil and had 2° angle of incidence. The inner wing had 2° dihedral, and the outer wing, 4° 21′. The total wing area was 960 square feet (89.2 square meters). The tailplane had a span of 27 feet, 4.9 inches (8.354 meters) with 1° angle of incidence and 10° dihedral. Total area of the stabilizer and elevators was 171.1 square feet (15.90 square meters).

VN799 was powered by two pre-production Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.2 engines. The Avon R.A.2 was a single-spool, axial flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. It was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons). It weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms). VN799 was the first British airplane built with an axial-flow turbojet engine.

Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. Note the squared-off vertical fin. (Ed Coates Collection)
Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. Note the squared-off vertical fin. (Ed Coates Collection)

VN799, flown by Flight Lieutenant Harry Maule with Scientific Officer I Mike Burgan, crashed at Sutton Heath, near RAF Woodbridge, 18 August 1953. The engines stopped due to fuel exhaustion while testing automatic landing systems. Maule and Burgan suffered minor injuries, but the airplane was destroyed. At the time of the crash, the prototype Canberra had flown a total of 1,540 hours, 40 minutes.

This Canberra T.4 WJ874 is painted as the first prototype B.1, VH799.(Ministry of Defense)
Canberra T.4 WJ874 is painted as the first prototype, VN799. (Ministry of Defense)

Interestingly, in October 1946, a 34-passenger civil transport variant of the Canberra was proposed, with an enlarged 10-foot-diameter fuselage.

The Canberra was produced in bomber, intruder, photo reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures and trainer variants by English Electric, Handley Page, A.V. Roe and Short and Harland. In the United States, a licensed version, the B-57A Canberra, was built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. The various versions were operated by nearly 20 nations. The Canberra was the United Kingdom’s only jet-powered bomber for four years. The last one in RAF service, a Canberra PR.9, made its final flight on 28 July 2008.

Colonel Charles E. ("Chuck") Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Andrew Headland, Jr./Stars and Stripes)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra bomber during the Vietnam War. (Andrew Headland, Jr./Stars and Stripes)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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