Tag Archives: First Flight

18 September 1948

Lieutenant Ellis Dent Shannon, Air Corps, United States Army

18 September 1948: The first delta-winged aircraft took flight for the first time when Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation test pilot Ellis D. “Sam” Shannon lifted off from Muroc Dry Lake with the prototype delta-wing XF-92A, serial number 46-682. For the next  18 minutes he familiarized himself with the new aircraft type, before landing back on the lake bed.

The Convair XF-92 on Rogers Dry lake. (U.S. Air Force)
The Convair XF-92A on Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Air Force)

Later, with Captain Chuck Yeager flying, the XF-92A reached Mach 1.05. Yeager found that the airplane’s delta wing made it nearly impossible to stall, even with a 45° angle of attack. He was able to land the airplane at nearly 100 miles per hour slower than the designers had predicted.

The XF-92A was a difficult airplane to fly. NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield commented, “Nobody wanted to fly the XF-92. There was no lineup of pilots for the airplane. It was a miserable flying beast.” Scotty made 25 flights in the experimental delta-winged aircraft. On its last flight, 14 October 1953, the airplane’s nose gear collapsed after landing. The XF-92A was damaged and never flew again.

Convair XF-92A 46-682 on Muroc Dry Lake, 1948. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair XF-92A 46-682 on Muroc Dry Lake, 1948. (U.S. Air Force)

The XF-92A (Consolidated-Vultee Model 7-002) was a single-place, single-engine prototype fighter. The airplane was 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 4 inches (9.550 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 9 inches (5.410 meters). It had an empty weight of 9,078 pounds (4,118 kilograms) and gross weight of 14,608 pounds (6,626 kilograms).

The prototype was originally powered by It was powered by an Allison J33-A-21 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine with a single-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. It produced 4,250 pounds of thrust at 11,500 r.p.m. at Sea Level. This was later replaced by a more powerful J33-A-29 (7,500 pounds thrust).

The XF-92A touches down on Muroc Dry Lake, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The XF-92A touches down on Muroc Dry Lake, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The XF-92A had a maximum speed of 718 miles per hour (1,156 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 50,750 feet (15,469 meters).

The XF-92A was not put into production. It did appear in several motion pictures, including “Toward The Unknown” (one of my favorites). It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This was the first of several Convair delta-winged aircraft, including the F2Y Sea Dart, F-102A Delta Dart and F-106A Delta Dagger supersonic interceptors, and the B-58A Hustler four-engine Mach 2+ strategic bomber.

Consolidated-Vultee XF-92A 46-682 is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The flight test program of the XF-92A came to an ignonimous colclusion
The flight test program of the XF-92A came to an ignominious conclusion on 14 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Ellis Dent Shannon was born at Andalusia, Alabama, 7 February 1908. He was the third of five children of John William and Lucy Ellen Barnes Shannon.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant the Alabama National Guard (Troop C, 55th Machine Gun Squadron, Cavalry) 21 May 1926. He transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1929. In 1930, he was stationed at Brooks Army Airfield, Texas.

In 1932 Shannon was employed was assigned as a flight instructor and an advisor to the government of China.

On 24 December 1932, Shannon married Miss Martha Elizabeth Reid at Shanghai, China. They had son, Ellis Reid Shannon, born at Shanghai, 24 August 1934, and a daughter, Ann N. Shannon, born at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1940.

Shannon and his family returned to the United States in 1935 aboard SS Bremen, arriving at New York.

He was employed by the Glenn L. Martin Co., at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1936 as a test and demonstration pilot. He travel throughout Latin America for the company, demonstrating the company’s aircraft. As a test pilot he flew the Martin Model 187 Baltimore, the B-26 Marauder, PBM Mariner and the Martin JRM Mars.

In February 1943, Shannon started working as a Chief of Flight Research for the Consolidated Aircraft Company at San Diego, California. While there, made the first flights of the Consolidated XB-24K, a variant of the Liberator bomber with a single vertical tail fin; the XR2Y-1, a prototype commercial airliner based on the B-24 Liberator bomber; the XB-46 jet-powered medium bomber; the XP5Y-1 Tradewind, a large flying boat powered by four-turboprop-engines; the Convair 340 Metropolitan airliner; and the XF2Y Sea Dart, a delta-winged seaplane powered by two turbojet engines. Shannon also participated in the flight test program of the YF-102A Delta Dart.

After retiring from Convair in 1956, Ellis and Martha Shannon remained in the San Diego area. Ellis Dent Shannon died at San Diego, California, 8 April 1982 at the age of 74 years.

Ellis Dent Shannon, Convair test pilot (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Ellis Dent Shannon, Convair test pilot, circa 1953. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1928

Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Firedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)
Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Friedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)

18 September 1928: The rigid airship, Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (the Zeppelin Airship Company). The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

LZ 127 was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

During the next nine years, Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights, including an around the world flight, and carried more than 13,000 passengers. It is estimated that it flew more than 1,000,000 miles. After the Hindenburg accident, it was decided to replace the hydrogen buoyancy gas with non-flammable helium. However, the United States government refused to allow the gas to be exported to Germany. With no other source for helium, in June 1938, Graf Zeppelin was deflated and placed in storage.

In his excellent history of the Royal Air Force leading up to the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, describes how Germany used Graf Zeppelin for reconnaissance missions, occasionally overflying the British Isles in poor weather due to “navigational errors.” The airship was scouting for radar sites and RAF radio frequencies. (This airship may have been Graf Zeppelin II, LZ 130.)

Both airships were scrapped and their duralumin structures salvaged.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 September 1975

Mikoyan Design Bureau E155MP 83/1 (Mikoyan)
Mikoyan Design Bureau E-155MP 83/1 (OKB Mikoyan)
Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov (1932–1982)
Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov

16 September 1975: Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov, Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau’s chief test pilot, took the Product 83 prototype, E-155MP 83/1, for its first flight.

Project 83 was a two-seat, twin-engine, Mach 2.8+ interceptor, designed as a successor to the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 25 “Foxbat” and would be designated the MiG 31. The Soviet Ministry of Defense assigned odd numbered designators to fighter-type aircraft, while NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, gave them identifying names beginning with the letter F. NATO calls the MiG 31 “Foxhound.”

The E-155MP is 22.69 meters (77 feet, 5 inches) long with a wingspan of 13.46 meters (44 feet, 2 inches) and overall height of 5.15 meters (16 feet, 11 inches). Its empty weight is 20,800 kilograms (45,856 pounds), normal takeoff weight 40,600 kilograms (89,508 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 46,000 kilograms (101,413 pounds).

Mikoyan Design Bureau Ye-155MP, 83/1, first prototype of the MiG-31 Fox Hound. (Mikoyan)
Mikoyan Design Bureau E-155MP, 83/1, first prototype of the MiG-31 Foxhound. (Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau)

The aircraft is powered by two low-bypass-ratio Soloviev Design Bureau D-30 F6 turbofan engines, producing 91.00 kN (20,458 pounds of thrust), each, and 152.00 kN (34,171 pounds thrust), each, with afterburners.

The E-155MP had a maximum speed of Mach 2.82 (2,995 kilometers per hour/1,861 miles per hour) at 17,500 meters (57,415 feet) and 1500 (932 miles per hour) at low altitude. The prototype’s service ceiling was 20,000 meters (65,617 feet), and it had a range of 2,150 kilometers (1,336 miles).

The aircraft is unsuitable for air combat manuevering. The airframe is limited to a load factor of 5 Gs.

Mikoyan Design Bureau E155MP 83/1 (Mikoyan)
Mikoyan Design Bureau E155MP 83/1 (OKB Mikoyan)

The production MiG 31 is armed with one Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-6 23 23mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 260 rounds of ammunition. Four Vympel R-33 long-range air-to-air missiles are carried in fuselage recesses, and various combinations of short and medium range missiles can be carried on pylons under the wings.

The MiG 31 was in production from 1979 until 1994. Beginning in 2010, a modernization program to bring the up to the MiG 31BM configuration. It is believed that approximately 400 MiG 31 interceptors are in service.

A Russian Air Force MiG-31. (Dmitriy Pichugin)
A Russian Air Force MiG 31. (Dmitriy Pichugin via Wikipedia)

Alexander Vasilievich Fedotov born 23 June 1932 at Stalingrad, Russia (renamed Volgograd in 1961). He graduated from the Air Force Special School at Stalingrad,  and in 1950, entered the Soviet Army. Fedotov attended the Armavir Military Aviation School of Pilots at Amravir, Krasnodar Krai, Russia, graduating in 1952, and then became a flight instructor. In 1958 he attended the Ministry of Indutrial Aviation Test Pilot School at Zhukovsky. He was a test pilot for the Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau from 1958 to 1984. In 1983, Alexander Fedotov was promoted to the rank of Major General in the Soviet Air Force.

On 22 July 1966, Fedotov was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union. He was named an Honored Test Pilot of the Soviet Union, 21 February 1969. He was qualified as a Military Pilot 1st Class. Fedotov was twice awarded the Order of Lenin, and also held the Order of the Red Banner and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.

During his career as a test pilot, Major General Fedotov had been forced to eject from an airplane three times. He had also set 15 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for speed, altitude and time to altitude. One of these, FAI Record File Number 2825, in which he flew a Mikoyan E-266M to 37,650 meters (123,534 feet), 31 August 1977, remains the current record. The FAI has also honored him three times with The De la Vaulx Medal (1961, 1973 and 1977), and in 1976 awarded him the FAI’s Gold Air Medal.

Major General Alexander Vasilyevich Fedotov and his navigator, Valerie Sergeyvich Zaytevym, were killed when the second MiG 31 prototype, number 83/2, crashed during a test flight. Neither airman was able to eject.

Major General Alexander Vasilyevich Federov, Hero of the Soviet Union.
Major General Alexander Vasilyevich Federov, Hero of the Soviet Union

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 September 1939

The prototype VS-300 helicopter clears the ground for the first time, 14 September 1939. Igor Sikorsky is at the controls. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
The prototype VS-300 helicopter clears the ground for the first time, 14 September 1939. Igor Sikorsky is at the controls. His right foot rests on the anti-torque pedal. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

14 September 1939: At Stratford, Connecticut, Igor Sikorsky made the first tethered flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 prototype helicopter. The duration of the flight was just 10 seconds but demonstrated that the helicopter could be controlled.

The Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 was the first successful single main rotor, single tail rotor helicopter.

The three-bladed main rotor had a diameter of 28 feet (8.534 meters) and turned approximately 255 r.p.m. The rotor turned clockwise as seen from above (the advancing blade is on the left). This would later be reversed. A counter-weighted single blade anti-torque rotor with a length of 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) is mounted on the left side of the monocoque beam tail boom in a pusher configuration and turns counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left (the advancing blade is above the axis of rotation).

Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 under construction, 8 September 1939. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 under construction, 8 September 1939. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

In the initial configuration, the VS-300 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 144.489-cubic-inch-displacement (2.368 liter) Lycoming O-145-C3 horizontally-opposed, four-cylinder, direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. It was rated at 75 horsepower at 3,100 r.p.m., using 73-octane gasoline. It was equipped with a single Stromberg carburetor and dual Scintilla magnetos. The dry weight of the O-145-C3 was 167 pounds (75.75 kilograms). Later in the VS-300’s development, the Lycoming was replaced by a 90-horsepower Franklin 4AC-199 engine.

On 19 December 1939, the VS-300 was rolled over by a gust of wind and damaged. It was rebuilt, however, and developed through a series of configurations. It made its first free (untethered) flight 13 May 1940.

Test flights continued for several years. After 102 hours, 32 minutes, 26 seconds of flight, the VS-300 was donated to the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.

Igor Sikorsky adjusts is fedora while at teh controls of the VS-300. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Igor Sikorsky adjusts his fedora while at the controls of the VS-300. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 September 1934

Gloster SS.37 G7, prototype Gloster Gladiator
The Gloster G.37, prototype of the Gloster Gladiator Mk.I (Gloster Aircraft Co., Ltd.)
Phillip E.G. Sayer (Flight)
Phillip E.G. Sayer (Flight)

12 September 1934: Hawker Aircraft Company test pilot Flying Officer Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer made the first flight of the Gloster G.37, a prototype fighter for the Royal Air Force, designed to reach a speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) while armed with four machine guns. The flight took place at Gloster’s private airfield at Brockworth, Gloucestershire.

The Gladiator was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane, with fixed landing gear. The airplane was primarily of metal construction, though the aft fuselage, wings and control surfaces were fabric covered.

The production Gladiator Mk.I was 27 feet, 5 inches (8.357 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 9 inches (3.581 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,217 pounds (1,459 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,594 pounds (2,084 kilograms).

Gloster SS.37 prototype, right profile
Gloster G.37 prototype, right profile

The G.37 was equipped with a left-hand tractor, air-cooled, supercharged, 1,519.083 cubic-inch-displacement (24.893 liters) Bristol Mercury IV-S2 nine cylinder radial engine. With a compression ratio of 5.3:1, the IV-S2 was rated at  505 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., and 540 h.p. at 2,600 r.p.m., both at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It developed a maximum 560 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). The engine had a take-off power rating of 530 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., at Sea Level (3-minute limit). The IV-S2 drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 0.655:1 gear reduction. This engine weighed 920 pounds (417 kilograms).

The G.37 was repowered with a Bristol Mercury VI-S engine, which had a 6:0:1 compression ratio and a 0.5:1 gear reduction ratio. This engine produced a maximum of 636 horsepower at 2,750 r.p.m. at 15,500 feet.

The prototype was armed with two synchronized, air-cooled Vickers .303-caliber machine guns, firing forward through the propeller arc, and two .303-caliber Lewis guns mounted under the bottom wing.

With the upgraded engine and armament, the G.37 reached 242 miles per hour (389 kilometers per hour).

The Gloster Gladiator Mk.I with an enclosed cockpit and a Bristol Mercury IX engine had a maximum speed of 257 miles per hour (414 kilometers) per hour) at 14,600 feet (4,450 meters).

The Gladiator Mk.I entered service with the Royal Air Force in February 1937. It was the last biplane fighter to do so, and was the first fighter with an enclosed cockpit. Beginning with No. 72 Squadron, eight fighter squadrons were equipped with the type, though by the beginning of World War II, these were being phased out by more modern airplanes like the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire.

A total of 737 Gloster Gladiators, Mk.I and Mk.II, were built. In addition to the Royal Air Force, there were operated by several other countries in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Prototype Gloster Gladiator in flight, now marked K5200.
Prototype Gloster Gladiator G.37 in flight, now marked K5200. A .303-caliber Lewis machine gun is visible under the right wing. (Royal Air Force)

Gerry Sayer was appointed Chief Test Pilot of Gloster Aircraft Co., Ltd., in November 1934, after Hawker took over the company. On 15 May 1941, Sayer made the first flight of the Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, a prototype jet fighter.

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.

This production Gloster Gladiator Mk.I, K6131, shows the sliding cockpit enclosure. (Royal Air Force)
This production Gloster Gladiator Mk.I, K6131, shows the cockpit enclosure. (This airplane, the second production Gladiator Mk.I, was damaged beyond repair when it ran out of fuel near RAF Church Fenton, 26 March 1938.)  (Royal Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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