Tag Archives: Jet Aircraft

14 October 1944

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, circa 1944. (National Air and Space Museum)

14 October 1944: Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) assigned as Assistant Operations Officer of the Fighter Section, Flight Test Division, at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, made an evaluation flight of the Bell YP-59A Airacomet, becoming the first woman to fly a jet-propelled airplane.

The Airacomet was designed and built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation as an interceptor, powered by two turbojet engines. There were three XP-59A prototypes. The first one flew at Muroc Army Airfield on 1 October 1942. The Army Air Corps had ordered thirteen YP-59A service test aircraft. The first of these flew in August 1943 at Muroc.

The Bell YP-59A was conventional single place airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the control surfaces were fabric-covered. Its dimensions differed slightly from the XP-59A, having shorter wings with squared of tips, and a shorter, squared, vertical fin. There were various other minor changes, but the exact specifications of the YP-59As are uncertain.

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The primary difference, though, was the change from the General Electric I-A turbojet to the I-16 (later designated J31-GE-1). Both were reverse-flown engines using a single-stage centrifugal compressor and a single-stage turbine. The I-16 produced 1,610 pounds of thrust (7.16 kilonewtons). They were 6 feet, 0 inches long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches in diameter and weigh 865 pounds (392 kilograms),

Even with the two I-16s producing 720 pounds of thrust (3.20 kilonewtons) more than the the XP-59A’s I-A engines, the YP-59A’s performance did not improve. Engineers had a lot to learn about turbojeft engine inlet design.

The YP-59A had a maximum speed of 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and its service ceiling was 43,200 feet (13,167 meters).

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-59 was ordered into production and Bell Aircraft Corporation built thirty P-59A and twenty P-59B fighters. These were armed with one M4 37mm autocannon with 44 rounds of ammunition and three Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 200 rounds per gun.

Although a YP-59A had set an unofficial altitude record of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters), the Airacomet was so outclassed by standard production fighters that no more were ordered.

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
Ann G. Baumgartner stands on the wing of a North American Aviation T-6 Texan. (U.S. Air Force)

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner was born 27 Aug 1918, at the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Gordon, Augusta, Georgia. She was the daughter of Edgar F. Baumgartner, engineer and patent attorney, and Margaret L. Gilpin-Brown Baumgartner. After graduating from Walnut Hill High School, Natick, Massachussetts, she studied pre-med at Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts. She played soccer and was on the swimming team. She graduated in 1939.

Miss Baumgartner worked as a reporter for The New York Times. She took flying lessons at Somerset Hills Airport, Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and soloed after only eight hours. She then bought  Piper Cub to gain flight experience.

Ann G. Baumgartner, WASP Class 43-W-3. (U.S. Air Force)

After being interviewed by Jackie Cochran, Baumgartner joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) 23 March 1943, a member of Class 43-W-3, graduating 11 September 1943 with Class 43-W-5. She was then assigned to Camp Davis Army Airfield, Holly Ridge, North Carolina, where she towed targets for anti-aircraft artillery training.

Miss Baumgartner  was transferred to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio (now, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), where she flew the B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers, P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, YP-59A Airacomet, P-82 Twin Mustang fighters, and the Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 medium bomber.

While at Wright Field, Miss Baumgartner met Major William Price Carl, who was an engineer associated with the P-82. They were married 2 May 1945, and would have two children.

Miss Baumgartner was released from service 20 December 1944, when the WASPs were disbanded. Following World War II, she was employed as an instrument flight instructor for United Air Lines.

After they retired, Mr. and Mrs. Carl sailed the Atlantic Ocean aboard their sailboat, Audacious.

Mrs. Carl was the author of A WASP Among Eagles and The Small World of Long-Distance Sailors.

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner Carl died at Kilmarnock, Virginia, 20 March 2008, at the age of 89 years. She and her husband, who had died one month earlier, were buried at sea.

Mrs. Ann Baumgartner Carl (1918–2008)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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1 October 1942

Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784, first flight at Muroc Dry Lake, 1 October 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

1 October 1942: At Muroc Dry Lake, in the high desert north of Los Angeles, California, Bell Aircraft Company Chief Test Pilot Robert M. Stanley made the first flight of the top secret prototype turbojet-powered fighter, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet, serial number 42-108784. Weather was “C.A.V.U.” (Ceiling and Visibility Unrestricted) and wind was from the west at 20 miles per hour. In his report, Stanley wrote:

“4.     All take-offs were made using 15,000 r.p.m. on both engines with flaps fully up and with the airplane pulled off the ground at about 80 to 90 m.p.h. Throttle was applied promptly and acceleration during take-off appeared quite satisfactory. The run was estimated to be in the vicinity of 2,000 feet, possibly more. The first flight reached an altitude of approximately 25 feet, and landing was made using partial power without flaps. This take-off had the wind approximately 60° on the right bow and must be considered a cross-wind take-off.

“5.     Aileron and elevator action appear satisfactory, although the rudder force appears undesirably light causing the airplane to yaw somewhat for very light pedal pressures. Left rudder was needed for take-off due to cross wind.”

—Bell Aircraft Corp. Pilot’s Report 27-923-001, at Page 1-12, by Robert M. Stanley, 1 October 1942

Bell Aircraft Coproration test pilot Robert M. Stanley in the cockpit of an XP-59A Airacomet. (NASM)
Bell Aircraft Corporation Chief Test Pilot Robert M. Stanley in the cockpit of an XP-59A Airacomet. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Stanley made three more flights that day, as high as 100 feet (30.5 meters). The following day, Army Air Corps test pilot Colonel Laurence C. Craigie conducted the “official” first flight, reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).

Bell XP-59A Airacomet in flight, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108785  in flight, 1942. Test pilot Bob Stanley is in the cockpit. (U.S. Air Force)

Three XP-59A prototypes were built. The number one ship, 42-108784, was affectionately nicknamed Miss Fire, because of the initial difficulty in getting the engines to start.

The Bell XP-59A was conventional single place airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the control surfaces were fabric-covered. The prototype was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 49 feet, 0 inches (14.935 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 3¾ inches (3.753 meters), at rest. The leading edge of the wings were swept 7°. The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters). Its empty weight was 7,319 pounds (3,320 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 10,089 pounds (4,576 kilograms).

A cutaway display of a General Electric I-A turbojet engine. The compressor and turbine are on a single shaft (center). One of the combustion chambers is sectioned at the upper left. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
A cutaway display of a General Electric I-A turbojet engine. The single-stage centrifugal compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine are on a single shaft (center). One of the annular combustion chambers is sectioned at the upper left. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

The experimental fighter was initially powered by two General Electric Type I-A centrifugal reverse-flow turbojet engines, serial numbers 170121 (left) and 170131 (right), each producing 1,250 pounds of thrust (5.561 kilonewtons) at 15,000 r.p.m. These were copies of the British Whittle W.2B engines. They were heavy, underpowered and unreliable.

Performance of the XP-59A was disappointing with a maximum speed of 350 miles per hour (563 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 389 miles per hour (626 kilometers per hour) at 35,160 feet (10,717 meters), significantly slower than many piston-engined fighters.

Robert M. Stanley and Laurence C. Craigie with the Bell XP-59A Airacomet at Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Laurence C. Craigie (left) and Chief Test Pilot Robert M. Stanley with a Bell XP-59A Airacomet prototype at Muroc Dry Lake. (U.S. Air Force)

Three XP-59A prototypes and thirteen YP-59A preproduction airplanes were built. The P-59 was ordered into production and Bell Aircraft Corporation built thirty P-59A and twenty P-59B fighters. These were armed with one M4 37mm autocannon with 44 rounds of ammunition and three .50-caliber machine guns with 200 rounds per gun.

Although a YP-59A had set an unofficial altitude record of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters), the Airacomet was so outclassed by standard production fighters that no more were ordered.

Lawrence D. ("Larry") Bell with his XP-59A Airacomet at Muroc Dry Lake. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)
Lawrence D. Bell with his XP-59A Airacomet at Muroc Dry Lake. (Robert F. Dorr Collection)

The race for a jet engine-powered fighter had been ongoing for several years, and the United States’ XP-59A was trailing behind. The first jet airplane, the Heinkel He 178, had made its first flight in Germany three years earlier, on 27 August 1939, though it was a proof-of-concept article, not an operational military aircraft. In the United Kingdom, the Gloster E/28.39, also a proof-of-concept aircraft, though more advanced than the Heinkel, made its first flight, 15 May 1941. The world’s first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262, made its first flight on 18 July 1942. It was nearly two years before production Me 262s entered combat, but they were devastating against bomber formations. The Gloster Meteor, the Allies’ first jet fighter, first flew 5 March 1943, and deliveries to fighter squadrons began in July 1944. The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire made its first flight 20 September 1943, but it did not become operational until after the end of World War II.

The XP-59A flew nearly five months before its British cousin, but would not be assigned to an operational squadron, the 445th Fighter Squadron, 412th Fighter Group, until June 1945.

The first American military jet aircraft, Bell XP-59A  Airacomet 42-108784, was preserved by the Army at Muroc, and the engines at Wright Field, Ohio. In 1978, these were given to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum where the prototype was later restored and placed on display.

The first American jet-powered aircraft, Bell XP-59A Airacomet 42-108784 on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 August 1939

Erich Karl Warsitz, 1942. (Wikipedia)

27 August 1939: Flugkapitän Erich Karl Warsitz, a Luftwaffe pilot assigned to the Ministry of Aviation (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) as a test pilot, made the first flight of the Heinkel He 178 V1, a proof-of-concept prototype jet-propelled airplane.

Heinkel Flugzeugwerke had built a small, single-seat, single-engine high-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The He 178 had the air intake at the nose and the engine exhaust out the tail, a configuration that would become the standard layout for most single-engine jet aircraft in the future. The airplane was constructed of wood and aluminum.

The He 178 V1 was 7.48 meters (24.54 feet) long, with a wingspan of 7.20 meters (23.62 feet) and height of 2.10 meters (6.89 feet). The wing area was 9.10 square meters (97.95 square feet). The prototype had an empty weight of 1,616 kilograms (3,563 pounds) and its gross weight was 1,995 kilograms (4,398 pounds).

Hans von Ohain (Pinterest)

The airplane was powered by a Heinkel Strahltriebwerk HeS 3B turbojet engine, which had been designed by Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain. The HeS 3B used a single-stage axial-flow inducer, single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, reverse-flow combustor cans, and a single-stage radial-inflow turbine. The engine produced 1,102 pounds of thrust (4.902 kilonewtons) at 11,600 r.p.m., burning Diesel fuel. The engine’s maximum speed was 13,000 r.p.m. The engine was 1.480 meters (4.856 feet) long , 0.930 meters (3.051 feet) in diameter and weighed 360 kilograms (794 pounds).

The He 178 V1 had a cruise speed of 580 kilometers per hour (360 miles per hour), and a maximum speed of 700 kilometers per hour (435 miles per hour). Its range was 200 kilometers (124 miles).

Captain Warsitz made two short circuits of the airfield then came in for a landing. This was the very first flight of an aircraft powered only by a jet engine.

The He 178 was destroyed during a bombing raid in 1943.

Illustration of the Heinkel He 178 V1.
Illustration showing left profile of the Heinkel He 178 V1
Heinkel He 178 V1, left rear quarter. (U.S. Air Force)
Heinkel He 178 V1, rear, high oblique.
Erich Karl Warsitz, the world’s first jet pilot, circa 1950, following his release from a Soviet prison in Siberia. (Pinterest)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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