Tag Archives: JFK

12 September 1962

President John F. Kennedy at Rice University Stadium, Houston, Texas, 12 September 1962. (Cecil Stoughton, White House/John F. Kennedy Library)

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. . . .”

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States of America, in a speech at Rice University, Houston, Texas, 12 September 1962.

And so, 2,500 days later. . .

Apollo 11/Saturn V launches from Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 13:32:00 UTC, 16 July 1969. Destination: Mare Tranquillitatis, The Moon. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 May 1977

Sikorsky S-61L N619PA
New York Airways’ Sikorsky S-61L, N916PA. (Photograph by Stefan Sjögren, used with permission.)

16 May 1977: At approximately 5:32 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, New York Airways Flight 971, a Sikorsky S-61L helicopter, landed at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport (JPB) in New York City. Flight 971 had originated at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and carried 20 passengers and a crew of three. The helipad was 855.23 feet (260.67 meters) above Sea Level.

In the cockpit’s right seat was Captain Lee G. Richmond. Captain Richmond had 11,721 total flight hours with over 9,000 in helicopters and approximately 2,200 in the Sikorsky S-61. He had worked for New York Airways since 1964. The co-pilot was First Officer John F. Flanagan had worked for NYA for about five weeks. He had 1,768.4 flight hours with 1,339.2 hours in helicopters. Both pilots had flown 3 hours, 33 minutes on 16 May. Flight Attendant Lammie Chevalier had been employed by NYA for four years.

A Sikorsky S-61L hovers over the Pan Am Building heliport. (Unattributed)
A New York Airways Sikorsky S-61L hovers over the Pan Am Building heliport. (Pan Am)

Captain Richmond taxied the S-61 into position on the 131-foot × 131-foot (39.9 × 39.9 meters) concrete helipad. While parked at the gate, Richmond kept the rotors turning at 100%, keeping the cyclic control centered and the collective full down (negative pitch). The Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) was engaged. Flanagan kept his left knee against the collective pitch lever to ensure that it remained full down. Flight Attendant Chevalier stood inside the passenger cabin, supervising departing and boarding passengers.

The return flight to JFK was designated Flight 972.

Aerial photo of the wreck of Flight 972 atop the Pan Am Building, 16 May 1977. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)
Aerial photo of the wreck of Flight 972 atop the Pan Am Building, 16 May 1977. (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)

2 minutes, 21 seconds after touch down, at approximately 5:35 p.m., the right main landing gear of the helicopter failed and the S-61 rolled over to the right. All main rotor blades struck the concrete helipad. Four passengers who were waiting to board were struck by the blades and killed. One of the blades, 28 feet, 10 inches (8.787 meters) long and weighing 209.3 pounds (94.9 kilograms) flew out over the building’s railing and fell alongside the building before crashing through an office window on the 36th floor. The main rotor blade broke into two segments, one of which fell to the street below, striking a pedestrian and killing him. Additional pieces of the main rotor blades were found up to four blocks north of the Pan Am Building.

Wreck of S-61L N619PA at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport, 16 May 1977. (Unattributed)
Wreck of S-61L N619PA at the Pan Am Building rooftop heliport, 16 May 1977. The Chrysler Building is in the background. (Unattributed)

The helicopter assigned to Flight 971/972 was a Sikorsky S-61L, s/n 61427, registered N619PA. At the time of the accident, the helicopter had a total of 6,913:15 hours on the airframe. Just 7 hours, 22 minutes had elapsed since the last major inspection.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation determined that the probable cause of the accident was: “. . . the fatigue failure of the upper right forward fitting of the right main landing gear tube assembly. Fatigue originated from a small surface pit of undetermined source. All fatalities were caused by the operating rotor blades as a result of the collapse of the landing gear.”

The NTSB determined that the flight crew had performed correctly, and that the aircraft was properly certified, maintained and operated. The Board speculated that the four boarding passengers would have been killed by the helicopter rolling over, even if the engines had been shut down and rotors stopped.

Sikorsky S-61L N619PA lies on its right side at the Pam Am Building heliport, May 1977. The Empire State Building is in the background. (Unattributed)
Sikorsky S-61L N619PA lies on its right side at the Pam Am Building heliport, May 1977. The Empire State Building is in the background. (Unattributed)

A similar accident had occurred when a Los Angeles Helicopters Sikorsky S-61L suffered a fatigue fracture of its right landing gear and rolled over at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 1963. This accident had resulted in a change in the material used to manufacture the parts.

The Sikorsky S-61L was a civil variant of the United States Navy HSS-2 Sea King, and was the first helicopter specifically built for airline use. The prototype, N300Y, first flew 2 November 1961. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. Although HSS-2 fuselage is designed to allow landing on water, the S-61L is not amphibious, having standard fixed landing gear rather than the sponsons of the HSS-2 (and civil S-61N). The S-61L fuselage is 4 feet, 2 inches (1.270 meters) longer than that of the HSS-2. The S-61L is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high, with rotors turning.

The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.149 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% r.p.m., the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

N619PA was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-2 turboshaft engines, each of which had maximum power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and 1,500 SHP for 2½ minutes. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.

The S-61 has a cruise speed of  166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The maximum takeoff weight is 20,500 pounds (9,298.6 kilograms).

Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61 series helicopters. 13 were S-61Ls. As of May 2017, two remained in service.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1–3 May 1976

Pan American World Airways' record-setting Boeing 747SP Clipper Liberty Bell, (View Liner)
Pan American World Airways’ record-setting Boeing 747SP Clipper Liberty Bell. (ViewLiner Ltd.)

1–3 May 1976: Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747SP-21 Clipper Liberty Bell, N533PA, departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, on a record-setting around the world flight. Under the command of Captain Walter H. Mullikan, the airline’s chief pilot, the flight crew included co-pilots Albert A. Frink, Lyman G. Watt, and flight engineers Frank Cassaniti and Edwards Shields. The airliner carried 98 passengers. The flight set a new speed record for a flight around the world, eastbound, and three speed records for commercial airline routes.

Clipper Liberty Bell flew eastward from New York JFK to Indira Ghandi International Airport (DEL), New Delhi, India, a distance of 8,081 miles (13,005.1 kilometers), at an average speed of 869.63 kilometers per hour (540.363 miles per hour). After servicing the 747, it continued on its journey. The next destination was Tokyo International Airport (HND), Tokyo, Japan. This stage covered 7,539 miles (12,132.8 kilometers). The airliner’s average speed was 421.20 kilometers per hour (261.722 miles per hour). After refueling, the Pan American flight continued on to its starting point, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, New York. This final leg was 7,517 miles (12,097.4 kilometers). The average speed was 912.50 kilometers per hour (567.001 miles per hour).

The total duration of the flight was 46 hours, 1 second. The actual flight time was 39 hours, 25 minutes, 53 seconds. Total distance flown was 23,137 miles (37,235.4 kilometers). The average speed for the entire flight was 809.24 kilometers per hour (502.838 miles per hour).

FAI Record File Num #5670 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed around the world. Eastbound
Performance: 809.24 km/h
Date: 1976-05-03
Course/Location: New York, NY (USA) and return (via New Delhi, Tokyo)
Claimant Walter H. Mullikin (USA)
Crew Albert A. FRINK & Lyman G. WATT (co-pilots), Frank CASSANITI & Edwards SHIELDS (Flight engineer)
Aeroplane: Boeing 747SP-21 (N533PA)
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney JT9D

FAI Record File Num #5671 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed over a Commercial Airline Route
Performance: 869.63 km/h
Date: 1976-05-02
Course/Location: New York, NY (USA) – New Delhi (India)
Claimant Walter H. Mullikin (USA)
Crew Albert A. FRINK & Lyman G. WATT (co-pilots), Frank CASSANITI & Edwards SHIELDS (Flight engineer)
Aeroplane: Boeing 747SP-21 (N533PA)
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney JT9D

FAI Record File Num #5669 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed over a Commercial Airline Route
Performance: 421.20 km/h
Date: 1976-05-03
Course/Location: New Delhi (India) – Tokyo (Japan)
Claimant Walter H. Mullikin (USA)
Crew Albert A. FRINK & Lyman G. WATT (co-pilots), Frank CASSANITI & Edwards SHIELDS (Flight engineer)
Aeroplane: Boeing 747SP-21 (N533PA)
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney JT9D

FAI Record File Num #1338 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed over a Commercial Airline Route
Performance: 912.50 km/h
Date: 1976-05-03
Course/Location: Tokyo (Japan) – New York, NY (USA)
Claimant Walter H. Mullikin (USA)
Crew Albert A FRINK, Lyman G. WATT, Frank CASSANITI, Edward SCHIELDS
Aeroplane: Boeing 747 SP
Engines: 4 Pratt & Whitney JT9D

The Boeing 747SP (“Special Performance”) is a very long range variant of the 747-100 series airliners. It has a shorter fuselage and larger tail surface than the standard model. The weight savings allows it to carry more fuel for longer flights, and it is also faster. Boeing built 45 747SPs.

The 747SP is 184 feet, 9 inches (56.312 meters) long, with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters). It has an overall height of 65 feet, 10 inches (20.066 meters). It has a maximum takeoff weight of 670,000 pounds.

The airliner has a cruising speed of 0.88 Mach (616 miles per hour, or 991 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (680 knots, 1,094 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 45,100 feet (13,746 meters) and the range is 7,650 miles (12,311 kilometers), carrying 276 passengers and baggage. The fuel capacity is 47,210 gallons. (178,709 liters).

The record-setting Boeing 747SP-21, serial number 21025, was the fourth Special Performance 747 built, and one of 10 that had been ordered by Pan American World Airways. It first flew 8 October 1975, in Boeing’s corporate paint scheme. It was retained for use in the test fleet. When testing was completed the airliner was refurbished and repainted in the Pan Am livery. It was delivered to the airline 5 March 1976 and registered N533PA.

In 1977, Captain Mullikin flew the same 747SP on another circumnavigation, but this time it was crossed both the North and South Poles. Renamed Clipper New Horizons, 21025 set a record on that flight as well, with a total flight time of 54 hours, 7 minutes, 12 seconds.

Pan American sold its fleet of Boeing 747SPs to United Airlines in 1986. 21025 was re-registered N143UA to reflect its new ownership. After twenty years, 21025 was removed from service in 1995 and placed in storage at Ardmore, Oklahoma. It was scrapped in 1997. The airliner had accumulated 78,941 total flight hours on its airframe (TTAF) with 10,733 cycles.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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