Tag Archives: John Knudsen Northrop

15–22 July 1933

Wiley Hardeman Post (Underwood and Underwood, Washington)
Wiley Hardeman Post (Underwood and Underwood, Washington)

15 July 1933: At 5:10 a.m., Wiley Hardeman Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York, on a solo around-the-world flight. His airplane was a Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, which he previously flown around the world in 1931 with navigator Harold Gatty.

On this flight, Post flew approximately the same route around the Northern Hemisphere, making 11 stops ¹ over a 15,596 mile (25,099.3 kilometer) flight. He returned to Floyd Bennett Field at 11:50½ p.m., 22 July 1933, after 7 days, 18 hours, 49½ minutes. Post’s total flight time was 115 hours, 36½ minutes. ²

This was the first solo around-the-world flight. Wiley Post was the first pilot to have flown around the world twice.

“With his touchdown at Floyd Bennett on this evening of July, 22, Wiley Post became the first person to circumnavigate the earth twice by aircraft. Ne was the first person to fly around the world alone, and he had done it with all possible speed. Post’s record remains unique. Fourteen years later in 1947 his record was ostensibly broken; but it was done under such radically different circumstances that the new record was really meaningless.” ³

Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World’s First Pressure Suit, by Stanley R. Mohler and Bobby H. Johnson, Smithsonian Annals of Flight Number 8, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1971, Chapter 3, at Page 65

Wiley Post with his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, New York, 15 July 1933. (Rudy Arnold)
Wiley Post with his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, New York, 15 July 1933. (Rudy Arnold)

The Vega was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane designed by John Knudsen Northrop and Gerard Freebairn Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of longitudinal strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and bonded together with cassein glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them. They were built of spruce spars and ribs, covered with 3/32-inch (2.4 millimeters) spruce plywood.

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

The Winnie Mae was built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California in 1930 as a Model 5B Vega, serial number 122. It was purchased by an Oklahoma oil driller, Florence C. (“F.C.”) Hall, on 21 June 1930, and named for his daughter, Winnie Mae Hall, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma. The new airplane was painted white with purple trim. In 1932, NC105W was modified to the Vega 5C standard.

The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet, 0 inches (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Winnie Mae was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 3088, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Wiley Post flew the Winnie Mae for F.C. Hall, and flew it around the world in 1931 with Harold Gatty as navigator. Post used it to set several speed records and to compete in the National Air Races. He purchased the airplane from Hall, 8 July 1931.

Winnie Mae was involved in an accident at Chickasha, Oklahoma, 21 April 1933. Flown by another pilot, the engine stopped on takeoff due to fuel starvation. It was found that gasoline had been stolen from the tanks by being siphoned. The damaged Vega was sent to Braniff Airways at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for repair and an extensive overhaul. One fuselage half was replaced, and the fuselage covered in balloon cloth. The cockpit was rebuilt, all new control cables installed, and the wing repaired and reinforced. The tail surfaces were recovered and the landing gear was sent to Lockheed to be rebuilt. The Wasp SC1 was completely overhauled modified with new cylinders which increased the compression ratio from 5.25:1 to 6.0:1. The carburetor was overhauled by Bendix-Stromberg, and new magnetos installed. Using 87-octane aviation gasoline, it could produce 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The airplane’s original two-bladed Standard fixed-pitch steel propeller was replaced by a Smith 450-SI controllable-pitch propeller with Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt hollow steel blades.

Among other modifications, Post had the wing’s angle of incidence decreased 10° which reduced aerodynamic drag and increased the Vega’s speed by 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour). The fixed tail skid was shortened to allow the airplane to reach a higher angle of attack for takeoff and landing. For the 1933 around-the-world flight, six fuel tanks were installed in the fuselage and four in the wings, giving the Vega a total fuel capacity of 645 gallons (2,442 liters). It was also equipped with a Sperry gyroscopic autopilot.

These modifications required the Vega to be licensed in a restricted category, and it was re-registered NR105W.

After Wiley Post was killed in an airplane crash near Barrow, Alaska, 15 August 1935, his widow, Mae Laine Post, sold NR105W to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on display in the Time and Navigation Exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Wiley Post's Lockheed 5C Vega, NR105W, "Winnie Mae of Oklahoma", at the National Air and Space Museum.(Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Wiley Post’s Lockheed 5C Vega, NR105W, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

¹ Berlin, Germany; Königsberg, Germany (now, Kalingrad, Russia); Moscow, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic; Novosibirsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R, ; Irkutsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R.; Rukhlovo, Siberia, U.S.S.R. (Skorvorodino); Khabarovsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R.; Flat, Territory of Alaska; Fairbanks, Territory of Alaska; Edmonton, Alberta, Dominion of Canada; New York City, New York, United States of America.

² The international organization for flight records, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, requires that a circumnavigation cross all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, 22,858.729 miles (36,787.559 kilometers). Post’s flight was short of the required distance, so no official record was set.

³ Floyd Odom, Douglas A-26 Invader NX67834, 7–10 August 1947: Flight, “Just what he as proved is not clear. . . The late Wiley Post took come 187 hours to do the circuit. . . but that was fourteen years ago, in a Lockheed Vega with one 450 horsepower engine. Post had far less aid from navigational facilities, and almost only one piece of equipment common to the Winnie Mae and the Reynolds Bombshell is the automatic pilot, which in both cases enabled the human pilot to take occasional short snatches of sleep. Captain Odom’s engines had to run for 73 hours only, while Post’s kept going for 87. Pilot strain must have been approximately proportional to the length of time, so if human endurance is the criterion, Post’s was the greater achievement.”FLIGHT, Vol. 52, August 14, 1947, page 154

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 April 1918

Malcolm and Allan Loughead in cockpit of their F-1 flying boat, 1918. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

12 April  1918: Allan and Malcolm Loughead, owners of the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company of Santa Barbara, California, set speed and distance records as they flew their twin-engine, ten-place F-1 flying boat from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The F-1 traveled 211 miles in 3 hours, 1 minute.

Designed by friend and employee John Knudson (“Jack”) Northrop, and built in a garage on State Street, the F-1 was launched on a wooden ramp at West Beach.

The airplane was intended for the U.S. Navy, but the end of World War I ended the requirement for new airplanes.

Loughead F-1 at Santa Barbara, 1918. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Loughead F-1 at Santa Barbara, 1918. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Loughead F-1 was a twin-engine, three-bay biplane flying boat operated by a crew of 2. It could carry 8–10 passengers. The airplane was 35 feet (10.668 meters) long. The span of the upper wing was 74 feet (22.555 meters) and the lower wing was 47 feet (14.326 meters). The height was 12 feet (3.658 meters). The F-1 had an empty weight of 4,200 pounds (1,905 kilograms) and gross weight of 7,300 pounds (3,311 kilograms).

The F-1 was powered by two right-hand tractor, water-cooled, normally-aspirated 909.22-cubic-inch-displacement (14.899 liters) Hall-Scott A-5-engines. These were inline six-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) engines with a compression ratio of 4.6:1. It was rated at 150 horsepower and produced 165 horsepower at 1,475 r.p.m. The engines were mounted on steel struts between the upper and lower wings. The engines were direct-drive and turned two-bladed, fixed pitch propellers with a diameter of 8 feet, 8 inches (2.642 meters). The Hall-Scott A-5-a was 5 feet, 2.5 inches (1.588 meters) long, 2 feet, 0 inches (0.610 meters) wide and 3 feet, 7.875 inches (1.114 meters) high. It weighed 595 pounds (270 kilograms).

The F-1 had a cruise speed of 70 miles per hour (113 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 84 miles per hour (135 kilometers per hour).

The F-1 was converted to a land plane with tricycle undercarriage and redesignated F-1A. During an attempted transcontinental flight, it twice suffered engine failure and was damaged. Reconfigured as a flying boat, the airplane was used for sight-seeing before being sold. It was abandoned on a beach at Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, and was eventually destroyed.

Loughead F-1, 1918. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company would go on to become one of the world’s leading aerospace corporations.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 February 1929

Frank Hawks with the red and silver Lockheed Air Express, NR7955. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

4–5 February 1929: At 5:37:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday, Frank Monroe Hawks, took off from Metropolitan Field, Los Angeles, California, (now known as Van Nuys Airport, VNY) in a new Lockheed Model 3 Air Express transport, NR7955, serial number EX-2. Also on board was Oscar Edwin Grubb, the final assembly superintendent for Lockheed. The pair flew non-stop to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, arriving there at 2:59:29 p.m., Eastern Time, on Tuesday. The duration of the flight was 18 hours, 21 minutes, 59 seconds.

Oscar Edwin Grubb and Frank Monroe Hawks, shortly before departing for New York, 4 February 1929. (Getty Images)

The only previous non-stop West-to-East flight had been flown during August 1928 by Arthur C. Goebel, Jr., and Harry Tucker with their Lockheed Vega, Yankee Doodle, NX4769. Hawks cut 36 minutes off of Goebel’s time.

Lockheed Model 3 Air Express NR7955, photographed 1 February 1929. The Air Express was the first production airplane to use the new NACA cowling design. (Crane/NACA)

Hawks was a technical adviser to The Texas Company (“Texaco”), a manufacturer and distributor of petroleum products which sponsored the flight. On his recommendation, the company purchased the Air Express from Lockheed for use as a company transport.

On 17 January 1930, “Pilot Frank Hawks attempted a takeoff from a soggy field in West Palm Beach, Florida, destroying the aircraft christened ‘Texaco Five’ in a spectacular crash that catapulted it into a row of three parked aircraft. All three occupants were unhurt while the aircraft was destroyed.” —Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

NC7955’s Department of Commerce registration was cancelled 31 January 1930.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was a single-engine parasol-wing monoplane transport, flown by a single pilot in an open aft cockpit, and capable of carrying 4 to 6 passengers in its enclosed cabin. The airplane was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and John Knudsen Northrop. It used the Lockheed Vega’s molded plywood monocoque fuselage.

The Model 3 received Approved Type Certificate No. 102 from the Aeronautic Branch, U. S. Department of Commerce.

The Lockheed Air Express was the first production airplane to use the “NACA Cowl,” an engine cowling for radial engines which had been designed by a team led by Fred Ernest Weick of the the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. The new cowling design tightly enclosed the engine and used baffles to control air flow around the hottest parts of the engines. The exit slots were designed to allow the air to exit the cowling at a higher speed than it had entered the intake. The new cowling design provided better engine cooling and caused significantly less aerodynamic drag. The addition of the NACA cowling increased the Air Express’s maximum speed from 157 to 177 miles per hour (253 to 285 kilometers per hour).

The day following Hawks’ transcontinental flight, Vultee sent a telegram to NACA:

COOLING CAREFULLY CHECKED AND OK. RECORD IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT NEW COWLING. ALL CREDIT DUE TO NACA FOR PAINSTAKING AND ACCURATE RESEARCH. GERRY VULTEE, LOCKHEED AIRCRAFT CO.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wing span of 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4½ inches (2.553 meters). The wing area was 288 square feet (26.756 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The airplane had an empty weight of 2,533 pounds (1,149 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1,984 kilograms).

The Model 3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The Air Express had a cruising speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour). It’s service ceiling was 17,250 feet (5,258 meters).

Frank Hawks, 1930. (San Diego air and Space Museum Archives)

Francis Monroe Hawks was born at Marshalltown, Iowa, 28 March 1897. He was the son of Charles Monroe Hawks, a barber, and Ida Mae Woodruff Hawks. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, California, graduating in 1916. He then studied at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. Hawks transferred to the U.S. Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His date of rank 27 May 1932.

His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mysterious Pilot.”

Poster advertising Episode 5 of the movie serial, “The Mysterious Pilot.” (Columbia Pictures)
Amelia Earhart and Frank Hawks. (World History Project)

On 28 December 1920, Miss Amelia Earhart took her first ride in an airplane at Long Beach Airport in California. The ten-minute flight began her life-long involvement in aviation. The airplane’s pilot was Frank Monroe Hawks.

Francis M. Hawks married Miss Newell Lane at Lewiston, Montana, 7 August 1918. They had a daughter, Dolly. They later divorced. He next married Mrs. Edith Bowie Fouts at St. John’s Church, Houston, Texas, 26 October 1926.

Frank Hawks was killed in an aircraft accident at East Aurora, New York, 23 August 1938. He was buried at Redding Ridge Cemetery, Redding, Connecticut.

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 October 1947

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, 21 October 1947. (U.S. Air Force)
Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

21 October 1947: At Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, Northrop Corporation Chief Test Pilot Max R. Stanley took off in the first YB-49, 42-102367, and flew it to Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards Air Force Base) for flight testing.

42-102367 had been converted from the second YB-35 pre-production test aircraft. The original Flying Wing’s four Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major (R-4360-21) radial engines were replaced by eight Allison J35-A-5 turbojet engines and several aerodynamic improvements were made.

The YB-49 was a very unusual configuration for an aircraft of that time. There was no fuselage or tail control surfaces. The crew compartment, engines, fuel, landing gear and armament was contained within the wing. Air intakes for the turbojet engines were placed in the leading edge of the wing. The exhaust nozzles were at the trailing edge. Four small vertical fins for improved yaw stability were also at the trailing edge.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-49 had a length of 53 feet, 1 inch (16.180 meters), wingspan of 172 feet (52.426 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). It weighed 88,442 pounds (40,117 kilograms) empty and the gross weight was 193,938 pounds (87,969 kilograms).

The YB-49 was powered by eight General Electric-designed, Allison Engine Company-built J35-A-5 engines. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-5 was rated at 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.79 kilonewtons) at 7,700 r.p.m. (static thrust, Sea Level). The engine was 14 feet, 0.0 inches (4.267 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.0 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms). (This same engine variant was used in the North American Aviation XP-86, replacing its original Chevrolet-built J35-C-3.)

During testing the YB-49 reached a maximum speed of 493 miles per hour (793 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters). Cruise speed was 429 miles per hour (690 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 45,700 feet (13,929 meters). Maximum range was 3,575 miles (5,753 kilometers).

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne California. Note teh crowds of onlookers and residential housing along W. 120th Street, on the north side of the airport. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 takes off from Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California. Note the crowds of onlookers and residential housing along W. 120th Street, on the north side of the airport. (U.S. Air Force)

Only two Northrop YB-49s were built and they were tested by Northrop and the Air Force for nearly two years, and though an additional nine YB-35s were ordered converted, the B-49 was not placed into production.

The second ship, YB-49 42-102368, disintegrated in flight during a test flight north of Muroc Air Force Base, 5 June 1948, killing the entire crew, which included Captain Glen Edwards. The name of Muroc was changed to Edwards Air Force Base in his honor.

YB-49 42-102367 was destroyed by fire following a taxiing accident at Edwards, 15 March 1950. The program was cancelled on the same day.

Northrop YB-49 42-102367 in flight near Muroc Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop YB-49 42-102367 in flight near Muroc Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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