Tag Archives: Kill Devil Hills

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.

Orville Wright at the controls of the Flyer, just airborne on its first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903. Wilbur Wright is running along to stabilize the wing. This photograph was taken by John Thomas Daniels, Jr., using the Wright Brothers’ Gundlach Optical Company Korona-V camera. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.: Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, had been working on the development of a machine capable of flight since 1899. They started with kites and gliders before moving on to powered aircraft. At the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the eastern shoreline of the United States, they made the first successful flight of a manned, powered, controllable airplane.

Orville was at the controls of the Flyer while Wilbur ran along side, steadying the right wing. Against a 27 miles per hour (12 meters per second) headwind, the airplane flew 120 feet (36.6 meters) in 12 seconds.

Three more flights were made that day, with the brothers alternating as pilot. Wilbur made the last flight, covering 852 feet (263.7 meters) in 59 seconds. The Flyer was slightly damaged on landing but before it could be repaired for an intended flight four miles back to Kitty Hawk, a gust of wind overturned the airplane and caused more extensive damage. It never flew again.

Flyer after fourth (final) flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The 1903 Wright Flyer is a canard biplane, with elevators to the front and rudders at the rear. The flight controls twisted, or “warped,” the wings to cause a change in direction. The pilot lay prone in the middle of the lower wing, on a sliding “cradle.” He slid left and right to shift the center of gravity. Wires attached to the cradle acted to warp the wings and move the rudders. The airplane is built of spruce and ash and covered with unbleached muslin fabric.

Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer is 21 feet, 1 inch (6.426 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches (12.293 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 3° 25′. A built-in curvature of the wings creates a continuously-varying anhedral. (The wingtips are 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) lower than at the centerline.) The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings is 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). There is no sweep or stagger. The total wing area is 510 square feet (47.38 square meters). The Flyer weighs 605 pounds (274.4 kilograms), empty.

Wright Flyer, right quarter view. The airplane was damaged during the landing after its fourth flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 201.06-cubic-inch-displacement (3.30 liter) 4-cylinder inline overhead valve gasoline engine, which produced 12 horsepower at 1,025 r.p.m. The engine was built by the Wright’s mechanic, Charlie Taylor. The engine has a cast aluminum alloy crankcase with cast iron cylinders. Fuel is supplied from a gravity-feed tank mounted under the leading edge of the upper wing. Total fuel capacity is 22 fluid ounces (0.65 liters).

Wright Flyer, left profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, right profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

Using chains, sprockets, and drive shafts, the engine turns two fixed-pitch wooden propellers in opposite directions at 350 r.p.m. They turn outboard at the top of their arcs. The propellers have a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) and are positioned at the trailing edges of the wings in a pusher configuration.

The Wright's airfield at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbure Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
The Wright’s airfield near Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

In 1928, the Wright Flyer was shipped to England where it was displayed at the Science Museum on Exhibition Road, London. It returned to the United States in 1948 and was placed in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Wright Brothers’ first airplane flew a total of 1 minute, 42.5 seconds, and travelled 1,472 feet (448.7 meters).

The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued to fly until 1918. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, predecessor of NASA) for 28 years. He died in 1948.

The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 August 1939

Major Caleb V. Haynes, U.S. Army Air Corps, with Captain William D. Old; Walter G. Bryte, Jr.; A.C. Brandt; Master Sergeant Adolph Catarius; Technical Sergeant Daniel L. spice; Staff Sergeant James E. Sands, the distance record-setting crew of the Boeing XB-15 35-277. (FAI)
The speed-distance record-setting crew of the Boeing XB-15 experimental long range bomber, left to right: Major Caleb V. Haynes, U.S. Army Air Corps, with Captain William D. Old; Walter G. Bryte, Jr.; A.C. Brandt; Master Sergeant Adolph Cattarius; Technical Sergeant Daniel L. Spicer; Staff Sergeant James E. Sands. (FAI)

2 August 1939: The Boeing Model 294, designated by the U.S. Army Air Corps as the XB-15, serial number 35-277, flown by a crew led by Major Caleb Vance Haynes, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 5000 Kilometers With 2000 Kilogram Payload, when they flew the experimental long range heavy bomber a distance of 3,109 miles at an average speed of 267.67 kilometers per hour (166.32 miles per hour) while carrying a payload of 2,000 kilograms (4,409.25 pounds).¹

The other members of the XB-15 crew were Captain William D. Old, Walter G. Bryte, Jr., A.C. Brandt, Master Sergeant Adolph Cattarius, Staff Sergeant William J. Heldt, Technical Sergeant Daniel L. Spicer and Staff Sergeant James E. Sands.

The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past teh Wright Brothers memorial at the kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past the Wright Brothers National Memorial at the Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 294, designated XB-15 by the Air Corps, was an experimental airplane designed to determine if a bomber with a 5,000 mile range was possible. It was designed at the same time as the Model 299 (XB-17), which had the advantage of lessons learned by the XB-15 design team. The XB-15 was larger and more complex than the XB-17 and took longer to complete. It first flew more than two years after the prototype B-17.

The Boeing Model 294 (XB-15) at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, circa 1937. (The Boeing Company)

Designers had planned to use an experimental 3,421.194-cubic-inch-displacement (56.063 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged and turbosupercharged Allison V-3420 twenty-four cylinder, four-bank “double V” engine. It produced a maximum of  2,885 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The engine was not available in time, however, and four air-cooled Pratt & Whitney R-1830 (Twin Wasp) engines were used instead. With one-third the horsepower, this substitution left the experimental bomber hopelessly underpowered as a combat aircraft. (The Douglas XB-19 was retrofitted with V-3420s in 1942, and re-designated XB-19A.)

Boeing XB-15 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, 13 September 1938. (NASA)

The XB-15 was a very large four-engine mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of aluminum monocoque construction with fabric-covered flight control surfaces. The XB-15 had a ten-man crew which worked in shifts on long duration flights.

The prototype bomber was 87 feet, 7 inches (26.695 meters) long with a wingspan of 149 feet (45.415 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 1 inch (5.512 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 37,709 pounds (17,105 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 70,706 pounds (32,072 kilograms)—later increased to 92,000 pounds (41,730 kilograms).

The XB-15’s wings used a symmetrical airfoil and were very highly tapered (4:1 from root to tip). They had an angle of incidence of 4½° and 4½° dihedral. The total area was 2,780 square feet (258.271 square meters). A contemporary aeronautical publication wrote, “The airfoil provides constant center of pressure, minimum profile drag with flaps up and high maximum lift with flaps down.” The XB-15’s wings were adapted by Boeing for the Model 314 Clipper flying boat.

Boeing XB-15 in flight. (U.S. Air Force)050406-F-1234P-053

As built, the XB-15 was equipped with four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-11 (Twin Wasp S1B3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-11 was rated at 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. and 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off. They turned three-bladed controllable-pitch propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-11 was 4 feet, 8.66 inches (1.439 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters), and weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

The experimental airplane had a cruise speed of 152 miles per hour (245 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), and a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour ( kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The service ceiling was 18,900 feet (5,761 meters) and maximum range was 5,130 miles (8,256 kilometers).

The bomber could carry a maximum of 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of bombs in its internal bomb bay, and was armed with three .30-caliber and three .50-caliber machine guns for defense .

Only one XB-15 was built. During World War II it was converted to a transport and re-designated XC-105. In 1945 35-277 was stripped and abandoned at Albrook Field, Territory of the Canal Zone, Panama.

The Boeing XB-15 experimental long-range heavy bomber flies in formation with a Boeing YP-29 pursuit. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing XB-15 experimental long-range heavy bomber flies in formation with a Boeing YP-29 pursuit. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10865

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 May 1908

Charles William Furnas (1880–1941). (Wright-Brothers.org)

14 May 1908: Charles William Furnas, a mechanic for the Wright Company, was the first passenger to fly aboard an airplane.

At the Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Furnas rode aboard the Wright Flyer III with Wilbur Wright as pilot. The flight covered approximately 600 meters (656 yards) and lasted for 29 seconds. Later the same day, Orville Wright flew the airplane, again with Charley Furnas aboard, this time covering 2.125 miles (3.42 kilometers) in 4 minutes, 2 seconds.

The Wright Flyer III at Kill Devil Hills, 1908. (Wright-Brothers.org)

Charles William Furnas was born at Butler Township, Montgomery County, Ohio, 20 December 1880. He was the second of three sons of Franklin Reeder Furnas, a farmer, and Elizabeth J. Rutledge Furnas.

Furnas enlisted in the United States Navy at Dayton, Ohio, 15 November 1902, and was discharged at New York City, 14 November 1906.

Furnas, a machinist, married Miss Lottie Martha Washington, 3 June 1913.

Mrs. Furnas died 1 January 1931. On 30 January 1931, Charles Furnas was admitted to a Veterans Administration Facility in Jefferson Township, Montgomery County, Ohio, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Charles Furnas died at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Dayton, Ohio, at 9:00 a.m., 15 October 1941. His remains were interred at the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Dayton.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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