Tag Archives: Lighter-Than-Air

14–18 September 1984

Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. (Joe Kittinger collection)
Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. His deflated Yost GB55 helium balloon lies on the ground. (Joseph W. Kittinger Collection)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)

14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.

Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.

This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.

During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.

Joseph William Kittinger II
Joseph William Kittinger II, 1999. (MSGT Dave Nolan, United States Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048

² FAI Record File Numbers 1013, 1014

© 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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23–26 August 1929

Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 August 1929. (M.J. Ford)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (18xx—1954)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868—1954)

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of 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.

LZ-127was 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).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.
A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside.
Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19–20 August 1957

Major David G. Simons, M.D., USAF, took this photograph of himself as he neared the peak altitude of 101,516 feet, 19 August 1957. (LIFE Magazine)

19–20 August 1957: At 9:22 a.m., Central Daylight Time (1422 UTC), 19 August 1957, Major David G. Simons, M.D., United States Air Force, lifted off aboard a helium-filled balloon at an open pit mine near Crosby, New Hampshire. This was the second flight of Project MANHIGH, MANHIGH II, a series of experiments to investigate the physiological effects of extreme high altitude flight. The balloon and its 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) gondola were deployed from the bottom of Portland Mine as protection from wind while it inflated.

After 2 hours, 18 minutes, Major Simons had reached 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) above the surface of the Earth. The peak altitude, 30,942 meters (101,516 feet), set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹

Major Simons wore a slightly modfified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit and MA-2 helmet for protection should the gondola lose pressure while at high altitude. During his flight, Dr. Simons performed 25 aeromedical experiments.

32 hours, 10 minutes after lift off, at 5:32 p.m., CDT (2232 UTC), 20 August, the MANHIGH II gondola touched down 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of Frederick, South Dakota.

Major Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented to him 24 August 1957 by Lieutenant General Samuel E. Anderson, at the Air Force Research and Development Command (ARDC) Headquarters, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

The helium-filled MANHIGH II balloon is prepared for launch inside the Portland Mine, 19 August 1957. (Cuyuna County Heritage Preservation Society)
David Goodman Simons. (The 1939 Epilogue)

David Goodman Simons was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 7 June 1922. He was the first of two children of Dr. Samuel Shirk Simons, a physician in private practice, and Catherine Rebecca Goodman Simons.

Dave Simons entered the Franklin & Marshall Academy at Lancaster in 1936. He was a member of the science club, and the swimming and tennis teams. He was on the school’s honor roll for 1938 and 1939.

Simon entered Franklin & Marshall College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in September 1940. At the age of 20 years, Simons was described as 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall, weighing 180 pounds (82 kilograms), with brown hair, hazel eyes, and a ruddy complexion.

From 15 August 1942 to 20 January 1944, Simons was on inactive service, assigned the Medical Administrative Corps, Army of the United States. (The MAC was responsible for officer training schools for medical professionals at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Camp Barkeley, southwest of Abilene, Texas.) On 21 January 1944, Simons was enlisted as a private, Enlisted Reserve Corps.

Following his graduation from Franklin & Marshall College, Simon entered the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1946.

On 22 March 1946, Private Simons was discharged from the ERC to accept a commission as an officer in the Army Medical Corps.

Lieutenant David Goodman Simons married Miss Mary Elizabeth Heagey, 23 June 1946. They would have five children, one of whom died in infancy. They divorced in 1959.

Lieutenant Simons was assigned to the Aero-Medical Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He was involved in early experiments which used captured V-2 rockets to launch rhesus monkeys into space. In 1948, Dave Simons was promoted to the rank of captain.

Captain Simons next attended the Air Force Advanced Course in Aviation Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. During the Korean War, he served as a flight surgeon at Yakota Air Base in Japan.

Captain Simons returned to scientific research at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base, Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he investigated cosmic radiation.

After divorcing his wife, Mary, Major Simons on 12 June 1959 married Mrs. Vera Winzen (née Wera Maria Habrecht), the divorced founder and owner of Winzen Research, Inc., manufacturers of the MANHIGH balloons and gondolas. They also divorced, 5 May 1969.

Major David G. Simons, M.D., U.S. Air Force, at left, with the Project MANHIGH gondola, Otto C. Winzen, and Vera M. Winzen (the future Mrs. Simons), circa 1957. (Photograph by Joel Yale/LIFE Photo Collection)

Lieutenant Colonel Simons retired from the United States Air Force 30 June 1965.

Dr. Simons married Mrs. Ute Margarete McConnell (née Ute Margarete Jordan) a reference librarian at the Texas Medical Center, 20 May 1971. Ms. Jordan, like Simon’s second wife, was also a native of Germany. They would also divorce.

Dr. Simons became the leading authority on myofascial pain and co-authored a text book on trigger points and chronic pain management, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.

Later, Dr. Simons was Clinical Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. David G. Simons, M.D., Ph.D., Hon., Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force (Retired), died at his home in Covington, Georgia, 5 April 2010. he was 87 years old.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10709

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 August 1919

The DELAG airship Bodensee, LZ 120, at Friederichshafen, October 1919. (Library of Congress)

20 August 1919: The first airship built after World War I, Bodensee, LZ 120, made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, Germany, with Captain Bernard Lau in command. LZ 120 was built for Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, DELAG, (German Airship Travel Corporation) especially to carry a small complement of passengers. It was hoped that this would generate favorable publicity and help to restart intercity travel by air.

Bodensee was the first fully-streamlined airship. Its teardrop shape was developed by engineer Paul Jaray and had no cylindrical sections. The shape had been tested with scale models in a wind tunnel. LZ 120 was the first airship to have the gondola was attached directly to the bottom of the envelope, decreasing aerodynamic drag.

Scale model of LZ 120 in a wind tunnel at Göttingen, Germany
Scale model of LZ 120 in a wind tunnel at Göttingen, Germany

LZ 120 was a rigid airship, or dirigible, with a metal skeleton structure covered with a cotton fabric envelope. Twelve hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks were contained within the structure.  A crew of 12 operated the airship and it could carry 20 passengers.

LZ 120 was 396.33 feet (120.8 meters) in length, with a diameter of 61.38 feet (18.71 meters). The airship had a volume of approximately 20,000 cubic meters (706,000 cubic feet). The airship had an empty weight of 13,646 kilograms (36,698 pounds) and a gross weight of 23,239 kilograms (51,233 pounds).

Maybach Mb IVa at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Maybach Mb IVa at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

LZ 120 was powered by four water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 23.093 liter (1,409.2 cubic inches) Maybach Motorenbau GmbH Mb IVa single overhead cam (SOHC) vertical inline six-cylinder engines with a compression ratio of 6.08:1 and four valves per cylinder. The Mb IVa produced 302 horsepower at 1,700 r.p.m., but was derated to 245 horsepower. Two engines were mounted in the aft centerline engine car and drove a two-bladed propeller with a diameter of 5.2 meters (17.1 feet) through a reversible gear train. Each of the other engines were mounted near the center of the airship, outboard. They each turned a two-bladed propeller with a diameter of 3.2 meters (10.5 feet), which were also reversible.

LZ 120 had a maximum speed of 82 miles per hour (132 kilometers per hour).

After two test flights under Captain Lau, Bodensee entered scheduled passenger service on 24 August 1919 under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener. It flew from Friedrichshafen to the Oberwiesenfeld at Munich, then on to Berlin-Staaken.

In 1921, Bodensee was turned over to Italy as war reparations. It was renamed Esperia and continued in operation until 1928.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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