Tag Archives: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

8 January 1944

Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
The Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Milo Burcham
Milo Garrett Burcham

8 January 1944: At Muroc Army Air Field (later to become Edwards Air Force Base), the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s chief engineering test pilot, Milo Garrett Burcham, took the prototype Model L-140, the Army Air Forces XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, for its first flight.

Tex Johnston, who would later become Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, was at Muroc testing the Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-59 Airacomet. He wrote about the XP-80’s first flight in his autobiography:

Early on the morning of the scheduled first flight of the XP-80, busload after busload of political dignitaries and almost every general in the Army Air Force arrived at the northwest end of the lake a short distance from our hangar. Scheduled takeoff time had passed. I was afraid Milo was having difficulties. Then I heard the H.1B fire up, and he taxied by on the lake bed in front of our ramp. What a beautiful bird—another product of Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s famed chief design engineer—tricycle gear, very thin wings, and a clear-view bubble canopy. Milo gave me the okay sign.

This was the initial flight of America’s second jet fighter, and what a flight it was. Milo taxied along in front of generals and politicians, turned south and applied full power. I could see the spectators’ fingers going in their ears. The smoke and sand were flying as the engine reached full power, and the XP-80 roared down the lake. Milo pulled her off, retracted gear and flaps, and held her on the deck. Accelerating, he pulled up in a climbing right turn, rolled into a left turn to a north heading, and from an altitude I estimated to be 4,000 feet [1,219 meters] entered a full-bore dive headed for the buses. He started the pull-up in front of our hangar and was in a 60-degree climb when he passed over the buses doing consecutive aileron rolls at 360 degrees per second up to 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]. He then rolled over and came screaming back. He shot the place up north and south, east and west, landed and coasted up in front of the spectators, engine off and winding down. I have never seen a crowd so excited since my barnstorming days. I returned to the office and dictated a wire to [Robert M.] Stanley [Chief Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation] “WITNESSED LOCKHEED XP-80 INITIAL FLIGHT STOP VERY IMPRESSIVE STOP BACK TO DRAWING BOARD STOP SIGNED, TEX” I knew he would understand.

Tex Johnston: Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1 June 1992, Chapter 5 at Pages 127–128.

A few minor problems caused Burcham to end the flight after approximately five minutes but these were quickly resolved and flight testing continued.

The XP-80 was the first American airplane to exceed 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour) in level flight.

Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson's "Skunk Works" also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson’s “Skunk Works” also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The Lockheed XP-80 was designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and a small team of engineers that would become known as the “Skunk Works,” in response to a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal to build a single-engine fighter around the de Havilland Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. (The Goblin powered the de Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 fighter.)

Lockheed Aircraft Corporation was given a development contract which required that a prototype be ready to fly within just 180 days.

Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed)
Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 was a single-seat, single-engine airplane with straight wings and retractable tricycle landing gear. Intakes for engine air were placed low on the fuselage, just forward of the wings. The engine exhaust was ducted straight out through the tail. For the first prototype, the cockpit was not pressurized but would be on production airplanes.

As was customary for World War II U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft, the prototype was camouflaged in non-reflective Dark Green with Light Gull Gray undersides. The blue and white “star and bar” national insignia was painted on the aft fuselage, and Lockheed’s winged-star corporate logo was on the nose and vertical fin. Later, the airplane’s radio call, 483020 was stenciled on the fin in yellow paint. The number 20 was painted on either side of the nose in large block letters. Eventually the tip of the nose was painted white and a large number 78 was painted just ahead of the intakes in yellow block numerals. Early in the test program, rounded tips were installed on the wings and tail surfaces. This is how the XP-80 appears today.

Lockheed XP-80 parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed)
The highly-polished Dark Green and Light Gull Gray Lockheed XP-80 prototype parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 is 32 feet, 911/16 inches (9.9997 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, ⅞-inch (11.2998 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 21/16 inches (3.1004 meters). It had a Basic Weight for Flight Test of 6,418.5 pounds (2,911.4 kilograms) and Gross Weight (as actually weighed prior to test flight) of 8,859.5 pounds (4,018.6 kilograms).

The Halford H.1B Goblin used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, sixteen combustion chambers, and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It had a straight-through configuration rather than the reverse-flow of the Whittle turbojet from which it was derived. The H.1B produced 2,460 pounds of thrust (10.94 kilonewtons) at 9,500 r.p.m., and 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) at 10,500 r.p.m. The Goblin weighed approximately 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms).

Cutaway illustration of the Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. (FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER)

The XP-80 has a maximum speed of 502 miles per hour (808 kilometers per hour) at 20,480 feet (6,242 meters) and a rate of climb of 3,000 feet per minute (15.24 meters per second). The service ceiling is 41,000 feet (12,497 meters).

Unusual for a prototype, the XP-80 was armed. Six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns were placed in the nose. The maximum ammunition capacity for the prototype was 200 rounds per gun.

The Halford engine was unreliable and Lockheed recommended redesigning the the fighter around the larger, more powerful General Electric I-40 (produced by GE and Allison as the J33 turbojet). The proposal was accepted and following prototypes were built as the XP-80A.

Lockheed built 1,715 P-80s for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. They entered combat during the Korean War in 1950. A two-seat trainer version was even more numerous: the famous T-33A Shooting Star.

Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star 44-83020 was used as a test aircraft and jet trainer for several years. In 1949, it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. 44-83020 is on display at the Jet Aviation exhibit of the National Air and Space Museum. It was restored beginning in 1976, and over the next two years nearly 5,000 man-hours of work were needed to complete the restoration.

The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, at teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, s/n 140-1001, 44-83020, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 December 1972

Eastern Airlines' Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar, N310EA, the airliner that crashed 29 December 1972. (Photograph © Jon Proctor. Used with permission.)
Eastern Air Lines’ Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar, N310EA. (Photograph © Jon Proctor. Used with permission.)

29 December 1972: Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, was en route from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York, to Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida, with a crew of 13 and 163 passengers. The flight was under the command of Captain Robert Albin Loft, a 32-year-veteran of Eastern Air Lines. The co-pilot was First Officer Albert John Stockstill, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who had flown with Eastern as a flight engineer for 12 years before upgrading to first officer the previous year. The Second Officer (flight engineer) was Donald Louis Repo. He was employed as a mechanic by Eastern in 1947, and had qualified as a flight engineer in 1955.

On approach to MIA, the flight crew lowered the landing gear. The indicator light for the nose gear did not illuminate. Captain Loft informed the Miami control tower that he was abandoning the approach and requested a holding pattern. Miami Approach Control placed Flight 401 in a “race track” pattern at 2,000 feet (610 meters), west of MIA.

The flight crew confirmed that the landing gear was operating properly, and confirmed that the incandescent light bulb for the gear position indicator was burned out. Still, all three members of the flight crew, as well as a fourth Eastern Air Lines employee who was in the cockpit, continued to investigate the light’s malfunction. While they did so, the airplane entered a very gradual descent which went unobserved by the crew.

The following partial transcript is from the airplane’s Cockpit Voice Recorder:

Miami Approach Control: “Eastern, ah Four Oh One how are things comin’ out there?” [2341:40]

Eastern Air Lines Flight 401: “Okay, we’d like to turn around and come back in.” [2341:44]

Miami Approach Control: “Eastern Four Oh One turn left heading one eight zero.” [2341:47]

First Officer: “We did something to the altitude.” [2342:05]

Captain: “What?” [2342:05]

First Officer: “We’re still at two thousand, right?” [2342:07]

Captain: Hey, what’s happening here?” [2342:07]

Radar Altimeter Altitude Alert: BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP [2342:10]

(Sound of ground impact) [2342:12]

At 11:42:12 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Flight 401 impacted the surface of an Everglades swamp, 18.7 miles (30.1 kilometers) west-northwest of the end of Runway 9L. The TriStar hit the ground at 227 miles per hour (365 kilometers per hour) in a 28° left bank. Of the 176 persons on board, 99 were killed and 75 were injured. 2 of the injured died later.

Wreckage of Eastern Airlines Flight 401.
Wreckage of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401.

The cause of the accident was “pilot error.” In the simplest terms, the flight crew failed in their primary responsibility to FLY THE AIRPLANE while they dealt with an inconsequential technical issue. At the time, this was the highest number of fatalities in an aircraft accident in the United States.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the fight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final 4 minutes of flight, and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground. Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew’s attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed.”

Aircraft Accident Report, Eastern Air Lines, Inc. L-1011, N310EA, Miami, Florida, December 29, 1972, Report Number NTSB-AAR-73-14, Adopted 14 June 1973, Chapter 2.2 at Pages 23–24

Following the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, and the similar crash of a United Air Lines DC-8, Flight 173, at Portland, Oregon, 28 December 1978, airlines developed a system called Cockpit Resource Management to ensure that the flight crews stayed focused on cockpit priorities while dealing with unexpected issues.

The cabin crew of Flight 401, 29 December 1972: Back row: Pat Ghyssels, Trudy Smith, Adrianne Hamilton, lead Flight Attendant, Mercy Ruiz. Front row: Sue Tebbs, Dottie Warnock, Beverly Raposa, Stephanie Stanich. Laying on the coat rack, Patty George. Not shown, Sharon Transue. Pat Ghyssels and Stephanis Stanich, seated next to each other in jump seats, were killed. (Sharon Transue/Eastern Airlines)
The cabin crew of Flight 401, 29 December 1972: Back row: Pat Ghyssels, Trudy J. Smith, Adrianne Ann Hamilton, lead Flight Attendant, Mercedes V. Ruiz. Front row: Sue F. Tibbs, Dorothy M. Warnock, Beverly Jean Raposa, Stephanie Stanich. Laying on the coat rack, Patricia R. Georgia. Not shown, Sharon R. Transue. Pat Ghyssels and Stephanie Stanich, seated next to each other in jump seats, were killed. (Sharon  R. Transue/Eastern Airlines)

Flight 401 was a Lockheed L-1011-385-1 TriStar, a long-range variant of the “wide body” airliner, FAA registration N310EA, (serial number N193A-1011) which had been delivered to Eastern Air Lines 18 August 1972 had entered service three days later. At the time of the crash it had just 986 hours total flight time (TTAF).

The L-1011 was a very technologically advanced airliner, operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry a maximum of 330 passengers. The –385 was 14 feet shorter than the previous TriStar versions, with a length of 164 feet, 2.5 inches (50.051 meters). It had longer wings, spanning 164 feet, 4 inches (50.089 meters). Its overall height was 55 feet, 4 inches (16.865 meters). Empty, it weighed 245,400 pounds (111,312 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weigh was 510,000 pounds (231,332 kilograms) and maximum landing weight, 368,000 pounds (166,922 kilograms).

N310EA was powered by three Rolls-Royce RB.211-22C turbofan engines, with two suspended on pylons under the wings and one in the rear of the fuselage. They produced 42,000 pounds of thrust (186.83 kilonewtons), each.

The L-1011-385-1 had a maximum speed of 0.95 Mach. Its cruising speed was 604 miles per hour (972 kilometers per hour). Range with maximum passengers was 6,151 miles (9,899 kilometers). The service ceiling was 43,000 feet (13,106 meters).

The Lockheed L-1011 was in production from 1968 to 1984. 250 of the airliners were built at Palmdale, California.

Eastern Airlines CEO, Frank F. Borman II (Gemini 7, Apollo 8) in the cockpit of a Lockheed L-1011 with Lockheed's test pilot Henry Baird ("Hank") Dees. (Eastern Airlines)
Eastern Air Lines CEO, Frank F. Borman II (Gemini 7, Apollo 8) in the cockpit of a Lockheed L-1011 with Lockheed’s test pilot Henry Baird (“Hank”) Dees. (Eastern Airlines)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 December 1969

Lockheed SR-71A 69-7953. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed SR-71A 61-7953. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Joseph W. Rogers with a Lockheed SR-71A. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Joseph W. Rogers with a Lockheed “Blackbird.” (U.S. Air Force)

18 December 1969: Colonel Joseph William Rogers and Major Gary Heidelbaugh were flying  Lockheed SR-71A 61-7953 to test a new system installation followed by a training mission. The functional test had gone well and the Blackbird rendezvoused with a KC-135 tanker before proceeding with the mission.

After coming off the tanker, Colonel Rogers (call sign “Dutch 68”) radioed the regional air traffic control center for permission to climb through all flight levels to 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), or Flight Level Six Zero Zero.

A short transcript of the radio and intercom transmissions follows:

(Pilot, Colonel Joseph W. Rogers; RSO, Major Gary Heidelbaugh; L.A. Center: Los Angeles Center, the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Control Center at Palmdale, California. Times listed are UTC.)

Pilot’s station of a Lockheed SR-71A. (NASM)

Pilot: “Los Angeles Center, Dutch 68.” [2106:45]

L.A. Center: “Dutch 68, rog, loud and clear. How me?”

Pilot: “Roger, you’re loud and clear. I’m in a left turn flight level two six zero, requesting climb above six zero zero Route Aqua.”

L.A. Center: “Rog, your routing is approved. Climb and maintain above 600 and squawk 4400.”

Pilot: “Four four squawking.” [2107:13]

L.A. Center: “Dutch 68, Rog. Have you radar contact. Report 310 climbing.” [2107:27]

Pilot: “Roger.”

Pilot: “Okay, I’m going to light them off, Gary.” [est 2107:30]

RSO: “Rog.”

RSO: “That’s our heading.”

Pilot: “Roger.”

RSO: “What caused all that?” [est 2108:00]

Pilot: “I don’t know.”

RSO: “. . . Climbing.”

Pilot: “Let’s go.” [est 2108:15] CREW EJECTS

L.A. Center: “Dutch 68. Say your altitude.” [2110:30]

L.A. Center: “Dutch 68. Say your altitude.” [2110:50]

L.A. Center: “Dutch 68, Dutch 68, Los Angeles.” [2111:12]

L.A. Center: “Dutch 68, Dutch 68, Los Angeles.” [2111:28]

When Colonel Rogers advanced the SR-71’s throttles to go into afterburner for the climb, the compressor sections of both engines stalled. (Compressor stall is a condition that occurs when airflow through the engine intake is disrupted. Normal flow ceases, the engine stops producing thrust, and there can be violent oscillations and uncontained failure of the compressor section.) The SR-71A slowed abruptly and then violently pitched upward. Rogers said, “Let’s go,” and both men ejected from the out-of-control airplane.

Rogers and Heidelbaugh safely parachuted to the ground. 61-7953 crashed near Shoshone, California, and was totally destroyed by the crash and fire that followed.

The accident investigation determined that a small roll of 2″-wide (5.08 centimeters) duct tape was lodged inside one of the tubes of the airplane’s pitot-static system. When the new system had been installed, it required that the pitot-static tubing be modified and rerouted. A technician apparently placed the rolled duct tape inside an open section of tubing to prevent entry of dirt or foreign objects. When the tubing was reassembled, this makeshift plug was not removed. Post crash testing showed that the plug did not totally close off airflow, but that it decreased it, causing the altimeter to read too high and the airspeed indicator too fast. The normal test of the pitot-static system following the modification did not reveal the problem.

A Lockheed SR-71 Pratt & Whitney J58 turbo ramjet engine running on a test stand, in full afterburner.

When Joe Rogers advanced the throttles, he was at approximately 27,000 feet (8,230 meters) rather than the indicated 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). He was also about 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) slower than indicated.  The sudden demand for increased airflow as the throttles advanced could not be met by the thinner, slower air, and the compressors stalled.

Joe Rogers was a fighter pilot in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He was a highly experienced test pilot with considerable experience in Mach 2+, high-altitude aircraft. He had been the commanding officer of the F-12/SR-71 Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base. Ten years and three days before this accident, he had set a World Speed Record while flying a Convair F-106A Delta Dart. (See post for 15 December 1959)

The wreck of Lockheed SR-71A 61-7953 burning near Shoshone, California, 18 December 1969.
The wreck of Lockheed SR-71A 61-7953 burning near Shoshone, California, 18 December 1969. (Check-Six.com)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1944

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army, Leyte, 12 December 1944. Major Bong is wearing the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force)

17 December 1944: Captain Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Corps, flying a Lockheed P-38 Lighting over San José on the Island of Mindoro, Commonwealth of the Philippines, shot down an enemy Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Allied reporting name, “Oscar”).

This was Bong’s 40th confirmed aerial victory and made him the leading American fighter ace of World War II. He is officially credited with 40 aircraft destroyed, 8 probably destroyed and 7 damaged.

Five days earlier, 12 December, during a ceremony at an American airfield on the Island of Leyte, Philippine Islands, General Douglas MacArthur, United States Army, had presented Major Bong the Medal of Honor.

An Associated Press reporter quoted the General:

“Of all military attributes, that one which arouses the greatest admiration is courage. It is the basis of all successful military ventures. our forces possess it to a high degree and various awards are provided to show the public’s appreciation. The Congress of the United States has reserved to itself the honor of decorating those amongst all who stand out as the bravest of the brave. It’s this high and noble category, Bong, that you now enter as I pin upon your tunic the Medal of Honor. Wear it as a symbol of the invincible courage you have displayed so often in mortal combat. My dear boy, may a merciful God continue to protect you is the constant prayer of your commander in chief.”

[On 18 December 1944, Douglas MacArthur was promoted to General of the Army, a five-star rank held by only nine other U.S. military officers. General MacArthur was the son of a Medal of Honor recipient, and had himself been twice nominated for the Medal for his actions during the occupation of Vera Cruz (1914) and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (1918). He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines, 1941–42.]

General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
General Douglas MacArthur talks with Major Richard I. Bong, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 12 December 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Bong’s citation reads:


The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major (Air Corps) Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command, Fifth Air Force, in action in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944.

Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Major Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down eight enemy airplanes during this period.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 90, December 8, 1944
Action Date: October 10 – November 15, 1944
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: Major
Regiment: 49th Fighter Group, V Fighter Command
Division: 5th Air Force.

Dick Bong poses with "Marge," his Lockheed P-38J Lightning. A large photograph of his fiancee, Miss Marjorie Vattendahl, is glued to the fighter's nose.
Dick Bong poses with “Marge,” his Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 42-103993, Lockheed serial number 2827. A large photograph of his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, is affixed to the fighter’s nose.

Major Bong flew a number of different Lockheed P-38s in combat. He is most associated, though, with P-38J-15-LO 42-103993, which he named Marge after his fiancée, Miss Marjorie Ann Vattendahl, a school teacher from Poplar, Wisconsin.

Richard Bong had flown 146 combat missions. General George C. Kenney, commanding the Far East Air Forces, relieved him from combat and ordered that he return to the United States. He was assigned to test new production P-80 Shooting Stars jet fighters being built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California plant.

On 6 August 1945, the fuel pump of the new P-80 Bong was flying failed just after takeoff. The engine failed from fuel starvation and the airplane crashed into a residential area of North Hollywood, California. Major Richard Ira Bong was killed.

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter (AvionsLegendaires.net)

The Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Hayabusa was a single-place, single-engine fighter manufactured by Nakajima Hikoki K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. The light weight fighter was very maneuverable and was a deadly opponent. It was identified as “Oscar” by Allied forces. The Ki-43 shot down more Allied airplanes during World War II than any other Japanese fighter.

The Ki-43 was 29.2 feet (8.90 meters) long, with a wingspan of 35.6 feet (10.85 meters) and height of 9 feet (2.74 meters). Its empty weight was 4,170 pounds (1,878 kilograms) and gross weight  was 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms).

The Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged Nakajima Ha-115 Toku two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine which produced 925 horsepower at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), 800 horsepower  at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 1,105 horsepower at Sea Level for takeoff. The engine drove a three-bladed constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 9.2 feet (2.80 meters).

Nakajima Ki-43 Type 1 Army Fighter, called “Oscar” by the Allied forces. (The Java Gold’s Blog)

Compared to American fighters, the Oscar was lightly armed with just two synchronized 7.7 mm × 58 mm Type 89 or 12.7 mm × 81 mm Type 1 machine guns, or a combination of one 7.7 mm and one 12.7 mm gun. The 12.7 machine gun could fire explosive ammunition. (The Type 89 was a licensed version of the Vickers .303-caliber machine gun, while the design of the Type 1 was based on the Browning M1921 .50-caliber machine gun.)

The Oscar’s maximum speed was 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 347 miles per hour (558 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,100 feet (11,308 meters). The maximum range with a normal fuel load of 149 U.S. gallons (564 liters) was 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers) at 1,500 feet (457 meters).

Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008, Lockheed serial number 2519. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed P-38 lightning is a single-place, mid-wing, twin-engine fighter. It is an unusual configuration, with the cockpit, weapons and nose landing gear in a central nacelle, and engines, turbochargers, cooling system and main landing gear in outer “booms.” The airplane was originally designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The P-38J is 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.850 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 9-11/16 inches (2.989 meters). The fighter has an empty weight of 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 21,600 pounds (9,798 kilograms).

The P-38J was powered by two liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F-17R and -F17L (V-1710-89 and -91, respectively) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines with a continuous power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,600 r,p.m., to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 1,425 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The counter-rotating engines drove 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric full-feathering constant-speed propellers through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The engines were 7 feet, 1.34 inches (2.168 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.75 inches (0.933 meters) high, 2 feet, 5.28 inches (0.744 meters) wide, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms).

A flight of two camouflaged Lockheed P-38J Lightnings, circa 1943. Dick Bong is flying the closer airplane, P-38J-5-LO 42-67183. (Lockheed Martin)

The P-38J had a maximum speed of 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) at 26,500 feet (8,077 meters). The service ceiling was 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). Carrying external fuel tanks, the Lightning had a maximum range of 2,260 miles (3,637 kilometers).

P-38s were armed with one 20 mm Hispano M2 aircraft autocannon with 150 rounds of ammunition, and four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. All guns are grouped close together in the nose and aimed straight ahead.

A Lockheed P-38 Lighning test fires its guns. (Lockheed Martin)

Between 1939 and 1945, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation built 10,037 P-38 Lightnings at Burbank, California. 2,970 of these were P-38Js.

Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army. (Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center/National Endowment for the Humanities)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 December 1960

The “empennage and fuselage aft of Fuselage Station 1490” of United Air Lines’ Douglas DC-8 N8013U at the intersection of Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 17 December 1960. (New York Daily News)

16 December 1960, 10:33:32 a.m., Eastern Standard Time: United Air Lines Flight 826, a Douglas DC-8 jet airliner, collided with Trans World Airlines Flight 266, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, at approximately 5,200 feet (1,585 meters) over Staten Island, New York. The Lockheed crashed near the point of collision, on the former Miller Army Air Field, while the DC-8 continued to the northeast before crashing at Brooklyn.

All 128 persons on board both airliners were killed, as were 6 persons on the ground. One passenger, an 11-year-old boy on board the DC-8, did survive the crash, but he died the following day as a result of having inhaled the burning jet fuel fumes.

New York City Fire Department on the scene of the United Air Lines Flight 826 crash, 16 December 1960. The destroyed building was the Pillar of Fire Church, 123 Sterling Place, at Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn..(New York City Fire Department)

The Civil Aeronautics Board investigation of the accident was the first to use data from a Flight Data Recorder from one of the involved airplanes.

A Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. (TWA)

TWA Flight 266 had originated at Dayton, Ohio, with an intermediate stop at Columbus, Ohio. The Super Constellation departed Port Columbus Airport at 9:00 a.m., en route to La Guardia Airport, New York. Captain David Arthur Wollam, a fifteen year veteran of TWA with 14,583 flight hours, was in command. First Officer Dean T. Bowen and Second Officer (Flight Engineer) LeRoy L. Rosenthal completed the cockpit crew. The cabin crew were Hostess Margaret Gernat and Hostess Patricia Post. The airliner carried 39 passengers.

A United Air Lines Douglas DC-8 at the Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

UAL Flight 826 was a non-stop flight from O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, to New York International Airport (“Idelwild Airport,” now John F. Kennedy International Airport), New York City. The Pilot in Command was Captain Robert H. Sawyer. He had flown for United for nineteen years, and had 19,100 flight hours, with 344 hours in the new DC-8 jet airliner. The co-pilot was First Officer Robert W. Flebing and the flight engineer was Second Officer Richard E. Pruitt. There were four flight attendants in the cabin: Stewardess Mary J. Mahoney, Stewardess Augustine L. Ferrar, Stewardess Anne M. Bouthen, and Stewardess Patricia A. Keller. The flight crew had departed from Los Angeles, California, at 3:20 a.m., arrived at Chicago at 6:56 a.m., where they held over for two hours. The airliner departed Chicago at 9:11 a.m. with 76 passengers. (These times are Eastern Standard Time.)

Both airliners were flying under Instrument Flight Rules and followed a series of airways defined by a system of Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Ranges (VORs)—radio ground stations—as well as radar service provided by Air Traffic Control Centers and Approach Control facilities along their route of flight. As it approached LaGuardia, Flight 266 was controlled by New York Center and LaGuardia Approach Control. Flight 826 was also with New York Center, but the approach to Idlewild was with Idlewild Approach Control. The radar controllers of New York Center “handed off” Flight 266 to LaGuardia Approach at 10:27 a.m. Center cleared Flight 826 to the PRESTON Intersection, and advised to expect to hold at that position. It then handed off 826 to Idlewild Approach at 10:33 a.m.

PRESTON Intersection is a position defined by the 346° radial of the Colts Neck VOR (COL) and the 050° radial of Robbinsville VOR (RBV). Aircraft use VOR receivers and a visual display instrument to locate intersections and their positions along airway routes.

However, at 10:21 a.m., the crew of United 826 informed their operations department that the DC-8’s number two VOR receiver had failed. Flight 826 did not advise ATC, however.

While navigation is still possible with only one VOR receiver, it is more complicated as the operator must continuously switch radio frequencies between two VOR stations, and realign the Pictorial Deviation Indicator (“PDI”) instrument to the changing radials of the two ground stations. The higher speed of the new jet airliner gave the flight crew less time to accomplish the continuous changes required.

LaGuardia instructed Flight 266 to make a series of small right hand turns as it set up for the final approach to the airport’s runways. This placed the Super Constellation over Staten Island.

Illustration of Flight 826 Navigation to Preston Intersection (Federal Aviation Administration)

At 10:33:26 a.m., LaGuardia Approach called Flight 266, “Roger, that appears to be jet traffic off your right now 3 o’clock at one mile, northeast bound.” This transmission was not acknowledged.

At 10:33:28 a.m., Flight 826 “checked in” with Idlewild Approach Control, reporting, “Idlewild Approach Control, United 826, approaching PRESTON at 5,000.” Approach control acknowledged the report and informed the airliner that it could expect, “little or no delay at Preston.” Approach then relayed the current weather at the airfield, which was “600 scattered, 1,500 overcast, visibility one-half mile, light rain and fog.” This transmission was not acknowledged.

The crew of United Flight 826 had made a navigational error. At the time they reported that they were “approaching PRESTON,” the DC-8 had already flown approximately 11 miles (18 kilometers) beyond the clearance limit. Without having received clearance to proceed further, Flight 826 should have entered a holding pattern to the southwest of the intersection.

Air traffic controllers at LaGuardia Approach Control saw two radar targets merge. One then continued to the northwest, while the second remained stationary, then made a slow right turn before disappearing from the radar scope.

At the point of collision, the Super Constellation was in a slight left bank. The DC-8 was flying straight and level at 301 miles per hour. It struck the L-1049A from the right rear quarter, its number 4 engine penetrating the Constellation’s passenger cabin, and severing the Constellation’s right wing between the number 3 and number 4 engines. The Lockheed’s fuselage broke into three sections and caught fire. The DC-8 was heavily damaged in the collision, the outboard section of the right wing and the number 4 engine found among the Constellation’s wreckage at Miller Field. The jetliner continued for approximately 9 miles before crashing into a residential area of Brooklyn.

Scene of the DC-8 crash, Brooklyn, New York, 16 December 1960. (New York City Fire Department)

Trans World Airlines Flight 266 was a Lockheed L-1049-54 Super Constellation, serial number 1049-4021, registered N6907C. It had been delivered to TWA eight years earlier, 16 October 1952. At the time of the collision, the airliner had flown a total of 21,555 hours (TTAF). It was 3,905 hours since the last major overhaul (SMOH).

United Air Lines Flight 826 was a Douglas DC-8-11, serial number 45920, registered N8013U. It was delivered to United 22 December 1959. The airliner had flown 2,434 hours TTAF, and 42 hours since overhaul.

The DC-8 carried a Waste King Flight Recorder, from which significant data was recovered by crash investigators.

Wreckage of TWA Flight 266 at Miller Field. (New York Daily News)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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