Tag Archives: Los Angeles International Airport

14 August 1968

Sikorsky S-61L N300Y, Los Angeles Airways, at Disneyland Heliport, Anaheim, California. (Robert Boser)
Sikorsky S-61L N300Y, Los Angeles Airways, at Disneyland Heliport, Anaheim, California. (Robert Boser)

14 August 1968: At 10:28:15 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Los Angeles Airways Flight 417, a Sikorsky S-61L helicopter, departed Los Angles International Airport (LAX) on a regularly-scheduled passenger flight to Disneyland, Anaheim, California. On board were a crew of three and eighteen passengers. The aircraft commander, Captain Kenneth L. Waggoner, held an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and was type-rated in the Sikorsky S-55, S-58 and S-61L. He had a total of 5,877:23 flight hours, with 4,300:27 hours in the S-61L. Co-pilot F. Charles Fracker, Jr. had 1,661:18 flight hours, of which 634:18 were in the S-61L. Flight Attendant James A. Black had been employed with LAA for nearly ten years.

At approximately 10:35 a.m., while flying at an estimated altitude of 1,200–1,500 feet (370–460 meters) above the ground, one of the helicopter’s five main rotor blades separated from the aircraft which immediately went out of control, started to break up, and crashed in a recreational park in Compton. All twenty-one persons on board, including the 13-year-old grandson of the airlines’ founder and CEO, were killed.

The Sikorsky S-61 was registered N300Y.  It had been the prototype S-61L, serial number 61031. Los Angeles Airways was the first civil operator of the S-61, purchasing them at a cost of $650,000 each. As of the morning of 14 August 1968, 61031 had accumulated a total of 11,863.64 hours flight time on the airframe (TTAF). It flew an estimated 3.17 hours on the morning of the accident.

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 S-61L was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-1 turboshaft engines, each of which was rated for 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and maximum power of 1,500 shaft horsepower 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). 61031 had a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 19,000 pounds (8,618.3 kilograms).

Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61 series helicopters. 13 were S-61Ls.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that most of the helicopter was contained with a small area of Leuders Park. One main rotor blade, however, was located approximately 0.25 miles (0.40 kilometers) west of the main wreckage. This blade is referred to as the “yellow” blade. (The main rotor blades marked with colored paint for simplicity, red, black, white, yellow, and blue.) Analysis found that this blade’s spindle, where it attached to the main rotor hub assembly, had failed due to a fatigue fracture. It was believed that the fracture began in an area of substandard hardness which was present in the original ingot from which the part was forged, and that inadequate shot-peening of the part during the overhaul process further weakened the spindle.

Diagram of fractured main rotor spindle. (NTSB)
Diagram of fractured main rotor spindle. (NTSB)

Los Angeles Airways had experienced a similar accident only three months earlier which had resulted in the deaths of all 23 persons on board. (Flight 841, 22 May 1968). L.A. Airways never recovered and ceased all operations by 1971.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 January 1959

Boeing 707-123 N7501A, American Airlines Astrojet, Flagship Michigan, at Seattle. This airplane is the same type as Flagship California. (Boeing)
Boeing 707-123 N7501A, American Airlines Astrojet, Flagship Michigan, at Seattle. This airplane is the same type as Flagship California. (Boeing)

25 January 1959: “The Jet Age” opened when American Airlines began the first scheduled transcontinental passenger service with its new Boeing 707-123 Astrojet. Captain Charles Macatee flew Flagship California, N7503A, from Los Angeles International Airport to Idlewild in 4 hours and 3 minutes. Other members of the inaugural flight crew were Captain Lou Szabo, Flight Engineer Bill Duncan, Flight Engineer Norman Rice, Stewardess Claire Bullock, Stewardess Edna Garrett, Stewardess Argie Hoskins and Stewardess Marilyn Rutkowski. Cyrus Rowlett Smith, president of the airline, was also aboard as a passenger.

The flight departed LAX via Runway 25 at 8:45 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. Ceremonies at the airport, with as many as 25,000 spectators, delayed the flight by twenty minutes, but a 150 knot (278 kilometers per hour) tailwind allowed the flight to make up for the lost time and they arrived at Idlewild Airport (IDL) on schedule.

Prior to the first passenger flight, Captain Macatee and Captain H.C. Smith had flown the Boeing 707 for 200 hours. In an interview thirty years later, Macatee remarked, “But those four hours three minutes were the big ones for me. They always will be.”

 American Airlines' inaugural flight crew with Boeing 707 Flagship California, at LAX, 25 January 1959. Left to right: Flight Engineer Norman Rice, Stewardess Marilyn Rutkowski, Stewardess Edna Garrett, Captain Charles Macatee, Stewardess Argie Hoskins, Captain Lou Szabo, Stewardess Claire Bullock, Flight Engineer Bill Duncan. (American Airlines photograph via Miss Argie Hoskins' AMERICAN AIRLINES 707 JET STEWARDESS)
American Airlines’ inaugural flight crew with Boeing 707 Flagship California, at LAX, 25 January 1959. Left to right: Flight Engineer Norman Rice, Stewardess Marilyn Rutkowski, Stewardess Edna Garrett, Captain Charles Macatee, Stewardess Argie Hoskins, Captain Lou Szabo, Stewardess Claire Bullock, Flight Engineer Bill Duncan. (American Airlines photograph via Miss Argie Hoskins’ AMERICAN AIRLINES 707 JET STEWARDESS)

The Boeing 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty.” It is a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings are swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer. The airliner could carry a maximum of 189 passengers.

The 707-123 was 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stood 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms).

The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49,820 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) of runway to take off.

The 707-121 had a maximum speed of 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It’s range was 2,800 nautical miles (5,186 kilometers).

The Boeing 707 was in production from 1958 to 1979. 1,010 were built. Production of 707 airframes continued at Renton until the final one was completed in April 1991.

In 1961, N7503A was upgraded to the 707-123B standard. This included a change from the turbojet engines to quieter, more powerful and efficient Pratt & Whitney JT3D-1. The JT3D-1 was a dual spool axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The 707-123B wings were modified to incorporate changes introduced with the Boeing 720, and a longer tailplane installed.

N7503A was substantially damaged at Mineral Wells, Texas, 9 May 1965. It had flown through a violent thunderstorm and suffered hail damage. The crew made a precautionary landing, however the windshield had been crazed so badly by the impact of hail that it was opaque. The 707 made a hard landing and its gear collapsed. There were no injuries among the 89 passengers and 7 crewmembers. It was repaired and returned to service. After 28 years, American Airlines’ inaugural Astro Jet was scrapped.

An American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123B, N7523A, in the original Astrojet livery, at LAX, 26 December 1962. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)
An American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123B, N7523A, in the original Astrojet livery, at LAX, 26 December 1962. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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