Tag Archives: Mackay Trophy

John Arthur Macready (14 October 1887–15 September 1979) [TDiA No. 1,500]

Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)

John Arthur Macready was born at San Diego, California, 14 October, 1887.¹ He was the second of three sons of Benjamin Macready, a miner, and Mattie Delahunt Beck Macready.

John A. Macready, 1912. (The Quad)

John Macready graduated from Los Angeles High School at Los Angles California, then attended Leland Stanford, Jr., University, near San Francisco, California. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree (A.B.) in economics in 1913.

Following graduation, and while visiting his family, then living near Searchlight, Nevada—where his father had founded the Quartette Mine and Mill, a $7,000,000 ² per year operation—Macready was elected justice of the peace.

The United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917. John Macready enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry, but,

“. . . while on a train, en route to Reno to get his final papers, he picked up the Magazine Section of the The Times and read a story about Rockwell Field.

     “Being a native of San Diego—he first saw the light there forty-three years ago—he was particularly interested and made up his mind to learn to fly one of those things everyone was talking about.

     “His education, grammar school and high school graduation here—the latter from Los Angeles High School on top of Bunker Hill—and four years at Stanford as a student of economics, came in handy and he was able to switch his enlistment to the United States Army Air Corps [sic] as a private.”

Los Angeles Times, Vol. XLIX, Sunday, 2 November 1930, Part VI, Page 4 Column 2

On 16 July 1917, Macready was assigned to the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, as a Private 1st Class. His draft registration card descibed him as medium height and build, with brown hair and blue eyes. On 27 December 1917, Macready was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. Macready was assigned as a flight instructor at Brooks Field, Texas, where he wrote the standard instructional text, The “All Thru” System of Flying Instruction as Taught at Brooks Field.

On 11 October 1918, Lieutenant Macready was promoted to the rank of captain, Air Service, U.S. Army. After World War I, he became an engineering test pilot at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio. His reserve commission was vacated 18 September 1920, and he was commissioned a first lieutenant, Air Service, 18 September 1920.

Lieutenant John A. Macready demonstrates the aerial application of chemical pesticides over a tree farm near Troy, Ohio, 3 August 1921. The airplane is a Curtiss JN-6. (Photographed by Captain Albert W. Stevens)

On 3 August 1921, near Troy, Ohio, Lieutenant Macready flew a Curtiss JN-6 to perform the first aerial application (“crop dusting”) of pesticides by airplane. Macready flew at an altitude of 20-35 feet (6–11 meters), upwind of a grove of tall catalpa trees. Released 53 yards (48 meters) from the edge of the grove, an 8–11 mile per hour (3.5–5 meters/second) wind carried the arsenate of lead powder and every leaf in the grove was covered.

Lieutenant John A Macready flew this Packard Lepère L USA C. II to an altitude record of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters), 28 September 1921. (U.S. Air Force)

On 28 September 1921, Lieutenant Macready flew a turbo-supercharged Packard Lepère L USA C. II biplane, serial number S.C. 40015, to a world record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). He won his first of three Mackay Trophies for this flight.

Macready and Oakley planned to fly a Fokker T-2 across the North American continent, non-stop, from San Diego, California, to New York. The starting point at Rockwell Field was chosen to take advantage of favorable westerly winds, and to use the higher-octane gasoline which was available in California.

Fokker T-2 A.S. 64223 in flight over Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. (This is now NAS North Island.) (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

When they encountered fog in the mountains east of San Diego, the two fliers were forced to turn back. They remained airborne over San Diego to measure the airplane’s performance and fuel consumption for another attempt. They remained airborne for 35 hours, 18 minutes. They were awarded the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year. This was Macready’s second Mackay. He and Kelly would win it again the following year.

Lieutenants John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly with their Fokker T-2. (NASM)

Over 2–3 May 1923, Macready and Kelly flew the T-2 on the first non-stop transcontinental flight. The two aviators took off from Roosevelt-Hazelhurst Field, Long Island, New York, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time and landed at Rockwell Field (now, NAS North Island), San Diego, California, the next day at 12:26 p.m., Pacific Time. They had flown 2,470 miles (3,975 kilometers) in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.8 seconds, for an average speed of 92 miles per hour (148 kilometers per hour). Macready won his third Mackay Trophy for this flight. He is the only person to have won the award three times.

Lieutenant and Mrs John A. Macready (Los Angeles Daily Times)

In the late afternoon of 9 May 1923, Lieutenant Macready married Miss Nelliejay Turner of Columbus, Ohio, at the Los Angeles, California, home of Macready’s parents. The ceremony was conducted by Rev. Charles Thompson of Springfield, Ohio. Lieutenant Oakley Kelly was best man. Miss Turner, then a student at Ohio State University (Kappa Alpha Theta sorority), had been introduced to Lieutenant Macready at the family home the previous year. They would have two daughters, Jo-Ann and Sally Jean Macready.

In 1923, Macready graduated from the Aeronautical Engineer Course, Air Service Engineering School.

On 13 June 1924, Macready was the first pilot to parachute from an airplane at night, when on a flight between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, the engine of his airplane failed. The Los Angeles Times quoted an Air Service report:

“There being no moonlight, he guided his plane toward an area showing the fewest number of lights. The two flares he released failed to ignite, and he decided to trust to his parachute. Shortly after he launched himself into space his plane crashed and burst into flames. Capt. Macready’s parachute caught in the branches of a tree and he was hanging by the shroud lines over a ravine some ninety feet deep. His shouts brought several persons to his assistance and he was pulled up to safety by means of the parachute cords.”

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LIV, 2 June 1935 “Times Sunday Magazine,” Page 15, Column 3

Mrs. Macready with her husband, Lieutenant John Arthur Macready, shortly before his altitude record flight, 29 January 1926. (George Rinhart via Daedalians)

On 29 January 1926, Macready took off from McCook Field in an experimental airplane, the Engineering Division XCO-5. Macready was attempting to exceed the existing Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world altitude record of 12,066 meters (39,587 feet), which had been set by Jean Callizo at Villacoublay, France, 21 October 1924.

When the sealed barograph was sent to the Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., for calibration, it indicated a peak altitude of 38,704 feet (11,797 meters). This was 269 meters (883 feet) lower than the existing world record, but it did establish a new United States national altitude record.

Lieutenant John A. Macready, USAAS, stands in front of the Engineering Division-built XCO-5. (U.S. Air Force)

For six years John Macready was responsible for testing turbosuperchargers, which enabled aircraft engines to produce continuous power at increasing altitudes. It was while testing these that he established his altitude record.

John Macready resigned from Air Corps in 1926. He worked as an engineer for Frigidaire until 1929, then became head of Shell oil’s aviation division based in San Francisco, California. He flew a Lockheed Vega. He bought a horse ranch in Mariposa County.

Macready crash (Sid Bradd Collection/airrace.com

On 30 August 1930, Macready crashed in a Menasco-engined Keith Rider B-1, NR10216,  while practicing for the Thompson Trophy pylon race the National Air Races at Curtiss-Wright Airport in Chicago, Illinois.. A wing strut failed at approximately 162 miles per hour/261 kilometers per hour). Initial news reports were that he had been killed. He suffered a broken nose, fractured shoulder and bruises.

“A wing strut folded as Macready turned the course in the first lap of the free-for-all speed event, according to witnesses. The ship spiraled about drunkenly for an instant, but by skillful maneuvering the former army flier brought it to earth right side up. The plane struck with terrific force, bounded high into the air and was demolished on the rebound.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Vol. XC. No. 144, Sunday, 31 August 1930, Page 1, Column 5

In September 1931, Macready was commissioned as a major in the Air Corps Reserve. He was assigned to the 316th Observation Squadron at Crissy Field, Presidio of San Francisco, California.

The New York Times reported that John Macready collaborated with the Bausch & Lomb optical company to to develop the iconic Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, which debuted in 1938 and remain in production today.

Ray-Ban Aviator Classic sunglasses. (Ray-Ban)

On June 19 1934, Macready involved in a fatal traffic accident when a motocyclist collided with his car on a blind turn near Yosemite. Macready was not injured.

Colonel John A. Macready, 1940. (Los Angeles Times)

Major Macready was recalled to active duty with the Air Corps on 10 October 1939 and assigned to duty at Hamilton Field, California. He later commanded 9th Air Base Group, and on 1 December 1941, took command of the Air Corps basic flying school at Moffett Field, California. The school operated the Vultee BT-13 trainer and taught formation flying, navigation and cross-country flying.

During World War II, Colonel Macready served as inspector general of Twelfth Air Force during Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa. He also commanded the Mediterranean Air Transport Service. Following the war, Macready commanded Merced Army Airfield in California, and in 1946, was acting commanding office of  Walla Walla Army Airfield in Washington state. Colonel Macready was transferred to the Air Force retired list in 1948.

In October 1954, an authorized controlled burn on Macready’s thoroughbred horse ranch spread into the surrounding Sierra National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service sued Macready for the cost of fighting the 1,830-acre fire, estimated at $72,662. An Act of Congress attempted to prevent this action, but after many delays, the case went to trial in June 1964. The two-day trial resulted in a “hung jury” and the judge declared a mistrial. A new trial date was set.

On Nov 8, 1958, John A. Macready was awarded the Croix de Guerre by President Andre Pleven of France for his service in North Africa during World War II.

John Arthur Macready died in Mariposa County, California, 15 September 1979, at the age of 90 years.

“Honor is its own reward. There is plenty of glory in connection with flights of this nature, and considerable satisfaction in doing one’s duty as a soldier and accomplishing a feat considered by many to be impossible.”

—John A. Macready, Aviator

¹ Some sources state 1888.

² Equivalent to $177,550,404.04 in 2018

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 October 1925

Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis and his Curtiss R3C-1 cross the finish line at the 1925 Pulitzer Trophy Race. (NASM)
The Pulitzer Trophy

12 October 1925: At Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, Air Service, United States Army, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 kilometers (62.14 miles), flying a Curtiss R3C-1 racing plane, #43. His average speed was 401.28 kilometers per hour (249.34 miles per hour).¹ Lieutenant Bettis was awarded the Pulitzer Trophy.

Bettis also won the Mackay Trophy for 1925.

Cyrus Bettis had previously won the 1924 Mitchell Trophy Race, sponsored by Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in honor of his brother, John L. Mitchell, who was killed during World War I.

Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-1 racer at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, 12 October 1925. The surface radiators on the wings can be seen. (Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.)
Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-1 racer at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, 12 October 1925. The surface radiators on the wings can be seen. (Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.)

The Curtiss R3C-1 was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay  biplane built for especially for air racing.  Two were built for the United States Navy and one for the Army. (The Army aircraft is identified by a Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) A-7054. It does not seem to have been assigned an Air Service serial number.) The airplane and its V-1400 engine were built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, which had been founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. It was converted to a seaplane configuration with two single-step pontoons, the R3C-2, for the Schneider Trophy Race, two weeks later, 25 October.

The R3C is 19 feet, 8½ inches (6.007 meters) long. The upper wing span is 22 feet (6.706 meters), with a chord of 4 feet, 8¼ inches (1.429 meters). The lower wing span is 20 feet (6.096 meters) with a chord of 3 feet, 3¾ inches (1.010 meters). The R3C-1 had an empty of 2,135 pounds (968 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 2,738 pounds (1,242 kilograms).

Curtiss R3C-1 (FAI)
Lieutenant Bettis’ record-setting Curtiss R3C-1 biplane. (FAI)

Constructed of wood, the fuselage had four ash longerons and seven birch vertical bulkheads. The framework was covered with two layers of 2-inch (51 millimeter) wide, 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeter) thick spruce strips. These were placed on a 45° diagonal from the fuselage horizontal centerline, with the second layer at 90° to the first. These veneer strips were glued and tacked to the frame. The fuselage was then covered with doped fabric. The wings and tail surfaces were also of wood, with spruce ribs and a covering of spruce strips.

The single-bay wings were wire braced and contained surface radiators made of thin brass sheeting. The radiators contained 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of water, circulating at a rate of 75 gallons (283.9 liters) per minute. By using surface radiators to cool the engine, aerodynamic drag was reduced.

The Curtiss V-1400 engine was developed from the earlier Curtiss D-12. It was a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,399.91-cubic-inch-displacement (22.940 liter), dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12, with a compression ratio of 5.5:1. The V-1400 was rated at 510 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and could produce 619 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. It was a direct-drive engine and turned a two-bladed duralumin fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters). The propeller was designed by Sylvanus Albert Reed, Ph.D. The V-1400 engine weighed 660 pounds (299 kilograms).

The R3C-1 had a fuel capacity of 27 gallons (102 liters). Its range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

After the Pullitzer race, the R3C-1 was reconfigured as a seaplane for the Schneider Trophy Race. The fixed landing gear was replaced by two single-step pontoons and the airplane was redesignated R3C-2. Additional fuel was carried in the pontoons. On 26 October 1925, 1st Lieutenant James H. Doolittle flew the airplane to win the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider at Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

The R3C-2 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lt. James H. Doolittle and Lt. Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C-2 (NARA 31758AC)
Lt. James H. Doolittle (left) and Lt. Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C-2 (NARA 31758AC)

Cyrus Bettis was born 2 January 1893, at Carsonville, Michigan, the first of three children of John Bettis, a farm worker, and Mattie McCrory Bettis.

Bettis enlisted as a private, first class, in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps, at Detroit, Michigan, 23 January 1918. The Bell Telephone News reported:

     Cyrus Bettis has gone to Detroit and enlisted in the Aviation Corps of Uncle Sam’s service.

     He expects to be called to service at any time and will probably go East for training. Cyrus has been the efficient and genial manager of the Michigan State Telephone exchange in Fenton for several years. He has made an excellent manager and entrenched himself in the good graces of his patrons and Fenton People in General. —Fenton Independent.

Bell Telephone News, Volume 7, Number 6, January 1918, at Page 4, Column 1

On 11 September 1918, Cyrus Bettis was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army. This commission was vacated 16 September 1920 and he was appointed a second lieutenant, Air Service, with date of rank to 1 July 1920. On 21 March 1921, Bettis was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

On 23 August 1926, flying from Philadelphia to Selfridge Field in Michigan, Bettis flew into terrain in fog in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania. With a fractured skull and broken left leg, Bettis crawled several miles to a roadway where he was found, 43 hours after the crash.

Bettis was taken by air ambulance to Walter Reed Army Hospital, but died of spinal meningitis resulting from his injuries, 1 September. He was buried at the Lakeside Cemetery, Port Huron, Michigan.

1st Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, Air Service, United States Army. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9684

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 October 1912

Arnold and Milling at College Park, Maryland, 1912. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenants Arnold and Milling at College Park, Maryland, 1912. (U.S. Air Force)

9 October 1912: In October, Lieutenants Henry H. Arnold and Thomas DeWitt Milling, both assigned to the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, United States Army, were ordered to enter the competition for the first Mackay Trophy for “the most outstanding military flight of the year.” Milling withdrew because of illness shortly after the competition started.

Clarence Hungerford Mackay. (Brittanica)
Clarence Hungerford Mackay

“Hap” Arnold won when he flew a 40-horsepower Wright Model B biplane over a triangular course from College Park to Washington Barracks at Washington D.C., on to Fort Myers, Virginia, and back to College Park.

The Mackay Trophy was established on 27 January 1911 by Clarence Hungerford Mackay, who was then head of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company and the Commercial Cable Company. Originally, aviators could compete for the trophy annually under rules made each year, or the War Department could award the trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year.

“The silver Art Noveau trophy, crafted by Tiffany and Company, features four depictions of Nike, the winged Greek goddess of victory, holding the Wright Military Flyer. The achievements inscribed on the mahogany base symbolize the growth of American military aviation from its beginnings to the present day.” —from NASM description

The Mackay Trophy (NASM)

The Model B was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,325 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8½ foot (2.591 meters) diameter, two-bladed, counter-rotating propellers, driven by a chain drive, are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. They turned 445 r.p.m.

The Wright Model B had a maximum speed of approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) and its range was 110 miles (177 kilometers).

Approximately 100 Model B aeroplanes were built by the Wrights and under license by Burgess from 1910 to 1914. Three are known to exist.

Arnold won the Mackay Trophy again in 1934 when he commanded a flight of ten Martin B-10 bombers from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back.

Lieutenant Arnold went on to have a successful career in military aviation.

General of the Army Henry Harley Arnold, United States Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 October 1980: This Day in U.S. Coast Guard Aviation History

MIRACLE RESCUE: Cruise Liner PRINSENDAM—04 October 1980

by Captain Sean M. Cross, United States Coast Guard (Retired)

On this day in 1980, the United States Coast Guard led one of the nation’s largest search and rescue cases when the 519 passengers and crew of the Dutch cruise liner PRINSENDAM were forced to abandon ship more than 130 miles (209 kilometers) off the coast of Alaska after an engine room fire spread throughout the vessel. Over the course of 24 hours, rescue aircraft deployed from Coast Guard Air Stations Sitka and Kodiak, AK. would work side-by-side with the U.S. Air Force, Royal Canadian Armed Forces as well as U.S. Coast Guard Cutters BOUTWELL, WOODRUSH, MELLON and an AMVER-tasked (Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System) tanker WILLIAMSBURG to rescue all hands from 12 to 15 foot (18–24 meters) seas and 25 to 30 knot (13–15 meters per second) winds generated by a nearby Arctic typhoon.

Holland America Line’s MS Prinsendam. (Cruise Critic)

The PRINSENDAM was a 427-foot (130 meters) long cruise liner built in 1973. The liner was transiting through the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight October 4, 1980, when fire broke out in the engine room. With conditions too dangerous for the deployment of small boats from the ships, most survivors were hoisted and ferried to surface ships while some were ferried to shore during helicopter refuel transits. The helicopters would then refuel and head back out to the scene for their next load of passengers. Still others were forced to climb aboard the tanker and cutters with the help of two Air Force pararescuemen while hypothermic.

The rescue of the PRINSENDAM was particularly significant because of the distance traveled by the rescuers, the coordination of independent organizations and the fact that all 519 passengers and crew were rescued under challenging environmental conditions without loss of life or serious injury.

USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719) in the Bering Sea. (Pinterest)

The following aircraft participated:

A USCG Lockheed HC-130H Hercules. (U.S. Coast Guard)

• Two Coast Guard HH-3F helicopters and two HC-130H aircraft from Air Station Kodiak. Distance 385 nautical miles (443 statute miles/713 kilometers) from PRINSENDAM.

• Alaskan Air Command Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage and 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron: one HH-3E helicopter and one HC-130H Hercules. Distance: over 370 nautical miles (426 statute miles/595 kilometers).

A U.S. Air Force Lockheed HC-130H Combat King trails drogues to refuel two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolley Green Giant helicopters. (http://jollygg.blogspot.com/2018/11/)

• Two Coast Guard HH-3F helicopters from Air Station Sitka. Distance: 170 nautical miles (196 statute miles/315 kilometers).

A flight of two U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopters from Air Station Astoria, Oregon. (United States Coast Guard)

• Canadian Forces from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia: Two CH-113 Labradors (CH-46) helicopters, two CC-115 Buffalo aircraft and one CP-107 Argus (from 407 Maritime Patrol Squadron). Distance: over 600 nautical miles (690 statute miles/1,111 kilometers).

U.S. Coast Guard rescue coordination centers began receiving Morse code SOS distress signals from the PRINSENDAM reporting a fire onboard a few minutes prior to 1 a.m. Saturday morning October 4, 1980. A few hours later, at 05:08 a.m., with fire visible on deck, 329 passengers were directed to take to lifeboats about 120 miles offshore in the frigid Gulf of Alaska.

The on-scene operation required unrehearsed teamwork by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force and two Canadian units flying in close proximity. Overhead, the five long-range reconnaissance aircraft including the U.S. HC-130Hs and the Canadian CP-107 Argus aircraft staged and coordinated helicopter assets while acting as long range communication platforms. Behind the scenes, CC-115 Buffalos from the 442 Squadron operated a shuttle service between shore bases and staging areas, carrying medics, firefighters, supplies, fresh helicopter crews and rescued passengers.

The first 12 to 24 hours of a distress incident offers the best chance of successful rescue and recovery of survivors. After 48 hours chances of a successful rescue and recovery decrease rapidly. The remote and isolated location of the burning PRINSENDAM (and its lifeboats and life rafts) was barely within the timely response capability of the personnel and equipment available. The risks included—but were not limited to—climatic, season, weather, distance from shore and logistics of getting rescue teams and resources to the burning PRINSENDAM’s location. The survivability hazards to both survivors and rescuers included—but were not limited to—remoteness and isolation of the PRINSENDAM’s location from help, water temperature, worsening weather and sea conditions combined with duration the survivors would be vulnerably exposed to the furry of sea and weather. The remnants of Typhoon Thelma heading directly towards the incident area would result in the operational environment becoming more perilous during the on-going rescue operations.

“A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopter hovers near the stern of the Holland-America liner MS Prinsendam (ca. 520 passengers and crew) in the Gulf of Alaska.” (SSGT Richard D. McKee, U.S. Air Force/U.S. Department of Defense VIRIN DF-SN-86-12843)

Commander Bruce Melnick, USCG (Retired), who was also designated Coast Guard Astronaut Number 1 in 1992, participated in the rescue as an HH-3F pilot and made the following comments in a 26 October 2016 interview:

Bruce Melnick

“I was on the Prinsendam mission, where there was a Dutch ship from Holland, America cruise lines called the Prinsendam, where I was the SDO that night and we got a call, and the radioman thought the name of the boat was the “Prince and Don” and I said, “Wow. That’s …” and he said, “It’s on fire and it’s out here somewhere.” So, I ran over to the radio room and then I was aware of the cruise ship Prinsendam, how it used to come into the port of Sitka, and so I said … I can’t remember the name of the radioman’s name. I’m sorry. I said but, “That’s the Prinsendam. That’s the big cruise ship and they’re on fire.” So, we talked to RCC and Juno and we launched out, flew out there. They were probably 180 miles away and when we got out there they were listing seriously to starboard and they thought they had the fire out, and then all of a sudden the fire erupted again and the captain of the ship ordered them to abandon ship. When they started to abandon ship, they had all kinds of problems and it was dark at night, and it wasn’t real bad weather yet. There was like a 10-foot swell, but it wasn’t real bad yet. So, we used the night sun ¹ on the H-3 to illuminate the people abandoning ship and we were there until just about everybody got off the ship, and then we were low fuel. By this time, the rest of the resources were being called in.

“The Canadian Forces, the Kodiak Coast Guard, the Elmendorf Air Force Base. I mean we had alerted everybody, and we flew into Yakutat for fuel. We got into Yakutat, we refueled and came back out and by that time, there was a C-130 on scene, some other forces were on scene and the winds had started to pick up real bad. About the time we got on scene, the rest of the helicopters had to go back in for refuel. Now the seas are you know, 15 feet, wind blowing and we looked down and we called back to the on scene commander and said, “We think we need to start hoisting these people,” because the tanker Williamsburg, great big, super tanker was out there and they were trying to get these people over to the side of the ship, the big tanker and climb up the Jacob’s ladders to get up onto the deck of the ship and the average age of these people was 70 years old. So we said, “We think we need to hoist these people,” and I’m not going to mention any names, but he was a senior officer from our air station said, “Whatever you do, don’t hoist those people.” Joel Thuma was the aircraft commander with me, and he was in the left seat at this time, because we had swapped seats, and he says, “Oh …you’re breaking up. I think we’re going to go ahead. I got you, we’re going to start hoisting.” So, we ended up starting the hoisting routine and everybody at the PJ started jumping in. Make a long story short, by the time my day was ended, I’d picked up 115 of the survivors, made multiple trips back and forth to the Williamsburg. At one point they had 24 survivors on the helicopter at one time, and then we took a load back to the Yakutat and anyway, we ended up picking up … we had 519 saves that day. I picked up 115 of them. Great mission and I can talk about that at a great length.”

A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican flies over the burning passenger liner MS Prinsendam, 4October 1980. (United States Coast Guard)

Aircrew rescue efforts continued around the clock for 24 hours. Despite the hardships and hazards of abandoning ship in the Gulf of Alaska about 120 miles offshore, all crew and passengers of the M.S. PRINSENDAM—329 passengers, 164 Indonesian crew members and 26 Dutch officers—were successfully rescued. With the exception of the U.S. Air Force HH-3E, which included an in-flight refueling probe, fuel endurance was a major factor, the other helicopters hoisted up as many people as they could from the lifeboats and dropped them on U.S. Coast Guard and AMVER surface vessels until they reached their fuel limits and returned to Yakutat, the closest point of land 130 miles away. This event led to the U.S. Coast Guard developing Helicopter In-Flight Refueling (HIFR) from surface vessels and implementing a Rescue Swimmer program. Interestingly, the next morning (05 October), BOUTWELL spotted a flare from a lifeboat containing the final 20 passengers and two Air Force technicians, completing the rescue of all 519 crewmembers and passengers. In 2007, after reaching the remarkable milestone of more than one million lives saved since 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard published a synopsis of the Top 10 rescues in the history of the Service – the PRINSENDAM rescue came in at number 2 behind the 2005 Hurricane KATRINA response. The combination of hardship, hazard, no loss of life, no significant injury has resulted in this incident being considered the greatest air-sea rescue operation in maritime history.

A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican transfers M/S Prinsendam passengers to the AMVER-tasked 1,094-foot super tanker T/T Williamsburgh. A life boat is just astern the tanker. (Documentary Archives Radio Communications)

Helicopter Aircrews:

HH-3E (AF Rescue 802) crew was Captain John J. Walters-Aircraft Commander; Captain William T. Gillen-Copilot; Staff Sergeant Michael J. Engels-Flight Engineer; Staff Sergeant John F. Cassidy-Pararescue Team Leader; and, Sergeant Jose M. Rios-Pararescue Specialist.

The Lifesavers: Crewmen of Air Station Sitka were the first on scene when PRINSENDAM sent out a distress call. Air Station Sitka flight crews: (back row, left to right) LCDR Ron Simond, CDR Chuck Peterson (commanding officer), LTJG Tom Vasilou, CDR Tom Morgan (executive officer), LCDR Ray Hiner, LCDR Joel Thuma, AT3 Richard McManigal, AE2 Andrew Falenski, LCDR Robert Knapp, AD3 Carl Saylor, ASM3 Richard Driscoll, and AT 2 Dave Cook. Front row: AE3 Ron Dupont, LT Dave Barnes, LT Bruce Melnick, AD3 Mike Oliverson, AM3 Sam Overman, AT1 Larry Weygandt, AD2 Tim Burkholder. Photo by AD1 Barfield.

The Mackay Trophy (NASM)

Captain John J. Walters, U.S. Air Force, of the 71st ARRS, was awarded the Mackay Trophy “For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as HH-3 Helicopter Commander in the rescue of 61, in adverse conditions, from the burning cruise ship Prinsendam.”

Captain Walters and Pararescue Specialists SSGT John Cassidy and SGT Jose Rios were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Also receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross were CDR Thomas Morgan, USCG; LCDR Raymond Hiner, USCG; LCDR Robert Knapp, USCG; LCDR Joel Thuma, USCG;  LT Bruce Melnick, USCG; AT2 David Cook, USCG; AD3 Mike Olverson, USCG; AM3 Samuel Overman, USCG; and AD3 Carl Saylor, USCG. LTJG Tom Vasilou, USCG, and Radio Operators AE2 Andrew Falenski and AD3 Richard McManigal were awarded the Air Medal.

Lieutenant Colonel Clifford B. Fletcher, Royal Canadian Air Force, received the Order of Military Merit.

Aircraft

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-3F Pelican

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, circa 1977. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom (the HH-3F does not have this capability).

HH-3E three-view illustration (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Three-view illustration of the Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican, with dimensions. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all 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 main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

The very similar HH-3F Pelican is equipped with radar, an Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) and a navigation computer, which allowed the helicopter to fly coupled search patterns.

The HH-3F served the Coast Guard from 1969 to 1994, when it was replaced by the Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk. According to the Sikorsky Historical Archives, during its 25 years of service, the HH-3F saved 23,169 lives, and assisted 65,377 others.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es and 40 HH-3Fs. As many as 50 CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. 5 USAF HH-3Es were converted to HH-3Fs for the Coast Guard. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican 1497. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador

A Canadian Forces Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador. (Alain Rioux/Wikipedia)
CH-113 hovers over two lifeboats.

This aircraft is a twin-engine, tandem-rotor search and rescue (SAR) helicopter used by the Canadian Forces from 1963 until 2004. It was a variant of the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight designed and built in the United States. A search and rescue version was purchased by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1960s and became known as the Labrador. Soon after, the Canadian Army acquired a troop and cargo version known as the Voyageur. In the mid-1970s, these army machines were replaced by CH-147 Chinook heavy lift and transport helicopters and the Voyageurs were transferred to the air force when Air Command was formed in 1975. They joined the Labradors on search and rescue duties and all were modified to a common search and rescue standard.

Technical Information:

Rotor diameter 15.2 m (50 ft)
Length (rotors turning) 25.4 m (83 ft 4 in)
Height 5.1 m (16 ft 8 in)
Weight, Empty 5,104 kg (11,251 lb)
Weight, Gross 9,706 kg (21,400 lb)
Cruising Speed 253 km/h (157 mph)
Max Speed 270 km/h (168 mph)
Rate of Climb 465 m (1,525 ft) /min
Service Ceiling 4,265 m (14,000 ft)
Range 1,100 km (684 mi)
Power Plant Two T-58-GE-8F, 1,500 shaft hp turbines

De Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo

De Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo (John Davies/Wikipedia)

The CC-115 Buffalo plays a critical role in supporting life-saving search and rescue missions. Its agility and all-weather capabilities are well suited for the rough and mountainous terrain on Canada’s West Coast and in northern operations.

The Buffalo is a utility transport aircraft that can take off and land on the most rugged strips as short as a soccer field. It serves a vast territory from the British Columbia / Washington border to the Arctic and from the Rocky Mountains to 1,200 kilometers out over the Pacific Ocean.

Length 24 m
Wingspan 29.25 m
Height 8.53 m
Empty weight 12,474 kg
Maximum gross weight 19,560 kg
Maximum speed 420 km/h
Range 2,240 km
Locations Comox, B.C.
This aircraft is used for Search and rescue

Canadair CP-107 Argus

Canadair CP-107 Argus  (Pinterest)

The Canadian-built Canadair Argus was a unique hybrid that married the wings, tail surfaces and undercarriage of the British-designed Britannia transport to a completely new Canadian-designed, non-pressurized fuselage that was equipped with different American-designed engines. One of the most effective anti-submarine warfare aircraft of its day, the Argus was a mainstay for the RCAF in the maritime role. The principal difference between the Mark I and Mark II was in the different internal navigation, communication and tactical electronic equipment. Externally, the Mk II exhibited a redesigned smaller nose radome and additional ECM (electronic counter measures) antennae above the fuselage. The Argus replaced the Lancaster and Neptune aircraft types previously flown in the maritime roles and, eventually, the Argus was itself replaced by the current CP-140 Aurora aircraft.

Designation CP-107
Model number CL-20
Marks Mk I, II
Role Anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
Taken on strength 1957
Struck off strength 1982
Number 33
Service RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces

“October Saviours,” by Len Boyd, 2012. 18″ × 24″ (45.7 × 61.0 centimeters), acrylic on Masonite. “At daybreak an RCAF C-115 Buffalo ‘SAR’ transport dispatched from 442 Squadron, Comox overflies the burning and abandoned 425 foot Dutch cruise ship MV ‘Prinsendam’ as a lifeboat full of grateful passengers floats nearby; rescue flares fizzle in the waters.” (Canadian Aerospace Artists Association/http://www.aviationartists.ca/boyd/boyd_october_saviours.html)

¹ “night sun” refers to the Spectrolab Inc. Nightsun® high-intensity searchlight for aircraft.

© 2020, Sean M. Cross

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28 September 1921

Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant John A. Macready, Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air force)
Captain John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

28 September 1921: At McCook Field, Ohio, First Lieutenant John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, flew a turbo-supercharged Packard Lepère L USA C. II biplane, serial number S.C. 40015, to a world record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). He won his first of three Mackay Trophies for this flight.

John A. Macready graduated from Stanford University in 1913 with a degree in economics. He enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, U.S. Army, as a Private 1st Class, 16 July 1917. On 27 December 1917, he was commissioned as a 1st lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. Lieutenant Macready became a flight instructor at Brooks Field, Texas, where he wrote the standard instructional text. On 11 October 1918, Lieutenant Macready was promoted to the rank of captain. After World War I, he became an engineering test pilot at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio. He reverted to his permanent rank of first lieutenant, 18 September 1920. In 1923, Macready graduated from the Aeronautical Engineer Course, Air Service Engineering School.

For six years John Macready was responsible for testing turbosuperchargers, which enabled aircraft engines to produce continuous power at increasing altitudes. It was while testing these that he established his altitude record.

Lt. John A. Macready with his Packard Lepère L USA C.II. (San Diego History Center)

During a 35 hour, 18 minute endurance flight at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, 5–6 October 1922, John Macready and Oakley G. Kelly pioneered the use of inflight refueling from another aircraft. Also, he and Kelly made the first non-stop transcontinental flight when they flew a Fokker T-2 across the United States from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, to Rockwell Field in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.6 seconds, 2–3 May 1923. Macready won his second and third Mackay Trophies for these achievements. He is the only man to have won it three times.

The Packard Lepère L USA C.II was a World War I biplane designed by French aeronautical engineer Captain Georges Lepère and built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was to have been a two-place fighter, light bomber and observation aircraft armed with four machine guns.

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3-1/8 inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 5/8-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 P53, left profile. The turbocharger is mounted above the propeller driveshaft.
Packard Lepère L USA C.II S.C. 40013, McCook Field project number P53, left profile. The turbocharger’s turbine housing is mounted above the propeller driveshaft. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Lieutenant John A Macready flew this turbosupercharged Packard Lepère L USA C.II, S.C 40013, McCook Field project number P53, to an altitude of 40,800 feet, 28 September 1921. (U.S. Air Force)
Barograph chart showing Lieutenant Macready’s record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,192 meters), 28 September 1921. (Sally Macready Wallace via www.earlyaviators.com)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463

² FAI Record File Number 15671

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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