Tag Archives: Mid-Air Collision

25 September 1978, 16:02:07 UTC

PSA Flight 182, on fire after mid-air collision, 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

25 September 1978: At 09:02:07 a.m., local time, the worst aircraft accident in California history occurred when a Boeing 727-214 airliner, civil registration N533PS, operated by Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as Flight 182, crashed at the intersection of Dwight Street and Nile Street in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, 4,830 meters (3.00 miles) northwest of Lindbergh Field (SAN), today known as San Diego International Airport.

Flight 182 was a regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from Sacramento, California to San Diego, with a stopover at Los Angeles. Captain James E. McFeron, a 17-year veteran of PSA, was in command. First Officer Robert E. Fox was the pilot flying the 727 on this leg. The Flight Engineer (also called the Second Officer) was Martin J. Wahne. Also in the cockpit, occupying the two “jump seats” were two off-duty PSA captains. Four flight attendants were on duty in the passenger cabin along with 126 passengers, which included 30 PSA employees.

In clear weather and early morning sunlight, the airliner was on an visual approach to Lindbergh. The 727 passed over the Mission Bay VORTAC (MZB), a navigation aid 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) northwest of the airport, and turned left to a heading of 090° to intercept the downwind leg of the approach.

Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field.)
Detail of current aeronautical chart of airspace around San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field), center near bottom of image. Montgomery field is at the upper right.

Ahead of the 727, a single-engine light airplane, a Cessna 172, N7711G, with an instructor and student aboard, had made two practice ILS approaches to Runway 9 at Lindbergh and departed to the northwest, returning to its base at Montgomery Field (MYF), 6.4 miles (10.3 kilometers) north-northeast of SAN.

Approach Control called, Cessna 7711G, radar contact, maintain VFR at or below 3500 [1,067 meters], fly heading 070, vector (for) final approach course.” The pilot of the Cessna, David T. Boswell, acknowledged the east-north-easterly heading and the altitude restriction. About 15 seconds later, at 08:59:39, the controller informed the 727, “Additional traffic’s twelve o’clock, three miles, just north of the field, northeastbound, a Cessna One Seventy-Two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred.” [427 meters] At 08:59:50, First Officer Fox reported, Okay, we’ve got that other twelve.”

Radar tracks show that N7711G initially maintained the assigned heading but after about one minute, turned 20° right to 090°, the same heading as that of Flight 182.

At 09:00:23, Approach Control acknowledged Flight 182: “Okay, sir, maintain visual separation, contact Lindbergh Tower 133.3. Have a nice day, now!”

Flight 182 switched radio frequencies and Captain McFeron checked in with the tower: “Lindbergh, PSA 182. Downwind.” The Tower Controller responded, “PSA 182, Lindbergh Tower, traffic 12 o’clock, one mile, a Cessna.”

In the cockpit there was confusion about the reported conflicting traffic ahead. Captain McFeron asked, “Is that the one we’re looking at?” Flight Engineer Wahne replied, “Yeah—but I don’t see him now.” McFeron called the Tower, “Okay, we had it there a minute ago.” The Controller replied, “One Eighty-Two, roger.” The Captain continued, “I think he’s passed off to our right.”

Inside the cockpit, McFeron said, “He was right over there a minute ago.” Wahne agreed, “Yeah.”

Lindbergh Tower authorized Flight 182 to land, “PSA 182—cleared to land,” and McFeron acknowledged with, “PSA 182’s cleared to land.” He then asked the Flight Engineer, “Are we clear of that Cessna?” Wahne said, “Supposed to be!” McFeron responded, “I guess.” In the cockpit’s jump seat, one of the two off-duty captains said, “I hope!”

At 09:01:21, Captain McFeron stated, “Oh, yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him about one o’clock, probably behind us now.”

First Officer Fox called for the wing flaps to be lowered and then at 09:01:31 he asked for the landing gear to be lowered. At 09:01:38, Fox said, There’s one underneath [pause] I was looking at that inbound there.” Flight 182 was now descending through 2,600 feet (793 meters).

At 09:01:47, the Flight 182’s Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up the sound of the collision.

The Boeing 727 struck the Cessna 172 from above and behind, destroying it. The airliner was heavily damaged and on fire. With the flight controls damaged, Flight 182 rolled and turned to the right. On a heading of approximately 200°, it crashed into residential neighborhood in a 300 mile per hour (483 kilometers per hour), 50° dive.

According to seismographs at the Museum of Natural History, San Diego, the impact occurred at 09:02:07 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (16:02:07 UTC).

The largest piece of the Cessna impacted six blocks away, near 32nd Street and Park Avenue.

PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978.
PSA Flight 182, a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PS, shortly before impact, 0902 a.m., 25 September 1978. (Hans Wendt, County of San Diego)

All 135 persons aboard the 727, both persons on the Cessna, and seven persons on the ground were killed. Another nine persons on the ground were injured. Twenty-two homes in a four-block area were destroyed or damaged.

The last words of the flight deck personnel recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder were that of an unidentified voice saying, “Ma, I love you.”

Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Scene of the crash of Flight 182, 25 September 1978. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Pilot in Command of Flight 182, Captain James E. McFeron, had been employed by Pacific Southwest Airlines since 1961. He held an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and was type-rated in both the Lockheed L-188 Electra and the Boeing 727. He had a total of 14,382 flight hours, with 10,482 hours in the Boeing 727.

First Officer Robert E. Fox, Jr., also held an ATP certificate. Of his 10,049 flight hours, 5,800 were in the 727. He had been with PSA for 9 years.

Flight Engineer Martin J. Wahne had worked for PSA for 11 years. He had 10,800 hours, with 6,587 hours in the Boeing 727.

The Pilot in Command of the Cessna was Gunnery Sergeant David Lee Boswell, U.S. Marine Corps, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Gunnery Sergeant Boswell held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane—Single– and Multi–Engine Land ratings. He was receiving instrument flight instruction to apply for an Instrument Rating. Boswell had 407 total flight hours, and had flown 61 hours in the previous 90 days.

The Instructor Pilot on board the Cessna was Martin B. Kazy, Jr., an employee of the aircraft owner, Gibbs Flight Center at Montgomery Field. He held Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates, with Airplane Single– and Multi–Engine Land, and Instrument–Airplane ratings. He had a total of 5,137 flight hours. Kazy had flown 347 hours in the previous 90 days.

Pacific Southwest Airlines' Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1975. (Edge to Edge Photography)
Pacific Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 727-214, N533PS, photographed at San Francisco International Airport, September 1974. (Edge to Edge Photography)

The aircraft operated as PSA Flight 182 was a Boeing 727–214, serial number 19688, which made its first flight 4 June 1968. At the time of the accident, the total time on the airframe (TTAF) was 24,088.3 hours. It had made 36,557 takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing 727–200 series was a stretched version of the original –100 model. It was designed to be operated by a flight crew of three, and could carry up to 189 passengers. The –200 was 153 feet, 2 inches (46.685 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). The empty weight was 98,400 pounds (44,633 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 184,800 pounds (83,642 kilograms). The airliner was powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 low-bypass axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 14,500 pounds of thrust at Sea Level for takeoff (5-minute limit), and 12,600 pounds of thrust, maximum continuous power. This gave the 727–200 a maximum cruise speed of 0.9 Mach (610 miles per hour, or 982 kilometers per hour, at 30,000 feet/9,144 meters). Its service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and the maximum range was 1,956 miles (3,148 kilometers).

1,832 727s were built by Boeing between 1963 and 1984. 1,245 of these were 727-200s.

This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center's N7711G. (Skytamer)
This 1976 Cessna 172M is similar in appearance to Gibbs Flight Center’s N7711G. (Skytamer)

Cessna 172 N7711G was a 1975 Cessna 172M, serial number 17265788. It had 2,993 total flight hours on the airframe (TTAF). It was a single-engine, four-place light airplane with a high wing and fixed tricycle landing gear. 711G was painted white with “mustard” yellow trim. The 172M is 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 10 inches (10.922 meters) and height of 8 feet, 11 inches (2.718 meters). The empty weight is 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms) and gross weight is 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms). It is powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 319.75-cubic-inch-displacement (5.24 liter) Lycoming O-320-E2D horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder direct-drive engine rated at 150 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The engine drives a two-bladed McCauley fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 3 inches (1.905 meters). The engine installed on N7711G engine had 3,086 total hours since new (TSN) and 879 hours since overhaul (TSO). The 172M has a cruise speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and a maximum speed of 142 miles per hour (229 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane’s service ceiling is 13,100 feet (3,993 meters) and its maximum range is 875 miles (1,408 kilometers).

More than 43,000 Cessna 172s have been built, more than any other airplane type.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 August 1986

31 August 1986: At approximately 11:41 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, William Kenneth Kramer departed Zamperini Field (TOA) at Torrance, California, flying a Piper PA-28-181 Archer II, FAA registration N4891F.

The PA-28-181 was a single-engine, four-place, light airplane with fixed tricycle landing gear, built by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1976. It carried the manufacturer’s serial number 77-90070. It was owned by William Kramer. In addition to the pilot, there were two passengers on board, Kramer’s wife of 30 years, and their 26-year-old daughter. The family’s destination was Big Bear City Airport (L35), high in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California.

Three major airports in the immediate area reported that the sky was clear and visibility was 14–15 miles (22.5–24.1 kilometers).

Piper PA-28-181 Archer II, D-EHLY, serial number 28-7790224. This is the same type as the airplane involved in the 1986 Cerritos Mid-Air Collision. (Huhu Uet/Wikimedia Commons)

As Kramer climbed toward his cruise altitude, he deviated from the VFR Flight Plan which he had filed prior to takeoff. Without authorization from Air Traffic Control, the pilot entered a segment of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area.

Aeroméxico Flight 498 was a regularly-scheduled flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles, with intermediate stops at Guadalajara, Loreto and Tijuana. The airliner was a 1969  McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, serial number 47356, registered in Mexico as XA-JED. Aeroméxico had named it Hermosillo. The pilot in command was Captain Antonio Valdez-Prom, with First Officer Jose Hector Valencia. There were four flight attendants and 58 passengers. The DC-9 was descending from 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) for an instrument approach and landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Aeromexico’s Douglas DC-9-32 XA-JED, Hermosillo. Photograph © Bob Garrard, used with permission.

Flight 498 was descending in northwesterly direction, while the Archer was climbing, eastbound.

At 11:52:09 a.m., as the DC-9 descended through an altitude of approximately 6,660 feet (2,030 meters),¹ the Piper collided with the left side of the DC-9’s vertical fin, just below the horizontal stabilizer. The angle of collision was approximately 90°. The airliner’s entire horizontal stabilizer and rudder were torn from the aircraft.

All three persons aboard the light airplane were decapitated.² The Archer was heavily damaged, and with no one alive to fly it, it crashed on the playground of Cerritos Elementary School.

Piper Archer PA-28-121 N4891F wreckage, 31 August 1981. (Thomas Kelsey, Los Angeles Times)
Piper Archer PA-28-181 N4891F wreckage at Cerritos Elementary School, 31 August 1986. (Thomas Kelsey, Los Angeles Times)

The DC-9’s cockpit voice recorder picked up Captain Prom’s exclamation, “Oh [deleted], this can’t be!” The Aeroméxico pilots had no way to control their damaged DC-9. It rolled inverted and crashed into a residential neighborhood.

Aeroméxico Flight 498 inverted after mid-air collision over Cerritos, California, 31 August 1986. (NTSB)

All 64 persons on the DC-9, and another 15 on the ground, were killed. Eight persons on the ground were injured. Five homes were destroyed and another seven were damaged.

Scene of the crash of the Aeromexico Flight 498, 31 August 1968. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times)

William Kenneth Kramer held a Federal Aviation Administration Airman’s Certificate with Private Pilot privileges. He was rated for Airplane–Single Engine Land. His medical certificate required that he wear corrective lenses while flying. Kramer had been licensed for six years , and at the time of the accident, he had flown a total of 231 hours.

Kramer had moved to the Los Angeles area from Spokane, Washington, less than a year earlier. He had made just seven flights, totaling 5.5 hours, in one of the most complex and congested Terminal Control Areas in the United States.

Captain Antonio Valdez-Prom had been employed by Aeroméxico for fourteen years. He held Airline Transport Pilot certificates in both Mexico and the United States. He had flown a total of 10,641 hours, with 4,632 hours in the McDonnell Douglas DC-9.

First Officer Jose Hector Valencia had been employed by Aeroméxico for just over two years. He was a licensed Commercial Pilot in both Mexico and the United States. He had flown a total of 1,463 hours, with 1,245 hours in the DC-9. Like Kramer, Valencia was required to wear corrective lenses.

The NTSB placed the blame for the accident on the air traffic control system:

3.2               Probable cause

                     The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the limitations of the air traffic control system to provide collision protection, through both air traffic control procedures and automated redundancy. Factors contributing to the accident were (1) the inadvertent and unauthorized entry of the PA-28 into the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area and (2) the limitations of the “see and avoid” concept to insure traffic separation under the conditions of the conflict.

NTSB/AAR-87/07 Aircraft Accident Report—Midair Collision of Aeronaves de México, S.A., McDonnell Douglas DC-8-32, XA-JED and Piper PA-28-181, N4891F, Cerritos, California   August 31, 1986 Chapter 3 at Page 52

The devastated neighborhood in Cerritos where Flight 498 crashed, 31 August 1986. (Paul Chin/Herald-Examiner/L.A. Public Library Photo Collection)
The devastated neighborhood in Cerritos where Flight 498 crashed, 31 August 1986. (Paul Chin/Herald-Examiner/L.A. Public Library Photo Collection)
Scene of the crash of the Aeroméxico Flight 498, 31 August 1968. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times)
Scene of the crash of the Aeroméxico Flight 498, 31 August 1968. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times)

♦♦♦ OPINION ♦♦♦

It is the opinion of This Day in Aviation that the Probable Cause of this accident as determined by the National Transportation Safety Board was a political statement. As far back as 1956, with the mid-air collision of a United Air Lines Douglas DC-7 and a Trans World Airlines Lockheed Super Constellation over the Grand Canyon of Arizona, the Civil Aeronautics Board and its successor, the NTSB, had repeatedly placed emphasis on the role of air traffic control (or, the lack thereof) in a number of mid-air collisions, and had been recommending numerous improvements.

TDiA believes that these recommendations were valid.

However, coming to a political conclusion hides the actual cause of the accident. When investigators look for a cause, they evaluate each individual factor. That single factor, which, if it had not occurred, results in no accident occurring—all other factors being the same—is the cause.

In this case, the pilot of the light airplane had filed a Visual Flight Rules flight plane that would have taken him initially to the southwest from Torrance Airport toward Long Beach Airport, and around the controlled airspace of Los Angeles International Airport. If he had followed his planned route, no collision would have occurred. However, he flew directly east and as he climbed, he entered the Los Angeles TCA without ATC clearance. This was a significant violation of FAA regulations.

If the crew of Aeroméxico Flight 498 had performed in exactly the same way, flew the same path and descent, but the Piper Archer had remained clear of the TCA as required, there would have been no collision.

If air traffic controllers involved with the airliner and the private airplane had performed in exactly the same way as they had, but the Archer had not violated the TCA, there would have been no collision.

The inescapable conclusion is that William Kramer, by flying into the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area, caused the mid-air collision between his airplane and the Aeroméxico DC-9.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The National Transportation Safety Board reassembled the wreckage of the Piper Archer at Long Beach Airport to compare to damage of the DC-9’s horizontal stabilizer. The relative position of the aircraft in this 3 September 1986 photograph is not representative of the actual collision. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac via Kathryn’s Report)

¹ The Piper Archer’s altimeter was recovered and examined. Although the three pointers were missing, traces of paint from the pointers, called “slap marks,” were found on the dial face at positions corresponding to an altitude of 6,560 feet (1,999 meters).

² On 1 September 1986, The New York Times reported, “Bill Gold, a spokesman for the coroner’s office, said an autopsy showed that the pilot suffered the heart attack ‘within minutes before the fatal injuries.’ Mr. Gold said that the cause of death was ‘multiple traumatic injuries received in the crash.’ He said in an interview tonight that it had not been determined whether the heart attack led to the collision. ‘We can’t say whether it caused the collision,’ he said, ‘How severe it was we can’t say because he lived long enough to get the fatal injuries.’ “  In its 2 September 1986 edition, the Los Angeles Times reported, “An autopsy late Monday on the body of the man believed to be the pilot of the archer showed that he had suffered a heart attack just before the collision, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.” In its accident report, the NTSB quotes from the autopsy report, “. . . complete proximal occlusion of the right coronary artery.”

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 July 1965

McDonnell F-4B-23-MC Bu. No. 152276, the 1,000th McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. (McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)

7 July 1965: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the 1,000th production F-4 Phantom II, an F-4B, to the United States Navy. Phantom II MSN 1034 was an F-4B-23-MC Phantom II, assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 152276.

The fighter was assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VFMA-314), the “Black Knights,” at Da Nang Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. On  the morning of 24 January 1966, Bu. No. 152276 was flown by Captain Doyle Robert Sprick, USMC, with Radar Intercept Officer 2nd Lieutenant Delmar George Booze, USMC, as one of a flight of four F-4s assigned to drop napalm on a target 7 miles (11 kilometers) southwest of Hue-Phu Bai.

At 10:05 a.m., Captain Albert Pitt, USMC, flying F-4B-22-MC Bu. No. 152265, with RIO 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Neal Helber, USMC, radioed that he, in company with Captain Sprick, was off the target and returning to Da Nang.

Neither airplane arrived. A search was started at 11:00 a.m. The two-day search was unsuccessful. It is presumed that the two Phantoms collided. All four aviators were listed as missing, presumed killed in action.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 June 1956

United Airlines' Douglas DC-7 City of San Francisco, sister ship of Mainliner Vancouver.
United Airlines’ Douglas DC-7 City of San Francisco, N6301C, sister ship of Mainliner Vancouver. (UAL)

30 June 1956: At approximately 10:32 a.m., two airliners, United Airlines’ Douglas DC-7 serial number 44288, Mainliner Vancouver, Civil Aeronautics Administration registration N6324C, and Trans World Airlines’ Lockheed L-1049-54-80 Super Constellation serial number 4016, Star of the Seine, N6902C, were over the Grand Canyon at 21,000 feet (6,400 meters).

Both airliners had departed Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 9:00 a.m. TWA Flight 2 was headed for Kansas City Downtown Airport with 64 passengers and 6 crew members. United Flight 718 was enroute to Chicago Midway Airport with 53 passengers and 5 crewmembers. The airplanes were over the desert southwest, which, at that time, was outside of radar-controlled airspace. They were flying around towering cumulus clouds to comply with regulations that they “remain clear of clouds.”

The airplanes collided at about a 25° angle. The accident report describes the impact:

“First contact involved the center fin leading edge of the Constellation and the left aileron tip of the DC-7. The lower surface of the DC-7 left wing struck the upper aft fuselage of the L-1049 with disintegrating force. The collision ripped open the fuselage of the Constellation from just forward of its tail to near the main cabin door. The empennage of the L-1049 separated almost immediately. The plane pitched down and fell to the ground. Most of the left outer wing of the DC-7 had separated and aileron control was restricted. . . .” 

This illustration depicts the collision. (Milford Joseph Hunter/LIFE Magazine)

It is possible that the DC-7 was maneuvering to avoid the L-1049.  The Constellation struck the ground near Temple Butte at an estimated 475 miles per hour (765 kilometers per hour). The DC-7’s left wing was so badly damaged that it went into an uncontrolled left spin and crashed at Chuar Butte. All persons on both airliners were killed.

This, as well as other accidents, resulted in significant changes in the United States air traffic control system.

A Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, sister ship of Star of the Seine, photographed over the Grand Canyon. (TWA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 March 1943

Cornelia Clark Fort, with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)
Cornelia Clark Fort with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the airplane factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots.

The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane, BT-13A 42-42450, flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but struck her wing.

Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active military duty. She was 24 years old. Miss Fort was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennesee.

Frank Edward Stamme, Jr., was born in Illinois, 3 January 1920. He was the first of four children of Frank Edward Stamme, a machinist, and Bertha Catherine Peters Stamme. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Francisco, California, 5 November 1941. Stamme was released from military service 16 January 1947. He died 19 February 1987.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee, 5 February 1919, the fourth of five children of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort and Louise Clark Fort. Her father was a prominent surgeon who co-founded the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The family lived at Fortland, an estate east of Nashville. Cornelia attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1939.

After taking a flight with a friend, Jack Caldwell, in January 1940, she pursued an interest in aviation, starting flight lessons the following day.  She had earned her pilot certificate and flight instructor certificate by June 1940, which made her the first woman to become an instructor at Nashville. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she first went to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she taught for about three months, then went on to Honolulu.

Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)
Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Cornelia Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942. In September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Miss Fort was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

Air & Space/Smithsonian quoted from a letter written by Fort in a January 2012 article:

“I dearly loved the airports, little and big. I loved the sky and the airplanes, and yet, best of all I loved the flying. . . I was happiest in the sky at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down, and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”

—Cornelia Clark Fort, 1942.

Cornelia Clark Fort’s military identification card. (Nashville Public Library)

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet (12.802 meters) and height of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,375 pounds (1,531 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,496 pounds (2,039 kilograms).

The BT-13A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-21, R-985-25, or R-985-27, nine-cylinder radial engine. These engines had a compression ratio of 6:1, with Normal Power ratings from 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at Sea Level to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They were direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed variable-pitch propeller. The –21, –25 and –27 engines were 3 feet, 6.38 inches (1.076 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.75 inches (1.162 meters) in diameter and weighed from 648 to 685 pounds (294–311 kilograms).

The BT-13A had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,650 feet (6,599 meters) and range was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Vultee built 9,525 BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant basic trainers between 1940 and 1945. Of these, 7,037 were the BT-13A and SNV-1 variant. By the end of World War II, the Vultee Valiant was considered obsolete and was replaced in U.S. service by the North American AT-6 Texan.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant 42-43130, the same type aircraft flown by Cornelia Fort and Frank Stamme, 21 March 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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