14 January 1942: Chief Test Pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris (1908–1991) made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A at Stratford, Connecticut. The first flight lasted approximately 3 minutes, and by the end of the day, Morris had made 6 flights totaling 25 minutes duration.
The VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls.
The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted to the aft end of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated counter-clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s right side.
The VS-316A was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).
The original engine installed in the VS-316A was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 499.805-cubic-inch-displacement (8.190 liter) Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab SS-50 seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.55:1. The SS-50 was a direct-drive engine, with a maximum continuous power rating of 109 horsepower at 1,865 r.p.m., and 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. 73-octane gasoline was required. The SS50 was 2 feet, 5 inches (0.737 meters) long, 3 feet, 0-9/16 inches (0.929 meters) in diameter and weighed 306 pounds (139 kilograms).
Numerous modifications were made, including lengthening the main rotor blades, covering them with metal, and upgrading the engine to a 200 horsepower Warner R-550-1 Super Scarab. The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
30 September 1982: H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay W. Coburn completed their around-the-world helicopter flight when they landed Spirit of Texas at their starting point at Dallas, Texas. They had flown the single-engine Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, serial number 45658, civil registration N3911Z, more than 26,000 miles (41,843 kilometers) in 246.5 flight hours over 29 days, 3 hours and 8 minutes.
They had begun their journey 1 September 1982. Perot and Coburn traveled across twenty-six countries. They established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for helicopter speed around the world, eastbound, having averaged 56.97 kilometers per hour (35.399 miles per hour). (Class E-1d, FAI Record File Number 1254). They also established a series of point-to-point records while enroute, with the highest speed, an average of 179.39 kilometers per hour (111.47 miles per hour), taking place on 7 September 1982, while flying Spirit of Texas from London to Marseilles (FAI Record File Number 10018).
The Bell Helicopter Company Model 206L-1 LongRanger II is a 7-place light helicopter developed from the earlier 5-place Model 206B JetRanger series. It is designed to be flown by a single pilot in the right front seat, and is certified for Visual Flight Rules.
The 206L-1 is 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) long, overall, and the two-bladed main rotor is semi-rigid and under-slung, a common feature of Bell’s main rotor design. It has a diameter of 37 feet (11.278 meters) and turns counter-clockwise (seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rotor blade has a chord of 1 foot, 1.0 inches (0.330 meter) and 11° negative twist. The blade tips are swept.
The two-bladed tail rotor assembly is also semi-rigid and is positioned on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 6.0 inches (1.676 meters).
The LongRanger II is powered by an Allison 250-C28B turboshaft engine. This engine produces 500 shaft horsepower but is de-rated to 435 horsepower, the limit of the main transmission. The engine is mounted above the roof of the fuselage, to the rear of the main transmission. Output shafts lead forward to the transmission and the tail rotor drive shaft aft to the tail rotor 90° gear box. The transmission and rotor mast are mounted angled slightly forward and to the right. This assists in the helicopter’s lift off to a hover, helps to offset its translating tendency, and keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude during cruise flight.
A vertical fin is attached at the aft end of the tail boom. The fin is offset 4° to the right to unload the tail rotor in cruise flight. Fixed horizontal stabilizers with an inverted asymmetric airfoil are attached to the tail boom. In cruise flight, these provide a downward force that keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude. Vertical fins are attached to the outboard ends of the horizontal stabilizers and above the tailboom centerline. The fins are slightly offset to the left and counteract the helicopter’s Dutch roll tendency.
The helicopter has an empty weight of approximately 2,160 pounds (979 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and the maximum gross weight is 4,050 pounds (1,836 kilograms).
The Model 206L LongRanger first flew in 1974 and the 206L-1 LongRanger II variant entered production in 1978. It was replaced several years later by the 206L-3. The LongRanger remains in production as the Model 206L-4.
Perot had purchased the LongRanger II for $750,000, specifically for this flight. Modifications started immediately and over the next three weeks an additional 151-gallon fuel tank was added giving the helicopter approximately 8 hours’ endurance. “Pop-out floats”—inflatable pontoons that can be deployed for emergency landings on water—were installed. The helicopter also carried a life raft and other emergency equipment and supplies. Additional communication, navigation equipment and radar was installed.
During the circumnavigation, the helicopter burned 56,000 pounds (25,400 kilograms) of jet fuel and made 56 fueling stops, including aboard a pre-positioned container ship in the North Pacific Ocean.
The helicopter was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum.
2 August 1909: The United States Army Signal Corps purchased a Wright Flyer for $30,000. It became the first aircraft in the United States’ military inventory and was designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1. The airplane was used to train Signal Corps pilots at Fort San Antonio, Texas. It was crashed and rebuilt several times. After just two years’ service, the airplane was retired. The Army donated Airplane No. 1 to the Smithsonian Institution.
During test flights that were conducted prior to acceptance by the Army, Orville Wright with Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois as a passenger (he was chosen because of his size and his ability to read maps) the Flyer achieved a two-way average 42.583 miles per hour (68.531 kilometers per hour), over a 5 mile (8.05 kilometers) course. The Signal Corps specification allowed a bonus of $2,500 per full mile per hour above 40 miles per hour. This increased the purchase price of the airplane from $25,000 to $30,000. The Army also required the airplane to be able to remain airborne for a minimum of one hour. Wright demonstrated its endurance at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 40 seconds.
The 1909 Military Flyer is a one-of-a-kind variant of the Wright Brothers’ Model A which was produced from 1907 to 1909. The airplane has shorter wings than the standard Model A, and slightly longer propeller blades which are turned at a different r.p.m. These changes were made to increase the Flyer’s speed through the air. The engine had been salvaged from the 1908 Model A which crashed at Fort Myer in 1908, severely injuring Orville Wright and killing Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge.
The Military Flyer is a two-place, single-engine biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires. The wings, rudders and elevators are covered with muslin. The elevators are placed forward in canard configuration with rudders aft. Roll control was by the Wright Brothers’ patented wing-warping system.
As originally built (it was repaired and slightly modified during its two years in service) the airplane was 28 feet, 11 inches (8.814 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and height of 8 feet, 1 inch (2.464 meters). The wings have a chord of 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) and vertical separation of 5 feet (1.524 meters). The lower wing has 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meter) of ground clearance. The elevators have a span of 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters), a chord of 3 feet (0.914 meter) and vertical spacing of 3 feet (0.914 meter). The parallel rudders are 4 feet, 8½ inches (1.435 meters) tall with a chord of 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). Their lateral separation is also 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). The rudder pivot point is 15 feet, 11 inches (4.851 meters) aft of the wings’ leading edge. The airplane had an empty weight of 740 pounds (335.7 kilograms).
The Military Flyer 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 8 foot, 6 inch (2.591 meter) diameter two-bladed counter-rotating propellers,are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. Driven by a chain drive, they turned 425 r.p.m.
The Military Flyer could fly 42 miles per hour (67.6 kilometers per hour) and had endurance of one hour.
Early army officers who trained with Signal Corps Airplane No. 1 included Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Frank P. Lahm and Frederic E. Humphreys.
The unrestored Wright 1909 Military Flyer is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, displayed at the National Mall. A reproduction of the airplane is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
10 June 1969: The U.S. Air Force donated the first North American Aviation X-15, serial number 56-6670, to the Smithsonian Institution for display at the National Air and Space Museum.
The first of three X-15A hypersonic research rocketplanes built by North American for the Air Force and the National Advisory Committee (NACA, the predecessor of NASA), 56-6670 made the first glide flight and the first and last powered flights of the X-15 Program. It made a total of 82 of the 199 X-15 flights.
Scott Crossfield, North American’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, made the first unpowered flight 8 June 1959 and the first powered flight, 17 September 1959. NASA Research Test Pilot William H. “Bill” Dana made the final X-15 flight on 24 October 1968.
20 May 1932: At 7:12 p.m., local, aviatrix Amelia Earhart departed Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, on a solo transoceanic flight. Her airplane was a modified single-engine Lockheed Model 5B Vega, registration NR7952.
Her plan was to fly all the way to Paris, but after her altimeter had failed, encountering adverse weather, including heavy icing and fog, a fuel leak, and a damaged exhaust manifold, Earhart landed in a field at Culmore, Northern Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes.
A lone, astonished farmer saw her land.
Amelia cut the switches, climbed out of the plane, and, as the man approached the plane, called out, “Where am I?”
Danny McCallion replied obligingly and with excruciating accuracy. “In Gallegher’s pasture.”
—The Sound of Wingsby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter Fifteen at Page 183.
Though she didn’t make it all the way to Paris, she was the first woman—and only the second person, after Charles A. Lindbergh—to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s flight was on the same date, five years earlier.
In an unusual move, Amelia Earhart, a civilian, was awarded the United States military’s Distinguished Flying Cross by Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War, 18 July 1932.
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company in December 1928, the Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed to carry a pilot and up to seven passengers. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters).
Earhart’s Vega, serial number 22, was certified by the Department of Commerce, 17 September 1931, with its empty weight increased 220 pounds (99.8 kilograms) to 2,695 pounds (1,222.4 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1984.5 kilograms).
NR7952 was modified at the Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America factory in Teterboro, New Jersey, to increase the fuel capacity to 420 gallons (1,589.9 liters). While it was there, Earhart’s mechanic, Eddie Gorski, replaced the original Pratt & Whitney Wasp B engine with a new Wasp C, an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) nine cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 5.25:1. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline.¹ It was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The standard Vega 5 had a cruising speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,166.8 kilometers).
Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. Her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
¹ The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. It was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.