Tag Archives: National Air and Space Museum

2 August 1909

 

The Wright 1909 Military Flyer being fueled at Fort Myer, Virginia, 27 July 1909. Orville Wright is to the right of center in this photograph. The military officer is 1st Lieutenant Frank P. Lahm, Signal Corps, United States Army. Behind the airplane is 1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fuolois and Wilbur Wright. (NASM)

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.

1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois, Signal Corps, United States Army, and Orville Wright, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1909. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Benjamin Delahauf Fulois, Signal Corps, United States Army, and Orville Wright, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1909. By November 1917, Brigadier General Fulois was Chief of Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Signal Corps Airplane no. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1910. (U.S. Air Force)
Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1910. (U.S. Air Force)

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).

Wright Military Flyer. Three-view drawing with dimensions. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

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.

Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, on display at the Early Flight gallery of the Smithsonian Institution National Mall building. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 June 1969

North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1 56-6670 hypersonic research rocketplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

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 North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1, 56-6670, being brought into the Arts and Industries building, June 1969. (Smithsonian Institution Archives SI-A-4145-23-A)
The North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1, 56-6670, being brought into the Arts and Industries building, June 1969. The wings and sections of the dorsal and ventral fins have been removed. (Smithsonian Institution Archives SI-A-4145-23-A)

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.

North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1 56-6670 at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (D. Ramey Logan via Wikipedia)
The first North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A, 56-6670, at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. Above and behind the X-15 is the Douglas D558-II Skyrocket that Scott Crossfield flew to Mach 2.005, 20 November 1953. (D. Ramey Logan via Wikipedia)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20–21 May 1932

Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).
Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).

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 Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter Fifteen at Page 183.

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5B, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)

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.

Great Circle route between Harbour Grace Airport, Newfoundland, and Londonderry Airport, near Culmore, Northern Ireland. 1,754 nautical miles (2,019 statute miles/3,249 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

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.

Amelia Earhart’s Distinguished Flying Cross certificate signed by Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War.

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).

Aircraft Registration Certificate, Lockheed Vega, serial number 22, NC7952, 1928.

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.

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

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.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1918

Colonel William Mitchell with his observer/gunner and their SPAD S.XVI A.2, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Willam L. Mitchell, United States Army Air Service. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General William Mitchell, Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

The 1st Aero Squadron, I Corps Observation Group, First United States Army, under the command of Colonel William Mitchell, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, made its first combat patrol over the front lines from their airfield at Ourches, France. They were equipped with the two-place Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVI A.2. They patrolled the lines, scouted troop movements, and took photographs in support of the U.S. Army I Corps and French XXXVIII Corps. This was the first United States air unit in combat during World War I.

The SPAD S.XVI was intended as an improvement of the earlier SPAD S.XI A.2, which was a two-place development of the SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter. The S.XVI is single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. It was crewed by a pilot and observer/gunner. The wings are swept aft approximately 4° and are staggered, moving the center of lift aft to compensate for the airplane’s longer fuselage. The lower wing’s chord is significantly narrower than the upper. Ailerons are on the upper wing only.

The S.XVI A.2 is 7.707 meters (25 feet, 3.425 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 11.220 meters (36 feet, 9.732 inches) and lower span of 10.900 meters (35 feet, 9.133 inches). Its height is 2.850 meters (9 feet, 4.211 inches) with the fuselage in a level attitude. The airplane has an empty weight of 906 kilograms (1,997 pounds) and gross weight of 1,140 kilograms (2,513 pounds).

Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVI A.2 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVI A.2 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVI A.2 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

The SPAD XVI was powered by a right-hand tractor, water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 16.286 litre (993.834 cubic inches) La société industrielle Lorraine-Dietrich 8Be single overhead cam 90° V-8 direct-drive engine which produced 270 cheval-vapeur (270.09 horsepower) at 1,900 r.p.m. The engine weighed 260 kilograms (573 pounds).

Lorraine-Dietrich 8Be V-8 aircraft engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

The SPAD S.XVI was armed with one fixed forward firing, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine gun and two air-cooled .303-caliber Lewis Mk.2 light machine guns on a flexible mount in the aft cockpit. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the Vickers’ water jacket was not filled, thereby saving considerable weight. The airplane could also carry small bombs attached to the lower wing.

Approximately 1,000 SPAD S.XVIs were built. Six were obtained by the United States. Mitchell’s personal SPAD S.XVI, serial number 9392, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia.

Colonel William Mitchell's 1st Observation Group SPAD XVI, serial number 9392, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Colonel William Mitchell’s SPAD S.XVI A.2 9392 at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 March 1990

Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.

Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.

The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).

Ben Rich, director of Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects ("Skunk Works") congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (Unattributed)
Ben Rich, director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“Skunk Works”), congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding  (center) and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (© Tony Landis)

Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h  (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).

Flight record data for 972's record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, ADP, LASC.
Flight record data for 972’s record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, Advanced Development Projects, Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.20.01Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.21.35Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.22.43Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.23.55This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).

This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.

61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM
Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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