Tag Archives: National Museum of the United States Air Force

30 June 1975

The last operational U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrain, 43-49507, on display at NMUSAF. (U.S. Air Force)

30 June 1975: The last operational Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport in service with the United States Air Force, 43-49507, was retired and flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

A C-47D, it is on display in the World War II Gallery, painted and marked as C-47A-80-DL 43-15213 of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier Group, during World War II. At the time it was withdrawn from service, 43-49507 had flown a total of 20,831 hours.

43-49507 (Douglas serial number 26768) was built at Oklahoma City as a C-47B-15-DK Skytrain. The C-47B differed from the C-47A in that it was powered by Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-90) engines. These engines were equipped with two-speed superchargers for improved high-altitude performance. Following World War II, the second speed (“high blower”) was either disabled or removed. Following this modification, the airplane was redesignated C-47D.

A group of new Douglas C-47 Skytrains. The airplane closest to the camera is C-47-DL 41-18415. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is a military transport variant of the Douglas Aircraft Company DC-3 commercial airliner. It is an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, navigator, radio operator and mechanic/load master. The airplane’s control surfaces are covered with doped-fabric. The primary differences between the civil DC-3 and military C-47 was the addition of a cargo door on the left side of the fuselage, a strengthened cargo floor, a navigator’s astrodome and provisions for glider towing.

The DC-3 made its first flight 17 December 1935, while the C-47 flew for the first time six years later, 23 December 1941.

Two Douglas C-47 Skytrains. Nearest the camera is C-47A-90-DL 43-15661. The further airplane is C-47A-65-DL 42-100550. (U.S. Air Force)

The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). The total wing area is 988.9 square feet (91.872 square meters). The angle of incidence is 2°. The wing center section is straight, but outboard of the engine nacelles there is 5º dihedral. The wings’ leading edges are swept aft 15.5°. The trailing edges have no sweep.  Empty weight of the C-47D is 17,865 pounds (8,103 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 33,000 pounds (14,969 kilograms).

The C-47A was powered by two 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. These were rated at 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), maximum continuous power, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).

U.S. Army paratroopers jump from Douglas C-47-DL Skytrain 41-7805, over England, May 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

The specifications of the  Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S3C4-G (R-1830-90) installed on the C-47B and C-47D were nearly the same as the -92 engine of the C-47A. Displacement and compression ratio were identical. The engines’ diameters were the same, though the -90 was very slightly longer than the -92—1.85–2.74 inches (4.699–6.960 centimeters), depending on specific variant. Also, the -90 was heavier than the -92 by 25–30 pounds (11.34–13.61 kilograms), again, depending on the specific variant. The R-1830-90 could maintain 1,000 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 12,500 feet (3,810 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), a significant increase over the -92.

The C-47D has a cruising speed of 161 knots (185 miles per hour/298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and maximum speed of 202 knots (232 miles per hour/374 kilometers per hour) at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). Its service ceiling was 22,150 feet (6,751 meters). The Skytrain had a maximum range of 1,026 nautical miles (1,181 miles/1,900 kilometers) with full cargo.

The C-47 could carry 9,485 pounds (4,302 kilograms) of cargo, or 27 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 24 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with two attendants.

C-47 Skytrains in Vee-of Vees formation.

On D-Day, The Sixth of June, 1944, a formation of C-47 Skytrains, nine airplanes abreast, 100 feet (30 meters) from wing tip to wing tip, 1,000 feet (305 meters) in trail, stretching for over 300 miles (483 kilometers), airdropped 13,348 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, United States Army, and another 7,900 men of the British Army 6th Airborne Division and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, behind the beaches at Normandy, France.

During the Vietnam War, 53 C-47s were converted from their transport role to AC-47 Spooky gunships. These were armed with three fixed, electrically-powered General Electric  GAU-2/A .30-caliber (7.62 NATO) Gatling guns firing out the left side of the fuselage. These aircraft were highly effective at providing close air support. The three Miniguns could fire a total of 12,000 rounds per minute.

Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship, 45-0927, 4th Special Operations Squadron, Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam, September 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

Douglas Aircraft Company built 10,174 C-47 Skytrains at its factories in Santa Monica and Long Beach, California, and at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Douglas DC-3 (C-47B) three-view drawing. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 April 1959

Convair B-36J-1-CF 52-2220 at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

30 April 1959: Convair B-36J-1-CF Peacemaker, serial number 52-2220, landed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, completing the very last flight ever made by one of the giant Cold War-era bombers. It is on the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Convair B-36J 52-2220 was among the last group of 33 B-36 bombers built. It was operated by an aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, two navigators, bombardier, two flight engineers, two radio operators, two electronic countermeasures operators and five gunners, a total 16 crewmembers. Frequently a third pilot and other additional personnel were carried.

Crewmebers pose in front of a B-36F, wearing capstan-type partial pressure suites for protection at high altitude. Front (L-R): G.L. Whiting, B.L. Woods, I.G. Hanten, and R.L. D’Abadie. Back (L-R):A.S. Witchell, J.D. McEachern, J.G. Parker and R. D. Norvell. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Crew members pose in front of a Convair B-36F-1-CF Peacemaker, 49-2669, wearing David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial pressure suits and early K-1 “split shell” 2-piece helmets for protection at high altitude. Front (L-R): G.L. Whiting, B.L. Woods, I.G. Hanten, and R.L. D’Abadie. Back (L-R):A.S. Witchell, J.D. McEachern, J.G. Parker and R. D. Norvell. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The bomber is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 171,035 pounds (77,580 kilograms) and combat weight is 266,100 pounds (120,700 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).

The B-36J has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).

Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a  single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).

The B-36J had a cruise speed of 203 miles per hour (327 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 411 miles per hour (661 kilometers per hour) at 36,400 feet (11,905 meters) . The service ceiling was 39,900 feet (12,162 meters) and its range was 6,800 miles (10,944 kilometers) with a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load. The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).

Convair B-36J-1-CF Peacemaker 52-2220. (San Diego air and Space Museum Archives)

Designed during World War II, nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidated-Vultee engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in two bomb bays. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,776.6 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb, or several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 25-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

For defense, the B-36J had six retractable defensive gun turrets and gun turrets in the nose and tail. All 16 guns were remotely operated. Each position mounted two M24A1 20 mm autocannons. 9,200 rounds of ammunition were carried.

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only five still exist.

Convair B-36J-1-CF 52-2220 being moved from Building 1 to Building 3 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, October 2002. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 February 1969

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001. (U.S. Air Force)

4 February 1969: The North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, 62-0001, made its very last flight from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. NASA Research Test Pilot Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Retired), and Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sturmthal, U.S. Air Force, were the flight crew for this final flight.

On arrival at Wright-Patterson, Fulton closed out the log book and handed it over to the curator of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The Mach 3+ prototype strategic bomber and high-speed, high-altitude research airplane had completed 83 flights for a total of 160 hours, 16 minutes of flight time.

Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sturmthal, USAF and Fitzhugh Fulton, NASA, with the North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 at Edwards AFB, California. (Chris Walmsley/Rockwell International)
Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sturmthal, USAF and Fitzhugh Fulton, NASA, with the North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 at Edwards AFB, California. (Chris Walmsley/Rockwell International)

62-0001 was the first of three prototype Mach 3+ strategic bombers. (The third prototype, XB-70B 62-0208, was not completed.) The Valkyrie utilized the most advanced technology available. Materials and manufacturing techniques had to be developed specifically to build this airplane. It is a large delta wing airplane with a forward canard and two vertical fins. The outer 20 feet (6.096 meters) of each wing could be lowered to a 25° or 65° angle for high speed flight. Although this did provide additional directional stability, it actually helped increase the compression lift, which supported up to 35% of the airplane’s weight in flight.

The XB-70A is 185 feet, 10 inches (56.642 meters) long with a wingspan of 105 feet (32.004 meters) and overall height of 30 feet, 9 inches (9.373 meters). Fully loaded, the Valkyrie weighs 534,700 pounds (242,535 kilograms).

It is powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 turbojet engines which were rated at 22,000 pounds of thrust (97.86 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 31,000 pounds (137.89 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J93 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section and two-stage turbine. It was 235.0 inches (5.969 meters) long, 55.0 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,770 pounds (2,164 kilograms).

The maximum speed achieved was Mach 3.1 (2,056 miles per hour, or 3,308.8 kilometers per hour) at 73,000 feet (22,250 meters). The service ceiling is 73,350 feet (23,357 meters).

The second Valkyrie, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, was destroyed when it crashed after a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N Starfighter flown by NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker, 8 June 1966. Both Walker and the B-70’s co-pilot, Major Carl S. Cross, U.S. Air Force, were killed.

XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
 North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This photograph shows the twelve elevons that act as elevators, flaps and ailerons, the swiveling action of the vertical fins, open drag chute doors and the variable exhaust outlets. (U.S. Air Force).
North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This photograph shows the twelve elevons that act as elevators, flaps and ailerons, the swiveling action of the vertical fins, open drag chute doors and the variable exhaust outlets. (U.S. Air Force).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 January 1957

The last North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs in squadron service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Bomber Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, 27 January 1957. This airplane, F-51D-25-NA 44-72948, is on display at the WV ANG headquarters, Yeager Regional Airport, Charleston, WV. (U.S. Air Force)

27 January 1957: The last North American Aviation F-51D Mustang fighters in operational service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Bomber Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. The squadron was based at Shepherd Field, Martinsburg, West Virginia (now known as Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, MRB).

The United Press news service reported:

Aviation Era Ends With Last Official Flight of P51 Mustang

     DAYTON, Ohio (UP)— An era in aviation has ended with the last official flight Sunday of a P51 Mustang fighter, pride of American’s [sic] World War II air arsenal.

     The flight made by a former Canadian Royal Air Force ace, Major James L. Miller in a P51D, also marked the end of propeller-driven fighter planes in the U.S. Air Force.

     Miller took off from nearby Wright Field at 1:30 p.m. Sunday and landed at Patterson Field several miles away 45 minutes later.

     Henceforth, the Air Force will use nothing but jet-powered fighters.

     The ravages of age prevented a battle-worn Mustang from taking part in decommissioning ceremonies at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so a substitute flight had to be arranged.

     The Mustang grounded at Cheyenne, Wyo., for repairs, could not take off as scheduled Friday because of bad weather.

     The flight to Kansas City on Saturday and to Wright-Patterson on Sunday, had been scheduled for Lt. Col. Joseph T. Crane, commanding officer of the 167th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron [sic] of the West Virginia National Guard.

     A quick switch in plans followed, and the Air Force requisitioned the only other P51 available from an airport at Charleston, W. Va. The plane had been earmarked for a city park there.

The Daily Republican, Monongahela, Pennsylvania, Vol. 111, No. 174, Monday, 28 January 1957, Page 3, Columns 5–6

“Wham Bam!”, the last Mustang in U.S. Air Force service, North American Aviation F-51D-25 NA 44-72948. (“wwiiafterwwii”)

44-72948 had just completed repairs at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and was returned to Charleston by the 167th’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Crane, Jr.

44-72948 (North American Aviation serial number 122-39407) had been delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, in February 1945, but with the war drawing to a close in Europe, the Mustang never flew in combat. According to contemporary newspaper reports, during its career -948 was assigned to sixteen different Air Corps/Air Force units. It underwent nine engine changes and flew a total of 1,555 hours during nearly 12 years of service.

North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA 44-73574, 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-73574, 122-40033, 167th Fighter Bomber Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane in the photographs below, North American Aviation F-51D-30-NA 44-74936, was was flown from Charleston to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, by Major James Miller. It was transferred to the United States Air Force Museum (renamed National Museum of the United States Air Force in 2004) where it is on display. The fighter is painted with the markings of another Mustang, P-51D-15-NA, 44-15174, Shimmy IV, of the 325th Fighter Group, Fifteenth Air Force, which served in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

On 2 June 1944, the actual Shimmy IV, flown by Colonel Chester L. Sluder, commanding officer of the 325th Fighter Group, led the fighter escorts for the first Fifteenth Air Force “shuttle bombing” mission to attack a railroad mashaling yard at Deprecan, Hungary, before flying on to land at Piriatyn, Ukraine. The name “Shimmy” was from the name of Colonel Sluder’s daughter, Shari, and the nickname of his wife, “Zimmy,” formerly Miss Louise Zimmerman.

On 9 December 1944, 44-15174 was flown by Lieutenant Norval W. Weers, 318th Fighter Squadron, when it ran low on fuel because of adverse weather. Weers crash-landed south of the Neusiedler See, Austria. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation single-place, single-engine, fighter, The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

Like the P-51B and C variants, the P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry six Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pairs of guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing, in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

North American Aviation, Inc., produced a total of total of 8,156 P-51D Mustangs at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas. Another 200 were built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia.

North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, “Shimmy IV,” is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, marked as “Shimmy IV,’ of the 325th Fighter Group, Fifteenth Air Force, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

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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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