20 November 1940: North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, made his first flight in the NA-73X, NX19998, prototype for a Royal Air Force fighter, the Mustang Mk.I.
Vance Breese was the free-lance test pilot who made the first seven flights in the new airplane. Breese claimed to have made a bet with North American executives that Balfour would crash the prototype on his first flight.
This flight was scheduled to be a high speed test. Edgar Schmued, the designer, offered to show Balfour around the airplane. “Before this flight, I asked Balfour to get into the airplane and go through the routine of a takeoff and flight. He responded that one airplane is like another and he would not need the routine checkout.”
The ground crew started the NA-73X’s 1,150 horsepower Allison V-1710-39 liquid-cooled V-12 engine at 5:40 a.m. and let it warm up to normal operating temperature. When it was restarted just prior to Paul Balfour’s flight, “it was a little hard to start,” according to Olaf Anderson, the airplane’s mechanic.
Balfour took off from Mines Field at about 7:10 a.m. After about twelve minutes of flight, the Allison stopped running. Balfour was too far from Mines Field to make it back to the runway. He landed in a plowed field west of Lincoln Boulevard. When the tires hit the soft surface, the prototype flipped over. Balfour was not hurt and was able to crawl out of the upside-down wreck.
The Civil Aeronautics Board report described the damage as “engine housing broken, both wingtips damaged, tail surfaces damaged, top of fuselage damaged, and other miscellaneous damage.” The NA-73X had accumulated just 3 hours, 20 minutes of flight.
Vance Breese won his bet.
According to the C.A.B. investigation, the engine had stopped due to fuel starvation when Balfour neglected to select another tank.
The prototype was taken back to the factory and rebuilt. It would become the famous Mustang, one of the most significant aircraft of World War II.
Robert C. Chilton was hired as the new Chief Test Pilot. He would continue testing the Mustang developments throughout the war. Chilton made his first flight in NA-73X on 3 April 1941.
Paul Balfour continued to work for North American Aviation, testing the NA-40 and NA-40B prototypes and the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. He later served in the United States Air Force.
Paul Baird Balfour was born 5 July 1908 in Washington State. He was the son of Fred Patrick Balfour and Edna May Baird Balfour. Balfour attended two years of college.
Paul Balfour entered the U.S. Army Air Corps (prior to 1930). He was stationed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California.
Balfour married Martha Lillette Cushman of Coronado, California, at Yuma, Arizona, 6 June 1930.
Balfour began working as a test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., 1 March 1936.
On 2 July 1938, he married Lois Tresa Watchman at Kingman, Arizona. They would have two children.
On 9 November 1951, Major Paul B. Balfour, U.S. Air Force, attached to the 1002nd Inspector General Group at Norton Air Force Base, California, was flying a North American VB-25J, 44-30955, a transport conversion of a B-25J-30-NC Mitchell medium bomber.
Shortly after takeoff, at about 10:00 a.m., the airplane developed engine trouble. Unable to return to Norton, Balfour attempted a belly landing at a small private airfield. Witness saw that the airplane’s left engine was idling, and its propeller was feathered. As he approached, the airplane was blocked by a windbreak of eucalyptus trees bordering U.S. Route 66. Balfour banked away from the trees but the B-25 crashed in an orange grove along Bloomington Avenue in Rialto, approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Norton.
Balfour, still buckled in his seat, was thrown clear of the burning wreck and landed in the street. One man on board was killed and two others seriously injured. Balfour died in a hospital three hours later. He was 41 years old. Major Balfour was buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.
26 October 1940: At Mines Field, Los Angeles, California (now, Los Angeles International Airport), free lance test pilot Vance Breese took the prototype North American Aviation NA-73X, civil registration NX19998, on a five-minute first flight. Later in the day, Breese flew the NA-73X another ten minutes. He would make six more test flights between 26 October and 13 November, totaling approximately 3 hours, 30 minutes of flight time.
With Great Britain at war with Nazi Germany, the Royal Air Force was the primary defender of the island nation. Airplane manufacturers were turning out Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires as rapidly as possible, but they were barely keeping up with combat losses. England needed more fighters. They had taken over an order for Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A1 fighters which had been built for France, but which had not been shipped by the time France surrendered. The RAF called these fighters the Tomahawk Mark I (P-40 Warhawk in U.S. service).
The British Purchasing Commission asked North American Aviation in Los Angeles, California, to build additional Tomahawks under license from Curtiss-Wright. North American countered with a proposal to design a completely new and superior fighter around the P-40’s Allison V-12 engine, and begin production in no more time than it would take to get a P-40 production line up and running. The Purchasing Commission agreed, and with a letter of understanding, North American began work on the NA-73X on 1 May 1940. They were to produce 320 fighters before 30 September 1941, approximately 50 per month, at a total price of $14,746,964.35.
In a contract amendment dated 9 December 1940, the British Purchasing Commission directed that the NA-73 would be identified by the name, “Mustang.”
The prototype NA-73X, North American serial number 73-3097, was a single-seat, single-engine, low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the flight control surfaces were fabric covered. The airplane was designed for the maximum reduction in aerodynamic drag. The fuselage panels were precisely designed and very smooth. Flush riveting was used. The Mustang was the first airplane to use a laminar-flow wing. The coolant radiator with its intake and exhaust ducts was located behind and below the cockpit. As cooling air passed through the radiator, it was heated and expanded, so that as it exited, it actually produced some thrust.
The prototype was 32 feet, 2–5/8 inches (9.820 meters) long, with a wing span of 37 feet, 5/16 inch (11.286 meters). Empty weight of the NA-73X was 6,278 pounds (2,848 kilograms) and normal takeoff weight was 7,965 pounds (3,613 kilograms).
The NA-73X was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam 60° V-12 engine, with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and a single-stage, single-speed supercharger. This was a right-hand tractor engine (the V-1710 was built in both right-hand and left-hand configurations) which drove a 10 foot, 6 inch (3.200 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction.
The V-1710-39 had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level; Take Off Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with 44.5 inches of manifold pressure (1.51 Bar), 5 minute limit; and a War Emergency Power rating of 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., with 56 inches of manifold pressure (1.90 Bar). The V-1710-F3R was 3 feet, ¾ inches (0.934 meters) high, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long. It had a dry weight of 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).
The NA-73X had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters). The service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters). The fuel capacity was 180 gallons (681.37 liters), giving the airplane a range of 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).
NX19998 was substantially damaged on 20 November 1940 when North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul B. Balfour, unable to make it back to Mines Field after the Allison engine failed, made a forced landing in a plowed field just west of Lincoln Boulevard. The prototype flipped over and landed upside down. Sources differ as to the cause of the engine failure, with some citing carburetor icing and others suggesting that Balfour failed to switch fuel tanks and the engine stopped running due to fuel starvation. Balfour was replaced by Robert C. Chilton and NA-73X was rebuilt.
Bob Chilton said that “. . . NA-73X was a clean-flying aircraft with no bad vices. It was quite pleasant in the air and handled very similar to later production articles.”
There was only one NA-73X prototype. Its status is not known. Chilton recalled, “. . . NA-73X was just pushed aside after it had been retired from its last flight. It probably ended up on the company’s junk pile, but I do not recall seeing it there.” The prototype may have been given to a local industrial trade school.
Vance Breese was born 20 April 1904 at Keystone, Washington, He was the first of five children of Lee Humbert Breese, a machinist, and Anna E. Dixon Breese.
Breese founded the Breese Aircraft Company in 1926, based at San Francisco, California, and then, as the Breese-Wilde Corporation, moved to Oregon. The company produced the Breese-Wilde Model 5, a single-engine light airplane. Two of these, Aloha and Pabco Flyer, flew in the notorious 1927 Dole Air Race from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. Pabco Flyer crashed on takeoff when its landing gear collapsed. Aloha finished in second place.
Breese formed a partnership with Gerard Vultee in 1932, with the Airplane Development Corporation at Detroit Michigan. They produced the Vultee V-1A, an 8 passenger light transport. He was also involved in an express mail company, Air Express Corporation.
Vance Breese was well known as a test pilot, making a number of first flights and conducting flight tests for various airplane manufacturers. As a test pilot, Breese pioneered the use of recording equipment during flight testing. He used a Dictaphone to record his notes, and a cine camera to film the instruments during the flight.
Breese was married three times. He first married Miss Kathryn (“Kitty”) M. McConnell in 1922. They divorced. Later, Breese married Eleanor Louise Buckles at Los Angeles, California, 18 November 1946. They had a son, Vance Breese, Jr., who became a well-known motorcycle racer and land speed record holder. They divorced in 1967. Breese then married Mireille E. Demartelley (AKA Mireille E. Hunt), 13 July 1967, at Santa Barbara, California.
He died at Santa Monica, California, 26 June 1973, at the age of 69 years. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
9 September 1940: North American Aviation completed assembly of the NA-73X, the first prototype of the new Mustang Mk.I fighter for the Royal Air Force. This was just 117 days after the British Purchasing Commission had authorized the construction of the prototype. The airplane was designed by a team led by Edgar Schmued. The 1,150-horsepower Allison V-12 engine had not yet arrived, so the NA-73X was photographed with dummy exhaust stacks. The prototype’s company serial number was 73-3097. It had been assigned a civil experimental registration number, NX19998.
The NA-73X was a single-seat, single-engine, low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the flight control surfaces were fabric covered. The airplane was designed for the maximum reduction in aerodynamic drag. The Mustang was the first airplane to use a laminar-flow wing. The fuselage panels were precisely designed and very smooth. Flush riveting was used. The coolant radiator with its intake and exhaust ducts was located behind and below the cockpit. As cooling air passed through the radiator it was heated and expanded, so that as it exited, it actually produced some thrust.
The prototype was 32 feet, 2⅝ inches (9.820 meters) long, with a wing span of 37 feet, 5/16 inch (11.286 meters). Empty weight of the NA-73X was 6,278 pounds (2,848 kilograms) and normal takeoff weight was 7,965 pounds (3,613 kilograms).
The NA-73X was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam 60° V-12 engine, with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.65:1. It used a single-stage, single-speed supercharger. This was a right-hand tractor engine (the V-1710 was built in both right-hand and left-hand configurations) which drove a 10 foot, 6 inch (3.200 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction.
The V-1710-39 had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level; Take Off Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, with 44.5 inches of manifold pressure (1.51 Bar), 5 minute limit; and a War Emergency Power rating of 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., with 56 inches of manifold pressure (1.90 Bar). The V-1710-F3R was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.64 inches (0.931 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It had a dry weight of 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).
U.S. Army Air Corps flight tests of the fully-armed production Mustang Mk.I (XP-51 41-038), equipped with the V-1710-39 and a 10 foot, 9-inch (3.277 meters) diameter Curtiss Electric propeller, resulted in a maximum speed of 382.0 miles per hour (614.8 kilometers per hour) at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). The service ceiling was 30,800 feet (9,388 meters) and the absolute ceiling was 31,900 feet (9,723 meters).
The Curtiss P-40D Warhawk used the same Allison V-1710-39 engine as the XP-51, as well as a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller. During performance testing at Wright Field, a P-40D, Air Corps serial number 40-362, weighing 7,740 pounds (3,511 kilograms), reached a maximum speed of 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour) at 15,175 feet (4,625 meters). Although the Mustang’s test weight was 194 pounds (88 kilograms) heavier, at 7,934 pounds (3,599 kilograms), the Mustang was 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour) faster than the Warhawk. This demonstrates the effectiveness of the Mustang’s exceptionally clean design.
Only one NA-73X was built. It made its first flight 26 October 1940 with test pilot Vance Breese. The prototype suffered significant damage when it overturned during a forced landing, 20 November 1941. NX19998 was repaired and flight testing resumed. The prototype’s final disposition is not known.
Originally ordered by Great Britain, the Mustang became the legendary U.S. Army Air Corps P-51 Mustang. A total of 15,486 Mustangs were built by North American Aviation at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas. Another 200 were built in Australia by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation.
The P-51 remained in service with the U.S. Air Force until 27 January 1957 when the last one, F-51D-30-NA 44-74936, was retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. It was then transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it is on display.
5 September 1949: The 1949 National Air Races were a three-day event held at the Cleveland Municipal Airport, southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, over the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend, 3–5 September 1949. This was the twelfth time that the races had taken place at the airport since they began in 1929. More than 170,000 people attended the races over the three days, and at least 72,000 paid spectators were present on Monday, the 5th.
The day’s major event was the Thompson Trophy Race. This was a 15-lap race around a 7-turn, 15-mile course (225 statute miles/362 kilometers), marked by a tall pylon at the airport, and barrage balloons at the other turns. Before World War II, the Thompson race was flown with specially-built air racers, but this was no longer practical. Since 1946, the competitors flew military fighter aircraft, some of which had been heavily modified from their original configurations.
The 1949 race had two divisions. The J Division, for military jet fighters, was flown first, with a scheduled start time of 2:35 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. The R Division, for reciprocating-engine aircraft, was scheduled an hour later.
The R-Division had ten entrants, which included three Goodyear-built F2G-1 Corsairs, one Bell Aircraft Corporation P-63 King Cobra, and six North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs. The race winner would be awarded $16,000 in prize money, and another $2,000 if he beat the race speed which had been set in 1947.
One of the air racers was William Paul (“Bill”) Odom, flying a radically-modified North American Aviation P-51C Mustang which was owned by the world-famous aviatrix, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran. Ms. Cochran was the holder of many world records for speed and altitude. She had won the trans-continental Bendix Trophy Race in 1938, and placed second in 1946 with her “Lucky Strike Green” P-51B Mustang, NX28388.
Odom had not flown in a pylon race before, but had gained public attention for a number of long-distance record flights, including a 78 hour, 55 minute, 6 second around-the-world flight in a Douglas A-26 Invader, Reynolds Bombshell, 12–16 April 1947.
With these records and record attempts, Bill Odom persuaded Jackie Cochran to buy a radically-modified P-51C Mustang named Beguine (NX4845N) for him to fly at the 1949 National Air Races at Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio.
Cochran purchased NX4845N from J.D. Reed Co., Inc., of Houston, Texas, on 22 August 1949. (She submitted an Application for Registration to the Civil Aeronautics Administration, but it does not appear that a new Certificate of Registration was ever issued.)
Ms. Cochran also planned to fly Beguine in the 1950 Bendix Trophy Race.
During 1948–1949, 42-103757 was radically modified as an Unlimited Class air racer. The lower portion of the P-51’s fuselage was removed and faired over. The radiator and engine oil cooler which had been enclosed in the Mustang’s characteristic belly scoop were relocated to the wingtips. (The Air Force had experimented with a ramjet-powered P-51D, 44-63528. A Marquardt XRJ-30-MA ramjet was placed on each wingtip. The cooling pods on 42-103757 resemble these, though another source says that the pods were made from modified FJ-1 Fury fuel tanks.) No reports of these modifications are found in the airplane’s records at the Federal Aviation Administration, however.
The former owner, J.D. Reed, named the racer Beguine after a popular song of the time, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” The music from the song was painted in gold along the Mustang’s fuselage, along with the race number 7.
Though he had never before flown in a pylon race, Odom qualified Beguine for the 105-mile (167 kilometer) Sohio Trophy Race, which was held on Saturday, 3 September. He won the race with the average speed of 388.393 miles per hour (625.058 kilometers per hour), and was awarded $19,100 in prize money.
He had also entered the Thompson Trophy Race, qualifying with a speed of 405.565 miles per hour (652.694 kilometers per hour.)
At the start of the Thompson race, Odom quickly took the lead. But on the second lap, things went wrong. As it approached Pylon 4, Beguine rolled upside down and then crashed into a house near the airport, setting it on fire.
Air racer Steven Calhoun Beville, flying P-51D Mustang # 77 in the Thompson Race, the closest pilot to Beguine, said that Odom had cut inside Pylon No. 3 and was correcting toward Pylon 4 when the airplane rolled inverted.
[Beville’s Mustang, The Galloping Ghost, NX79111, is the same airplane involved in the catastrophic crash at the National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada, 16 September 2011.]
Newspapers reported the crash:
Beville, who finished third in the race, was the closest to Odom when he got in trouble.
“Bill was out too far on the third pylon,” Beville said, “and was trying to correct position too quickly. He turned over in the air and flew along on his back for a short distance, then dived right into a house.”
—The San Bernardino Daily Sun, Vol. LVI, No. 5, Tuesday, 6 September 1949, at Page 2, Column 7
“The house” was a brand new single-family home, located at 429 West Street, Berea, Ohio. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley C. Laird, had moved in just four days earlier, along with their 5-year-old son, David. Their 13-month-old, Craig, had remained with Mrs. Laird’s parents, but her father, Benjamin J. Hoffman, had brought him to the house in Berea two days earlier.
Jeanne Laird was inside the house when Beguine crashed. She was killed instantly. Mr. Laird, Mr. Hoffman and David were outside watching the airplanes fly overhead, and Craig was in a playpen in the driveway. When the house exploded in flames, Mr. Hoffman rescued Craig, suffering severe burns in doing so. The infant was critically burned, and though Mr. Hoffman drove him to Berea Community Hospital, Craig Hamilton Laird died several hours later.
Bill Odom’s body was so badly burned that it could only be identified by his wristwatch.
Despite Odom’s crash, the Thompson Trophy Race continued. Cook Cleland, flying his clipped-wing F2G Corsair, # 94, won the race. When interviewed afterwards about the crash, Cleland said,
“. . . I don’t think he should have been in the Thompson Trophy Race at all. Not only I, but some of the other pilots will tell you the same thing.
“He was a Bendix (the cross-country speed dash) pilot, not a closed course speed pilot. It takes two different kinds of temperament. Odom made an excellent cross-country flyer, but I guess the ship he flew today was just too much for him.
“It’s just too bad he had to race today. Anson Johnson said he thought it was the first time Odom had flown that type of plane.
“No one was worried about his plane. It was about as good a piece of equipment as anyone could buy. It made our ships look mangy in comparison.
“I had just met Odom and he seemed like a nice guy. There is no doubt that he was a good pilot. Just that he was in the wrong race. Too bad it had to happen. . . .”
—San Francisco Examiner, Vol. CLXXXXI, No. 68, Tuesday, 6 September 1949, at Page 5, Columns 1 and 2
In her autobiography, Jackie Cochran wrote,
I was in the judges’ stand handling telephone reports from the back of the stands’ pylons when the flash came through that Bill had crashed. I jumped into a helicopter that was just in front of me on the field and went out to the spot of the accident hoping that something could be done. I found the house on fire, with Bill and the plane, as well as some of the occupants, buried in the wreckage. Some news photographer snapped a picture of me standing there close by. I am in that picture the personification of abject desolation. For three days I stayed in Cleveland doing all that I could to honor Bill Odom’s memory.
— The Stars At Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter V at Page 96.
Jeanne Marian Hoffman was born 18 September 1925, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the third child of Benjamin John Hoffman, a stationary engineer, and Vergie Effie Hamilton Hoffman.
Jeanne attended Marshall High School, and after graduation, was employed as a model for The Dayton Company, a department store company with its headquarters in Minneapolis.
Miss Hoffman married 2nd Lieutenant Bradley Clayton Laird, United States Army, 13 November 1943. The ceremony was performed by Dr. Arnold S. Lowe, and took place at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. The newlyweds then traveled to Fort Bliss, Texas, where Lieutenant Laird was assigned for training.
Following World War II, Mr. and Mrs. Laird settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their first son, David, was born there
Mrs. Laird’s remains were interred at the Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Craig Hamilton Laird was born 30 July 1948 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His remains were interred with those of his mother.
William Paul Odom was born at Raymore, Missouri, 21 October 1919, He was the first of three children of Dennis Paul Odom, a farmer, and Ethel E. Powers Odom.
Odom, then an airport radio operator, married Miss Dorothy Mae Wroe at Brentwood, Pennsylvania, 3 December 1939. Two children. Divorced September 1948
Odom flew for the Chinese National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) from 1944 to 1945, flying “The Hump,” the air route over the Himalayas from India to China.
William P. Odom had flown a Douglas A-26B Invader, NX67834, named Reynolds Bombshell, around the world in 3 days, 6 hours 55 minutes, 56 seconds, 12–16 April 1947. He made a second around the world flight, 7–11 August 1947, again flying the A-26. The duration of this second trip was 3 days, 1 hour, 5 minutes, 11 seconds. (Neither flight was recognized as a record by the FAI.)
In April 1948, Odom flew a Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express transport for the Reynolds Boston Museum China Expedition.
Odom had made another FAI World Record flight with Waikiki Beech, from from Honolulu, to Oakland, California, an official distance of 3,873.48 kilometers (2,406.87 miles).²
William Paul Odom’s remains were buried at the Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, Mississippi.
5 September 1944: Lieutenant William H. Allen, U.S. Army Air Corps, was a fighter pilot assigned to the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, based at RAF Wormingford, Essex, England. After escorting a bombing mission to Stuttgart, Lt. Allen, flying his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-14049, Pretty Patty II, (identification markings CY J) and his flight, which included Lieutenant William H. Lewis, attacked an airfield north of Göppingen, Germany.
Lieutenant Allen became an Ace in one day when he shot down five Heinkel He 111 twin-engine bombers as they took off at two-minute intervals.
The flight of Mustangs shot down a total of 16 enemy aircraft.