3 April 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton takes his first flight—a one hour familiarization—in the company’s prototype of a new fighter for the Royal Air Force, the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field. (Mines would later become Los Angeles International Airport, LAX.)
The airplane had first been flown by free-lance test pilot Vance Breese, 26 October 1940, and he had flown it several times. North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, on his first flight in NX19998, ran out of fuel and crash landed in a plowed field 150 yards (137 meters) west of the airfield, 20 November 1940. The prototype had flown just 3 hours, 20 minutes.
The NA-73X was repaired and Bob Chilton was assigned to complete the testing program. The airplane would become the legendary P-51 Mustang, and Chilton would continue to conduct the majority of flight testing on its improvements and modifications.
Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.
At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.
In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.
Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.
On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Repulic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.
From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.
Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.
In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.
Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.
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.