Tag Archives: Parachute

12 June 1922

Albert William Stevens (Belfast Historical Society and Museum)

12 June 1922: Captain Albert William Stevens, Air Service, United States Army, made a high altitude parachute jump from a twin-engine Martin GMB bomber flying at 24,206 feet (7,378 meters) over McCook Field, Ohio.

A contemporary magazine article described the jump:

The greatest recorded parachute jump made from an airplane was accomplished by Capt. Albert W. Stevens a year or more ago. He fell 24,200 feet—almost five miles—landing 25 miles away from the point above which he jumped and suffering no injury in his descent, beyond a couple of dislocated toes.

Popular Science Monthly, November 1924, Vol. 105, No. 5, at Page 152, Column 2.

The Army and Navy Register published this very informative report:

PARACHUTING FROM 24,206 FEET

     Hurtling four and one-half miles through space was the recent experience of Capt. A. W. Stevens, Air Service, stationed at McCook Field, Dayton Ohio, in a parachute jump on June 12 last from the high altitude of 24,206 feet from a supercharged Martin bomber, piloted by Lieut. Leigh Wade, with Sergeant Roy Lanham as the other passenger. Capt. Stevens’ fall lasted approximately 20 minutes, and the oscillations of the chute, due to the prevailing winds, made him thoroughly seasick by the time half of the descent was over. In his official report to the chief of the Air Service, Capt. Stevens says:

    “The pack-cord was ripped about ten feet below the fuselage of the bomber. The parachute opened instantly and was fully open in less than 100 feet below the plane (estimated). The writer has made several jumps before, viz., from 1,500 feet, at 85 miles per hour; 1,500 feet at 65 miles per hour, and 5,600 feet at 65 miles per hour. Although the plane speed is estimated by the pilot at 110 miles per hour, the shock of opening was less, if anything, than on the previous jumps by the writer at lower altitudes and speed—due very likely to the lower density of the atmosphere.

     “The writer had complete confidence that the parachute would open fully—sooner or later. The only question with him was whether the passage of the silk fabric through the cold, rarefied upper air might generate enough static electricity to hold the folds of the ‘chute tight together for a time, until when it did open the shock might result in a rupture, either of the operator’s body, or of the shroud lines. This fear was groundless as the ‘chute opened instantly—or practically so. The ‘chute used had the vents sewed right; it had been tested with both 100 and 200-pound weights in the usual manner over McCook Field from about 600 feet altitude.

     “The time of descent was not over 20 minutes, from the writer’s estimate. It may have been less than 20 minutes, but was over 15 minutes. The writer would like to make another jump from still higher altitude, 40,000 feet or more, when he recovers from a few broken foot bones, and if this is done, a recording barograph will be carried as part of the jumper’s equipment. Needless to say, a comparatively windless day is best to choose for a thing of this kind, as the ‘chute may get caught in a down current on a windy day and land twice as hard as usual. Also, the jumper from high altitudes is burdened with heavy flying clothing, which increases his weight considerably.

     “Attention is called to the fact that the parachute averaged a ground speed of one and one-half miles a minute, based on a travel of 30 miles and a time of descent of less than 20 minutes. The ordinary time of descent is about 1,000 feet per minute at ordinary altitudes; for instance, in the 5,600-foot jump previously referred to, the time was six minutes. In the thin upper air the ‘chute undoubtedly falls faster, especially when it is oscillating and spilling air, as was the case all the way down on the recent jump.

     “Ten minutes of such oscillation will upset anything but a cast-iron stomach. In the writer’s case, he was thoroughly seasick by the time half of the descent was over. He could get little relief by closing his eyes, and if his eyes were open the landscape below heaved and tipped in all directions. It is of interest to note that temporary relief was experienced by fixing the eyes for a few seconds on the center of the parachute, this being the only point in space reasonably at rest with respect to the body of the jumper.

     “It is inadvisable to open the second ‘chute for the purpose of checking oscillation, as one then loses control of movement. With a single ‘chute it is possible to change the direction of one’s flight very considerably, even on a windy day. On a calm day one can do much better, even to the extent of picking out a particular field in which to land. On a windy day the air currents carry you irresistibly ahead, and the best that can be done is to side-slip to the right or to the left of the line of flight.

     “About the land: if one imagines that he has just jumped from a twelve-foot wall and crouches in a jumping position, he will be in the best position for landing. Too great a tension of the leg muscles may result in ruptured tendons or broken foot bones. You are sure to collapse in a pile on the ground; it is better to relax with that in view, and thereby get a more even distribution of bruises. The jumper should face the way he is traveling; to accomplish this it is possible to make the ‘chute revolve, earlier in the drop, by taking a few of the shroud lines and pulling diagonally, with the idea of working a “propeller” surface into one point of the ‘chute circumference. The second ‘chute may be pulled about 50 to 75 feet before landing, chiefly to get rid of the extra weight. If pulled earlier, the two ‘chutes will soon stand well apart, at 60 degrees or more, and will spill air between them, so that the jumper will fall nearly as fast as ever, and with practically no control.

     “The bomber carried four recording barographs, as well as indicating altimeters. The result of McCook Field laboratory measurements showed that the elevation was 24,206 feet.

     “It was the intention of Lieut. Wade to take the plane, relieved of 250 pounds of weight, still higher, but one of the superchargers developed trouble and it was necessary to cut the flight short.”

ARMY AND NAVY REGISTER, The U.S. Military Gazette, Vol. LXIII, No. 2195, 12 August 1922 at Page 162

1st Lieutenant Albert William Stevens, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1921. Lieutenant Williams is wearing the badge of an aerial observer. The decoration beneath is the Victory Medal with four campaign stars. (Albert W. Stevens Collection)

Albert William Stevens (née Whitten) was born at Belfast, Maine, 13 March 1886, the third child of Nathan Whitten, a blacksmith and wagon builder, and Alice C. Anderson Whitten. His mother died of “consumption” (tuberculosis) when Albert was five months old. He was adopted by Albert J. Stevens and Nancy M. Trimble Stevens, and his name became Albert William Stevens.

Stevens attended the University of Maine at Orono, Maine. He graduated in 1907 with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. He earned a Masters degree in electrical engineering  from the university in 1909. He then worked as a mining engineer in Alaska, California, Idaho and Montana.

Stevens enlisted in the U.S. Air Service in Idaho, January 1918. Because of his experience in photography, which began while he was in college, Stevens was assigned to the Aerial Photography School at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 18 February 1918. Sent to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces, Stevens commanded the 6th Photo Section, 88th Aero Squadron. He flew in the major campaigns of the final months of the War.

In this photograph of officers of the 88th Aero Squadron in France, 1918, Lieutenant Stevens is in the front row, fifth from right. The airplane is an Avion Salmson Type 2 A.2. (United States Air Force)

He was an acknowledged expert in the field of aerial photography. Lieutenant Stevens was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. Following the War, he was promoted to Captain, Air Service, 21 February 1919. His commission was vacated 18 September 1920, and he was appointed a Captain, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920. On 18 November 1922, Stevens was discharged as a Captain, then re-appointed a First Lieutenant. He returned to the rank of Captain, Air Service, 10 February 1925. On 16 June 1936, he was promoted to the temporary rank of Major, United States Army Air Corps. This rank became permanent 12 June 1939. In 1940, Major Stevens took command of the Photographer’s School, Air Corps Technical School, Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado. He advanced to the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 30 December 1940. This rank became permanent 15 October 1941. He was retired from the Air Corps for medical reasons, 30 April 1942.

Stevens married Ruth E. Fischer at Rockville, Maryland, 8 August 1938.

Captain Stevens was a pioneering aviator, balloonist and aerial photographer. Using infrared film, he made the first photograph that showed the curvature of the Earth. He also took the first photograph of the Moon’s shadow on the surface of the Earth during an eclipse.

Stevens made a series of high-altitude balloon flights, and on 11 November 1935 he and Captain Orvil A. Anderson ascended to 22,066 meters (72,395 feet) aboard Explorer II, establishing a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record. ¹

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew William Stevens, United States Army Air Forces (Retired), died at Redwood City, California, 26 March 1949, at the age of 63 years. He is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

Major Albert W. Stevens, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1936. Major Stevens is wearing the wings of an aerial observer. The ribbons beneath represent the Purple Heart, the World War I Victory Medal with four campaign stars, and the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award).
1st Lieutenant Leigh Wade, Air Service, U.S. Army

1st Lieutenant Leigh Wade, Captain Stevens’ pilot, flew the Douglas World Cruiser Boston in the U.S. Army’s around the world flight, April–September 1924, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He reached the rank of Major General and remained in the United States Air Force until retiring, 1 November 1955.

The Martin GMB (also referred to as the Martin MB-1) was a twin-engine biplane designed as a reconnaissance airplane with a secondary role as a bomber. It had a crew of three. The bomber entered service in 1918 and was the first U.S.-built bomber to enter production.

The GMB was 44 feet, 10 inches (13.665 meters) long with a wingspan of 71 feet, 5 inches (21.768 meters) and height of 14 feet, 7 inches (4.445 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 6,702 pounds (3,040 kilograms) and a gross weight of 10,225 pounds (4,638 kilograms).

A Martin MB-1 bomber, A.S. 39059, (P-104) at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
A Martin GMB bomber, A.S. 39059 (P-104). (U.S. Air Force)

The bomber was powered by two water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. It turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms). The engines on Stevens’ airplane were supercharged to increase its altitude capability.

The GMB had a cruise speed of 92 miles per hour (148 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its service ceiling was 10,300 feet (3,140 meters). Range for the standard airplane was 390 miles (628 kilometers).

Twenty-two GMBs were built by the Glenn L. Martin Company.

Martin MB-1 A.S. , P=106. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin GMB bomber A.S. 62950 (P-106). (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 10654

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 March 1912

Anthony H. Jannus and Captain Albert Berry, U.S. Army, prior to their flight, at Jefferson Barracks, 1 March 1912. (NASM)
Antony H. Jannus and Captain Albert Berry, U.S. Army, prior to their flight, at Kinloch Field, Missouri, 1 March 1912. The parachute is packed inside the inverted cone. (NASM)

1 March 1912: At Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, Captain Albert Berry, United States Army, made the first parachute jump from an airplane.

Pilot Antony H. Jannus and Captain Berry took off from Kinloch Field, a balloon-launching field in Kinloch Park, (now, Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, STL) and flew aboard a 1911 Benoist Type XII School Plane, 18 miles (29 kilometers) to the drop zone at Jefferson Barracks. The airplane was a pusher biplane which was based on a Curtiss pusher, and is also called the Benoist Headless.

Barry had his parachute packed inside a conical container mounted beneath the airplane’s lower wing. They climbed to an altitude of 1,500 feet (457.2 meters).

When the reached the desired altitude and were over the barracks’ parade grounds, Berry attached the parachute to a harness that he was wearing, then lowered himself on a trapeze-like bar suspended in front of the wings. He pulled a lanyard which released him. The parachute was opened by a static line.

Captain Albert Berry parachuting from teh Benoist biplane over Jefferson Barracks, 1 March 1912. (NASM)
Captain Albert Berry parachuting from the Benoist biplane over Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, 1 March 1912. (NASM)

The Associated Press reported the event:

ST. LOUIS, March 1. —For the first time in the history of a heavier-than-air flying machine, a man leaped from an aeroplane at Jefferson barracks this afternoon and descended safely to earth in a parachute. Capt. Albert Berry made the spectacular leap and it was witnessed by hundreds of cheering soldiers.

Berry and Pilot Jannus left the Kinlock aviation field in the afternoon in a two-passenger biplane, carrying beneath the machine, in a specially constructed case, a large parachute. With practiced hand Jannus steadied the machine, Berry gave a quick jerk of a rope and, while the aeroplane, first bouncing up like a cork, suddenly poised and steadied itself.

Hundreds of watchers held their breath as Berry shot toward the earth, the parachute trailing after him in a long, snaky line. Suddenly the parachute opened, the rapidity of the descent was checked and, amid cheers, the first aviator to make such an attempt lightly reached the ground.

Captain Berry landed safely.

Berry had previously parachuted from balloons. He was asked if he would repeat the jump from an airplane. “Never again! I believe I turned five somersaults on my way down. . . My course downward. . . was like a crazy arrow. I was not prepared for the violent sensation that I felt when I broke away from the aeroplane.”

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 November 1971

This photograph shows Northwest Orient Airlines' Boeing 727, N467US, on teh ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the evening of 24 November 1971. (Unattributed; probable news agency photo)
This photograph shows Northwest Orient Airlines’ Boeing 727, N467US, on the ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the evening of 24 November 1971. (Unattributed; probable news agency photograph, via Check-Six.com)

24 November 1971: Early Wednesday afternoon, a man who gave the name “Dan Cooper” purchased a one-way ticket for Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a non-stop flight from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington. Flight 305 departed on schedule at 2:50 p.m., PST, with a crew of 6 and 37 passengers, including Cooper. Captain William A. Scott was in command with First Officer William Rataczack as co-pilot and Second Officer Harold E. Anderson, flight engineer.

The airliner was a six-year-old Boeing 727-51, c/n 18803, registered N467US. On this flight, it was approximately one-third full. The trip from PDX to SEA was estimated to take 30 minutes.

Shortly after takeoff, Cooper gave a handwritten note to Florence Schaffner, a flight attendant who was seated nearby. The note read that the airliner was being hijacked and that Cooper had a bomb in his briefcase. Schaffner asked Cooper to show her the bomb. He opened the brief case and she later described having seen eight red cylinders with red-insulated wires attached, and a cylindrical battery. Cooper closed his briefcase and gave Schaffner his demands: $200,000 in United States currency, four parachutes and a fuel truck to be standing by on their arrival at Seattle. She then relayed Cooper’s demands to the flight crew.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released these artists sketches of the suspect in the hijacking of Flight 305. (FBI)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation released these artist’s sketches of the suspect in the hijacking of Flight 305. (FBI)

Once over Seattle, Flight 305 circled for approximately two hours while officials on the ground arranged to comply with Cooper’s demands. The 727 landed at SEA at 5:39 p.m. Ransom money had been gathered by the FBI from several Seattle area banks and consisted of 10,000  $20 bills. The notes were not marked but all were photographed to record their serial numbers.

The money was carried to the airliner by a Northwest employee, along with the requested parachutes. These were given to flight attendant Tina Mucklow at the 727’s aft boarding stairs. She carried these to Cooper, who satisfied that his demands had been met, allowed the 36 other passengers, as well as flight attendants Schaffner and Alice Hancock, to leave the airplane.

Refueling was delayed because of trouble with the fuel truck, and eventually three trucks were used.

Cooper informed the flight crew that he wanted them to fly the 727 south to Mexico, and gave very specific instructions. He told them to fly as slow as possible, to leave the landing gear extended, flaps lowered to 15°, and to remain below 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) with the cabin unpressurized. He also demanded that the airliner takeoff with its ventral stairs lowered but this was refused as being unsafe.

At 7:40 p.m., N467US took off from SeaTac with the flight crew and cabin attendant Mucklow still on board. Cooper required that Mucklow remain with him in the passenger cabin. It was followed by two Convair F-106 Delta Dart interceptors from McChord Air Force Base.

An intermediate fuel stop had been planned for Reno, Nevada, and the airliner headed in that direction, flying along a standard airway, Victor 23.

Cooper told Mucklow to go forward and join the rest of the crew in the cockpit. At 8:00 p.m., a warning light in the cockpit came on indicating that the ventral stairs had been activated. At 8:13 p.m., the aircraft pitched nose down, and required that the flight controls be re-trimmed for a level attitude. At 10:15 p.m., the airliner landed at Reno. After a search, it was determined that Cooper, the money and two parachutes were no longer aboard.

Flight 305 crew at Reno, Nevada. Captain William A. Scott, First Officer William Rataczack, Flight Attendant Tina Mucklow, and Second Officer Harold E. Anderson.

In 1978, a hunter discovered a placard from a 727’s aft stairs near the known path of the hijacked 727. In 1980, a young boy found three deteriorated packets containing $5,800 in $20 bills along the banks of the Columbia River, downstream from Vancouver, Washington. The serial numbers matched currency included in the ransom.

Dan Cooper has never been located. There have been a number of persons considered as suspects, however it is possible that Cooper did not survive the jump from Flight 305.

Northwest Boeing 727-51 N467US at Reno, Nevada. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

N467US remained in service with Northwest Orient Airlines until June 1978, when it was sold to Piedmont Airlines, re-registered N838N, and christened Mt. Mitchell Pacemaker. From 1982 through 1984, it was operated by United Technologies Flight Dynamics, testing navigational equipment. In September 1984 the 727 was again sold, this time to Key Airlines, with a third registration N29KA. During this period, c/n 18803 was operated on daily charter flights from Nellis Air Force Base to the Tonapah Test Range, a restricted Department of Energy installation located about 125 nautical miles (144 statute miles/232 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. Later, the 727 was placed in storage at Greenwood-Leflore Airport (GWO) near Greenwood, Mississippi. It was scrapped in 1996.

Boeing 727-51 c/n 18803, now in Piedmont Airlines livery and registered N838N, at Chicago O’Hare, 1979. (RuthAS)

C/n 18803, a Boeing 727-51, is now considered to be a 727-100, a medium-range civil transport. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 131 passengers. The airliner was 133 feet, 2 inches (40.589 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters), and overall height of 34 feet, 0 inches (10.363 meters). Empty weight was 87,696 pounds (39,778 kilograms) and maximum ramp weight was 170,000 pounds (77,111 kilograms). Usable fuel capacity was 8,090 gallons (30,624 liters).

Power was supplied by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-7 turbofan engines. The JT8D-7 was a two-spool engine with a 2-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), nine combustion chambers, and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The JT8D-7 had a maximum continuous power rating of 12,600 pounds of thrust (56.048 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 14,000 pounds (62.275 kilonewtons) for takeoff. It was 3 feet, 6.5 inches (1.080 meters) in diameter, 10 feet, 3.5 inches (3.137 meters) long, and weighed 3,096 pounds (1,404 kilograms). Two of the engines were in nacelles at either side of the aft fuselage, and the third was mounted in the tail. Its intake was above the rear fuselage at the base of the vertical fin.

The Boeing 727s were very fast airliners with a maximum speed in level flight of 549 knots (632 miles per hour/1,017 kilometers per hour). The Design Cruise Speed (VC) was 530 knots (610 miles per hour/981 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (0.88 Mach). The airplane was certified with a Maximum Mach Number (MMO) of 0.92 Mach (this was later reduced to 0.90 Mach). (During flight testing, a Boeing 727 achieved 0.965 Mach in level flight.) The airliner’s service ceiling was 37,400 feet (11,400 meters) and the range was 2,600 nautical miles (2,992 statute miles/4,815 kilometers).

Boeing built 572 of the 727-100 series and 1,260 of the longer 727-200 variant from 1963 to 1984.

Boeing 727-51 c/n 18803, carrying registration N29KA, awaits scrapping at Greenwood-Leflore Airport, Greenwood, Mississippi. (Jim Newton Photography)
Boeing 727-51 c/n 18803, carrying registration N29KA, awaits scrapping at Greenwood-Leflore Airport, Greenwood, Mississippi. (Jim Newton Photography)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 November 1926

Chief Pilot Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s modified De Havilland DH-4, Number 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circe 1926. (SDA&SM)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circa 1926. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

3 November 1926: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, chief pilot of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, was flying a night air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois. His airplane was a modified De Havilland DH-4B, U.S. Postal Service Airmail Plane Number 109.

Lindbergh was flying Contract Air Mail Route 2, or “C.A.M. No. 2.” He departed St. Louis at 4:20 p.m. and made his first stop at Springfield, Illinois, at 5:15 p.m. He then continued on the second stage, Springfield to Peoria, Illinois.

Visibility was poor, about a half-mile (800 meters) in fog. Lindbergh flew at 600 feet (183 meters) but was unable to see the ground. Near the air field at Peoria, he could see lights from 200 feet (61 meters) altitude, but was unable to land.

After circling for 30 minutes, he continued toward Chicago. Lindbergh occasionally saw lights on the ground through the fog, but with his fuel running low, he decided that he was going to have to abandon his airplane. He headed out over more open country and climbed to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters).

Robertson Aircraft Corporation Dh-4 No. 109. The airplane's fuselage is painted "Tuscan Red" and the wings and tail surafces are silver. The lettering on the side is white. (Minnesota Historical Society)
Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio/Minnesota Historical Society)

At 8:10 p.m., the de Havilland’s fuel supply was exhausted and the engine stopped. Lindbergh switched off the battery and magnetos, then stepped over the side. He immediately pulled the ripcord of his parachute and safely descended to the ground.

Airmail Plane Number 109 crashed on the farm of Charles and Lillie Thompson, near Covell, a small town southwest of Bloomington, Illinois. Lindbergh had been unable to find the wreck in the darkness, but in daylight, it was clearly visible just 500 feet (152 meters) from the Thompson’s house.

This was the fourth time that Charles Lindbergh has used a parachute to escape from an airplane. The last time was just six weeks earlier.

Charles A. Lindbergh (fourth from left) with the wreckage of Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 112, 16 September 1926. (Yale University Library)

He resigned from Robertson Aircraft and formed a group to finance and build the Spirit of St. Louis. Charles Augustus Lindbergh flew his new airplane across the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop, solo, 20–21 May 1927.

Robertson Aircraft Corporation's four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112.
Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112. The airplanes’ fuselages are painted “Tuscan Red” and their wings and tail surfaces are silver. The lettering on their sides is white. No. 112 is the last airplane in this group. “Lucky Lindy” bailed out of it on the night of 16 September 1926.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. The DH.4 (DH-4 in American service) was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The fuselage and wings were constructed of wood and covered with doped fabric. The airplane was produced by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

The DH-4 was 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) and height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,391 pounds, (1,085 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,297 pounds (1,949 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 67 gallons (254 liters).

Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by Liberty 12 aircraft engines in place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built DH.4 version. The L-12 was water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The Liberty 12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and the Packard Motor Car Company. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4 had a maximum speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Many DH-4s were rebuilt as DH-4Bs. These can be identified by the relocated pilot’s cockpit, which was moved aft, closer to the observer’s position. The an enlarged fuel tank was place ahead of the pilot’s cockpit. Following World War II, many were rebuilt with tubular metal frames for the fuselage, replacing the original wooden structure. These aircraft were redesignated DH-4M.

The prototype American DH-4, Dayton-Wright-built airplane, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Aviation and Space Museum.

Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation's de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1922

1st Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service United States Army. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

20 October 1922: 1st Lieutenant Harold Ross Harris, Air Service, United States Army, the Chief, Flight Test Branch, Engineering Division, at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, was test flying a Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A monoplane, a single-engine, single-seat fighter. The PW-2A, serial number A.S. 64388, had experimental balance-type ailerons. During this flight, Lieutenant Harris engaged in simulated air combat with Lieutenant Muir Fairchild (future Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force) who was flying a Thomas-Morse MB-3.

While banking the PW-2A into a right turn, Harris’ control stick began to vibrate violently from side to side and the airplane’s wings were “torn apart.” With the Loening diving uncontrollably, Harris jumped from the cockpit at approximately 2,500 feet (762 meters). After free-falling about 2,000 feet (610 meters), he pulled the lanyard on his parachute which immediately deployed. Harris then descended with his parachute providing aerodynamic deceleration, coming safely to earth in the back yard of a home at 335 Troy Street. He suffered minor bruises when he landed on a trellis in the garden.

Loening Aeronautical Engineering Company PW-2A, A.S. 64388. This is the airplane from which Lieutenant Harold R. Harris “bailed out” over Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Harris’ PW-2A crashed into a yard at 403 Valley Street, three blocks away. It was completely destroyed.

This was the very first time a free-fall parachute had been used in an actual inflight emergency. Lieutenant Harris became the first member of the Irvin Air Chute Company’s “Caterpillar Club.”

Crash scene at 403 Valley Street, Dayton, Ohio, 20 October 1922. (U.S. Air Force)

The Pittsburgh Post reported:

Flyer Quits Plane in Parachute, Saves Life; Unique Case

     Dayton, O., Oct. 20.—Leaping from his Loenig [sic] monoplace in a parachute when the plane became uncontrollable over North Dayton today, Lieutenant Harold R. Harris, chief of the flying section of McCook Field, escaped death when his plane crashed to earth.

     Technical data, officials at McCook Field said, show that Lieutenant Harris’ escape is the first time an air pilot has ever actually saved himself by use of a parachute. A mail plane flyer leaped in a parachute over Chicago several years ago, but the necessity of his leaving the plane was questioned.

     Harris won the commercial plane event in the Pulitzer races in Detroit last week, flying the “Honeymoon Express” plane.

The Pittsburgh Post, Saturday, 21 October 1922, Vol. 80, No. 303, Page 1, Column 1

Harold R. Harris was born at Chicago, Illinois, 20 December 1895, the first of four children of Ross Allen Harris, M.D., and Mae Ermine Plumb Harris. He enlisted as a private in the Aviation Section, Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps (E.R.C.), 2 May 1917. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps (O.R.C.) on 15 December 1917. Harris was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant on 19 January 1918. His commission was vacated 18 September 1920 and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920.

Married Grace C. Harris, circa 1920. They had two children.

Ross attended the Air Service Engineering School, graduating in 1922. He also earned a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (“Caltech”).

Harris left the Air Service in 1926. He founded the world’s first aerial crop dusting business, the Huff Daland Company. Next he became a vice president and chief of operations for Grace Airways, a joint venture of Grace Shipping and Pan American World Airways, providing passenger service between South America and the West Coast of the United States.

During World War II, Harris, using his airline experience, helped to establish the Air Transport Command. In 1942, he was commissioned as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By 1945, he was Chief, Air Transport Command, with the rank of Brigadier General.

Following World War II, Harris joined American Overseas Airlines, which soon was absorbed by Pan American. Harris was once again a vice president for Pan Am.

In 1955, Harris became president of Northwest Airlines.

Brigadier General Harold Ross Harris, United States Army Air Corps (Retired) died 28 July 1988 at the age of 92 years.

Harold Ross Harris, circa 1950. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Harold Ross Harris, circa 1950. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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