Tag Archives: Test Pilot

28 October 1952

Douglas XA3D-1 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 125412. (U.S. Navy)
George R. Jansen, 1921–1991. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

28 October 1952: The prototype Douglas XA3D-1 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 125412, made its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Douglas test pilot George R. Jansen was in the cockpit. The Skywarrior was a carrier-based, twin-engine, swept-wing strategic bomber, designed to carry a 12,000 pound (5,443 kilogram) bomb load. The prototype was equipped with two Westinghouse XJ40-WE-12 turbojet engines producing 7,000 pounds of thrust (31.138 kilonewtons), each.

Designed to be launched from an aircraft carrier, fly 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers), deliver a 3.8 megaton Mark 15 thermonuclear bomb on target, then return to the carrier, the Skywarrior was a considerable challenge for its designers. It was operated by a three man crew: pilot, navigator/bombardier and gunner.

Douglas XA3D-1 Bu. No. 125412 during its first flight, 28 October 1952. (U.S. Navy))

The production A3D-1 was 74 feet, 5 inches (22.682 meters) long with a wingspan of 72 feet, 6 inches (22.098 meters) and overall height of 22 feet, 10 inches (6.960 meters). The shoulder-mounted wings were swept back at a 36° angle and the wings and vertical fin were hinged so that they could be folded for storage aboard the aircraft carrier. The bomber’s empty weight was 35,900 pounds (16,284 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 70,000 pounds (31,752 kilograms).

When the two prototypes’ Westinghouse JX40 engines proved to be underpowered, they were replaced with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1 turbojets, rated at 9,000 pounds of thrust (40.034 kilonewtons). The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section and a 3-stage turbine. (Both had high- and low-pressure stages.) The engine was 15 feet, 3.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms). Production models were equipped with the J57-P-6, rated at 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons).

Douglas XA3D-1 Bu. No. 125412. (U.S. Navy)

The A3D-1 had a cruise speed of 519 miles per hour (835 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 621 miles per hour (999 kilometers per hour) at 1,000 feet (305 meters). The combat ceiling was 40,500 feet (12,344 meters). It had a range of 2,100 miles (3,380 kilometers). The combat radius was 1,150 miles (1,851 kilometers).

The Skywarrior could carry 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of conventional or Special Weapons (MK 43 or MK 57 nuclear bombs) in its internal bomb bay. A remotely-operated turret in the tail was armed with two An-M3 20 mm cannon with 500 rounds per gun.

The first A3D-1 production aircraft were painted a glossy sea blue. This was soon changed to a flat light gray for the sides and upper surfaces with gloss white underneath. This provided better camouflage as well as thermal protection from nuclear blast.

A Douglas A3D-2 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 138974, redesignated A-3B after 1962, launches from the angled flight deck of a United States Navy aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)
A Douglas A3D-2 Skywarrior, Bu. No. 138974, (redesignated A-3B after 1962) launches from the angled flight deck of a United States Navy aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)

Douglas built 282 A3D Skywarriors between 1956 and 1961. They remained in service as late as 1991. The U.S. Air Force ordered 294 B-66 Destroyer medium bombers, which were developed from the A3D. The first XA3D-1, Bu. No. 125412, was used as a ground trainer after the test flight program was completed.

Major George R. Jansen, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)
Major George R. Jansen, U.S. Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

George R. Jansen was the Director of Flight Operations for the Douglas Aircraft Company. He had been a bomber pilot flying the B-24 Liberator during World War II. After one mission, his bomber, Margaret Ann, returned to base in England with more than 750 bullet and shrapnel holes, and one crewman dead and another wounded. He twice flew missions from North Africa against the refineries at Ploesti, Romania. At the age of 22, Jansen was a major in command of the 68th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 44th Bombardment Group (Heavy). He had been awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Air Medals.

After the war, George Jansen went to work for Douglas as a production test pilot. He graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1952. He flew many of Douglas’s new prototype aircraft, and also flew the modified Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mother ship to carry the D-558-II Skyrocket to altitude. He made many of the first flights for Douglas, both military and civil. He passed away at the age of 70 years.

A Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior is launched from a steam catapult aboard USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) while a second is readied for launch. (U.S. Navy)
A Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior is launched from a steam catapult aboard USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) while a second is readied for launch. (U.S. Navy)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 2015

Sikorsky's CH-53K King Stallion Engineering Development Model-1 hovers in ground effect, 27 October 2015. (Sikorsky)
Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion Engineering Development Model-1 hovers in ground effect at West Palm Beach, Florida, 27 October 2015. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

27 October 2015: The first flight of the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion Engineering Development Model–1, Bu. No. 169019, at West Palm Beach, Florida. In the cockpit was Stephen McCulley, Chief Experimental Test Pilot for Sikorsky. During the 30 minute flight, the new helicopter demonstrated sideward, rearward and forward flight while remaining in in-ground-effect hover.

Up to this point, the helicopter had completed about 200 hours of “turn-time,” or ground testing, with engines running..

Three more aircraft will join the test fleet for a planned 2,000 hour flight test program.

The CH-53K King Stallion test fleet. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

The fuselage of the CH-53K King Stallion is 73 feet, 1.5 inches (22.289 meters) long and its width is 9 feet, 10 inches (2.997 meters). The maximum width, across the sponsons, is 17 feet, 6 inches (5.334 meters). The seven-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 79 feet (24.079 meters). The four-blade tail rotor is 20 feet (6.096 meters) in diameter. The tail rotor is tilted 20° to the left. With rotors turning, the helicopter has an overall length of 99 feet (30.175 meters), and height of 28 feet, 4.9 inches (8.659 meters). The helicopter’s maximum gross weight is 88,000 pounds (39,916 kilograms).

Power is supplied by three General Electric T408-GE-400 engines which produce 7,500 shaft horsepower, each. The engine has digital electronic controls. The T408 has a 6-stage compressor section (5 axial-flow stages, 1 centrifugal-flow stage) and – stage turbine section (2 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The engine is 57.5 inches (1.461 meters) long and 27 inches (0.686 meters) in diameters.

At Sea Level with maximum continuous power, the CH-53K cruises at 158 knots (182 miles per hour/293 kilometers per hour). It can hover out of ground effect at Sea Level at its maximum gross weight. The helicopter’s service ceiling is 16,000 feet (4,877 meters).

The first production CH-53K was delivered to the U.S. Marine Corps on 16 May 2018, at West Palm Beach, Florida.

Sikorsky delivered the first of 200 CH-53K King Stallion Helicopters to the USMC from West Palm Beach, Florida, on May 16. Image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps. (PRNewsfoto/Lockheed Martin)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 1954

NACA's chief project test pilot for the Douglas X-3, in the cockpit of the research aircraft, circa 1954-1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
NACA’s chief project test pilot for the Douglas X-3, Joe Walker, in the cockpit of the research aircraft, circa 1954-1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

October 27, 1954: between August 1954 and May 1956, Joseph A. Walker, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ chief project test pilot for the Douglas X-3 supersonic research aircraft, made twenty research flights in the “Stiletto.”

On the tenth flight, 27 October, Walker took the X-3 to an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). With the rudder centered, he put the X-3 into abrupt left aileron rolls, first at 0.92 Mach and then at Mach 1.05. Both times, the aircraft violently yawed to the right and then pitched down. Walker was able to recover before the X-3 was completely out of control.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 12.08.52
The Douglas X-3 during NACA flight testing, 1954-1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

This was a new and little understood condition called inertial roll coupling. It was a result of the aircraft’s mass being concentrated within its fuselage, the gyroscopic effect of the turbojet engines and the inability of the wings and control surfaces to stabilize the airplane and overcome its rolling tendency. (Just two weeks earlier, North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch had been killed when the F-100A Super Sabre that he was testing also encountered inertial roll coupling and disintegrated.)

A post-flight inspection found that the X-3 had reached its maximum design load. The airplane was grounded for the next 11 months.

Unlike its predecessors, the Bell Aircraft Corporation's X1 and and X-2 rocketplanes, teh turbojet-powered Douglas X-3 took off under its own power. here, its two Westinghouse J37 engines are stirring up teh sand on Runway 35 at Rogers Dry Lake. (LIFE Magazine via jet Pilot Overseas)
Unlike its predecessors, the Bell Aircraft Corporation’s X1 and and X-2 rocketplanes, the turbojet-powered Douglas X-3 took off under its own power. Here, its two Westinghouse J37 engines are stirring up the sand on Runway 35 at Rogers Dry Lake. (LIFE Magazine via jet Pilot Overseas)

The Douglas X-3, serial number 49-2892, was built for the Air Force and NACA to explore flight in the Mach 1 to Mach 2 range. It was radically shaped, with a needle-sharp nose, very long thin fuselage and small straight wings. Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

The X-3 was 66 feet, 9 inches (20.345 meters) long, with a wing span of just 22 feet, 8.25 inches (6.915 meters). The overall height was 12 feet, 6.3 inches (3.818 meters). The X-3 had an empty weight of 16,120 pounds (7,312 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 23,840 pounds (10,814 kilograms).

It was to have been powered by two Westinghouse J46 engines, but when those were unsatisfactory, two Westinghouse XJ34-WE-17 engines were substituted. This was an axial flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It was rated at 3,370 pounds (14.99 kilonewtons) of thrust, and 4,900 pounds (21.80 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The XJ34-WE-17 was 14 feet, 9.0 inches (4.496 meters) long, 2 feet, 1.0 inch (0.635 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,698 pounds (770 kilograms).

The X-3 had a maximum speed of 706 miles per hour (1,136 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J37 engines, and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. The X-3′s highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. It was therefore never able to be used in flight testing the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics, though, it was very useful in exploring stability and control in the transonic range.

At one point, replacing the X-3’s turbojet engines with two Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engines was considered. Predictions were that a rocket-powered X-3 could reach Mach 4.2. However, with Mach 2 Lockheed F-104 becoming operational and North American Aviation’s X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane under construction, the idea was dropped. Technology had passed the X-3 by.

In addition to Douglas Aircraft test pilot Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest and Major Chuck Yeager and  NACA pilot Joe Walker.

Joe Walker resumed flight testing the X-3 in 1955. Its final flight was 23 May 1956. After the flight test program came to an end, the X-3 was turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

NACA test pilot Joe Walker with the Douglas X-3. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
NACA test pilot Joe Walker with the Douglas X-3. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 1918

Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, Air Service, United States Army (FAI)
Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, Air Service, United States Army (FAI)

27 October 1918:

MAUGHAN, RUSSELL L.

First Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army
Pilot, 139th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces
Citation:
Distinguished Service Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to First Lieutenant (Air Service) Russell L. Maughan, United States Army Air Service, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 138th Aero Squadron, U.S. Army Air Service, A.E.F., near Sommerance, France, 27 October 1918. Accompanied by two other planes, Lieutenant Maughan was patrolling our lines, when he saw slightly below him an enemy plane (Fokker type). When he started an attack upon it he was attacked from behind by four more of the enemy. By several well-directed shots he sent one of his opponents to the earth, and, although the forces of the enemy were again increased by seven planes, he so skillfully maneuvered that he was able to escape toward his lines. While returning he attacked and brought down an enemy plane which was diving on our trenches.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 46 (1919), Amended Supplement 1
Action Date: October 27, 1918
Officers of the 139th Aero Squadron, at Belrain Aerodrome, France, November 1918. 1st Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan is at the center of the photograph, kneeling, in the second row. (U.S. Air Force)
Officers of the 139th Aero Squadron, at Belrain Aerodrome, France, November 1918. 1st Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan is at the center of the photograph, kneeling, in the second row. (U.S. Air Force)

Maughan is credited with four enemy aircraft destroyed while flying a SPAD S.XIII C.I fighter.

Russell Lowell Maughan was born at Logan, Utah, 28 March 1893. He was the sixth of eight children of Peter Weston Maughan, an accountant, and Mary Lucinda Naef Maughan. He attended Utah Agricultural College in Logan and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1917.

Maughan was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 28 May 1917. He was promoted to first lieutenant, 8 January 1918. This commission was vacated 10 September 1920 and he was appointed a first lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

On 14 August 1919, Maughan married Miss Ila May Fisher at Logan, Utah. They would have three children, but divorced sometime after 1940. His son, Russell L. Maughan, Jr., would become an cadet at the United States Military Academy (West Point) and be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Following the War, Lieutenant Maughan became a test pilot at McCook Field, Ohio. In 1921, he was reassigned to the 91st Observation Squadron, based at the Presidio of San Francisco.

On 14 October 1922, Rusell Maughan won the Pulitzer Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan, before a crowd of 200,000 spectators. He set two World Speed Record during the race with his Curtiss R-6: 330.41 kilometers per hour (205.31 miles per hour) over a distance of 100 kilometers,¹ and 331.46 kilometers per hour (205.96 miles per hour) over a distance of 200 kilometers).² On 29 March 1923, he set another World Speed Record, 380.75 kilometers per hour (236.587 miles per hour),³ again flying a Curtiss R-6.

Major General Mason Patrick, Chief of the Air Service, with Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan, 8 July 1924. (Library of Congress)

On 23 June 1924, Lieutenant Maughan flew a Curtiss PW-8 Hawk from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, to the Presidio of San Francisco on the west coast of California, in an elapsed time of 21 hours, 47 minutes including refueling stops enroute. This was the “Dawn-to-Dusk Flight.” For this transcontinental flight, Maughan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On 1 October 1930, Maughan was promoted to captain. He served in the Philippine Islands from 1930 to 1935, acting as an advisor to the government until 1932. From 1932 to 1935, he served as the post operations officer. He and his family lived in Manila. They returned to the United States aboard SS Columbus, a Norddeutscher Lloyd passenger liner, arriving at New York City from Southampton, 18 August 1935.

Captain Maughan served as an aviation advisor to the governor general of the Philippine Islands, from 1935 to 1939. On 16 June 1936, Captain Maughan was promoted to major (temporary). That rank was made permanent 12 June 1939. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel, 11 March 1940. Just prior to World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Maughan was sent on a survey tour to identify suitable locations for airfields in Greenland.

During World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Maughan commanded the 60th Troop Carrier Group, a Douglas C-47 unit, 1941–42, and then, with the rank of colonel, he commanded the 51st Troop Carrier Wing during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.

On 25 October 1946, Colonel Maughan married Lois Rae Roylance at Las Vegas, Nevada. She was 21 years his junior. They lived in Portland, Oregon.

Colonel Maughan later commanded Lemoore Army Airfield, California, and Portland Air Force Base, Oregon.

Maughan was discharged from the U.S. Air Force, 30 November 1947, at the U.S. Army Hospital at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. He died at the U.S. Air Force Hospital, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, 21 April 1958, at the age of 65 years. He was buried at the Logan City Cemetery, Logan, Utah.

SPAD S.XIII at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.1 was a single-seat, single-engine, two-bay biplane designed by Technical Director Louis Béchéreau. The chasseur was first flown by René Pierre Marie Dorme, 4 April 1917. It was constructed of a wooden framework and covered with doped fabric. Sheet metal panels covered the engine and cockpit.

The SPAD S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long with the wings having an equal span of 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters). It had an overall height of 7 feet, 6½ inches (2.299 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters). The wings each had a chord of 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters) with 0° dihedral and 1¼° stagger. The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters). The upper wing had a 1½° angle of incidence; the lower wing had 1° angle of incidence. There were ailerons on the upper wing only. They had a span of 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters) and chord of 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The horizontal stabilizer span was 10 feet, 2 inches (3,099 meters. Its maximum chord was 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The vertical fin height was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it was 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters) long at the base. The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches (1.184 meters) high with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The airplane had fixed wheeled landing gear which used rubber cords (bungie cords) for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). A fixed skid was used at the tail.

The the S.XIII had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (663 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 1,863 pounds (845 kilograms).

The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch-displacement) left-hand tractor ⁴ Hispano-Suiza 8B single-overhead-cam 90° V-8 engine, with a 5.3:1 compression ratio. The engine drove a fixed-pitch two-bladed laminated wood propeller through a 0.75:1 gear reduction. The Hispano-Suiza 8B was rated at 235 cheval vapeur (231.8 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide, and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520.3 pounds).
The SPAD’s main fuel tank was behind the engine, with a gravity feed supply tank in the upper wing. The total fuel total capacity was about 30 gallons (114 liters). This was sufficient for two hours endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb.
The SPAD XIII had a maximum speed at Sea Level of 131.5 mph (211.6 kilometers per hour) at 2,300 rpm; and 105 mph (169 kilometers per hour) at its service ceiling of 18,400 feet (5,608 meters), at 2,060 r.p.m. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).
The fighter was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber Vickers machine guns, or two air-cooled .30-caliber Marlin M1917 or M1918 aircraft machine guns, with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.
According to a report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
“. . .the SPAD XIII had the most favorable power loading of any of the aircraft considered and a high (for its day) wing loading. These characteristics coupled with a relatively low zero-lift drag coefficient and low drag area gave the SPAD the highest speed of any of the aircraft listed in the table. As shown by the data in figure 2.18, the climb characteristics of the SPAD were bettered only by three of the Fokker aircraft.”

A total of 8,742 S.XIII C.1 fighters were built by nine different manufacturers. Only one, Société Kellner Frères Constructeurs serial number 4377, the oldest existing original airplane, is in flyable condition. It is in the collection of the Memorial-Flight Association at L’aérodrome de La Ferté-Alais (LFFQ)

SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 7689, Smith IV, after restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The same type fighter flown by Lt. Maughan on 27 October 1918, this is SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 7689, Smith IV, after restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15195

² FAI Record File Number 15196

³ FAI Record File Number 15194

⁴ The propeller rotates clock-wise, as seen from the front of the airplane.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 October 1940

North American Aviation NA-73X prototype, left front quarter view. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

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).

North American Aviation’s NA-73X fighter prototype, engine idling, with Vance Breese in the cockpit at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 October 1941. (North American Aviation Inc.)

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.

Vance Breese in the cockpit of the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field, preparing for a test flight. (North American Aviation)

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).

North American Aviation’s prototype fighter, NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. (North American Aviation)

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.

Robert C. Chilton flying the rebuilt NA-73X on an early familiarization flight. (North American Aviation)

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
Vance Breese (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

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.

Maerican Airlines Vultee !A NC13768, designed by Gerard Vultee and Vance Breese.
American Airlines Vultee 1A NC13768, designed by Gerard Vultee and Vance Breese.

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.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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