Tag Archives: Test Pilot

26 May 1942

Northrop Corporation XP-61 Black Widow at Hawthorne.
Northrop Corporation XP-61 prototype 41-19509 at Northrop Field, 1942.
Vance Breese
Vance Breese

26 May 1942: The prototype Northrop XP-61-NO Black Widow, 41-19509, made its first flight at Northrop Field, Hawthorne, California, with free-lance test pilot Vance Breese at the controls. (Breese had taken the North American Aviation NA-73X, prototype of the Mustang, for its first flight, 20 October 1940.)

The first American airplane designed specifically as a night fighter, the XP-61 was the same size as a medium bomber: 48 feet, 11.2 inches (14.915 meters) long with a wingspan of 66 feet (20.117 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.2 inches (4.475 meters). The prototype was equipped with a mockup of the top turret. Its empty weight was 22,392 pounds (10,157 kilograms), gross weight of 25,150 pounds (11,408 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 29,673 pounds (13,459 kilograms).

The XP-61 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-10 had a Normal Power rating of 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. They drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propellers which had a 12 foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each.

The prototype Black Widow had a top speed of 370 miles per hour (595 kilometers per hour) at 29,900 feet (9,114 meters) and a service ceiling of 33,100 feet (10,089 meters). The maximum range was 1,450 miles (2,334 kilometers).

Prototype Northrop XP-61 Black Widow 41-19509. (Mid Atlantic Air Museum)
Prototype Northrop XP-61 Black Widow 41-19509. (Mid Atlantic Air Museum)

The night fighter was crewed by a pilot, a gunner and a radar operator. A huge SCA-720 air search radar was mounted in the airplane’s nose. The gunner sat above and behind the pilot and the radar operator was in the rear fuselage.

The Black Widow was armed with four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a remotely-operated upper turret, and four AN-M2 20 mm aircraft automatic cannons, grouped close together in the lower fuselage and aimed directly ahead. This was a superior arrangement to the convergent aiming required for guns mounted in the wings. The fire control system was similar to that used by the B-29 Superfortress. The guns could be fired by either the gunner or the radar operator.

Northrop P-61A-1-NO Black Widow 42-5507 in olive green camouflage. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop P-61A-1-NO Black Widow 42-5507 in olive green camouflage. (U.S. Air Force)

The XP-61 was built with a center “gondola” for the crew, radar and weapons, with the engines outboard in a twin-boom configuration, similar the the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The Black Widow did not use ailerons. Instead, it had spoilers mounted on the upper wing surface outboard of the engines. Roll control was achieved by raising a spoiler, decreasing lift on that wing and causing it to drop. A similar system was employed on the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ten years later.

The P-61 got its nickname, Black Widow, from the glossy black paint scheme that scientists at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) had determined was the best camouflage for a night fighter. Over 700 P-61s were built, with 36 built as the F-15 photo reconnaissance variant. They served in both the Pacific and European Theaters during World War II, and were also used during the Korean War. After the war, the radar-equipped fighter was used for thunderstorm penetration research.

Northrop P-61C-1-NO Black Widow 43-8353 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop P-61C-1-NO Black Widow 43-8353 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 May 1953

George S. Welch with North American YF-100A 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)

25 May 1953: North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch took the YF-100A Super Sabre, serial number 52-5754, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base. The airplane reached Mach 1.03.

Development of the Super Sabre began in an effort to increase the speed of the F-86D and F-86E Sabre fighters. The leading edge of the wings and tail surfaces was swept to 45° and the airfoil sections were thinner. A much more powerful engine would be needed to achieve supersonic speed in level flight. As design work on the “Sabre 45” proceeded, the airplane evolved to a completely new design. Initially designated XF-100, continued refinements resulted in the first two aircraft being redesignated YF-100A.

North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of YF-100A 52-5754 at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The two YF-100As, 52-5754 and 52-5755, were 47 feet, 11¼ inches (14.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 7 inches (11.151 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). Ailerons were placed inboard on the wings to eliminate the twisting effects at high speed. There were no flaps. The pre-production prototypes weighed 18,135 pounds (8,225.9 kilograms) empty with a gross weight of 24,789 pounds (11,244.1 kilograms).

The new air superiority fighter was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (2 high- and 1 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-7 was rated at 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) for takeoff, and 14,800 pounds (65.834 kilonewtons) with afterburner. 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). Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine.

Cutaway illustration ofa North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre. (Boeing)
Cutaway illustration of a North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre. (Boeing)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)

The YF-100A had a maximum speed of 660 miles per hour (1,062.2 kilometers per hour) at 43,350 feet (13,213.1 meters). The service ceiling was 52,600 feet (16,032.5 meters). Range with internal fuel was 422 miles (679.1 kilometers).

During testing, 52-5754 reached Mach 1.44 in a dive. On 29 October 1953, Colonel Frank K. Everest set a world speed record of 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour) with 754.

In service, the Super Sabre’s mission changed from air superiority fighter to fighter bomber. North American Aviation, Inc., built 2,294 single and tandem-seat Super Sabres between 1954 and 1959.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)

George Welch was born George Lewis Schwartz, in Wilmington, Delaware, 10 May 1918. His parents changed his surname to Welch, his mother’s maiden name, so that he would not be effected by the anti-German prejudice that was widespread in America following World War I. He studied mechanical engineering at Purdue, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test. (The McMahon Photo Art Gallery & Archive)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test. (The McMahon Photo Art Gallery & Archive)

George S. Welch is best remembered as one of the heroes of Pearl Harbor. He was one of only two fighter pilots to get airborne during the Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii, 7 December 1941. Flying a Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, he shot down three Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter. For this action, Lieutenant General H.H. “Hap” Arnold recommended the Medal of Honor, but because Lieutenant Welch had taken off without orders, an officer in his chain of command refused to endorse the nomination. He received the Distinguished Service Cross. During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat, and when North American Aviation approached him to test the new P-51H Mustang, General Arnold authorized his resignation. Welch test flew the P-51, FJ-1 Fury, F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre. He was killed 12 October 1954 when his F-100A Super Sabre came apart in a 7 G pull up from a Mach 1.5 dive.

North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The extended pitot boom is used to calibrate instruments early in the flight test program. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754 parked on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 May 1941

NAA test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of P-51B-10-NA 42-106435. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation test pilot Robert C. Chilton standing on the wing of P-51B-10-NA Mustang 42-106435. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

20 May 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton took the first XP-51 for its maiden flight at Mines Field. The XP-51 was the fourth production Mustang Mk.I for the Royal Air Force, registration number AG348 (North American serial number 73-3101). It was reassigned to the U.S. Army Air Force as XP-51 serial number 41-038 and sent to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, for evaluation.

Later the XP-51 was extensively tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia.

Today, the restored XP-51 is in the collection of the E.A.A. AirVenture Museum at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA LMAL 27030)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. (NASA)

The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches (11.373 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches (3.721 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds (2,849 kilograms) and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 at NACA Langley. (NASA)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-039 at NACA Langley. (NASA)

The Mustang was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The -F3R had a Normal Power rating of 880 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). It had a Takeoff and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., to 11,800 feet (3,597 meters). The engine turned a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-F3R was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.54 inches (0.928 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

The Mustang Mk.I had a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 13,700 feet (4,176 meters), the Allison’s critical altitude, and cruise speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 30,800 feet (9,388 meters) and range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right profile. (NASA LAML)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right profile. (NASA)

The Mustang Mk.I was armed with four air-cooled Browning .303 Mk.II aircraft machine guns, two in each wing, and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with one in each wing and two mounted in the nose under the engine.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboroatory. (NASA LAML 27045)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, right three-quarter view. (NASA)

The Mk.I was 30 m.p.h. faster than its contemporary, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, though both used the same engine. Below 15,000 feet, the Mustang was also 30–35 m.p.h faster than a Supermarine Spitfire, which had a more powerful Roll-Royce Merlin V-12.

The XP-51 would be developed into the legendary P-51 Mustang. In production from 1941 to 1945, a total of 16,766 Mustangs of all variants were built.

North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, rear view. (NASA LMAL 27033)
North American Aviation XP-51 41-038 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, rear view. (NASA)

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.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 May 2005

Didier Delsalle approches the summit of Mount Everest. (Eurocopter)
Didier Delsalle approaches the summit of Mount Everest. (Eurocopter)

14 May 2005: Test pilot Didier Delsalle landed a Eurocopter AS350 B3 Ecureuil, c/n 3934, registration F-WQEX, at the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet).

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale required that the helicopter remain on the summit for at least two 2 minutes for the landing to be considered official. Delsalle actually landed on the summit twice, staying four minutes each time. The flight set two world records for the highest take-off.

Delsalle also rescued two Japanese climbers at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters).

Mount Everest, looking north. (Wikipedia)
Mount Everest, looking north. (Wikipedia)

Didier Delsalle is a former Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) fighter pilot and search-and-rescue helicopter pilot. After twelve years military service, Delsalle became an instructor at École du personnel navigant d’essais et de réception, the French test pilot school at Istres, France. He then became the chief test pilot for light helicopters for Eurocopter, and later for the NH90 medium helicopter.

Didier DelSalle with F-WQEX, 2005
Didier DelSalle with F-WQEX, at Lukla, Nepal, 2005

FAI Record File Num #11596 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1 (Helicopters)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Highest take-off
Performance: 8 848 m
Date: 2005-05-14
Course/Location: Mount Everest (Nepal)
Claimant Didier Delsalle (FRA)
Rotorcraft: Eurocopter AS 350 B3 (FWQEX)
Engine: 1 Turbomeca Ariel

FAI representatve (left) presents a World Record certificate to Eurocopter test pilot Didier Delsalle while company CEO looks on. (Aviation International News)
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) representative Jacques Escaffe (left) presents a World Record certificate to Eurocopter test pilot Didier Delsalle while company CEO Fabrice Brégier looks on. (Aviation International News)

Didier Delsalle holds seven FAI world records, five of which remain current. (He broke two of his own records.)

The Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil is a  6–7 place, single-engine, light helicopter, operated by a crew of one or two pilots. (It is known as the A-Star in the United States.) Introduced by Aérospatiale in 1975, it remains in production today and is one of the most popular civil helicopters.

The AS350 B3 is a high-performance variant, widely used in law enforcement. Its fuselage is 35 feet, 10½ inches (10.93 meters) long and the three-blade main rotor is 35 feet, 1 inch (10.69 meters) in diameter. The overall height is 10 feet, 3½ inches (3.14 meters). The AS350 B3 has an empty weight of 2,588 pounds (1,174 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 4,960 pounds (2,250 kilograms). It is powered by a Turboméca Arriel 2B turboshaft engine which produces 847 shaft horsepower, de-rated to the main transmission limit.

The Ecureuil/A-Star’s main rotor system turns clockwise as seen from above. The two-bladed tail rotor is mounted on the right side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration and rotates counter-clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s right.

The AS350 B3 has a cruise speed of 152 miles per hour (245 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 178 miles per hour (287 kilometers per hour). It carries over four hours of fuel and has a maximum range of 411 miles (662 kilometers). The service ceiling is 15,100 feet (4,600 meters).

Eurocopter AS350B3 c/n 3934, F-WQEX, at Mount Everest. (Eurocopter)

AS350 B3 c/n 3934 was originally registered F-WWPN, then F-WQEX and was later registered as F-HMGM, in service with Hélimountains, Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France. As of 2014, F-WQEX is on display at the Musée de l’Aviation, Saint-Victoret, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France.

Eurocopter AS350B-3 re-registered as F-HMGM) (© Max Niessen, image courtesy of the photographer)
Eurocopter AS350 B3 c/n 3934 re-registered as F-HMGM. (© Max Niessen)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 May 1949

English Electric A.1 VH799, first of four prototypes of the Canberra bomber. (BAE Systems)
English Electric A.1 VH799, first of four prototypes of the Canberra bomber. (BAE Systems)
Bee Beamont with an English Electric Canberra
Bee Beamont with an English Electric Canberra

13 May 1949: At Warton Aerodrome, Lancashire, Chief Test Pilot Roland Prosper Beamont, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, made the first test flight of the English Electric A.1 prototype, VN799, a very high altitude light bomber powered by two turbojet engines.

The newly completed airplane had been rolled out 2 May, and over the next several days underwent a series of static and taxi tests. The prototype was painted overall “plate blue.”

Rollout of English Electric A.1 VN799
Rollout of English Electric A.1 VN799 at Warton Aerodrome, 2 May 1949.
Airworthiness certificate
Ministry of Aircraft Production authorization for the Canberra’s first flight. The test pilot is specified by name. The serial numbers of the two Rolls-Royce jet engines are also listed.

“Bee” Beamont flew the prototype for approximately one-half hour. Other than a problem in yaw, which would be corrected with minor modifications to the vertical fin and rudder over the next several test flights, the aircraft performed very well. Months earlier, the bomber had been ordered into production.

English Electric A.1 VN799. Note the rounded vertical fin of this early configuration.
English Electric A.1 VN799. Note the rounded vertical fin of this early configuration.

British bombers have traditionally been named for cities. Canberra, capitol of Australia, was selected as the new airplane’s name in January 1950.

VN799 was powered by two pre-production Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.2 engines. The Avon R.A.2 was a single-spool, axial flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. It was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons). It weighed 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms)

Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. Note the squared-off vertical fin. (Ed Coates Collection)
Canberra VN799 at Farnborough Air Show, 1949. Note the squared-off vertical fin. (Ed Coates Collection)

VN799, flown by Flight Lieutenant Harry Maule, crashed at Martlesham Heath, 18 August 1953.

This Canberra T.4 WJ874 is painted as the first prototype B.1, VH799.(Ministry of Defense)
Canberra T.4 WJ874 is painted as the first prototype, VN799. (Ministry of Defense)

Interestingly, in October 1946, a 34-passenger civil transport variant of the Canberra was proposed, with an enlarged 10-foot-diameter fuselage.

The Canberra was produced in bomber, intruder, photo reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures and trainer variants by English Electric, Handley Page, A.V. Roe and Short and Harland. In the United States, a licensed version, the B-57A Canberra, was built by the Glenn L. Martin Company. The various versions were operated by nearly 20 nations. The Canberra was the United Kingdom’s only jet-powered bomber for four years. The last one in RAF service, a Canberra PR.9, made its final flight on 28 July 2008.

Colonel Charles E. ("Chuck") Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Andrew Headland, Jr./Stars and Stripes)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra bomber during the Vietnam War. (Andrew Headland, Jr./Stars and Stripes)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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