Tag Archives: Test Pilot

20 October 1956

Bell XH-40 55-4459 with cowlings and rear doors installed. (U.S. Army)
Bell XH-40 55-4459 with stabilizer bar, cowlings and rear doors installed. (U.S. Army)

20 October 1956: Bell Aircraft Corporation Chief Pilot Floyd W. Carlson and Chief Experimental Test Pilot Elton J. Smith made the first flight of the Bell Model 204 (designated XH-40-BF serial number 55-4459 by the United States Army) at Bell’s helicopter factory in Hurst, Texas.

The XH-40 is a six-place, turboshaft-powered light helicopter, designed with a primary mission of battlefield medical evacuation. Operated by one or two pilots, it could carry four passengers, or two litter patients with an attendant. The prototype’s fuselage was 39 feet, 3.85 inches (12.294 meters) long. The overall length of the helicopter with rotors turning was 53 feet, 4.00 inches (16.256 meters). The height (to the top of the tail rotor arc) is 14 feet, 7.00 inches (4.445 meters). The empty weight of the XH-40 was 3,693 pounds (1,675 kilograms), with a maximum gross weight of 5,650 pounds (2,563 kilograms).

Bell XH-40 first flight. (U.S. Army)
Bell XH-40 first flight. (U.S. Army)

The two blade semi-rigid, under-slung main rotor had a diameter of 44 feet, 0.00 inches (12.294 meters), and turned counter clockwise when viewed from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The blades used a symmetrical airfoil. They had a chord of 1 foot, 3.00 inches (0.381 meters) and 10° negative twist. The main rotor hub incorporated pre-coning. At 100% NR, the main rotor turned 324 r.p.m. The two blade tail rotor assembly had a diameter of 8 feet, 6.00 inches (2.591 meters). It was mounted on the left side of the pylon in a pusher configuration and turned counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

The first prototype Bell XH-40, 55-4459, hovers in ground effect. (U.S. Army)

The prototype XH-40 was powered by a Lycoming LTC1B-1 (XT53-L-1) free-turbine (turboshaft). The engine uses a 5-stage axial-flow, 1-stage centrifugal-flow compressor with a single-stage gas producer turbine and single-stage power turbine. A reverse-flow combustion section with 12 burners allows a significant reduction in the the engine’s total length. The XT53L-1 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 770 shaft horsepower, and Military Power rating of 825 shaft horsepower. It could produce 860 shaft horsepower at 21,510 r.p.m. At Military Power, the XT53-L-1 produced 102 pounds of jet thrust (0.454 kilonewtons). The power turbine drives the output shaft through a 3.22:1 gear reduction. The T53-L-1 is 3 feet, 11.8 inches (1.214 meters) long and 1 foot, 11.25 inches (0.591 meters) in diameter, and weighs 460 pounds (209 kilograms).

A Lycoming XT53-L-1 turboshaft engine installed on the first Bell XH-40 prototype, at Hurst, Texas, 10 August 1956. (University of North Texas Libraries, Special Collections)

The XH-40 had a maximum speed of 133 knots (153 miles per hour/246 kilometers per hour) at 2,400 feet (732 meters), and 125 knots (144 miles per hour/232 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The in-ground-effect hover ceiling (HIGE) was 17,300 feet (5,273 meters) and the service ceiling was 21,600 feet (6,584 meters). The helicopter’s fuel capacity was 165 gallons (625 liters), giving it a maximum range of 212 miles (341 kilometers).

The Bell XH-40 prototype hovering in ground effect at the Bell Aircraft Company plant at Hurst, Texas. The helicopter's cowlings are not installed in this photograph. (U.S. Army)
The Bell XH-40 prototype hovering in ground effect at the Bell Aircraft Corporation helicopter plant at Hurst, Texas. The helicopter’s cowlings and doors are not installed in this photograph. (U.S. Army)

Three XH-40 prototypes were built, followed by six YH-40 service test aircraft. The designation of the XH-40 was soon changed to XHU-1.

This helicopter was the prototype of what would be known world-wide as the “Huey.” The helicopter was designated by the U.S. Army as HU-1, but a service-wide reorganization of aircraft designations resulted in that being changed to UH-1. Produced for both civil and military customers, it evolved to the Model 205 (UH-1D—UH-1H), the twin-engine Model 212 (UH-1N), the heavy-lift Model 214, and is still in production 62 years later as the twin-engine, four-bladed, glass-cockpit Model 412EPI and the UH-1Y.

Left rear quarter view of the Bell XH-40 hovering in ground effect at the Bell Helicopter Company plant at Hurst, Texas. (U.S. Army)
Left rear quarter view of the Bell XH-40 hovering in ground effect at the Bell Aircraft Corporation helicopter plant at Hurst, Texas. (U.S. Army)

Sources differ as to the date of the first flight, with some saying 20 October, and at least one saying 26 October, but most cite 22 October 1956. This individual aircraft is at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, Fort Rucker, Alabama. The museum’s director, Robert S. Maxham, informed TDiA that, “The earliest and only historical record cards that we have on 4459 are dated 2 MAY 1958, and at that time the aircraft had 225.8 hours on it.” The Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, a generally reliable source, states the first flight was 22 October 1956.

Many sources also state the the XH-40 first flew on the same day on which Lawrence D. Bell died, which was 20 October.

The earliest contemporary news report yet discovered by TDiA, states,

On October 20, after several hours of ground running, the new Bell XH-40 helicopter was flown for the first time.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 2506, Vol. 71, Friday, 1 February 1957, Page 136, at Column 1

A rare color photograph of of a prototype Bell XH-40, hovering in ground effect. In this photo, a stabilizer bar is installed, and the synchronized elevator has end plates similar to those on Bell Model 47 helicopters. (Unattributed)

Beginning in 2015, XH-40 55-4459 was restored by Blast Off, Inc., at Atmore, Alabama. It was then returned to the Army Aviation Museum.

Bell XH-40 55-4459 ready for transport to Blast Off, Inc., 16 June 2015. (The Atmore Advance)
The Bell XH-40 at the United States Army Aviation Museum.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 October 1952

Douglas X-3 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 49-2892. Rogers Dry Lake is in the background. (NASA)

20 October 1952: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Douglas Aircraft Company test pilot William Barton (“Bill”) Bridgeman made the first test flight of the X-3 twin-engine supersonic research airplane. During a high-speed taxi test five days earlier, Bridgeman and the X-3 had briefly been airborne for approximately one mile over the dry lake bed, but on this flight he spent approximately 20 minutes familiarizing himself with the new airplane.

William Barton “Bill” Bridgeman, 1916–1968. (LIFE Magazine)

Bill Bridgeman had been a Naval Aviator during World War II, flying the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB4Y (B-24) Liberator long range bombers with Bombing Squadron 109 (VB-109), “The Reluctant Raiders.”

Bridgeman stayed in the Navy for two years after the war, then he flew for Trans-Pacific Air Lines in the Hawaiian Islands and Southwest Airlines in San Francisco, before joining Douglas Aircraft Co. as a production test pilot. He checked out new AD Skyraiders as they came off the assembly line at El Segundo, California. He soon was asked to take over test flying the D-558-2 Skyrocket test program at Muroc Air Force Base (now, Edwards AFB.) With the Skyrocket, he flew higher—79,494 feet (24,230 meters)—and faster—Mach 1.88—than any pilot had up to that time.

Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)
Douglas X-3 parked on Rogers Dry Lake, 1956 (NASA)

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. 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).

This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)
This view of the Douglas X-3 shows its very small wings and tail surfaces. (NASA)

The X-3 was very underpowered with the J34 engines and could just reach Mach 1 in a shallow dive. Its highest speed, Mach 1.208, required a 30° dive. The research airplane was therefore never able to be used in flight testing in the supersonic speed range for which it was designed. Because of its design characteristics, though, it became useful in exploring stability and control problems encountered in the transonic range.

Two X-3 aircraft had been ordered from Douglas, but only one completed.

In addition to Bill Bridgeman, the Douglas X-3 was flown by Air Force test pilots Major Chuck Yeager and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Everest, and NACA High Speed Flight Station research pilot Joseph A. Walker.

NACA flight testing began in August 1954. On the tenth flight, 27 October, Joe Walker put the X-3 into abrupt left aileron rolls at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), first at 0.92 Mach and then at Mach 1.05. Both times, the aircraft violently yawed to the right and then pitched down.

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 torque reactions and 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 X-3 was grounded for the next 11 months.

Joe Walker resumed flight testing the X-3 in 1955. It’s last 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.

Douglas X-3 49-2892 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NASM)

© 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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18 October 1984

Rockwell International B-1B Lancer 82-0001 takes off for the first time at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. (U.S. Air Force)

18 October 1984: The first production Rockwell International B-1B Lancer, serial number 82-0001, a supersonic four-engine strategic bomber with variable sweep wings, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California.

Rockwell test pilot Mervyn Leroy Evenson (Colonel, U.S.Air Force, retired) was the aircraft commander, with co-pilot Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Benjamin Schroeder; Major S.A. Henry, Offensive Systems Officer; Captain D.E. Hamilton, Defensive Systems Officer.

Rockwell International B-1B takeoff on Oct. 25, 1986. Note the lit afterburners. (U.S. Air Force)

After 3 hours, 20 minutes, the B-1B landed at Edwards Air Force Base where it would enter a flight test program.

Rockwell B-1B 82-0001 parked at the Rockwell International facility, AF Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 3 September 1984. (Rockwell)
Rockwell B-1B 82-0001 parked at the Rockwell International Corp. facility, Palmdale, California, 3 September 1984. (MSGT Mike Dial, U.S. Air Force)

The Rockwell International B-1B Lancer is a supersonic intercontinental bomber capable of performing strategic or tactical missions. It is operated by a flight crew of four.

The B-1B is 147 feet, 2.61 inches (44.8719 meters) long, with the wing span varying from 86 feet, 8.00 inches (26.4160 meters) at 67.5° sweep to 136 feet, 8.17 inches (41.6603 meters) at when fully extended to 15° sweep. It is 33 feet, 7.26 inches (10.2428 meters) high to the top of the vertical fin. The bomber’s empty weight is approximately 180,500 pounds (81,873 kilograms). Its maximum weight in flight is 477,000 pounds (216,634 kilograms). The internal payload is up to 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms).

The bomber is powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines, mounted in two-engine nacelles under the wing roots. These are rated at 17,390 pounds of thrust (17.355 kilonewtons) and produce 30,780 pounds (136.916 kilonewtons) with “augmentation.” The engine has two fan stages, a 9-stage axial-flow compressor and a 3-stage turbine. The F101-GE-102 is 15 feet, 0.7 inches (4.590 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.2 inches (1.402 meters) in diameter and weighs 4,460 pounds (2,023 kilograms).

Rockwell International B-1B Lancer. (U.S. Air Force)

“The Bone” has a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 at Sea Level (913 miles per hour, or 1,470 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is “over 30,000 feet” (9,144 meters). The Lancer’s maximum range is “intercontinental, unrefueled.”

It can carry up to 84 Mk.82 500-pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs, 24 Mk.84 2,000-pound (907.2 kilogram) bombs or other weapons in three weapons bays. The B-1B was built with the capability to carry 24 B61 thermonuclear bombs, though, since 2007, the fleet no longer has this capability.

A Rockwell B-1B Lancer drops Mk. 82 bombs from its three weapons bays. (U.S. Air Force)

100 B-1B Lancers were built between 1983 and 1988. As of May 2018, 62 B-1B bombers are in the active Air Force inventory. The Air Force plans upgrades to the aircraft and plans to keep it in service until 2036.

To comply with the START weapons treaty, B-1B 82-0001 was scrapped at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in the mid-1990s.

A Rockwell International B-1B in flight. (U.S. Air Force)
A Rockwell International B-1B Lancer in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 October 1927

Costes and Le Brix flew this Breguet XIX GR, No. 1685, named Nungesser-Coli, across the South Atlantic Ocean 14–15 October 1927.
Dieudonné Costes

14–15 October 1927: Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew a Breguet XIX GR, serial number 1685, across the South Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Louis, Senegal, to Port Natal, Brazil.

This was the first non-stop South Atlantic crossing by an airplane. The 2,100-mile (3,380 kilometer) flight took just over 18 hours.

The two aviators were on an around-the-world flight that began 10 October 1927 at Paris, France, and would be completed 14 April 1928, after traveling 34,418 miles (57,000 kilometers).

Costes had been a test pilot for Breguet since 1925. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I and was credited with six aerial victories. He had been appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and the Médaille militaire.

Following the around-the-world flight, the Congress of the United States, by special act, awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1929, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded him its Gold Air Medal, and the International League of Aviators awarded him the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Joseph Le Brix (1899–1931)
Joseph Le Brix

Capitain de Corvette Joseph Le Brix was a French naval officer. He had trained as a navigator, aerial observer and pilot. For his service in the Second Moroccan War, he was appointed to the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Like Costes, Le Brix was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress.

The Breguet XIX GR (“GR” stands for Grand Raid) had been named Nungesser-Coli in honor of the two pilots who disappeared while attempting a crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the White Bird, 8 May 1927. It was developed from the Type XIX light bomber and reconnaissance airplane, which entered production in 1924. A single-engine, two-place biplane with tandem controls, it was primarily constructed of aluminum tubing, covered with sheet aluminum and fabric. The biplane was a “sesquiplane,” meaning that the lower of the two wings was significantly smaller than the upper. Approximately 2,400 Breguet XIXs were built.

Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 january 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 January 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

No. 1685 was a special long-distance variant, with a 2,900–3,000 liter fuel capacity (766–792 gallons). It was further modified to add 1 meter to the standard 14.83 meter (48 feet, 7.9 inches) wingspan, and the maximum fuel load was increased to 3,500 liters (925 gallons).

The original 590 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Hb engine was replaced with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Lb. This was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403-liter (1,916.33-cubic-inch-displacement) overhead valve 60° V-12 engine, with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The 12Lb produced 630 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., burning 85 octane gasoline. The engine was 1.850 meters (6 feet, 0.8 inches) long, 0.750 meters (2 feet, 5.5 inches) wide and 1.020 meters (3 feet, 4.2 inches) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).

The Breguet XIX had a speed of 214 kilometers per hour (133 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 7,200 meters (23,620 feet).

The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l'air et de l'espace (MAE) du Bourget.
The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l’air et de l’espace (MAE) du Bourget.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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