20 November 1940: North American Aviation’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, made his first flight in the NA-73X, NX19998, prototype for a Royal Air Force fighter, the Mustang Mk.I.
Vance Breese was the free-lance test pilot who made the first seven flights in the new airplane. Breese claimed to have made a bet with North American executives that Balfour would crash the prototype on his first flight.
This flight was scheduled to be a high speed test. Edgar Schmued, the designer, offered to show Balfour around the airplane. “Before this flight, I asked Balfour to get into the airplane and go through the routine of a takeoff and flight. He responded that one airplane is like another and he would not need the routine checkout.”
The ground crew started the NA-73X’s 1,150 horsepower Allison V-1710-39 liquid-cooled V-12 engine at 5:40 a.m. and let it warm up to normal operating temperature. When it was restarted just prior to Paul Balfour’s flight, “it was a little hard to start,” according to Olaf Anderson, the airplane’s mechanic.
Balfour took off from Mines Field at about 7:10 a.m. After about twelve minutes of flight, the Allison stopped running. Balfour was too far from Mines Field to make it back to the runway. He landed in a plowed field west of Lincoln Boulevard. When the tires hit the soft surface, the prototype flipped over. Balfour was not hurt and was able to crawl out of the upside-down wreck.
The Civil Aeronautics Board report described the damage as “engine housing broken, both wingtips damaged, tail surfaces damaged, top of fuselage damaged, and other miscellaneous damage.” The NA-73X had accumulated just 3 hours, 20 minutes of flight.
Vance Breese won his bet.
According to the C.A.B. investigation, the engine had stopped due to fuel starvation when Balfour neglected to select another tank.
The prototype was taken back to the factory and rebuilt. It would become the famous Mustang, one of the most significant aircraft of World War II.
Robert C. Chilton was hired as the new Chief Test Pilot. He would continue testing the Mustang developments throughout the war. Chilton made his first flight in NA-73X on 3 April 1941.
Paul Balfour continued to work for North American Aviation, testing the NA-40 and NA-40B prototypes and the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. He later served in the United States Air Force.
Paul Baird Balfour was born 5 July 1908 in Washington State. He was the son of Fred Patrick Balfour and Edna May Baird Balfour. Balfour attended two years of college.
Paul Balfour entered the U.S. Army Air Corps (prior to 1930). He was stationed at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California.
Balfour married Martha Lillette Cushman of Coronado, California, at Yuma, Arizona, 6 June 1930.
Balfour began working as a test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., 1 March 1936.
On 2 July 1938, he married Lois Tresa Watchman at Kingman, Arizona. They would have two children.
On 9 November 1951, Major Paul B. Balfour, U.S. Air Force, attached to the 1002nd Inspector General Group at Norton Air Force Base, California, was flying a North American VB-25J, 44-30955, a transport conversion of a B-25J-30-NC Mitchell medium bomber.
Shortly after takeoff, at about 10:00 a.m., the airplane developed engine trouble. Unable to return to Norton, Balfour attempted a belly landing at a small private airfield. Witness saw that the airplane’s left engine was idling, and its propeller was feathered. As he approached, the airplane was blocked by a windbreak of eucalyptus trees bordering U.S. Route 66. Balfour banked away from the trees but the B-25 crashed in an orange grove along Bloomington Avenue in Rialto, approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of Norton.
Balfour, still buckled in his seat, was thrown clear of the burning wreck and landed in the street. One man on board was killed and two others seriously injured. Balfour died in a hospital three hours later. He was 41 years old. Major Balfour was buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.
18 November 1966: On Flight 175 of the research program, Major William J. (“Pete”) Knight, U.S. Air Force, flew the newly-modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, to Mach 6.33 (4,261 miles per hour/6,857 kilometers per hour) at 98,900 feet (30,245 meters). This is just 11 years, to the day, since Pete Everest made the first powered flight in the Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 rocketplane, with more than 6 times an increase in speed.
On this date, NASA made an attempt to launch two X-15s, -671 and -672, using the NB-52A 52-003 and NB-52B 52-008. However -672, the number three ship, had to abort the mission.
Balls 8, the NB-52B, flown by NASA test pilot Fitz Fulton and Colonel Joe Cotton, USAF, carried 56-6671 to the launch point over Mud Lake, Nevada, approximately 200 miles to the north of Edwards AFB. (This was the lake where -671 was severely damaged in an emergency landing, 9 November 1962. It was returned to North American to be rebuilt to the X-15A-2 configuration and returned to flight operation 19 months later.)
At 1:24:07.2 p.m. local time, Pete Knight and the X-15 were dropped from the pylon under the right wing of the B-52. He ignited the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 and began to accelerate with its 57,000 pounds of thrust (253.549 kilonewtons).
Since this was to be a high temperature test flight, it was planned to fly no higher than 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). The denser atmosphere would result in greater aerodynamic heating of the rocketplane.
With the two external propellant tanks carrying an additional 1,800 gallons (6,814 liters) of liquid ammonia and liquid oxygen, the engine ran for 2 minutes, 16.4 seconds. The rocketplane had accelerated to Mach 2. The external tanks emptied in about 60 seconds and were jettisoned. The tanks were equipped with parachutes. They were recovered to be reused on later flights.
The X-15, now about 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms) lighter and without the aerodynamic drag of the tanks, continued to accelerate. At its highest speed, the rocketplane was travelling approximately 6,500 feet per second (1,981 meters per second), more than twice as fast as a high-powered rifle bullet. Its surface temperatures exceeded 1,200 °F. (649 °C.)
Knight landed the X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of this flight had been 8 minutes, 26.8 seconds.
18 November 1955: Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., USAF, makes the first powered flight in the Bell X-2 research rocketplane, 46-674, at Edwards AFB, California. The rocketplane was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress, 48-096. Only one 5,000-lb. thrust rocket tube ignited, but that was enough to accelerate “Pete” Everest to Mach 0.992 (655.4 miles per hour/1,054.5 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters).
The X-2 was a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA). The rocketplane was designed and built by Bell Aircraft Corporation of Buffalo, New York, to explore supersonic flight at speeds beyond the capabilities of the earlier Bell X-1 and Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket.
In addition to the aerodynamic effects of speeds in the Mach 2.0–Mach 3.0 range, engineers knew that the high temperatures created by aerodynamic friction would be a problem, so the aircraft was built from stainless steel and K-Monel, a copper-nickel alloy.
The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-2 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) and height of 11 feet, 10 inches (3.607 meters). Its empty weight was 12,375 pounds (5,613 kilograms) and loaded weight was 24,910 pounds (11,299 kilograms).
The X-2 was powered by a throttleable two-chamber Curtiss-Wright XLR25-CW-1 rocket engine that produced 2,500–15,000 pounds of thrust (11.12–66.72 kilonewtons)
Rather than use its limited fuel capacity to take off and climb to altitude, the X-2 was dropped from a modified heavy bomber as had been the earlier rocketplanes. A four-engine Boeing B-50D-95-BO Superfortress bomber, serial number 48-096, was modified as the drop ship and redesignated EB-50D.
The launch altitude was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). After the fuel was exhausted, the X-2 glided to a touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.
Pete Everest joined the United States Army Air Corps shortly before the United States entered World War II. He graduated from pilot training in 1942 and was assigned as a P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third.
Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations where he shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war.
After the war, Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.”
Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis to MacDill Air Force Base. In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. General Everest died in 2004.
17 November 1954: Lionel Peter Twiss, Chief Test Pilot for Fairey Aviation Company Ltd., was flying the company’s experimental supersonic airplane, the Fairey Delta 2, WG774, from the aircraft test center at RAF Boscombe Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. This was the FD.2’s fourteenth flight.
When about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the airfield and climbing through 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the airplane’s fuel supply was interrupted and the engine flamed out.
Unwilling to lose a valuable research aircraft, Twiss decided to stay with the Delta 2 rather than ejecting, and he glided back to Boscombe Down, descending through a layer of cloud at 2,500 feet (762 meters). Without the engine running, the aircraft had insufficient hydraulic pressure to completely lower the landing gear and only the nosewheel strut locked in place. The FD.2 touched down at 170 miles per hour (274 kilometers per hour) and was seriously damaged.
WG774 was out of service for nearly a year. The wings had to be replaced and those which had originally been built for structural tests were used.
For his effort to save a valuable research aircraft, Peter Twiss was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. Notice of the award was published in The London Gazette, 22 February 1955, at Page 1094:
Lionel Peter Twiss, Test Pilot, Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. (Hillingdon, Middlesex.)
For services when an aircraft, undergoing tests, sustained damage in the air.
On 10 March 1956, Peter Twiss flew WG774 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15km/25km Straight Course at an average speed over a 9-mile course, flown between Chichester and Portsmouth at and altitude of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Two runs over the course were made, with first averaging 1,117 miles per hour (1,798 kilometers per hour) and the second, in the opposite direction, was 1,147 miles per hour. (1,846 kilometers per hour). The FD.2 had averaged 1,822 Kilometers per hour (1,132 miles per hour)—Mach 1.731. ¹
Twiss had broken the previous record of 1,323.312 kilometers per hour (822.268 miles per hour) which had been set by Colonel Horace A. Hanes, U.S.Air Force, flying a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre over Edwards Air Force Base, California. ²
Peter Twiss was the first British pilot, and the FD.2 the first British airplane, to exceed 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 kilometers per hour) in level flight. Twiss is also the last British pilot to have held a World Absolute Speed Record.
For his services as a test pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, D.F.C. and Bar, was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 13 June 1957.
The Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., Delta 2 WG774 (c/n F9421) is the first of two single-place, single-engine delta-wing research aircraft which had been designed and built to investigate transonic and supersonic speeds. It first flew 6 October 1953 with Chief Test Pilot Peter Twiss in the cockpit.
In its original configuration, the FD.2 is 51 feet, 7½ inches (15.735 meters) long with a wingspan of 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) and overall height of 11 feet (3.353 meters). The wings’ leading edge were swept to 59.9° with an angle of incidence of +1.5°. Ailerons and flaps were at the trailing edge and acted in place of elevators. In its original configuration it had an empty weight of approximately 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and the all-up weight at takeoff was 14,109 pounds (6,400 kilograms).
The FD.2 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon RA.28R afterburning turbojet engine which produced 9,530 pounds of thrust (42.392 kilonewtons), or 11,820 pounds (52.578 kilonewtons) with afterburner (“reheat”). This was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 15-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The RA.28 was 10 feet, 3.0 inches (3.124 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,869 pounds (1,301 kilograms).
WG774 and its sistership, WG777, were used for flight testing throughout the 1960s. WG774 was modified as a test aircraft to study various features of the planned British Aerospace Concorde. The landing gear struts were lengthened and the fuselage extended by six feet. It received a “drooped” nose section for improved pilot visibility during takeoff and landings. New wings were installed which had an ogee-curved leading edge. With these modifications WG774 was redesignated BAC 221. In this configuration, WG774 was tested to Mach 1.65 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).
WG774 was retired in the early 1970s. It is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England.
Peter Lionel Winterton Twiss ³ was born 23 July 1921 at Lindfield, Sussex, England. He was the son of Colonel Dudley Cyril Twiss, M.C., a British Army officer, and Laura Georgina Chapman Twiss. Peter was educated at the Sherborne School, a prestigious boarding school for boys, in Dorset.
Twiss briefly worked as a tea taster for Brooke Bond & Company, but in 1939 enlisted as a Naval Airman, 2nd class, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He trained at HMS St Vincent, a training school for the Fleet Air Arm at Gosport, Hampshire. He was appointed a Temporary Mishipman (Probationary), 26 August 1940. He was assigned to 771 Squadron, 27 January 1941, and was trained as a fighter pilot. Midshipman Twiss was commissioned as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A), 23 July 1942.
Twiss was variously assigned to HMS Sparrowhawk, a Naval Air Station in the Orkney Islands, where he flew target tugs for gunnery training; HMS Daedalus, at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire, England; and HMS Saker, a Royal Navy accounting base located in the United States.
Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) Lionel Peter Twiss, R.N.V.R., was assigned as the pilot of a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. (Hurricanes could be launched by catapult from merchant ships to defend against Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor reconnaissance bombers.)
He next flew the Fairey Fulmar fighter with No. 807 Squadron from HMS Argus (I49), in support of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Sub-Lieutenant Twiss is credited with shooting down one enemy fighter and damaging a bomber. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, 22 September 1942. He and his squadron transitioned to the Supermarine Seafire aboard HMS Furious (47) and were in action during the invasion of North Africa. He was awarded a Bar, denoting a second award, to his D.S.C., 16 March 1943.
Sub-Lieutenant Twiss, D.S.C. and Bar, was promoted to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant, 17 August 1943. After returning to England, Twiss was trained as a night fighter pilot. He flew the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito with an RAF night fighter unit on intruder missions over France. In 1944 he shot down two more enemy airplanes.
Later in 1944, Twiss was sent to the United States to work with the British Air Commission. In this position, he was able to fly various U.S. fighter aircraft, including the turbojet-powered Bell P-59 Airacomet.
Lieutenant-Commander Twiss was in the third class of the Empire Test Pilots’ School and after graduation he was assigned to Fairey Aviation for duty as a test pilot.
With the end of World War II, Lieutenant-Commander Twiss left the Royal Navy and continued working as a civilian test pilot at Fairey. He became to the company’s chief test pilot in 1954.
For his record-setting flight, in 1956 Twiss was awarded The Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours, 13 June 1957, Lionel Peter Twiss, Esq., D.S.C., Chief Test Pilot, Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd.,, was appointed an Ordinary Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.). His investiture took place at Buckingham Palace.
In 1958, The Royal Aeronautical Society awarded its George Taylor Gold Medal to Peter Twiss.
Peter Twiss ended his career testing aircraft in 1959, having flown more than 4,500 hours in nearly 150 different aircraft. His autobiography, Faster than the Sun, was published by Macdonald, London, in 1963.
He later worked for Fairey Marine.
Twiss made a brief appearance in the 1960 20th Century Fox motion picture, “Sink the Bismarck!” He portrayed the pilot of a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber which attacked the enemy battleship. In 1963, Peter Twiss appeared in the Eon Productions James Bond movie, “From Russia With Love.” He piloted one of the SPECTRE speedboats, which were chasing Bond and Tatiana Romanova.
Peter Twiss was married five times. His first wife was Constance A. Tomkinson.⁴ The marriage ended in divorce.
In the summer of 1950, Twiss married Vera Maguire at Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. They would have a daughter, Sarah. Their marriage also ended in divorce.
In June 1960, Twiss married Miss Cherry Felicity Huggins, a fashion model, actress, fashion magazine editor, pilot and race car driver, at Westminster, Middlesex, Their daughter Miranda was born in 1961. For a third time, Twiss’s marriage ended with a divorce. (Mrs. Twiss III would later marry Lord Charles Hambro, and become Lady Hambro.)
Twiss married his fourth wife, Mrs. Heather Danby (née Heather Linda Goldingham) at Gosport, Hampshire, on 4 November 1964. Mrs. Twiss IV died in 1988.
Finally, in December 2002, Peter Twiss married Jane M. de Lucey. They remained together until his death.
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, O.B.E., D.F.C. and Bar, died 31 August 2011 at the age of 90 years.
¹ FAI Record File Number 8866
² FAI Record File Number 8867
³ England and Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, July, August and September 1921, at Page 868. Birth registered as “Twiss, Peter L. W.” Mother’s maiden name, “Chapman.”
⁴ A marriage license was issued to Lionel P. Twiss and Constance A. Tomkinson in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 24 October 1944.
16 November 1970: At the Lockheed California Company Plant 10, just north of Palmdale in the high desert of Southern California, test pilot Henry Baird (“Hank”) Dees, co-pilot Ralph C. Cokely (formerly a Boeing 747 test pilot), with flight test engineers Glenn E. Fisher and Rod Bray, took the new prototype Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar, N1011, on its first flight.
During the 2½-hour test flight, the airliner reached 250 knots (288 miles per hour, 463 kilometers per hour) and 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).
The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar is a three-engine wide body airliner designed to carry up to 400 passengers on medium or long distance routes. It is operated by a flight crew of three. The prototype, the L-1011-1 and L-1011-200 production aircraft were 177 feet, 8½ inches (54.166 meters) long with a wingspan of 155 feet, 4 inches (47.346 meters). The longer range, higher gross weight L-1011-500 variant was 164 feet, 2½ inches (50.051 meters) long with a wingspan of 164 feet, 4 inches (50.089 meters). All TriStars have an overall height of 55 feet, 4 inches (16.866 meters). The interior cabin width is 18 feet, 11 inches (5.766 meters). Empty weight ranges from 241,700 pounds (109,633 kilograms) to 245,400 pounds (111,312 kilograms), while the maximum takeoff weight varies from 430,000 pounds (195,045 kilograms) to 510,000 pounds (231,332 kilograms).
The L-1011-1 aircraft were powered by three Rolls Royce RB.211-22B-02 high bypass turbofan engines, producing 42,000 pounds of thrust (186.825 kilonewtons). The -200 and -500 variants used the more powerful RB.211-524B4 which produces 53,000 pounds (235.756 kilonewtons). The RB.211-22 is a “triple-spool” axial-flow turbine engine. It has a single fan stage, 13-stage compressor (7 intermediate- and 6 high-pressure stages), single combustion chamber, and 5 stage turbine section (1 high-, 1 intermediate- and three low-pressure stages). The -22B is 10 feet, 11.4 inches (3.033 meters) long and its fan diameter is 7 feet, 0.8 inches (2.154 meters). It weighs 9,195 pounds (4,171 kilograms).
Depending on the model, the L-1011 series had a cruise speed of 520–525 knots (598–604 miles per hour, 963–972 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.95 Mach. The service ceiling was 42,000–43,000 feet (12,802–13,106 meters). Maximum range for the long range -500 was 6,090 nautical miles (7,008 miles, 11,279 kilometers).
The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was a very technologically advanced airliner for the time. It was the first to be certified for Category IIIc autolanding, in which the airplane’s automatic flight system could land the airplane in “zero-zero” weather conditions.
Lockheed built 250 L-1011s between 1970 and 1984. Sales were delayed because of problems with delivery of the Rolls-Royce turbofans, giving an early advantage to the competitor McDonnell DC-10, of which 446 were built.
Few TriStars remain in service. The prototype, N1011, was scrapped at Ardmore, Oklahoma, in August 1996. A portion of its fuselage, painted in Delta Air Lines livery, is on display at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia.