Tag Archives: Transcontinental Flight

17 April 1944

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

17 April 1944: The first production Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, was delivered to the Air Transport Command at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia. The new transport carried the markings of Transcontinental and Western Airlines (T.W.A.), and was flown by that company’s owner, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., and T.W.A.’s president, William John (“Jack”) Frye.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 ready to depart Lockheed Air Terminal, 17 April 1944. (Image scanned from Queen of the Skies, by Claude G. Luisada. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2014. Chapter 5, Page 76, Fig. 5–1.)

The C-69 departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 3:56:45 a.m., Pacific War Time. The other crew members were Edward T. Bolton, Navigator; R. L. Proctor, Flight Engineer; and Charles L. Glover, Radio Operator. Also on board were 12 passengers representing the Air Corps, T.W.A. and Lockheed.¹

The Dayton Herald reported:

Constellation Sets Record; To Be in Dayton Thursday

(BULLETIN)

     WASHINGTON, April 17.—(UP)—The giant transport Constellation landed at Washington National Airport at 1:59 p.m. EWT today, setting a new trans-continental airplane speed record.

     The huge four-motor transport made the crossing from Burbank, Calif., in approximately 7 hours and three minutes on the basis of unofficial timing. Howard Hughes, who set the previous record, piloted the plane here for delivery to the Army.

     The Constellation, Transcontinental and Western Airline’s (TWA) super transport, which left Burbank, Calif., today for delivery to the air transport command at Washington, will fly to Wright Field Thursday afternoon, Material Command officials said here.

Considered the largest land-based cargo plane in the country, the “Constellation” took off from Lockheed Air Terminal at 5:56 a.m., (Dayton time) today with veteran pilot Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, TWA president, co-designers of the plane, as pilot and co-pilot, respectively. It passed over Butler Mo., 50 miles south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m. (Dayton time).

     Materiel Command officials said the plane was expected to make the trip in nine hours. They estimated she could fly from Los Angeles, Calif., to Honolulu in 12 hours.

     Also aboard were Lt. Col. Clarence Shoop, resident Material Command inspector at the Lockheed Burbank plant, 17 Lockheed and TWA technical experts and a civilian air expert.

     The ship originally was designed to carry 57 passengers, TWA officials said. The airline company commissioned Lockheed to build the plane two years ago.

     Hughes described the trip as a “routine delivery mission” and would not say whether he would attempt to break any speed records or whether the flight would be non-stop.

     “It all depends on the performance of the Connie,” he said.

     The 40-ton ship, which has a cruising speed of 300 miles an hour, took off with enough gasoline for a non-stop trip. Cargo and airline planes in general use now cruise at around 180 miles an hour. Her takeoff was clocked by Larry Therkelsen, National Aeronautical Association timekeeper and official timer of the national air races before the war.

     The Constellation is powered by four, 2,000-horsepower Wright air-cooled, radial engines, with 18 cylinders each, the Materiel Command said. It has three-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers and is equipped with a pressurized cabin for stratosphere flights. Its service ceiling is from 20,000 to 35,000 feet.

The Dayton Herald, Vol. 65, No. 91, Monday, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, c/n 049-1962, was the first production airplane. It had been flown to Las Vegas, Nevada, on the previous day, where T.W.A. personnel applied the company’s livery to the Army Air Corps-owned airplane. Flown by Lieutenant Colonel C. A. Shoup, it then returned to Burbank to prepare for the transcontinental flight.

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The plan called for Howard Hughes to fly as pilot-in-command for the first half of the flight, with Captain Frye in the right seat. They would switch positions at the half-way point. Both men were experienced four-engine pilots but the Constellation was new to them. In the previous week, they had each made two training flights in the C-69, with Hughes flying 2.9 hours and Frye, 3.4.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962), the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00013)

Initially, the transport followed T.W.A.’s normal transcontinental route. It had climbed to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) by the time it reached Kingman, Arizona. The night sky was “CAVU”—ceiling and visibility unrestricted—and there was a bright last-quarter moon shining. Passing north of Winslow, Arizona, the C-69 left the T.W.A. route and turned north to pick up a Great Circle course.

Flying over northern New Mexico, they encountered turbulence and thunderclouds. Hughes climbed to 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) to remain clear of the clouds. Light ice began forming on the airplane as they crossed over Kansas. They climbed into colder, drier air at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962). (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00019)

Over the eastern part of the state, Jack Frye took over as pilot command and he and Hughes switched places in the cockpit. The C-69 crossed over Butler, Missouri, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m., Central War Time (8:20 a.m., P.W.T.).

—ST. LOUIS STAR-TIMES, Vol. 58—No. 168, Monday Evening, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

The Constellation crossed overhead Cincinnati, Ohio, at 11:48 a.m., C.W.T. Stormy weather delayed their descent until after crossing the Ohio River.

The Constellation flew overhead National Airport at 1:54 p.m., Eastern War Time (10:54 a.m., P.W.T.). They circled overhead while traffic cleared the runway, then landed four minutes later.

The Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, flown by Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, lands at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, at 1:58 p.m., E.W.T., 17 April 1944. Image edited. (Original image: UNLV Digital Collection whh 001297).

The C-69’s log book showed the Burbank to overhead National Airport flight as having taken 6 hours, 56 minutes, 15 seconds.² The Aircraft Yearbook for 1945 gives the record time as “6 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds.” ³

Because of wartime security concerns, the Air Corps would not allow Lockheed or TWA to release specific information about the flight, other than to say that it had broken the existing transcontinental speed record. The Great Circle distance from Lockheed Air Terminal to Washington National is 2,000 nautical miles (2,302 statute miles/3,705 kilometers). Assuming that the route was flown without any deviations, the average speed of the C-69 would have been 288 knots (331 miles per hour/533 kilometers per hour).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001301)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001302)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310, wheels stop. National Airport, 17 April 1944. (LIFE Magazine)

At the time, the only airplanes which were larger than the C-69 were the prototype Douglas B-19 long range bomber and the Martin Mars flying boat. A large crowd watched the arrival of the new airplane. Dignitaries meeting the flight were General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, Chief the U.S. Army Air Forces, and Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones, with Oswald Ryan and Josh Lee of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Secretary of Commerce Jesse Holman Jones, Howard Hughes and Jack Frye. “She performed perfectly marvelously,” said Frye. “She handled like a pursuit ship and flies like a dream.” (UNLV Digital Collections whh001313)
Flight crew and passengers of transcontinental flight. Howard Hughes is 8th from left.  (UNLV Digital Collection whh01324)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001317)

After the arrival ceremonies, the new Lockheed C-69 Constellation was handed over to the Air Corps Air Transport Command and taken to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to begin its military flight tests.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 after rollout at Lockheed Burbank, August 1943. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

As stated above, 43-10310, c/n 1962, was the first production C-69 Constellation, following the XC-69 prototype, 43-10309, c/n 1961. It had been designed and built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Burbank, California, for Transcontinental and Western Airlines. The C-69 made its first flight in August 1943, and remained with Lockheed for manufacturer’s tests.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer and radio operator. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The C-69 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R3500–35 (Cyclone 18 711C18BA2) engines. Also known as the Duplex Cyclone, these were a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.85:1, which required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff (five minute limit), The 745C18BA2 was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,707 pounds (1,228 kilograms). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. Wright produced 58 of these engines between August 1942 and October 1944.

The C-69 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

During the War, Lockheed Constellations were operated for the War Department by T.W.A. and Pan American Airways.

On 31 March 1947,  War Assets Administration sold 43-10310 for spare parts. It was salvaged to repair other C-69 and L-049 airplanes.

In 1952, Lockheed rebuilt -310 for Inter-National Airways, Inc., which leased it to Flying Tiger Line. It was assigned civil registration NC38936.

NC38936 was destroyed by fire after landing accident during training/certification flight at Burbank, 22 January 1953.

Lockheed Martin C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Fire Destroys Huge Plane on L.A. Test Hop

     A rebuilt, four-engine Constellation was destroyed by fire last night seconds after it landed at Lockheed Air Terminal. Ten persons aboard the aircraft escaped without injury.

     The huge craft, owned by Inter-Continental Airways, Inc., had made its second test landing for two Civil Aeronautics Authority inspectors when the main landing-gear section burst into flames which quickly spread to the fuselage and other parts of the ship, according to airport tower observers.

     The plane’s landing gear apparently failed to function properly as the ship touched down and caused the plane to skid on its belly with the propellers scraping the runway, according to the observers.

Changes in Plane

     The Constellation was the second in the C-69 series built by Lockheed Aircraft and during the last two years had undergone changes in construction prior to being chartered by Flying Tiger Lines from the Inter-Continental Airways, according to William Sosnow, purchasing agent for the latter company.

     Burbank and Lockheed Fire Departments fought the fire and kept the flames from spreading to nearby hangars and other aircraft. Fire officials said the plane, valued at $1,000,000, was a total loss.

Final Checkout

     Sosnow said the plane had received CAA partial approval Wednesday and that last night’s pilot training flight was to complete the inspection routine. It was to have flown to Oakland today for its first pay passengers, he said.

     Aboard the plane, Lockheed officials said, were CAA Inspectors M.H. Griffith and Sam Chandler, Senior Pilot C.G. Fredericks, Pilots Lawrence Raab, Sheldon Eichel, August Martin and Leo Gardner; Flight Engineers Frank Lutomski and Robert R. Jackson and Radioman Morris H. Sherry.

     All the crewmen were employed by Inter-Continental.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXI, Friday Morning, 23 January 1953, Part 1, Page 1, Column 3

The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives, (BAAA, or B3A) data base states:

“The crew was engaged in a local test flight. On final approach, during the last segment, the crew inadvertently raised the gears. The four engine aircraft belly landed and slid for dozen yards before coming to rest in flames. While all five crew members were unhurt, the aircraft was lost.”

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

¹ LCOL Clarence A. Shoop USAAC. TWA: Lawrence J. Chiappino, Test Pilot; Leo Baron, Robert L. Loomis, pilot; Ed J. Minser, Chief Meteorologist; Orville R. Olson, ch clerk, KC traffic department; Lee Spruill, Richard De Campo, Flight Engineer. Lockheed: Rudy L. Thoren, Chief Flight Test Engineer; Richard Stanton; Thomas Watkins. S.J. Solomon, Chairman, Airlines Committee for Aviation Policy

² TDiA checked with the National Aeronautic Association, which does not have any information about this flight.

³ The AIRCRAFT YEAR BOOK For 1945, Howard Mingos, Editor. Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc., Lanciar Publishers, Inc., New York. Chapter IV, Page 123.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 March–6 April 1949

Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)

April 6, 1949: Lieutenant Stewart Ross Graham, United States Coast Guard, and his crewman, Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) Robert McAuliffe, completed the longest unescorted helicopter flight on record. They flew a Sikorsky HO3S-1G, serial number 51-234, from the Coast Guard Air Station, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington, via San Diego, California, covering a distance of 3,750 miles (6,035 kilometers) in 57.6 flight hours over 11 days.

Lieutenant Graham was the first pilot to fly a helicopter from a ship. On 16 January 1944, he flew a Sikorsky YR-4B, serial number 46445, from the deck of a British freighter, SS Daghestan, while in convoy from New York to Liverpool. After 30 minutes, he returned to the freighter. He was a pioneer in the use of the helicopter by the Coast Guard and the Navy.

U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232. (U.S. Coast Guard)
U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232, sister ship of 51-234. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The HO3S (Sikorsky S-51) was a second-generation helicopter, capable of carrying a pilot and up to three passengers. The cabin was built of aluminum with Plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood, and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction.

The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of metal spars and plywood ribs and covered with two layers of fabric. (All metal blades soon became available.) The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7.5 inches (12.687 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters) giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters). It was 13 feet, 1.5 inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters).

The S-51 had an empty weight of 4,050 pounds (1,837.05 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,500 pounds (2,494.76 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985 AN-5 (Wasp Jr. T1B4) direct-drive,  nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The S-51 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky built 220 helicopter of the S-51 series.

U.S. Coast Guard HO3S-1G, serial number 51-238, sister ship of Lieutenant Graham’s record-setting helicopter. (USCG/Smithsonian Institution)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 March 1955

Col. Robert R. Scott waves from the cockpit of his Republic F-84F Thunderstreak after completing a record-breaking transcontinental flight, 9 March 1955. (AP Photo)
Lieutenant Richard Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott (in cockpit) after their record-breaking transcontinental flight. (Unattributed)

9 October 1955: Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ray Scott, United States Air Force, commanding officer, 510th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, with Major Robert C. Ruby and Captain Charles T. Hudson, flew their Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks non-stop from Los Angeles Airport (LAX), on the southern California coastline, to overhead Floyd Bennett Field, New York. Two in-flight refuelings from Boeing KB-29 tankers were required.

Colonel Scott’s flight set a new National Aeronautic Association speed record with an elapsed time of 3 hours, 44 minutes, 53.88 seconds.

A newspaper article from the following day describes the event:

2 Des Moines Pilots Break Speed Record

NEW YORK (AP) — Two air force pilots from Des Moines broke the speed record from Los Angeles to New York Wednesday, making a nonstop flight in less than four hours.

Lt. Col. Robert R. Scott, 34, flying a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighter, turned in the fastest time — 3 hours 46 minutes and 33 seconds. He averaged 649 miles an hour.

Just one minute behind was another Des Moines pilot, Maj. Robert C. Ruby, 32. His time was 3:47:33.

The old mark for the 2,445-mile route was 4:06:16, set Jan 2, 1954, by an air national guard pilot.

Refueling Slow

The pilots said they could have made faster time except for slow and obsolete in-flight refueling tanker planes.

A third pilot who shattered the old mark is Capt. Charles T. Hudson, 33, of Gulfport, Miss., who made the flight in 3:49:53.

Eight air force Thunderstreaks left Los Angeles in a mass assault on the record. Five dropped out through failure to make contact with refueling planes or other reasons. All reportedly landed safely.

While setting a Los Angeles–New York record, Scott failed to beat the navy’s time from San Diego, Calif., to New York — 2,438 miles, or seven miles shorter than Wednesday’s flight.

Flew Cougar Jet

Lt. Comdr. Francis X. Brady, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va., flew from San Diego in 3:45:30 on April 1, 1954, flying a Grumman F9F Cougar.

The air force planes flew at about 40,000 feet.

“The tankers used for refueling are much too obsolete and too old,” Scott commented on landing.

The jets had to slow to 200 m.p.h. from almost 650 to take on fuel.

Scott said he refueled twice — once near La Junta, Colo., and once near Rantoul, Ill.

Others Agree

Ruby and Hudson also said they could have made faster time if the tank planes were more modern.

Hudson and Ruby carried extra gas tanks and made one in-flight refueling each. Scott carried no extra gas and had two in-flight refuelings.

1st Lt. James E. Colson of Middleboro, Ky., tried to make it with no refueling. He got as far as Pittsburgh, Pa.

Of the other four unable to complete the flight, one dropped out in California, two in Kansas and one at Sedalia, Mo.

The Daily Iowan, Thursday, March 10, 1955, Page 1, Column 1

Cockpit of Republic F-84F-10-RE Thunderstreak 51-1405. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force, 5 March 1955. (U.S. Air Force photograph)
Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Scott, U.S. Air Force, 5 March 1955. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

Robert Ray Scott was born at Des Moines, Iowa, 1 November 1920. He was the first of two children of Ray Scott, a railroad worker, and Elva M. Scott. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines, January 1939. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Iowa for two years before he enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 August 1941. Scott was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall and weighed 144 pounds (65.3 kilograms). He was trained as a pilot and and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, 16 March 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot in California, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 15 December 1942.

Scott was transferred to the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, flying the Northrop P-61 Black Widow in India and China. He was promoted to captain, 3 May 1944, and to major, 16 August 1945. Major Scott was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

Captain Robert Ray Scott (back row, second from left) with the 426th Night Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force, Chengdu, China 1944. The airplane is a Northrop P-61 Black Widow. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Major Scott returned to the University of Iowa to complete his bachelor’s degree. He also earned two master’s degrees.

In 1952 he graduated from the Air Force test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, then served as a project pilot on the North American F-86D all-weather interceptor. Later he was a project officer at Edwards AFB on the Republic F-105 Thunderchief Mach 2 fighter-bomber.

Scott flew the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre during the Korean War. From January to July 1953, he flew 117 combat missions. From 1953 to 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Scott commanded the 405th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, at Langley Air force base, Virginia.

Scott was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1960.

Colonel Robert R. Scott, commander, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, checks the bombs loaded on a multiple ejector rack while preflighting his Republic F-105 Thunderchief. (U.S. Air Force)

During the Vietnam War, Colonel Scott commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying 134 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. On 26 March 1967 he shot down an enemy MiG-17 fighter near Hanoi with the 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon of his F-105D-6-RE, 59-1772, making him only the second Air Force pilot with air combat victories in both World War II and Vietnam.

Colonel Scott’s final command was the 832nd Air Division, 12th Air Force, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He retired 1 September 1970 after 29 years of military service.

Colonel Robert Ray Scott flew 305 combat missions in three wars.During his Air Force career, Colonel Scott was awarded four Silver Star medals, three Legion of Merit medals, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air Medals. He died at Tehachapi, California, 3 October 2006 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak 51-1346. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak was an improved, swept-wing version of the straight-wing F-84 Thunderjet fighter bomber. The first production Thunderstreak, 51-1346, flew for the first time, 22 May 1952, with company test pilot Russell M. (Rusty”) Roth in the cockpit.

The F-84F was 43 feet, 4¾ inches (13.227 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 7¼ inches (10.243 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 4¾ inches (4.388 meters). The wings were swept aft 40° at 25% chord. Their angle of incidence was 1° 30′ and there was no twist. The F-84F had 3° 30′ anhedral. The Thunderstreak had an empty weight if 13,645 pounds (6,189 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 27,000 pounds (12,247 kilograms).

The initial F-84F-1-RE aircraft were powered by a Wright J65-W-1 turbojet, a license-built variant of the British Armstrong Siddely Sapphire. Later versions used Wright J65-W-3 and J65-W-7, or Buick J65-B-3 or J65-B-7 engines. The J65-B-3 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 13-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The W-3/B-3 had a continuous power rating of 6,350 pounds of thrust (28.25 kilonewtons) at 8,000 r.p.m. It produced 7,220 pounds of thrust (32.12 kilonewtons) at 8,300 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The J65-B-3 was 10 feet, 8.6 inches (3.266 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.7 inches (0.958 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,785 pounds (1,263 kilograms).

Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak 51-1346, the first production airplane, at Farmingdale, New York, 1952. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

The F-84F had a maximum speed of 595 knots (685 miles per hour/1,102 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level (0.900 Mach). The fighter bomber could climb at 7,000 feet per minute (36 meters per second). Its service ceiling was 44,450 feet (13,548 meters). The fighter bomber’s maximum ferry range was 2,010 nautical miles (2,313 statute miles/3,723 kilometers).

Armament consisted of six Browning .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) AN-M3 aircraft machine guns, with two mounted in the wing roots and four in the nose. The were 300 rounds of ammunition per gun. Up to 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of bombs and rockets could be carried under the wings. A variable-yield Mark 7 tactical nuclear weapon could also be carried.

Between 1952 and 1957, 2,112 F-84F Thunderstreaks were built by Republic at Farmingdale, New York, and by General Motors at Kansas City, Kansas. The Thunderstreak served with the United States Air Force and Air National Guard until 1971.

Republic F-84F-5-RE Thunderstreak 51-1366. (Republic Aviation Corporation)
First Lieutenant Richard Bach, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Republic F-84F-35-RE Thunderstreak, 52-6490, at Chaumont Air Base, France, 1962. Richard Bach is the author of the classic aviation novel, “Stranger to the Ground.” (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 March 1990

Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.

Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.

The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).

Ben Rich, director of Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects ("Skunk Works") congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (Unattributed)
Ben Rich, director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“Skunk Works”), congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding  (center) and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (© Tony Landis)

Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h  (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).

Flight record data for 972's record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, ADP, LASC.
Flight record data for 972’s record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, Advanced Development Projects, Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.20.01Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.21.35Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.22.43Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.23.55This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).

This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.

61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM
Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 March 1965

The flight crew of the Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, Bu. No. 152104. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, CDR James R. Williford and LT David A. Beil. (FAI)

6 March 1965: A U.S. Navy/Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter named Dawdling Dromedary, Bu. No. 152104, piloted by Commander James R. Williford and Lieutenant David A. Beil, with Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class Paul J. Bert, took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12), alongside NAS North Island, San Diego California, at 4:18 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, (12:18 UTC) and flew non-stop, without refueling, to land aboard another aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), off Mayport, Florida, at 11:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (04:10 UTC). The distance flown was 3,388.70 kilometers (2,105.64 miles) with an elapsed time of 16 hours, 52 minutes, and set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Without Landing.¹ This exceeded the previous record distance by more than 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).²

CDR James R. Williford climbs aboard the Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King “Dawdling Dromedary,” Bu. No. 152104. (Naval Aviation Museum 1985-105.002b)

On takeoff, Dawdling Dromedary had a gross weight of 23,000 pounds (10,433 kilograms), about 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms over its normal operating weight. Its fuel load was 1,690 gallons (6,397 liters) and it had only 60 gallons (227 liters) remaining on landing.

After clearing Guadalupe Pass between Carlsbad, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, (5,414 feet, 1650 meters) the crew shut down one the the SH-3A’s two turboshaft engines in an effort to reduce fuel consumption. They flew on a single engine for 9½ hours, restarting the second engine as they descended through 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) over Jacksonville, Florida.

Commander Williford, head of the Rotary Wing Branch, Flight Test Division, at the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, was quoted in Naval Aviation News for the May 1965 issue:

“Since weight counted, the heater had been removed. We therefore wore rubber boots, long underwear, etc., but still were thoroughly chilled upon arrival. The temperature at 15,000 feet [4,572 meters] was -11° [-23.9 °C.] that night.

“The C-131 chase aircraft crew was amazed at our accuracy of navigation with a lone omni. Actually, it was such a clear day it was the old type of piloting, that is, ‘just north of that reservoir’ or ‘one mile south of that city,’ etc. We flew through mountain passes until Guadalupe, thence great circle route to Mayport.

“For the trip, +10 knots [18.5 kilometers per hour] tailwind average was needed, and it appeared we weren’t going to make it for the first 8–9 hours because we were behind in our time vs. distance plot. But as we climbed higher—climbing being limited by retreating blade stall—we gained stronger and more favorable winds. By the time we reached Valdosta, Georgia, we had about 35 knots [64.8 kilometers per hour] pushing us. That was a nice feature because the Okefenokee Swamp at night is no place for an autorotation with empty fuel tanks.”

—Commander James R. Williford, United States Navy, Naval Aviation News, May 1965, NavWeps No. 00-75R-3, at Pages 8–9.

The crew of the record-setting Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Dawdling Dromedary, aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), 6 March 1965. Left to right, ADJ1 Paul J. Bert, Lieutenant David A. Biel, Commander James R. Williford. (U.S. Navy)

Dawdling Dromedary is the same Sikorsky SH-3A, Bu. No. 152104, that set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed record for helicopters of 339 kilometers per hour (210.6 miles per hour), 5 February 1962, flown by Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, USN, and Captain Louis K. Keck, USMC.³

The Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King was the first of the S-61 series of military and civil helicopters, designated as HSS-2 until 1962. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. The fuselage is designed to allow landing on water. The XHSS-2 made its first flight 11 March 1959. The helicopter was originally used as an anti-submarine helicopter.

The SH-3A is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotors and tail can be folded for more compact storage aboard aircraft carriers, shortening the aircraft to 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% NR, the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m.

The SH-3A was powered by two General Electric T58-GE-6 turboshaft engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 900 horsepower, and Military Power rating of 1,050 horsepower. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum. (Later models were built with more powerful T58-GE-8 engines. Early aircraft were retrofitted.)

The SH-3A has a cruise speed of 125 knots (144 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 135 knots (155 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The design maximum gross weight is 16,237 pounds (7,365 kilograms). The SH-3A had a combat endurance of 4 hours.

In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft have remained in service and have been upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.

Sikorsky produced the last S-61 helicopter in 1980, having built 794. Production has been licensed to manufacturers in England, Italy, Canada and Japan. They have produced an additional 679 Sea Kings.

Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Bu. No. 14xxxx, the Dawdling Dromedary. (FAI)
Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King, Bu. No. 152104, the Dawdling Dromedary. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2179

² FAI Record File Number 2180: 2,170.70 kilometers (1,348.81 miles), set by Captain Michael N. Antoniou, U.S. Army, flying a Bell YUH-1D Iroquois, 60-6029, from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Rogers, Arkansas, 27 September 1964.

³ FAI Record File Number 13121. (See TDiA, 5 February 1962.)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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