Tag Archives: Transoceanic Flight

25 February 1927

Ryan airplane factory at the foot of Juniper Street, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)
Ryan airplane factory at the foot of Juniper Street, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)
Charles A. Lindbergh (Harris & Ewing)
Charles A. Lindbergh (Harris & Ewing)

25 February 1927: Acting on behalf of a syndicate of St. Louis business men, Charles A. Lindbergh contracts Ryan Airlines Company of San Diego to design and build a single-engine monoplane for a flight from New York to Paris. This would become the Spirit of St. Louis. The cost is $10,580.

“The Ryan Airlines factory is in an old, dilapidated building near the waterfront. I feel conspicuous driving up to it in a taxicab. A couple of loafers stare at me as I pay my fare. There’s no flying field, no hangar, no sound of engines warming up; and the unmistakable smell of dead fish from a near-by cannery mixes with the banana odor of dope from drying wings. . .

“I open the door to a small, dusty, paper-strewn office. A slender young man advances to meet me—clear, piercing eyes, intent face. He introduces himself as Donald Hall, chief engineer for Ryan Airlines, Incorporated. . . .”

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953, Chapter III, Page 79.

“I check the wording and hand my telegram to the girl in the office. I’m ready to cast my lot with the Ryan organization. I believe in Hall’s ability; I like Mahoney’s enthusiasm. I have confidence in the character of the workmen I’ve met. This company is a fit partner for our organization in St. Louis. They’re as anxious to build a plane that will fly to Paris as I am to fly it there.”

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953, Chapter III, Page 85.

Donald A. Hall, deigner of the Ryan NYP, Spirit of St. Louis, at work in his office at the Ryan Airlines, Inc., factory, San Diego, CA, 1927. (Donald A Hall Collection)
Donald A. Hall, designer of the Ryan NYP, NX-211, Spirit of St. Louis, at work in his office at the Ryan Airlines, Inc., factory, San Diego, CA, 1927. (Donald A Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 February 1985

China Airlines' Boeing 747SP, N45522V. Thi saircraft few as Dynasty 006, 18 February 1985. (Andrew Hunt)
China Airlines’ Boeing 747SP, N4522V. This aircraft few as Dynasty 006, 18 February 1985. (Andrew Hunt)

19 February 1985: At 10:16 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, while enroute from Taipei, Republic of China, to Los Angeles, California, China Airlines’ Flight 006 (call sign “Dynasty Six”), a Boeing 747SP-09, FAA registration N4522V, was cruising at 41,000 feet (12,497 meters), 300 nautical miles (556 kilometers) northwest of San Francisco, California. It had a crew of 23 with 251 passengers. The airliner had a flight crew of five under command of Captain Min-Yuan Ho, with a co-pilot and flight engineer, as well as a relief captain and flight engineer, due to the length of the trans-Pacific flight.

Captain Min-Yuan Ho, describing the incident to reporters at San Francisco Airport, 19 February 1985.
Captain Min-Yuan Ho, describing the incident to reporters at San Francisco Airport, 19 February 1985.

The Number 4 engine, the outboard engine on the airplane’s right wing, a Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan, refused to respond with the other engines as the throttles were advanced, and it “hung” and remained at a low power level. It did not flame out, as the crew believed. The crew attempted restart procedures, however they did so incorrectly.

The airliner’s autopilot was engaged and the aircraft began to yaw and bank because of the asymmetric thrust. The copilot, First Officer Ju Yu Chang, used full opposite aileron to stop the roll, but neither pilot or copilot applied any rudder inputs to correct the yaw. (It was later determined that they believed, incorrectly, that the autopilot controlled rudder position.)

The airplane departed controlled flight, rolled over and dived. It lost 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) of altitude before the crew was able to recover, however the airplane was severely damaged, with bent wings, a damaged left aileron, lost parts of its elevators and horizontal stabilizers and damaged landing gear doors. It had experienced acceleration forces as high as 4.8 Gs as it descended through 30,552 feet (9,312 meters) and a peak 5.1 Gs at 19,083 feet (5,816 meters).

This illustration, based on the NTSB accident investigation, shows the various attitudes of China Airlines Flight 006 as it descended out of control, 19 February 1985. (Wikipedia)
This illustration, based on the NTSB accident investigation, shows the various attitudes of China Airlines Flight 006 as it descended out of control, 19 February 1985. (Wikipedia)

Of the 287 persons on board, 24 were injured. Two were seriously hurt and the flight diverted to San Francisco. The 747SP was substantially damaged. It was nearly two years before repairs completed.

China Airlines’ Boeing 747SP-09 N4522V, photographed at Amsterdam, 16 June 1991. (Torsten Maiwald/Wikimedia)

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation made the following findings:

3.1 Findings

1. The flightcrew was properly certificated and qualified.

2. The changing airspeeds encountered by Flight 006 and the resultant compensating throttle adjustments were caused by wind speed variations.

3. The No. 4 engine did not flame out, but “hung” at about 1.0 EPR.

4. During his attempt to recover the No. 4 engine, the flight engineer did not close the bleed air valve switch before advancing the No. 4 throttle.

5. The other three engines did not lose thrust nor did they flame out.

6. The captain did not disengage the autopilot in a timely manner after thrust was lost on the No. 4 engine. The autopilot effectively masked the approaching onset of the loss of control of the airplane.

7. The captain was distracted from his flight monitoring duties by his participation with the flight engineer in the evaluation of the No. 4 engine’s malfunction.

8. With the exception of the loss of thrust on the No. 4 engine, no other airplane malfunction affected the performance of the airplane; the loss of thrust on the No. 4 engine did not contribute to the accident.

9. The captain was also distracted by his attempts to arrest the airplane’s decreasing airspeed, and this also contributed to his failure to detect the airplane’s increasing bank angle.

10. The lateral control deflections required to maintain level flight under conditions of thrust asymmetry and decreasing airspeed exceeded the limits of the autopilot’s lateral control authority, causing the airplane to roll and yaw to the right. The captain lost control of the airplane when, after disengaging the autopilot, he failed to make the proper flight control corrections to recover the airplane.

11. The damage to the airplane was a result of the acceleration forces and high airspeeds that occurred during the upset and recovery maneuvers.

3.2 Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s preoccupation with an inflight malfunction and his failure to monitor properly the airplane’s flight instruments which resulted in his losing control of the airplane.

Contributing to the accident was the captain’s over-reliance on the autopilot after the loss of thrust on the No. 4 engine.

The captain had not slept during his previous rest period and his tiredness was considered a factor in this incident.

Damage to the tail surfaces of Boeing 747SP N4522V.
Damage to the tail surfaces of Boeing 747SP N4522V.

The Boeing 747SP (“Special Performance”) is a very long range variant of the 747-100 series airliners. It has a shorter fuselage and larger tail surface than the standard model. The weight savings allows it to carry more fuel for longer flights, and it is also faster. Boeing built 45 747SPs.

The 747SP is 184 feet, 9 inches (56.312 meters) long, with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters). It has an overall height of 65 feet, 10 inches (20.066 meters). It has a maximum takeoff weight of 670,000 pounds.

The airliner has a cruising speed of 0.88 Mach (616 miles per hour, or 991 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (680 knots, 1,094 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 45,100 feet (13,746 meters) and the range is 7,650 miles (12,311 kilometers), carrying 276 passengers and baggage. The fuel capacity is 47,210 gallons. (178,709 liters).

Damaged horizontal stabilizer and elevators of Boeing 747SP-09 N4522V (NTSB)

Boeing 747 SP N4522V (serial number 22805, line number 564) made its first flight 10 June 1982. It was leased to China Airlines by the Wilmington Trust Company, 15 June 1982 and delivered 29 June 1982.

Following the Flight 006 incident, the airliner was repaired by Boeing and returned to service 25 April 1985. It was leased to Mandarin Airlines from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 1997, then placed in storage at Las Vegas, Nevada.

On 18 December 2001, N4522V was purchased by Global Peace Initiative Inc. The FAA suspended its operating certificate 18 July 2005 for lack of proper maintenance. The airplane has been stored at Tijuana International Airport (TIJ), just south of the U.S./Mexico border, since 16 December 2005.

The FAA registration of N4522V expired 31 December 2016.

Boeing 747SP 09 serial number 22805. The airliner’s U.S. registration expired 31 December 2016. (Global Peace Initiative)
Boeing 747SP 09 serial number 22805. The airliner’s U.S. registration expired 31 December 2016. The derelict airliner was photographed at Tijuana, 16 June 2019. (Jorge Perez)

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

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5–6 February 1946

A TWA Lockheed Constellation over Paris. (Unattributed)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation over Paris, France. (Unattributed)

5–6 February 1946: Transcontinental and Western Airlines—TWA—”The Trans World Airline,” flew its first revenue international passengers on a scheduled transatlantic flight from La Guardia Field, New York (LGA) to Aéroport de Paris-Orly, Paris (ORY).

The airplane was a Lockheed L-049 Constellation, serial number 2035, NC86511, named Star of Paris, under the command of Captain Harold F.  Blackburn. Captains Jack Hermann and John M. Calder, Navigator M. Chrisman and Flight Engineers Art Ruhanen, Ray McBride and Jack Rouge completed the flight crew. Purser Don Shiemwell and Hostess Ruth Schmidt were in the cabin along with 36 passengers.

Star of Paris departed LaGuardia at 2:21 p.m., EST, 5 February. The flight made brief stops at Gander, Newfoundland (YQX) and Shannon, Ireland (SNN), and arrived at Orly Field, at 3:57 p.m., February 6. The elapsed time was 16 hours, 21 minutes.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 22.48.30
Photograph from TWA Skyliner Magazine, 9 February 1961, at Page 4

Confusion exists over which TWA Constellation made the first scheduled flight from LGA to ORY. This is probably because two days earlier, 3 February, another L-049, Paris Sky Chief, NC86505, s/n 2026, also commanded by Hal Blackburn, flew from Washington National Airport (DCA) to Paris Orly as a trial. On that flight, the Constellation averaged 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour). This non-scheduled trip took 14 hours, 47 minutes, total elapsed time, with 12 hours 57 minutes actual flight time. Paris Sky Chief‘s TWA fleet number was 505, while Star of Paris was number 555.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 19.40.37
Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-049, Paris Sky Chief, NC86505. (www.sedonalegendhelenfrye.com)
Harold F. Blackburn, ca. 1945 (Flying Magazine)
Harold F. Blackburn, ca. 1945 (Flying Magazine)

Harold F. Blackburn was born in 1901 at Urbana, Illinois. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1928, and studied aviation at the University of Southern California. He received his Air Corps pilot’s wings in 1930.

In 1932, Blackburn participated in the relief of the Native American reservations near Winslow, Arizona, which had been cut off by a winter storm. His entire unit, the 11th Bombardment Squadron, based at March Field, Riverside, California, was awarded the Mackay Trophy.

Lieutenant Blackburn married Miss Martha Bondurant in 1932. They would have a son Robert, and daughters Beverly, Bonnie and Betty. Beverly died in infancy 1 December 1943. Blackburn would later marry Helen Jones.

Hal Blackburn began flying with TWA in 1934 and remained with the company for over 25 years. During World War II, he flew Boeing 377s across the South Atlantic for the airline’s Intercontinental Division, of which he would become the manager.  In addition to the New York-Paris flight in 1946, Blackburn flew TWA’s first Boeing 707 from New York to Paris in 1961.

“Blackie,” as he is known to his friends, has been an active pilot since 1919. His air time equals three years spent above the earth’s surface during which he has logged more than six and a half million miles . . . The Washington Post named him the “Ideal Father” in 1946. Capt. Blackburn also assisted with the formation of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and Deutsche-Lufthansa. Viewed by the news media as the ideal model pilot, Capt. Blackburn has been the subject of two lengthy profiles in the New Yorker magazine . . .  In 26,800 hours of flying, Capt. Blackburn never injured a passenger, nor damaged an aircraft, and was never late for a flight. Married for 32 years, he is the father of four children and three times a grandfather. He resides in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. He retired from flying in 1962. His last flight, in command of a TWA SuperJet [the company’s name for the Boeing 707 or Convair 880] from Rome to New York, was the subject of an hour-long television documentary.

The Indiana Gazette, Monday, 14 October 1963, Page 5 at Columns 2–4

Captain Blackburn was the subject of Like a Homesick Angel, a biography by John Bainbridge, Houghton Mifflin, 1964. He died at Oakland, California, 4 August 1989, at the age of 87 years.

A TWA Lockheed L-049 Lockheed L-049 Constellation, NC86517. (Ed Coates Collection)

Star of Paris (serial number 2035), a Lockheed Model L-049-46 Constellation, had been built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California, plant and delivered to Transcontinental and Western in December 1945. The airliner remained in service with TWA until 1 September 1961. During that time it was also named Star of  Dublin.

The Lockheed Constellation first flew in 1942, and was produced for the U.S. Army Air Corps as the C-69. With the end of World War II, commercial airlines needed new airliners for the post-war boom. The Constellation had transoceanic range and a pressurized cabin for passenger comfort.

The Lockheed L-049 Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four and 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).

Trans World Airlines’ Lockheed L-049 Constellation NC86515, Star of the Red Sea, at San Francisco, California, 10 June 1948.. (Bill Larkins/Wikimedia)

The L-049 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 ¹ 745C18BA3 two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The -BA3 was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., for takeoff, (five minute limit). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289.11 kilograms).

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (503.72 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429.3 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

22 C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were built. Designed by the famous Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

"TWA Lockheed Constellation at Paris-Orly" by Lucio Perinotto. For more striking paintings by the artist, please visit his web site at http://www.lucioperinotto.com/
“TWA Lockheed Constellation at Paris-Orly” by Lucio Perinotto. For more striking paintings by the artist, please visit his web site at http://www.lucioperinotto.com/

On 18 November 1950, TWA’s Constellation NC86511 suffered failures of the two inboard  engines while taking off from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The airliner was diverted to nearby Long Beach Airport (LGB) for an emergency landing. The crew made an instrument approach and could not see the runway until the last moment, touching down at approximately midway. The runway was wet and the airplane could not be stopped before running off the end. The right main landing gear collapsed. The Constellation was damaged but repaired and returned to service. It was later renamed Star of Dublin.

TWA Lockheed Constellation after landing accident at Long Beach, California, 18 November 1950. (Aviation Safety Network)
TWA Lockheed Constellation after landing accident at Long Beach, California, 18 November 1950. (Aviation Safety Network)

On 1 September 1961, NC86511 was operating as TWA Flight 529 from Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) to Los Angeles, California. Shortly after takeoff a mechanical failure caused to airplane to pitch up and stall. The flight crew was unable to regain control of the Constellation and it crashed in a field near Hinsdale, Illinois. All 78 persons on board were killed.

The crash site of Trans World Airlines' Flight 529, Lockheed L-049 Constellation s/n 2035, NC86511, Star of Dublin.
The crash site of Trans World Airlines’ Flight 529, Lockheed L-049 Constellation s/n 2035, NC86511, Star of Dublin.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 January 1951

Charles F. Blair, jr. arrives at Heathrow. (Getty Images)

31 January 1951: Pan American World Airways Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., flew a modified North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, NX1202, named Excalibur III, from New York International Airport to London Airport in 7 hours, 48 minutes, with an average speed of 446 miles per hour (718 kilometers per hour). Captain Blair took advantage of the jet stream, flying as high as 37,000 feet (11,278 meters).

“At last, I was riding the jet stream, pushed by a tailwind exceeding 200 miles per hour. . . Above me, the sky was empty and blue; below the wings of my tiny aircraft a winter storm raged. Its upper canopy of white clouds gave it a look of complete innocence.”

The Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday, 3 June 1951, Page 115

This was Blair’s 401st Atlantic crossing.

Blair’s flight did not set an official record. No arrangements had been made to have officials of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) available to observe the flight.

Mrs. Charles Blair Jr. (right) with her two children, Suzanne, 16, and Christopher, 10 months, get the news of Capt. Blair’s safe arrival. (NEWS foto by Sam Platnik)

Interestingly, Excalibur III was impounded by HM Customs at the London Airport. Blair had not paid the £800 customs duty which would have allowed the Mustang to stay for six months. He would have had to fly the airplane back to the United States to avoid the aircraft being impounded.

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported the event:


LONDON, Jan. 31 (AP)— Air Line Capt. Charles Blair landed his scarlet Mustang fighter plane in a blaze of red flares tonight, chalking up a New York to London speed record of 7 hours 48 minutes. He clipped an hour and seven minutes off the old record.

     Blair said his only troubles during the flight were some icing in the early stages and a painfully tight pair of boots.

     As he climbed from the cockpit of the flying gas tank named Excalibur III and waved to a cheering crowd at London airport he winced and declared: “The first thing I do is get these boots off.”

Aided by Tail Winds

     Blair left New York’s Idlewild airport at 3:50 a.m. Chicago time [09:50 UTC] and was clocked in here at 5:38 p.m. British time [11:38 a.m. Chicago time]. [17:38 UTC]

     A Pan American Airways pilot, Blair took the time record from a Pan American Stratocruiser which made the eastward Nov. 22, 1949, with 24 passengers, in 8 hours and 55 minutes. Strong tail winds helped in both cases.

     Blair, tall, dark, married, and 41, brought no luggage, but had a shaving kit and a tooth brush in a small leather bag.

     His plane is powered by a Packard built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and was modified to hold 863 gallons of gasoline inside wings and fuselage without external tanks. He said the plane cost $25,000 to buy and revamp.

Averages 450 M. P. H.

     Blair told newsmen at London airport: “It was a very good crossing. It wasn’t as fast as I expected, but after Gander, N.F., I had a tail wind of 130 miles an hour. But the weather wasn’t too good and there was some ice.”

     Blair’s average speed was about 450 miles an hour and he made much of the jaunt at 37,000 feet.

     He said the trip had a dual purpose, to break the record and to study the effect of high velocity winds on airliners in the lower stratosphere.

     Blair will fly back to New York as a passenger in a Stratocruiser. He has to return by Saturday. On that day he will fly a planeload of passengers from New York to London.

Chicago Daily Tribune, Volume CX—No. 28, Thursday, February 1, 1951, Part 1, at Page 6, Columns 4 and 5.

Blair was presented the Harmon International Trophy by President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony at the White House, 18 November 1952. The Harmon awards are for “the most outstanding international achievements in the art and/or science of aeronautics for the previous year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., American Overseas Airlines.

Charles Francis Blair, Jr., was born 19 July 1909 at Buffalo, New York, the second child of Charles F. Blair, an attorney, and Grace Ethelyn McGonegal Blair. He entered the University of Vermont, where is father was a member of the Board of Trustees, as a freshman in 1927. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta (ΦΔΘ) fraternity.

Blair was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, 16 August 1932.

On 6 September 1932, Ensign Blair married Miss Janice Evelyn Davis at Wallingford, Vermont. They would have two children, Suzanne, born in 1934, and Christopher Noel, born in 1950. The Blairs would later divorce.

He was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, 16 August 1937. During World War II, he served as a transport pilot in the U.S. Navy.

On 18 November 1952, Blair was one of three aviators to be awarded the Harmon Trophy. The presentation was made by President Harry Truman in a ceremony in The White House Rose Garden.

Blair resigned from the Naval Reserve in 1952 and the following year he accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel. In 1959, Blair was promoted to brigadier general.

While serving as a reserve officer, Charlie Blair continued his civilian career as an airline pilot for United Airlines, American Overseas Airlines, and then with Pan American.

On 12 March 1968, Captain Blair married to actress Maureen O’Hara, whom he had met during one of his 1,575 transatlantic crossings. It was the fourth marriage for both.

Captain Blair made his final flight with Pan American in July 1969. He had flown more than 45,000 hours and traveled more than 10,000,000 miles.

Blair was the author of Thunder Above (Henry Holt & Co., 1956), a novel co-written with A.J. Wallis and filmed as “Beyond the Curtain,” starring Richard Green and Eva Bartok, in 1960. He also wrote Red Ball in the Sky (Random House, 1969), an account of his career in aviation.

Brigadier General Charles Francis Blair, Jr., died 2 September 1978 in an airplane accident. His remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., checks his astrocompass shortly before beginning his transpolar flight, 29 May 1951. (Smithsonian Institution)

Excalibur III is a Dallas, Texas-built North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, one of a group of 400 fighters which had been contracted on 5 March 1943. Its North American Aviation serial number is 111-29080, and the U.S. Army Air Force assigned it serial number 44-10947.

After World War II, 44-10947 was transferred to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (a Depression-era agency of the United States government) at Searcy Field (SWO), Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was purchased by Paul Mantz, 19 February 1946, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration registered it as NX1202. Mantz had the Mustang painted red and named it Blaze of Noon. (Mantz was a movie pilot and aerial coordinator for the 1947 Paramount Pictures movie, “Blaze of Noon,” which was based on the Ernest K. Gann novel, Blaze of Noon, published in 1946.)

Paul Mantz flew NX1202 to win the 1946 and 1947 Bendix Trophy Races. Flown by Linton Carney and renamed The Houstonian, NX1202 placed second in the 1948 Bendix race, and with “Fish” salmon in the cockpit, it took third place in 1949.

Paul Mantz in the cockpit of “Blaze of Noon,” P-51C-10-NT Mustang 44-10947, NX1202. (Hans Greehoff Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, NASM-HGC-1100)
North American Aviation P-51C Mustang NX1202, now named “The Houstonian.” The modified fighter flew in the 1948 Bendix Trophy Race, finishing in second place. (NASM)
Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California, in the modified North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, NX1202. Salmon finished in third place. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Paul Mantz had set several speed records with the Mustang before selling it to Pan American World Airways, Inc., Blair’s employer. Blair named the Mustang Stormy Petrel, but later changed it to Excalibur III.

To increase the Mustang’s range for these long-distance flights, Mantz had removed the standard 90-gallon pressure-molded Firestone self-sealing tanks from each wing and converted the entire wing to a fuel tank (what is known as a “wet wing”).

The P-51B and P-51C Mustang are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc, at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, "Excalibur III", at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, “Excalibur III,” at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), slightly faster than the more numerous P-51D Mustang. The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

Though the P-51D with its bubble canopy was built in far greater numbers during World War II, the earlier P-51B and P-51C Mustangs were actually faster, so many surplus airplanes were used for racing and record attempts after the war.

In 1952, Pan American World Airways donated Excalibur III to the Smithsonian Institution. The airplane’s registration was cancelled 4 June 1952. Today, completely restored, it is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Charles F. Blair, Jr.'s North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

A British PATHÉ news film of Blair’s arrival at London can be seen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdRbIQdnyQo

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 January 1970

Boeing 747-121 N736PA, Pan American Clipper Young America, watercolor by John T. McCoy. (SFO Museum)

22 January 1970: Captain Robert M. Weeks, Captain John Noland and Flight Engineer August (“Mac”) McKinney flew the Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121, N736PA, Clipper Young America, from New York to London on a 6 hour, 14 minute inaugural passenger-carrying flight of the new wide-body jet. Aboard were a cabin crew of 17 and 332 passengers.

Crew members of the first Pan Am Boeing 747 to arrive at Heathrow. (Rolls Press/Pepperfoto/Getty Images via The Guardian)

The Associated Press reported:

The 747 Age Is Here

     LONDON (AP)—A Boeing 747 jetliner arrived in London from New York today on the maiden transatlantic commercial jumbo jet flight.

     An overheated engine grounded the original aircraft and a substitute called Young America left New York at 1:52 a.m. EST, nearly seven hours after the scheduled departure time. The jet, carrying 332 passengers and 20 crew, touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport at 8:06 a.m. EST.

     London Airport services were geared to deal as quickly as possible with the passengers and 30,000 pounds of baggage and cargo aboard the Pan American World Airways jumbo.

     SOME PASSENGERS booked on the return flight to New York switched to other aircraft because of today’s delays, but a Pan Am spokesman said most of the passengers were waiting for the Jumbo.

     The [sic] included actress Raquel Welch, who has been making a television spectacular in London.

     The Boeing took 6 hours 15 minutes on the Atlantic flight. The pilot was Capt. Robert M. Weeks, 49, a veteran of 28 years with Pan Am who has logged more than 15,000 hours on Pan Am routes.

     THE AIRCRAFT drew up at stand 1-29 on Heathrow’s Pier Five at 8:10 a.m., and passengers began disembarking four minutes later.

     One of the passengers, Mrs. Joe Tepera of Fort Worth Tex., told newsmen: “The flight was simply great. Flying in a beautiful plane like that was worth the delay.

     “All the passengers were good humored and when the plane finally took off they applauded. They did the same when it landed. I personally would not hesitate flying in a jumbo again.”

     Michael J. Flynn of Chicago said: “The delay didn’t bother me much. We were given a first class meal. It’s a good plane.”

     BUT ONE PASSENGER, who declined to be named, said he was annoyed at the service aboard the jumbo and the delay caused by switching planes in New York.

     “The plane is simply too big for anyone to be given proper service,” he said.

     Michael Brody, 21-year-old American who claims he wants to give away his multimillion-dollar fortune, was among the passengers.

     “I am here for a rest. I am not going to give away any more money in Britain,” he told newsmen.

     A Pan Am spokesman said the jumbo had been rechristened Young America in New York for the historic flight, but the aircraft carried the name Clipper Victor on its fuselage on arrival here.

     THE HUGE PLANE made most of the smooth flight at 33,000 feet.

     Richard Hobson, air correspondent of the British Press Association, who traveled on the jumbo, said: “From my position in one of the economy sections of the 747 where the seating is nine-abreast, divided by two aisles, was like being in a news theater. A film show—and the plane is equipped for them—would have completed the illusion.”

     Pan Am has received five of the 33 jumbos ordered. Trans World Airlines plans to start jumbo service in March and British Overseas Airways Corp. will receive the first of 12 jumbos early in April and hopes to get them in service in June.

     A British Airport Authority spokesman reported the first passenger cleared all baggage and airport formalities 34 minutes after the jet touched down.

     “IT DOESN’T LOOK bad at all,” he said.

     The spokesman gave this breakdown on times for clearing the jumbo’s passengers:

Time arrive 8:06 a.m. EST.
Doors open: 8:19.
First passenger off plane: 8:20
Last passenger off plane: 8:32.
First passenger into baggage hall: 8:34.
Last passenger into baggage hall: 8:57.
First passenger into immigration: 8: …
Last passenger out of immigration: 8:39.
First passenger into customs: 8:25.
Last passenger out of customs: 9:04.
First passenger to clear airport: 8:46.
Last passenger to clear airport: 9:05.

     Six Pan Am buses took the passengers into London.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Vol. 59, No. 22, 22 Jan 1970, Page D-16, Columns 1–8

Pan American World Airways’ Boeng 747-121, N732PA, Clipper Storm King. (Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia)

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

The 747’s cruise speed is 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and it’s maximum speed is 0.89 Mach (588 miles per hour/946 kilometers per hour). The maximum range at MTOW is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

The Boeing 747 was MUCH BIGGER than the Boeing 707 that it replaced. (CBS News/Boeing)

N736PA had initially been named Clipper Victor, but the name was changed to Clipper Young America for the inaugural New York to London flight when the 747 scheduled to make that flight—Clipper Young America—suffered mechanical problems. The 747 was hijacked on 2 August 1970 and flown to Cuba. After that incident, N736PA was renamed Clipper Victor — its original name. It was destroyed in a collision with another Boeing 747 at Tenerife, Canary Islands, 27 March, 1977.

Pan American Airways' Boeing 747-121 N736PA, Clipper Young America, at London Heathrow Airport, 22 January 1970. (Getty Images via BBC History)
Pan American Airways’ Boeing 747-121 N736PA, Clipper Young America, at London Heathrow Airport, 22 January 1970. (Getty Images via BBC History)

The 747 has been in production for 52 years. As of December 2020, 1,562 747s of all models had been built. 205 of these were 747-100 series aircraft. On 12 January 2021, Boeing announced that the final 747s, four Boeing 747-8F freighters, had been ordered by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc. When they have been built, the production of the “jumbo jet” will come to a close.

An Atlas Air Boeing 747-8F freighter. (Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc.)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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