Tag Archives: Transoceanic Flight

7 June 1937

Photo of a replica of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)
Photograph of a replica of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)

7 June 1937: Leg 10—the South Atlantic Crossing. At 3:15 a.m., Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Natal, Brazil, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, enroute across the South Atlantic Ocean to Dakar, Afrique occidentale française (now, Senegal).

It was 3.15 in the morning when we left Parnamirim Airport at Natal, Brazil. The take-off was in darkness. The longer runway, which has lights, was unavailable because a perverse wind blew exactly across it. So I used the secondary runway, whose surface is of grass. In the dark it was difficult even to find it, so Fred and I tramped its length with flashlights to learn what we could and establish something in the way of guiding landmarks, however shadowy. Withal, we got into the air easily. Once off the ground, a truly pitch dark encompassed us. However, the blackness of the night outside made all the more cheering the subdued lights of my  cockpit, glowing on the instruments which showed the way through space as we headed east over the ocean. “The night is long that never finds the day,” and our night soon enough was day. I remembered, then, that this was my third dawn in flight over the Atlantic. . . .

— Amelia Earhart

Fred Noonan wrote in a letter from Dakar, The flight from Natal, Brazil produced the worst weather we have experienced—heavy rain and dense cloud formations. . . .”

In her notes, Earhart wrote, “. . . Have never seen such rain. Props a blur in it. See nothing but rain now through wispy cloud. . . .”

— from Finding Amelia by Ric Gillespie, Naval Institute Press, 2006, Chapter 5 at page 41.

The poor weather made it impossible for Noonan to find their way across the ocean by celestial navigation, his field of expertise. Instead, he had to navigate by ded reckoning (short for deductive reckoning, not “dead”) and to estimate course corrections.

When they arrived over the African coastline at dusk, they knew that they were north of their intended course but haze caused very limited visibility. Navigational errors had caused them to miss Dakar, so they turned north until they came to Saint-Louis, where they landed after a 1,961 mile (3,156 kilometer), 13 hour, 22 minute flight.

Fred Noonan’s nautical chart for a portion of the Natal-to-Dakar flight in the Purdue University archives. (Gary LaPook, NavList)
Great Circle route from Parnamirim Airport (NAT), Natal, Brazil, to Saint-Louis Airport ( XLS), Senegal, 1,721 nautical miles (1,981 statute miles/3,188 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

31 May–1 June 1967

Left to Right: Major Herbert Zehnder, USAF; Igor Sikorsky; Major Donald B. Murras, USAF, at Le Bourget, 1 June 1967.
Major Herbert R. Zehnder, USAF; Igor Sikorsky; Major Donald B. Murras, USAF, at le Bourget, 1 June 1967. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

At 0105 hours, 31 May 1967, two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters, 66-13280 and 66-13281, from the 48th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, United States Air Force, took off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York, and flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean to the Paris Air Show. They arrived at Le Bourget at 1351 hours, 1 June.

“H-211,” one of two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters, lands at Le Bourget after a non-stop trans Atlantic flight, 1 June 1967. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The flight covered 4,271 miles (6873.5 kilometers) and took 30 hours, 46 minutes. Nine in-flight refuelings were required from Lockheed HC-130P Combat King tankers. The aircraft commanders were Major Herbert Zehnder and Major Donald B. Murras. Each helicopter had a crew of five.

Flight crews of the two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicoptersat Le Bourget after a non-stop trans Atlantic flight, 1 June 1967. Major Zehnder is in the back row, at left.

Major Zehnder, in H-211, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course for helicopters, with an average speed of 189.95 kilometers per hour (118.03 miles per hour). This record still stands.¹

The route of the two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters from New York to Paris. (Sikorsky Archives News, July 2017)
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.

Both Jolly Green Giants, serial numbers 66-13280 and 66-13281, were later assigned to the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Both were lost in combat during the Vietnam War.

66-13280, “Jolly Green 27” crashed at Kontum, Republic of South Vietnam, 15 April 1970. The pilot, Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., was killed, and flight engineer Gerald E. Hartzel later died of wounds. The co-pilot, Major Travis Wofford, was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Cheney Medal for his rescue of the crewmembers from the burning helicopter. Captain Scott was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.

66-13281, “Jolly Green 28,” was shot down over Laos, 24 October 1969. The crew was rescued and the helicopter destroyed to prevent capture. The pararescueman, Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, was awarded the  Air Force Cross for the rescue of the pilot of “Misty 11.” He was also awarded the Airman’s Medal.

Master Sergeant Donald G. Smith, United States Air Force.
Master Sergeant Donald G. Smith, United States Air Force.

Major Herbert Zehnder flew another Sikorsky HH-3E, 65-12785, to intentionally crash land inside the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. He was awarded the Silver Star.

The SH-3A Sea King (Sikorsky S-61) first flew 11 March 1959, designed as an anti-submarine helicopter for the U.S. Navy. The prototype was designated XHSS-2 Sea King. In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft were 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.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) of the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, Republic of South Vietnam, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. 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 main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant refuels in flight from a Lockheed HC-130 Combat King. (U.S. Air Force)
A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant refuels in flight from a Lockheed HC-130 Combat King. (U.S. Air Force)

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es. Many CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2092

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

1 June 1937

Amelia Earhart, in the cockpit of her Electra, with George Palmer Putnam, at Miami, 1 June 1937. (Wichita Eagle/Associated Press)
Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her Electra with George Palmer Putnam, at Miami, 1 June 1937. (Wichita Eagle/Associated Press)

1 June 1937: After a takeoff accident at Wheeler Field, Hawaii, on 20 March 1937 ended Amelia Earhart’s first attempt to fly around the world, her damaged Lockheed Electra 10E was shipped to Lockheed at Burbank, California, for extensive repairs.

When the airplane was once again ready, she and her husband, George Palmer Putnam, navigator Fred Noonan and aircraft mechanic Ruckins D. “Bo” McKinney had flown the Electra from Burbank to Oakland to restart the around-the-world flight, this time heading eastward because of seasonal changes in worldwide weather patterns.

With overnight stops at Burbank, Tucson, and New Orleans, they arrived at Miami, Florida on 24 May. The cross-country flight was not publicly announced, and considered a “shake down” following the repairs.

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Model 10E Electra, NR16020, just prior to departure, Miami, Florida, 1 June 1937. Note that teh Electra's rear window has been replaced by aluminum sheet. (Miami Herald)
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10E Electra, NR16020, just prior to departure, Miami, Florida, 1 June 1937. Note that the Electra’s rear window has been replaced by sheet aluminum. (Miami Herald)

With most of the problems that came up resolved, Earhart and Noonan were finally ready to go. The press was notified, the Electra refueled, and they departed Miami for Isla Grande Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 903 nautical miles (1,039 miles/1,673 kilometers) across the Caribbean Sea, and their Flight Into History.

I closed and fastened the hatch . . . Then I started the motors. The engines had already been well warmed so now after appraising for a moment their full-throated smooth song, I signaled to have the wheel chocks removed and we taxied to the end of the runway in the far southeast corner of the field. Thirty seconds later, with comforting ease, we were in the air and on our way.

—Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, taking off at Miami, Florida, 1 June 1937. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections)
Great Circle route between Miami Airport, Florida, and Isla Grande Airport (now known as Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport), San Juan, Puerto Rico, 903 nautical miles. (Great Circle Mapper).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

31 May 1928

Fokker F.VII/3m Southern Cross ready for takeoff at Oakland Field, California. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Fokker F.VII/3m NC1985, Southern Cross, ready for takeoff at Oakland Field, California. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
The crew of Southern Cross, left to right, Lyon, Ulm, Kingsford Smith, Warner. (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L36324)
The crew of Southern Cross, left to right, Lyon, Ulm, Kingsford Smith, Warner. (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L36324)

31 May 1928: At 8:48 a.m., Captain Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., late of the Royal Air Force, with his three companions, took off from Oakland Field on the San Francisco Bay, aboard Southern Cross, a Fokker F.VIIb/3m three-engine monoplane, U.S. civil registration NC1985. Their immediate destination was Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, and from there, to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, via Suva, on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. The airplane’s crew was Kingsford Smith, pilot; Charles Ulm, co-pilot, Harry Lyon, navigator; and James Warren, radio operator.

Southern Cross had been salvaged after a crash in Alaska. It was rebuilt using the wings and fuselage of two different Fokkers—an F.VIIa and an F.VIIb—and was powered by three air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines, rated at 220 horsepower, each, at 2,000 r.p.m.

Fokker F.VII/3m 1985, Southern Cross (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Fokker F.VII/3m NC1985, Southern Cross. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The expense of repairing the airplane took most of Kingsford Smith’s money, so he sold the airplane to Allan Hancock, owner of Rancho La Brea Oil Company, and founder of Santa Maria Airport and Allan Hancock College. Hancock loaned Southern Cross back to Kingsford Smith for the Trans-Pacific flight.

The first leg of the flight to Wheeler Field was 2,408 miles (3,875 kilometers). The elapsed time was 27 hours, 27 minutes.

Fokker F.VII/3m 1985 Southern Cross arrives at Wheeler Field, 1 June 1928 (San Diego Air and Space museum Archives)
Fokker F.VII/3m 1985 Southern Cross arrives at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 1 June 1928 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

After resting in Hawaii, the crew took off on the second leg to Suva, Fiji, a distance of 3,144 miles (5,060 kilometers). Southern Cross landed at Albert Park. It was the very first airplane to land at Fiji. This was the longest leg and took 34 hours, 33 minutes.

Fokker F.VII/3m Southern Cross at Albert Park, Suva, Fiji, June 1928 (National Library of Australia)
Fokker F.VII/3m Southern Cross at Albert Park, Suva, Fiji, June 1928 (National Library of Australia)

The final leg to Brisbane covered 1,795 miles (2,888 kilometers) and took 21 hours, 35 minutes. They landed at Eagle Farm Airport in Brisbane, at 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. 25,000 people were there to see their arrival. This was the first Trans-Pacific flight from the mainland United States to Australia.

Kingsford Smith's Fokker F.VIIB-3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 1928
Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIB/3m NC1985, Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 1928

Following its arrival in Australia, the Fokker was re-registered G-AUSU, and later changed to VH-USU. After several other historic flights, Kingsford Smith gave Southern Cross to the government of Australia to be placed in a museum. It was stored for many years but is now on display at the Kingsford Smith Memorial at Brisbane Airport.

Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L93634)
Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C. (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L93634)

Kingsford Smith was invested Knight Bachelor in 1932. He continued his adventurous flights. On 8 November 1935, while flying Lady Southern Cross, a Lockheed Altair, from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, Sir Charles and co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge disappeared over the Andaman Sea.

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, NC1985, on display at  the Kingsford Smith Memorial, Brisbane Airport. (FiggyBee via Wikipedia)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

29 May 1951

Charles F. Blair, Jr., standing in the cocpit of his North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N1202, Excalibur III, 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., standing in the cockpit of Pan American World Airways’ North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Excalibur III, Bardufoss, Norway, 29 May 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

29 May 1951: Pan American World Airways Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., flew a modified North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, NX12012, Excalibur III, from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska, via the North Pole. He flew the 3,260 miles (5,246.5 kilometers) non-stop in 10 hours, 27 minutes.

After departing Bardufoss at 3:58 p.m., Captain Blair flew north along the E. 20° meridian until crossing the North Pole at an altitude of 22,000 feet (6,706 meters), then south along the W. 160° meridian until reaching N. 70° latitude, and then southeast to Fairbanks.

During the transpolar flight, the Mustang was subjected to air temperatures as low as -25 °F. (-31.6 °C.).

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

Captain Blair navigated by using a system of pre-plotted sun lines calculated by Captain Phillip Van Horns Weems, U.S. Navy (Ret.), as a magnetic compass was useless near the Pole and there were no radio navigation aids available.

Charles Blair used this Astrocompass Mark II on his transpolar flight. It is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM2012-02107)

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.”

Excalibur III being fueled at Bardufoss, Norway, May 1951. (Arkivverkets digitale fotoarkiv)

Charles Blair was commissioned in the United States Naval Reserve in 1931. He was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, in 1937. During World War II, Blair served as a transport pilot in the U.S. Navy and rose to the rank of captain.

Blair resigned from the Navy in 1952 and the following year accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel. In 1959 he 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.

Captain Blair was married to actress Maureen O’Hara, whom he had met during one of his 1,575 transatlantic crossings.

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 purchased by Paul Mantz, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration registered it as NX1202. Mantz had it painted red and named it Blaze of Noon. 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 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”).

Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California. Paul Mantz had won the 1946 and 1947 races with this P-51C, NX1202, “Blaze of Noon.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California. Paul Mantz had won the 1946 and 1947 races with this P-51C, NX1202, “Blaze of Noon.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

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, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, at 3,000 r.p.m and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These engines 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. 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)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes