14 January 1942: Chief Test Pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris (1908–1991) made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A at Stratford, Connecticut. The first flight lasted approximately 3 minutes, and by the end of the day, Morris had made 6 flights totaling 25 minutes duration.
The VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls.
The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted to the aft end of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated counter-clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s right side.
The VS-316A was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).
The original engine was an air-cooled, 499-cubic-inch-displacement (8.18 liter) Warner Aircraft Corporation R-500-1 Scarab 7-cylinder radial engine, rated at 175 horsepower.
Numerous modifications were made, including lengthening the main rotor blades, covering them with metal, and upgrading the engine to a 200 horsepower Warner R-550-1 Super Scarab. The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
11 January 1938: Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, took off from Pago Pago, American Samoa, enroute Auckland, New Zealand. The airplane had a crew of seven, commanded by Captain Edwin C. Musick, the airline’s senior pilot, and a cargo of mail.
About two hours out, the number four engine began leaking oil. Captain Musick ordered the engine shut down. The flight radioed that they were returning to Pago Pago. They never arrived. Wreckage, a large oil slick, various documents and articles of the crew’s clothing were found by the U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS Avocet (AVP-4), 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) west of the island. It was apparent that the S-42 had exploded in mid-air.
The cause of the explosion is not known with certainty but based on Captain Musick’s handling of a similar problem with Samoan Clipper‘s number four engine on an earlier flight, a possible cause can be suggested.
On the earlier flight, the engine had begun seriously overheating and Musick ordered the flight engineer to shut it down. Because of the decreased power with only three engines, Captain Musick ordered the crew to begin dumping fuel to decrease the weight of the airplane before landing.
Pan American had tested the fuel dumping characteristics of the Sikorsky S-42 using dye, and learned that because of the air flow patterns around the wings, the fluid tended to accumulate around the trailing edge of the wings, and that it could actually be sucked into the wings themselves.
On the previous flight as fuel was being dumped, fuel vapors were present in the cabin, which required that all electrical systems to be shut off, even though it was night. Liquid gasoline was dripping into the cockpit from the wing above.
Samoan Clipper had been very heavy with fuel when it departed for the long transoceanic flight to Auckland. Presuming that Captain Musick once again ordered fuel to be dumped prior to landing back at Pago Pago, and that the vapors collected around the wings, the fuel could have been detonated by the electrical motors which were used to lower the flaps for flight at slower speed, or by coming into contact with the hot exhaust of the engines.
Two independent investigations were carried out by Pan American and by the United States Navy, and both came to this conclusion.
There were no survivors of the explosion. Killed along with Captain Musick were Captain Cecil G. Sellers, Second Officer P.S. Brunk, Navigator F.J. MacLean, Flight Engineer J.W. Stickrod, Flight Mechanic J.A. Brooks and Radio Operator T.D. Findley.
The Sikorsky S-42B was a four-engine long-range flying boat built for Pan American Airways by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Technologies at Stratford, Connecticut. It was 68 feet (20.726 meters) long with a wingspan of 118 feet, 2 inches (36.017 meters). The flying boat had a useful load of 16,800 pounds (7,620 kilograms) and seats for 37 passengers.
The S-42B was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S1E-G had a Normal Power rating of 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., to 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms).
The S-42B has a cruise speed 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 188 miles per hour (303 kilometers per hour). Its range was 1,930 miles (3,106 kilometers).
Ten Sikorsky S-42, S-42A and S-42B flying boats were built for Pan Am. None remain in existence.
3 January 1944: Major Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps, commanding VMF-214 at Bouganville, Solomon Islands, led 48 fighters in an attack against the Japanese naval base at Rabaul on the island of New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago.
Flying a Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1¹ Corsair, Bu. No. 17915, Boyington shot down four enemy airplanes, bringing his total score to 28.² He was then himself shot down. Wounded by bullets and shrapnel and with his Corsair on fire, Boyington parachuted to the ocean only 100 feet (30 meters) below. He was rescued by a Japanese submarine a few hours later. He was eventually taken to Japan and imprisoned for the next 20 months under the harshest conditions.
Believed to have been killed, Major Boyington was “posthumously” awarded the Medal of Honor.
Gregory Boyington graduated from the University of Washington in 1934 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He then went to work at Boeing in Seattle. He had been in the Reserve Officers Training Corps during college, and served in both the Army’s coastal artillery and the Marine Corps Reserve.
On 13 June 1935, Boyington enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was accepted as an aviation cadet 11 February 1936, and trained as a Naval Aviator at NAS Pensacola, Florida. He graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 2 July 1937, and promoted to first lieutenant, 1 July 1940. He served with the fleet until 1941.
Lieutenant Boyington resigned 27 August 1941, when he joined the American Volunteer Group in China, better known as the “Flying Tigers.” Flying the Curtiss Hawk 81-A3, he claimed six enemy aircraft destroyed (though he is officially credited with 3.5) in combat against the Japanese who had invaded China.
In 1942, Boyington returned to the United States and was reinstated in the Marine Corps, with the rank of major. After serving with several squadrons in administrative positions, he was placed in command of Marine Fighter Squadron Two Hundred Fourteen (VMF-214, “Black Sheep”), a squadron based in the Solomon Islands. Older than most of the pilots in his squadron, he was given the nickname “Pappy.”
During an 84-day period, VMF-214 pilots destroyed or damaged 203 enemy airplanes. Eight of these pilots became aces, with a total of 97 confirmed air-to-air kills.
VMF-214 flew the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft F4U-1 Corsair, a single-seat, single-engine fighter designed for operation aboard aircraft carriers. The Corsair is best known for its distinctive “gull wing,” which gave clearance for its 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) diameter propeller without excessively long landing gear struts.
The F4U-1 was had a length of 33 feet, 4.125 inches (10.163 meters), wingspan of 40 feet, 11.726 inches (12.490 meters) and overall height (to top of propeller arc) of 15 feet, 0.21 inches (4.577 meters). The outer wing had a dihedral of 8.5° and the leading edges were swept back 4°10′. With its wings folded, the width of the F4U-1 was 17 feet, 0.61 inches (5.197 meters), and gave it a maximum height of 16 feet, 2.3 inches (4.935 meters). When parked, the Corsair’s 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) propeller had 2 feet, 1.93 inches (65.862 centimeters) ground clearance, but with the fighter’s thrust line level, this decreased to just 9.1 inches (23.1 centimeters). The F4U-1 had an empty weight of 8,982 pounds (4,074.2 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,162 pounds (5,516.6 kilograms).
This variant of the Corsair was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-8) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-8 had a normal power rating of 1,675 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. and 44.0 inches of manifold pressure (1.490 bar) at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters), 1,550 horsepower at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with 54.0 inches of manifold pressure (1.829 bar) for takeoff. The engine turned a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-8 was 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).
The F4U-1 had a cruise speed of 186 miles per hour (299 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its maximum speed at Sea Level was 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). During flight testing, an F4U-1 reached 431 miles per hour (694 kilometers per hour) at 20,300 feet (6,187 meters) with War Emergency Power. The service ceiling was 38,200 feet (11,643 meters) and its maximum range was 1,510 miles (2,430 kilometers) with full main and outer wing tanks.
The Corsair was armed with six Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun.
A total of 12,571 Corsairs were manufactured by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division (F4U-1), Goodyear Aircraft Corporation (FG-1D) and Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (F3A-1). The Corsair served the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. Corsairs also served in other countries’ armed forces. Its last known use in combat was in Central America in 1969.
For his service during World War II, Colonel Gregory Boyington, United States Marine Corps, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, Purple Heart Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star (two awards), Prisoner of War Medal, American Defense Service Medal with bronze star, American Defense Service Medal with bronze star, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with silver star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Gregory Boyington retired from the United States Marine Corps on 1 August 1947 with the rank of Colonel. He died at Fresno, California, 11 January 1988, at the age of 75 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
¹ Boyingtons Corsair is usually identified as a “F4U-1A.” F4U-1A is not an official U.S. Navy designation, but is commonly used to distinguish late production F4U-1 Corsairs with their blown plexiglas canopies and other improvements from the earlier “bird cage” Corsairs.
² The United States Marine Corps History Division biography of Colonel Boyington states that he was “credited with the destruction of 28 Japanese aircraft. . . .“
29 May 1940: Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division test pilot Lyman A. Bullard, Jr. took the U.S. Navy’s new prototype fighter, the XF4U-1, Bu. No. 1443, for its first flight at the Bridgeport Municipal Airport, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Designed by Rex B. Beisel, this would be developed into the famous F4U Corsair.
The F4U Corsair is a single-place, single-engine fighter, designed for operation from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. The XF4U-1 prototype was 30 feet (9.144 meters) long with a wing span of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 7 inches (4.750 meters). It had an empty weight of 7,505 pounds (3,404 kilograms) and gross weight of 10,500 pounds (4,763 kilograms).
The XF4U-1 was first powered by an experimental air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liters) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp A2-G (R-2800 X-2), and then an SSA5-G (R-2800 X-4), twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine. The R-2800 X-4 was an X-2 with a A5-G supercharger. It was rated at 1,600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters); 1,540 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 13,500 feet (4,115 meters); 1,460 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters); and 1,850 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m for takeoff. The engine drove a 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The X-4 had a compression ratio of 6.66:1 and used a two-speed, two-stage supercharger. This was the most powerful engine and largest propeller used on any single engine fighter up to that time. The R-2800 X-4 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and 7 feet, 4.81 inches (2.256 meters) long. It weighed 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms).
The size of the propeller was responsible for the Corsair’s most distinctive feature: the inverted gull wing. The width of the wing (chord) limited the length of the main landing gear struts. By placing the gear at the bend, the necessary propeller clearance was gained. The angle at which the wing met the fuselage was also aerodynamically cleaner.
The XF4U-1 prototype had a maximum speed of 378 miles per hour (608 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). Although it has been widely reported that it was the first U.S. single-engine fighter to exceed 400 miles per hour (643.7 kilometers per hour) in level flight, this is actually not the case. During a flight between Stratford and Hartford, Connecticut, the prototype averaged a ground speed 405 miles per hour (652 kilometers per hour). This was not a record flight, and did not meet the requirements of any official speed record.
Several changes were made before the design was finalized for production. Fuel tanks were removed from the wings to make room for six Browning .50-caliber machine guns and ammunition. A new tank was placed in the fuselage ahead of the cockpit. This moved the cockpit rearward and lengthened the nose.
The production F4U-1 Corsair had a length of 33 feet, 4.125 inches (10.163 meters), wingspan of 40 feet, 11.726 inches (12.490 meters) and overall height (to top of propeller arc) of 15 feet, 0.21 inches (4.577 meters). The outer wing had a dihedral of 8.5°, and the leading edges were swept back 4°10′. With its wings folded, the width of the F4U-1 was 17 feet, 0.61 inches (5.197 meters), and gave it a maximum height of 16 feet, 2.3 inches (4.935 meters). When parked, the Corsair’s 13 foot, 4 inch (4.064 meter) propeller had 2 feet, 1.93 inches (65.862 centimeters) ground clearance, but with the fighter’s thrust line level, this decreased to just 9.1 inches (23.1 centimeters).
During fight testing of a production F4U-1 Corsair with a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-8) engine installed, armed with six .50-caliber machine guns with 360 rounds of ammunition per gun, the fighter reached a maximum speed of 395 miles per hour (635.7 kilometers per hour) in level flight at 22,800 feet (6,949 meters), using Military Power. The service ceiling was 38,400 feet (11,704 meters).
A total of 12,571 Corsairs were manufactured by Chance Vought Aircraft Division (F4U-1), Goodyear Aircraft Corporation (FG-1D) and Brewster Aeronautical Corporation (F3A-1). The Corsair served the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II and the Korean War. Corsairs also served in other countries’ armed forces. Its last known use in combat was in Central America in 1969.
25 May 1889: И́горь Ива́нович Сико́рский (Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky) was born at Kiev, Russian Empire, the fifth of five children of Professor Igor Alexeevich Sikorsky and Doctor Mariya Stefanovich Sikorskaya.
He studied at the Imperial Naval Academy, St. Petersburg, from 1903 until 1906, when he left to study engineering, first in Paris, and then at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute.
Flying an airplane of his own design, the S-5, on 18 April 1911, he received a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot’s license from L’Aéro-Club Imperial de Russie (Imperial Russian Aero Club).
He was chief aircraft engineer for Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zavod at St. Petersburg and continued to develop airplanes. In 1913, he flew the twin engine S-21 Le Grand, to which he added two more engines, and it became the Russky Vityaz.
Igor Sikorsky married Olga Fyodorovka Smikovitch. They had a daughter, Tania. The couple soon divorced, however.
Following the October Revolution, Sikorsky emigrated to the United States. Departing Le Havre, France, aboard SS La Lorraine, he arrived at New York on 31 March 1919. With financial backing from composer and conductor Sergei Vasilovich Rachmaninoff, he founded the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company at Long Island, New York, in 1924, and continued designing and building airplanes.
In 1924, Sikorsky married Elisabeth Semion, who was also born in Russia, in 1903. They would have four children. In 1928, he became a citizen of the United States of America.
Beginning in 1934, Sikorsky Aircraft produced the S-42 flying boat for Pan American Airways at a new plant at Stratford, Connecticut.
Interested in helicopters since the age of 9, he directed his creative effort toward the development of a practical “direct-lift” aircraft. The first successful design was the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300. Using a single main rotor, the VS-300 went through a series of configurations before arriving at the single anti-torque tail rotor design, the VS-316A. This was put into production for the U.S. military as the Sikorsky R-4.
The company which Igor Sikorsky founded has continued as one of the world’s biggest helicopter manufacturers. Recently acquired by Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky continues to produce the UH-60-series of Blackhawk medium helicopters, the large CH-53K King Stallion, and the civil S-76D and S-92. A variant of the S-92 has been selected as the next helicopter for the U.S. presidential air fleet, the VH-92A. This helicopter is planned to be operational by 2020.
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky died at Easton, Connecticut, 26 October 1972 at the age of 83 years.