Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight

27 March 1966

Test pilot Jack L. Zimmerman with the record-setting Hughes YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213. (FAI)

27 March 1966: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, Hughes Aircraft Company test pilot Jack Louis Zimmerman flew the third prototype YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter, 62-4213, to set six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude and Time-to-Climb. The records were set in two sub-classes, based on the helicopter’s take-off weight. Fifty-one years later, one of these records still stands.

Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 at Edwards Air Force Base, 1966. (FAI)

Zimmerman took the YOH-6A from the surface to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 4 minutes, 1.5 seconds (FAI Record File Number 9922); and to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 7 minutes, 12 seconds (FAI Record File Number 9923). The helicopter reached an altitude in level flight of 8,061 meters (26,447 feet). (FAI Record File Numbers 9920 and 9921). 9921 remains the current record for helicopters in Sub-Class E-1b, with a takeoff weight of 500–1,000 kilograms (1,102–2,205pounds).

Beginning with a takeoff weight between 1,000–1,750 kilograms (2,205–3,858 pounds) (Sub-Class E-1c), Zimmerman took the “loach” to a height 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 5 minutes, 37 seconds. (FAI Record File Number 771). The helicopter reached an altitude of 5,503 meters (16,578 feet), without payload. (FAI Record File Number 772)

[The field elevation of Edwards Air Force Base (EDW) is 2,210 feet (704 meters) above Sea Level. If the time-to-altitude flights had been made at nearby NAS Point Mugu (NTD) on the southern California coast, which has a field elevation 13 feet (4 meters), the times might have been significantly reduced. The air temperature at Edwards, though, was much colder.]

One day earlier, 26 March, Allison Engine Company test pilot Jack Schweibold flew the same YOH-6A  to set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing of 2,800.20 kilometers (1,739.96 miles).¹ One week earlier, 20 March, Jack Zimmerman had set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing of 1,700.12 kilometers (1,056.41 miles).² Fifty-one years later, these four World Records still stand.

The Hughes Model 369 was built in response to a U.S. Army requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter (“L.O.H.”). It was designated YOH-6A, and the first aircraft received U.S. Army serial number 62-4211. It competed with prototypes from Bell Helicopter Company (YOH-4) and Fairchild-Hiller (YOH-5). All three aircraft were powered by a lightweight Allison Engine Company turboshaft engine. The YOH-6A won the three-way competition and was ordered into production as the OH-6A Cayuse. It was nicknamed “loach,” an acronym for L.O.H.

The third prototype YOH-6A, 62-4213, testing the XM-7 twin M60 7.62 weapons system. (U.S. Army)

The YOH-6A was a two-place light helicopter, flown by a single pilot. It had a four-bladed, articulated main rotor which turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) Stacks of thin stainless steel “straps” fastened the rotor blades to the hub and were flexible enough to allow for flapping and feathering. Hydraulic dampers controlled lead-lag. Originally, there were blade cuffs around the main rotor blade roots in an attempt to reduce aerodynamic drag, but these were soon discarded. A two-bladed semi-rigid tail rotor was mounted on the left side of the tail boom. Seen from the left, the tail-rotor rotates counter-clockwise. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

The YOH-6A was powered by a T63-A-5 turboshaft engine (Allison Model 250-C10) mounted behind the cabin at a 45° angle. The engine was rated at 212 shaft horsepower at 52,142 r.p.m. (102% N1) and 693 °C. turbine outlet temperature for maximum continuous power, and 250 shaft horsepower at 738 °C., 5-minute limit, for takeoff. Production OH-6A helicopters used the slightly more powerful T63-A-5A (250-C10A) engine.

The Hughes Tool Company Aircraft Division built 1,420 OH-6A Cayuse helicopters for the U.S. Army. The helicopter remains in production as AH-6C and MH-6 military helicopters, and the MD500E and MD530F civil aircraft.

Hughes YOH-6A 62-4213 is in the collection of the United States Army Aviation Museum, Fort Rucker, Alabama.

U.S. Army Hughes YOH-6A prototype 62-4213 at Le Bourget, circa 1965.

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 786, 787 and 11656.

² FAI Record File Number 762.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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22 January–8 February 1971

A Lockheed P-3C Orion (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)
Lockheed P-3C-225-LO Orion, Bu. No. 162775, of Patrol Squadron Four (VP-4), similar to the record-setting airplane flown by CDR Lilienthal and his crew, 22 January–8 February 1971. (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)

22 January–8 February 1971: A Lockheed P-3C Orion antisubmarine warfare patrol bomber under the command of Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy, took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, and flew 11,036.47 kilometers (6,857.75 miles) non-stop to NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. The duration of the flight was 15 hours, 21 minutes.

This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for turboprop airplanes.¹ The Orion’s course deviated around foreign airspace so the actual distance flown was 7,010 miles (11,218.5 kilometers).

Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156521. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)
Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156512. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)

The record-setting airplane was a Lockheed P-3C-110-LO Orion, Bu. No. 156512, c/n 5506, built in 1969 by the Lockheed California Company, at Burbank, California. It was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. The Orion was a standard production P-3C with no engine or fuel system modifications.

For the long distance flight the Orion carried a flight crew of seven: Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, Aircraft Commander; Captain R.H. Ross, Pilot; Lieutenant Commander F. Howard Stoodley, Pilot; Lieutenant R.T. Myers, Navigator; Commander J.E. Koehr, Meteorologist; Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate K.D. Frantz, Flight Engineer; and Chief Aviation Electrician’s Mate H.A. Statti, Flight Engineer.

A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (U.S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (Lockheed Martin via Code One Magazine)

On 27 January 1971, the same airplane set both FAI and National Aeronautic Association records for Speed Over a Straight Course of 15/25 Kilometers of 806.10 kilometers per hour (500.89 miles per hour) at NAS Patuxent River.²

The U.S. National Record still stands:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 19.47.13

On February 4, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California, Commander Lilienthal flew 156512 to a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 13,721.5 meters (45,018.1 feet).³

On 8 February 1971, while till at Edwards AFB, Commander Lilienthal and 156512 set five more world records for heavy turboprop airplanes. The P-3C climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 2 minutes, 52 seconds ⁴ ; to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 5 minutes, 46 seconds ⁵ ; to 9,000 meters (29, 528 feet) in 10 minutes, 26 seconds ⁶ ; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 19 minutes, 42 seconds.⁷ The Orion continued climbing until it reached a world record altitude of 14,086.1 meters (46,214.2 feet). ⁸

For his record-setting flights, Commander Lilienthal was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Lockheed P-3 Orion was developed from the Model 188 Electra—a four-engine turboprop airliner which first flew in 1957—primarily as a long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft. The P-3 has been adapted to many other missions. The P-3C variant in U.S. Navy service is usually operated by a crew of 11.

The bomber is 116 feet, 10 inches (35.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 99 feet, 8 inches (30.378 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 8 inches (11.786 meters). It has a zero-fuel weight of 77,200 pounds (35,017 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 142,000 pounds (64,410 kilograms).

The P-3C is powered by four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines which produce 4,591 shaft horsepower at 13,820 r.p.m., each. They drive four-bladed Hamilton-Standard 54H60-77 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 13 feet, 5¾ inches (4.109 meters) at 1,020 r.p.m. The T56-A-14 is a single-shaft axial-flow turboprop engine, with a 14-stage compressor section, six combustors, and a 4-stage turbine. The engine is 12 feet, 2.3 inches (3.716 meters) long, 4 feet, 1.0 inches (1.245 meters) in diameter and weighs 1,885 pounds (855 kilograms).

The P-3C can remain airborne for 16 hours.

There is a wide variety of sensors board the P-3. Sonobuoys can be dropped from the belly. A Magnetic Anomaly Detector, the “MAD boom” is mounted at the tail of the aircraft.

The Orion caries no defensive weapons. It can carry bombs, depth charges, torpedoes, mines, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles, and nuclear weapons.

Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion escorts a nuclear-powered Soviet Victor-III attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)
Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C-205-LO Orion, Bu. No. 161339, escorts a Soviet Victor-III nuclear-powered attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)

More than 750 P-3 Orions and its variants were built by Lockheed and licensee Kawasaki Heavy Industries between 1961 and 1996. In addition to the U.S. Navy and various Federal government agencies, the Lockheed P-3 Orion remains in service worldwide with more than twenty countries.

Lockheed P-3C-110-LO Orion Bu. No. 156512, served as a test aircraft at Patuxent River until 15 July 1974. It was then assigned to VP-31 where it remained for over nine years, carrying the squadron identification marking RP and the numeral 9. It later served with VP-9, VP-46, VP-65, VP-16 and finally, VP-45. 156512 was placed in long-term storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1995, and was scrapped in 2004.

Midshipman D. H. Lilienthal (The 1955 Lucky Bag)

Donald Herman Lilienthal was born 6 February 1931 at Pope, Minnesota. He was the fourth child of Frederick R. Lilienthal, a steam railway worker, and Bertha Camille Metlie Lilienthal. He attended Glenwood High School, Glenwood, Minnesota, graduating in 1949. He then studied mathematics at the University of Minnesota, before accepting an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1951.

Midshipman Lilienthal graduated from Annapolis and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 3 June 1955. He was then trained as a pilot. Later, he graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

In June 1958, Lieutenant (j.g.) Lilienthal married Miss Jeanne L. Murphy, in Duval County, Florida. They had three children, Karen, John and Donald, Jr. They divorced in March 1975.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Lilienthal was promoted to the rank of lieutenant 1 July 1959, and to lieutenant commander, 1 July 1964. He advanced to commander on 1 July 1969.

Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy

Commander Lilenthal retired from the United States Navy in December 1975 after 20 years of service as an antisubmarine warfare pilot and test pilot. He later worked as a consultant to the aviation industry.

Commander Lilienthal married Mrs. Jimena Rosa Goich Recavrren, a widow, in Arlington, Virginia, 17 September 1982. They divorced 3 December 1993 in Fairfax, Virginia.

Commander Donald Herman Lilienthal, United States Navy (Retired) passed away at Loudon, Virginia, 21 August 2014 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

A Lockheed P-3B Orion, Bu. No. 153451, Patrol Squadron 17, off Ohau, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3B-90-LO Orion, Bu. No. 153451, of Patrol Squadron 17, off Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8070

² FAI Record File Number 8582

³ FAI Record File Number 8476

⁴ FAI Record File Number 3400

⁵ FAI Record File Number 3401

⁶ FAI Record File Number 3402

⁷ FAI Record File Number 3403

⁸ FAI Record File Number 8055

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–9 February 1982

A Sikorsky S-76A in flight over the City of New York. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

4–9 February 1982: Sikorsky test pilots Nicholas D. Lappos,  Byron Graham, Jr., David R. Wright, and Thomas F. Doyle, Jr., set a series of Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed, time-to-climb and sustained altitude world records while flying a Sikorsky S-76A helicopter, serial number 760178, FAA registration N5445J, at Palm Beach, Florida.

On 4 February, Nick Lappos, who had made the first flight with the prototype S-76, set a record of 208.470 miles per hour (335.50 kilometers per hour) over a 3-kilometer course, and 212.888 miles per hour (342.61 kilometers per hour) over a straight 15/25 kilometer course.

On 5 February, Byron Graham, Jr., flew the S-76A to 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) in 3 minutes, 11 seconds; to 6,000 meters (19,685.04 feet) in 8 minutes, 37.3 seconds; and a sustained altitude of 7,940 meters (26,049.87 feet) in level flight.

On 6 February David R. Wright averaged 205.881 miles per hour (331.22 kilometers per hour) over a 100 kilometer closed circuit without payload (Class E1d), and 207.967 miles per hour (334.69 kilometers per hour) over a closed circuit of 100 kilometers without payload (Class E1e).

After taking a day off, the Sikorsky S-76A was back in the air on 8 February, this time with Thomas F. Doyle, Jr., flying the helicopter over the 500 kilometer closed circuit without payload. The Sikorsky averaged 214.833 miles per hour (345.74 kilometers per hour).

On the last day of the series, 9 February 1982, David R. Wright was back in the cockpit of N5445J. Flying the 1,000 kilometer closed circuit without payload, the S-76A averaged 189.580 miles per hour (305.10 kilometers per hour).

After 34 years, these six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records still stand.

N5445J was owned by Rodgers Helicopter Service, Kearney, Nebraska, until its U.S. registration was cancelled, 10 July 2006.

Fire-damaged Sikorsky S-76A serial number 760178, registration PR-IME, at Macae Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, 29 December 2008.
Fire-damaged Sikorsky S-76A, serial number 760178, registration PR-IME, at Macaé Airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, 29 December 2008.

The record-setting helicopter eventually found its way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Owned and operated by Atlas Taxi Aereo, 760178 had been re-registered as PR-IME and was transporting Petrobras employees to offshore oil production platforms. At approximately 8:30 a.m., 29 December 2008, PR-IME had departed Macaé Airport enroute Platform P-12 in the Campos Basin with 7 persons on board. Shortly after takeoff, the flight crew observed an AC generator caution light and returned to the airport. Before landing, a fire warning light also illuminated. Upon landing on Runway 24, all seven escaped from the burning helicopter without injury. The fire was quickly extinguished, but the Sikorsky S-76A was substantially damaged.

FAI Record File Num #1261 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1d (Helicopters: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 342.61 km/h
Date: 1982-02-04
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant Nicholas D. Lappos (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1262 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1d (Helicopters: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Speed over a 3 km course
Performance: 335.50 km/h
Date: 1982-02-04
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant Nicholas D. Lappos (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1819 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1d (Helicopters: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 3 000 m
Performance: 3 min 11 sec
Date: 1982-02-05
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant Byron Graham Jr. (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1821 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1d (Helicopters: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 6 000 m
Performance: 8 min 37.3 sec
Date: 1982-02-05
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant Byron Graham Jr. (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #9947 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1d (Helicopters: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 7 940 m
Date: 1982-02-05
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant Byron Graham Jr. (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1264 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1d (Helicopters: take off weight 1750 to 3000 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 100 km without payload
Performance: 331.22 km/h
Date: 1982-02-06
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant David R. Wright (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1265 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1e (Helicopters: take off weight 3000 to 4500 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 100 km without payload
Performance: 334.69 km/h
Date: 1982-02-06
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant David R. Wright (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1845 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1e (Helicopters: take off weight 3000 to 4500 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 500 km without payload
Performance: 345.74 km/h
Date: 1982-02-08
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant Thomas F. Doyle Jr. (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

FAI Record File Num #1827 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: E (Rotorcraft)
Sub-Class: E-1e (Helicopters: take off weight 3000 to 4500 kg)
Category: General
Group: 2 : turbine
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 305.10 km/h
Date: 1982-02-09
Course/Location: Palm Beach, FL (USA)
Claimant David R. Wright (USA)
Rotorcraft: Sikorsky S-76 A (N5445J)
Engines: 2 Allison 250-C30

Cutaway illustration of a Sikorsky S-76A. (Sikorsky Archives)
Cutaway illustration of a Sikorsky S-76A. (Sikorsky Archives)

The Sikorsky S-76A is a twin-engine intermediate class helicopter that can be configured to carry 6 to 12 passengers. It is used as an executive transport, a scheduled passenger airliner, utility transport, and search and rescue aircraft. The helicopter is certified for instrument flight and has retractable tricycle landing gear.

The prototype was rolled out at Stratford, Connecticut on 11 January 1977 and the first flight took place on 13 March. It was certified in 1978 and the first production aircraft was delivered to Air Logistics, 27 February 1979.

The number 2 Sikorsky S-76 makes the type’s first flight, 13 March 1977. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The S-76A is 52 feet, 6 inches (16.00 meters) long with rotors turning. The fuselage has a length of 43 feet, 4.43 inches (13.219 meters) and a width of 8 feet (2.44 meters).  The helicopter’s overall height is 14 feet, 5.8 inches (4.414 meters). The four bladed composite main rotor is 44 feet (13.41 meters) in diameter. The blades are attached to a one-piece forged aluminum hub and use elastomeric bearings. As is customary with American helicopters, the main rotor turns counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The four-bladed tail rotor has a diameter of 8 feet (2.438 meters) and turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. It is mounted in a pusher configuration on the left side of the tailboom. The tail rotor is constructed of composite airfoils mounted to graphite spars.

The S-76A was equipped with two Allison 250-C30 turboshaft engines rated at 557 shaft horsepower, each. Subsequent variants have been built with Turbomeca Arriel 1S and 2S engines, as well as Pratt and Whitney PT6B-3A and PW210S engines with up to 1,077 shaft horsepower, each.

The S-76 has an empty weight of 7,007 pounds (3,178 kilograms). The S-76A maximum gross weight was 10,500 pounds (4,763 kilograms). Beginning with the S-67B, this was increased to 11,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms).

The Sikorsky S-76 has a maximum cruise speed of 155 knots (287 kilometers per hour). It can hover in ground effect (HIGE) at 7,050 feet (2,149 meters) or out of ground effect (HOGE) at 3,300 feet (1,006 meters). The service ceiling is 13,800 feet (4,206 meters).

The helicopter was designed with offshore oil support as a major consideration. It was intended to carry 2 pilots and 12 passengers 400 nautical miles. Maximum range with no reserve is 411 nautical miles (762 kilometers).

Sikorsky built 307 S-76As. More than 1,000 of all variants have been built. The current production model is the S-76D.

Air Logistics accepted teh first Sikorsky S-76A production helicopter 27 February 1979. (Sikorsky)
Air Logistics accepted the first Sikorsky S-76A production helicopter 27 February 1979. (Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 December 1968

Chief Warrant Officer James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
CW4 William T. Lamb

30 December 1968: At the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation plant at Stratford, Connecticut, Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Paul Ervin, Jr., United States Army, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude while flying a Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe. The helicopter’s co-pilot for this flight was CW4 William T. Lamb. The “Sky Crane” reached 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) in 1 minute, 38.2 seconds, and 9,000 meters (29,527.56 feet) in 7 minutes, 54 seconds.¹ (It climbed through 6,000 meters (19,686 feet) in 2 minutes, 58.9 seconds.²)

Several attempts to break the existing time to altitude records had been made on 29 and 30 December. Erwin decided to deviate from Sikorsky’s recommended climb profile and, instead, climbed vertically until reaching 20,000 feet, and then returned to Sikorsky’s profile.

On the same date, CW4 Lamb, with Erwin as co-pilot, established a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, of 9,596 meters (31,483 feet).³

According to an article in U.S. Army Aviation Digest, during the record attempt flights, the regional air traffic control center called a commercial airliner which was cruising at 17,000 feet,

“. . . be advised there’s a helicopter at your 9 o’clock position descending out of 27,000 feet at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute.”

The airliner replied, “Good lord, you mean they’re up here now?”

Another pilot on the frequency asked, “What kind of helicopter is that?”

Mr. Ervin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his achievement.

A third U.S. Army aviator involved in the record attempts was Major James H. Goodloe, as was a Sikorsky test pilot, John J. Dixon.

FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)
FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)

The Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe is a large single-main-rotor/tail rotor helicopter, specifically designed to carry large external loads. In U.S. Army service, it had a crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, third pilot and two mechanics. The third pilot was in a rear-facing cockpit position and flew the helicopter while it was hovering to pick up or position an external load.

The CH-54A is 88 feet, 5.9 inches (26.972 meters) long and 25 feet, 4.7 inches (7.739 meters) high. The main rotor has six blades and turns counter-clockwise, seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet (21.946 meters). The main rotor blades have a chord of 1.97 feet (0.601 meters) and incorporate a twist of -13°. The tail rotor has four blades and is placed on the left side of a vertical pylon in a pusher configuration. The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The diameter of the tail rotor is 16 feet (4.877 meters). The chord of the tail rotor blade is 1.28 feet (0.390 meters).

The helicopter has an empty weight of 19,120 pounds (8,673 kilograms) a design gross weight of 38,000 pounds (17,237 kilograms) and overload gross weight of 42,000 pounds (19,051 kilograms).

Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe 68-18448, Nevada National Guard, 16 November 1989. (Mike Freer/Wikipedia)

The CH-54A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JFTD12A-4A (T73-P-1) turboshaft engines, each rated at 4,000 shaft horsepower at 9,000 r.p.m. (N2) maximum continuous power at Sea Level, and 4,500 shaft horsepower at 9,500 r.p.m. (N2) for takeoff, 5-minute limit, or 30 minutes, with one engine inoperative (OEI). The maximum gas generator speed (N1) is 16,700 r.p.m. The T73-P-1 is an axial-flow free-turbine turboshaft engine with a 9-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine section (2-stage gas generator and 2-stage free turbine). It is 107.0 inches (2.718 meters) long, 30.0 inches (0.762 meters) in diameter, and weighs 966 pounds (438 kilograms). The helicopter’s main transmission is limited to a maximum 6,600 horsepower.

It has a useful load of 22,880 pounds (10,342 kilograms) and can carry a payload of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) from a single point cargo hoist.

The CH-54A has a maximum cruise speed of 115 knots (132 miles per hour, 213 kilometers per hour). It’s range is 217 nautical miles (250 miles,  402 kilometers). The CH-54A has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 10,600 feet (3,231 meters) and its service ceiling is 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

The U.S. Army ordered 54 CH-54A and 35 CH-54B Tarhes. Sikorsky produced another 12 civil-certified S-64E and S-64F Skycranes. Army CH-54s were retired from service in 1995. Sikorsky sold the type certificate to Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Medford, Oregon. Erickson operates a fleet of Skycranes for heavy lift, logging and fire fighting, and also produces parts and new helicopters for worldwide customers.

The United States Army has a tradition of using Native American names for its aircraft. Tarhe (pronounced tar-HAY) was a famous chief, or sachem, of the Wyandot People of North America, who lived from 1742–1818. He was very tall and the French settlers called him “The Crane.”

James Paul Ervin, Jr., was born 2 October 1931, in Arkansas. He was the second child of James Paul Erwin and Ruth Booker Ervin. He joined the United States Army in 1948. In 1955, he married his wife, Theresa M. (“Terry”) Ervin. They resided in Columbus, Georgia.

CW4 Ervin was considered a pioneer of Army Aviation. He was one of the first pilots to experiment with armed helicopters, and he served with the first transportation company to be equipped with the Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw and CH-37 Mohave helicopters. During the Vietnam War, he was assigned to the 478th Aviation Company (Heavy Helicopter). Mr. Ervin retired from the United States Army in July 1969 after 21 years of service.

At 1735, 2 September 1969, as a civilian pilot working for ERA Helicopters in Alaska, Ervin was flying a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane, N6964E, on the North Slope near Prudhoe Bay, when the helicopter broke up in flight and crashed near a drilling site, Southeast Eileen. Chief Erwin and two others aboard, Byron Davis and Allen Bryan, were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that a tail rotor pitch control link failed due to a fatigue fracture. The NTSB accident report also cited improper factory installation as a factor.

At the time of the accident, Erwin had a total of 4,787 flight hours with 830 hours in type. He was 37 years old. James Paul Erwin, Jr., is buried at the Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia.

An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc. Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Sikorsky Archives)
An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 9944 and 9961.

² Many sources state that CW4 Erwin set a record for Time to 6,000 meters, and some give the elapsed time as 3 minutes, 31.5 seconds. The FAI Records Database does not list this record.

³ FAI Record File Number 9919.

© 2017 Bryan. R. Swopes

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5 December 1961

Commander George W. Ellis, United States Navy, with his World Record-holding McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. (U.S. Navy)
Commander George W. Ellis, United States Navy, with his World Record-holding McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. Commander Ellis is wearing B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit. (U.S. Navy)

5 December 1961: Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight when he flew the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, to 20,252 meters (66,444 feet)¹ over Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert of southern California. The Phantom II maintained this altitude while traveling at Mach 2.2 (1,452 miles per hour, or 2,236 kilometers per hour).

For this flight, Commander Ellis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral George Whelen Anderson, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)
McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

This was the same Phantom II which set a world speed record only 13 days earlier, when Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, U.S. Marine Corps, flew it to 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour) in Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961.²

Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, 142260 almost made it into space when Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, used a zoom climb maneuver to fly it to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters) in Operation Top Flight.³

McDonnell YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142260 was the second prototype of the Phantom II. The world record-holding aircraft is reported to be in storage at the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Gillespie Field Annex restoration facility, El Cajon, California.

Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy
Commander George William Ellis, United States Navy
George W. Ellis as a senior at Ardmore High School, circa 1941. (The Criterion)
George W. Ellis as a senior at Ardmore High School, circa 1941. (The Criterion)

George William Ellis was born at Ardmore, Oklahoma, 22 June 1924. He was the second of three children of Fred Roscoe Ellis, a corporate attorney, and Jeannette Manning Moore Ellis.

He attended Ardmore High School, participated in oratory and was a member of the honor society. After graduating from high school in 1941, Ellis attended the Marion Military Institute, Marion, Alabama. He entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, 11 July 1942, as a midshipman in the Class of 1945. (Because of the war, classes at Annapolis were accelerated.) George Ellis graduated and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 6 June 1945. (Signal No. 25000)

On the same day, Ensign Ellis married Miss Elizabeth Adelheid Schlack at Annapolis. They had one son, John Manning Ellis, who died in infancy. They divorced in 1970. Mrs. Ellis died in 1985.

Ensign and Mrs. George W. Ellis, 6 June 1945.
Ensign and Mrs. George W. Ellis, 6 June 1945.

Ensign Ellis served aboard USS Bataan (CVL-29), an Independence-class light aircraft carrier, which was part of Operation Magic Carpet, returning American soldiers home from Europe after the end of World War II, and then repatriating Italian prisoners of war from the United States to Italy. Ellis was then assigned to USS Duluth (CL-87), a Cleveland-class light cruiser, on a cruise to the Far East.

Ensign Ellis was promoted to the rank lieutenant, junior grade, effective 6 June 1948. He was trained as a pilot, and was designated as a Naval Aviator in January 1949. He was assigned to Anti-Submarine Squadron 22 (VS-22, “Checkmates”) at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, flying the TBF/TBM Avenger. Lieutenant (j.g.) Ellis also was assigned to the staff of a carrier division commander, and the went the Advanced Training Command as a flight instructor.

Ellis was promoted to lieutenant, 1 August 1951. He attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, 1954–55. His next operational assignment was to VF-211 (“Checkmates”) aboard USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31). The fighter squadron was transitioning from the North American Aviation FJ-3 Fury to the Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader. Ellis was promoted to lieutenant commander, 1 June 1957. He was assigned to VF-124 (“Gunfighters”) at NAS Moffett Field, California, as an instructor and maintenance officer for the F8U.

In June 1959, Lieutenant Commander Ellis attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduating, he was assigned as project pilot on the new McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II. He was promoted to Commander with date of rank 1 July 1961.

McDonnell F-4B Phantom II Bu. No. 148381 of VF-74, assigned to USS Forrestal (CV-59). (United States Navy)
McDonnell F-4B-6-MC Phantom II Bu. No. 148381 of VF-74, assigned to USS Forrestal (CV-59). (United States Navy)

In August 1962, Commander Ellis was assigned as executive officer of Fighter Squadron 74 (VF-74, “Be-Devilers”) aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59), for the first operational deployment of the Phantom II (the F4H-1 was redesignated F-4B in 1962). He took command of VF-211 in May 1963, then in May 1964, took over VF-101 (“Grim Reapers”) at NAS Key West, Florida.

In 1965, Commander Ellis served as the Operations Officer of USS Forrestal, and became the aircraft carrier’s executive officer in 1966. Ellis was promoted to the rank of Captain, 1 October 1966. He was then assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer. After his tour at the Pentagon, Captain Ellis went to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at NAS Patuxent River as project manager for the F-8 Crusader Service Life Extension Program.

From 10 December 1968 to21 January 1970, Captain Ellis commanded USS Arcturus (AF-52), an Alstede-class stores ship. (A “deep-draft command,” that is, command of a large naval ship, is generally considered a prerequisite to being selected for command of an aircraft carrier.)

USS Arcturus (AF-52)
USS Arcturus (AF-52) (BMCS Richard Miller, United States Navy)

After assignment as the head of the Fleet Operations Branch in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Capatin Ellis retired from the Navy in 28 February 1973 after 31 years of service.

On 30 November 1974, Captain Ellis married Mrs. Barbara Young Clayton at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Captain Ellis died at Harrisonburg, Virginia, 6 July 2010, at the age of 86 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8535

² FAI Record File Number 9060

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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