Tag Archives: Wright Aeronautical Corporation

17 October 1922

A Vought VE-7SF takes off from USS Langley (CV-1). (National Naval Aviation Museum)
A Vought VE-7 takes off from USS Langley (CV-1). (National Naval Aviation Museum)

17 October 1922: Lieutenant Commander Virgil Childers (“Squash”) Griffin, Jr., United States Navy, made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the U. S. Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7 fighter from the deck of USS Langley (CV-1) while the ship was anchored in the York River along the west side of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

A Vought VE-7 taking off from USS Langley, 1922. The second airplane is an Aeromarine. (U.S. Navy)
A Vought VE-7 taking off from USS Langley, 1922. The second airplane is an Aeromarine 39 trainer. (U.S. Navy)

USS Langley was the United States Navy’s first aircraft carrier. The ship was named in honor of an American scientist, Samuel Pierpont Langley. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922. As an aircraft carrier, Langley had a complement of 468 men, including the air wing. The ship was 542 feet, 2.5 inches (165.27 meters) in length, overall, with a beam of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.96 meters) and draft of 22 feet, 1 inch (6.73 meters). The aircraft carrier had a full load displacement of 15,150 long tons (15,393 Metric tons).

Langley was powered by a General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 6,500 shaft horsepower. She could make 15.5 knots (17.8 miles per hour; 28.7 kilometers per hour). The aircraft carrier had a maximum range of 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers).

USS Langley (CV-1) with Vought VE-7SF fighters on the flight deck, at anchor off Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, 18 March 1926. In the background are a USS Tennessee-class and two USS New Mexico-class battleships. (U.S. Navy)

In addition to her air group of up to 36 airplanes, Langley was defended by four 5-inch/51-caliber guns (127 mm × 6.477 meters). This gun could fire a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) shell a distance of 15,850 yards (14, 493 meters) when elevated to 20°. Its maximum rate of fire was 9 rounds per minute.

As the more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, and reclassified as AV-3, 21 April 1937.

USS Langley was badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers during the Battle of the Java Sea, 27 February 1942, having been struck by five bombs. The ship was scuttled approximately 75 miles south of Tjilatjap, Java, to prevent capture, when her escorting destroyers fired two torpedoes into her.

USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)
USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)

The Chance Vought VE-7 was originally ordered as a two-place trainer, but its performance and handling qualities were so good that it was widely used as a fighter. The VE-7SF was a single-place, single-engine biplane built for the U.S. Navy.

The VE-7 was 22 feet 5-3/8 inches (6.842 meters) long, with a wingspan of 34 feet, 4 inches (10.465 meters), and height of 8 feet 7½ inches (2.629 meters). The two-bay wings were separated by a vertical gap of 4 feet, 8 inches (1.422 meters) and the leading edge of the  lower wing was staggered 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) behind that of the upper wing. Both wings had 1.25° dihedral. The upper wing had +1.75° incidence, lower wing had +2.25°. The VE-7 had weighed 1,392 pounds (631 kilograms) empty and had gross weight of 1,937 pounds (879 kilograms)

Vought VE-7SF 2-F-16. (Chance Vought)
Vought VE-7SF 2-F-16. (Chance Vought)

The VE-7 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 716.69-cubic-inch-displacement (11.744 liters) Wright-Hispano E3 Alert single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-8 engine, rated at 215 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 8’8″ (2.642 meters). The Wright E3 weighed 465 pounds (211 kilograms).

The VE-7 had a maximum speed of 106  miles per hour (171 kilometers per hour) and service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its maximum range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

The fighter was armed with two Vickers .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

Chance Vought VE-7, 2-F-16, assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) (Chance Vought)
Chance Vought VE-7SF, 2-F-16, assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) (Chance Vought)

Rear Admiral Jackson R. Tate, U.S. Navy (Retired) described the first takeoff:

“We were operating just north of the Tongue of the Shoe, seaward of the main channel from Norfolk, Va. A trough about 6 feet long, set up on sawhorses was rigged at the aft end of the flight deck. When the tail skid of the VE-7 used in the test was placed in the trough, she was in the flight attitude.

“We had no brakes, so the plane was held down on the deck by a wire with a bomb release at the end. This was attached to a ring in the landing gear. ‘Squash’ Griffin climbed in, turned up the Hispano Suiza engine to its full 180 hp and gave the “go” signal. The bomb release was snapped and the Vought rolled down the deck. Almost before it reached the deck-center elevator it was airborne. Thus, the first takeoff from a U.S. carrier.”

United States Navy aircraft carrier USS. George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) (Mass Coomunications Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtiss, U.S. Navy)
United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77). (Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtis, U.S. Navy)

Virgil Childers Griffin, Jr., was born at Montgomery, Alabama, 18 April 1891. He was the first of three children of Virgil Childers Griffin, secretary of the Railroad Commission of Alabama, and Mary Lee Besson Griffin.

Midshipman Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., U.S.N.A.

Griffin was admitted as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 25 June 1908, a member of the Class of 1912. Four years later he graduated. Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 8 June 1912, with a date of precedence 28 April 1908.

On 14 July 1912, Ensign Griffin was assigned to the 16,000 ton battleship, USS South Carolina (BB-26). Griffin was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 8 June 1915. He remained aboard South Carolina until June 1916.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Griffin applied for flight trainning, and on completion, was designated Naval Aviator # 41.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. On 8 June 1917, Lieutenant (j.g.) Griffin was one of one hundred Naval Aviators who “arrived safely in France for any duty that may present itself. . . They are the first of the American fighting forces to reach France.” On 8 June 1918, Griffin was promoted to lieutenant (permanent rank). He was in command of the U.S. Navy sea plane base at Saint-Trojan, in southwestern France. Griffin was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander (temporary), 21 September 1918 (Constructive date of precedence 28 February 1907).

Lieutenant Commander Griffin returned to the United States in 1919. He was assigned to the Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C., first to the Naval Operations Aviation Divivision, and in 1920, Naval Operations Inspection Division. Later in 1920, Griffin was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Ship Plane Division, Mitchel Field, Mineola, New York.

On 8 December 1920, Lieutenant Commander Griffin married 25-year-old Alabama native Miss Elize Whiting Hall, at Mobile, Alabama.

In 1923, Lieutenant Commander Griffin returned to sea duty aboard USS Langley. he was next stationed at NAS Pensacola, Florida, 1924–1925. He served aboard USS Lexington (CV-2), 1926–1927. In 1929, Griffin returned to Langley, before being assigned Scoutig Squadron TWO (VS-2B) aboard USS Saratoga, flying the Vought O2U-2 Corsair.

On 29 December 1931, Griffin was promoted to commander. He was stationed at NAS Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, in 1932.

Commander Griffin once again returned to Langley, as the aircraft carrier’s executive officer, 1933–1934.

In 1937, Commander Griffin was commanding officer, NAS Anacostia, Washington D.C. He had additional duties in the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics.

In 1938 and 1939, Commander Griffin was chief of staff and aide to the Commander, Carrier Division TWO (ComCarDiv 2), aboard USS Yorktown.

Consolidated PBY-3 of Patrol Wing FIVE, circa 1939. (U.S. Navy)

Later in 1939, Commander Griffin was assigned as commanding officer Patrol Wing FIVE. The wing included patrol squadrons VP-51, VP-52, VP-53 VP-54, and the airplane tenders USS Gannet (AVP-8), USS Thrush (AVP-3), USS Owl (AM-2) and USS Patoka (AV-6).

Griffin was promoted to the rank captain, 1 November 1939. On 1 May 1940, Captain Griffin was placed in command of NAS Isle Grande, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Captain Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., U.S. Navy, with Mrs. Ernest Hemingway (née Martha Ellis Gelhorn), circa 1942. (National Museum of the United States Navy) 80-G-13028a

Captain Virgil Childers Griffin, Jr., retired from the United States Navy, 1 January 1947. He died at San Diego, California, 27 March 1957, at the age of 66 years. He was buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1936

Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-SI-83-2088)

4 September 1936: Louise Thaden was the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing,” NR15835, from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California, in 14 hours, 55 minutes, 1.0 seconds. With one fuel stop at Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 miles per hour (266.11 kilometers per hour).

In addition to the trophy, Mrs. Thaden won a prize of $2,500.

Louise Thaden with the Bendix Trophy. (Tom Sande, AP)
Louise McPhetridge, 1926. (The Razorback)

Iris Louise McPhetridge was born 12 November 1905 at Bentonville, Arkansas. She was the first of three daughters of Roy Fry McPhetridge, owner of a foundry, and Edna Hobbs McPhetridge. She was educated at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a member of the Class of 1927. She was president of the Delta Delta Delta (ΔΔΔ) Sorority, Delta Iota (ΔΙ) Chapter, head sports for basketball and president of The Panhellenic.

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Mrs Thaden set an FAI World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet) over Oakland, California, 7 December 1928.¹  On 17 March 1929, she set an FAI record for duration of 22 hours, 3 minutes.²

In 1929, she was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. Mrs. Thaden was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.

Louise Thaden’s original pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National Aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)

Miss McPhetridge married Mr. Herbert von Thaden at San Francisco, California, 21 July 1928. Thaden was a former military pilot and an engineer. They would have two children, William and Patricia.

Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden with her husband, Herbert von Thaden, in front of the Beech C17R Staggerwing, NR15385. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Louise Thaden served as secretary of the National Aeronautic Association, and was a co-founder of The Ninety-Nines. She served as that organization’s vice president and treasurer. She set several world and national records and was awarded the national Harmon Trophy as Champion Aviatrix of the United States in 1936.

Louise Thaden stopped flying in 1938. She died at High Point, North Carolina, 9 November 1979.

Louise Thaden with her 1936 Vincent Bendix Trophy, circa 1975. (NASM)

The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records.

Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C-17R NR15385 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Louise Thaden in the cockpit of Beechcraft C17R NR15835 at the start of the Bendix Air Race. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The Beechcraft C17R was single-engine biplane operated by one pilot and could carry up to three passengers in its enclosed cabin. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel frame with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with retractable landing gear.

The Beech 17 was  26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).

This photograph of Beechcraft Model 17s under construction at Wichita, Kansas, reveals the structure of the airplane. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

While most biplanes had staggered wings, the Staggerwing was unusual in having negative stagger. This not only increased the pilot’s field of vision, but improved the airplane’s stability in a stall. The leading edge of the Model 17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1–19/32 inches (0.65008 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° 0′ sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 5° 5′. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.52 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 269.5 square feet (25.04 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.

The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different displacements and horsepower ratings. The C17R was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Whirlwind 440 (R-975E3) 9-cylinder direct-drive radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.3:1. The R-975E3 was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 92-octane gasoline. The engine was 43.00 inches (1.092 meters) long and 45.25 inches (1.149 meters) in diameter. It weighed 700 pounds (318 kilograms).

This engine gave the C17R Staggerwing a cruise speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 211 miles per hour (340 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and its range was 800 miles (1,287.5 kilometers).

Beechcraft C17R NC15835 at the finish of the Bendix Trophy Race, Mines Field, Los Angeles, 4 September 1936. (National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

The Beechcraft C17R flown by Louise Thaden to win the Bendix Trophy, serial number 77, had already been sold, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it for the race before delivering to the owner. It was painted in Sherwin Williams blue with white stripes. The rear passenger seats were removed and a 56 gallon (212 liter) auxiliary fuel tank installed in their place.

After the race, the owner took his airplane to South America. Several Staggerwings have been registered as N15835, including s/n 74 and s/n 81. The status of the actual Bendix winner is unknown.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12223

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 June 1942

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981.
Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (Northrop Grumman)

26 June 1942: The Grumman XF6F-1, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 02981, prototype for the Navy and Marine Corps F6F Hellcat fighter, with Grumman’s Chief Engineer and Test Pilot Robert Leicester Hall flying, made a 25-minute first flight at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation plant, Bethpage, Long Island, New York.

The first Hellcat was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.688 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Twin Cyclone GR2600B676 (R-2600-10) two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine. This engine had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. The R-2600-10 was rated at 1,500 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff. It turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-2600-10 was 4 feet, 6.26 inches (1.378 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 2.91 inches (1.903 meters) long. It weighed 2,115 pounds (959 kilograms).

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat, Bu. No. 02981. (Northrop Grumman)

Beginning with the second prototype, Bu. No. 02982, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10) 18-cylinder engine became the standard powerplant. The R-2800-10 was an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine with water injection. The engine had a compression ratio of 6.65:1 and was rated at 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 21,500 feet (6,553 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-10 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 7 feet, 4.47 inches (2.247 meters) long, and weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms), each. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Grumman XF6F-1 Hellcat Bu. No. 02981 in flight. (Northrop Grumman)

The first prototype was quickly re-engined to the Pratt & Whitney radial and redesignated XF6F-3. Bob Hall flew it with the new engine on 30 July 1942. A few weeks later, 17 August, the Hellcat’s new engine failed and Hall crash-landed at Crane’s Farm. The airplane was moderately damaged and Hall was seriously injured.

Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane's Farm, Long Island, New York, August 1942. (Grumman)
Grumman XF6F-3 Bu. No. 02981 after crash landing in a field at Crane’s Farm, Long Island, New York, 17 August 1942. (Northrop Grumman)

The airplane was rebuilt and continued in the test program. It was eventually converted to the XF6F-4 with a two-speed turbocharged Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-27) which produced 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. It was armed with four 20 mm cannon.

The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4, seen here at NACA, langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)
The first prototype Hellcat was converted to the XF6F-4 configuration, seen here at NACA, Langley Field, Virginia in 1944. (NASA)

The Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat is single-place, single-engine fighter designed early in World War II to operate from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers. It is a low wing monoplane monoplane of all metal construction. The wings can be folded against the sides of the fuselage for storage aboard the carriers. Landing gear is conventional, retractable, and includes an arresting hook.

The F6F-3 is 33 feet, 7 inches (10.236 meters) long with a wingspan of 42, feet 10 inches (12.842 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 5 inches (4.394 meters) in three-point position. It has an empty weight of 9,207 pounds (4,176 kilograms) and gross weight of 12,575 pounds (5,704 kilograms).

A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A Grumman F6F Hellcat ready for takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, circa 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The F6F-3 Hellcat was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp SSB2-G (R-2800-10W) engine with water injection, rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 100/130 octane aviation gasoline. The normal power rating was 1,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at  22,500 feet (6,858 meters). The engine drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 1 inch (3.988 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The engine weighed 2,480 pounds (1,125 kilograms).

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943.(U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)

In clean configuration, the F6F-3 had a maximum speed of 321 miles per hour (517 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). It could climb to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 3.2 minutes, and to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.0 minutes. The service service ceiling was 38,800 feet (11,826 meters). It had a combat radius of 335 nautical miles (386 miles/620 kilometers). The maximum ferry range was 1,540 miles (2,478 kilometers).

The Hellcat’s armament consisted of six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted three in each wing, with 2,400 rounds of ammunition.

The Grumman Hellcat was the most successful fighter of the Pacific war, with a kill-to-loss ratio of 19:1. It was in production from 1942 to 1945 and remained in service with the United States Navy until 1956. A total of 12,275 were built by Grumman at Bethpage. This was the largest number of any aircraft type produced by a single plant.

High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F Hellcat prepares to takeoff from an Essex-class aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy)
High humidity creates visible propeller tip vortices as this Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat prepares to takeoff from USS Yorktown (CV-10), November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
Robert Leicester Hall

Robert Leicester Hall was born at Taunton, Massachussetts, 22 August 1905. He was the son of Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.

Hall attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1927 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.).

In 1929 he went to work for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company at Farmingdale, New York. While there, Hall met his first wife, Eugenie, a secretary at the plant. They were married in 1930, and lived in a rented home on St. James Avenue, Chicopee City, Massachusetts. Their son, Robert Jr., was born 5 November 1931.

Granville Brothers Gee Bee Model Z, NR77Y, City of Springfield.

Also in 1931, Hall began working for Granville Brothers Aircraft at Springfield, Massachusetts. He designed the Gee Bee Model Z Super Sportster air racer. He left Granville Brothers in 1933 to go to work for the Stinson Aircraft Company in Dayton, Ohio. There he designed the Stinson Reliant.

A Stinson SR-8E Reliant, NACA 94, at the Langley Research Center, 5 August 1936. (NASA)

In 1936, Bob Hall became the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. He designed the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, and F8F Bearcat fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. As corporate vice president, he supervised the design of the F9F Panther and Cougar jet fighters.

Hall married his second wife, Rhoda C. Halvorsen, 18 January 1939, at New York City, New York.

Hall retired from Grumman in 1970. Two of his sons, Eric and Ben Hall, founded Hall Spars and Rigging of Bristol, Rhode Island.

Robert Leicester Hall died at Newport, Rhode Island, 25 February 1991, at the age of 85 years.

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 4778, Long Island, New York, circa 1942. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)
Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat Bu. No. 26108, Long Island, New York, circa 1943. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 June 1939

Boeing 314 NC18603, Yankee Clipper (Harris and Ewing)
Boeing 314 NC18603, Yankee Clipper (Harris & Ewing)

24 June 1939: The Pan American Airways System began scheduled air service from the United States to Britain. The Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper, NC18603, made the first flight from Port Washington, New York, departing at 8:21 a.m. It made intermediate stops at Shediac, New Brunswick, and Botwood, Newfoundland, where fog delayed the flying boat until 12:49 p.m., 28 June. Continuing across the Atlantic, Yankee Clipper made another stop at Foynes, Ireland, and finally arrived at Southampton at 7:25 p.m. that evening.

The largest airplane of the time, the Pan American Clipper flying boat could carry 77 passengers in “one class” luxury, with a ticket priced at $675—that’s in 1939 dollars. ($12,217.50 in 2018) Uniformed waiters served five and six course meals on silver service. Seats could be folded down into beds.

The flight deck of a Boeing 314. At the left, standing, is the airliner's navigator. Beyond him are the captain (left) and co-pilot. On the right side of the cabin are the radio operator and flight engineer. (Unattributed)
The flight deck of a Boeing 314. At the left, standing, is the airliner’s navigator. Beyond him are the captain (left) and co-pilot. On the right side of the cabin are the radio operator and flight engineer. (Unattributed)

The Boeing Model 314 was a large four-engine, high-wing monoplane flying boat designed and built by the Boeing Airplane Company to take off and land on water. It had a crew of 10. The wings and engine nacelles had been designed for Boeing XB-15 heavy bomber. It was 106 feet (32.309 meters) long with a wingspan of 152 feet (46.330 meters). It had a maximum take off weight of 82,500 pounds (37,421 kilograms).

The Boeing 314 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600A2, two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7.1:1. They were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,550 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 91/96 octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic full-feathering constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 14 feet (4.267 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The GR2600A2 was 5 feet, 2.06 inches (1.576 meters) long and 4 feet, 7 inches (1.387 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,935 pounds (878 kilograms). The engines could be serviced in flight, with access through the wings.

The Boeing 314 had a maximum speed of 199 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), with a  range of 3,685 miles (5,930 kilometers) at its normal cruising speed of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,400 feet (4,084 meters). The fuel capacity was 4,246 gallons (16,073 liters).

Boeing built six Model 314 and another six 314A flying boats for Pan American Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation.

Yankee Clipper was destroyed 22 February 1943 at Lisbon, Portugal. A wing hit the water on landing. 24 of the 39 persons aboard were killed.

This iluustration shows the interior arrangement of the Boeing 314. (Unattributed)
This illustration shows the interior arrangement of the Boeing 314. It was published in LIFE Magazine, circa 1937. (Boeing)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 May 1926

The Byrd Arctic Expedition Fokker F.VIIa/3m at Spitzbergen, Svalbard, 9 May 1927. (Ohio State University Archives)

9 May 1926: Lieutenant Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., and Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, United States Navy, departed Spitzbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway, on a round-trip flight to the North Pole.

Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., U.S. Navy (Library of Congress)
Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, U.S. Navy (Photo NH 50611)
Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, U.S. Navy, circa April 1925 (U.S. Navy)

Their aircraft was a Fokker F.VIIa/3m three-engine, high-wing monoplane, construction number 600. The airplane was It was purchased for the Byrd Arctic Expedition by Edsel Ford, and named Josephine Ford in honor of his 3-year-old daughter, Josephine Clay Ford.

Fokker F.VIIa/3m c/n 4900, Josephine Ford. (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
Fokker F.VIIa/3m, Josephine Ford. (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

With Chief Bennett as the expedition’s pilot and Lieutenant Commander Byrd navigating, they flew approximately 840 miles (1,350 kilometers) to the Pole and returned the same day. The total duration of the flight was 15 hours, 44 minutes.

Commander Byrd, President Coolidge, Warrant Officer Bennett.
Secretary of the Navy Curtis Dwight Wilbur, Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., President John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett and Admiral Edward Walter Eberle, at the White House, 5 March 1927.
Medal of Honor, U.S. Navy, 1919–1942.

For this accomplishment, Lieutenant Commander Byrd was promoted to Commander, and Chief Bennett to Warrant Officer. Both aviators were awarded the Medal of Honor by President Coolidge.

In the years since this event, there has been speculation that the airplane may not have actually reached the North Pole. Professor Gerald Newsom of Ohio State University, an astronomer who taught celestial navigation, analyzed Byrd’s handwritten notes and estimated that because of the inadequacies of the equipment then available to Byrd, Josephine Ford may have flown 21 miles (33.8 kilometers) beyond the North Pole, or fallen 78 miles (125.5 kilometers) short. Professor Newsom pointed out, though, that the fact the Byrd was able to return to Svalbard after nearly 16 hours proves that he knew how to navigate using that equipment under those conditions.

(See https://web.archive.org/web/20161216185546/http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/byrdnorth.htm for additional information.)

Richard E. Byrd holding a Bumstead Sun Compass used for celestial navigation at very high latitudes, 1925. (Maynard Owen Williams/National Geographic Society, Image ID 612617)
Richard E. Byrd holding a Bumstead Sun Compass used for celestial navigation at very high latitudes, 1925. (Maynard Owen Williams/National Geographic Society, Image ID 612617)
Fokker F.VIIa/3m c/n 4900, Josephine Ford (David Horn Collection)
Fokker F.VIIa/3 Josephine Ford (David Horn Collection)
Prototype Fokker F.VIIa/3m, c/n 600, at Detroit Michigan, September 1925. (Robert McMahan Collection)

Josephine Ford is the first Fokker F.VIIa/3m monoplane, c/n 600. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker at Veere, Netherlands in 1925, and made its first flight at Schipol, 4 September 1925. It was demonstrated for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines), then disassembled and shipped to the United States. 600 was flown from New York to Detroit, where it participated in the First Annual Aerial Reliability Tour, 28 September–3 October 1925, flown by Egbert P. Lott. The airplane was evaluated by the U.S. Army Air Corps at Wright Field, and was then sold to Edsel Ford.

The United States did not register aircraft prior to 1927. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Registry data base, FOKKER VII (TRI-MOTOR) Serial Number 600 was registered 21 June 1927 to the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan, as NC267. The registration was cancelled 14 March 1930.

Fokker F.VII 3m Josephine Ford (Fokker Aircraft)

Sources vary as to the actual dimensions of the Fokker F.VIIa/3m. The Henry Ford, the museum which owns the airplane, gives its dimensions as 49.167 feet (14.986 meters) in length, with a wingspan of 63.5 feet (19.355 meters) and height of 12.75 feet (3.886 meters). Another source says that the airplane is 47 feet, 11 inches (14.605 meters) long with a wingspan of 63 feet, 4 inches (19.304 meters) and height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). Its empty weight is variously given as 4,630 pounds, 5,060 pounds or 6,724 pounds and maximum takeoff weight is 7,950 pounds, 8,800 pounds or 11,464 pounds. It has a cruise speed of 81 knots. Or 90. . . .

Josephine Ford was powered by three air-cooled 787¼-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-4 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines, rated at 215 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The J-4 weighed 475 pounds. (The specific variant, J-4, J-4A, or J-4B, is not known.)

Josephine Ford is in the collection of The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.

Fokker F.VII/3m Josephine Ford, flown by the Byrd Arctic Expedition, in the collection of The Henry Ford Museum.
Fokker F.VIIa/3m Josephine Ford, flown by the Byrd Arctic Expedition, in the collection of The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan. (The Henry Ford Museum)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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