Tag Archives: Wright Aeronautical Corporation

18 March 1939

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 taking of at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

18 March 1939: At 12:57 p.m., Pacific Standard Time (19:47 G.M.T.), the Boeing Model S-307 Stratoliner, NX19901, took off from Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, on Test Flight No. 19. Julius Augustus Barr was the pilot in command.

The S-307, Boeing serial number 1994, was a prototype four-engine, pressurized commercial airliner. It had first flown on 31 December 1938, with Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Edmund Turney (“Eddie”) Allen, as first pilot (the Pilot in Command), and Julius Barr as his copilot. Allen had flown the first eighteen flights. “The performance of aircraft NX 19901 on flights prior to Test Flight No. 19 had either met or exceeded the manufacturer’s estimates.”

Julius Barr was employed by Boeing as a test pilot, 16 November 1938. Following Flight Test No. 15, Allen approved Barr to act as first pilot on the Model 307. He first served as the pilot in command of NX19901 on 21 January 1939. This was a taxi test, with the Stratoliner never leaving the ground. Barr first flew the airplane nearly two months later, 16 March 1939, with copilot Earl Alvin Ferguson. Barr made two more flights on 17 March. Harlan Hull, Chief Pilot of Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., flew as copilot.

At takeoff on 18 March 1939, Barr had only 2 hours, 6 minutes as pilot in command of the Boeing 307; and 17 hours, 55 minutes as second in command. He had flown as an observer aboard NX19901 for 1 hour, 52 minutes.

There were ten persons on board the Stratoliner for Test Flight No. 19. In addition to Julius Barr as P.I.C., the designated copilot was Earl Ferguson. There were two alternate copilots, Harlan Hull and Benjamin J. Pearson, an assistant sales manager for Boeing. Ralph LaVenture Cram was first aerodynamcist, assisted by John Kylstra. William C. Doyle served as oscillograph operator, and Harry T. West, Jr., was the engineering officer. These were all Boeing employees. Pieter Guillonard, technical director of Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines), acted as recorder and photographer, while Albert Gillis von Baumhauer, an engineer with the Luchtvaartdienst (the Dutch Aviation Authority), acted as an assistant aerodynamicist.

Albert G. von Baumhauer

Specialized test equipment had been installed at the copilot’s position. For this reason, Von Baumhauer, rather than the designated copilot, Ferguson, was in the copilot’s seat during this test flight. (Von Baumgartner held a Dutch private pilot certificate, issued 28 November 1931. Since that time, he had flown only 116 hours, and had no experience flying multi-engine aircraft. He was not qualified to act as copilot.)

Guillonard and Von Baumhauer had recommended a series of tests to be conducted on Test Flight No. 19, including observing the airplane’s behavior following an engine cut on takeoff with no rudder input; a series of side slips and stall tests. Von Baumhauer had emphasized “complete stalls” rather than initiating recovery when stall was detected.

After takeoff, NX19901 climbed to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and at 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour) a series of static longitudinal stability tests were performed. According to the test flight plan, side slips were to be investigated next.

Boeing 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with both propellers on right wing feathered. Note the rudder deflection. (Boeing)

     “At 1:12 P.M. (PST) a radio message was transmitted from NX 19901 to the Boeing Aircraft Company radio station located at Seattle, Washington, which message gave the position of the aircraft as being between Tacoma Washington and Mount Rainier at an altitude of 11,000 feet. Some two or three minutes later, while flying at a comparatively slow rate of speed in the vicinity of Alder, Washington, the aircraft stalled and began to spin in a nose down attitude. After completing two or three turns in the spin, during which power was applied, it recovered from the spin and began to dive. The aircraft partially recovered from the dive at an altitude of approximately 3,000 feet above sea level, during which recovery it began to disintegrate. Outboard sections of the left and right wings failed upward and broke entirely loose from the aircraft. Major portions of the vertical fin and portions of the rudder were carried away by wing wreckage. The outboard section of the left elevator separated from the stabilizer and both fell to the ground detached. The right horizontal tail surface, being held on by the fairing long the top surface and also by the elevator trim tab cables, remained with the fuselage. The No. 1 engine nacelle also broke loose from the aircraft and fell to the ground separately. The main body of the aircraft settled vertically and struck the ground in an almost level attitude both longitudinally and laterally at a point approximately 1,200 feet above sea level. Watches and clocks aboard the aircraft, which were broken by the force of the impact, indicated the time of the accident at approximately 1:17 p.m. (PST).”

AIR SAFETY BOARD REPORT, at Pages 34–35.

Diagram of probable flight path of NX19901 from Air Safety Board report.

All ten persons aboard were killed in the crash. The Stratoliner was destroyed. Because of the water ballast in the main fuel tanks, there was no post crash fire.

Wreckage of Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901, right rear quarter.
Wreckage of Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901, right front quarter.
Wreckage of Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 near Alder, Washington
Wreckage of Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 near Alder, Washington. (SDASM)
Wreckage of Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901, left front quarter.

During the crash investigation it was found that two B-17s had previously been spun. The first,

“. . . while flying with a gross load of about 42,000 pounds at an altitude of 14,000 feet, went into an inadvertent spin and made two complete turns before recovery was effected. During the pull-out from the ensuing dive, permanent distortion occurred in the structure of both wings, necessitating the installation of new wings on the aircraft.

     “In the second of these experiences, a similar ship was intentionally permitted to enter a spin following a complete stall. The controls were immediately reversed and the aircraft responded promptly, enabling the pilot to effect recovery after three-fourths of a turn in—

     “Evidence indicated that power was used in recovery from the spin in the case of NX 19901. It should be noted that in the two instances above described recovery from spin in similar aircraft was accomplished without the employment of power. In one of these cases, permanent distortion occurred in both wings.”

AIR SAFETY BOARD REPORT, at Pages 48 and 49.

Diagram of wing failure under load. (Air Safety Board Report)

PROBABLE CAUSE

     “Structural failure of the wings and horizontal tail surfaces due to the imposition of loads thereon in excess of those for which they were designed, the failure occurring in an abrupt pull-out from a dive following recovery from an inadvertent spin.”

Crash site diagram. (Air Safety Board Report)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901. The engine cowlings have been removed. The inboard right engine is running. The arrangement of passenger windows differs on the right and left side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Boeing Model 307 was operated by a crew of five and could carry up to 33 passengers.  It was the first pressurized airliner and, because of its complexity, it was also the first airplane to include a flight engineer as a crew member. It could maintain a cabin pressure equivalent to 12,000 feet (3,650 meters) to a pressure altitude of 19,000 feet (5,791 meters).

The Model 307 used the wings, tail surfaces, engines and landing gear of the production B-17B Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The vertical fin and rudder were of the same design as the B-17B’s, though somewhat larger. The fuselage was circular in cross section to allow for pressurization. It was 74 feet, 4 inches (22.657 meters) long with a wingspan of 107 feet, 3 inches (32.690 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 9½ inches (6.337 meters). The wings had 4½° dihedral and 3½° angle of incidence. The empty weight was 29,900 pounds (13,562.4 kilograms) and loaded weight was 45,000 pounds (20,411.7 kilograms).

The airliner was powered by four air-cooled, geared and supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Cyclone 9 GR-1820-G102 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1, rated at 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. These drove three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction in order to match the engine’s effective power range with the propellers. The GR-1820-G102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the Model 307 was 241 miles per hour (388 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,828.8 meters). Cruise speed was 215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 23,300 feet (7,101.8 meters).

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with all engines running. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Julius Augustus Barr was born at Normal, Illinois, 6 December 1905. He was the son of Oren Augustus Barr, a teacher and school superintendent, and Margaret M. Wallace Barr. He grew up in Pittsburg, Kansas. He attended the Kansas State Teachers College at Pittsburg in 1925. He was a member of the Alpha Gamma Tau (ΑΓΤ) fraternity, of which he was the treasurer.

Julius Augustus Barr

Barr enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, and was trained as a pilot at Brooks and Kelly Fields, San Antonio, Texas.

On 1 July 1928, Julius Barr married Miss Effie Hortense Roberson at Pittsburg, Kansas. They would have two children, Jo Anne Barr, and Gene Edward Barr.

In 1930, Barr and his family lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He flew as an air mail pilot, and was employed by Boeing Air Transport.

During the mid 1930s, the Barr family traveled to China, where he acted as manager of the airport at Hankow, and conducted flight training. He then flew as the personal pilot of Zhang Xueliang (also known as Chang Hseuh-Liang), (“The Young Marshal”). Zhang and another of other communist generals arrested Chiang Kai-Shek in the Xi’an Incident, December 1936. Chiang was released after two weeks, and Zhang placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. (The others were executed.) Julius Barr then served as the personal pilot for Soong Mei-ling (“Madame Chiang”), and helped General Chang with the air defense of Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Barr and his family departed Hong Kong aboard S.S. Empress of Russia, which arrived at Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 14 November 1938. He then went to work as a test pilot for Boeing two days later.

Julius Barr had flown a total of approximately 5,000 hours. Of these, 2,030 hours were in single-engine airplanes, 2,240 hours in twin-engine, and 765 hours in 3 engine.

Julius Augustus Barr was buried at the Mount Olive Cemetery, Pittsburg, Kansas.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 December 1938

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner with all engines running, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington, circa 1939. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

31 December 1938: Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 made its first flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. The test pilot was Eddie Allen, with co-pilot Julius A. Barr.

The Model 307 was a four-engine commercial airliner that used the wings, tail surfaces, engines and landing gear of the production B-17B Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The fuselage was circular in cross section to allow for pressurization. It was the first pressurized airliner and because of its complexity, it was also the first airplane to include a flight engineer as a crew member.

Boeing 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with both propellers on right wing feathered. (Boeing)
Boeing 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with both propellers on right wing feathered. (Boeing)

The Associated Press news agency reported:

Test Of Big Craft Begins

     SEATTLE, Dec. 31—(AP)—The world’s first plane, designed for flying in the sub-stratosphere, the new Boeing “Stratoliner”, performed “admirably” in a 42-minute first test flight in the rain today.

     The big ship, with a wingspread of 107 feet, three inches, climbed to 4,000 feet, the ceiling, and cruised between here, Tacoma and Everett. Speed was held down to 175 miles an hour.

     “The control and stability and the way it handled were very nice,” Edmund T. Allen, pilot, said. “She performed admirably.”

     The 33-passenger ship was built to fly at altitudes of 20,000 feet.

     No more tests are planned until next week. The supercharging equipment for high altitude flights will be installed later.

Arizona Republic, Vol. IL, No. 228, Sunday, 1 January 1939, Page 2, Column 4

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 taking of at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

On March 18, 1939, during its 19th test flight, the Stratoliner went into a spin, then a dive. It suffered structural failure of the wings and horizontal stabilizer when the flight crew attempted to recover. NX19901 was destroyed and all ten persons aboard were killed.

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091288)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901. The engine cowlings have been removed. The inboard right engine is running. The arrangement of passenger windows differs on the right and left side of the fuselage. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Boeing Model 307 was operated by a crew of five and could carry 33 passengers. It was 74 feet, 4 inches (22.657 meters) long with a wingspan of 107 feet, 3 inches (32.690 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 9½ inches (6.337 meters). The wings had 4½° dihedral and 3½° angle of incidence. The empty weight was 29,900 pounds (13,562.4 kilograms) and loaded weight was 45,000 pounds (20,411.7 kilograms).

The airliner was powered by four air-cooled, geared and supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Cyclone 9 GR-1820-G102 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1, rated at 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. These drove three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction in order to match the engine’s effective power range with the propellers. The GR-1820-G102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The maximum speed of the Model 307 was 241 miles per hour (388 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,828.8 meters). Cruise speed was 215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 23,300 feet (7,101.8 meters).

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with all engines running. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091291)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 with all engines running. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) Boeing 307 Stratoliner with cabin attendants. (TWA)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) Boeing 307 Stratoliner with cabin attendants. (Trans World Airlines)

During World War II, TWA sold its Stratoliners to the United States government which designated them C-75 and placed them in transatlantic passenger service. After the war, the 307s were returned to TWA and they were sent back to Boeing for modification and overhaul. The wings, engines and tail surfaces were replaced with those from the more advanced B-17G Flying Fortress.

Boeing C-75 Stratoliner. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Catalog # 01 00091316)
Boeing C-75 Stratoliner “Comanche,” U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 42-88624, formerly TWA’s NC19905. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Of the ten Stratoliners built for Pan Am and TWA, only one remains. Fully restored by Boeing, NC19903 is at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution.

The only existing Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner, NC19903, Clipper Flying Cloud, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The only existing Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner, NC19903, Clipper Flying Cloud, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19903 after upgrade, circa 1945. (Boeing)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 December 1936

Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 Flying Fortress 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

2 December 1936: The first Boeing YB-17, U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 36-149, made its first flight.

Although the prototype Boeing Model 299, NX13372, had crashed at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935, the Army had ordered thirteen Y1B-17 service test aircraft, serials 36-149–36-161. Prior to the model’s first flight, this designation was changed to YB-17. (The “-1-” in the original Y1B-17 designation indicated that the service test bombers were ordered using funding other than the normal appropriations for new aircraft.)

Boeing YB-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The YB-17 had several improvements over the Model 299, which was retroactively designated XB-17. There was a long carburetor intake on top of the engine nacelles which visually distinguishes the YB-17 from the follow-on YB-17A. The main landing gear has one strut rather than the two of the Model 299.

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing Model 299B, designated YB-17 by the Army Air Corps, was 68 feet, 4 inches (20.828 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 18 feet, 4 inches (5.588 meters). It had an empty weight of 24,465 pounds (11,097 kilograms), gross weight of 34,880 pounds (15,821 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 42,600 pounds (19,323 kilograms).

Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

Instead of the Pratt & Whitney engines installed on the 299, the YB-17 had four air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820G5 (R-1820-39) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.45:1. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction drive, in order to match the engines’ effective power range with the propellers. The R-1820-39 was rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. The R-1820-39 was 45-7/16 inches (1.154 meters) long and 54¼ inches (1.378 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,198 pounds (543.4 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the YB-17 was 217 miles per hour (349 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 256 miles per hour (412 kilometers per hour) at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). Its service ceiling was 30,600 feet (9,327 meters). The bomber’s maximum range was 3,320 miles (5,343 kilometers).

The YB-17 could carry 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms) of bombs. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber air-cooled Browning machine guns.

Boeing YB-17 36-149 nosed over on landing at Seattle, 7 December 1936. (Unattributed)

36-149 was damaged in a landing accident 7 December 1936. It was repaired and then flown to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 11 January 1937. After testing at Wright Field, 36-149 was delivered to the 2nd Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia. By 1938 the bomber was back at Wright Field for additional tests.

“In the summer of 1938, Bill [Captain William C. Bentley, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, a B-17 test pilot at Langley Field] and his aircrew flew back to Seattle to pick up an additional aircraft, YB-17 tail number 36-149 from Boeing. This aircraft was different from the original thirteen. During its assembly phase at Boeing, it was packed with additional instruments for recording purposes. Once delivered to Langley, the plane was going to be subjected to a variety of stress tests in order to determine how much damage the plane could take and still operate. During its flight to Langley, Bill arrived over the field in a thunderstorm. The strength of the storm flipped the plane upside down, a stress never envisioned by the designers for such a large aircraft, much less one loaded to capacity with measuring instrumentation and a full crew. Using his fighter pilot training, Bill flew the aircraft at its maximum altitude then performed a slow roll to bring the airplane into its proper attitude. After recovering from a harrowing spin, Bill got control of the plane and landed successfully.

“Much to the crew’s amazement, the wings were slightly bent and some rivets were missing. But the measuring instrumentation had recorded all of the stress placed on the plane. . . .”

—The Touch of Greatness: Colonel William C. Bentley, Jr., USAAC/USAF, by Stewart W. Bentley, Jr., Ph.D., AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010, Chapter 2 at Page 45.

(This meant that a fourteenth YB-17, which had been built specifically as a static test article, could be completed as a Y1B-17A, 37-369.)

Boeing YB-17 at Hamilton Field, California. (U.S. Air Force)

In October 1940 36-149 was transferred to the 19th Bombardment Group at March Field, California. Finally, on 11 February 1942, it was transferred to the Air Park at Amarillo Army Air Field, a B-17 training base in Texas. It was written off 11 December 1942.

After several years of testing, the YB-17 went into production as the B-17 Flying Fortress. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-139 arrives at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at Langley Field, Virginia, 1 March 1937. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island, California, ca. 1939. (Stephen Fisher)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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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. (NASM)

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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