Tag Archives: Wright Aeronautical Corporation

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. (U.S. Navy)

Their aircraft was a Fokker F.VIIa/3m three-engine, high-wing monoplane, construction number 4900. 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 1,600 miles (2,575 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 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)

Josephine Ford is the first Fokker F.VIIa/3m monoplane, c/n 4900. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek at Veere, Netherlands in 1925, and made its first flight at Schipol, 4 September 1925. The airplane was disassembled and shipped to the United States. 4900 was flown in the First Annual Aerial Reliability Tour, 28 September–3 October 1925, by Egbert P. Lott.

The United States did not register aircraft prior to 1927. However, various sources attribute several different registration marks to Josephine Ford, e.g., NC267, NC297, NX4204. Though its serial number is generally accepted to be 4900, there are some sources that give the c/n as 600.

And again, 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 787¼-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) air-cooled 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.

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)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 April 1931

Amelia Earhart with Pitcairn Autogiro Co. PCA-2 #4, X760W, at Pitcairn Field, Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931. (Purdue University)
Amelia Earhart with Pitcairn Autogiro Co. PCA-2 #4, NX760W, at Pitcairn Field, Warrington, Pennsylvania, 8 April 1931. (Purdue University)

8 April 1931: Amelia Earhart, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, reached an altitude of 5,613 meters (18,415 feet) over Warrington, Pennsylvania. The duration of the flight, her second of the day, was 1 hour, 49 minutes. She landed at 6:04 p.m.

A sealed barograph was carried aboard to record the altitude for an official record. Following the flight, the barograph was sent to the National Aeronautic Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification.

08 Apr 1931, Pennsylvania, USA --- Original caption: Miss Amelia Earhart in two altitude tests with an autogiro plane, at the Pitcairn Airfield, Willow Grove, Pa., soars to height of 18,500 feet in the first, and surpasses that mark by 500 feet in the second. If her barographs correspond with those marks, she in all probability will have established a world record for men as well as women. She is the only woman who ever piloted one of the "windmill" types of craft. Photo shows Amelia Earhart handing Major Luke Christopher, her barograph after her first flight. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Amelia Earhart, in the cockpit of a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro, handing a barograph to Major Luke Christopher, National Aeronautic Association. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

An autogyro is a rotary wing aircraft that derives lift from a turning rotor system which is driven by air flow (autorotation). Unlike a helicopter, thrust is provided by an engine-driven propeller. The engine does not drive the rotor.

The Pitcairn Autogyro Company’s PCA-2 was the first autogyro certified in the United States. Operated by a single pilot, it could carry two passengers. The fuselage was constructed as were airplanes of the period.

Amelia Earhart with the Pitcairn PCA-2 aurtogyro, NX760W.
Amelia Earhart with a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro.

The PCA-2 was 23 feet, 1 inch (7.036 meters) long. A single low wing, which provided some of the aircraft’s lift, had a span of 30 feet (9.144 meters). The four-bladed rotor had a diameter of 45 feet (13.716 meters). The PCA-2 had an empty weight of 2,233 pounds (1,013 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms).

The aircraft was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.93 liter) Wright R-975E Whirlwind 330 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The R-975E produced a maximum 330 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 73-octane gasoline. The engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch propeller through direct drive. The engine weighed 635 pounds (288 kilograms).

The PCA-2 had a maximum speed of 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). It had a service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and a range of 290 miles (467 kilometers).

Pitcairn Autogyro Co. PCA-2 NX760W at East Boston Airport, October 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
Pitcairn Autogyro Co. PCA-2 NX760W at East Boston Airport, October 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1935

Douglas DST NX14988 on its first flight, 17 December 1935. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Douglas DST NX14988 on its first flight, 17 December 1935. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
Carl Cover
Carl A. Cover

17 December 1935: Douglas Aircraft Company vice president and chief test pilot Carl A. Cover made the first flight of the Douglas DST, NX14988, at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California. Also aboard were engineers Fred Stineman and Frank Coleman.

Designed over a two year period by chief engineer Arthur Emmons Raymond and built for American Airlines, the DST, or Douglas Sleeper Transport, was the original variant of the DC-3 commercial airliner. It had 14 sleeping berths for passengers on overnight transcontinental journeys and could fly across the United States with three refueling stops. There were no prototypes built. NX14988 was a production airplane and went to American Airlines where it flew more than 17,000 hours.

American Airlines' Douglas DST, NX14988, the first DC-3. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
American Airlines’ Douglas DST, NX14988, the first DC-3. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

At the beginning of World War II, NC14988 was placed in military service, designated C-49E Skytrooper with the serial number 42-43619. On 15 October 1942, it crashed 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from its destination at Chicago, Illinois, killing the 2-man crew and all 7 passengers. The airplane was damaged beyond repair.

The DST and the DC-3 were an improved version of the Douglas DC-2 commercial transport. It was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot.

The DC-3 was 64 feet, 8 inches (19.710 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet, 2 inches (29.007 meters). It was 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters) high. The airplane weighed 16,865 pounds (7,650 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 25,199 pounds (11,430 kilograms).

DSTs and initial production DC-3s were powered by two 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 GR-1820G2 9-cylinder radial engines, rated at 700 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 800 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m for takeoff.  and turning 3-bladed Hamilton-Standard constant-speed propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction. (The engines were soon changed to more powerful 1,829.389-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SC3-G 14-cylinder radials, with a normal power rating of 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., and takeoff power rating of 1,050 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m.). The SC3-G had a 16:9 propeller gear reduction ratio. It was 5 feet, 1.50 inches (1.562 meters) long, 4 feet, 0.19 inches (1.224 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,457 pounds (661 kilograms).

Maximum speed was 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The service ceiling was 23,200 feet (7,071 meters).

The DC-3 was in production for 11 years. Douglas Aircraft Company built 10,655 DC-3s and military C-47s. There were another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 DC-3s are still in commercial service. The oldest surviving example is the sixth DST built, originally registered NC16005.

American Airlines' Douglas DST NC14988 at Glendale, California. 1 May 1936. (DM Airfield Register)
American Airlines’ Douglas DST NC14988 at Glendale, California, 1 May 1936. (dmairfield.org)

© 2016, 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.

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)
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 Y1B-17 at Hamilton Field, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo)
A Boeing YB-17 at Hamilton Army Airfield, north of San Francisco, California.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Instead of the Pratt & Whitney engines installed on the 299, the YB-17 had four air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.1-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., at Sea Level, 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 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) and the 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. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YB-17 36-149. (U.S. Air Force)

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.)

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)
A Boeing YB-17 heavy bomber 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)
Boeing YB-17 36-149 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island, California, ca. 1939. (Stephen Fisher)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1936

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

4 September 1936: Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (1905–1979) 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).

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

Louise Thaden had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative and he included flying lessons with her employment. She received her pilot’s license in 1928 and soon set several air speed and altitude records. She was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating. Blanche Wilcox Noyes (1900–1981) was also a very prominent pilot.

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 Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing. It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records. The C17R was powered by a 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.920 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-975E-2 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engine producing 450 horsepower for takeoff.

The Beechcraft C17R was single engine biplane operated by one pilot and could carry up to three passengers. The airplane got its nickname, “Staggerwing” from the lower wing being placed forward of the upper wing for improved pilot visibility. 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 (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet (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). The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different size and horsepower ratings. The C17R was powered by a a 971.93-cubic-inch-displacement (15.920 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-975E-2 Whirlwind single row 9-cylinder radial engine producing 420 horsepower continuous, and 450 horsepower for takeoff. This 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 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 airplane flown by Louise Thaden to win the Bendix Trophy had previously been sold, but Walter Beech let Thaden use it before delivering to the owner. The rear passengers’ 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. Its status is not known.

Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936.(National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)
Louis Thaden and Blanche Noyes are greeted by Vincent Bendix at Los Angeles, 4 September 1936.(National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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