Tag Archives: Wright Aeronautical Division

17 August 1942

A flight of Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers forms up over England, 1942. “Yankee Doodle,” 41-9023, is just to the left of center. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker (Margaret Bourke-White/LIFE)

17 August 1942: Mission No. 1. The United States VIII Bomber Command made its first heavy bomber attack on Nazi-occupied Europe when eighteen Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress four-engine bombers of the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, headed for the railroad marshaling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France. This was the largest and most active railroad yard in northern France.

The group began takeoffs at 1530 hours. It was escorted by several squadrons of Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters.

While six B-17s flew along the French coast as a diversion, twelve bombers flew to Rouen and were over the target from 1739 to 1746. From an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,010 meters), they dropped 39,000 pounds (17,690 kilograms) of general purpose bombs.

Accuracy was good. One of the aim points, the locomotive shops, was destroyed by a direct hit. The overall results were moderate.

Rouen-Sotteville target assesment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)
Rouen-Sotteville target assessment photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

All of the bombers returned to their base, with the first landing at 1900. Two B-17s had been damaged. American gunners claimed damage to one Luftwaffe airplane.

brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded the raid from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, here being serviced between missions. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker commanded Mission No. 1 from this Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, 41-9023, Yankee Doodle, shown here being serviced between missions. This bomber survived the War. (U.S. Air Force)

The raid was commanded by Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker aboard Yankee Doodle, B-17E 41-9023, leading the second flight of six B-17s. The 97th Bombardment Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., flew as the co-pilot of the lead ship, Butcher Shop, B-17E 41-2578, with pilot Major Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. Tibbets was in command of the 97th’s 340th Bombardment Squadron. (He would later command the 509th Composite Group and fly the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.)

Colonel Frank A. Armstrong in the pilot's position of a Boeing B-17 (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 890)
Colonel Frank Alton Armstrong, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, commanding the 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), in the pilot’s position of a Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress. (Imperial War Museum)

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a major redesign. A new aft fuselage was used, incorporating larger vertical and horizontal stabilizers. A tail turret was added. A power-operated gun turret was added at dorsal and ventral positions.

The Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 73 feet, 10 inches (22.504 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9-3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 2 inch (5.842 meters). Its empty weight was 32,350 pounds (14,674 kilograms), 40,260 pounds (18,262 kilograms) gross weight, and the maximum takeoff weight was 53,000 pounds (24,040 kilograms).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2587, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection, Object Number FRE 4053)
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, 97th Bombardment Group, photographed 17 August 1942. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 was 47.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 55.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms). 8,422 of these engines were produced by Wright Aeronautical Division and its licensees between February 1940 and August 1942.

The B-17E had a cruise speed of 195 miles per hour (314 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 318 miles per hour (512 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 36,600 feet (11,156 meters).

With a normal fuel load of 2,490 gallons (9,426 liters) the B-17E had a maximum range of 3,300 miles (5,311 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF.
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2578, the lead ship on the 17 August 1942 air raid on Rouen-Sotteville, France, flown by Major Paul W. Tibbets, photographed at RAF Bovingdon, 1943. By the end of the war, this airplane was the oldest, longest-serving B-17E in the USAAF. (Imperial War Museum)

The B-17E Flying Fortress was armed with one .30-caliber Browning M2 Aircraft Machine Gun and eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The .30 was mounted in the nose.  Power turrets mounting two .50-caliber guns, each, were located at the dorsal and ventral positions. (The first 112 B-17Es were built with a remotely-operated turret in the belly position, sighted by a periscope. A manned ball turret replaced this.) Two machine guns were in a tail turret, and one on each side at the waist.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17E was 20,800 pounds (9,435 kilograms) over very short distances. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) or four 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs.

The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing. 512 of the total were B-17Es. The last one was completed 28 May 1942. Production shifted to the further-improved B-17F.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2509, flying over the Florida Keys, circa 1942. (United States Air Force via Getty Images)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 August 1930

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)
Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

12 August 1930: Frank Monroe Hawks flew from Los Angeles Municipal Airport in California to Curtiss Airport, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, in a record-breaking 12 hours, 25 minutes, 3 seconds. His airplane was a Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship” named Texaco No. 13. It carried civil registration NR1313.

One week earlier, 6 August 1930, Hawks had flown across the continent from east to west, in 14 hours, 50 minutes 3 seconds. More favorable winds allowed the Type R to make a faster west-to-east flight.

Hawks’ Texaco No. 13 was the fourth of five specially designed and constructed racing aircraft produced by Travel Air Manufacturing Company of Wichita, Kansas. The company was founded by Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman. The “Type R” refers to one of its designers, Herb Rawdon.

The Type R was a low-wing monoplane with a monocoque fuselage built of plywood. The very thin wing was braced by wires. Attempts to streamline the airplane included a raised profile behind the pilot’s head, “wheel pants,” as well as a NACA-designed engine cowling that provided better engine cooling and caused less aerodynamic drag.

The Mystery Ship was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Whirlwind Nine (also known as the J-6-9 or R-975) nine-cylinder radial engine, normally rated at 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Various sources state that Hawks’ R-975 had been modified by increasing its compression ratio and supercharger speed, and that it produced 400 horsepower, or more. The R-975 was built in both direct drive and geared versions.

One of the fastest airplanes of its time, the Type R set over 200 speed records.

Frank Monroe Hawks with the Texaco 13 Travel-Air Mystery Ship at East Boston Airport, 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
Frank Monroe Hawks with the Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship, Texaco No. 13, NR1313, at East Boston Airport, 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
Frank Hawks, 1930 (SDA&SM)

Newspapers called the Type R airplanes “mystery ships” because Beech was very secretive about them. When two of them were flown to the 1929 National Air Races at Cleveland, Ohio, they taxied directly to a hangar and shut off their engines. They were immediately pushed inside. The hangar was kept locked and under guard.

Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mystery Pilot.”

Frank Hawks’ Type R is in the collection of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.

Travel Air Type R, NR1313, Mystery Ship, Texaco No. 13, at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois. (MSI)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 August 1945

Silverplate Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress 44-86292, “Dimples 82,” at Tinian, Marshall Islands, August 1945. Note the “Circle Arrowhead” tail code. (U.S. Air Force)

6 August 1945: At 0245 hours, a four-engine, long range heavy bomber of the 509th Composite Group, United States Army Air Forces, took off from North Field on the island of Tinian in the Marshall Group, on the most secret combat mission of World War II.

Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., United States Army Air Forces, Commanding Officer, 509th Composite group, and aircraft commander of the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., United States Army Air Corps, Commanding Officer, 509th Composite Group, and aircraft commander of the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay. (U.S. Air Force)

The Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress, 44-86292, under the command of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., was carrying Bomb Unit L-11, the first nuclear weapon to be used during war. This was a 9,700-pound (4,400 kilogram) “gun type” fission bomb, the Mark I, code-named Little Boy. It contained 64 kilograms (141.1 pounds) of highly-enriched uranium. The bomb was 120 inches (3.048 meters) long with a diameter of  28 inches (0.711 meter). Although it was a very inefficient weapon, it was considered to be such reliable design that it had not been tested.

Code named "Little Boy," the Mark I bomb unit L-11, prior to loading aboard Enola Gay, 5 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Code named “Little Boy,” the Mark I bomb unit L-11, prior to loading aboard Enola Gay, 5 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning before the mission, Colonel Tibbets had his mother’s name painted on the nose of the airplane: Enola Gay. He had personally selected this bomber, serial number 44-86292, while it was still on the assembly line at the Glenn L. Martin Company plant at Bellevue, Nebraska, 9 May 1945. The B-29 was accepted by the Army Air Corps on 15 May and flown to the 509th’s base at Wendover, Utah, by Captain Robert A. Lewis, a B-29 aircraft commander who would act as Tibbets’ co-pilot on the atomic bombing mission.

The B-29 Superfortress was designed by the Boeing Airplane Company as its Model 345. Produced in three major version, the B-29, B-29A and B-29B, it was built by Boeing at Wichita, Kansas and Redmond, Washington; by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Marietta, Georgia; and the Glenn L. Martin Company at Fort Crook (now Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska. A total of 3,943 Superfortresses were built.

The B-29 was the most technologically advanced airplane built up to that time, and required an immense effort by American industry to produce.

The B-29 Superfortress was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and an overall height of 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters). The standard B-29 had an empty weight of 74,500 pounds (33,793 kilograms) and gross weight of 120,000 pounds (54.431 kilograms).

Enola Gay at Tinian, with crew members.
Enola Gay at Tinian, with crew members.

The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.

Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., waves from the cockpit of the Silverplate Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress Enola Gay, 44-86292, just before starting engines at 02:27 a.m., 6 August 1945. (Sergeant Armen Shamlian, United States Army Air Forces. National Archives and Records Administration)

Enola Gay had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. Enola Gay carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.

With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the new engines were more reliable. Enola Gay had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).

At 09:15:17 a.m., (mission time, 8:15 a.m., local), Enola Gay was at 31,000 feet (9,450 meters) over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on the island of Honshu, an industrial center with a population of about 340,000 people. The bombardier initiated the automatic release sequence and the the atomic bomb was dropped. It fell for 44.4 seconds and detonated at an altitude of 1,968 feet (600 meters), about 800 feet (244 meters) from the aiming point, the Aioi Bridge over the Ota River.

The mushroom cloud rises over Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation. Photographed 6,500 meters from hypocenter (Seizo Yamada)
The mushroom cloud rises over Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation. Photographed 6,500 meters (4 miles) from hypocenter (Seizo Yamada)
A mushroom cloud rises over the devastated city Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation, 6 August 1945, photographed by Technical Sergeant George R. Caron, U.S. Army Air Corps, tail gunner of the B-29 Enola Gay, using a Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company K-20 aerial camera with a 6-3/8" f/4.5, 4" × 5" film negative. (National Archives RG 77-AEC)
A mushroom cloud rises 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) over the devastated city of Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation, 6 August 1945, photographed from Yoshiura, looking southward, by Technical Sergeant George R. Caron, U.S. Army Air Corps, tail gunner of the B-29 Enola Gay, using a Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company K-20 aerial camera with a 6-3/8″ f/4.5, 4″ × 5″ film negative. (U.S. Air Force)
Pyrocumulus cloud seen from ground level.
Two-tier cloud 2–5 minutes after detonation, seen from Kaitaichi, 6 miles east of Hiroshima. Photographer unknown. (The Atlantic)
Pyrocumulus cloud rising over Hiroshima. Photographer unknown. (Atomic Heritage Foundation)
A pyrocumulus cloud from the firestorm spreads laterally as it reaches the upper atmosphere. (U.S. Air Force)
A pyrocumulus cloud from the firestorm spreads laterally as it reaches the upper atmosphere. (U.S. Air Force)
Hiroshima photoggraphed by a reconnaissance airplane several hours after the explosion. (U.S. Air Force)
Hiroshima photographed by a reconnaissance airplane several hours after the explosion. (U.S. Air Force)

Ground Zero, the point on the surface directly below the explosion, was the Shima Hospital. The overpressure is estimated to have been 4.5–6.7 tons per square meter. The two-story brick building was completely obliterated. Of the patients, technicians, nurses and doctors inside, nothing remained.

The entrance to Shima Hospital is all the remained following the detonation of the atomic bomb.

The resulting explosion was approximately equivalent in explosive force to the detonation of 16,000 tons (14,515 metric tons) of TNT (16 “kilotons”). An estimated 70,000 people were killed immediately, and another 70,000 were wounded. As many as 160,000 people may have died as a result of the atomic bombing by the end of 1945. More would follow over the next few years.

The shadow of one of the victims of the atomic bomb is etched onto the steps in front of a destroyed building.
The shadow of one of the victims of the atomic bomb is etched onto the steps in front of a destroyed building.

An area of the city with a radius of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the point of detonation (“hypocenter”) was totally destroyed, and combined with the fires that followed, 4.7 square miles (12.17 kilometers²) of the city were destroyed. 69% of all buildings in Hiroshima were completely destroyed and another 6% damaged.

Hisroshima photographed in March 1946. (National Archives)
Hisroshima photographed in March 1946. (National Archives)

As soon as the bomb was released, Colonel Tibbets turned his B-29 away to avoid the blast. It was just over 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) from the detonation point when the shock waves hit, but no damage resulted. The bomber was then flown back to Tinian, landing after an elapsed time of 12 hours, 13 minutes.

Col. Tibbets’ B-29, Enola Gay, 44-86292, landing at Tinian Island, 6 August 1945. Note: “Circle R” identification on tail. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha Silverplate B-29 Superfortress 44 86292, Enola Gay, taxis to its hardstand after returning to Tinian, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha Silverplate B-29 Superfortress 44 86292, Enola Gay, taxis to its hardstand after returning to Tinian, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Enola Gay was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Tucson, Arizona, 26 July 1946, and was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution just over one month later, 30 August 1946. For decades it sat in storage at different locations around the country, but finally a total restoration was performed. Today, the B-29 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.

Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress 44-86292, Enola Gay, at teh Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress 44-86292, Enola Gay, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution )

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 August 1939

The flight crew of the FAI World Altitude Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to right: Captain Pearl H. Robey, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and R. Swofford. (FAI)

1 August 1939: Captains Clarence S. Irvine and Pearl H. Robey, United States Army Air Corps, used the Boeing Y1B-17A Flying Fortress (Model 299F), serial number 37-369, to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude with a 5,000 Kilogram Payload. The bomber climbed to 34,026 feet with a payload of 11,023 pounds.¹

On the same day, Irvine and Robey flew the Y1B-17 from Dayton, Ohio to St. Jacob, Illinois, setting an FAI World Record for Speed Over 1,000 Kilometers with a 5,000 Kilogram Payload, averaging 417.46 kilometers per hour (259.40 miles per hour).²

The flight crew of the FAI World Speed Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to Right: Capatain C.J. Crane, P.G. Miller, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and Captain pearl H. Robey. (FAI)
The flight crew of the FAI World Speed Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to Right: Captain Carl J. Crane, P.G. Miller, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and Captain Pearl H. Robey. (FAI)

The single Y1B-17A (Boeing Model 299F) was originally ordered as a static test aircraft, but when that was determined to be unnecessary, it was then used as an engine test aircraft. It was equipped with four 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-1820-51 (Cyclone G59) single-row nine-cylinder radial engines. Moss/General Electric turbo-superchargers were installed, initially on top of the wings, but were moved to the bottom of the engine nacelles.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (FAI)

The supercharged Wright R-1820-39 (Cyclone R-1820-G5) engines of the YB-17s were rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, 775 horsepower at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., for take off. By contrast, the YB-17A’s R-1820-51 engines were rated at 800 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for take off. But the turbochargers allowed the engines to maintain their sea level power rating all the way to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Both the -39 and -51 engine had a 16:11 propeller gear reduction ratio. The R-1820-51 was 3 feet, 9.06 inches (1.145 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.12 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,200.50 pounds (544.54 kilograms). 259 were produced by Wright between September 1937 and February 1940.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-269. (U.S. Air Force)

The turbo-superchargers installed on the YB-17A greatly improved the performance of the bomber, giving it a 55 mile per hour (89 kilometer per hour) increase in speed over the supercharged YB-17s, and increasing the bomber’s service ceiling by 7,000 feet (2,132 meters). The turbo-superchargers worked so well that they were standard on all following B-17 production models.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Boeing Y1B-17A was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.363 meters). Its empty weight was 26,520 pounds (12,029 kilograms). The maximum gross weight was 45,650 pounds (20,707 kilograms)

The Model 299F had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour), a maximum speed of 271 miles per hour (436 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The maximum range was 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) load of bombs, the range was 2,400 miles (3,862 kilometers).

The Y1B-17A could carry eight 600 pound (272 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber machine guns.

Following the engine tests, 37-369 was re-designated B-17A.

The Boeing Y1B-17A in flight near Mt. Rainier on 28 February 1938. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8318

² FAI Record File Number 10443

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 July 1934

Nelly Hedwig Diener, Swissair flight attendant, with the airline's Curtiss AT-32C Condor. Ms. Diener's uniform is cerulean blue. (ETH-Bibliothek, Zürich)
Nelly Hedwig Diener, Swissair flight attendant, with the airline’s blue and white Curtiss AT-32C Condor II. Ms. Diener’s uniform is azure blue. (ETH-Bibliothek, Zürich)

27 July 1934: While Ellen Church is recorded as the first airline flight attendant, or “stewardess,” in America, Fräulein Nelly Hedwig Diener was Europe’s first airline hostess. She began flying for Swissair 1 May 1934. She was known as the Engel der Lüfte (“Angel of the Skies”).

Her 79th flight departed Zürich-Dübendorf Airport enroute Stuttgart-Echterdingen Airport and then on to Berlin. The pilot was Armin Mühlematter and radio operator/navigator was Hans Daschinger. There were nine passengers on board.

Nelly Diener in the passenger cabin of Swissair's AT-32C Condor II.
Nelly Diener in the passenger cabin of Swissair’s AT-32C Condor II. (Swissair)

The airliner was a Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company AT-32C Condor II, a one-of-a-kind variant of the AT-32 which was built specifically for Swissair. It carried identification number CH-170 on its wings and fuselage. The airliner was registered HB-LAP.

The Curtiss Condor was flying in a thunderstorm at approximately 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) when the right wing structure failed and separated from the airplane. CH-170 crashed into a forest between Wurmlingen and Tuttlingen, Germany, and caught fire. All twelve persons aboard were killed.

Investigators found that a fracture had developed in the welded structure of the engine mount and wing. It was believed that it was caused by defective construction and welding techniques combined with vibration of the engine. A second fracture was caused by the violent weather.

This accident was the first for Swissair, the national airline of Switzerland.

Swissair Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, in flight.
Swissair Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, in flight.

CH-170 was one of 45 T-32 Condor II airplanes built by Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company for use as both a civil transport and a military transport or bomber. It was a twin-engine biplane with retractable landing gear. CH-170 entered service with Swissair 28 March 1934, configured with 15 passenger seats.

The airliner was 15.0 meters (49.2 feet) long with a wingspan of 25.9 meters (85 feet) and height of 4.4 meters (14.4 feet). CH-170 had an empty weight of 5,192 kilograms (11,446 pounds) and loaded weight of 7,620 kilograms (16,799 pounds).

It was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.13-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Cyclone SGR-1820-F3 (R-1820-33) single-row nine-cylinder radial engines which produced 700 horsepower at 1950 r.p.m., each, and drove three-bladed variable-pitch propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction. The SGR-1820-F3 was 3 feet, 11.8125 inches (1.214 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.75 inches (1.365 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,047 pounds 475 kilograms).

The AT-32C had a cruising speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 274 kilometers per hour (170 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) and range was 2,700 kilometers (1,678 miles).

Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, at the Swissair base at Dübendorf. (Swissair)
Curtiss AT-32C Condor II, CH-170, at the Swissair base at Dübendorf. (Swissair)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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