Tag Archives: Wright Field

11 February 1939

Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream, New York. (Associated Press)
Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Associated Press)

11 February 1939: Barely two weeks after its first flight, First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill (“Ben”) Kelsey, U.S. Army Air Corps, took the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, on a record-breaking transcontinental flight from March Field, Riverside, California, to Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York.

Lieutenant Kelsey departed March Field at 6:32 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, (9:32 a.m., Eastern) and flew to Amarillo, Texas for the first of two refueling stops. He arrived there at 12:22 p.m., EST, and remained on the ground for 22 minutes. The XP-38 took off at 12:44 p.m., EST, and Kelsey flew on to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He landed there at 3:10 p.m. EST.

Kelsey was met by Major General H.H. Arnold, and it was decided to continue to New York. The XP-38 was airborne again at 3:28 p.m., EST, on the final leg of his transcontinental flight.

The prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457, being refueled at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, during the transcontinental speed record flight, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
The prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, being refueled at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, during the transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

Kelsey was overhead Mitchel Field, New York at 4:55 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, but his landing was delayed by other airplanes in the traffic pattern.

On approach, the XP-38 was behind several slower training planes, so Lieutenant Kelsey throttled back the engines. When he tried to throttle up, the carburetor venturis iced and the engines would not accelerate, remaining at idle. The airplane crashed on a golf course short of the airport.

Wreckage of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
Wreckage of the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

The total elapsed time was 7 hours, 45 minutes, 36 seconds but Kelsey’s actual flight time was 7 hours, 36 seconds. The prototype had averaged 340 miles per hour (547 kilometers per hour) and had reached 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) during the Wright Field-to-Mitchel Field segment.

Kelsey’s transcontinental flight failed to break the transcontinental speed record set two years earlier by Howard R. Hughes by 17 minutes, 11 seconds. It should be noted, however, that Hughes H-1 Racer flew non-stop from coast to coast, while the XP-38 required two time-consuming fuel stops.

Wreck of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 on the Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
Wreck of the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, on the Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

The XP-38 was damaged beyond repair, but its performance on the transcontinental flight was so impressive that 13 YP-38s were ordered from Lockheed by the Air Corps.

Overhead view of the wrecked prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (U.S. Army)
Overhead view of the wrecked prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (U.S. Army)

Designed by an engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard, which included the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the XP-38 was a single-place, twin-engine fighter designed for very high speed and long range. It was an unusual configuration with the cockpit and armament in a center nacelle, with two longitudinal booms containing the engines and propellers, turbochargers, radiators and coolers. The Lightning was equipped with tricycle landing gear. The nose strut retracted into the center nacelle and the two main gear struts retracted into bays in the booms. To reduce drag, the sheet metal used butt joints with flush rivets.

The XP-38 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). Its empty weight was 11,507 pounds (5,219.5 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,904 pounds (6,306.75 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,416 pounds (6,992.6 kilograms).

Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. When installed on the P-38, these engines rotated in opposite directions. The XP-38 used a pair of experimental C-series Allisons, with the port V-1710-C8 (V-1710-11) engine being a normal right-hand tractor configuration, while the starboard engine, the V-1710-C9 (V-1710-15), was a left-hand tractor. Through a 2:1 gear reduction, these engines drove the two 11-foot (3.353 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers inward to counteract the torque effect of the engines and propellers. (Viewed from the front of the airplane, the XP-38’s starboard propeller turned clockwise, the port propeller turned counter-clockwise. The direction of rotation was reversed in the YP-38 service test prototypes and production P-38 models.) The engines have long propeller gear drive sections to aid in streamlining aircraft, and are sometimes referred to as “long-nose Allisons.”

The V-1710-11 and -15 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. They had a continuous power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for takeoff. The combination of a gear-driven supercharger and an exhaust-driven General Electric B-1 turbosupercharger allowed these engines to maintain their rated power levels to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The -11 and -15 were 7 feet, 10.46 inches (2.399 meters) long. The -11 was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.93 inches (0.7348 meters) wide. It weighed 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms). The -15 was 3 feet, 4.71 inches (1.034 meters) high, 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.7351 meters) wide, and weighed 1,305 pounds (591.9 kilograms).

The XP-38 had a maximum speed of 413 miles per hour (664.66 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582.4 meters).

The XP-38 was unarmed, but almost all production Lightnings carried a 20 mm auto cannon and four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose. They could also carry bombs or rockets and jettisonable external fuel tanks.

Testing continued with thirteen YP-38A pre-production aircraft and was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1947

Major E.M. Cassell, USAF. (FAI)
Major E.M. Cassell, U.S. Army Air Corps. (FAI)

10 February 1947: At Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, Major E.M. Cassell, U.S. Army Air Corps, flew a Sikorsky YR-5A helicopter, serial number 43-46628, to an altitude of 5,842 meters (19,167 feet) setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record for helicopters.¹

The Sikorsky YR-5A (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

YR-5A 43-46608 was one of one of twenty-six service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7.5 inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1.5 inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,714.6 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,222.6 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky YR-5A 43-46628. (FAI)
Sikorsky YR-5A 43-46628. (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2256

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 January 1942

Les Morris at the controls of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (XR-4, serial number 41-18874) on its first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 13 January 1942. (SikorskyHistorical Archives)
Les Morris at the controls of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (XR-4, serial number 41-18874) on its first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 14 January 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

14 January 1942: Chief Test Pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris (1908–1991) made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A at Stratford, Connecticut. The first flight lasted approximately 3 minutes, and by the end of the day, Morris had made 6 flights totaling 25 minutes duration.

The VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls.

The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted to the aft end of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated counter-clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s right side.

The VS-316A was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).

The original engine installed in the VS-316A was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 499.805-cubic-inch-displacement (8.190 liter) Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab SS-50 seven-cylinder radial  engine with a compression ratio of 5.55:1. The SS-50 was a direct-drive engine, with a maximum continuous power rating of 109 horsepower at 1,865 r.p.m., and 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. 73-octane gasoline was required. The SS50 was 2 feet, 5 inches (0.737 meters) long, 3 feet, 0-9/16 inches (0.929 meters) in diameter and weighed 306 pounds (139 kilograms).

gor Ivanovich Sikorsky and Charles Lester Morris with the XR-4 at Wright Field, Ohio, May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky and Charles Lester Morris with the XR-4 at Wright Field, Ohio, May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

Numerous modifications were made, including lengthening the main rotor blades, covering them with metal, and upgrading the engine to a 200 horsepower Warner R-550-1 Super Scarab. The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 November 1930

Boeing XP-9
Boeing XP-9 prototype A.C. 28-386, photographed 14 August 1930. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

18 November 1930: The prototype Boeing XP-9, Air Corps serial number A.C. 28-346, a single-seat, single-engine monoplane pursuit, made its first flight at Wright Field, Ohio.

This was Boeing’s first semi-monocoque aircraft, built of a sheet dural skin over metal formers. The Army Air Corps issued the contract 29 April 1928 and the aircraft was completed in September 1930, then shipped by railroad to the Army test base.

The XP-9 (Boeing Model 96) was a single-place, single-engine high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was 25 feet, 1.75 inches (7.665 meters) long. with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and height of 7 feet, 10.25 inches ( meters). The prototype’s empty weight was 2,669 pounds (1,211 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 3,623 pounds (1,643 kilograms).

The pursuit prototype was powered by a pressurized-liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,570.381-cubic-inch-displacement (25.734 liter) Curtiss Super Conqueror SV-1570-C dual-overhead camshaft (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine with 4 valves per cylinder. This engine was rated at 600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. It weighed 920 pounds (417 kilograms)

The airplane had a maximum speed of 213 miles per hour (343 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 26,800 feet (8,169 meters). Armament was a combination of two machine guns, either one .30-caliber and one .50-caliber, or two .50 caliber, mounted one each side of the fuselage, firing forward.

The placement of the single high wing seriously restricted the pilot’s vision, making landings very dangerous. The airplane was highly unstable in flight. Increasing the size of the tail surfaces did little to improve this. After just 15 flight hours, the XP-9 was permanently grounded and was used as an instructional airframe.

The performance and handling of the XP-9 was considered to be so poor that an option to buy five pre-production models was canceled.

The XP-9’s sole redeeming quality was its method of construction, which has been almost universal since that time.

Boeing XP-9 3/4 front view. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing XP-9 A.C. 28-386. (NMUSAF)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 October 1935

The Boeing Model 299 NX 13372 (XB-17), prototype four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Ployer P. Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps (1894–1935)
Major Ployer P. Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps (1894–1935)

30 October 1935: While undergoing evaluation by the U.S. Army Air Corps at Wright Field, northeast of Dayton, Ohio, the Boeing Model 299 Flying Fortress, NX13372—the most technologically sophisticated airplane of its time—took off with Major Ployer P. Hill as pilot.

Major Hill was the Chief of the Flying Branch, Material Division at Wright Field. This was his first flight in the airplane. The co-pilot was the Air Corps’ project pilot, Lieutenant Donald Leander Putt. Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot Leslie R. Tower and company mechanic C.W. Benton were also aboard, as was Henry Igo of the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company.

Immediately after takeoff, the 299 suddenly pitched up, stalled and crashed, then caught fire. Three men, Igo, Benton and Putt, were able to escape from the wreck despite injuries.

The wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, burns after the fatal crash at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
The wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, burns after the fatal crash at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Lt. R.K. Giovannoli
Lt. Robert K. Giovannoli

First Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli saw the crash and immediately went to help. He made two trips into the burning wreck to rescue Hill and Tower, though later they both died of their injuries.

Lieutenant Giovannoli was awarded the Soldier’s Medal as well as the Cheney Award, a medal for heroism. The citation for the Soldier’s Medal reads in part: “. . . Lieutenant Giovannoli, who was an onlooker, forced his way upon the fuselage and into the front cockpit of the burning plane and extricated one of the passengers. Then upon learning that the pilot was still in the cockpit, Lieutenant Giovannoli, realizing that his own life was in constant peril from fire, smoke, and fuel explosions, rushed back into the flames and after repeated and determined efforts, being badly burned in the attempt, succeeded in extricating the pilot from an entrapped position and assisted him to a place of safety.”

Lieutenant Giavannoli was killed 8 March 1936 when the right wing of his prototype Boeing P-36 fighter came off at Logan Field, near Baltimore, Maryland.

The official investigation determined that the flight crew had neglected to release the flight control gust locks which are intended to prevent damage to the control surfaces while on the ground. Test Pilot Tower recognized the mistake and tried to release the control locks, but could not reach them from his position in the cockpit.

Experts wondered if the Flying Fortress was too complex an airplane to fly safely. As a direct result of this accident, the “check list” was developed, now required in all aircraft.

Cockpit of the Boeing Model 299. (U.S. Air Force)
Cockpit of the Boeing Model 299. (Boeing)

Lieutenant Putt remained in the service and eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant General, U.S. Air Force. He died in 1988.

The largest land airplane built up to that time, the XB-17 “seemed to have defensive machine guns aimed in every direction.” A Seattle Times newspaper reporter, Roland Smith, wrote that it was a “flying fortress.” Boeing quickly copyrighted the name.

Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)

After several years of testing, the Model 299 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.

The Cheney Award is a bronze medal awarded annually to honor acts of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest performed in connection with aircraft (not necessarily military). It memorializes U.S. Army Air Service Lieutenant Bill Cheney, who was killed in action on 20 January 1918. The award was initiated by his family. It has been called the “Peacetime Medal of Honor.”

Burned-out wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, still smoldering after the crash at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Burned-out wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, still smoldering after the crash at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

Hill Air Force Base, north of Salt Lake City, Utah, was named in honor of Major Ployer Peter Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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