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 (2.394 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.
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, X13372 ¹—the most technologically sophisticated airplane of its time—took off with Major Ployer P. Hill as pilot.
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 copyrighted the name.
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 on board, 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.
First Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli, a test pilot assigned to the Material Division at Wright Field, 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 and the Cheney Award for his heroic rescue of two men from the burning wreck of the Boeing Model 299. His citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Soldier’s Medal to First Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli, United States Army Air Corps, for heroism, not involving actual conflict with an enemy, displayed at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. When a Boeing experimental bomber crashed and burst into flames, 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.
General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 4 (1936)
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.”
The official investigation of the crash determined that the prototype bomber’s 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.
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.
Hill Air Force Base, north of Salt Lake City, Utah, was named in honor of Major Ployer Peter Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps. The co-pilot, Lieutenant Putt, remained in the service and eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant General, U.S. Air Force. He died in 1988.
Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli was born at Washington, D.C., 13 March 1904, the second of two sons of Harry Giovannoli, a newspaper editor, and Carrie Kinnaird Giovanolli. His mother died when he was six years old.
Giovannoli graduated from Lexington High School at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1920 and then attended the University of Kentucky, where, in 1925, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.). He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta (ΦΔΘ) and Tau Beta Phi (ΤΒΦ) fraternities, treasurer of the sophomore class, and president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He was employed by the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York.
Giovannoli enlisted in the United States Army in 1927. After completing the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, and the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, both in San Antonio, Texas, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve, 20 October 1928. Lieutenant Giovannoli was called to active duty 8 May 1930. In 1933, he was assigned to a one year Engineering School at Wright Field. He then was assigned to observe naval aircraft operations aboard USS Ranger (CV-4) in the Pacific Ocean.
On 8 March 1936, just a few days after returning from his temporary assignment with the Navy, Lieutenant Giovannoli was killed when the right wing of his Boeing P-26 pursuit, serial number 32-414, came off in flight over Logan Field, near Baltimore, Maryland.
At the time of his death, Lieutenant Giovannoli had not yet been presented his medals.
First Lieutenant Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli, Air Corps, United States Army, was buried at the Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky. In 1985, the Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli Scholarship was established to provide scholarships for students in mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering.
¹ At that time, experimental and restricted category aircraft were prohibited from displaying the letter “N” at the beginning of their registration mark.
14 October 1944: Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) assigned as Assistant Operations Officer of the Fighter Section, Flight Test Division, at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, made an evaluation flight of the Bell YP-59A Airacomet, becoming the first woman to fly a turbojet-propelled airplane.
The Airacomet was designed and built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation as an interceptor, powered by two turbojet engines. There were three XP-59A prototypes. The first one flew at Muroc Army Airfield on 1 October 1942. The Army Air Corps had ordered thirteen YP-59A service test aircraft. The first of these flew in August 1943 at Muroc.
The Bell YP-59A was conventional single place airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was primarily of metal construction, though the control surfaces were fabric-covered. Its dimensions differed slightly from the XP-59A, having shorter wings with squared of tips, and a shorter, squared, vertical fin. There were various other minor changes, but the exact specifications of the YP-59As are uncertain.
The primary difference, though, was the change from the General Electric I-A turbojet to the I-16 (later designated J31-GE-1). Both were reverse-flown engines using a single-stage centrifugal compressor and a single-stage turbine. The I-16 produced 1,610 pounds of thrust (7.16 kilonewtons). They were 6 feet, 0 inches long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches in diameter and weigh 865 pounds (392 kilograms),
Even with the two I-16s producing 720 pounds of thrust (3.20 kilonewtons) more than the the XP-59A’s I-A engines, the YP-59A’s performance did not improve. Engineers had a lot to learn about turbojeft engine inlet design.
The YP-59A had a maximum speed of 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and its service ceiling was 43,200 feet (13,167 meters).
The P-59 was ordered into production and Bell Aircraft Corporation built thirty P-59A and twenty P-59B fighters. These were armed with one M4 37mm autocannon with 44 rounds of ammunition and three Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns with 200 rounds per gun.
Although a YP-59A had set an unofficial altitude record of 47,600 feet (14,508 meters), the Airacomet was so outclassed by standard production fighters that no more were ordered.
Ann Gilpin Baumgartner was born 27 Aug 1918, at the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Gordon, Augusta, Georgia. She was the daughter of Edgar F. Baumgartner, engineer and patent attorney, and Margaret L. Gilpin-Brown Baumgartner. After graduating from Walnut Hill High School, Natick, Massachussetts, she studied pre-med at Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts. She played soccer and was on the swimming team. She graduated in 1939.
Miss Baumgartner worked as a reporter for The New York Times. She took flying lessons at Somerset Hills Airport, Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and soloed after only eight hours. She then bought Piper Cub to gain flight experience.
After being interviewed by Jackie Cochran, Baumgartner joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) 23 March 1943, a member of Class 43-W-3, graduating 11 September 1943 with Class 43-W-5. She was then assigned to Camp Davis Army Airfield, Holly Ridge, North Carolina, where she towed targets for anti-aircraft artillery training.
Miss Baumgartner was transferred to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio (now, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), where she flew the B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers, P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, YP-59A Airacomet, P-82 Twin Mustang fighters, and the Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 medium bomber.
While at Wright Field, Miss Baumgartner met Major William Price Carl, who was an engineer associated with the P-82. They were married 2 May 1945, and would have two children.
Miss Baumgartner was released from service 20 December 1944, when the WASPs were disbanded. Following World War II, she was employed as an instrument flight instructor for United Air Lines.
After they retired, Mr. and Mrs. Carl sailed the Atlantic Ocean aboard their sailboat, Audacious.
Mrs. Carl was the author of A WASP Among Eagles and The Small World of Long-Distance Sailors.
Ann Gilpin Baumgartner Carl died at Kilmarnock, Virginia, 20 March 2008, at the age of 89 years. She and her husband, who had died one month earlier, were buried at sea.
23 August 1937: The first completely automatic landing of an airplane took place at Patterson Field, near Dayton, Ohio. With Captain George Vernon Holloman in the cockpit, and Captain Carl Joseph Crane and Mr. Raymond K. Stout in the cabin, a Fokker Y1C-14B, Army serial number 31-381, departed Wright Field then automatically intercepted a series of four radio beacons, initiated a descent, and landed at nearby Patterson Field and braked to a stop, all without any input from the pilot.
The two military officers were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Mackay Trophy.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain (Air Corps) George V. Holloman, U.S. Army Air Corps, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flights in connection with the design and development of the airplane automatic landing system which made possible the first complete automatic airplane landing in history. Over the period of two years during which this system was under development, Captain Holloman, with utter disregard of his personal safety, performed virtually all of the great amount of flight testing which was required for the numerous items of equipment which go to make up the complete automatic landing assembly, and when finally on 23 August 1937, the first experimental automatic landing flights were made, he was in the cockpit of the airplane used for this purpose. The engineering skill, judgment, and resourcefulness displayed by Captain Holloman, and his courage in performing hundreds of test flights with highly experimental equipment, contributed largely to the ultimate successful development of the automatic landing system.
General Orders: War Department: American Decorations, 1940 (Supplement IV-1940)
After two years of research and preparation daring pilots and engineers of the Army Air Corps in 1937 began to make automatic “blind” landings without any control from the occupants of the airplane or observers on the surface. On Monday, August 23, a day when the air was bumpy and the wind decidedly adverse, a big Army plane swung over the horizon near Wright Field, at Dayton, O., and glided straight down on the runway, rolling a few yards and then coming to a stop as if it had been at all times in the hands of an expert pilot. But nobody had anything to do with this landing; There were three men in the Army’s cargo plane, and they were the three experts who had developed the apparatus. Like true scientists they had gone up and come down on this test to see for themselves just how their creation would work. . . .
—The AIRCRAFT YEAR BOOK FOR 1938, Howard Mingos, Editor, Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc., New York, 1938, Chapter II at Pages 43–50
The automatic landing system used a barometric altimeter, a radio compass and Sperry Autopilot. The pilot would fly the airplane to a predetermined altitude at a distance greater than 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the airfield. When the system was activated, the airplane automatically maintained this altitude and turned toward the outermost beacon. (Turns of up to 180° were demonstrated.)
As the airplane passed over each of the three outer beacons, the radio compass frequency would change to that of the next successive beacon, and the airplane homed in on it. Coupled with the altimeter, the system prevented the airplane from descending below the minimum altitude until it had passed the innermost beacon.
When passing over the innermost beacon, the engine was automatically throttled back to begin a controlled descent. It then set the throttle to maintain a preset rate of descent and glide slope angle until ground contact was made. Switches in the landing gear signaled the system to bring the engine to idle and apply the brakes.
During testing all of the landings were made with a crosswind.
The Fokker Y1C-14B was a variant of the F-14 commercial transport. It was a single-engine parasol-wing monoplane with conventional fixed landing gear. The airplane was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could carry up to six passengers in its enclosed cabin. It was 43 feet, 3 inches (13.183 meters) long, with a wingspan of 59 feet, 0 inches (17,983 meters) and height of 12 feet, 0 inches (3.658 meters). The airplane’s maximum takeoff weight was 7,341 pounds (3,330 kilograms).
The Y1C-14B differed from the C-14A with the installation of an air-cooled, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney R-1690-5 nine-cylinder radial engine. This engine was direct-drive and had a compression ratio of 5:1. Burning 73-octane gasoline, it was rated at 525 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The R-1690-5 was 3 feet, 8.78 inches (1.137 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.43 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter and weighed 850 pounds (386 kilograms). This engine was sold commercially as the Pratt & Whitney Hornet A2.
The Y1C-14B had a cruise speed of 133 miles per hour (214 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 14,300 feet (4,359 meters). Its range was 675 miles (1,086 kilometers).
17 August 1946: First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, U.S. Army Air Forces, was the first person to eject from an aircraft in flight in the United States.
Lambert was assigned to the Air Material Command Parachute Branch, Personal Equipment Laboratory. He was an 11-year veteran of the Air Corps. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. Previous to this test, Lambert had made 58 parachute jumps.
The test aircraft was a modified Northrop P-61B-5-NO Black Widow night fighter, 42-39498,¹ redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Captain John W.McGyrt and named Jack in the Box.
The ejection seat was placed in the gunner’s position, just behind and above the Black Widow’s pilot. A 37 mm cartridge fired within a 38 inch (0.97 meter) long gun barrel launched the seat from the airplane at approximately 60 feet per second (18.3 meters per second). Lambert experienced 12–14 Gs acceleration.
Flying over Patterson Field at more than 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), Lambert fired the ejection seat. He and the seat were propelled approximately 40 feet (12 meters) above the airplane. After 3 seconds, he separated from the seat, and after another 3 seconds of free fall, his parachute opened automatically. Automatic timers fired smaller cartridges to release Lambert from the seat, and to open the parachute.
He later said, ” ‘I lived a thousand years in that minute,” before the pilot, pulled the release. . . ‘ Following the successful jump, blue-eyed, sandy-haired Sgt. Lambert expressed only one desire: To ‘get around the biggest steak available.’ “
—Dayton Daily News, Vol. 70, No. 26, Sunday, 18 August 1946, Society Section, Page 10, Columns 4–6
Sergeant Lawrence parachuted safely. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read:
First Sergeant Lawrence Lambert, Air Corps, 6653991, for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as a volunteer for the test of human ejection from a high speed aircraft, 17 August 1946. His courageous in the face of unknown factors that might have caused serious injury or loss of life, has contributed immeasurably to aeronautical and medical knowledge of the ejection method of escape from the aircraft.
—Air Force Enlisted Heritage Institute, AFEHRI File 19–10
Sergeant Lambert also won the Cheney Award, “for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.” The medal was presented to him by General Carl A. Spaatz, in a ceremony held at Washington D.C., 15 April 1947.
Master Sergeant Lambert was later involved in rocket sled tests with Colonel John P. Stapp, M.D., Ph.D.
¹ Another source states 42-39489, however, according to Joe Baugher’s serial number web site, this airplane was “condemned to salvage Jul 19, 1945”