Tag Archives: Wright Field

17 August 1946

Sergeant Lawrence Lambert is ejected from a P-61B Black Widow, 17 August 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
Sergeant Lawrence Lambert is ejected from the Northrop XP-61B Black Widow, 17 August 1946. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Sgt. Lawrence Lambert

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-2-NO Black Widow night fighter, 42-39498,¹ redesignated XP-61B. The airplane was flown by Captain 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) 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.

Sergeant Lawrence parachuted safely. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation read:

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

Lambert was later involved in rocket sled tests with Colonel John P. Stapp, M.D., Ph.D.

¹ Another source states 42-39489.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 May 1927

1st Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, United States Army Air Corps, at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. Jimmy Doolittle is seen in this photograph sitting on the turtle deck of the Curtiss P-1C Hawk. (National Air and Space Museum)

25 May 1927: At Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, First Lieutenant James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, United States Army Air Corps, was the first pilot to successfully perform an outside loop.

Flying a Curtiss P-1B Hawk pursuit, he began the maneuver in level flight at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), then pushed the nose down into a dive. When he reached 280 miles per hour (450 kilometers per hour), Doolittle continued to pitch the nose “down” and the airplane flew through a complete vertical circle, with the pilot’s head to the outside of the loop.

Lt. Jimmy Doolittle with a Curtiss P-1 Hawk, 4 February 1928. (NASM)
Lt. Jimmy Doolittle with a Curtiss P-1 Hawk, 4 February 1928. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Jimmy Doolittle attempted to repeat the outside loop at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races, with a Curtiss P-1C Hawk, serial number 29-227. The airplane’s wings came off but Doolittle parachuted to safety. (The Curtiss P-1C used wing radiators instead of the large radiator under the nose of the P-1B. This substantially reduced the aerodynamic drag which allowed the airplane to accelerate to too high an airspeed during Doolittle’s maneuver.)

A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle's Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed during a demonstration at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. (Cleveland Press)
A crowd surrounds the wreckage of Jimmy Doolittle’s Curtiss P-1C Hawk after it crashed during an aerobatic demonstration at the 1929 Cleveland National Air Races. (Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections, Cleveland Press Collection)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a pioneer aviator, he won every international air race, and had been awarded every international aviation trophy. He was also the first pilot to fly completely by reference to instruments.

During the early days of America’s involvement in World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle planned and led the Halsey-Doolittle B-25 raid on Japan. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to brigadier general. He was placed in command of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, then as a major general, the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded the 8th Air Force in England from January 1944 to September 1945. He then supervised the transition of the 8th to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and its its eventual transfer to bases on Okinawa to continue the war against Japan. World War II came to an end, however, before any of the 8th’s B-29s actually moved west.

Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)
Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Force (U.S. Army Photo C-2102)

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General.

General James Harold Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years.

Curtiss P-1B Hawk, A.C. 27-75. (U.S. Air Force)

The Curtiss P-1B Hawk was a single-place, single engine biplane pursuit, an aircraft type now known as a fighter. The airplane and its D-12 Conqueror engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Garden City, New York. It was 22 feet, 11 inches (6.985 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 6 inches (9.601 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10¾ inches (2.712 meters). It had a maximum weight of 2,841 pounds (1,288.7 kilograms).

The P-1B was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,145.1-cubic-inch-displacement (18.8 liter) Curtiss V-1150-3 (D-12D) dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4-valve 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was a direct-drive engine, rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. The D-12 was 58¾ inches (1.492 meters) long, 34¾ inches (0.883 meters) high and 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide. It weighed 680 pounds (308 kilograms).

The pursuit had a maximum speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 21,000 feet (6,400.8 meters) and range of 342 miles (550 kilometers).

The P-1B was armed with two machine guns, one .50-caliber and one .30-caliber.

The Air Corps ordered 93 Curtiss P-1 Hawks between 1925 and 1929.

Doolittle flew a Curtiss Curtiss P-1A Hawk, 25-410, similar to the P-1B that Doolittle flew into an outside loop. (U.S. Air Force)
Curtiss P-1A Hawk, 25-410, similar to the P-1B that Doolittle flew into an outside loop. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 May 1946

Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85155, similar to the jet fighter which Major Bong was flying, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85155, similar to the aircraft flown by 1st. Lt. J.J. Hancock, 19 May 1946. (U.S. Air Force)

19 May 1946: 1st Lieutenant John J. Hancock, 1st Fighter Group, U.S. Air Force, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 2,000 Kilometers (1,242.742 miles), flying a Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star. The average speed was 708.592 kilometers per hour (440.299 miles per hour).¹

The speed record was announced by General Carl A. Spaatz on 4 June 1948:

. . . Among the 20-odd new world records announced today by General Spaatz were two new marks for the 1,000 and 2,000 kilometers set by Lt. J.J. Hancock, who flew a P-80 at an average speed of 440 miles per hour on May 19. (Two thousand kilometers are approximately 1,242 miles.) The established route for 1,000 kilometers is from Wright Field to St. Louis and return. In breaking the record for 2,000 kilometers, Hancock traveled the course twice and also bettered the record for 1,000 kilometers. As noted in a forgoing paragraph the 1,000 kilometer record for this aircraft was broken only a few hours after General Spaatz’s announcement. [See TDiA, 4 June 1946]

One of the outstanding features of Hancock’s record was that the flight was made at 35,000 feet [10,668 meters] in inclement weather. He would not have been able to make the flight if radar had not been used. Flying on instruments, he was “talked around” the course by the Radar Group, who could follow him on their screen.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Volume 106, No. 55, Tuesday, 4 June 1946, Page 9 at Column 2

The individual aircraft flown by Lieutenant Hancock while setting this record is not known.

The Lockheed P-80-1-LO was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was a single-seat, single engine airplane, designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base) 8 January 1944.

The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10.5 inches (11.849 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It weighed 7,920 pounds empty (3,592.5 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms).

Early production P-80As were powered by either an Allison J33-A-9 or a General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet engine. The J33 was a licensed version of the Rolls-Royce Derwent. It was a single-shaft turbojet with a 1-stage centrifugal compressor section and a 1-stage axial-flow turbine. The -9 and -11 engines were rated at 3,825 pounds of thrust (17.014 kilonewtons). The were 8 feet, 6.9 inches (2.614 meters) long, 4 feet, 2.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,775 pounds (805 kilograms).

The P-80A had a maximum speed of 558 miles per hour (898 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 492 miles per hour (801 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Several hundred of the early production P-80 Shooting stars had all of their surface seams filled, and the airplanes were primed and painted. Although this process added 60 pounds (27.2 kilograms) to the empty weight, the decrease in drag allowed a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) increase in top speed. The painted surface was difficult to maintain in the field and the process was discontinued.

The P-80A Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber (12.7×99 NATO) machine guns mounted in the nose.

John J. Hancock, 27th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group, made a belly landing in a P-80A, 44-85325, 3 miles north east of March Field, CA, 16 February 1947.

Two years later, 22 May 1948, Jackie Cochran broke Lieutenant Hancock’s record when she flew her green piston-engine North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, to an average speed of 720.134 kilometers per hour (447.470 miles per hour) over a 2,000 kilometer course.²

¹ FAI Record File Number 8941

² FAI Record File Numbers 4479 and 12321

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 May 1942

Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, Ohio, 17 May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, Ohio, 17 May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

17 May 1942: After a 761 mile (1,224.7 kilometer) flight over five days, test pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris and Igor Sikorsky arrived at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to deliver the U.S. Army’s first helicopter, the Sikorsky XR-4. Morris hovered directly up to the base administration building and landed there. He and Sikorsky were greeted by a large group of people which included Lieutenant Colonel Hollingsworth Franklin (“Frank”) Gregory, the Army’s designated rotorcraft expert, and pioneer aviator Orville Wright.

The Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, 17 May 1942. Left to right: E. Walsh, A. Planefisch, Igor Sikorsky, Orville Wright, R. Alex, Les Morris, B. Labensky. (Sikorsky Archives)
The Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, 17 May 1942. Left to right: E. Walsh, A. Planefisch, Igor Sikorsky, Orville Wright, R. Alex, Les Morris, B. Labensky. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

From the Sikorsky factory at Stratford, Connecticut, to Wright Field, Ohio, was 761 miles (1,224.7 kilometers), direct. Because of the XR-4’s low speed and short range (weight limitations restricted the quantity of gasoline it could carry) the distance was covered in sixteen separate flights with a total flight time of 16 hours, 10 minutes. The longest single flight lasted 1 hour, 50 minutes, a new world’s record for helicopter flight endurance. Igor Sikorsky joined Les Morris for the final leg of the flight.

The XR-4 was derived from Igor Sikorsky’s experimental VS-300. The company designation was VS-316A. When turned over to the Army, it was assigned serial number 41-18874. At Wright Field the new helicopter was used for flight testing. The Army, Navy and Coast Guard each ordered several production R-4Bs. After an engine upgrade, the XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. Today, the first military helicopter is at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

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

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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