Tag Archives: Wright Field

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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14 October 1944

Ann Gilpin Baumgartner, circa 1944. (National Air and Space Museum)

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 jet-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.

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

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).

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Bell YP-59A-BE Airacomet 42-108775 at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
Ann G. Baumgartner stands on the wing of a North American Aviation T-6 Texan. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Ann G. Baumgartner, WASP Class 43-W-3. (U.S. Air Force)

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.

Mrs. Ann Baumgartner Carl (1918–2008)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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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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