Tag Archives: Aircraft Accident

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort

Cornelia Clark Fort, with a PT-19A. (U.S. Air Force)
Cornelia Clark Fort with a Fairchild PT-19A Cornell trainer. (U.S. Air Force)

21 March 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer, serial number 42-42432, from the airplane factory at Downey, California, to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots.

The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane, BT-13A 42-42450, flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Stamme had approximately 250 flight hours. Apparently trying to impress Miss Fort, Stamme attempted to perform a barrel roll around her airplane, but struck her wing.

Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Merkel, Texas, and Cornelia Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

Cornelia Clark Fort was the first female pilot killed while on active military duty. She was 24 years old. Miss Fort was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennesee.

Frank Edward Stamme, Jr., was born in Illinois, 3 January 1920. He was the first of four children of Frank Edward Stamme, a machinist, and Bertha Catherine Peters Stamme. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps at San Francisco, California, 5 November 1941. Stamme was released from military service 16 January 1947. He died 19 February 1987.

Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Cornelia Clark Fort. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Cornelia Clark Fort was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee, 5 February 1919, the fourth of five children of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort and Louis Clark Fort. Her father was a prominent surgeon who co-founded the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The family lived at Fortland, an estate east of Nashville. Cornelia attended the Ward-Belmont School in Nashville, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1939.

After taking a flight with a friend, Jack Caldwell, in January 1940, she pursued an interest in aviation, starting flight lessons the following day.  She had earned her pilot certificate and flight instructor certificate by June 1940, which made her the first woman to become an instructor at Nashville. With the Civilian Pilot Training Program, she first went to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she taught for about three months, then went on to Honolulu.

Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)
Pilots of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron at Long Beach Army Airfield, 7 March 1943. Left to right, Barbara Towne, Cornelia Clark Fort, Evelyn Sharp, Barbara Erickson and Bernice Batten. The airplane is a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. (Texas Women’s University)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Cornelia Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942. In September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. She was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, California.

Air & Space/Smithsonian quoted from a letter written by Fort in a January 2012 article:

“I dearly loved the airports, little and big. I loved the sky and the airplanes, and yet, best of all I loved the flying. . . I was happiest in the sky at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down, and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”

—Cornelia Clark Fort, 1942.

Cornelia Clark Fort’s military identification card. (Nashville Public Library)

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet (12.802 meters) and height of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,375 pounds (1,531 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,496 pounds (2,039 kilograms).

The BT-13A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985-21, R-985-25, or R-985-27, nine-cylinder radial engine. These engines had a compression ratio of 6:1, with Normal Power ratings from 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at Sea Level to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., and 440 horsepower to 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for Takeoff. They were direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed variable-pitch propeller. The –21, –25 and –27 engines were 3 feet, 6.38 inches (1.076 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.75 inches (1.162 meters) in diameter and weighed from 648 to 685 pounds (294–311 kilograms).

The BT-13A had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,650 feet (6,599 meters) and range was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Vultee built 9,525 BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant basic trainers between 1940 and 1945. Of these, 7,037 were the BT-13A and SNV-1 variant. By the end of World War II, the Vultee Valiant was considered obsolete and was replaced in U.S. service by the North American AT-6 Texan.

Vultee BT-13A Valiant 42-43130, the same type aircraft flown by Cornelia Fort and Frank Stamme, 21 March 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 March 1937: Ameilia Mary Earhart

Amelia Earhart's damaged Lockheed Electra 10E, at Luke Field, Ford Island, 20 March 1937. Earhart is standing in the open cockpit hatch. (AP/Wichita Eagle)
Amelia Earhart’s damaged Lockheed Electra 10E, at Luke Field, Ford Island, 20 March 1937. Earhart is standing in the open cockpit hatch. (AP/Wichita Eagle)

20 March 1937: After completing repairs and preparation for the second leg of her around-the-world flight—Hawaii to Howland Island—Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, was moved from Wheeler Field to Luke Field on Ford Island on 19 March to take advantage of the longer, fully paved runway.

Paul Mantz had warmed the engines at 5:00 a.m., 20 March, then shut them down. He would not be aboard for this flight. Amelia Earhart, Captain Manning and Captain Noonan boarded the Electra at 5:30 a.m. and Earhart restarted the engines. At 5:40 a.m., she began to taxi to the northeast corner of the runway. Weather was good, with a ceiling of 3,000 feet, visibility 3,500 feet in pre-dawn darkness, and wind from the south at 2 miles per hour.

At 5:53 a.m., Amelia Earhart accelerated for takeoff. A United States Army Board of Investigation report describes what happened next:

THE CRASH:

On reaching the end Miss Earhart turned and after a brief delay opened both throttles. As the airplane gathered speed it swung slightly to the right. Miss Earhart corrected this tendency by throttling the left hand motor. The airplane then began to swing to the left with increasing speed, characteristic of a ground loop. It tilted outward, right wing low and for 50 or 60 feet was supported by the right wheel only. The right-hand landing-gear suddenly collapsed under this excessive load followed by the left. The airplane spun sharply to the left on its belly amid a shower of sparks from the mat and came to rest headed about 200 degrees from its initial course. There was no fire. Miss Earhart and her crew emerged unhurt. The visible damage to the airplane was as follows:- Right wing and engine nacelle severely damaged, left engine nacelle damaged on under side, right hand rudder and end of stabilizer bent. The engines were undamaged. The oil tanks were ruptured. . . .

FINDINGS:  . . .after a run of 1200 feet the airplane crashed on the landing mat due to collapse of the landing gear as a result of an uncontrolled ground loop; the lack of factual evidence makes it impossible to establish the reason for the ground loop; that as a result of the crash the airplane was damaged to an extent requiring major overhaul. . . .

—excerpts from PROCEEDINGS OF A BOARD OF OFFICERS CONVENED TO INVESTIGATE THE CRASH OF MISS AMELIA EARHART AT LUKE FIELD, 20 MARCH 1937

The Electra was extensively damaged. There were no injuries, but the Electra was sent back to Lockheed at Burbank, California, aboard the passenger liner, SS Lurline, for repair.

At the time of the accident, NR16020 had flown 181 hours, 17 minutes, total time since new (TTSN).

Paul Mantz, who was not aboard during the crash, stands in the Electra’s cockpit. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are standing on the wing, 20 March 1937. (AP/Wichita Eagle)
Paul Mantz, who was not aboard during the crash, stands in the Electra’s cockpit. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are standing on the wing, 20 March 1937. (AP/Wichita Eagle)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 November 1934, Hélène Boucher, Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur

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Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

30 November 1934: While flying her new Caudron C.430 Rafale near Guayancourt, France, Hélène Boucher crashed into a forested area at Voison-le-Bretonneaux. Apparently, the airplane stalled while on landing approach, rolled, and then hit the trees. The airplane was destroyed and Mlle Boucher was critically injured. She died while enroute to a hospital at Versailles. She was 26 years old.

Hélène Boucher’s funeral was held at Chapelle des Invalides, the first time that a woman had been so honored. Posthumously, the government of France awarded her the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. She is buried at the cemetery in Yermenonville

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher was born at Paris, 28 May 1908, the daughter of Leo Boucher, an architect, and Helen Elizabeth Dureau Boucher. Following World War I, she attended high school at the Lycée Montaigne and then the Collège Sévigné, both in Paris.

Boucher learned to fly at the Aero Club of Landes, Mont-de-Marsan, making her first flight on 4 July 1930. She quickly earned a tourist pilot license, then in 1932, a public transport license. The Aero-Club de France awarded her its pilot certificate number 182.

Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France. (Escadrille Féminine Méditerranéenne)
Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France. (Escadrille Féminine Méditerranéenne)

She participated in a number of international and long distance air races, such as the Raid Paris-Saigon in 1933. She specialized in aerobatics and her performances made her a popular figure at air shows.

During July and August 1934, Mlle Boucher set 11 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for speed and altitude flying a Caudron C.450, C.530, and a Mauboussin-Peyret Zodiac M.120.¹

F-AMVB was the second of two specially-built Société Anonyme des Avions Caudron C.430 Rafale racing airplanes, c/n 02/6886. (Rafael means gust: “a brief, strong, rush of wind.”) It was registered 18 October 1934 (Certificate of Registry 3947).

Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.
Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.

The C.430 was a two-place, single-engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was constructed of wood, with the fuselage, wings and tail surfaces covered with plywood. Fuel was carried in two tanks in the fuselage, one forward of the cockpit and another placed between the pilot and passenger positions. The wings had no dihedral and were equipped with split flaps.

The Caudron C.430 was 7.100 meters (23 feet, 3.53 inches) long with a wingspan of 7.700 meters (25 feet, 3.15 inches)and height of 1.88 meters (6 feet, 2.02 inches). Its empty weight was 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds) and gross weight, 820 kilograms (1,808 pounds).

The airplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 6.333 liter (386.463 cubic inch) Renault Bengali 4Pdi inverted four-cylinder overhead-valve (OHV) engine, rated at 120 cheval-vapeur (horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m., and 150 horsepower for takeoff. This was a direct-drive engine, turning a two-bladed Hélices Ratier adjustable-pitch propeller. The 4Pdi was 1.28 meters (4 feet, 2.4 inches) long, 0.93 meters (3 feet, 0.6 inches) high and 0.52 meters (1 foot, 8.5 inches) wide. It weighed 135 kilograms (298 pounds).

This gave the C.430 a cruise speed of 270 kilometers per hour (168 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 305 kilometers per hour (190 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 5,750 meters (18,865 feet) and range was 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

The remaining Caudron C.430 Rafael, c/n 01, F-PJHB, is in at Musée Régional de l’Air, Angers Loire Aéroport, Marcé, Pays de la Loire, France, painted as Mlle Boucher’s blue and red racer with her registration markings, F-AMVB.

Tombe de l'aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)
Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4483, 4494, 4496, 12005, 12032, 12033, 12034, 12110, 12111, 12112, and 14860.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 July 1934: Nelly Hedwig Diener, Engel der Lüfte

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)
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. (Swissair)
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 retracatable landing gear. It 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 (11,446.4 pounds) and loaded weight of 7,620 kilograms (16,799.2 pounds). It was powered by two 1,823-cubic-inch-displacement (29.88 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright Cyclone SGR-1820-F 3 Cyclone single-row 9-cylinder radial engines which produced 720 horsepower, each, and drove three-bladed variable pitch propellers. The AT-32C had a cruising speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 274 kilometers per hour (170.3 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)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 July 1911: “Denise Moore”

“Denise Moore” (1876–1911)
“Denise Moore” (1876–1911)

21 July 1911: Denise Moore was a popular figure in aviation circles in France.  She had been taking flying lessons at the Henri Farman Aviation School at Étampes, about 30 miles south of Paris.

She took off at 6:20 p.m. in Farman’s biplane, on her third flight of the day, and made two circuits of the field. On her third turn, the aircraft banked steeply and pitched downward. It crashed and Ms. Moore was killed. She was the first woman to be killed in an aircraft accident.

Denise Moore was a pseudonym for Mrs. E. J. Cornesson, widow of Denis Cornesson. She was the former Miss E. Jane-Wright. She assumed the name to keep her family from discovering that she was learning to fly.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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