Tag Archives: Wasp

24 March 1939: Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft D17W, NR18562. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft D17W, NR18562. (FAI)

24 March 1939: During a 2 hour, 26 minute flight over southern California, Jacqueline Cochran established a U.S. National Altitude Record for Women of 9,160 meters (30,052 feet), flying a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” serial number 164, registered NR18562. A National Aeronautic Association official, Larry Therkelson, took the recording barograph from the airplane and sent it to the N.A.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C. for certification. The record had previously been held by Ruth Rowland Nichols.¹

“Were I to make the simple statement that I climbed to an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet, that statement in and of itself would mean nothing because I have often gone higher than that. But when I add that I did this in 1937 in a fabric-covered biplane without heating, without pressurization and without an oxygen mask, the elements of an accomplishment are added. I nearly froze; the pipestem between my teeth through which I tried to get an oxygen supply from a tank and connecting tube was inadequate for the purpose, and I became so disoriented through lack of oxygen that it took over an hour to get my bearings and make a landing. The difference between the pressure my body was accustomed to on the ground and the atmospheric pressure at 33,000 feet was such that a blood vessel in my sinus ruptured. All this was a part of the cumulative evidence that led up to cabin pressurization and and mandatory use of the oxygen mask above certain altitudes.”

— The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Pages 61–62.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, Jackie Cochran “. . . set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”

Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing NR18562, c/n 164, which Jackie Cochran used to set an altitude record, 24 March 1939. (Unattributed)
Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing NR18562, c/n 164, which Jackie Cochran used to set an altitude record, 24 March 1939, at the Beechcraft factory, Wichita, Kansas, 1937. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The Beechcraft D17W was a special version of the D17 production model. Only two were built. Jackie Cochran purchased it from Beech for $20,145, and it had been delivered to her by famed aviator Frank Hawks.

The “Staggerwing” was a single-engine, four-place biplane with an enclosed cabin and retractable landing gear, flown by a single pilot. The basic structure was a tubular steel framework, with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal.

The airplane was 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and loaded weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).

The standard Beechcraft D17S was equipped with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A, a nine-cylinder radial engine producing 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m at Sea Level. It had a maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour), 670 mile (1,078 kilometer) range and service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

Beechcraft D17W NR18562, c/n 164, carrying race number “13.” (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC-G engine installed in Jackie Cochran’s D17W was an experimental version of the Wasp C with 5:4 propeller reduction gearing. It produced 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 525 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., up to 9,500 feet (2,896 meters). The SC-G never entered production.

During World War II, Beechcraft D17W, c/n 164, was impressed into military service at Tarrant Field, Texas, 12 March 1943. Assigned to the United States Army Air Corps, it was given the designation UC-43K Traveler and Air Corps serial number 42-107277. It was turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 22 November 1944. The airplane was now powered by a 971.930-cubic-inch displacement (15.927 liter) Wright R-975-5 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial and was redesignated Beechcraft D17R. It was sold to the Carver Pump Company, Muscatine, Iowa, and registered NC50958. The record-setting Beechcraft Staggerwing crashed at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, 15 December 1945.

Jackie Cochran's Beechcraft D17W NX18562, c/n 164, carrying the race number "33", circa 1937. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran’s Beechcraft D17W NX18562, c/n 164, carrying the race number “33”, circa 1937. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12228: 8,761 meters (28,743 feet), 6 March 1931.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1944: Ann Gilpin Baumgartner

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 hhour (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 .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. Baumgartner. After graduating from Walnut Hill High School, Natick, Massachussetts, she studied pre-med at Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts. She graduated in 1940.

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

After being interviewed by Jackie Cochran, Baumgartner joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in 1942, 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, 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.

Following World War II, Mrs. Carl 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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26 October 1944: Gertrude Tompkins Silver

Gertrude Tompkins Silver, WASP. (U.S. Air Force)
Gertrude Vreeland Tompkins, Womens Airforce Service Pilot. (U.S. Air Force)

26 October 1944: At approximately 4:00 p.m., Civilian Pilot Gertrude V. Tompkins, took off from Mines Field, California (now Los Angeles International Airport, LAX) in a newly-manufactured North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA Mustang, 44-15669, on a flight to deliver it to New Jersey where it would be prepared for shipment to Europe. “Tommy” Tompkins was scheduled to make an overnight stop at Palm Springs, California. She never arrived.

Due to a series of errors, it was four days before the military realized that Tompkins was missing. An extensive but unsuccessful search was undertaken. Mrs. Silver was listed as Missing, Presumed Dead. She was one of 38 WASP pilots who died in service during World War II. She remains the only Womens Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) still missing.

Gertude V. Tompkins had joined the Womens Airforce Service Pilots (commonly called the “WASPs”) 12 November 1943 and trained at Avenger Field, Sweetwater Texas, as a member of Class 43-W-7. She was assigned to the 601st Squadron, 555th Air Transport Command, as a Civilian Pilot. By 26 October 1944, she had flown a total of 753.40 hours.

 North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This airplane is similar to the Mustang flown by Mrs. Silver, 26 October 1944. 44-13366 was an often-photographed Mustang. It was flown by 1st Lieutenant Ward H. Douglass, 358th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, at Station 122, RAF Steeple Morden, England. It carried the identification letters YF K. (LIFE Magazine)
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This airplane is similar to the Mustang flown by Mrs. Silver, 26 October 1944. 44-13366 was an often-photographed Mustang. It was flown by 1st Lieutenant Ward H. Douglass, 358th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, at Station 122, RAF Steeple Morden, England. It carried the identification letters YF K. (LIFE Magazine)

The WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts. Some went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.

The WASPs were not combat pilots. They ferried aircraft across oceans, tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, flew transport missions, and trained military pilots.

All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.

"Tommy" Tompkins, wearing her A-2 leather flight jacket and a pilot's white silk scarf. U.S. Air Force)
“Tommy” Tompkins, wearing her A-2 leather flight jacket and a pilot’s white silk scarf. The “Fifinella” gremlin insignia was designed by the Walt Disney Company. (U.S. Air Force)

44-15669 had been flown just 3.0 hours since leaving the assembly line at Inglewood. The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation fighter, with a total of 8,156 produced by North American at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas, and 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. It was a single-seat, single engine fighter, powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63, either a V-1650-3 or V-1650-7. These were a 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam 60° V-12 engine, which produced 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton-Standard constant speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.40 meters).

The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463.2 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,488.5 kilograms). Its maximum speed was 437 miles per hour (703.3 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the maximum range was 1,650 miles (2,655 kilometers).

The P-51D was armed with six AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition was provided  for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pairs of guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing, in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 August 1932: Amelia Mary Earhart

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega after her record-setting solo nonstop flight across North America, 25 August 1932. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega after her record-setting solo nonstop flight across North America, 25 August 1932. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

24–25 August 1932: Amelia Earhart flew her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, from Los Angeles, California to Newark, New Jersey, a distance of 3,939.25 kilometers (2,447.74 miles), in 19 hours, 5 minutes. She had departed Los Angeles Municipal Airport (now known as LAX) at 7:26:54 p.m. Pacific Time, 24 August, and landed at Newark Municipal Airport at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time the following day. This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) women’s World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing. He average speed for the flight was 206.42 kilometers per hour (128.27 miles per hour). She was the first woman to fly solo coast-to-coast. Less than a year later, she would break her own record by almost two hours.

FAI Record File Num #12342 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C (Aviation with engine)
Category: Feminine
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Distance in a straight line without landing
Performance: 3 939.25 km
Date: 1932-08-25
Course/Location: Los Angeles, CA (USA) – New York, NY (USA)
Claimant Amelia Earhart (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed Vega
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney Wasp C

A small crowd gathers around Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Model 5B Vega at Newark Municipal Airport, 25 August 1932. (AP)
A small crowd gathers around Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Model 5B Vega at Newark Municipal Airport, 25 August 1932. (AP)

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Model 5 Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane. The fuselage was molded wood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 1,650 pounds (748.4 kilograms) and gross weight is 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms). The airplane is powered by a 1,344-cubic-inch-displacement (22 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-1340C Wasp 9-cylinder radial engine producing 500 horsepower.

Just three months earlier, Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean in this same airplane, which she called her “Little Red Bus.” Today, Lockheed Vega NR7952 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 May 1906–9 August 1980: Jacqueline Cochran

COCHRAN, Jacqueline, in the cockpit of her North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, AAF 43-24760, c/n 104-25789, #13, at Cleveland Municipal Airport. (Image Number: SI-86-533, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
COCHRAN, Jacqueline, in the cockpit of her North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, AAF 43-24760, c/n 104-25789, #13, at Cleveland Municipal Airport. (Image Number: SI-86-533, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

9 August 1980: Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, Colonel, United States Air Force Reserve, passed away at her home in Indio, CA, at the age of 74. Jackie was truly a giant of aviation. She earned her pilot’s license in 1932 and was best of friends with Amelia Earhart. She helped found the WASPs in World War II. During her aviation career, Colonel Cochran won the Harmon Trophy 14 times. She set many speed, distance and altitude records. Just a few are:  Piloting a Canadair CL13 Sabre Mk 3, serial number 19200 (a license-built F-86E variant), she was the first woman to exceed the speed of sound, flying 652.337 mph on 18 May 1953. She flew the same Sabre to a world record 47,169 feet (14,377 meters). She was also the first woman to fly Mach 2, flying a record 1,400.30 miles per hour (2,300.23 kilometers per hour) in a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 11 May 1964.

The following is the official U.S. Air Force biography:

“Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Cochran was a leading aviatrix who promoted an independent Air Force and was the director of women’s flying training for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots program during World War II. She held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other male or female pilot in aviation history at the time of her death.

“She was born between 1905 and 1908 in Florida. Orphaned at early age, she spent her childhood moving from one town to another with her foster family. At 13, she became a beauty operator in the salon she first cleaned. Eventually she rose to the top of her profession, owning a prestigious salon, and establishing her own cosmetics company. She learned to fly at the suggestion of her future husband, millionaire Floyd Odlum, to travel more efficiently. In 1932, she received her license after only three weeks of lessons and immediately pursued advanced instruction. Cochran set three major flying records in 1937 and won the prestigious Bendix Race in 1938.

“As a test pilot, she flew and tested the first turbo-supercharger ever installed on an aircraft engine in 1934. During the following two years, she became the first person to fly and test the forerunner to the Pratt & Whitney 1340 and 1535 engines. In 1938, she flew and tested the first wet wing ever installed on an aircraft. With Dr. Randolph Lovelace, she helped design the first oxygen mask, and then became the first person to fly above 20,000 feet wearing one.

“In 1940, she made the first flight on the Republic P-43, and recommended a longer tail wheel installation, which was later installed on all P-47 aircraft. Between 1935 and 1942, she flew many experimental flights for Sperry Corp., testing gyro instruments.

“Cochran was hooked on flying. She set three speed records, won the Clifford Burke Harmon trophy three times and set a world altitude record of 33,000 feet – all before 1940. In the year 1941, Cochran captured an aviation first when she became the first woman pilot to pilot a military bomber across the Atlantic Ocean.

“With World War II on the horizon, Cochran talked Eleanor Roosevelt into the necessity of women pilots in the coming war effort. Cochran was soon recruiting women pilots to ferry planes for the British Ferry Command, and became the first female trans-Atlantic bomber pilot. While Cochran was in Britain, another renowned female pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, suggested the establishment of a small ferrying squadron of trained female pilots. The proposal was ultimately approved. Almost simultaneously, Gen. H.H. Arnold asked Cochran to return to the U.S. to establish a program to train women to fly. In August of 1943, the two schemes merged under Cochran’s leadership. They became the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.

“She recruited more than 1,000 Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and supervised their training and service until they were disbanded in 1944. More than 25,000 applied for training, 1,830 were accepted and 1,074 made it through a very tough program to graduation. These women flew approximately 60 million miles for the Army Air Force with only 38 fatalities, or about 1 for every 16,000 hours flown. Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for services to her country during World War II.

“She went on to be a press correspondent and was present at the surrender of Japanese General Yamashita, was the first U.S. woman to set foot in Japan after the war, and then went on to China, Russia, Germany and the Nuremburg trials. In 1948 she became a member of the independent Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in the Reserve. She had various assignments which included working on sensitive projects important to defense.

“Flying was still her passion, and with the onset of the jet age, there were new planes to fly. Access to jet aircraft was mainly restricted to military personnel, but Cochran, with the assistance of her friend Gen. Chuck Yeager, became the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre Jet owned by the company in 1953, and went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964.

“Cochran retired from the Reserve in 1970 as a colonel. After heart problems and a pacemaker stopped her fast-flying activities at the age of 70, Cochran took up soaring. In 1971, she was named Honorary Fellow, Society of Experimental Test Pilots and inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame.

“She wrote her autobiography, The Autobiography of the Greatest Woman Pilot in Aviation History with Maryann B. Brinley (Bantam Books). After her husband died in 1976, her health deteriorated rapidly and she died Aug. 9, 1980.”

The above biography is from the web site of the United States Air Force:

http://www.af.mil/information/heritage/person.asp?dec=&pid=123006481

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Beech D17W “Staggerwing”, NR18562, 1939. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Beech D17W “Staggerwing”, NR18562, 1939. (FAI)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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