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28 February 2014

B-1B with its Nose to the Ground

On the 5th of October in 1989, a B-1B Lancer departed Dyess Air Force Base with four crew on a routine training flight. Three hours later, the flight crew discovered that the aircraft had a hydraulics fault. As they came in to land at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, the front landing gear failed to lower.

Ex-28th BW Rockwell B-1B Lancer 85-0070

They circled the airfield for four hours, twice being refuelled by an airborne tanker, as they struggled to lower the nose wheel. Supporting the crew on the ground were military personal and mechanics for the aircraft manufacturer; however they were unable to resolve the issue.

The Air Force had the flight crew fly a further three hours and over 1,000 miles to Edwards Air Force Base, where they circled for another two hours. Air Force officials decided to land the plane on Rogers Dry Lake. Rogers Dry Lake bed is a natural clay runway and is the site of most of the Space Shuttle landings (see Brent’s comment below – it looks like I got this wrong).

The $280 million B-1B Lancer is a four-engine supersonic bomber which is 146 ft (44.5 m) long and a wingspan of 137 ft (41.8m). This is almost the size of a DC-10.

The B-1B has a maximum speed of Mach 1.25 (721 knots, 830 mpg, 1,340 km/h) at 50,000 feet and a range of 6,500 nautical miles. A total of 100 B-1Bs were produced.

The bomber made several low-level passes, which confirmed that the landing gear was still partially retracted. They attempted to jar the nosewheel loose with a touch and go. When that failed, they made a final approach onto the lake at 18:15 local time.

This newly released video of the landing was emailed to me by a reader and it is simply amazing.

None of the crew was hurt and the aircraft unbelievably only suffered minimal damage.

Once on the ground, one of the pilots told the press, “It’s been a great day for flying, except for a few glitches.”

19 July 2013

American Spitfire Pilot in 1944 and 2005

You all know by now how much I love Spitfires. My list of Five Facts I Never Knew about Spitfires needs expanding: I never knew that a Spitfire could make it from Oxford to Berlin and back. I realised that the short-range aircraft must have had special fuel tanks for these reconnaissance flights and started to look into it. To be honest, the whole story is pretty amazing. Let me start again…

During the Second World War, the US Airforce planned for their fighter units to fly the Bell P-39 Airacobra, but it quickly became clear that the P-39 lacked the manoeuvrability to fight against modern Japanese and German aircraft. The Spitfire provided the alternative.

Uncle Sam’s Spitfires — Articles | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | history | Spitfire Mk. V | Spitfire Mk. VIII

The first P-39 unit to arrive in England was the 31st Fighter Group – the first unit to have taken the Airacobra operational the previous year – though they arrived before their aircraft. In the interim, they were equipped with the Spitfire Mk. V. By the time the similarly-equipped 52nd Fighter Group arrived, the RAF had been able to convince the Americans of the unsuitability of the P-39 for aerial combat in western Europe. As a result, both groups were equipped with Spitfire Mk. Vs.
Uncle Sam’s Spitfires had written a little-known chapter in US fighter history. Though the USAAF used over 600 Spitfires during the war, the aircraft was never given a US designation, and little publicity was given to the exploits of the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups – nothing like what they would get in the summer of 1944 during the wild air battles over Ploesti when they flew Mustangs. This is most likely a good example of the US military’s overall dislike of having to admit to using “NIH” (Not Invented Here) equipment.

Thus, the Spitfire became one of very few foreign aircraft used within the US Airforce. Spitfires were also used by the US Navy after the Normandy landings.

American Spitfire Pilot World War II. Lt John S Blyth of the 14th Squadron, 7th Photo Group, Mount Farm, Oxfordshire, UK

One of the American pilots flying the Spitfires in England was Lieutenant Colonel John Blyth. Blyth joined the Oregon National Guard in 1938 when he was 15. His son, Scott Blyth, was kind enough to tell me about his background. Scott’s comments are in the photo captions and the blockquotes.

My dad was flying F-5s (P-38 variant) at the time and transferred over to the 14th Squadron to fly Spitfire MK XIs in April 1944. The flight jacket is from the 22nd Squadron. The 7th Photo Group was based at Mount Farm, Oxfordshire, UK.

My father signed up for the Flying Sergeants program which allowed men with only a high school education to become pilots.

They were known as the Flying Sergeants because they received the rank of staff sergeant when they graduated from flight training. For most, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fly. But pilot training was tough. According to Lee Arbon who wrote They Also Flew, half the candidates were cut after the medical physical and only a quarter made it out of training.

Lieutenant Colonel Blyth made it.

He trained on twin engine aircraft and went through all the phases of pilot training beginning in California and finishing up at Petersen Field in Colorado Springs. They flew F-4s which was the photo recon variant of the P-38 Lightning. He was promoted from Flight Officer to Lieutenant before shipping out for England in 1943.

22nd Squadron, 7th Photo Group, Mount Farm, UK

He was based with the 22nd Squadron of the 7th Photo Group at Mount Farm, Oxfordshire, UK. He flew about 15 missions in F-5s which was also a variant of the P-38.

Blyth wasn’t fond of the F-5s. He’d wanted to fly a Spitfire since he saw photographs of them as a teenager after the Battle of Britain, so when he heard about Spitfires on loan to the US Air Force, he immediately tried to find out more. When the Spitfire MK XIs arrived at Mount Farm a few weeks later, Blyth passed on the opportunity to be promoted to Captain and instead requested a transfer to the 14th Squadron.

Lt. John S. Blyth of the 14th Squadron 7th PRG at Mount Farm, Oxfordshire, UK 1944. I’m not certain if this was his first mission in a Spitfire Mk XI but that wouldn’t surprise me. He flew a number of sorties in F-5s (P-38s) before that when he was with the 22nd Squadron 7th PRG.

He flew thirty-six reconnaissance missions in the Spitfire and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

The photo reconnaissance planes had no guns and the missions were flown without an escort. Instead of weapons, the Spitfire Mark XI had leading edge gas tanks for a longer range, which allowed the pilots to take the plane as far as Berlin to take photographs of the enemy targets. They had cameras mounted on the back. The planes were painted sky blue to help them “blend in” but it didn’t seem to do much good. Colonel Blyth said he regularly came under fire and all he could do was keep flying and try to ignore it.

This was supposedly assigned to my father Lt John S Blyth, 14th Squadron, 7th Photo Group, Mount Farm, UK. The reality was that just about every pilot in the squadron flew it at one time or another. The invasion stripes suggest that this photo was from June, 1944. Please note the iron cross mission marks. I guess the theory was that the Luftwaffe pilots would take extraordinary precautions if they met up with a lone UNARMED Spitfire MK XI over their territory displaying this many iron crosses. The previous statement was meant to be a joke.

On the 12th of September in 1944, Blyth, who by now had risen in the ranks to Captain, got into trouble while on a reconnaissance mission in Germany. His headset cord got caught in the manual system for the landing gear and the landing gear got locked up. He flew around trying to get the wheels down and failed. In the end, Blyth was forced to make a belly landing in the Spitfire Mk XI PA 944.

It was a day he’d never forget.

USAAF Spitfire MK XI Belly Landing PA 944

For many years my father had told us of how Doc Savage had taken moving footage of the belly landing. We figured we would never see it as Savage was probably dead and the footage was lost forever.

John “Doc” Savage, was based at RAF Mount Farm with Lieutenant Colonel Blyth. He filmed an amazing amount of footage at the base on his 16mm camera, documenting his World War II experience. In 2005 after his death, his descendents restored and digitised the film to make sure that it was preserved. Wouldn’t it be great, they thought, if they could find the men in the World War II footage and show it to them? In the process, they found a clip of a Spitfire doing a belly landing at RAF Mount Farm and began to search for the pilot.

William Lorton I believe sent a letter to every John Blyth in America who could potentially have been the pilot. My father responded to the letter. Lorton and his crew showed up at my parent’s home in Washington State. The intent was to surprise him with the footage of his wheels up landing and they succeeded.

They knew he’d probably never seen the footage. They asked if he would help them with a documentary they were working on and that they had footage from the war that they wanted to show him. Lieutenant Colonel Blyth was 83 years old when they went to see him.

The following 15-minute video is the amazing result of that visit, when Lieutenant Colonel Blyth sees the footage of his landing for the first time and talks about his photo-reconnaissance flights from Oxford to Berlin and back in the Spitfire Mk XI. The stories of Doc Savage and Lieutenant Colonel Blyth make for compelling viewing:

The mini-documentary Spitfire 944 is also available in HD on iTunes.

14 June 2013

Airbus A350 Maiden Flight

The Airbus A350 maiden flight was today and wow, but that aircraft is gorgeous!

A new chapter has opened in Airbus’ 43 year history as the first A350 XWB, the world’s most efficient large twin-engined commercial aircraft, powered aloft this morning for its maiden flight at Blagnac in Toulouse, France at 10.00 hours local time. An international crew of six is on board, comprising two Flight Test Pilots, one Test Flight Engineer and three Flight Test Engineers. At the controls of the A350 XWB’s first flight are Peter Chandler, Airbus’ Chief Test Pilot, and Guy Magrin, Project Pilot for the A350 XWB.

Here’s the flight path it flew:

For those of us who couldn’t be in France, Airbus posted photographs and updates throughout the day on the Airbus Facebook page although I have to admit, I watched it on Twitter:

What an exciting day it has been. To finish it off, of course, I had to play around with the 360 cockpit view.

Still not had enough? The aircraft is safely on the ground now but you can still watch the recording from the live-stream of the event:

I’ve got to admit: I really like living in the future.

15 March 2013

How Far Did She Fall? The Amazing Story of Vesna Vulović

This blog post started, as so many do, over a general conversation at the pub. We were actually talking about Felix Baumbartner, the man who jumped from the edge of space last year and made numerous records, including the highest freefall ever.

I remembered there was a woman who held the record for the longest freefall without a parachute, who fell for 33,000 feet and survived. Funnily enough, I could remember the distance but not her name or how exactly she’d managed to survive this unbelievable fall from an aircraft. We had an amusing round of guesses (“She fell into jungle canopy which broke her fall in stages?” “She landed in very soft powdery snow?”) and when I got home, I looked it up.

Her name was Vesna Vulović and she was a flight attendant on JAT Yugoslave Airlines Flight 367, en route from Stockholm to Belgrade on the 26th of January in 1972. The DC-9 broke up midflight at 33,000 feet (10,160 metres) and crashed into a wooded area in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Amazingly, Vesna Vulović was discovered alive in the wreckage, pinned down by a food cart.

Vesna’s Fall • Damn Interesting

A German man, upon arriving at the crash site, found all of the plane’s passengers dead, save one. Vesna was lying half outside of the plane, with another crew member’s body on top of her, and a serving cart pinned against her spine. The man had been a medic in the second world war, and did what he could for her until further help arrived.

At the hospital, her parents were told that although there was still life in her body, she would not survive. Her skull was broken and hemorrhaging, both of her legs were broken, and she had three crushed vertebrae. But three days later, she awoke from her coma, and asked for a cigarette.

Vulović has no memory of the crash. She told interviewers that she was not scheduled to be on the flight that day but her schedule was mixed up with another stewardess named Vesna and she was pleased to take the chance to fly to Denmark.

The official accident report by the Czechoslovak Investigation Commission determined that a bomb on board exploded in the front baggage compartment which broke the aircraft in half.

Scan of the English Translation of the Official Report

The beginning of destruction of the aircraft was in the altitude of 10050 m, which is testified by a sudden cutting off the function of the flight recorder and the voice-recorder. The cause was explosion of an explosive, which was enveloped in an ignition charge. Composition of the explosive and ignition charge has been determined. The explosive with ignition charge was placed in a suitcase of brown-red colour, ignited by an exploder /electric/, timed probably by an alarmclockwork, on which traces of the explosives were found. Traces on the frame of a black coloured trunk of the size 45 x 70 cm testify, that inside was placed the brow-red suitcase containing the explosive with ignition charge and the timing device. All this was packed with newprint and rags.

However, no one ever took credit for what was apparently a terrorist attack. The authorities blamed a Croatian nationalist group but no arrests were ever made.

There was another odd anomaly: officials explained that Vulović survived because she was in the rear of the aircraft but she stated in interviews that she was discovered in “the middle part of the plane”. She has no recollections of the crash at all. She told reporters that the last thing she remembered before waking up in hospital was greeting passengers as they boarded the plane.

It’s actually not at all clear how she survived the fall. The investigation said it was because she was away from the blast in the back, but Vulović and eyewitnesses deny this. News reports at the time stated that the food cart pinning her into place acted as a safety belt, keeping her safely protected by the aircraft fuselage during the impact. Vulović said she was told that it might have been her low blood pressure which saved her by causing her to pass out before her heart could burst.

But here’s the oddity that caught my eye. In the first paragraph of her Wikipedia entry and every news article about her, it says that she is in the Guinness Book of Records for surviving the highest fall without a parachute.

But she isn’t. There’s no reference to Vesna Vulović at all and the category simply doesn’t exist. I soon discovered that the record was taken off the books in 2009, when a representative of Guinness World Records said, “It seems that at the time Guinness was duped by this swindle just like the rest of the media”.

The swindle?

Two investigative journalists, Peter Hornung-Andersen and Pavel Theiner, published a shocking exposé of the report, saying that the aircraft was not the victim of a terrorist attack at all but was shot down by Czechoslovakian Mig fighter jet at low level.

Vesna Vulovic’s record fall Communist propaganda, say journalists | World news |

“It is extremely probable that the aircraft was shot down by mistake by the Czechoslovak air force, and in order to cover it up the secret police conceived the record plunge,” he said.

“The Czechoslovak secret police managed to spread this wild tale throughout the world,” he added. “No doubts have ever been expressed regarding the fall. The story was so good and so beautiful that no one thought to ask any questions.” The Yugoslav secret police also helped to uphold that version of the story, he said. Black boxes were never found.

The investigation, partially based on “secret documents from the Czech civil aviation authority”, claimed that the aircraft had an emergency situation and descended unexpectedly, without radio communication. This brought the aircraft close to a sensitive military area, where it was perceived as a threat and shot down by Czech aircraft. The crash debris was spread over a small area, which they cited as further proof that the aircraft disintegrated at low level, probably around 800 meters (2,600 feet) above the ground. Eyewitnesses from a village near the crash site said they saw the aircraft intact below the clouds and some stated that they heard a second aircraft directly before the crash.

The Czech Civilian Aviation Authority referred to the report as “speculation” and stated that they would not comment on the detail.

Last year, exactly 40 years after the incident, Czech magazine Technet wrote about the incident and referred to the report as a conspiracy theory. The article cited a military expert who argued that there where 150-200 people involved in the investigation and it would be impossible to cover up such an event. Anti-aircraft missiles would have been seen on radar and furthermore, it would have been impossible, she said, to hide the evidence of the missiles in the wreckage of the crash.

Google Translate: Serial: Terrorist attack over Czechoslovakia survived only flight attendant fell from 10 km

“Everything indicates that we can reject the theory of anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down the cash system of NAD. Investigative teams conclusions are logical. Investigation could not be manipulated because it involved members of the Yugoslav Party and independent professionals.”

Vulović has said in interview that she does not believe the conspiracy theory but added that as she does not recall the crash, she can’t shed any light on the matter.

As it happens, it makes no difference to her fall: she would have reached terminal velocity after falling 450 m (1,500 feet), so whether she fell from the sky at 33,000 feet or 2,600 feet, the impact was the same. Although she may have lost her place in the Guinness Book of World Records, her free fall is still amazing.

If you found this post interesting, you’ll probably like Why Planes Crash, available now for just $3.99

If you don’t have an e-book reader and would prefer the book in PDF format, just email me at and we’ll work something out.

15 February 2013

Horseplay in a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

The Lockheed C-141 Starlifter is a strategic airlifter: a cargo aircraft specifically used to transport personnel or materials over long distances. This military aircraft has appeared in every US conflict from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

It’s a big, well-stacked, beautiful plane built for comfort, not speed. (A lot like me, actually!)

So I was excited to find that a former C-141 pilot has made an excellent website celebrating the aircraft: C141HEAVEN – All there is to know, and lots more, about the Lockheed C141 Starlifter! This wonderful resource focuses on a single aircraft but with a wide remit, including personal recollections from pilots, historical documentation, newspaper articles and videos.

If you know me, it’ll come as no surprise to know that I was fascinated by the C-141 Lifetime Mishap Summary on the site. Especially this report, which is the only official incident I have heard of which was caused by by a cigar in the cockpit.

C-141 Vance AFB 1982

Synopsis: The highly experienced crew was returning to base from a stateside airdrop mission. During some horseplay, cigar ash was introduced into a crew oxygen hose. The resulting oxygen-fed fire ignited floor coverings and filled the cockpit with dense sooty smoke. After some difficulties, the crew was able to recover the aircraft with only minor injuries.

Returning from Pope to Norton after an airdrop mission, the pilot in the left seat decided to light a cigar.

The pilot, who was in the jumpseat, complained and donned his oxygen mask. In response, the left seater covertly disconnected the jumpseater’s mask from the oxygen regulator hose, with the intent of putting smoke into the hose. Unfortunately, lit cigar ash accidentally entered the oxygen regulator hose before the hose was reconnected.

The jumpseater smelled the smoke and selected “Emergency” on the oxygen regulator. When that didn’t help, he removed the mask to clear the smoke. When he disconnected the mask from the regulator hose, a “2-foot” sheet of fire leapt from the hose. It ignited an oxygen-fed fire that spread to the flooring.

To put out the fire, the left-seat pilot shut off the crew oxygen system. At about the same time, the engineer while switching to “MAX” airflow, inadvertently hit the bleed duct overheat test switch, shutting off the engine bleed valves and disabling the air-conditioning packs. The crew started a descent but soon became hypoxic.

The crew oxygen system was again turned on. The fire reignited with a fireball large enough to melt components on the Flight Engineer’s panel.

The crew eventually extinguished the fire, reset the bleed valves, and recovered to the nearest military base. Members of the crew suffered only minor injuries (but major embarrassment).

I recommend having a browse around the full website: C141HEAVEN. In one incredibly touching blog post, he tells how he managed to return the ID tags to the wife of a pilot who crashed in 1975, after the Parks Service had failed to find the family. The website is still being updated and is a fitting testament to an exceptional aircraft.

04 January 2013

We’re still at 2,000 feet, right? Eastern Air Lines Flight 401

Forty years ago on the 29th of December in 1972, Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades. It was an uneventful flight from JFK until shortly before they were at the approach at Miami Airport. When the flight-crew lowered the landing gear, they did not receive confirmation that the nose wheel was down and locked. The indicator light did not come on. The flight crew investigated the problem as jet circled west over the Everlades at 2,000 feet.

A lightbulb had burned out in the cockpit. That was all. But the issue distracted the crew completely.

The Captain recycled the landing gear but the green light did not come on. The flight crew confirmed they were climbing to 2,000 feet to investigate the problem. They were unsure if the indicator light was faulty or the landing gear had failed to deploy. There was a manual override on the landing gear, so that even if the hydraulics were faulty, the landing gear could still be lowered.

The Captain, the First Officer and the Second Officer were joined by a passenger sitting in the jumpseat, a maintenance engineer returning to Miami. Four qualified aviation professionals were now looking at the problem. The Second Officer descended into the forward electronics bay to check on the nose gear. All four men in the cockpit focused on trouble-shooting the problem and not a single one was watching the flight instruments. No one was flying the plane.

Eastern Airlines Flight 401: The Ghosts of Memories Past by Eric D. Olson

In unison, we looked up to see the silhouette of a Lockheed L1011 flying westbound at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. It was somewhere between 11:30 pm and 11:35 pm, a fact that I specifically remember because I took the time to look at my wristwatch and comment to Bill. The underside of the L1011 was reflecting the ground lighting from the airport and the surrounding city which made it easy to identify the aircraft type although we couldn’t identify the airline. (The largest L1011 operators then at MIA were Eastern Airlines and Delta Airlines, but I don’t recall seeing any airline markings when the L1011 was overhead.)

What was so strange was that it was there in the first place. It was rare for commercial airliners to fly westbound directly overhead Opa locka Airport at such a relatively low altitude. The control tower at Opa locka shut down at 11pm each evening back then so the L1011 had to be in contact with Miami Approach Control, since we assumed it was ultimately being vectored for an approach to MIA.

The Captain leaned against the yoke while turning to speak to the flight engineer. This pressure on the control stick caused the aircraft to enter a slow descent. The autopilot – inadvertently set to control wheel steering mode – held the pitch attitude as set by the pilot, continuing the gentle descent while the crew continued to investigate the possible nose gear malfunction.

The First Officer jammed the nose gear light lens assembly when he was trying to replace it. As the Captain and the First Officer discussed the jammed assembly, a chime sounded to alert the crew that they had descended below 2,000 feet but no one paid any attention.

The Second Officer complained that he couldn’t see anything in the dark. The maintenance specialist who was in the jump seat entered the electronics bay to help him.

There was nothing wrong with the nose gear. A $12 lightbulb in the control panel had burnt out.

Remembering Eastern Flight 401: The Story of the Crash |

The Lockheed L-1011 began a stealth descent. No one in the cockpit noticed. In the cabin, all readied to land.

Ruiz, seated facing the back of the plane, walked over to flight attendant Pat Ghyssels and wondered why the aircraft was flying away from the city lights.

“She said to me: ‘Oh, Mercy, stop complaining. It’s the holidays. If we’re a little late, it’s overtime,’‚” Ruiz said.

The approach controller asked how they were doing, noticing that the flight was at 900 feet on his radar display. He wasn’t sure if it was a display issue or the aircraft but he said he wasn’t worried.

Captain Loft, finally convinced that the problem was simply the bulb, told the controller that they were ready to turn around and come back in. At 23:41:47, the approach controller confirmed their clearance. The aircraft started the turn back towards Miami.

The flight-crew noticed something amiss seconds before impact. The First Officer’s final words were “We’re still at 2,000 feet, right?” That’s when the left wing hit the ground.

The aircraft disappeared from the controller’s radar screen at 23:42:10.

Out in the darkness, Bud Marquis and a friend were hunting frogs.

Flight 401 part 5

He’d launch his airboat at the Miccosukee Indian Reservation on the Tamiami Trail and race north into the river of grass.

On a moonless night, in the beam of his head lamp, the frog eyes would glow like rubies. He’d cruise up on the frog, spear the frog with the 3-pronged gig, knock the frog off the gig into a sack, all the while moving forward in the airboat while getting ready to gig another frog. Mama, heat up the frying pan. We’re having legs tonight.

Bud Marquis had experienced better nights of frogging. But he and his helper had 30 pounds of legs.

“Then I saw this great big fireball and the whole ‘glades lit up. Then zip, the light was out.”Bud revved up the engine and headed northwest.

That section of the Everglades is a tangle of sawgrass, tree islands, canals and levees. Fortunately, Bud was an expert. With the engine dangerously wide open – the boat slipped over the grass at 35 mph – he maneuvered around all obstacles.

Then wham! Aground. When he stopped the engine to push the boat back into the water, he heard a chorus of terrified human voices, hollering, moaning, shrieking.

He cranked up the engine and moved toward the sound. He shut down the engine again to listen. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” Someone had seen his frogging light.

In the narrow beam of his head lamp he now saw enormous strips of torn metal. He saw openings in the sawgrass created by sliding chunks of broken airplane. He saw a man standing, shocked, in knee-deep water.

Bud was first on the scene. He burned his face, his arms and his legs but he never stopped trying to rescue the passengers from the burning aircraft, all that night and the following morning. As a direct result of his efforts, seventy-seven people survived the crash. The maintenance engineer, the passenger in the jumpseat, broke his back in the impact but survived.

Ninety-nine people, including the flight crew, died that night. Two more died as a result of injury or infection.

The Ghosts of Flight 401

Over the following months and years, employees of Eastern Air Lines began reporting sightings of the dead crew members, captain Robert Loft and second officer (flight engineer) Donald Repo, sitting on board other L-1011 (N318EA) flights.

Parts of Flight 401 were salvaged after the crash investigation and refitted into other L-1011s.The reported hauntings were only seen on the planes that used the spare parts. Sightings of the spirits of Don Repo and Bob Loft spread throughout Eastern Air Lines to the point where Eastern’s management warned employees that they could face dismissal if caught spreading ghost stories.

While Eastern Airlines publicly denied some of their planes were haunted, they reportedly removed all the salvaged parts from their L-1011 fleet. Over time, the reporting of ghost sightings stopped. An original floor board from Flight 401 remains in the archives at History Miami in South Florida.

The source of the ghost stories appears to have been an issue of Flight Safety Foundation, who interviewed a pilot who had lost an engine, making for a challenging landing. He joked that he “saw the ghost of Don Repo” which was later presented by a best-selling author as fact in his book, The Ghost of Flight 401.

File No. 1-0016 Aircraft Accident Report Eastern Air Lines, Inc. December 29, 1972

An Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-1011 crashed at 2342 eastern standard time, December 29, 1972, 18.7 miles west-northwest of Miami International Airport, Miami Florida. The aircraft was destroyed. Of the 163 passengers and 13 crew-members aboard, 94 passengers and 5 crew members received fatal injuries. Two survivors died later as a result of their injuries.

Following a missed approach because of a suspected nose gear malfunction, the aircraft climbed to 2,000 feet mean sea level and proceeded on a westerly heading. The three flight crew-members and a jumpseat occupant became engrossed in the malfunction.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the flightcrew to monitor the flight instruments during the final 4 minutes of flight, and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground.

Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew’s attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed.

19 October 2012

Five Facts I Never Knew about Spitfires

Everyone is talking about the Spitfires to be excavated in Myanmar. It isn’t clear how many Spitfires will be recovered. David J. Cundall, who led the search, announced that he’d discovered 20 aircraft but since then his partner company has cited at least 60 and a Myanma geologist has estimated 140 Spitfires in various locations around the country.

These Spitfires were crated for assembly on location but, after the Japanese surrendered, they weren’t required. The US army took the role of burying the crates, in order to keep them from falling into enemy hands.

Half the aircraft will go to the government of Myanmar, with one extra as a museum display. David Cundall will get 30% and his local partner company, Shwe Taung Pa, 20%. Cundall invested 16 years and over £130,000 to find the planes.

I have just a twinge of sympathy for those people who own Spitfires, their expensive investment has just reduced dramatically in value, whether it is 20 or 140 Spitfires that have been discovered.

But that’s nothing compared to my excitement at the find and – if I’m honest – the quiet hope that just maybe I’ll be able to afford to fly one of these beauties, if only for a day. Flying into each of the British Islands is still my life-goal – but doing it in a Spitfire? That would be a dream come true.

And then I indulged my fantasies today by reading about Spitfire history and I was quite surprised by some of the detail that I never knew.

Here’s the most interesting titbits that I discovered…


The Spitfire was named by Sir Robert McLean, after the nickname he bestowed on his daughter, Annie Penrose.

Spitfire – The History

The Air Ministry agreed to adopt the name chosen by Sir Robert McLean. Sir Robert had demanded that the name of the company’s new fighter should suggest something venomous, and because of the sibilant it had to begin with the letter ‘S’. His choice was Spitfire.

R.J. Mitchell who designed the Spitfire apparently hated the name.


Delays to Spitfire production meant it did not make a major contribution to the war until 1941. The aircraft was not key to the victory in the Battle of Britain.

Aeroflight » Supermarine Spitfire Mks.I-III

British wartime propaganda – epitomised by the 1942 feature film ‘The First of the Few’ – purposely exaggerated the Spitfire’s contribution to the Battle of Britain. In the film, R. J. Mitchell is portrayed as a lone visionary doggedly pursuing his quest to build the fighter needed to protect Britain in the forthcoming war. The aesthetic appeal of the Spitfire, and its distinctive wing shape, ensured that it rapidly became a visual icon of Britain’s will to defend itself. So effective was this wartime propaganda that even today most people think of the Spitfire as the key to wining the battle. In fact, the Spitfire’s main contribution to the war came from 1941 onwards, over France, Malta and North Africa.

Fast and maneuverable, pilots universally considered the early marks of Spitfire to be a delight to fly, but judged them slightly inferior to the Hurricane as a gun platform. The more ‘flighty’ Spitfire required more effort to keep the guns on target. While its aerodynamics gave it a performance to match or better any other fighter of the time, the early difficulties in getting it into mass production delayed its delivery to fighter squadrons, and so prevented it from paying a greater part in the Battle 0f Britain.



There’s an entire website dedicated to sharing sound recordings of classic aircraft, including the Spitfire.

Supermarine Spitfire Sound Recordings » Aircraft Sound Recordings

This is my virtual museum of aircraft sounds I have recorded at various airshows and events in the UK during the past few years. All my recordings are of the highest quality I can manage with the equipement available. From a typical show of 3 or 4 hours, I usually expect half an hour of usuable recordings due to commentators, spectators and incorrect placement of recording equipment. I classify all these recordings as field recordings as none of them are staged or processed after the recording.

P5 915


Spitfires were used on both sides of the Arab-Israeli War.

The Egyptian Air Force had over 30 Spitfires which ended up head-to-head with Israeli Spitfires in the First Arab-Israeli war in 1948.


The IAF managed to build one Spitfire from scrap parts left behind by the RAF and they also acquired a number of ex-RAF Spitfire LF9s from Czechoslovakia. The Czech Spitfires had originally been supplied by Britain to form the nucleus of the new Czechoslovak Air Force. But when Czechoslovakia came under Soviet domination, they came under pressure to dispose of the aircraft and replace them with Russian aircraft; eventually a total of 76 Spitfires would be sold to Israel by Czechoslovakia. These Spitfires, along with the Avia S-199s, formed 101 Sqn of the IAF and, together with a steady influx of experienced foreign pilots, gradually increased the IAF’s capability.

However, the REAF were also flying Spitfire LF9s with similar markings to the IAF LF9s and RAF Spitfire FR18s and the confusion this caused was almost certainly the primary reason for the second incident between the IAF and RAF.

Goodbye, Spitfire


The Spitfire Women, that is, the women of the RAF Air Transport Auxilliary, flew all types of aircraft.

The ATA made tough demands because unlike RAF pilots, who flew only one type of aircraft, ATA personnel would fly several different types – among them Tiger Moths, Messengers, Dakotas, Oxfords, Wellingtons, and, of course Spitfires – sometimes in the space of one day.

The planes all had different cockpit layouts and controls, and the women had only a manual for basic flying information, and they often flew in extremely challenging weather. But they took it in their stride, as Molly Rose, who had gone straight from her finishing school in Paris to working as an engineer in her father’s aircraft factory, drily attested.

And I love this video of ATA ferry pilot Molly Rose who describes the Spitfire as a woman’s aeroplane:

And then there’s this interview of ATA Ferry pilot Margaret Frost about being a passenger.

BBC – BBC TV blog: Spitfire Women: Margaret Frost on her role in the Battle of Britain

When you go near planes now do you get those memories of joy of being up in the air again?

I don’t, I’m afraid. I don’t really want to be flown – it’s a bit like being driven, you know. I remember, I hadn’t been in airliners very much, and we were coming down from Prestwick. I was sitting there and we were coming into Heathrow. There wasn’t much wind and the pilot was trying to get the speed down a bit, and my right arm shot forward, to the amazement of the passenger next to me.

Well, he was a bit slow in getting the throttle open a bit and you get what is called an air pocket, but it isn’t really, it’s because you’ve lost speed, you know. I anticipated it automatically.

And with that, I’m off to have a well-deserved drink. Cheers!

Spitfire Kentish Ale

14 September 2012

The Worst Aircraft Ever Constructed

Dr William Whitney Christmas (1865-1960) loved planes. He claimed to be one of the first aeroplane pilots: Dr Christmas said that he made his first flight in 1908 but he burned the aircraft in order to protect his design secrets. In his lifetime he patented 300 inventions to do with aviation. This, despite the fact that he had no background in aircraft design nor aeronautics.

As a result, the practicalities of his inventions left something to be desired.

Dr Christmas’s recorded aviation career effectively began with the Red Bird, a bi-plane that he designed, built and then flew (confirmed) in 1909. The aircraft looks interesting enough in isolation. | Ask Us

Christmas did patent, build, and fly a biplane of his own design in 1909. This aircraft, known as the Red Bird, was representative of many of his later designs and can be distinguished by its anhedral (down-sloping) upper wings and dihedral (up-sloping) lower wings. Another noteworthy tidbit about this design is that it appears to be a virtual copy of a plane built by a company named AEA that was, interestingly enough, also known as the Red Bird. In the words of one historian, “the eccentric Dr. Christmas was not above employing the ideas of others” and may well have patented another company’s design!

As a result of the success of the Red Bird, Dr Christmas gave up medicine to devote himself to aviation. He formed the Christmas Aeroplane Company.

Mr. Christmas and his Flights of Fancy

In a New York Times article written by Christmas himself on 5 December 1915, he outlines his aircraft designs to be used by the military. The article notes that “his warplanes would be the largest heavier-than-air crafts ever built, powered by a 1600 horsepower motor, and able to carry bombs and other ammunition, in addition to a six-person crew.” Furthermore, the article mentioned that the European Allies had already ordered eleven of his Battle-Cruisers, but his warplanes were never sold and his deal with the European Allies turned out to be a hoax.

Dr Christmas convinced Henry and Alfred McCorey to back him to create a warplane. Then Dr Christmas pitched two aircraft designs to Continental Aircraft Company and proposed a plot to kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, plot which, of course, required the use of the aircraft he was to develop.

Dr Christmas designed the Christmas Bullet as a military scout plane with help from the Chief Engineer at Continuental, Vincent J Burnelli. Burnelli made a point of stating that he was only involved in the design of the veneer-clad fuselage and expressed serious concern about the design but to no avail.

The first Bullet’s engine was a prototype Liberty Six on loan from the US Military, which was meant for ground-testing only. The rest of the construction materials were apparently scrounged from available wood and steel stock and not aircraft grade, said Bernelli. The single-seater bi-plane was designed with flexible wings with no struts and no bracing. These cantilevered wings were designed to flap like a bird during flight.

The war ended before the aircraft could be used by the military, some say because no pilot could be found willing to fly the thing.

Finally, Cuthbert Mills, an Army pilot, agreed to take it up for a test flight in January, 1919.

The wings peeled straight off and the aircraft crashed, killing the pilot and destroying the aircraft, including the prototype engine on loan from the military.

Not at all discouraged, Dr Christmas created a second Bullet and managed to convince the military to supply a propeller – he had not yet admitted that he had destroyed their prototype engine. The second Christmas Bullet was featured in Flight, the oldest aviation news magazine still in publication. In February 1919, Flight wrote that “it would seem that such construction would result in a low factor of safety, but the designer claims a safety factor of seven throughout.” Dr Christmas displayed it at the New York Air Show in March, where he advertised it as the safest, easiest plane in the world.

The test flight of the second plane also resulted in a structural failure and immediate crash, killing the pilot and destroying the aircraft as well as a barn.

The Christmas Bullet, the “safest, easiest plane in the world”, had two take-offs, no landings, two crashes and two dead pilots.

Dr Christmas claimed he received a million-dollar offer to rebuild Germany’s air forces and then later stated that he sold the patent for his flexible wing design to the military in 1923 for $100,000.

If that is true, it strikes me as quite possible that they did so simply to stop him building further planes.

29 June 2012

Clyde Cessna: Changing the World of Aviation

This week’s post is an account of Clyde Cessna and the early days of the Cessna Aircraft Company which was written by Dana Rasmussen, a friend of mine who works for Jet Charters. It’s a fascinating story which I’m sure you will enjoy.

Before the turn of the 20th century, a young boy living on a Kansas farm never would have guessed that his passion for machinery would have the capacity to change the world. But it did; because that boy was Clyde Cessna, the founder of Cessna Aircraft Corporation.

In 1910, Clyde witnessed an air show that changed not only his career, but his life. At that time, Clyde was working in the booming auto industry in Oklahoma. He was so inspired by the air show that he went to New York to work for Queen Aeroplane Company. This is where Clyde learned about the aviation industry and aircraft construction.

Clyde stayed with Queen Aeroplane Company for only a short while. He wanted to build planes of his own and so he returned to Oklahoma. He built his first plane out of spruce and linen. It had a two-stroke four-cylinder engine with a maximum of 40 horsepower. Clyde tested this aircraft repeatedly, but failed more than a dozen times. It wasn’t until he tried to fly again for the 13th time that he finally got his aircraft in the air – albeit only for a moment because he quickly crashed into a tree.

Locals took notice of what Clyde was doing. They didn’t think he would ever amount to much of anything and considered his attempts at flight to be worthless. It wasn’t until he finally flew five miles and had a successful landing that people began to realize that Clyde was onto something.

Over the next few years, Clyde continued pursuing his interests in aviation and in constructing monoplanes. In 1916, he purchased a vacant building where he was able to construct new aircraft to exhibit and provide flight training for future pilots, but this effort was short-lived.

For nearly 10 years, World War I and its aftermath prevented Clyde from continued exploration into aviation. It wasn’t until 1925 that he really went headfirst back into the industry. That’s when he, along with Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman, started the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. It wasn’t long before this Wichita-based company became a leader among aircraft manufacturing companies. It was known for constructing aircraft with quality craftsmanship and superior design concepts.

But Clyde left the Travel Air Manufacturing Company after two years when his partners did not agree with him over design issues. He started the Cessna Aircraft Corporation in 1927 in Wichita so he could pursue his passion his way.

The first product that Cessna made was the AW. This monoplane could cruise for up to seven hours at 145 mph. From there, Cessna began producing more aircraft, all of which were known for not only their safety and performance, but also their affordability.

Despite this success, Cessna was unable to stay open during the Great Depression. The company filed for bankruptcy and shut its doors in 1931. Clyde thought that the company would never see the light of day again, but just three years later, he reopened.

The Legacy Continues…

The company resumed its successful track record, and Clyde was happy with what he created. In 1936, he sold the company to his nephews and participated in business operations as a figurehead, but spent the rest of his life back on the family farm and flying his many planes.

Even without Clyde actively participating in the day-to-day functions of the company, Cessna became a world-leader in aircraft production.

In 1933, the Cessna CR-3, a propeller-powered racer, won the American Air Race in Chicago. Around this time, Cessna became known for producing planes that were the fastest in the industry. Aviation-enthusiasts swore by Cessna and the orders for the planes came in steadily.

In the 1940s, Cessna entered the big time when the United States Army and Royal Canadian Air Force both placed orders for Cessna T-50s. The combined order called for more than 200 planes, and Cessna ceased commercial production to work on the wartime production needs.

It wasn’t until 1946 that Cessna got back into the game of commercial aviation with their release of the Model 120 and Model 140, the latter of which was deemed the Outstanding Plane of the Year by the US Flight Instructors Association.

Cessna delivered its first big hit, the Skyhawk, in the mid 1950s. This plane was an overnight success and more than 1,400 models were built in its first year of existence. To this day, the Skyhawk remains the most widely produced light aircraft of all time.

By the end of the 1960s, Cessna had produced more than 50,000 aircraft. It also entered the business-jet market with the release of the FanJet500, which was the predecessor to the Cessna Citation.

Cessna Releases the Citation Line…

In 1971 the Citation made its debut. The release of the Citation was eventually a game-changer for Cessna, but it took a while before the line reached its maximum potential.

The Citation wasn’t the first business jet on the market. It also wasn’t nearly as fast or powerful as its direct competitor, the Learjet 25. In fact, it was often referred to as the “Slowtation” in the media. This was due in part to the jet’s turbofan engines, which were not as powerful as the turbojet engines found in other business jets. It also had straight as opposed to swept rings, which contributed to its inability to keep up with the competition.

But Cessna engineers were determined to make the Citation a worth competitor. By 1976, the jet was retooled and given longer wings, a capacity to handle a higher gross weight, and it was still able to access shorter landing fields thanks to its thrust reversers. This upgraded jet was given the name “Citation I.” From there, the Cessna Citation Jet corporate line was born, which catered to the burgeoning travel needs of the world’s professional business men and women.

This new market benefitted the company in several ways throughout its history, but when the Citation Jet family was introduced it came right on the heels of a semi-recession which had caused production to slow considerably. Luckily, the corporate market was thriving and Cessna was eager to compete with rival aircraft manufacturing companies.

Cessna’s Ground Force…

Ever since Clyde Cessna started the company it’s always been headquartered in Wichita, which, thanks to Cessna, is nicknamed the “Air Capital of the World.”

This nickname comes from the fact that Cessna has sold more aircraft (close to 200,000) than any other corporate jet manufacturer and the company contributes heavily to the Wichita economy.

Cessna’s corporate headquarters occupy 1,400 acres of land in Wichita where all of its fleet is serviced. The majority of the fleet is also built in Wichita, aside from the Mustang, which is produced in Independence, KS.

The independence facility builds and services the interiors of the fleet. It also acts as a delivery hub for Cessna’s single engine pistons.

Cessna also has a facility in Columbus, GA where single engine pistons are produced and detail parts of business jets are assembled. McCauley Propeller Systems is also located at the facility and produces propellers used in Cessna’s fleet.

Cessna’s only international facility is in Chihuahua, Mexico. This facility opened in 2006 and produces wire harnesses and sheet metal assemblies for the Citation family of aircrafts. This facility also produces single engine piston aircraft.

In addition to the production facilities, Cessna operates Citation service centers all over the US and Europe. These service centers are open all day every day to meet the needs of Cessna’s customers.

Cessna’s Impact…

With all of its facilities and service centers, Cessna employees more than 8,500 individuals worldwide today. But throughout the company’s 84-year history, countless of men and women have built lasting careers while working for Cessna.

It’s one of the few companies that withstood the test of time and stayed strong throughout times of war, economic downfalls, change of ownership, and kept up with technological and industry demands.

You won’t be surprised to hear that JetCharters offers a whole range of Cessna aircraft across the US: Citation CJ1, Citation XLS, Citation Sovereign and Cessna Grand Caravan. If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to visit the Jet Charter Blog.

18 May 2012

B-29 ditching in the Pacific 1945

Vincent “Enzo” Romano is a historian and researcher who has created the “most complete Italian private digital archive related to American History, from the end of the 19th century to 1970.” Included in his collection is a stunning video from March 1945 in which Captain Bernard “Barney” McCaskill Jr ditches his B-29, the Hopefull Devil, in the Pacific near Pagan Island. Over 300 B-29 bombers departed for Japan that morning on a mission to bomb Tokyo.

To complete the mission, the crews had to fly 1,500 miles to get to Japan, make their bombing runs, and then fly the 1,500 miles back to their home base–fifteen stressful hours of flying over water.

In order to increase bomb capacity, fuel loads were kept to a minimum. Consequently, planes damaged in combat, suffering from mechanical malfunctions, or thrown off course often could not make it back to base.

Many were lost without leaving a trace; some were seen to crash after crewmen had bailed out, and others were deliberately put down at sea, in a procedure known to airmen as “ditching.”

Here’s Pagan Island: not an area where you’d want to be flying without enough fuel to make it home:

The B-29 seen ditching here is the “Hopefull-Devil” under the command of Captain Bernard “Barney” McCaskill Jr. Aircrew 84-02, 484th Squadron, 505th Bombardment Group, 313th Bombardment Wing.

Realizing they did not have enough fuel to reach the home base on Tinian Island, the “Hopefull-Devil” radioed a call for help.

The distress call was picked up by the seaplane tender USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) on lifeguard duty approximately 20 miles north of Pagan Island. The ship vectored the “Hopefull-Devil” to its position and Captain McCaskill ditched alongside at 12:38PM.

A cameraman on the USS Bering Strait filmed the ditching and subsequent rescue. Captain McCaskill was convalescing in the military hospital from his injuries, which included a broken back, when the cameraman visited him to give him two unedited copies of the 16mm film. As Captain McCaskill didn’t have a 16mm projector, he kept the film cannisters in his closet for safe keeping. It was over 50 years later when his son converted the film in order to view it.

In a newspaper article reporting on the incident Capt. McCaskill explains what happened while the USS Bering Strait launched its whaleboat to pick up the crewmen in the water:
“I was pushing down on the rudder pedals for the landing, and that and handling the wheel made my body pretty stiff for the impact. That’s why my back got broken.

“I couldn’t stand up afterwards and I looked up and the co-pilot [Col. Macomber who was along for a guest rid]) was already getting out. The water started rushing in about then. It washed me back to my seat.”

But Capt. McCaskill managed to grab hold of the window and pull himself outside. “I had a canteen on my belt. It was knocked off. I was jerking so hard to get myself out.”

Outside Capt. McCaskill said he counted heads and saw all were there. But he found that the two gunners back at the tail were having a ‘rough time’. They couldn’t swim. Capt. McCaskill inflated the Mae West of one of the boys so he was all right. The other [Corporal Rivas] was holding on to the plane and was being slapped back into the water each time the plane was caught by a wave.

“I told him to turn loose the airplane. He didn’t want to but did. It was at the wrong moment, though. For just then a big wave caught him and he went down.”

So Capt. McCaskill slid out of his own Mae West and dove down after the young gunner. Under the water he inflated the gunner’s Mae West and that was what brought them up.

The rescue vessel had a life raft near them and Capt. McCaskill got the boy on it. [Col. Macomber] had to swim in front of the raft to pull it and Capt. McCaskill was behind it, pushing to keep it clear of the plane which was still being tossed about in the choppy sea.

The crewmen on board the “Hopefull-Devil” were saved, with only two significant injuries. Capt. McCaskill suffered a broken back from the impact of the ditching, and Corporal Binger had a severely gashed jaw. Both received the Purple Heart.

The Romano archives includes a stunning amount of excellent material including a whole selection of WW2 footage which has been uploaded to YouTube:

If you have an afternoon to spare,I absolutely recommend visiting to see the incredible historical footage that the Romano archives is making available for viewing.

PS: If you found this post interesting, I think you would enjoy the following: