Irving-Napier Golden Arrow museum

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow LSR Car

By William Pearce

On 29 March 1927, Henry O’Neil de Hane Segrave set a new Land Speed Record (LSR) in the Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug. Segrave achieved a speed of 203.793 mph (327.973 km/h) over the one mile course on Dayton Beach in Florida. Segrave was the first to travel over 200 mph (322 km/h) on land and returned to Britain a hero. However, he wanted to go faster.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow model

John Samuel Irving holds a model of the Irving-Napier Special / Golden Arrow. Irving was responsible for the car’s design, as well as the previous car Henry Segrave used to break the 200 mph (322 km/h) mark, the Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug.

Shortly after his return to Britain, Segrave parted ways with the Sunbeam Motor Car Company and joined the Portland Cement Manufacturers as a high-profile salesman. Segrave worked quickly to get the financial backing of his employer and from some of the sponsors involved with his previous record attempt. With funding secured, Segrave turned to John Samuel Irving to design the new LSR car. Irving had designed the Sunbeam Slug and had also left the company shortly after the successful record runs.

Segrave’s 203.793 mph (327.973 km/h) record stood for less than a year before it was beaten by Malcom Campbell. Driving his updated Blue Bird racer, Campbell averaged 206.956 mph (333.064 km/h) on 19 February 1928. Campbell’s record stood for only two months before it was slightly bettered by American Ray Keech driving the White Triplex at 207.553 mph (334.024 km/h) on 22 April 1928.

The new records did not worry Segrave; much higher speeds were planned with the car Irving had designed. Segrave’s new car was initially called the Irving Special. Once the Napier Lion VIIA aircraft engine was acquired to power the car, its name was updated to Irving-Napier Special. The direct drive Lion VIIA had powered the Supermarine S5 aircraft that finished second in the 1927 Schneider Trophy, while the geared Lion VIIB engine powered the S5 that won the trophy. Once the car was painted its gold finish, it was often referred to as the Golden Arrow.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow construction

This image of the Golden Arrow being built shows just how closely the cowling fit over the Napier Lion engine. The front two screw jacks can be seen passing through the car’s body. The holes and fins on the brake drums were to help dissipate heat. Note the stout frame rail.

The Napier Lion VIIA was a W-12 (or broad arrow) engine design with a 5.5 in (140 mm) bore and a 5.125 in (130 mm) stroke. The engine displaced 1,461 cu in (23.9 L) and produced 930 hp (694 kW) at 3,400 rpm. The Lion engine was installed in the Golden Arrow’s narrow frame, just behind the front wheels. The car’s frame rails were made of channel section steel 13 in (330 mm) tall and 4 in (102 mm) wide. Each corner of the frame had a threaded jacking point. The rest of the Golden Arrow’s structure was made from tubular steel and wood.

A three-speed transmission was mounted behind the Lion engine. First gear maxed out at 81 mph (130 km/h), second at 166 mph (267 km/h), and third gave a theoretical top speed of 246 mph (396 km/h). The transmission took the engine’s power and distributed it to two drive shafts that rotated in opposite directions. The shafts passed along both sides of the cockpit and to the rear axle. This arrangement allowed the driver’s seat to be placed some 8 in (200 mm) lower than if the driveshaft passed under the seat.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow crate

The Golden Arrow was carefully packed for its trip across the Atlantic. The covers over the surface radiators were regularly used when the car was not being run. Note the black “aiming” stripe on the upper engine cowling. The car’s narrow cockpit was designed especially for Segrave, and the cockpit side panels were attached after Segrave was in the driver’s seat.

The offset driver’s seat in the Sunbeam Slug had made driving the car at speed slightly more challenging. Irving decided to have the driver positioned right on the centerline of the Golden Arrow. Steel plating .25 in (6 mm) thick encased the cockpit to protect the driver. A telescopic sight was placed in front of the driver, and a sighting tab was located in front of the engine on the upper cowl. In addition, a black stripe was painted along the center of the car. This was all done to make driving the Golden Arrow as easy as possible at well over 200 mph (322 km/h). The steering gearbox was positioned on top of the transmission. A drag link extended from each side of the box to the front wheels. The wheels themselves were not linked together by a tie rod. The car’s drum brakes and clutch were vacuum assisted.

The Golden Arrow’s tires were specially made by the Dunlop Rubber Company. The tires were 37 x 7 in (940 x 178 mm) and filled with 125 psi (8.6 bar) of air. Dunlop had guaranteed the tires to last 25 seconds at 240 mph (386 km/h). At that speed, it would only take 15 seconds to travel the measured mile, and the tires would be changed after each run. A streamlined fairing extended back from each front wheel to each rear wheel. The fairing improved the aerodynamics of the car and was covered in surface radiators built by the Gloster Aircraft Company. Special covers were placed over the surface radiators to protect them when the car was not running.

The surface radiators served as the primary means to cool water for the Golden Arrow’s engine. However, if the engine temperature rose too high, a secondary cooling system was employed. This system consisted of an isolated chemical compound in a tank positioned in the front of the car. When the engine got too hot, thermostats allowed water from the engine to flow through the tank where it would be cooled by the chemical. Unfortunately, which chemical was used has not been found (perhaps dry ice or cardice). The header water tank was located behind the engine, and two oil tanks were located in the frame rails.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow Segrave Daytona

Segrave poses in the Golden Arrow on Daytona Beach. The telescopic sight has been installed in front of the cockpit, and the fore sight has been installed on the front of the top cowling. These sights were removed after the car’s first practice run. Note the aerodynamic wheel covers.

With the use of a wind tunnel, Irving designed the Golden Arrow’s body to minimize frontal area and drag. The body sloped to a point in front of the engine, and the engine’s three cylinder banks were very closely cowled. The car’s streamlined body flowed back to the cockpit, located in front of the rear wheels. Behind the cockpit was a 24 gallon (91 L) fuel tank, and the body transitioned into a tail to provide directional stability at high speeds. The Golden Arrow’s main body was inspired by the Supermarine S5 Schneider racer, and the entire body was designed to provide downforce to keep the car on the ground. The car’s aluminum body was built by coachbuilders Thrupp & Maberly.

The Irving-Napier Golden Arrow was 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m) long, 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) wide, and 3 ft 8 in (1.12 m) tall. The car had a 14 ft (4.27 m) wheelbase, a 5 ft (1.52 m) track, and 7 in (178 mm) of ground clearance. The Golden Arrow weighed around 7,694 lb (3,490 kg) loaded. Irving and Segrave wanted to set the LSR at over four miles per minute—240 mph (386 km/h).

The Golden Arrow was built in 1928 at Kenelm Lee Guinness’ Robinhood Engineering Works. The car made its public debut at the end of January 1929. Virtually no testing occurred before the car, Segrave, and team left for Daytona Beach, Florida on 31 January 1929. Upon arrival, weather conditions were poor, and it was not until 20 February that Segrave took the car out for it first practice run. This was actually the first time Segrave drove the car. He went up and down the beach once, hitting a top speed of over 180 mph. Segrave then drove the Golden Arrow on public streets the short distance back to the garage. A few modifications were made, such as the removal of the telescopic sight and installing a smaller front sight. Segrave now thought the car was perfect and that it was time to make an attempt on the record.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow Segrave radiator

A close-up of Segrave in the Golden Arrow shows details of the surface radiators, the telescopic sight, and Segrave’s rudimentary crash helmet. The cockpit side panels are not attached. Note that “Irving Napier Special” is painted behind the cockpit.

On 11 March 1929, the weather and beach conditions were acceptable to make a LSR attempt. Around 100,000 spectators turned out to watch, and large arc lights were strung at both ends of the measured mile. Segrave lined up the sights on the Golden Arrow as he rocketed north along the beach, shifting gears at 3,200 rpm. Fighting a cross wind, he passed through the measured mile in 15.55 seconds, averaging 231.511 mph (372.581 km/h). Suddenly, a radiator hose loosened, spraying hot water over Segrave, but he managed to maintain control. After the run, the water line was fixed, tires were changed, and water and fuel were replenished.

Segrave now made his run southward, still battling the crosswind. After using 4 miles to come up to speed, the Golden Arrow ran through the measured mile in 15.57 seconds, averaging 231.214 mph (372.103 km/h). The average of his two runs gave Segrave a new LSR of 231.362 mph (372.341 km/h)—23.809 mph (38.317 km/h) faster than the previous record set by Ray Keech in the Triplex. Some sources list the speed as 231.446 mph (372.478 km/h), which was Segrave’s speed for the flying kilometer, not the mile. At the end of the run, Segrave hit a gulley in the sand, and the Golden Arrow twisted sideways, damaging the right surface radiator.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow Segrave front

Front view of the Golden Arrow as the car and Segrave pose for photographers. The exhaust stacks for the Lion’s side banks were on the bottom of the cowling. Segrave did not have any issues with exhaust fumes entering the cockpit.

The record had come easy. Segrave felt the Golden Arrow had more speed left, and the car was repaired for another run. However, Segrave decided that he would only make another record attempt if the White Triplex beat his speed. Driven by Lee Bible, the White Triplex took to the course on 13 March 1929. Bible’s first run was at 186 mph (299 km/h) and his second was at 202 mph (325 km/h). However, something happened at the end of the second run that caused Bible to lose control of the Triplex. The car crashed, killing Bible and Charles Traub, a British Pathé cameraman who was filming the record run. The accident put an end to the 1929 record season at Daytona.

Segrave returned to Britain and was knighted on 27 April 1929. A short time later, Segrave declared that he was done with LSRs. He found Water Speed Records more of a challenge and focused his efforts there. On 13 June 1930, Segrave made two good runs on Windermere lake in his Miss England II motorboat powered by two 1,800 hp (1,342 kW) Rolls-Royce R engines. Accompanying him were Mechanic Michael Willcocks and Rolls-Royce engineer Victor Halliwell. Although Segrave did not know it at the time, the runs established a new water speed record at 98.76 mph (158.94 km/h).

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow run south

Segrave and the Golden Arrow making their south run on Daytona Beach at 231.214 mph (372.103 km/h). Few images of the car at speed exist despite numerous photographers attending the record attempt. At the time, photographers had little experience capturing high-speed subjects. Note that the original sights have been removed.

Segrave had made the first two runs at less than full throttle and knew that he could do better. Without coming to shore, he immediately set out for another two runs. On his third run of the day, Miss England II was traveling around 120 mph when the boat hit some debris and violently capsized. Segrave, Halliwell and Wilcocks were all thrown into the water. Willcocks was pulled from the water alive. Halliwell was killed in the crash; his body was recovered two days later, still clutching his pencil and notepad. Segrave was found unconscious and taken to a shore-side house where he was treated by doctors. Segrave regained consciousness, asked about Willcocks and Halliwell, asked about the record, and then passed away from his injuries.

Segrave was the first person to simultaneously hold the World Land Speed Record and the World Water Speed Record. The Irving-Napier Golden Arrow was never raced again after its record run, and the car has been driven under its own power fewer than 40 miles (64 km). The Golden Arrow was preserved and is currently on display at the British National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire, United Kingdom.

Irving-Napier Golden Arrow museum

A fantastic image of the Golden Arrow as it sits in the British National Motor Museum. The holes for the front screw jacks can be seen as well as the separate drag links for the front wheels. (Brian Snelson image via

The Land Speed Record 1920-1929 by R. M. Clarke (2000)
The Fast Set by Charles Jennings (2004)
Land Speed Record by Cyril Posthumus and David Tremayne (1971/1985)
Leap into Legend by Steve Holter (2003)

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug top

Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug LSR Car

By William Pearce

On 16 March 1926, Henry O’Neil de Hane Segrave blasted down Ainsdale Beach at Southport, England and set a new Land Speed Record (LSR) at 152.33 mph* (245.15 km/h). The speed was only 1.57 mph (2.53 km/h) faster than the previous record, set by Malcolm Campbell on 21 July 1925, and Segrave knew his record would not stand for long. What Segrave needed to achieve a truly impressive speed was a car designed especially for the LSR.

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug top

The Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug as it appears today. Note the side exhaust for the front engine and the individual stacks for the rear engine. ( image)

Segrave was born in the United States (US) to an American mother and an Irish father. He was raised in Ireland and England, and was a pilot in the First World War. He became a race car driver after the war and drove Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq autos to many victories. The Sunbeam Motor Car Company found Grand Prix racing too expensive and quit competing in 1926. By 1927, Segrave had left auto racing completely to focus solely on setting land speed records.

Sunbeam had previously provided Campbell and Segrave’s LSR cars. These machines were little more than modified Grand Prix racers. Louis Hervé Coatalen was the managing director of Sunbeam and understood how speed records would translate into auto sales. Coatalen knew that a specially-designed LSR car would be able to achieve much higher speeds than the current record. Coatalen also knew that such a car could be built fairly inexpensively by utilizing many of the unused parts at the Sunbeam factory. Coatalen agreed to build a special LSR car for Segrave, and their target was 200 mph (322 km/h).

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug test

The Slug being tested at the Sunbeam works. The steel guards over the tires and chain can be seen. Many pipes were needed to bring in cool water and take away hot water and exhaust. The front engine’s four magnetos can be seen between the front tires.

The new LSR car was designed by John Samuel Irving in 1926 and built by the Sunbeam works in Wolverhampton. Its frame and crossmembers were made of channel-steel. Two Sunbeam Matabele aircraft engines would be used to push the car to 200 mph (322 km/h). Coatalen had originally designed the V-12 Matabele engine around 1917. The engine had a 4.80 in (122 mm) bore and a 6.30 in (160 mm) stroke. Total displacement was 1,370 cu in (22.4 L), and the engine produced around 450 hp (336 kW) at 2,000 rpm but could be overrevved to 2,200 rpm. The two engines in the car had actually been salvaged from the four used in the Maple Leaf VII powerboat, which sunk during the 1921 Harmsworth Trophy Race on the Detroit River in the United States.

Although each of the two engines produced only 450 hp (336 kW), the racer was officially called the “1,000 HP Sunbeam.” As the car was constructed, the workmen dubbed it “The Slug” due to the shape of its body. When the car arrived in the US, the American newspapers called it the “Mystery S.” Perhaps it is most appropriate to combine all the names and call it the “Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug.”

The driver sat in the middle of the car and was offset to the right. One engine was installed in front of the driver and the other behind. The front engine had a single radiator in the car’s nose, and its exhaust was expelled through a single stack on each side of the car. Louvers covered the front of the car to let the heat from the front engine escape. The rear engine had two radiators, one on each side of the car, positioned behind the driver. Cooling air was brought in through ducts on both sides of the car and escaped out an opening in the car’s tail. The rear engine’s exhaust was expelled through 12 stacks that protruded behind the driver.

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug debut

When first shown to the press, the Slug had wheel covers over its rear tires. These were removed for the record run. Note the louvered scoop for the rear radiator. Airflow proved inadequate, and a larger scoop was fitted. Segrave is looking into the car.

The engines were installed back-to-back and were linked by a common shaft. The rear engine was started with compressed air. Once the rear engine was running, it was clutched to the front engine via the common shaft, which started the front engine. With both engines running, the common shaft locked the engines together to keep them at the same rpm. A three-speed transmission took power from the common shaft and drove a cross shaft. A sprocket and chain on each end of the cross shaft delivered power to the rear axle. The transmission actually stepped up the speed of the cross shaft over the speed of the common shaft, but the chain drive acted as a gear reduction, bringing the final drive ratio to 1.02:1. The Slug had a theoretical top speed of 212.5 mph (342.0 km/h) with the engines turning at 2,000 rpm.

The Slug’s innards were covered by a streamlined aluminum body developed after wind tunnel tests at the Vickers Aviation Department. To keep the driver safe, the frame was reinforced around the cockpit, and thick steel guards were installed around the drive chains and tires. A .25 in (6 mm) thick steel underbody was installed that allowed the Slug to slide along the ground if a tire failed. Covers were originally fitted over the rear wheels, but these were removed for the record runs. The 35 x 6 in (635 x 152 mm) tires were specially designed by the Dunlop Rubber Company and guaranteed to last 3.5 minutes at 200 mph (322 km/h). The tires would be changed after each record run. In the tail of the car, behind the rear engine, was a 28 gallon (106 L) fuel tank. The 1,000 HP Sunbeam had a wheelbase of 11 ft 9 in (3.58 m) and a track of 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m). The car was 3 ft 7 in (1.09 m) tall and over 23 ft (7.01 m) long. The Slug had 7 in (178 mm) of ground clearance and weighed around 7,790 lb (3,533 kg) empty.

Segrave sits in the 1,000 HP Sunbeam. The louvers on the front of the car allowed heat to escape the front engine bay. The “Co” painted on the side of the racer was changed to “CAR.” With the rear wheel cover removed, both “CAR” and “ENGLAND” were cut off. (Getty Images)

Once assembled, the car was run on a special test rig for six hours to resolve any issues. The 1,000 HP Sunbeam made its official debut on 21 February 1927. Segrave realized there was no place in Europe to safely run the car and made plans for a record attempt at Daytona Beach, Florida. Some of the car’s backers were unhappy about the runs being planned outside of Britain and forced Segrave to personally make his own arrangements to ship the car and travel overseas. Segrave rose to the challenge and got the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) to recognize the attempts which would be overseen by the American Automobile Association (AAA). This required much negotiation between the AIACR and the AAA.

Segrave, his crew, and the Slug left for the US in February 1927. Segrave’s earlier LSR has been beat on 28 April 1926** by John Godfrey Parry-Thomas at 170.624 mph (274.593 km/h) in his racer “Babs.” Campbell regained the record on 4 February 1927 with a speed of 174.224 mph (280.387 km/h) in his new “Blue Bird” racer. While attempting to win back the record, Parry-Thomas was killed on 3 March 1927. At the time, a chain was thought to have broken free and killed Parry-Thomas. As a result, Segrave decided to thoroughly inspect his chains throughout his record runs.

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug Seagrave beach

Segrave stands by the Slug on Daytona Beach. The larger scoops for the rear radiator have been installed. The rear wheel covers have been removed, and wheel discs cover the spokes on the rear wheels. The removed cover behind the rear engine gave access to the fuel tank. At the front of the car, part of the underbody is visible.

Segrave and the Slug’s first test run was on 21 March 1927. The Daytona Beach course featured four miles (6.4 km) to accelerate, one measured mile (1.6 km), and four miles (6.4 km) to slow the car. This was the first time the car was driven for any real distance. Other than being difficult to steer and the rear engine getting hot, the car performed well on its rather sedate trips along the beach. A new steering box was installed, which required some modifications to the car. Larger scoops were added to the Slug’s sides to draw more air into the radiators for the rear engine. The biggest issue Segrave encountered was with the thousands of spectators who turned out to watch and got in the way of the car and the time measuring equipment. The car’s next run was on 24 March, and higher speeds were attained. More police were present to help control the crowds, but they were still an issue.

With increased crowd control and no technical issues to overcome, the decision was made to make a serious attempt at the record. On 29 March 1927, Segrave set off to the north, determined to get every bit of speed he could out of the Slug. Reportedly, 30,000 spectators were on the beach that day. Fighting against the wind, Segrave hit some marker flags that lined the prepared course, but he pushed on and flew through the measured mile (1.6 km) in 17.94 seconds, averaging 200.669 mph (322.945 km/h). Letting off the throttle, Segrave found that the Slug did not decelerate as quickly as he had anticipated. Nearing the end of the course, he hit the brakes hard only to have them melt. Segrave then drove the car into the sea along the shore to slow it down and regain control.

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug beach

Given the cleanliness of the car, this image was probably taken before the record run. Note how the removal of the wheel covers chopped off “CAR” and “ENGLAND.” The large rear radiator scoops must have created a fair amount of drag.

The car was prepared for its second run: tires were changed, new brakes were installed, and fuel and water were replenished. A short time later, Segrave ran the Slug with the wind to the south. With the engines hitting 2,200 rpm, Segrave blasted through the measured mile (1.6 km) in 17.39 seconds, averaging 207.016 mph (333.160 km/h). With a little more control that in his previous run, he brought the car to a safe stop at the end of the course. Segrave and the Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug had set a new LSR of 203.793 mph (327.973 km/h)—an astounding 29.569 mph (47.587 km/h) faster than the previous record (Campbell’s).

Segrave and the Slug’s record run represented the first time the 200 mph (322 km/h) mark was exceeded. Segrave was the first non-US citizen to make a record attempt at Daytona Beach. Likewise, the 1,000 HP Sunbeam was the first non-US car to make a record attempt at Daytona Beach. The Slug ushered in a new era of large, streamlined machines designed solely to break the LSR.

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug run

Segrave and the Slug are seen racing down Dayton Beach on the second (south) record run. The marker flag is similar to those that Segrave hit on his first pass. The relative positions between the photographer and the flag give a sense of how narrow the course was.

Segrave’s record stood for less than a year before Campbell bettered the speed by only 3.163 mph (5.090 km/h). At the time, Segrave was busy working on a new LSR car, the Golden Arrow. The Slug’s one outing in Florida had gained the record but had also shown that the car’s chain-drive was antiquated and that its second-hand engines could be improved upon. The Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug was preserved and eventually made its way to the British National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire, United Kingdom, where it is currently on display. The car has been driven approximately 75 miles (120 km) under its own power.

*Segrave’s 152.33 mph (245.15 km/h) record was over 1 km (not 1 mile) and was officially recognized by the AIACR. The speed had already been exceeded by Tommy Milton, who drove his twin-engine Duesenberg-Milton racer to a recorded speed of 156.046 mph (251.132 km/h) on 27 April 1920. Milton’s car caught fire during the first run, and he was unable to make a return pass. Milton’s speed was recognized by the AAA as a US record, but it was not recognized by the AIACR as an international record.

** Parry-Thomas actually broke Segrave’s record on 27 April 1926 at a speed of 168.074 mph (270.489 km/h). Parry-Thomas then set a new record the following day.

Sunbeam 1000 hp Mystery Slug display

The Sunbeam 1,000 hp Mystery Slug on display in the British National Motor Museum. While the car has been preserved, the rear radiator scoops and rear tire covers seem to have been lost. Note the bulge in front of the cockpit meant to deflect some air away from the driver’s face. Segrave had much trouble with the wind trying to rip his goggles and helmet off. (David Chief image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Land Speed Record 1920-1929 by R. M. Clarke (2000)
The Fast Set by Charles Jennings (2004)
Land Speed Record by Cyril Posthumus and David Tremayne (1971/1985)
Sunbeam Aero-Engines by Alec Brew (1998)

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk airbrakes

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk Attack Helicopter

By William Pearce

In the late 1960s, Sikorsky Aircraft had many helicopter models in production, but they had lost contracts to develop new helicopters. In 1966, the United States Army’s Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS) contract was awarded to Lockheed, but their AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter ran into serious design issues. On 20 November 1969, Sikorsky initiated development of a new helicopter to be used primarily as a gunship, but it could also be used in other roles. This helicopter was designated S-67 Blackhawk, and its design and construction was self-funded by Sikorsky.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk airbrakes

The Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk was a very versatile helicopter that exhibited great performance, but it also had various shortcomings that the US Army could not overlook. The helicopter’s narrow fuselage and air brakes are illustrated in this image.

The Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk was designed as a high-speed attack helicopter with a small wing to generate lift. The pilot and copilot/gunner sat in tandem in the helicopter’s cockpit, with the copilot in the front seat and the pilot in the rear seat. The pilot accessed the cockpit from the left side of the helicopter and the copilot from the right. The narrow, streamlined fuselage was only 3 ft 10 in (1.2 m) wide, which decreased the helicopter’s drag and increased its survivability by presenting a smaller target to enemy gunners. Behind the cockpit was a compartment that could be used for additional equipment or to transport personnel.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk tail

This image shows the S-67’s original tail that did not have any rudders. Note the tail’s camber. Air brakes can be seen on the upper wing surfaces. The main gear had a 7 ft (2.1 m) track.

To cut expense and development time, the S-67 was designed to use the dynamic drive power system from a Sikorsky S-61/SH-3 Sea King. This included two 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines and their drive, rotor, hydraulic, and electrical systems. The S-67’s five-blade rotors had 22 in (559 mm) of their tips swept back 20 degrees to delay compressibility effects, lower vibration, and reduce noise. The net effect was that the blades allowed the helicopter to achieve higher speeds. The main rotors also had a hub fairing, and their collective pitch control was modified to increase sensitivity and range.

The S-67’s main gear retracted into sponsons mounted on the fuselage sides. The helicopter’s thin wings extended from the sponsons. Each wing featured two hardpoints for weapons, auxiliary fuel tanks, or equipment. Each wing also had three air brakes: two that deployed along its upper surface and one that deployed along the lower surface. With the air brakes deployed, the helicopter slowed twice as fast as without the air brakes. In addition, the air brakes could be deployed during combat to offer unrivaled maneuverability. The S-67 was the first helicopter with air brakes.

A five-blade, 10 ft 7 in (3.2 m) diameter tail rotor was mounted to the left side of the S-67’s vertical fin. A lower fin with a non-retractable tailwheel extended below the helicopter’s tail. The large upper and lower fins were cambered to counteract the torque of the main rotor at speeds above 46 mph (74 km/h). This enabled controlled flight without the tail rotor as long as the S-67’s forward speed was in excess of 46 mph (74 km/h). If the tail rotor was lost, the helicopter could be flown back to base and landed like a conventional aircraft. The S-67 used an all-moving horizontal stabilizer that increased the helicopter’s maneuverability and decreased rotor stress.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk landing

Note the angle of the all-moving horizontal stabilizer as the S-67 comes in for a landing. The landing gear was found to be insufficient for operating from unimproved locations. The helicopter’s double main wheels sunk into soft ground, and the gear doors only had 9.75 in (248 mm) of clearance.

With a 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) payload, the S-67 could accommodate a variety of armaments. A removable Emerson Electric Company TAT-140 turret mounted under the cockpit could carry a 7.62 mm minigun (M134), a 20 mm three-barrel rotary cannon (M197), a 30 mm single-barrel cannon (XM140), a 30 mm three-barrel rotary cannon (XM188), or a 40 mm grenade launcher (M129). The four underwing hardpoints could carry two drop tanks, up to 16 TOW missiles, or up to eight rocket pods. Each 2.75 in (70 mm) rocket pod contained 19 rockets, for a total of 152 rockets.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk side

The S-67’s rudders can be seen in this image. One is on the upper fin below the tail rotor, and the other is on the lower fin. Pylons have been installed on the wings’ hardpoints, with drop tanks mounted to the inner stations. The turret is installed with a M197 three-barrel 20 mm cannon.

The S-67 had a wingspan of 27 ft 4 in (8.3 m) and a rotor diameter of 62 ft (18.9 m). The fuselage was 64 ft 2 in (19.6 m) long, and the helicopter’s total length including the rotor was 74 ft 1 in (22.6 m). The S-67’s mast height was 15 ft (4.6 m), and the top of the tail rotor was 16 ft 4 in (5.0 m). The helicopter’s top speed was 213 mph (343 km/h); maximum cruise speed was 201 mph (324 km/h), and normal cruise speed was 167 mph (269 km/h). The S-67 could climb at 2,000 fpm (10.2 m/s) and had a service ceiling of 20,000 ft (6,096 m). The helicopter could hover in ground effect up to 9,700 ft (2,957 m) and could hover without ground effect up to 6,500 ft (1,981 m). Maximum range on internal fuel was 325 miles (523 km), but its normal combat range was 220 miles (354 km). With external fuel tanks, range was extended to over 600 miles (966 km). The S-67 had an empty weight of 12,525 lb (5,681 kg), a normal weight of 18,500 lb (8,391 kg), and a maximum takeoff weight of 22,050 lb (10,002 kg).

Sikorsky S-67 Colonge Germany 1972

The S-67 seen in the same configuration as the previous image. The helicopter is over Cologne, Germany on its European and Middle Eastern tour in 1972.

Construction on the S-67 started on 15 February 1970 and proceeded rapidly. The helicopter made its first flight on 20 August 1970. Flight testing proved the S-67 to be very responsive, maneuverable, smooth, and quiet. The helicopter was able to perform rolls, loops, and split-S turns—although, only rolls to the right were made. On 14 December 1970, Sikorsky test pilots Kurt Cannon and Byron Graham in the S-67 established a new absolute speed record by averaging 216.841 mph (348.971 km/h) over a 3 km (1.86 mile) course. They then set a new record on 19 December 1970 by averaging 220.888 mph (355.485 km/h) on a 15–25 km (9.3–15.5 mile) course.

In 1971, the S-67 covered 3,500 miles (5,633 km) touring 12 US military bases. In addition to Sikorsky demonstration flights, the helicopter was flown on 147 demo flights with military personnel. The S-67 completed 155 rolls and 140 split-S turns during these flights.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk fan-in-tail

A fan-in-fin anti-torque system was tested in the S-67. Note the rudders above and below the fan. No issues were encountered with the fan-in-fin, but the helicopter was converted back to a conventional tail rotor.

Between 25 May and 13 June 1972, the S-67 was flown 26 hours for a series of flight evaluations by the US Army. The helicopter was competing against the Bell 309/AH-1 KingCobra to replace the AH-56 Cheyenne, which had been cancelled. For the AAFSS role, the S-67 was designated AH-3, and Sikorsky’s proposal included adding an additional hardpoint to each wing, bringing the total number to six. This would enable the S-67 to carry up to 24 TOW missiles. While the S-67 was praised for its performance and most of its flight characteristics, the evaluation recorded a number of shortcomings. The Army did not award either Sikorsky or Bell a contract and decided to initiate a new Armed Attack Helicopter program, which eventually was won by the Hughes AH-64 Apache.

The S-67 underwent a number of modifications in late 1972. Rudders were added to the ventral and dorsal fins to increase yaw control. The compartment behind the cockpit was altered to enable the transport of six troops. Hardpoints were added to the wingtips for each to carry a Sidewinder missile. A hoist was added under the helicopter that allowed the S-67 to transport a 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) external load.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk cockpit

After the fan-in-tail rotor tests, a small door was added on the left side of the fuselage to access the compartment behind the cockpit. Initially, access was gained (with some difficulty) via the door under the fuselage (seen above). The S-67 was then painted a light desert camouflage, and this was the helicopter’s final configuration.

With no interest from the US Armed Forces, Sikorsky offered the S-67 for export. In late 1972, the S-67 was taken on a two-month tour of Europe and the Middle East. More than 7,500 miles (12,070 km) were covered, and the helicopter was flown for 136 hours. Despite interest from Israel, no orders were placed. Sikorsky then modified the S-67 to test a fan-in-fin tail rotor installation. A 4 ft 8 in (2.6 m), seven-blade rotor was installed in the modified tail. The helicopter underwent flight tests, including a dive at 230 mph (370 km/h). After the tests in 1974, the S-67’s tail was converted back to its previous configuration (with rudders), and a door to access the rear compartment was installed in the helicopter’s left side. The S-67 was then painted a light desert camouflage. The data from the fan-in-fin test was used for the Sikorsky H-76 fantail demonstrator, which tested the tail configuration later used in the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk inverted

The S-67 made hundreds of rolls in its lifetime, but they were always to the right. The square in the fuselage above the wing is the window in the new rear compartment access door. What appear to be two rectangular windows can be seen father aft. Note the helicopter’s rudders and deployed air brakes.

On 26 August 1974, the S-67 arrived in the United Kingdom to start another European tour. On 1 September 1974, the S-67 was destroyed after failing to recover from a second roll during a practice session for the upcoming Farnborough Air Show. The copilot, Stu Craig, was killed in the crash, and the pilot, Kurt Cannon, died from his injuries nine days later. The accident was caused by the second roll being initiated in a less than ideal configuration combined with low altitude. However, the accident investigators believed that the crash was survivable had the helicopter been fitted with five-point harnesses rather than four-point harnesses. The S-67 had accumulated 598.7 hours at the time of the crash.

With the prototype destroyed and no interest from the US military, Sikorsky decided to end the S-67 Blackhawk program. Its swept-tip rotor blades were developed into those used on the Sikorsky S-70/UH-60 Black Hawk (the name similarity is a coincidence) and other helicopters. The S-67’s speed record stood for eight years until it was broken on 21 September 1978 by the Soviet Mil A-10 (modified Mi-24B) at 228.9 mph (368.4 km/h).

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk crash

The S-67 tries to recover from a roll a split second before it impacts the ground. The helicopter’s low altitude left no room to recover from the roll, which was rushed and initiated in a flawed manner. The crash would ultimately kill the pilot and copilot and end the S-67 program.

“Blackhawk’s Last Flight” Aeroplane Monthly (June 1976)
Attack Helicopter Evaluation, Blackhawk S-67 Helicopter by George M. Yamakawa, et al (July 1972)

Douglas XB-42 no1 in flight

Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster Attack Bomber

By William Pearce

In the early 1940s, Edward F. Burton began to investigate ways to simplify bomber aircraft. Burton was the Chief of Engineering at the Douglas Aircraft Company (Douglas), and he had noted that each subsequent generation of bomber aircraft was substantially larger, more complex, and more expensive than the preceding generation. Burton and his team started with a clean sheet of paper and designed what would become the XB-42.

Douglas XB-42 no1 in flight

The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster had a unique design that provided very good performance. However, it was too late for World War II and too slow compared to jet aircraft. The first prototype (43-50224) is seen with its short tail on an early test flight.

Acting on their own, with no official United States Army Air Force (AAF) requirement, Burton and his team worked to design a two-engine tactical bomber with a top speed of over 400 mph (644 km/h) and that was capable of carrying 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs to a target 2,500 miles (4,023 km) away. The aircraft’s high speed would eliminate the need for extensive defensive armament, which would minimize the bomber’s crew and save weight. Burton’s team placed the wings, tail, and propellers in their optimal positions; the designers then filled in the rest of the aircraft with the needed equipment. What emerged from the drafting table was the Douglas Model 459: a mid-wing aircraft operated by a crew of three. At the rear of the aircraft were a set of coaxial contra-rotating pusher propellers driven by engines buried in the fuselage. In May 1943, Douglas proposed the aircraft to the AAF, and they were sufficiently impressed to order two prototypes and a static test airframe on 25 June 1943.

The AAF originally gave the aircraft the Attack designation XA-42. Douglas had presented the aircraft in a variety of roles that suited the Attack aircraft profile. However, the aircraft was reclassified as a bomber and redesignated XB-42 on 25 November 1943. Unofficially, the XB-42 was given the name Mixmaster, on account of its eight contra-rotating propeller blades loosely resembling a popular kitchen mixer.

The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster was a very unique aircraft. It was an all-metal aircraft with a tricycle landing gear arrangement, which was novel at the time. A plexiglass nose covered the bombardier’s position. Atop the fuselage were two separate bubble canopies for the pilot and copilot. At the rear of the aircraft was a cruciform tail; its ventral fin contained an oleo-pneumatic bumper to protect the propellers from potential ground strikes during takeoff and landing.

Douglas XB-42 no1 nose

Nose view of the first prototype shows the twin bubble canopies to advantage. Both XB-42 aircraft were originally built with the canopies, but they were disliked. The second aircraft was later modified with a more conventional canopy.

The aircraft’s long wing used a laminar flow airfoil and was fitted with double-slotted flaps. An inlet in the wing’s leading edge led to the engine oil cooler and radiator, both fitted with electric fans for ground operation. After air flowed through the coolers, it was expelled out the top of the wing. The main landing gear retracted back into the sides of the fuselage, below and behind the wings. The complex retraction required the gear legs and wheels to rotate 180 degrees. Fuel tanks in each wing carried 330 gallons (1,249 L) of fuel. Four additional 275 gallon (1,041 L) fuel tanks could be installed in the bomb bay to extend the aircraft’s range. In addition, a 300 gallon (1,136 L) drop tank could be installed under each wing.

Housed in the fuselage behind the cockpit were two Allison V-1710 engines. Each engine was installed with its vertical axis tilted 20 degrees out from center, and the engines were angled toward the tail. Ducts flush with the aircraft’s skin and positioned below the cockpit on both sides of the aircraft brought induction air to the engines. A row of exhaust stacks was located above the leading edge of each wing, and two rows of exhaust stacks were positioned along the aircraft’s spine. The engines of the first XB-42 prototype produced 1,325 hp (988 kW) at takeoff and 1,820 hp (1,357 kW) at war emergency power. The second prototype had engines that produced 1,675 hp (1,249 kW) for takeoff and 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) for war emergency power.

Douglas XB-42 no2 gear retract

A unique view of the second prototype (43-50225) that displays the aircraft’s slotted flaps and uncommon main gear retraction that required the legs and wheels to rotate 180 degrees into the fuselage sides. Also visible are the wing guns and revised leading edge inlets, both features exclusive to the second prototype.

Extending from each engine was an extension shaft made up of six sections. The shaft sections were like those used in the Bell P-39 Airacobra (which used two sections). The shafts extended around 29 ft (8.8 m) and connected the engines to a remote, contra-rotating gear reduction box from an Allison V-3420-B engine. The gearbox had been slightly modified for the XB-42 and used a .361 gear ratio that was unique to the aircraft. Each engine turned a three-blade Curtiss Electric propeller. The left engine drove the forward propeller, which was 13 ft 2 in (4.01 m) in diameter. The right engine drove the rear propeller, which was 13 ft (3.96 m) in diameter. The engines and propellers were operated independently—if needed, one engine could be shut down and its propeller feathered while in flight.

To eliminate the danger the propellers presented to the crew during a bail out, a cord of explosives (cordite) was threaded through holes carefully drilled around the gearbox mount. Before bailing out, the crew could detonate the explosives, which would separate the gearbox and propellers from the aircraft.

Douglas XB-42 Allison engine test

Two Allison V-1710 engines connected to the V-3420 remote gear reduction for the contra-rotating propellers as used on the XB-42. The power system accumulated over 600 hours on the test stand and never caused serious issues during the XB-42 program.

The XB-42’s bomb bay was covered by two-piece, snap-action doors. The bay accommodated 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) of bombs, or a single 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) bomb could be carried if the doors were kept open six inches. The bay was long enough to carry two 13 ft 9 in (4.2 m) Mk 13 torpedoes. Two fixed .50-cal machine guns with 500 rpg were installed in the aircraft’s nose. Housed in the trailing edge of each wing, between the aileron and flap, were a pair of rearward-firing .50-cal machine guns, each with 350 rpg. The guns were concealed behind snap-action doors. Once exposed, the guns could be angled through a range of 30 degrees up, 15 degrees down, and 25 degrees to the left or right. Their minimum convergence was 75 ft behind the aircraft. The rear-firing guns were operated by the copilot, who rotated his seat 180 degrees to use the gun’s sighting system.

Douglas designers envisioned that the B-42 aircraft could be fitted with a solid nose containing different weapons for different roles. This is the same concept that was applied to the Douglas A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader. Three of the possible B-42 nose configurations were as follows: eight .50-cal machine guns; two 37 mm cannons and two .50-cal machine guns; or a 75 mm cannon and two .50-cal machine guns. Douglas also thought the aircraft’s speed and range would make it very useful in a reconnaissance role. None of these plans made it off the drawing board.

The XB-42 had a 70 ft 6 in (21.49 m) wingspan and was 53 ft 8 in (16.4 m) long. Originally, the aircraft was 18 ft 10 in (5.7m) tall, but the tail and rudder were extended to cure some instability. The extension increased the XB-42’s height to 20 ft 7 in (6.3 m). A brochure published by Douglas in April 1944 predicted the B-42 would be able to carry 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs over 5,333 miles (8,583 km) and have a top speed of 470 mph (756 km/h). These numbers proved very optimistic. Perhaps the speed was a misprint, because some sources indicate the anticipated top speed was 440 mph (708 km/h). Regardless, the aircraft only achieved 410 mph (660 km/h) at 23,440 ft (7,145 m), and its cruising speed was 312 mph (502 km/h). The XB-42 had an empty weight of 20,888 lb (9,475 kg) and a maximum weight of 35,702 lb (16,194 kg). The aircraft’s service ceiling was 29,400 ft (8,961 m). Its combat range was 1,800 miles (2,897 km), but additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay could extend the XB-42’s range to a maximum of 5,400 miles (8,690 km).

Douglas XB-42 no2 rear

Rear view of the second prototype shows the ventral tail and rudder. Note the oleo-pneumatic bumper on the tail and its minimal ground clearance. The wing guns and new canopy are just barely visible.

Construction of the XB-42 proceeded rapidly. The AAF inspected and approved an aircraft mockup in September 1943, and the first prototype (43-50224) was completed in May 1944—one year after the aircraft was proposed and 10 months after the contract was awarded. The XB-42 flew for the first time on 6 May 1944, flown by Bob Brush and taking off from the Palm Springs Army Airfield in California. The second prototype (43-50225) flew for the first time on 1 August 1944, taking off from Santa Monica Airport in California.

Both XB-42s were originally fitted with separate bubble canopies. This cockpit layout was not very popular with the pilots. Although they could communicate via intercom, the pilots often found themselves leaning forward to speak with one another face to face under the canopies. The second aircraft was modified with a more conventional single canopy that encompassed both pilot and copilot. While the bubble canopies reduced drag, the single canopy was preferred. Another issue facing the aircraft was that cracks formed in the plexiglass nose. After the plexiglass was replaced several times, the nose was eventually covered with plywood.

Both prototypes were heavier than expected, which reduced performance. Some work went into lightening the second aircraft, like the use of hollow propeller blades. However, issues with vibrations occurred when disturbed air encountered the propellers, and this phenomenon was exacerbated by the hollow blades. No issues were encountered when the aircraft was clean, but when the bomb bay doors were open or when the gear or flaps were deployed, the vibration issue occurred. Some pilots lived with the vibrations and dismissed the issue, but other pilots found it very disconcerting. An improved propeller was designed that featured reversible blades to decrease landing roll and to slow the aircraft in flight. However, it was cancelled in March 1945 and was never built.

Douglas XB-42 no2 with canopy

Front view of the second prototype illustrates the aircraft’s revised canopy. The canopy on production aircraft would have been similar but more refined. Again, note the tail clearance and wing guns.

Some cooling issues were encountered, and modifications to the air intakes were made to improve airflow. The main gear was also modified a few times to improve its retraction and performance. Overall, the aircraft flew well, but the controls were not well harmonized. In addition, the XB-42 aircraft would encounter a slow dutch roll oscillation if not counteracted by the pilot. As previously mentioned, the tail of the aircraft was enlarged to resolve the issue, but it was never entirely solved. The XB-42 required a very long takeoff run of some 6,415 ft (1,955 m). Because there was only about 9 in (.23 m) of clearance between the ventral tail and the ground, the aircraft needed to build up a substantial amount of speed before it was carefully rotated for liftoff.

The second XB-42 prototype was the only aircraft to have revised wing inlets and to be fitted with its machine gun armament, although the guns were never tested. The second aircraft was flown around 70 hours before it was turned over to the AAF. On 8 December 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden and Captain Glen W. Edwards flew the second XB-42 from Long Beach, California to Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. The record-setting, point-to-point flight covered 2,295 miles (3,693 km) in a time of 5:17:34—an average of 433.6 mph (697.8 km/h). The XB-42 had benefited from a favorable tailwind, and the aircraft’s average true airspeed was around 375 mph (604 km/h).

Douglas XB-42 wing guns

The guns in the left wing are seen aimed 30 degrees up and 25 degrees inboard. Only the second aircraft was fitted with the guns, and they were never tested. Note the snap-action doors that covered the guns. When open, the doors increased the XB-42’s directional stability, resulting in additional rudder force to give the desired yaw.

On 16 December 1945, the second XB-42 was lost during a test flight near Bolling Field. The aircraft was in a landing configuration when there was an issue with extending the landing gear. While the crew was troubleshooting the problem, the left engine began to overheat and then died. The right engine was taken to full power and began to overheat. The decision was made to bail out, and two of the crew safely jumped free before the pilot remembered to jettison the propellers. The propellers and their gearbox were successfully severed from the XB-42, and the pilot bailed out. All three crew members survived the ordeal without any injuries, but the aircraft was completely destroyed.

An exact cause of the crash was never determined, but it was speculated that the coolant doors were inadvertently left in their nearly-closed landing configuration while the crew investigated the gear issue. This resulted in the engines overheating. At the same time, a fuel tank switch was made a bit late and probably led to fuel starvation of the left engine. The second XB-42 had accumulated a little over 118 hours of flight time when it crashed.

The first XB-42 prototype had made 42 flights and accumulated over 34 flight hours by 30 September 1944. A year later, that number rose to around 150 flights, with the aircraft accumulating around 125 flight hours. Before the XB-42 had even flown, Douglas contemplated adding jet engines to the aircraft. An official proposal for the modification was submitted on 23 February 1945. The proposal was approved on 8 March 1946, and modifications to the aircraft began on 26 June 1946. At the time, the first XB-42 had made 168 flights and had flown around 144.5 hours. The two Westinghouse 19XB-2A (J30) jet engines were finally delivered in October 1946 and were installed on the aircraft.

Douglas XB-42A rear

Rear view of the XB-42A illustrates the notches in the new flaps to avoid the jet exhaust. The rest of the aircraft remained relatively unchanged from the XB-42 configuration. The cooling air exit can be seen on the right wing. Note the various Douglas aircraft in the background.

With the jet engines added to the first prototype, the aircraft was redesignated as the Douglas XB-42A. The 1,600 lbf (7.12 kN) thrust jet engines were mounted under the aircraft’s wings. New flaps were installed that were notched behind the jet engines. The notches allowed the flaps to avoid the jet exhaust when they were deployed. The fuel tanks in the wings were modified because of the jet engine mounts. Total wing tankage was decreased by 154 gallons (583 L), but two additional 74 gallon (280 L) tanks were installed in the fuselage. The jets themselves burned the same fuel as the piston engines. The aircraft’s instrumentation was also modified to accommodate the jet engines.

The XB-42A is listed as having a 70 ft 7 in (21.51 m) wingspan and a length of 53 ft 10 in (16.4 m). In reality, the wingspan was probably the same as the XB-42, and the length was slightly longer due to a different spinner. The aircraft’s height was 20 ft 7 in (6.3 m). The XB-42A had a predicted maximum speed of 488 mph (785 km/h) but only achieved 473 mph (761 km/h) at 14,000 ft (4,267 m); cruising speed was 442 mph (711 km/h). The XB-42A had an empty weight of 24,775 lb (11,238 kg) and a maximum weight of 44,900 lb (20,366 kg). The aircraft’s service ceiling was 34,500 ft (10,516 m). The XB-42A had a normal range of around 1,200 miles (1,931 km), but a maximum range of 4,750 miles (7,644 km) could be achieved with additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay.

Douglas XB-42A

The XB-42A makes a low pass over Muroc Air Base during an early test flight. Note the exhaust stains above the wing and the oil stains below the wing. The aircraft was outclassed by other jet aircraft, including its XB-43 cousin.

The first flight of the XB-42A (still 43-50224) occurred on 27 May 1947 at Muroc (now Edwards) Air Base in California. The aircraft required a lot of maintenance and did not prove remarkable in any category to justify further development. Despite the increased performance, the XB-42A was perched on the awkward dividing line between piston-powered aircraft of the past and jet-powered aircraft of the future. There is no better indicator of this than the fact that Douglas had already moved forward with an all-jet XB-42 aircraft, designated XB-43. The Douglas XB-43 Jetmaster had its jet engines buried in the fuselage, near were the Allison engines were installed on the XB-42. The first XB-43 was built using the XB-42 static test airframe. The jet-powered XB-43 made its first flight on 17 May 1946—little more than a year before the jet/piston-powered XB-42A first flew. The XB-42A made only 23 flights, accounting for a little under 18.5 hours of flight time.

With technological progress outpacing the XB-42A, the aircraft was donated to the Air Force Museum on 30 June 1949. It was later moved to the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul Gerber Facility in Silver Hill, Maryland, where it was stored for a number of years. In 2010, the XB-42A was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft, along with second XB-43 prototype, will eventually be restored for static display.

Douglas persisted with the pusher configuration and designed a number of other military and commercial aircraft. The most developed design was that of the Model 1004, which was actually designated DC-8. Known as the Skybus, the aircraft was similar to an XB-42, but with an extended fuselage for airline service. The aircraft could seat a maximum of 48 passengers, and the extension shafts from the Allison engines travelled under the passenger compartment. First proposed in October 1945, the Skybus was never built, and the DC-8 designation was reapplied to Douglas’s first jet airliner.

Douglas DC-8 Skybus

Although visually similar to the XB-42, the Douglas DC-8 Skybus was an entirely new design. The aircraft’s excellent performance and great single-engine handling was not enough to justify its expense over more conventional designs.

American Bomber Development in World War 2 by Bill Norton (2012)
Vee’s for Victory! The Story of the Allison V-1710 Aircraft Engine 1929-1948 by Daniel D. Whitney (1998)
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920: Volume I by René J Francillon (1979/1988)
The Allison Engine Catalog 1915–2007 by John M. Leonard (2008)
“The First, The Last, and the Only” by Walt Boyne, Airpower Vol. 3 No. 5 (September 1973)
“The Douglas DC-8 Skybus” by R. E. Williams, Douglas Service Vol. 41 (second quarter 1984)

Dutheil Chalmers Eole props rear

Dutheil-Chalmers Éole Opposed-Piston Aircraft Engine

By William Pearce

In 1906, the French company Société L. Dutheil, R. Chalmers et Cie (Dutheil-Chalmers) began developing aircraft engines for early aviation pioneers. The company was headquartered in Seine, France and was founded by Louis Dutheil and Robert-Arthur Chalmers. Although most of their engines were water cooled, the Dutheil-Chalmers’ horizontal aviation engines may have been the first successful versions of the horizontal type that is now used ubiquitously in light aircraft. Continuing to innovate for the new field of aviation, Dutheil-Chalmers soon developed a line of horizontal, opposed-piston engines.

Dutheil Chalmers Eole patent

Taken from the Dutheil-Chalmers British patent of 1909, this drawing shows the layout of the horizontal, opposed-piston engine. The dashed lines represent the bevel-gear cross shaft that synchronized the two crankshafts.

On 23 November 1908, Dutheil-Chalmers applied for a French patent (number not found) that outlined their concept of an opposed-piston engine. The French patent is referenced in British patent 26,549, which was applied for on 16 November 1909 and granted on 21 July 1910. In the British patent, Dutheil-Chalmers stated that the engine would have two crankshafts. The output shaft would not be a power shaft that connected the two crankshafts. Rather, the crankshafts would rotate in opposite directions (counter-rotating), and a propeller would mount directly to each crankshaft. This is the same power transfer method used in the SPA-Faccioli opposed-piston aircraft engines. While the Dutheil-Chalmers and SPA-Faccioli engines shared a similar concept and were built and developed at the same time, there is no indication that either company copied the other.

The Dutheil-Chalmers opposed-piston engines are sometimes referred to as Éole engines. It is not clear if Dutheil-Chalmers marketed the engines for a time under a different name or if Éole was just the name they gave to their line of opposed-piston engines. Éole is the French name for Aeolus, the ruler of the winds in Greek mythology. The engines were primarily intended to power airships. The two counter-rotating propellers would cancel out the torque associated with a single propeller on a standard engine. In addition, the opposed-piston engine’s two-propeller design did not require the heavy and cumbersome shafting and gears necessary for a conventional single-crankshaft engine to power two propellers.

Dutheil Chalmers Eole 2 view

Top and side view drawings of the four-cylinder, opposed-piston engine. The drawings show no valve train and differ slightly from photos of the actual engine, but they give an idea of the engine’s general layout.

Four different horizontal, opposed-piston engine sizes were announced, all of which were water-cooled. Three of the engines had the same bore and stroke but differed in the number of cylinders used. These engines had two, three, and four cylinders. Each had a 4.33 in (110 mm) bore and a 5.91 in (150 mm) stroke, which was an 11.81 in (300 mm) stroke equivalent with the two pistons per cylinder. The two-cylinder engine displaced 348 cu in (5.7 L) and produced 38 hp (28 kW) at 1,000 rpm. The engine weighed 220 lb (100 kg). The three-cylinder engine displaced 522 cu in (8.6 L) and produced 56 hp (42 kW) at 1,000 rpm. The engine weighed 397 lb (180 kg). The four-cylinder engine displaced 696 cu in (11.4 L) and produced 75 hp (56 kW) at 1,000 rpm. The engine weighed 529 lb (240 kg). It is not clear if any of these engines were built.

The fourth engine was built, and it was the largest opposed-piston engine in the Dutheil-Chalmers line. The bore was enlarged to 4.92 in (125 mm), and the stroke remained the same at 5.91 in (150 mm)—an 11.81 in (300 mm) equivalent with the two pistons per cylinder. The four-cylinder engine displaced 899 cu in (14.7 L) and produced 97 hp (72 kW) at 1,000 rpm. Often, the engine is listed as producing 100 hp (75 kW). The four-cylinder engine weighed 794 lb (360 kg).

Dutheil Chalmers Eole front

This Drawing illustrates the front of the Dutheil-Chalmers opposed-piston engine. Note the cross shaft that synchronized the two crankshafts. The gear on the cross shaft drove the engine’s camshaft. The pushrods, rockers, and valves are visible.

Only the 97 hp (72 kW) engine was exhibited, but it was not seen until 1910. The engine was displayed at the Paris Flight Salon, which occurred in October 1910. The engine consisted of four individual cylinders made from cast iron. The horizontal cylinders were attached to crankcases on the left and right. Threaded rods secured the crankcases together and squeezed the cylinders between the crankcases. Each crankcase housed a crankshaft, and the two crankshafts were synchronized by a bevel-gear cross shaft positioned at the front of the engine. A two-blade propeller was attached to each crankshaft. The propellers were phased so that when one was in the horizontal position, the other was in the vertical position.

Near the center of the cross shaft was a gear that drove the camshaft, which was positioned under the engine. The camshaft actuated pushrods for the intake valves on the lower side of the engine and the exhaust valves on the upper side of the engine. The pushrods of the intake valves travel between the cylinders. All of the pushrods acted on rocker arms that actuated the valves positioned in the middle of the cylinder. Each cylinder had one intake and one exhaust valve.

No information has been found that indicates any Dutheil-Chalmers Éole opposed-piston engines were used in any airship or aircraft. Still, it is a unique engine conceived and built at a time of great innovation, not just in aviation, but in all technical fields.

Dutheil Chalmers Eole props rear

The 97 hp (72 kW), four-cylinder, eight-piston engine on display at the Paris Flight Salon in 1910. The engine has appeared in various publications as both a Dutheil-Chalmers and an Éole. Note the rods that secured the crankcases together. What appears to be the camshaft can be seen under the engine.

Les Moteurs a Pistons Aeronautiques Francais Tome II by Alfred Bodemer and Robert Laugier (1987)
“Improvements in or connected with Motors especially applicable to Aviation and Aerostation Purposes” GB patent 26,549 by L. Dutheil, R. Chalmers and Company (granted 21 July 1910)
“Motors for Aerial Navigation—V” by J. S. Critchley, The Horseless Age (26 October 1910)
“Aerial Motors at the Salon” by Oiseau, Flight (5 November 1910)

SPA-Faccioli N3 rear

SPA-Faccioli Opposed-Piston Aircraft Engines

By William Pearce

Aristide Faccioli was an Italian engineer. In the late 1800s, he became fascinated with aviation and worked to unravel the mysteries of powered flight. With little progress in aviation, Aristide had turned to automobile development by 1898. He worked for Ceirano GB & C and designed Italy’s first automobile, the Welleyes. Ceirano GB & C did not have the finances to produce the automobile, so a new company was established for automobile production. This company was called Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino or FIAT, and it bought the rights, plans, and patents for the Welleyes. The Welleyes became FIAT’s first production automobile, the 3 ½ CV.

SPA-Faccioli N1

The SPA-Faccioli N.1 engine with its four cylinders, each housing two opposed pistons. At the rear of the engine (bottom of image) is the cross shaft linking the two crankshafts. Note the gear on the cross shaft that drove the camshaft.

Aristide became FIAT’s first technical director, but he left in 1901 to start his own automobile company. In 1905, Aristide moved from automobile production to engine design. However, Aristide’s focus returned to aviation once he learned of the successful flights of the Wright Brothers and other early pioneers. In 1907, Aristide shut down his companies and worked on aircraft and aircraft engine designs. In 1908, Aristide visited a close friend, Matteo Ceirano, seeking financial support. Matteo was one of Ceirano GB & C’s founders and was a co-founder of SPA (Società Ligure Piemontese Automobili). Matteo and SPA backed Aristide and encouraged him to continue his aeronautical work.

Aristide’s first engine was the SPA-Faccioli N.1. The N.1 was a water-cooled, horizontal, opposed-piston engine. Each side of the engine had a crankshaft that drove pistons in the engine’s four, individual cylinders. Attached to each crankshaft was a propeller. The crankshafts and their propellers turned in opposite directions (counter-rotating). When viewed from the rear of the engine, the right propeller turned clockwise, and the left propeller turned counterclockwise. The two-blade, wooden propellers were phased so that when one was horizontal the other was vertical. The dual, counter-rotating propeller design was an effort to eliminate engine vibrations and cancel out propeller torque.

SPA-Faccioli N2

This rear view of the SPA-Faccioli N.2 illustrates that the engine was much more refined than the N.1. Note the magneto driven above the cross shaft and the gear train driven below.

The two crankshafts were synchronized by a bevel-gear cross shaft that ran along the rear of the engine. Geared to the cross shaft was a camshaft that ran under the engine. The camshaft actuated the intake and exhaust valves that were located in the middle of each cylinder. As the two pistons in each cylinder came together, the air/fuel mixture was compressed. Once the mixture was ignited by the spark plug in the middle of the cylinder, the expanding gasses pushed the pistons back, operating like any other four-stroke engine. The N.1 had a 4.41 in (112 mm) bore and a 5.91 in (150 mm) stroke. The two pistons per cylinder effectively gave the N.1 an 11.81 in (300 mm) stroke. The engine displaced 721 cu in (11.82 L) and produced 80 hp (60 kW) at 1,200 rpm. The N.1 weighed 529 lb (240 kg).

The N.1 engine was installed in the Faccioli N.1 aircraft, which was a triplane pusher design. Flown by Mario Faccioli, Aristide’s son, the engine, aircraft, and pilot all made their first flight on 13 January 1909. The aircraft quickly got away from Mario, and the subsequent crash injured Mario and destroyed the aircraft. Although brief, the flight marked the first time an Italian-designed and built aircraft was flown with an Italian-designed and built engine. With all parties undeterred, the N.1 engine was installed in the Faccioli N.2 aircraft (a biplane pusher with a front-mounted elevator) and flown by Mario in June 1909. After a few flights, Mario and the N.2 aircraft were involved in an accident that again injured Mario and destroyed the aircraft.

Faccioli N3 aircraft

Mario Faccioli sits on the Faccioli N.3 aircraft in 1910. Note the covers over the N.2 engine’s cross shaft bevel gears. Since the propellers rotated in opposite directions, when one was vertical, the other was horizontal.

After these setbacks, Aristide designed a new engine, the SPA-Faccioli N.2. The N.2 had many features in common with the N.1: water-cooling, opposed-pistons, dual crankshafts, a bevel-gear cross shaft, and counter-rotating propellers. However, the N.2 was a single cylinder engine. The engine’s magneto was driven from the cross shaft. The N.2’s intake was positioned on the bottom side of the engine, and exhaust was expelled from the top side. The N.2 had a 3.94 in (100 mm) bore and a 5.12 in (130 mm) stroke—a 10.24 in (260 mm) equivalent for the two pistons per cylinder. The engine displaced 249 cu in (4.08 L) and produced 20 hp (15 kW) at 1,200 rpm and 25 hp (19 kW) at 1,500 rpm. The N.2 weighed 106 lb (48 kg).

The N.2 engine was installed in the Faccioli N.3 aircraft. With a very similar layout to the N.2 aircraft, the N.3 pusher biplane was smaller and did not have the front-mounted elevator. Mario was again the test pilot, and he first flew the aircraft on 12 February 1910. Many flights were made throughout February and March. On 26 March 1910, one propeller came off the engine and damaged the aircraft while it was in flight. Mario was injured in the subsequent crash, and the N.3 aircraft was damaged. Aircraft and pilot flew again in the summer, but Aristide was already working on a new aircraft design.

SPA-Faccioli N3 rear

This rear view of the SPA-Faccioli N.3 shows many features common with the N.2 engine. However, note the 20 degree cylinder angle extending from the crankshafts. The camshaft was driven from the cross shaft and extended through the engine. Two pushrods extend from both the top and bottom of the camshaft. The black plugs in the center of the cylinders cover ports for spark plugs. (W. R. Pearce image)

The N.2 engine was installed in the Faccioli N.4 aircraft, a further refinement of the Faccioli line. The aircraft was first flown by Mario in July 1910. On 15 October 1910, Mario used the N.4 aircraft to get his Italian pilot’s license (No. 21). This was the first time an Italian-designed and built aircraft was used to obtain a pilot’s license.

For his next aircraft, the Faccioli N.5, Aristide needed more power. The new SPA-Faccioli N.3 engine was built upon knowledge gained from the previous engines. Again, the engine was water-cooled with opposed-pistons and had dual crankshafts (synched by a bevel-gear cross shaft) that drove counter-rotating propellers. However, the cylinder arrangement of the N.3 was unique. In essence, the N.3 was made up of two V-4 engines mounted horizontally and attached together via their combustion chambers. The cylinders of the complete engine formed a diamond shape, with the cylinders angled at 20 degrees relative to the crankshaft. This gave the cylinders a 160 degree bend at their middle. Technically, the pistons no longer shared a common cylinder, but the cylinders did still share a combustion chamber. Some sources define the N.3 as a four-cylinder opposed-piston engine, and other sources define it as an eight-cylinder engine in which opposed pairs of cylinders shared a common combustion chamber.

SPA-Faccioli N3 front

The N.3 engine’s intake manifold can be seen on the left side of the image; the exhaust ports are also visible to the right of the valves. Note the camshaft extending through the engine, and the pushrods that actuated the valves. The front side of the engine still has its two spark plugs.

Two magnetos were driven from the cross shaft at the rear of the N.3 engine. The magnetos fired one spark plug per cylinder pair. The spark plugs were positioned either on the front of the engine or on the back, depending on the cylinder. The cross shaft also drove a short camshaft that extended through the diamond between the cylinders. Via pushrods and rocker arms, the camshaft actuated the one intake and one exhaust valve for each cylinder pair. An intake manifold mounted to the front of the engine brought air and fuel into the right side of the engine, and the exhaust was expelled from the left side of the engine. The N.3 had a 2.95 in (75 mm) bore and a 5.91 in (150 mm) stroke. The engine displaced 324 cu in (5.30 L) and produced 40 hp (30 kW) at 1,200 rpm and 50 hp (37 kW) at 1,600 rpm. The N.3 weighed 198 lb (90 kg).

The N.3 engine was finished in early 1911, but the Faccioli N.5 aircraft was not. The N.3 engine was installed in the N.4 aircraft, and Mario continued his role as chief pilot. The N.3-powered N.4 aircraft was entered in various competitions during the Settimana Aerea Torinese (Turinese Air Week) held in June 1911. On 25 June 1911, the last day of the competition, a mechanical failure on the aircraft caused Mario and the N.4 to crash. As with previous crashes, Mario was injured, and the aircraft was destroyed.

Faccioli N4 aircraft

The Faccioli N.4 aircraft was originally powered by the SPA-Faccioli N.2 engine. In 1911, the eight-cylinder SPA-Faccioli N.3 engine was installed. This image was taken in June 1911, with the N.3 engine installed and Mario in the aircraft.

It is not clear if the Faccioli N.5 aircraft was ever completed. Aristide’s involvement in aviation seemed to wane after the crash of the N.4 aircraft. In fact, the last SPA-Faccioli engine may have been a development of the N.3 undertaken exclusively by SPA without much involvement from Faccioli.

Built in late 1911 or early 1912, the SPA-Faccioli N.4 engine was an enlarged and refined N.3. With the N.4, eight cylinders were again positioned in a diamond configuration, angled at 20 degrees at the crankshafts and 160 degrees at the combustion chambers. Each opposed cylinder pair shared a common combustion chamber. Each cylinder pair now had two spark plugs, and they were fired by two magnetos, one driven directly from the rear of each crankshaft. The cross shaft synchronizing the crankshafts also served as the camshaft. At the rear of the engine, the cross shaft drove pushrods that acted on rocker arms mounted to the top and bottom of the engine. The rocker arms actuated the one intake and one exhaust valve per cylinder pair, positioned at the center of the cylinders. The intake manifold was positioned behind the engine, to the left of center. The manifold fed the air/fuel mixture to a passageway in the cylinder casting that ran on the left side of the valves. The exhaust was expelled to the right of the valves.

SPA-Faccioli N4 front

The SPA-Faccioli N.4 was the final refinement of the Faccioli engine line. The magnetos can be seen behind the engine; each was driven from the rear of a crankshaft. Note the two spark plugs per cylinder pair. (W. R. Pearce image)

The N.4 engine had a 3.74 in (95 mm) bore and a 5.91 (150 mm) stroke. The engine displaced 519 cu in (8.51 L) and produced 80 hp (60 kW) at 1,200 rpm and 90 hp (67 kW) at 1,600 rpm. The N.4 was 54 in (1.38 m) wide, 32 in (.82 m) long, 22 in (.57 m) tall, and weighed 441 lb (200 kg). No information has been found to indicate that the engine was installed in any aircraft.

After surviving so many close calls, Mario Faccioli was sadly killed in a plane crash in March 1915. The type of aircraft involved in the crash is not known. Aristide Faccioli never achieved the success he strived for and never recovered from his son’s death. He took his own life on 28 January 1920.

SPA-Faccioli N.3 and N.4 engines are preserved and on display in the Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare in Vigna di Valle, Italy. An N.4 engine is displayed in the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Museums Discovery Centre in Castle Hill, Australia. The museum lists the engine as a “300 hp, model 2-A,” undoubtedly confusing the eight-cylinder SPA-Faccioli engine with a SPA Type 2-A straight-eight engine. Also, the N.4 is positioned upside-down in its display stand.

SPA-Faccioli N4 rear

This rear view of the N.4 engine shows how the cross shaft also acted as the camshaft and directly drove the pushrods. The valves in the foreground are for the intake. The port for the intake manifold can just be seen at the center of the engine. Note the mounts for the magnetos and that the engine is upside-down in its display stand. (Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences image)

Origin of Aviation in Italy by Piero Vergnano (1964)
Aeronuatica Militare Museo Storico Catalogo Motori by Oscar Marchi (1980)
Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1912 by Fred T. Jane (1912/1968)

Martin-Baker MB5 dH front

Martin-Baker MB5 Fighter

By William Pearce

On 12 September 1942, the Martin-Baker MB3 fighter crashed after its Napier Sabre engine seized. Company co-founder Captain Valentine H. Baker was killed during the attempted forced landing. James Martin, the aircraft’s designer, had already designed the MB3A, which was the production version of the MB3 that incorporated several changes to enhance the fighter’s performance. The second MB3 prototype was to be completed as a MB3A. After the MB3 was destroyed and Baker was killed, Martin wanted to further alter the aircraft’s design to improve its safety and performance. Perhaps the paramount change was to replace the Sabre engine with a Rolls-Royce Griffon.

Martin-Baker MB5 Rotol front

The Martin-Baker MB5 was one a few aircraft that sat at the pinnacle of piston-engine fighter development. Here, the aircraft is pictured at Harwell around the time of its first flight. The Rotol propeller is installed but the 20 mm cannons are not.

The British Air Ministry doubted the quick delivery of the two MB3 prototypes still on order and was agreeable to a contract change. They authorized the construction of a single prototype of the new aircraft design designated MB5. The MB5 was given serial number R2496, which was originally allocated to the second and never-built MB3 aircraft. The third MB3 prototype was cancelled.

The Martin-Baker MB5 was officially designed to the same Air Ministry Specification (F.18/39) as the MB3. Also, the aircraft’s construction closely followed the methods used on the MB3. The aircraft’s fuselage was made of a tubular steel frame with bolted joints. Attached to the frame were formers that gave the fuselage its shape. Aluminum skin panels were attached to the formers, and detachable panels were used wherever possible. A rubber seal attached to the formers ensured the tight fit of the detachable skin panels, which were secured by Dzus fasteners. The large and easily removed panels helped simplify the aircraft’s service and maintenance.

Martin-Baker MB5 Rotol org tail rear

Again, the MB5 is shown at Harwell. The original vertical stabilizer and rudder were very similar to those used on the MB3. The inner gear doors are not installed on the aircraft.

The MB5’s wings were very similar to those used on the MB3, except that each housed only two 20 mm cannons with 200 rpg. All control surfaces used spring servo tabs; the rudder was fabric-covered, but all other control surfaces were metal-covered. The aircraft’s brakes, split flaps, and fully retractable landing gear were pneumatically controlled, and the air system operated at 350 psi (24.13 bar). The main wheels had a wide track of 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m). Two fuel tanks were housed in the aircraft’s fuselage: an 84 gallon (318 L) tank was positioned in front of the cockpit, and a 156 gallon (591 L) tank was positioned behind the cockpit. The cockpit was positioned directly above the wings and was enclosed with a bubble canopy. The cockpit had very good visibility, and its design was praised for the excellent layout of gauges and controls. The three main gauge clusters hinged downward for access and maintenance.

The MB5 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Griffon 83 engine capable of 2,340 hp (1,745 kW) with 25 psi (1.72 bar) of boost and 130 PN fuel. The engine originally turned a six-blade Rotol contra-rotating propeller, but by late 1945, a 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m) de Havilland contra-rotating unit was installed. A small scoop under the spinner brought in air to the Griffon’s two-speed, two-stage supercharger. The intercooler, radiator, and oil cooler were arranged, in that order, in a scoop under the fuselage. This arrangement provided some heat to the oil cooler when the engine was first started and prevented the oil from congealing and restricting the flow through the cooler.

Martin-Baker MB5 2nd tail

An intermediate modification to the MB5’s tail involved a more vertical leading edge that increased the fin’s area. This version of the tail did not last long before the completely redesigned unit was installed. The aircraft still has the Rotol propeller.

The aircraft had a 35 ft (10.7 m) wingspan, was 37 ft 9 in (11.5 m) long, and was 14 ft 4 in (4.4 m) tall. The MB5 had a maximum speed of 395 mph (636 km/h) at sea level, 425 mph (684 km/h) at 6,000 ft (1,829 m), and 460 mph (740 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m). Normal cruising speed was 360 mph (578 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m). The aircraft stalled at 95 mph (153 km/h) clean and at 78 mph (126 km/h) with flaps and gear extended. The MB5 had an initial rate of climb of 3,800 fpm (19.3 m/s) and could reach 20,000 ft (6,096 m) in 6.5 minutes and 34,000 ft (10,363 m) in 15 minutes. The MB5’s service ceiling was 40,000 ft (12,192 m), and it had a range of around 1,100 miles (1,770 km). The aircraft had an empty weight of 9,233 lb (4,188 kg), a normal weight of 11,500 lb (5,216 kg), and an overload weight of 12,090 lb (5,484 kg).

Construction of the MB5 started in 1943, and some components (possibly the wings and tail) of the second MB3 prototype were used in the MB5. The work on the aircraft was delayed because of other war work with which Martin-Baker was involved. In addition, Martin continued to refine and tinker with the MB5’s design, much to the frustration of the Air Ministry. However, the Air Ministry decided that Martin was going to do whatever he thought was right and that the best course of action was to leave him alone; the MB5 would be done when Martin decided it was done.

Martin-Baker MB5 dH front

The MB5 pictured close to its final form. The de Havilland propeller, inner gear doors, and taller vertical stabilizer and rudder have been installed. Note the smooth lines of the cowling. The position of the cockpit gave a good view over the aircraft’s nose and wings.

Captain Baker was Martin-Baker’s only test pilot and was never replaced. As the MB5 neared completion in the spring of 1944, Rotol test pilot (Leslie) Bryan Greensted was loaned to fly the aircraft. On 23 May 1944, the MB5 was disassembled and trucked from Martin-Baker’s works in Denham to the Royal Air Force (RAF) station in Harwell. The aircraft was reassembled and underwent some ground runs. Later that same day, Greensted took the MB5 aloft for its first test flight. To disassemble, transport, reassemble, and flight test an aircraft all in one day speaks to the MB5’s impressive design.

Greensted was not overly impressed with the aircraft’s first flight, because the MB5 exhibited directional instability; in fact, he said the aircraft “was an absolute swine to fly.” Martin listened intently to Greensted’s comments and immediately went to work on a solution. The increased blade area of the contra-rotating propellers had a destabilizing effect when coupled with the MB3 tail that was originally used on the MB5. To resolve the issue, Martin designed a taller vertical stabilizer and rudder, which were fitted to the MB5. The change took six months for Martin to implement, but when Greensted flew the aircraft, he was impressed by its performance and handling. In addition, a new horizontal stabilizer was fitted, but it is not known exactly when this was done. From its first flight until October 1945, the MB5 accumulated only about 40 flight hours. Martin-Baker had been informed around October 1944 that no MB5 production orders would be forthcoming, given that the war was winding down, and any production aircraft would most likely enter service after the war was over.

Martin-Baker MB5 dHf

The MB5 undergoing maintenance. A large panel has been removed from under the aircraft, and one of the inner gear doors has also been removed. Note the Dzus fasteners on the cowling and that the spinner is now painted black. The small scoop under the spinner delivered air to the engine’s supercharger.

Some sources state the MB5 was prepared for a speed run in the fall of 1945. The Griffon engine was boosted to produce 2,480 hp (1,849 kW), and the aircraft reached 484 mph (779 km/h) on a measured course near Gloucester. However, the speed record claim seems highly doubtful. On 29 October 1945, the MB5 was one of the aircraft exhibited at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough. It was the only aircraft present that had contra-rotating propellers. While Greensted was demonstrating the aircraft before Winston Churchill and RAF officials, the Griffon engine failed. With his vision obscured by oil and some smoke in the cockpit, Greensted jettisoned the canopy. The canopy flew back and struck the tail, but Greensted was able to land the MB5 without further damage.

The MB5 had accumulated around 80 flight hours by the time it was handed over to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. In March, April, and May 1946, the MB5 was flown by various pilots, and the aircraft’s performance and handling characteristics were well praised, but it was noted that the MB5’s acceleration and its roll rate were not quite on par with contemporary fighters. Overall, the tests showed that the MB5 was an excellent aircraft and that it was greatly superior from an engineering and maintenance standpoint to any other similar type. The MB5 was back at RAE Farnborough for an exhibition in June 1946. During the show, Polish Squadron Leader Jan Zurakowski flew the aircraft in a most impressive display and later stated that the MB5 was the best airplane he had ever flown.

Martin-Baker MB5 show

The MB5 was present at RAE Farnborough in October 1945. The display featured the latest British aircraft and several captured German aircraft. In the foreground is a Supermarine Spiteful and the MB5, with its 20 mm cannons installed. Other visible British aircraft include a Blackburn Firebrand, Bristol Brigand, Fairey Firefly, and Fairey Spearfish. Visible German aircraft include a Dornier Do 335, Fieseler Fi 103, Junker Ju 188, a pair of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, and a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Many other British and German aircraft were present at the display.

The MB5 was flown sparingly until a number of flights were made toward the end of 1947. Wing Commander Maurice A. Smith flew the aircraft during this time and highly regarded the MB5’s layout and performance. From mid-November to the end of 1947, the MB5 was loaned to de Havilland at Hatfield for propeller testing. In 1948, the aircraft returned to RAE Farnborough, where it was flown by legendary pilot Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown. Although Brown was slightly critical of the aircraft’s lateral handling qualities, he said the MB5 was an outstanding aircraft and that he had never felt more comfortable in a new aircraft.

On 5 May 1948, the MB5 was sent to the Air Ministry Servicing Development Unit at RAF Wattisham. There, it served as a training airframe until it was moved to RAF Bircham Newton around 1950. Reportedly, the MB5 was used as a ground target until its battered remains were burned in 1963—an inglorious end for such a fine aircraft.

Martin-Baker MB5 takeoff

The MB5 taking off from Chalgrove in 1948 with Wing Commander Maurice A. Smith at the controls. The MB5’s flaps did not have any intermediate positions—they were either up or down. The 20 mm cannons have been removed. Note the belly scoop’s outward similarity to the scoop used on the P-51 Mustang.

The Martin-Baker MB5 is one of a handful of aircraft that demonstrated superlative performance and flight qualities yet never entered production due to the end of World War II and the emergence of jet aircraft. It is quite impressive that the MB5 was created by a small firm that produced a total of four outstanding aircraft—each being a completely different model. Despite the quality of Martin-Baker’s aircraft and their best efforts to enter the aircraft manufacturing business, the MB5 was the company’s last aircraft. Martin-Baker turned their attention to other aircraft systems and became a pioneer and world leader in ejection seat technology.

An MB5 replica has been under construction by John Marlin of Reno, Nevada for a number of years. Although not an exact copy, Marlin’s reproduction is a labor of love intended to commemorate one of the most impressive aircraft of all time and to honor all who created the original MB5.

Martin-Baker MB5 Martin

James Martin is pictured in front of his masterpiece, the MB5. Martin-Baker’s aircraft never found success; however, the company’s ejection seats have saved thousands of lives and are still in production.

RAF Fighters Part 2 by William Green and Gordon Swanborough (1979)
British Experimental Combat Aircraft of World War II by Tony Buttler (2012)
Wings of the Weird & Wonderful by Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown (1983/2012)
Sir James Martin by Sarah Sharman (1996)
“The Martin-Baker M-B V” Flight (29 November 1945)
“M-B V in the Air” by Wing Commander Maurice A. Smith, Flight (18 December 1947)
“Martin-Baker Fighters,” by Bill Gunston, Wings of Fame Volume 9 (1997)
The British Fighter since 1912 by Francis K. Mason (1992)