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Only the second serious accident...

The short lived carrier of 1002

Have been unable to find photos of 1002 so here is her sister 1003 with registration NC14244. (Courtesy of Northwest Airlines History Center.)

Delivered brand new to Northwest Airlines on August 4, 1934, 1002 was given the registration NC14243 and was pressed into service on the Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago route. A few days later, August 7, the aircraft was scheduled to leave for Chicago at 8 p.m., however, due to several setbacks NC14243 departed St. Paul at 9:25 p.m. Stopping briefly at Minneapolis, the aircraft arrived at Milwaukee, WI, at 11:45 p.m., having flown 2 1/4 total hours.

After letting two passengers off, the aircraft was readied for the flight to Chicago. Shortly after take-off disaster struck.

Headline from The Minneapolis Star, August 8, 1934

The Minneapolis Star, August 8, 1934

Shortly after take-off, while only 20 feet off the ground, fuel warning lights came on and the left engine gave a cough and then died. The plane began to settle to the ground with too much force as the right tire blew out and the right hub and wheel structure broke. Upon impact the left engine started again and with the power of both engines the aircraft rose to roughly 50-75 feet. Unfortunately at this point the right engine died, throwing NC14243 slightly to the right. As the plane once more began to settle the left engine began to loose power and the Electra slid off on the right wing and nose, cartwheeling at least 75 feet, coming to rest in an upright position.

The Minneapolis Star August 9, 1934

Miraculously all nine persons on board survived! The passengers and crew consisted of: Joseph E. Ohrbeck, 34, pilot; John Woodhead, 20, co-pilot; Frank Cooper, 42, Washington; Dr. William R. P. Clark, 65, California; Donald Cloture, Minnesota; George Merkes, 26, New York; Lester Edge, 53, Washington; Manfred Boe, 33, Minnesota (a Northwest Airlines mechanic); Arthur Callahan, Michigan.

An investigation was promptly launched by the Bureau of Air Commerce. After interviewing the pilots they found that the fuel tanks had been filled completely (100 gal. each tank) before the start of the flight. During the first 1 1/4 hours of flight time the fuel selector was set to both and that at the end of this period the fuel gauges indicated a full left tank and 5/8 full right tank. At this point the fuel selector was changed to feed from the left tank and the remainder of the flight was done in this set-up. When NC14243 arrived at Milwaukee the fuel gauges indicated 5/8 full right tank and 1/2 full left tank.

As the plane began its take-off for Chicago the pilot was using the left tank; suddenly the fuel warning light came on and the left engine stopped. Immediately the fuel selector was switched to both tanks and the co-pilot used the wobble pump. (A wobble pump, for those who are unfamiliar, is hand-operated fuel pump which delivers fuel with each pump of the handle.) It was at this point that the plane settled to the ground for the first time, blowing the right tire and breaking the right hub and wheel structure. The left engine begins to work again and the plane rises; however, shortly after the right engine stops and the plane is thrown to the right. The fuel selector is switched back to feed from the left tank and the wobble-pump is still being operated but the co-pilot felt that no fuel was getting through. Finally the left engine lost power and the accident hit the ground.

Following the investigation and public hearing the Bureau of Air Commerce believed that the aircraft was put into service without fully knowing the rate of fuel consumption during normal flight. The flight was Joseph Ohrbeck's first flight in the Lockheed Electra and assumed the fuel consumption to be 43 gallons per hour. Following the crash, the fuel system was examined and it was disclosed that the right fuel tank contained from 50 to 60 gallons and that the feed lines were full. The left tank, however, had roughly one gallon and dry feed lines. This indicated that the actual fuel consumption was roughly 60 gph.

The Bureau of Air Commerce came to a conclusion and stated the three probable causes of the accident:

  1. Failure of the Supervisory Personnel to definitely determine the actual fuel consumption of a new airplane before placing it in scheduled operations.

  2. Failure of the fuel gauge on the left tank to function accurately.

  3. Pilot error for failing to attempt to use the right fuel tank after the instrument board warning light had indicated that the tank which he was using was about empty.


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