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Beating Gravity - Bristol Type 138

Enlarge image (will open in a new window)In the mid-1930s, European pilots began setting altitude records approaching 50,000 ft., and Britain felt itself under some pressure to regain the record. The Bristol aircraft company was asked, in June 1934, to tender for two prototypes of an aircraft based on a 1933 proposal. The single-seat design was to be powered by an adapted Pegasus radial engine with a two-stage supercharger.

It was to be a low-wing design of wooden construction, with fixed undercarriage, all intended to minimise weight. A special pressurised flying suit with an oxygen helmet was developed for the attempt and the cockpit was completely enclosed.

The first aircraft made its initial flight on May 11, 1936 at Filton, with a standard Pegasus engine driving a three-bladed propellor. More flights followed, with tests of the oxygen equipment in August, and fitting of the supercharged engine with four-bladed propellor.

The Type 138A was flown from Filton to Farnborough in early September 1936. On 28 Sept., Sqn. Ldr. F.R.D. Swain achieved a record altitude of 49,967 ft. (15230 m.), a record which lasted until May 1937, when an Italian Caproni CA.161 reached 51,362 ft. (15,655 m.).

Sqn. Ldr. Swain regained the record on 3 June 1937, after some modifications to the aircraft, this time reaching 53,937 ft. (16,440 m.).

The second aircraft, a Type 138B, was to have received a supercharged Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine, but installation was not completed.

Bristol Type 138 data:
POWERPLANT:
One Bristol Pegasus PE.VIS
radial engine of 500 hp / 373 kW.

MAX. TAKEOFF WEIGHT:
5,310 lb (2,409 kg)

WING SPAN:
66 ft 0 in (20.12 m)

LENGTH:
44 ft 0 in (13.41 m)

HEIGHT:
10 ft 3 in (3.12 m)
WING AREA:
568 sq. ft. (52.77 m²)

MAXIMUM SPEED:
177 mph (285 km/h)
at 45,000 ft (13,715 m)

RATE OF CLIMB:
1,430 ft (436 m) per minute
at 40,000 ft (12,190 m)

DESIGN CEILING:
54,000 ft (18,459 m)

ENDURANCE:
2.25 hours

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