24 March 2000: In flight near Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, is this Sikorsky MH-53J Pave Low IIIE, a “Super Jolly Green Giant” special operations helicopter assigned to the 551st Special Operations Squadron. This helicopter, serial number 66-14428, was the very first HH-53B built. [A photograph of its first flight is posted on TDiA at “15 March 1967”]
24 March 1960: Over a 1,000-kilometer course at Sternberg Point Observatory,¹ a Tupolev Tu-114 Rossiya four-engine turboprop airliner, serial number 88402, registered CCCP-76459, set eight Fédération Aéronautique Internationale flight records, including a world speed record of 871.38 kilometers per hour (541.45 miles per hour), while carrying a load of 25,000 kilograms (55,115.6 pounds).²
The flight crew for these records were Tupolev Design Bureau senior test pilot Colonel Ivan Moiseevich Sukhomlin, Pilot, and Colonel Boris Mikhailovich Timoshok, Co-Pilot, and four others.
On 1 April 1960, Colonel Sukhomline flew the Tu-114 to set another seven speed records over a 2,000 kilometers course, at 857.277 kilometers per hour (532.687 miles per hour), while carrying a 20,000 kilogram payload (44,092 pounds).³
On 9 April, Colonel Sukhomlin and co-pilot Konstantine Sapielkine flew the Tu-114 over a 5,000 kilometer closed circuit, again with a 25,000 kilogram payload, at an average speed of 877.21 kilometers per hour (545.07 miles per hour). Four more FAI records were set.⁴
These are the fastest speed records ever established for any propeller-driven airplane. The records were retired by the FAI due to changes in rules.
The record-setting Tu-114 was the second production airliner.
The Tupolev Tu-114 Rossiya was a four-engine, turboprop-powered airliner developed from the Tu-95 Bear nuclear-capable long-range heavy bomber. It had a flight crew of five, two pilots, a navigator and two flight engineers, and could be configured to carry from 120 to 220 passengers, or 30,000 kilograms of cargo.
The Tu-114 made its first flight 15 November 1957 under the command of Colonel Alexei Petrovich Yakimov, and began regular service with Aeroflot 24 April 1961.
The Tu-114 is 54.10 meters (177 feet, 6 inches) long, with a wingspan of 51.10 meters (167 feet, 8 inches) and overall height of 15.50 meters (50 feet, 10 inches). The wings are swept aft to 35° at ¼-chord, and they have significant anhedral. Total wing area is 311.1 square meters (3,348.7 square feet).
The airliner’s empty weight is 93,500 kilograms (42,411 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight is 179,000 kilograms (81,193 pounds).
The Tu-114 was powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12MV turboprop engines, each driving two counter-rotating four-bladed propellers. The NK-12 was rated at 14,795 shaft horsepower (10.89 megawwatts). The NK-12 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbpprop engine with a 14-stage compressor section and 5-stage turbine. The engine is 19 feet, 8.2 inches (6.000 meters) long, 3 feet, 11.3 inches (1.151 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,181 pounds (2,350 kilograms).
The Tu-114 had a cruise speed of 770 kilometers per hour (478 miles per hour) at 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) (0.70 Mach), and a maximum speed of 894 kilometers per hour (556 miles per hour) at 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) (0.80 Mach). The airliner has a practical range of 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) and maximum ferry range of 8,800 kilometers (5,468 miles). The service ceiling as 12,000 meters (39,370 feet).
The Tupolev Tu-114 was produced from 1958 to 1963, with 32 built. They were in service until 1976.
CCCP-76459, the world-record-setting airliner, was displayed at Novogorod Airport, Veliky Novogorod, Russia, in 1977. It was destroyed by fire in 1990.
An interesting 10-minute 1959 color film about the prototype Tu-114 Rossiya can be viewed on YouTube:
¹ The Sternberg Point Observatory, also known as the Sternberg Astronomical Institute (Государственный астрономический институт имени Штернберга), is located in Moscow, Russia.
² FAI Record File Numbers 8125, 8126, 8127, 8128, 8129, 8130, 8131 and 8880: 871.38 kilometers per hour (541.45 miles per hour)
³ FAI Record File Numbers 8133, 8134, 8135, 8136, 8137, 8138 and 8139: 857.277 kilometers per hour (532.687 miles per hour)
⁴ FAI Record File Numbers 3663, 3664, 3665 and 3666: 877.21 kilometers per hour (545.07 miles per hour)
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopesby
24 March 1960: After North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot, Albert Scott Crossfield, had made the first flights in the new X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane (one gliding, eight powered), NASA Chief Test Pilot Joseph Albert Walker made his first familiarization flight.
The X-15, 56-6670, the first of three built by North American Aviation, Inc., was carried aloft under the right wing of a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, flown by John E. Allavie and Fitzhugh L. Fulton.
The rocketplane was dropped from the mothership over Rosamond Dry Lake at 15:43:23.0 local time, and Joe Walker ignited the Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engine. The engine burned for 272.0 seconds, accelerating Walker and the X-15 to Mach 2.0 (1,320 miles per hour/2,124.3 kilometers per hour) and a peak altitude of 48,630 feet (14,822.4 meters). Walker landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base after a flight of 9 minutes, 8.0 seconds.
Joe Walker made 25 flights in the three X-15 rocket planes from 24 March 1960 to 22 August 1963. He achieved a maximum Mach number of 5.92, maximum speed of 4,104 miles per hour (6,605 kilometers per hour) and maximum altitude of 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).
Joe Walker was killed in a mid-air collision between his Lockheed F-104N Starfighter and a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie near Barstow, California, 1 June 1966.
The number one ship, 56-6670, made 81 of the 199 flights of the X-15 Program. It was the first to fly, and also the last, 24 October 1968. Today, it is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopesby
24 March 1944: At about 2230 hours, the first of 76 Allied prisoners of war interred at Stammlager Luft III (Stalag Luft III) began to escape through a 30-foot-deep (9 meters), 320-foot-long (98 meters) tunnel, code-named “Harry.”
The prison, located just south of Sagan (Żagań) in East Silesia (now a part of Poland) was specially constructed to house captured Royal Air Force and other Allied airmen, and was controlled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Prior to this escape, the German captors had discovered at least 98 tunnels at the prison.
The weather was the coldest in thirty years and five feet of snow lay on the ground. The last escapee left the tunnel at 0455, 25 March. Of the 76 prisoners who escaped, 73 were soon recaptured, and of those, 50 were murdered by the Gestapo.
Popularly known as “The Great Escape,” this was the subject of a 1950 book, The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill, who was a POW at the prison. His book was adapted into a very popular motion picture, “The Great Escape,” in 1963.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby
24 March 1939: During a 2 hour, 26 minute flight over southern California, Jacqueline Cochran established a U.S. National Altitude Record for Women of 9,160 meters (30,052 feet). She flew a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” serial number 164, registered NR18562.
A National Aeronautic Association official, Larry Therkelson, took the recording barograph from the airplane and sent it to the N.A.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification. The record had previously been held by Ruth Rowland Nichols.¹
“Were I to make the simple statement that I climbed to an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet, that statement in and of itself would mean nothing because I have often gone higher than that. But when I add that I did this in 1937 in a fabric-covered biplane without heating, without pressurization and without an oxygen mask, the elements of an accomplishment are added. I nearly froze; the pipestem between my teeth through which I tried to get an oxygen supply from a tank and connecting tube was inadequate for the purpose, and I became so disoriented through lack of oxygen that it took over an hour to get my bearings and make a landing. The difference between the pressure my body was accustomed to on the ground and the atmospheric pressure at 33,000 feet was such that a blood vessel in my sinus ruptured. All this was a part of the cumulative evidence that led up to cabin pressurization and and mandatory use of the oxygen mask above certain altitudes.”
— The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Pages 61–62.
According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, Jackie Cochran “. . . set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”
The Beechcraft Staggerwing got its name because its lower wing was placed ahead of the upper wing (negative stagger). It was a fast airplane for its time and set several speed and altitude records. The Beechcraft D17W was a special version of the D17 production model. Only two were built. Jackie Cochran purchased it from Beech for $20,145, and it had been delivered to her by famed aviator Frank Hawks.
The “Staggerwing” was a single-engine, four-place biplane with an enclosed cabin and retractable landing gear, flown by a single pilot. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel framework, with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal.
The airplane was 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and loaded weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).
While most biplanes had staggered wings, the Staggerwing was unusual in having negative stagger. This not only increased the pilot’s field of vision, but improved the airplane’s stability in a stall. The leading edge of the Model 17 upper wing was 2 feet, 1–19/32 inches (0.65008 meters) aft of the lower wing. The leading edges had 0° 0′ sweep. Both wings had an angle of incidence of 5° 5′. The upper wing had no dihedral, but the lower wing had +1°. The mean vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet (1.52 meters), and the chord of both wings was 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The total wing area was 269.5 square feet (25.04 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer had 0° incidence, while the vertical fin was offset 0° 43′ to the left of the airplane’s centerline.
The Staggerwing was offered with a selection of engines of different displacements and horsepower ratings. The standard Beechcraft D17S was equipped with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A, a nine-cylinder radial engine producing 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m at Sea Level. It had a maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour), 670 mile (1,078 kilometer) range and service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).
The 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC-G engine installed in Jackie Cochran’s D17W was an experimental version of the Wasp C with 5:4 propeller reduction gearing. It produced 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 525 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., up to 9,500 feet (2,896 meters). The SC-G never entered production.
Beechcraft D17W c/n 164, was impressed into military service at Tarrant Field, Texas, 12 March 1943. Assigned to the United States Army Air Corps, it was given the designation UC-43K Traveler and Air Corps serial number 42-107277. It was turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 22 November 1944, for sale to the civil market. The airplane was now powered by a 971.930-cubic-inch displacement (15.927 liter) Wright R-975-5 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial and was redesignated Beechcraft D17R. The Staggerwing was sold to the Carver Pump Company, Muscatine, Iowa, and registered NC50958.
The record-setting Beechcraft Staggerwing crashed at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, 15 December 1945.
¹ FAI Record File Number 12228: 8,761 meters (28,743 feet), 6 March 1931.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopesby