21 August 1989: Twenty-five years to the day after the first flight of the prototype Grumman XF8F-1 Bearcat, Lyle Shelton flew his highly-modified Unlimited Class racing plane, the F8F-2 Rare Bear, N777L, over a 3 kilometer course at Las Vegas, New Mexico, setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record of 850.24 kilometers per hour (528.315 miles per hour),¹ and becoming the world’s fastest piston engine airplane.
Rare Bear had been built for the U.S. Navy at Grumman’s Bethpage, New York plant, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 122629. It was a light-weight, high performance interceptor designed to operate from the Navy’s smaller aircraft carriers.
Among other things, the original 2,250 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp E12 (R-2800-30W) engine was replaced with a 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) hybridized Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone 18-cylinder radial engine and a 13 foot, 6 inch (4.115 meters) diameter Aeroproducts four-bladed propeller from a Douglas AD-Skyraider, with the cowling from a Douglas DC-7. This customized engine reportedly produced 4,500 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m, with 80 inches of manifold pressure.
Rare Bear won the National Air Races six times and set several speed and time to altitude records.
The production F8F-2 Bearcat was 27 feet, 8 inches (8.432 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 6 inches (10.820 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 5 inches (4.089 meters). Its empty weight was 7,070 pounds (3,206.9 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 12,947 pounds (5,872.7 kilograms).
The production F8F-2 used an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp VSE11-G (R-2800-30W) 18-cylinder, twin-row, radial engine. It was rated at 1,720 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,250 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., takeoff and military power, with water/alcohol injection and 115/145 aviation gasoline. The engine drove an Aeroproducts Inc. four-bladed propeller with a diameter of 12 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.450:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-30W was 7 feet, 10.75 inches (2.356 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,560 pounds (1,161 kilograms).
The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour (677.5 kilometers per hour). It could climb at 4,570 feet per minute (23.2 meters per second) and had a service ceiling of 38,700 feet (11,796 meters). Its range was 1,105 miles (1,778 kilometers).
21 August 1967: On the 186th flight of the X-15 program, the modified North American Aviation X-15A-2, 56-6671, made the first of two flights with a heat-protective ablative coating, designed to protect the steel structure of the rocketplane from the extreme heat of flight at high Mach numbers.
After a landing accident which caused significant damage to the Number 2 X-15, it was rebuilt by North American. A 28-inch (0.71 meter) “plug” was installed in the fuselage forward of the wings to create space for a liquid hydrogen fuel tank which would be used for an experimental “scramjet” engine that would be mounted the the ventral fin. The modified aircraft was also able to carry two external fuel tanks. It was hoped that additional propellant would allow the X-15A-2 to reach much higher speeds. The external tanks were not carried on the 21 August 1967 flight.
With Major William J. (“Pete”) Knight, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit, the X-15A-2 was airdropped from the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 52-008, known as Balls 8, over Hidden Hills Dry Lake, just on the California side of the border with Nevada. This was Knight’s 11th X-15 flight, and the 52nd flight for 56-6671. The launch time was 10:59:16.0 a.m., PDT. Knight fired the 57,000-pound-thrust Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine and accelerated for 82.2 seconds. The purpose of this flight was to attain a high speed rather than altitude. The X-15A-2 reached Mach 4.94 (3,368 miles per hour, 5,420 kilometers per hour) at 85,000 feet (25,908 meters) and reached a peak altitude of 91,000 feet (27,737 meters). Pete Knight touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, just 7 minutes, 40.0 seconds after launch.
The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship but was approximately 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms)
The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.
The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust. It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust.
The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.
On 21 August 1961, a Douglas DC-8-43, N9604Z, c/n 45623, Line Number 130, flown by Chief Test Pilot William Marshall Magruder, Paul Patten, Joseph Tomich and Richard H. Edwards climbed to 50,090 feet (15,267 meters) near Edwards Air Force Base. Placing the DC-8 into a dive, it reached Mach 1.012 (668 miles per hour/1,075 kilometers per hour) while descending through 41,088 feet (12,524 meters). The airliner maintained this supersonic speed for 16 seconds. This was the first time that a civil airliner had “broken the Sound Barrier.”
An Air Force F-100 Super Sabre and F-104 Starfighter were chase planes for this flight. Reportedly, the F-104 was flown by the legendary test pilot, Colonel Chuck Yeager.
The Douglas DC-8 is a commercial jet airliner, a contemporary of the Boeing 707 and Convair 880. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 177 passengers. The DC-8 was powered by four turbojet or turbofan engines mounted on pylons suspended below the wings. The wings’ leading edges were swept to 30°, as was the vertical fin and horizontal tailplane.
The DC-8-40 series is 150 feet, 6 inches (45.872 meters) long with a wingspan of 142 feet, 5 inches (43.409 meters) and overall height of 42 feet, 4 inches (12.903 meters). It had an empty weight of 124,790 pounds (56,604 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 315,000 pounds (142,882 kilograms).
The DC-8-40 series had a cruising speed of 0.82 Mach (542 miles per hour/872 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its maximum range was 5,905 nautical miles (6,795 statute miles, 10,936 kilometers).
N9604Z was powered by four Rolls-Royce Conway RCo.12 Mk 509 two-shaft axial-flow turbofan engines, rated at 17,500 pounds of thrust (77.844 kilonewtons) at 9,990 r.p.m. The 509 is 11 feet, 3.9 inches (3.452 meters) long, 3 feet, 6.2 inches (1.072 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,542 pounds (2,060 kilograms).
N9604Z was delivered to Canadian Pacific Airlines 15 November 1961, re-registered CF-CPG, and named Empress of Montreal. It later flew under CP Air as Empress of Buenos Aires. The DC-8 was scrapped at Opa Locka Municipal Airport, north of Miami, Florida, in May 1981.
21 August 1956: At 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) over Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake, near Ridgecrest, California, Commander Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., United States Navy, flew a production Chance Vought Aircraft F8U-1 Crusader, Bu. No. 141345, to 1,015.428 miles per hour (1,634.173 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.54—over a 15 kilometer (9.3 miles) straight course. This established a new U.S. National Speed Record, breaking the previous record set by a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre two years earlier.
“Duke” Windsor was awarded the Thompson Trophy for 1956 at the National Aircraft Show, Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, during the first weekend of September.
F8U-1 Bu. No. 141345 was the twelfth production Crusader. It was a single-place, single-engine carrier based day fighter capable of supersonic speed.
The F8U-1 (redesignated F-8A in 1962) was 54 feet, 3 inches (16.535 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet, 8 inches (10.770 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9 inches (14.801 meters). Its empty weight was 15,513 pounds (7.036.6 kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,468 pounds (12,459.3 kilograms).
The Crusader was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-4A turbojet engine which produced 16,200 pounds of thrust with afterburner. This gave the fighter a maximum speed of Mach 1.53 (1,013 miles per hour/1,630 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) or 733 miles per hour (1,180 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The airplane could climb at 20,000 feet per minute (101.6 meters per second) and had a service ceiling of 42,300 feet (12,893 meters).
The F8U-1 was armed with four Colt Mk. 12 20 mm cannon with 144 rounds per gun, and carried two AIM-9A Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.
Commander Windsow was a Navy test pilot who carried out much of the F8U test program, including the aircraft carrier qualifications aboard USS Forrestal (CVA-59).
Bu. No. 141345 was assigned to the Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC), NAS Point Mugu, California, in 1961. It was converted to an F-8D, but was removed from service in 1964.
Vought built 1,213 F-8 Crusaders. 318 were the F8U-1 variant. Crusaders were in service with the United States Navy for 30 years.
A Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader (F-8A), Bu. No. 143806, is on display at the Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum at Horsham, Pennsylvania, approximately 30 minutes north of Philadelphia.
Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr. was born at Wilmington, Delaware, 8 October 1918, the son of Robert W. Windsor and Mary B. Hackett Windsor. He studied at the University of Virginia before being appointed as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, entering 9 July 1937 and graduating in 1941. He was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy, 7 February 1941, and promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant, effective 1 December 1942.
Trained as a pilot, Windsor was designated a Naval Aviator in 1943. During World War II, he served aboard the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) and USS McLanahan (DD-615 ), a Benson-class destroyer, in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He also commanded Composite Squadron 68 (VC-68) aboard the escort carrier USS Shamrock Bay (CVE-84).
Lieutenant Windsor was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 20 July 1945. He served on the staff of Admiral Marc A. Mitsher. He was promoted to commander, 1 June 1951.
Following World War II, Lieutenant Commander Windsor trained at the Combat Information Center School, and then the Naval Air Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. During the Korean War, Commander Windsor flew off of USS Yorktown (CV-10).
After two tours as a test pilot, Commander Windsor was promoted to the rank of Captain, 1 July 1959. He served on the naval operations staff. Captain Windsor commanded USS Currituck (AV-7), a sea plane tender, from April 1962 to February 1963. From 31 July 1964 to 11 August 1965, he commanded the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVA-62), and then served on the staff of Commander, Second Fleet, aboard USS Newport News (CA-148). Captain Windsor retired from the Navy in April 1967, after 30 years of service.
Captain Windsor married Miss Elizabeth Bethell Foster of Denver, Colorado. They had one son, also named Robert. Mrs. Windsor died in 1963.
Captain Robert Wilks Windsor, Jr., United States Navy (Retired), died at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 27 May 2000, at the age of 81 years. He and his wife are buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.