30 July 1983: Flying a modified World War II-era fighter, Frank Taylor set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course ¹ with an average speed of 832.12 kilometers per hour (517.056 miles per hour)—(0.686 Mach). The record flight took place at Mojave Airport (MHV) in the high desert of southern California. The runway elevation at MHV is 2,801 feet above Sea Level (853.8 meters). The airport is about 19 miles (30.6 kilometers) northwest of Edwards Air Force Base.
Flying magazine briefly commented the record run:
“. . . he ran the Mustang’s Merlin engine at 110 inches of manifold pressure [7.93 Bar] and 3,800 r.p.m. (it was designed for 61 inches and 3,000 r.p.m.) and fed it 110 gallons [416.4 liters] of 115/145-octane fuel with manganese additive, enough for only two passes.”
—Flying, Vol. 112, No. 1, January 1985, at Page 64.
Taylor’s air racer was Dago Red,² a North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang. The fighter had been built at Inglewood, California, in 1944 and assigned U.S. Army Air Corps serial number 44-74996. When the U.S. Air Force retired the last of its Mustangs from Air National Guard service in 1957, 44-74996 was sold as surplus.
The airplane was issued the civil registration N5410V. The Mustang changed ownership many times before it crashed after an engine failure at Concorde, California, 16 August 1970. After a decade in storage, the wreck was rebuilt as an air racer.
The P-51D was modified for air racing. It’s wings were “clipped” (shortened) and the upper fuselage re-shaped, both intended to reduce aerodynamic drag. Approximately 2½ feet (0.76 meters) were removed from each wing tip. The Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine also received many internal modifications to increase power output, and to survive that increase. The Merlin turned a Hamilton Standard “paddle blade” propeller. (Dago Red‘s current engine is based on the post-war Rolls-Royce Merlin 620-series commercial variant.)
On 21 August 1989, an Unlimited Class Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Rare Bear, exceeded Dago Red‘s record speed while setting its own FAI record,³ averaging 850.24 kilometers per hour (528.315 miles per hour) over a shorter 3 kilometer course. Both airplanes’ records stood until they were retired due to changes in the sporting code.
In addition to its world speed record, Dago Red has won the National Championship Air Races six times.
¹ FAI Record File Number 8434
² “Dago Red” is a derogatory American slang term referring to an Italian-style blended dark red wine. It was also the name of a commercial brand sold in the 1970s. Dago Red sold for about $2.00 per bottle ($13.29 in 2020). (Thanks to “Dr. Vinny” for the info).
30 July 1939: Major Caleb Vance Haynes, Air Corps, United States Army, with Captain William D. Old, Master Sergeant Adolph Cattarius and Staff Sergeant William J. Heldt, flew the Boeing XB-15 experimental long range heavy bomber to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Greatest Payload Carried to a Height of 2,000 meters. The XB-15 carried 14,135 kilograms (31,162 pounds) to an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) over Fairfield, Ohio.¹ The flight set a second record by carrying 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) to an altitude of 8,228 feet (2,508 meters).² Both records were certified by the National Aeronautic Association, the American organization representing the FAI.
The Boeing Model 294, designated XB-15 by the Air Corps, was an experimental airplane designed to determine if a bomber with a 5,000 mile range was possible. It was designed at the same time as the Model 299 (XB-17), which had the advantage of lessons learned by the XB-15 design team. The XB-15 was larger and more complex than the XB-17 and took longer to complete. It first flew more than two years after the prototype B-17.
Designers had planned to use an experimental 3,421.194-cubic-inch-displacement (56.063 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged and turbosupercharged Allison V-3420 twenty-four cylinder, four-bank “double V” engine. It produced a maximum of 2,885 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. The engine was not available in time, however, and four air-cooled Pratt & Whitney R-1830 (Twin Wasp) engines were used instead. With one-third the horsepower, this substitution left the experimental bomber hopelessly underpowered as a combat aircraft. (The Douglas XB-19 was retrofitted with V-3420s in 1942, and re-designated XB-19A.)
The XB-15 was a very large four-engine mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of aluminum monocoque construction with fabric-covered flight control surfaces. The XB-15 had a ten-man crew which worked in shifts on long duration flights.
The prototype bomber was 87 feet, 7 inches (26.695 meters) long with a wingspan of 149 feet (45.415 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 1 inch (5.512 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 37,709 pounds (17,105 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 70,706 pounds (32,072 kilograms)—later increased to 92,000 pounds (41,730 kilograms).
The XB-15’s wings used a symmetrical airfoil and were very highly tapered (4:1 from root to tip). They had an angle of incidence of 4½° and 4½° dihedral. The total area was 2,780 square feet (258.271 square meters). A contemporary aeronautical publication wrote, “The airfoil provides constant center of pressure, minimum profile drag with flaps up and high maximum lift with flaps down.” The XB-15’s wings were adapted by Boeing for the Model 314 Clipper flying boat.
As built, the XB-15 was equipped with four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-11 (Twin Wasp S1B3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The R-1830-11 was rated at 850 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. and 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off. They turned three-bladed controllable-pitch propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The R-1830-11 was 4 feet, 8.66 inches (1.439 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters), and weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).
The experimental airplane had a cruise speed of 152 miles per hour (245 kilometers per hour) at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), and a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour ( kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The service ceiling was 18,900 feet (5,761 meters) and maximum range was 5,130 miles (8,256 kilometers).
The bomber could carry a maximum of 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of bombs in its internal bomb bay, and was armed with three .30-caliber and three .50-caliber machine guns for defense .
Only one XB-15 was built. During World War II it was converted to a transport and re-designated XC-105. In 1945 35-277 was stripped and abandoned at Albrook Field, Territory of the Canal Zone, Panama.
30 July 1935: The Northrop 3A was a prototype pursuit built to compete for the U.S. Army Air Corps’ fighter contract. It flew against the Curtiss-Wright Model 75 Hawk, NX17Y, and the Seversky SEV-1XP, NX18Y. During flight testing, the Northrop entry was found to have undesirable spin characteristics and was returned to the builder for further work.
On the afternoon of 30 July 1935, 1st Lieutenant Arthur Henry Skaer, Jr., Air Corps Reserve, who was employed by Northrop as a test pilot, took off from Mines Field (now Los Angeles International Airport, LAX) to conduct spin tests.
Skaer never returned. An extensive search was conducted of the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula and the southern California coastal waters. An Air Corps search plane spotted what appeared to be fresh oil on the surface, but no other sign of Lieutenant Skaer or the Northrop 3A were ever found.
The United Press reported:
Mystery Airplane Of Army Missing; Hunt Under Way
Fear felt for Safety of Reserve Flier in Coast Hills
(By United Press)
LOS ANGELES, July 30—Fear for the safety of Lieutenant Arthur Skaer, lost in a test flight in a new “mystery” pursuit plane—reportedly the fastest army plane in the world—deepened tonight when planes searching the desolate Palos Verdes hills, where he was last seen.
Skaer, army reserve test flier, took off shortly afternoon from Mines field, and the plane has not been reported since.
Others to Search
At dawn, planes from the sheriff’s air detail, national guard planes from the Long Beach, Cal., airport, and possibly planes from the army air base at March field, Riverside, Cal., will join the search, combing a 200-mile coastal strip from San Diego northward.
The plane, latest weapon in army air warfare, reportedly was able to travel 300 miles an hour, and was a secret design, rigidly guarded by the U.S. army and officials of the Northrop factory, where it was built.
Last Report of Sighting
Reports that his plane had been last seen over the Palos Verdes area between San Pedro and Venice, Cal., resulted in a search by a squad of army reserve planes from the Long Beach air base under Lieutenant John K. Nissley.
The planes circled over the hills until after dark, but saw no sign of the Northrop. Meanwhile, Captain Claude Morgan of the sheriff’s air detail was preparing to join the search in the morning.
—The Salt Lake Tribune, Vol. 131, No. 108, Wednesday, 31 July 1935, Page 1, Column 3
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. LIV, Thursday, 1 August 1935, Page 1, Column 6 and 7
Arthur Henry Skaer, Jr., was born at Denver, Colorado, circa 1911. He was the son of Arthur Henry Skaer, Sr., purchasing agent for a manufacturing company, and Ada Jane Scott Skaer.
Skaer graduated from East High School in Denver in 1929. While there, he was a member of the student council, the track and wrestling teams, and the cooking club.
On 29 April 1935, Lieutenant Skaer married Miss Dorothy B. Firebaugh, a fellow student from East High School. They resided in Walnut Park, California.
30 July 1935: Lieutenant Frank Peak Akers, United States Navy, took of from the Naval Air Station San Diego, California, flying a specially-equipped Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 biplane. With his cockpit covered by a hood to prevent his seeing outside, he flew completely by reference to electronic devices on board the airplane.
The purpose of Lieutenant Akers’ flight was to locate the aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV-1) at an unspecified position approximately 150 miles to the west of the California shoreline. Then, still flying solely by his instruments, he was to land aboard the carrier.
Akers accomplished his tasks, for which the Navy awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The instrument flying equipment had been developed by the Washington Institute of Technology, founded by former members of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards. The Navy tested these devices at College Park, Maryland. On 1 May 1934, Lieutenant Akers took off from NAS Anacostia in the hooded OJ2 and landed, “blind” at College Park.
The Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 was a single-engine two-place biplane designed as an observation aircraft for operation from U.S. Navy light cruisers. The fuselage was constructed of welded chrome moly tubing, with the forward section covered in sheet metal. The aft section and wooden wings were covered with fabric. The airplane could readily be reconfigured from a float plane to conventional landing gear.
The OJ-2 was 25 feet, 8 inches (7.823 meters) long with an upper wing span of 33 feet, 8 inches (10.262 meters) and height of 10 feet, 10 inches (3.302 meters). The total wing area was 284.2 square feet (26.40 square meters). The airplane weighed 2,323 pounds (1,054 kilograms) empty, and 3,713 pounds (1,684 kilograms), gross.
The OJ-2 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-985-38 Wasp Jr. engine rated at 400 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., at Sea Level. The direct-drive engine had a compression ratio of 6:1, and turned a two-bladed propeller. The engine was enclosed by a Townend ring.
Its maximum speed was 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The airplane could climb to that altitude in 12.1 minutes. The service ceiling was 15,300 feet (4,663 meters), and its absolute ceiling was 16,700 feet (5,090 meters). The maximum range of the OJ-2 was 461 nautical miles (531 statute miles/854 kilometers).
The OJ-2 was equipped with radio transmitters and receivers. It could be armed with a single fixed Browning .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the upper wing with 500 rounds of ammunition, and a second gun in the rear cockpit with 600 rounds of ammunition. A maximum of 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of bombs could be carried.
Frank Peak Akers was born 28 March 1901 at Nashville, Tennessee. He was the second of four sons of Albert Warren Akers, an attorney in private practice, and Lillian Crenshaw Akers.
Frank Akers was appointed to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He entered as a midshipman on 12 June 1918. Midshpman Akers graduated and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy, 3 June 1922.
Ensign Akers was assigned to the Clemson-class destroyer USS Sumner (DD-333, serving in the engineering department. He remained with the ship for the next two years.
In 1925, Ensign Akers was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and transferred to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. After qualifying as a naval aviator, 11 September 1925, Lt. (j.g.) Akers was assigned to Observation Squadron Two (VO-2) aboard the class-leading battleship, USS Nevada (BB-36).
In 1926, Lt. (j.g.) Akers was reassigned to Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV-1).
In 1927 Akers transferred from Langley to Fighter Squadron Five (VF-5 S), aircraft squadrons, Scouting Fleet, aboard USS Wright (AV-1), a former airship tender which had been converted to a sea plane tender.
Lieutenant (j.g.) Frank Peak Akers married Miss Mary Bayliss House in Sumner County, Tennessee, 25 January 1928. They would have a son, Albert Bayliss Akers, born 12 November 1928, and who would later be a major general, United States Army.
Akers served at NAS Pensacola from 1928 to 1930 as a fighter instructor. He was promoted to lieutenant 26, November 1929. Leaving Pensacola, Lieutenant Akers returned to Langley.
Lieutenant Akers was a postgraduate student in electronics at Annapolis in 1932. The Navy then sent him to Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He earned a master’s degree in electronic communications in 1933. He was then assigned to NAS Anacostia, where he was involved in experimental instrument landing systems.
In 1937 Lieutenant Akers was assigned as the communications officer, Aircraft Base Force, once again aboard USS Wright.
Akers was promoted to lieutenant commander, 23 June 1938. He was assigned to the Bureau of Engineering at the Navy Department, Washington, D.C.
Lieutenant Commander Akers took command of the USS George E. Badger (AVP-16) in 1940. This was a Clemson-class destroyer which had been converted to a sea plane tender. He was promoted to the rank of commander (temporary), 1 January 1942, with the rank becoming permanent on 30 June 1942.
During the early months of World War II, Commander Akers was the Navigator aboard USS Hornet (CV-8). He participated in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, giving Colonel James H. Doolittle the latest position of the aircraft carrier just before he took off to attack Japan, 18 April 1942. Two months later, Commander Akers was aboard Hornet during the Battle of Midway.
Commander Akers was promoted to captain (temporary) 1 April 1943. On 15 April 1945, he took command of the newly-repaired Lexington-class aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga, CV-3. He remained in command until 4 February 1946.
Captain Akers’ rank was made permanent on 1 May 1949. Less than a year later, 1 March 1950, Captain Akers was promoted to rear admiral. He remained in the Navy until April 1963, when he retired with nearly 45 years of service.
Rear Admiral Frank Peak Akers, United States Navy (Retired) died at the George Washington University Hospital, Washington, D.C., 22 March 1988, 6 days before his 89th birthday. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.