Tag Archives: Ace

13 November 1942

Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)

13 November 1942: Lieutenants Harold E. Comstock and Roger B. Dyar were fighter pilots assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, at Bridgeport, Connecticut. They were often sent to test new P-47 Thunderbolt fighters at the Republic Aviation Corporation factory in nearby Farmingdale, New York:

Lieutenant Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Army Air Corps, with his P-47 Thunderbolt, 1943.

Because of the need to manufacture airplanes quickly and the close proximity to the Republic Aviation factory, active duty pilots were used for some of the test flights of the new P-47. On 13 November 1942, Lts. Comstock and Dyar were ordered to test a new type of radio antenna on the P-47C. Lt. Comstock climbed to an indicated altitude of 49,600 feet (15,118 meters) while trying to reach 50,000 feet. Due to poor response from the controls, he decided to let the aircraft fall off rather than risk a spin. He started to dive straight down and after passing below 40,000 feet he found that his controls had frozen. He then felt a bump and was unable to move the controls as the aircraft continued to dive. Even with maximum exertion, he was unable to move the control stick so he started to roll the trim tab back and after passing below 30,000 feet, the aircraft started to pull out of the dive and he recovered between 20,000 and 25,000 feet.

Lt. Dyar started his dive and encountered the same conditions. After landing, Lt. Comstock reported what happened and the chief designer of the P-47 Thunderbolt, Alexander Kartveli, questioned Lt. Comstock at length and made numerous calculations. Republic Aviation soon issued a press release claiming that Lts. Comstock and Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound. This was picked up in the national media and also drawn in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. Soon after the press release, the 56th Fighter Group received a telegram from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold that “there would be no more discussion about the dive.” The actual speed attained was probably less than the speed of sound but this speed which caused the flight controls to lock up was referred to as “compressibility.” This effect was encountered by many pilots flying in combat but training and proper procedures allowed them to recover from it. In 1959, the Air Force published “A Chronology of American Aerospace Events” and included an entry for 15 November 1942 which stated “Lts. Harold Comstock and Roger Dyar set a new speed record for airplanes when they power-dived their P-47 fighters at 725 mph from 35,000 feet over an east coast air base.” While the Air Force acknowledged the speed of 725 miles per hour, it is not known whether the P-47 could actually exceed the speed of sound in a dive. Capt. Roger Dyar was killed in action on 26 June 1943.Wikipedia

The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)
The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)

Almost certainly, the diving Thunderbolts did not exceed the speed of sound:

In July 1944 Major [Frederic Austin] Borsodi [Chief, Fighter Test Branch, Army Air Forces Material Command, Wright Field] made a number of full power vertical dives from 40,000 feet in a North American P-51D to assess the compressibility effects on the aircraft’s handling. He achieved a maximum Mach number of 0.86, at which point severe buffeting of the empennage was noted. . . many World War II pilots remained firmly convinced that they had taken their propeller-driven fighters supersonic in steep dives, often as local shock waves rattled their craft and caused the angle of those dives to become uncontrollably steeper. More often than not the center of lift moved aft on their wings, and Mach-induced turbulence blanketed the normal control surfaces on the tail. For the lucky ones, the descent into denser air slowed the airplane, while the higher temperatures at lower altitude meant that the Mach number for a given true airspeed was lower. Consequently, local shock waves tended to disappear. A normal recovery as from any steep dive, could usually be effected. . . the later [Supermarine] Spitfires, with a demonstrated ceiling of 45,000 feet, a much thinner wing of elliptical planform, and a lower profile liquid-cooled engine, could never register a maximum speed greater than 0.9 Mach number. That is the highest recorded speed, by a substantial margin of any propeller driven fighter. Oh yes, in the course of one such dive, on entering the denser air around 20,000 feet, the Spitfire’s propeller and much of the engine cowling parted company with the rest of the aircraft. Getting to 0.90 Mach number wasn’t easy. . . the speed of sound at sea level and 59° Fahrenheit is 761 miles per hour. At an altitude of 40,000 feet, where our standard atmosphere charts tell us that the temperature is -67° Fahrenheit, sound travels at 662 miles per hour.

Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, at Pages 6–7, 24–27.

Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Harold E. Comstock, circa 1940.

Harold Elwood Comstock was born 20 December 1920 at Fresno, California. He was the son of Clinton Elwood Comstock, a telephone company repairman, and Leona M. Sutherland Comstock. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Fresno, in February 1939. February 1939. Comstock then entered Fresno State College. He was a member of the F.S.C. Pilots Club and the Aero Mechanics Club.

Harold Comstock was appointed an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 10 October 1941. He was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 149 pounds (67.6 kilograms). After completing flight training, on 3 July 1942 Comstock was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve. Comstock was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 29 May 1943. Lieutenant Comstock advanced to the rank of captain, A.U.S., on 12 March 1944, and to major, A.U.S., 17 September 1944. On 3 July 1945, Major Comstock’s permanent Air-Reserve rank was advanced to first lieutenant.

UN Y, Bunny Comstock’s P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326. (U.S. Air Force)

Harold Comstock flew two combat tours in Europe with the 56th Fighter Group during World War II. He completed his second tour as commanding officer of the group’s 63rd Fighter Squadron. He flew 138 combat missions and is officially credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, with 2 probably destroyed and 3 damaged, and another 3 destroyed on the ground.

Low on fuel after a combat mission, Lieutenant Comstock’s Republic P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326 crashed at Lyons Farm, Mutford, Suffolk, England, 3 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

During his World War II service, Major Comstock was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Air Medal with 11 oak leaf clusters (12 awards) and the Purple Heart.

Miss Barbara Lucille Joint, circa 1940.

Lieutenant Comstock married Miss Barbara Lucille Joint, also from Fresno, 10 June 1942 at Bridge City, Texas. They would have two children, Harold Eric Comstock, and Roger Joseph Comstock.

On 16 May 1947, Major Comstock was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Air-Reserve. On 10 October 1947, Comstock’s permanent military rank became fist lieutenant, Air Corps, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945. When the United States Air Force was established as an independent branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, Comstock’s commission was converted. (1st Lieutenant, No. 7779.)

During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Comstock commanded the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 27th Tactical Fighter Wing from 1965 to 1968. He flew another 132 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-100D Super Sabre, and 38 as commander of an airborne command and control unit of the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron. Colonel Comstock’s final assignment was as commanding officer, 602nd Tactical control Group, Bergrstom Air Force base.

Colonel Comstock retired from the Air Force on 30 September 1971. He was twice awarded the Legion of Merit, and he held the Distinguished Flying Cross with six Oak Leaf Clusters, a Purple Heart, and 17 Air Medals.

Harold E. Comstock died at Clovis, California in 2009.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47C variant was completed 14 September 1942, only one month before Bunny Comstock’s famous dive. An early change (P-47C-1) was the addition of 8 inches (0.203 meters) to the forward fuselage for improved handling. The P-47C-5-RE was 36 feet, 1-3/16 inches (11.003 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-5/16 inches (12.429 meters) The overall height was 14 feet 3-5/16 inches (4.351 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 9,900 pounds (4,490.6 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 14,925 pounds (6,769.9 kilograms).

The P-47C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-21) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-21 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger and the supercharged air was then carried forward to supply the engine. The engine drove a 12 foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,265 pounds (1,027 kilograms). Approximately 80% of these engines were produced by the Ford Motor Company. It was also used as a commercial aircraft engine, with optional propeller gear reduction ratios.

The P-47C had a maximum speed in level flight of 433 miles per hour (697 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and it could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 7 minutes, 12 seconds. It had a maximum range of 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The maintenance technicians show the fighter's enormous size. (Daily Mail)
Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The four maintenance technicians show the fighter’s enormous size. (Daily Mail)

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored.

602 P-47Cs were built in the five months before the P-47D entered production. A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 November 1918

Sous-Lieutenant Paul-René Fonck. (Agence Meurisse)

1 November 1918: At 2:20 p.m., Lieutenant Paul-René Fonck, Escadrille 103,  Aéronautique Militaire, shot down a Luftstreitkräfte Halberstadt C, east of Vouziers, France. Its pilot, Gefreiter W. Schmidt of Flieger-Abteilung 297b, was killed.

This was the 75th confirmed enemy aircraft which Fonck had destroyed. (As many as 52 aircraft claimed by Fonck, including another Halberstadt C over Semuy, fifteen minutes later, were not confirmed.) Lieutenant Fonck was the highest-scoring Allied fighter pilot of World War I.¹

Lieutenant René Fonck with a SPAD S.XVII, 1918. (Photo SHD section Air de Vincennes transmise par Jon Guttman)

The chasseur flown by René Fonck on this date was a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVII, Nº. 682. The S.XVII was an improved S.XIII, with stronger wings and fuselage, additional bracing wires and a more powerful engine. Its more closely-spaced longerons gave the fuselage a more circular cross-section and a bulkier appearance.

The S.XVII had the same length, wing span and height as the S.XIII, but was heavier. Its empty weight was 687 kilograms (1,515 pounds) and the gross weight was 942 kilograms (2,077 pounds).

The S.XVII was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.265 cubic inch displacement) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single-overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine. This was a right-hand-tractor, direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.3:1, and was rated at 300 cheval vapeur (296 horsepower) at 2,100 r.p.m. The Hispano-Suiza 8Fb was 1.32 meters (4.33 feet) long, 0.89 meters (2.92 feet) wide and 0.88 meters (2.89 feet) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).

Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVII C.1 (flyingmachines.ru)

The S.XVII had a maximum speed of 221 kilometers per hour (137 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet). It could climb to 2,000 meters in 5 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Its ceiling was 7,175 meters (23,540 feet).

Armament consisted of two water-cooled, fixed Vickers 7.7 mm (.303 British) machine guns above the engine, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. The guns’ water jackets were left empty.

The SPAD S.XVIIs were delivered to Escadrille 103 in June 1918. It is believed that 20 were built.

Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVII C.1 (aviafrance)

Paul-René Fonck was born 27 March 1894 at Salcy-de Meurthe, the first of three children of Victor Felicien Fonck, a carpenter, and Marie Julie Simon Fonck. His father was killed in an accident when he was four years old, leaving Mme. Fonck to raise Paul-René and his two sisters. He was sent to an uncle who placed him in a religious boarding school in Nancy. He was a good student. After six years, he returned to live with his mother and finished his education in a public school.

At the beginning of World War I, Fonck joined the French Army. He was assigned to an engineering regiment, building roads and bridges and digging trenches. In February 1915 Corporal Fonck was transferred to flight school at St. Cyr. He received his military pilot rating 15 May 1915 and was assigned to Escadrille C47, an observation squadron, where he flew the twin-engine Avion Caudron Type G. 4.

Caudron G.4 en vol, 1915. Les avions utilisés durant les premières années du conflit ne sont pas spécifiquement conçus pour l’observation. C’est le cas du Caudron G.4, mis au point pour le bombardement mais affecté à la reconnaissance quelques mes après sa mise en service en 1915. (© Droits réservés / Coll. musée de l’Air et de l’Espace–Le Bourget, noº MA 23532.)

In 1917, Fonck was transferred to Escadrille 103. He flew the SPAD S.VII, S.XII, S.XIII and the S.XVII.

For his military service during World War I, René Fonck was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec 28 Palmes, Croix de Guerre (Belgium); and Great Britain awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Cross and Military Medal.

René Paul Fonck died in Paris 23 June 1953. He was buried at the Saulcy-sur-Meurthe Cemetery, near the place of his birth.

René Fonck with a SPAD S.XII Canon fighter. The stork painted on the fuselage is the insignia of Escadrille 103, “Les Cignones.” (Historic Wings)

¹ Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, Luftstreitkräfte, had 80 confirmed victories and was the leading fighter ace of World War I. Captain (Acting Major) William George Barker, Royal Air Force, is credited with 50. Count Maggiore Francesco Baracca, of Italy’s Corpo Aeronautico Militare was officially credited with 34 before being killed 18 June 1918. Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, shot down 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. Alexander Alexandrovich Kazakov was the leading ace of Imperial Russia with 20 confirmed victories (another 12 were not officially credited).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 October 1953

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 during speed record attempt at the Salton Sea, 29 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 during a speed record attempt at the Salton Sea, 29 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

29 October 1953: Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, United States Air Force, flew a new prototype air superiority fighter, North American Aviation’s YF-100A Super Sabre, serial number 52-5754, over the 3 kilometer and 15 kilometer courses at the Salton Sea, in the Colorado Desert of southeastern California.

Flying four runs over the short course, Everest averaged 757.75 miles per hour (1,219.48 kilometers per hour). Although this was 4.80 miles per hour (7.725 kilometers per hour) faster than the FAI record set three weeks earlier by Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, U.S. Navy, with a Douglas XA4D-1 Skyray,¹ it was not fast enough to establish a new world record under FAI rules, which required that a new record exceed the previous record by 1%.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force.

Next came four speed runs over the 15/25 kilometer course. All runs were made with the Super Sabre flying within 100 feet (30 meters) of the ground. The official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) average speed was 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour)—0.99 Mach. ²

The course at the Salton Sea was used because its surface lies 235 feet (72 meters) below Sea Level. The denser air causes undesired transonic effects to occur at lower speeds, but the higher air temperatures help to delay them, at the allowing the pilot a greater margin of control during the speed record runs.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest and the North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre, 52-5754, 29 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, Jr., was born 10 Aug 1920, at Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Frank Kendall Everest, an electrical contractor, and Phyllis Gail Walker Everest. Attended Fairmont Senior High School, Fairmont, West Virginia, graduating in 1939. He studied at Fairmont State Teachers College, also in Fairmont, West Virginia, and then studied engineering at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown.

Pete Everest enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 7 November 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. His enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.703 meters) tall and weighed 132 pounds (59.9 kilograms). He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 3 July 1942.

Lieutenant Frank Kendall Everest, Jr. (schultzy)

2nd Lieutenant Everest married Miss Avis June Mason in Marion, West Virginia, 8 July 1942. they would have three children.

He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, Army of the United States, 11 November 1942. He was assigned as a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying 94 combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third. Everest was promoted to the rank of Captain, 17 August 1943.

Pete Everest with his Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, North Africa, circa 1943.

In 1944, Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations where he flew 67 missions and shot down four Japanese airplanes. Everest was appointed commanding officer of the 29th Fighter Squadron (Provisional), 5th Fighter Group (Provisional) at Chihkiang, China, in April 1945. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. Everest was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war. He was promoted to the rank of major, 1 July 1945. He was returned to the United States military 3 October 1945.

Following World War II, Major Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Major Everest was returned to the permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, 19 June 1947, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945.

At Edwards, Pete Everest was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes:” the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was the test pilot on thirteen of the twenty X-2 flights.

In 1957, Lieutenant Colonel Everest was awarded the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievements in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year,” and also received the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot to the art, science and technology of aeronautics.”

Major Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., U.S. Air Force, with the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocketplane, on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB, California, 1956. (U.S. Air Force)

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. On 20 November 1963, Colonel Everest, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, flew one of the first two operational McDonnell F-4C Phantom II fighters from the factory in St. Louis, Missouri, to MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida.

In 1965, Pete Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was assigned as commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. General Everest retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service.

Shortly after he retired from the Air Force, on 5 April 1973, Sikorsky Aircraft appointed General Everest its Chief Test Pilot. The manufacturer was developing the S-70 Black Hawk and S-76 commercial helicopters at the time.

During his military career General Everest was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Purple Heart; Air Medal with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Gallant Unit Citation; Prisoner of War Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four bronze stars; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Force Longevity Service Award with one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters (seven awards); Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960– device. General Everest was rated as a Command Pilot, and a Basic Parachutist.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr. United States Air Force (Retired), died at Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2004 at the age of 84 years.

Brigadier General Frank Kendall Everest, Jr., United States Air Force

The North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre was designed as a supersonic day fighter. Initially intended as an improved F-86D and F-86E, the “Sabre 45” soon developed into an almost completely new airplane. The wings had more sweep and the airfoil sections were thinner. The fuselage incorporated the “area rule,” a narrowing in the fuselage width at the wings to increase transonic performance, similar to the Convair F-102A.  Initially designated XF-100, continued refinements resulted in the first two aircraft being redesignated YF-100A.

The YF-100A prototype had flown faster than Mach 1 on its first flight, 25 May 1953, with North American test pilot George S. Welch. It was the first airplane capable of supersonic speed in level flight.

North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The two YF-100As, 52-5754 and 52-5755, were 47 feet, 11¼ inches (14.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 7 inches (11.151 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). The total wing area was 385.2 square feet (35.79 square meters). The wings were swept to 45° at 25% chord (49° 2′ at the leading edges), and had 0° angle of incidence and 0° dihedral. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings to eliminate their twisting effects at high speed. The airplane had no flaps resulting in a high stall speed in landing configuration. The horizontal stabilizer was moved to the bottom of the fuselage to keep it out of the turbulence created by the wings at high angles of attack.

The pre-production prototypes weighed 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 24,789 pounds (11,244 kilograms).

The new air superiority fighter was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (2 high- and 1 low-pressure stages). Its continuous power rating was 8,000 pounds of thrust (35.586 kilonewtons). The Military Power rating was 9,700 pounds (43.148 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). Maximum power was 14,800 pounds (43.148 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5-minute limit). The engine was 20 feet, 9.7 inches (6.342 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.9 inches (1.014 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,075 pounds (2,303 kilograms). Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine, which had the same ratings.

North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 754 parked on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The Super Sabre was the first U.S. Air Force fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight.

The YF-100A had a maximum speed of 660 miles per hour (1,062 kilometers per hour) at 43,350 feet (13,213 meters). During testing, 52-5754 reached Mach 1.44 in a dive. The service ceiling was 52,600 feet (16,033 meters). Range with internal fuel was 422 miles (679 kilometers).

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 25 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The production F-100 was armed with four M39 20 mm autocannons, capable of firing at a rate of 1,500 rounds per minute. The ammunition capacity of the F-100 was 200 rounds per gun.

North American Aviation built 199 F-100A Super Sabres at its Inglewood, California, plant before production shifted to the F-100C fighter bomber variant. Approximately 25% of all F-100As were lost in accidents.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9871

² FAI Record File Number 8868

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 October 1919

Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet with a Spad-Herbemont, (S.20bis6) 9 October 1920. (Agence Meurisse 84138/BnF)

During a competition for the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe, Lieutenant Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet of France’s  Aéronautique Militaire flew a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V to set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 268.63 kilometers per hour (166.92 miles per hour).¹

De Romanet’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. The Ni-D 29V was 21 feet, 3.5 inches (6.489 meters) long, with a wing span of just 6.00 meters (19 feet, 8¼ inches), shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V (Unattributed)
A Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V. This airplane, #10, was flown by Joseph Sadi Lecointe. (Unattributed)

The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller. The engine was 1.32 meters (4 feet, 4 inches) long, 0.89 meters (2 feet, 11 inches) wide, and 0.88 meters (2 feet, 10½ inches) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).

The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).

This right rear-quarter view of a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V shows the shortned two-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)
This right rear-quarter view of one of the three Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V racers shows the shortened two-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)
Bernard Henri Barny de Romanet

Le Marquis Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was born at Saint-Maurice-de-Sathonay, Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France, 28 January 1894. He was the son of Léonard Jean Michel Barny de Romanet and Marie Noémie Isabelle de Veyssière. He descended from a very old French family.

Bernard de Romanet joined the Cavalry at the age of 18 years. During World War I, he served with both cavalry and infantry regiments as a Maréchel de Logis (master sergeant) before transferring to the Aéronautique Militaire in July 1915, as a photographer and observer.

After completing flight training in 1916, de Romanet was assigned as a pilot. In early 1918, de Romanet trained as a fighter pilot. He shot down his first enemy airplane 23 May 1918, for which he was awarded the Médaille Militaire, and was promoted to Adjutant (warrant officer). De Romanet was commissioned as a Sous-Lieutenant (equivalent to a second lieutenant in the United States military) several months later. After a fourth confirmed victory he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (first lieutenant).

By August 1918, he was in command of Escadrille 167. He was officially credited with having shot down 18 enemy aircraft, sharing credit for 12 with other pilots. He claimed an additional 6 airplanes destroyed.

Lieutenant de Romanet was appointed Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with three  étoiles en vermeil (silver gilt) stars and 10 palmes.

Bernard Henri Marie Léonard Barny de Romanet was killed 23 September 1921, when the fabric covering of his Lumière-De Monge 5.1 airplane’s wings was torn away and the airplane crashed.

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 15642, 15670.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 October 1927

Costes and Le Brix flew this Breguet XIX GR, No. 1685, named Nungesser-Coli, across the South Atlantic Ocean 14–15 October 1927.
Dieudonné Costes

14–15 October 1927: Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew a Breguet XIX GR, serial number 1685, across the South Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Louis, Senegal, to Port Natal, Brazil.

This was the first non-stop South Atlantic crossing by an airplane. The 2,100-mile (3,380 kilometer) flight took just over 18 hours.

The two aviators were on an around-the-world flight that began 10 October 1927 at Paris, France, and would be completed 14 April 1928, after traveling 34,418 miles (57,000 kilometers).

Costes had been a test pilot for Breguet since 1925. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I and was credited with six aerial victories. He had been appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and the Médaille militaire.

Following the around-the-world flight, the Congress of the United States, by special act, awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1929, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded him its Gold Air Medal, and the International League of Aviators awarded him the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Joseph Le Brix (1899–1931)
Joseph Le Brix

Capitain de Corvette Joseph Le Brix was a French naval officer. He had trained as a navigator, aerial observer and pilot. For his service in the Second Moroccan War, he was appointed to the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Like Costes, Le Brix was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress.

The Breguet XIX GR (“GR” stands for Grand Raid) had been named Nungesser-Coli in honor of the two pilots who disappeared while attempting a crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the White Bird, 8 May 1927. It was developed from the Type XIX light bomber and reconnaissance airplane, which entered production in 1924. A single-engine, two-place biplane with tandem controls, it was primarily constructed of aluminum tubing, covered with sheet aluminum and fabric. The biplane was a “sesquiplane,” meaning that the lower of the two wings was significantly smaller than the upper. Approximately 2,400 Breguet XIXs were built.

Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 january 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 January 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

No. 1685 was a special long-distance variant, with a 2,900–3,000 liter fuel capacity (766–792 gallons). It was further modified to add 1 meter to the standard 14.83 meter (48 feet, 7.9 inches) wingspan, and the maximum fuel load was increased to 3,500 liters (925 gallons).

The original 590 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Hb engine was replaced with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Lb. This was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403-liter (1,916.33-cubic-inch-displacement) overhead valve 60° V-12 engine, with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The 12Lb produced 630 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., burning 85 octane gasoline. The engine was 1.850 meters (6 feet, 0.8 inches) long, 0.750 meters (2 feet, 5.5 inches) wide and 1.020 meters (3 feet, 4.2 inches) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).

The Breguet XIX had a speed of 214 kilometers per hour (133 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 7,200 meters (23,620 feet).

The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l'air et de l'espace (MAE) du Bourget.
The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l’air et de l’espace (MAE) du Bourget.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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