Tag Archives: Altitude Record

7 June 1919

“Portrait of famous French aviatrix Baroness de la Roche on July 1, 1919, taken after she broke the world’s record for altitude reached by a woman. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis)” —YAHOO!

7 June 1919: Numerous sources report that the Baroness de la Roche (née Élisa Léontine Deroche) set a “world record” for women with a Caudron G.3 biplane, sometime during June 1919.

There is considerable variation among these sources, though, with dates variously given as 7 June, 12 June, 17 June, or most often, simply June. And the altitude which she is credited is also confused, varying from 3,900 meters, 4,260 meters, 4,500 meters, 4,785 meters, 4,800 meters, and even 5,150 meters.

The actual facts are uncertain. Mme. Deroche’s flight was not certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Mme. Deroche with a Deutsche Schaferhund.

A contemporary source of aviation news reported:

A Women’s Height Record

     Flying a small Caudron G.3 biplane, Baroness de la Roche, during a flight which lasted  1 hr. 49 mins., went up to an altitude of 3,900 metres (12,870 ft.), which is claimed, in Paris, as a woman’s record.

     Miss Ruth Law has cabled from New York claiming that in September 1917, she went up to 4,240 metres.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 546, Vol. XI, No. 24, 12 June 1919, Page 780, Column 2

Women’s Height Record

     In view of the fact that Miss Ruth Law had claimed to have bettered the performance of Baroness de la Roche the other day, when she flew to a height of 3,900 metres (12,870 ft.), a new attempt was made on June 12. Starting from Issy on a Caudron biplane, Baroness de la Roche climbed steadily until she reached a height of 4,800 metres (15,840 ft.) Coming down she lost her way in a mist, but eventually landed safely at Gastins, 8 kiloms. from Nangis, after a flight of 2 hrs. 7 mins.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Columns 1 and 2

For comparison,

Pushing up World’s Height Record

     Not satisfied with his height record of last week Lieut. Casole [sic] on June 14 took his Nieuport up to 10,100 metres (33,330 feet) during a flight from Villacoublay which lasted 1 hr. 55 mins. As in his previous flights, he used a Nieuport, fitted with a 300 h.p. Hispano-Suiza motor. His previous highest was 9,500 metres (31,350 ft.) and not 51,350 ft., as a printer’s error made it appear in our last issue.

FLIGHT & The AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 547, Vol. XI, No. 25, 12 June 1919, Page 799, Columns 1

While Jean Casale’s ¹ record of 9,520 meters (31,234 feet), set 14 June 1919, ² is recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the FAI did not recognize records set by women until 28 June 1929. Neither Mme. Deroche or Miss Law have any records listed in the FAI’s online data base.

Société des Avions Caudron G.3. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

The Caudron G.3 is the same type airplane flown by Adrienne Bolland when she crossed the Andes Mountains of South America nearly two years later.

The Caudron G.3 was a World War I reconnaissance airplane and flight trainer manufactured by Société des Avions Caudron. It is called a sesquiplane because the lower wing is significantly shorter than the upper. The G.3 was a single-engine aircraft that was built in single- and two-place variants. The engine and cockpit are contained in a very short fuselage, supporting the wings and landing gear. Tail control surfaces are mounted on an open framework tail boom.

Caudron G.3 sesquiplane. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

The Caudron G.3 was 6.90 meters (22 feet, 7 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 13.26 meters (43 feet, 6 inches). The height of the aircraft was 2.60 meters (8 feet, 5 inches). The airplane had an empty weight of 420 kilograms (926 pounds) and maximum weight of 736 kilograms (1,623 pounds).

The G.3 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 10.910 liter (665.791 cubic inches) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5:1. It was rated at 70 cheval vapeur (1 ch = 0.99 horsepower) at 1,100 r.p.m., and 80 cheval vapeur  at 1,200 r.p.m., but able to produce a maximum 92 cheval vapeur (90.77 horsepower) at 1,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The 9C was 0.810 meters (2 feet, 7.9 inches) long, 0.930 meters (3 feet, 6.1 inches) in diameter and weighed 119 kilograms (262 pounds).

The Caudron G.3 had a maximum speed of 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour) and service ceiling of 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). Its range was 330 kilometers (205 miles).

By the end of World War I, Caudron had built 2,402 G.3s.

Élisa Léontine Deroche

Élisa Léontine Deroche was born 22 August 1882 at nº 61, Rue de la Verrerie, in the 4e arrondissement, Paris, France. She was the daughter of Charles François Deroche, a plumber, and Christine Calydon Gaillard Deroche. In her early life she had hoped to be a singer, dancer and actress. Mlle. Deroche used the stage name, “Raymonde de Laroche.”

Mlle. Deroche married M. Louis Léopold Thadome in Paris, 4 August 1900. They divorced 28 June 1909.

She had a romantic relationship with sculptor Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, who was also one of the earliest aviators, and it was he who inspired her to become a pilot herself. They had a son, André, born in 1909. Delagrange was killed in an airplane accident in 1910. They never married.

After four months of training under M. Chateu, an instructor for Voison, at Chalons, she made her first solo flight on Friday, 22 October 1909. On 8 March 1910, Élisa Léontine Deroche was the first woman to become a licensed pilot when she was issued Pilot License #36 by the Aéro-Club de France.

Pilot Certificate number 36 of the Aéro-Club de France was issued to Mme de Laroche. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

In a 30 October 1909 article about her solo flight, Flight & The Aircraft Engineer referred to Mme. Deroche as “Baroness de la Roche.” This erroneous title of nobility stayed with her in the public consciousness. Deroche participated in various air meets, and on 25 November 1913, made a non-stop, long-distance flight of four hours duration, for which she was awarded the Coupe Femina by the French magazine, Femina.

On 20 February 1915, Mme. Deroche married Jacques Vial at Meudon, Hauts de Seine, Île-de-France, France.

During World War I she was not allowed to fly so she served as a military driver.

Mme. Deroche was at Le Crotoy in northern France, co-piloting an experimental airplane, a civil variant of the Caudron G.3. The aircraft suddenly  pitched down and crashed, killing Deroche and the pilot, M. Barrault. Mme. Deroche was 36 years old. Élisa Léontine Deroche was buried at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France.

¹ Sous Lieutenant Jean Pie Hyacinthe Paul Jerome Casale, Marquis de Montferato

² FAI Record File Number 15455

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 May 1965

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, flies test mission near Edwards Air Force Base, Califrnia. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936, flies test mission near Edwards Air Force Base, Califrnia. (U.S. Air Force)

1 May 1965: Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 established five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed: 3,351.507 kilometers per hour (2,070.102 m.p.h.) over a 15/25 Kilometer Straight Course; 2,644.22 kilometers per hour (1,643.04 miles per hour) over a 500 Kilometer Closed Circuit; and 2,718.01 kilometers per hour (1,688.89 miles per hour) over a 1,000 Kilometer Closed Circuit. On the same day, 6936 set an FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 24,463 meters (80,259 feet).

The World Record-setting flight crews, from left to right, Captain James P. Cooney, Major Walter F. Daniel, Colonel Robert L. Stephens, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre and Major Neil T. Warner. (U.S. Air Force)
The World Record-setting flight crews, from left to right, Captain James P. Cooney, Major Walter F. Daniel, Colonel Robert L. Stephens, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre and Major Neil T. Warner. (U.S. Air Force)

The YF-12A interceptor prototype was flown by pilots Major Walter F. Daniel and Colonel Robert L. Stephens, with fire control officers Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre, Major Neil T. Warner and Captain James P. Cooney. Colonel Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Andre were awarded the Thompson Trophy for the “J” Division, 1965. Their trophy is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 during speed record trials. The white cross on the aircraft's belly was to assist timers and observers. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed YF-12A 60-6936 taking off from Edwards Air Force Base during the speed record trials, 1 May 1965. The white cross on the aircraft’s belly was to assist timers and observers. (U.S. Air Force)

FAI Record File Num #3972 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 1 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 718.01 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A (06936)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #3973 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 2 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 718.01 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A (06936)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8534 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 24 463 m
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant R.L. Stephens (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8855 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 500 km without payload
Performance: 2 644.22 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8926 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 2 718.006 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Walter F. Daniel (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #9059 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a straight 15/25 km course
Performance: 3 331.507 km/h
Date: 1965-05-01
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant R.L. Stephens (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed YF-12A
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

World Speed Record holders and Thompson Trophy winners, Colonel Robert F. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre. (U.S. Air force)
World Speed Record holders and Thompson Trophy winners, Colonel Robert L. Stephens and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Andre. (U.S. Air Force)

60-6936 was one of three Mach 3 YF-12A interceptors designed and built by Kelly Johnson’s “Skunk Works”. It was developed from the CIA’s Top Secret A-12 Oxcart reconnaissance airplane. The YF-12A was briefly known as the A-11, which was a cover story to hide the existence of the A-12. Only three were built. The Air Force ordered 93 F-12B interceptors into production as a replacement for the Convair F-106A Delta Dart, but for three straight years Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara refused to release the funds that had been appropriated. In 1968, the F-12B project was cancelled.

On 24 June 1971, 60-6936 suffered an in-flight fire while on approach to Edwards Air Force Base. The crew successfully ejected and the airplane crashed a few miles to the north of EDW. It was totally destroyed.

The only surviving example of a YF-12A, 60-6935, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The 1965 Thompson Trophy on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
The 1965 Thompson Trophy on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 April 1934

Renato Donati prepares for high altitude flight, 11 April 1934. (Caproni)
Renato Donati prepares for high altitude flight, 11 April 1934. (Società Italiana Caproni Milano)

11 April 1934: Commander Renato Donati of Italy’s Regia Aeronautica flew a modified Società Italiana Caproni Milano Caproni Ca.113 two-place biplane named Alta Quota from Montecielo Airport, outside Rome, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record altitude of 14,433 meters (47,352 feet).¹

At such high altitudes, airman must not only be provided with oxygen, but it must be under positive pressure. In this photograph, Commander Donati is being prepared for the flight with a special pressurized suit made of “gutta percha” (a type of rubberized fabric).

Renato Donati in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.113 A.Q., 11 April 1934. (Caproni)
Renato Donati in the cockpit of the Caproni Ca.114, 11 April 1934. (Società Italiana Caproni Milano)

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:

     ROME, April 11.—Renato Donati, 40 year old Italian war ace, hung up a world’s altitude record today when he spiraled his specially constructed Caproni airplane nine miles up into the skies of Rome, to the very limit of the earth’s air envelope.

     Seventy-five minutes after he took off from the Monticello airport on his Icarian adventure Donati dropped back onto the field. He collapsed from the nervous and physical shock of such a swift change of atmospheric conditions, for his instruments registered a height of 14,500 meters [47,560 feet] and temperature of 66 degrees below zero, Centigrade [67.3 degrees below zero Fahrenheit]. With medical aid Donato quickly recovered. . .

Chicago Daily Tribune, Volume XCIII.—No. 88, Thursday 12 April 1934, Page 11, column 1. Article written by David Darrah, Chicago Tribune Press Service.

Renato Donati after his world record-setting flight, 11 April 1934.

The Società Italiana Caproni, Milano Caproni Ca. 113 Alta Quota was developed from the Ca.113 trainer. It was powered by a British-built Bristol Pegasus, the same type used by the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition to fly over Mount Everest the previous week. It was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) nine-cylinder radial engine, with a compression ratio of 5.3:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It drove a four-blade ground-adjustable metal propeller.

Caproni Ca.113 Alta Quota at Montecelio airport, 11 April 1934. (Luce Cinecittà)

The production Ca.113 was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear, built in Italy and at Caproni’s subsidiary in Bulgaria. The airplane was designed to be aerobatic. It first flew in 1931. It was constructed of steel tubing and wood, covered wit aluminum sheet and doped fabric. The Ca.113 was  24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 5 inches (10.490 meters) and height of 9 feet, 2 inches (2.794 meters). The lower wing was staggered behind the upper. It had an empty weight of 1,797 pounds (815 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,348 pounds (1,065 kilograms).

The Ca.113 was powered by an Alfa-Romeo engine developed from the license-built Bristol Pegasus. It had a Normal Power rating of 525 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), and produced a maximum of 575 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

The Ca.113 had a maximum speed of 143 miles per hour ( kilometers per hour), and was capable of climbing to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) in 15 minutes.

The following year, Commander Donati’s Ca.114 (Ca.113 R, equipped with an Alfa Romeo Pegasus S.2 engine) was flown by aviatrix Contessa Carina Negrone, to a women’s record altitude of 12,043 meters (39,511 feet).²

Caproni Ca.113 A.Q.
Caproni Ca.114.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8170

² FAI Record File Number 12166

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 December 1963

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756, with its Rocketdyne engine firing during a zoom-climb maneuver. (U.S. Air Force)

6 December 1963: Air Force test pilot Major Robert W. Smith takes the Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 56-0756, out for a little spin. . .

Starting at 0.85 Mach and 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) over the Pacific Ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Bob Smith turned toward Edwards Air Force Base and accelerated to Military Power and then lit the afterburner, which increased the General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine’s 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.59 kilonewtons) to 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons). The modified Starfighter accelerated in level flight. At Mach 2.2, Smith ignited the Rocketdyne LR121 rocket engine, which burned a mixture of JP-4 and hydrogen peroxide. The LR121 was throttleable and could produce from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons).

When the AST reached Mach 2.5, Smith began a steady 3.5G pull-up until the interceptor was in a 70° climb. At 75,000 feet (22,860 meters), the test pilot shut off the afterburner to avoid exceeding the turbojet’s exhaust temperature (EGT) limits. He gradually reduced the jet engine power to idle by 85,000 feet (25,908 meters), then shut it off.  Without the engine running, cabin pressurization was lost and the pilot’s A/P22S-2 full-pressure suit inflated.

The NF-104A continued to zoom to an altitude where its aerodynamic control surfaces were no longer functional. It had to be controlled by the reaction jets in the nose and wing tips. 756 reached a peak altitude of 120,800 feet (36,820 meters), before reentering the atmosphere in a 70° dive. Major Smith used the windmill effect of air rushing into the intakes to restart the jet engine.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer zoom-climb profile. (U.S. Air Force via NF-104.com)

Major Smith had set an unofficial record for altitude. Although Lockheed had paid the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license fee, the Air Force had not requested certification in advance so no FAI or National Aeronautic Association personnel were on site to certify the flight.

For this flight, Robert Smith was nominated for the Octave Chanute Award “for an outstanding contribution made by a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of the art, science, and technology of aeronautics.”

Major Robert W. Smith, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Wilson Smith was born at Washington, D.C., 11 December 1928. He was the son of Robert Henry Smith, a clerk (and eventually treasurer) for the Southern Railway Company, and Jeanette Blanche Albaugh Smith, a registered nurse. He graduated from high school in Oakland, California, in 1947. Smith studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and George Washington University.

Robert W. Smith joined the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1949. He trained as a pilot at Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, United States Air Force, 23 June 1950.

Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson Smith married Ms. Martha Yacko, 24 June 1950, at Phoenix, Arizona.

Lieutenant Robert W. Smith and his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Jackson, with Lady Lane, Smith’s North American F-86 Sabre. (Robert W. Wilson Collection)

He flew the F-86 Sabre on more than 100 combat missions with the 334th and 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadrons of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War. he named one of his airplanes Lady Lane in honor of his daughter. Smith was credited with two enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and three more damaged.

Smith graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1952 and flew more than fifty aircraft types during testing at Edwards Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He was later assigned to the Aerospace Research Test Pilots School at Edwards Air Force Base for training as an astronaut candidate for Project Gemini.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Smith, United States Air Force

After the NF-104A project was canceled, Lieutenant Colonel Smith volunteered for combat duty in the Vietnam War. He commanded the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief. Bob Smith was awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” while leading an attack at Thuy Phoung, north of Hanoi, 19 November 1967.

He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, and five times was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Colonel Smith retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1969 after twenty years of service.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson Smith died at Monteverde, Florida, 19 August 2010. He was 81 years old.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 56-756 following a landing accident at Edwards AFB, 21 November 1961. (U.S. Air Force via the International F-104 Society)

56-756 was a Lockheed F-104A-10-LO Starfighter. Flown by future astronaut James A. McDivitt, it had been damaged in a landing accident at Edwards following a hydraulic system failure, 21 November 1961. It was one of three taken from storage at The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, and sent to Lockheed for modification to Aerospace Trainers (ASTs). These utilized a system of thrusters for pitch, roll and yaw control at altitudes where the standard aerodynamic control surfaces could no longer control the aircraft. This was needed to give pilots some experience with the control system for flight outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer 56-756. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-104A vertical fin was replaced with the larger fin and rudder from the two-place F-104B for increased stability. The wingspan was increased to 25 feet, 11.3 inches (7.907 meters) for installation of the hydrogen peroxide Reaction Control System thrusters. The fiberglass nosecone was replaced by an aluminum skin for the same reason. The interceptor’s radar and M61 Vulcan cannon were removed and tanks for rocket fuel and oxidizers, nitrogen, etc., installed in their place. The fuselage “buzz number” was changed from FG-756 to NF-756.

The standard afterburning General Electric J79-GE-3B turbojet engine remained, and was supplemented by a Rocketdyne LR121 liquid-fueled rocket engine which produced 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of thrust (13.35–26.69 kilonewtons) with a burn time of 105 seconds.

56-756 was damaged by inflight explosions in 1965 and 1971, after which it was retired. It is mounted for static display at the Air Force Test Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, marked as 56-760.

Lockheed NF-104 Aerospace Trainer 56-756, marked as 56-760, on display at Edwards Air Force Base. (Kaszeta)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 September 1921

Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant John A. Macready dressed for high altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant John A. Macready, Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air force)
Captain John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

28 September 1921: At McCook Field, Ohio, First Lieutenant John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, flew a turbo-supercharged Packard Lepère L USA C. II biplane, serial number S.C. 40015, to a world record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). He won his first of three Mackay Trophies for this flight.

John A. Macready graduated from Stanford University in 1913 with a degree in economics. He enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, U.S. Army, as a Private 1st Class, 16 July 1917. On 27 December 1917, he was commissioned as a 1st lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps. Lieutenant Macready became a flight instructor at Brooks Field, Texas, where he wrote the standard instructional text. On 11 October 1918, Lieutenant Macready was promoted to the rank of captain. After World War I, he became an engineering test pilot at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio. He reverted to his permanent rank of first lieutenant, 18 September 1920. In 1923, Macready graduated from the Aeronautical Engineer Course, Air Service Engineering School.

For six years John Macready was responsible for testing turbosuperchargers, which enabled aircraft engines to produce continuous power at increasing altitudes. It was while testing these that he established his altitude record.

Lt. John A. Macready with his Packard Lepère L USA C.II. (San Diego History Center)

During a 35 hour, 18 minute endurance flight at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, 5–6 October 1922, John Macready and Oakley G. Kelly pioneered the use of inflight refueling from another aircraft. Also, he and Kelly made the first non-stop transcontinental flight when they flew a Fokker T-2 across the United States from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York to Rockwell Field in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.6 seconds on 2 May 1923. Macready won his second and third Mackay Trophies for these achievements. He is the only many to have won it three times.

The Packard Lepère L USA C.II was a World War I biplane designed by French aeronautical engineer Captain Georges Lepère and built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was to have been a two-place fighter, light bomber and observation aircraft armed with four machine guns.

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3-1/8 inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 5/8-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Packard Lepère LUSAC 11 P53, left profile. The turbocharger is mounted above the propeller driveshaft.
Packard Lepère L USA C.II S.C. 40013, McCook Field project number P53, left profile. The turbocharger’s turbine housing is mounted above the propeller driveshaft. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Lieutenant John A Macready flew this turbosupercharged Packard Lepère L USA C.II, S.C 40013, McCook Field project number P53, to an altitude of 40,800 feet, 28 September 1921. (U.S. Air Force)
Barograph chart showing Lieutenant Macready’s record altitude of 40,800 feet (12,192 meters), 28 September 1921. (Sally Macready Wallace via www.earlyaviators.com)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463

² FAI Record File Number 15671

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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