Tag Archives: FAI World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight

28 July 1976

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958. (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

28 July 1976: A U.S. Air Force Lockheed SR-71A, serial number 61-7958, flown by Captain Robert C. Helt and Major Larry A. Elliott, USAF, set an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, at 85,068 feet (25,929 meters).

FAI Record File Num #3496 [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: 25 929 m
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Robert C. Helt (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” (USAF)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

On the same day, Captain Eldon W. Joersz and Major George T. Fuller, Jr., flew 958 to 2,193.17 miles per hour (3,529.56 kilometers per hour) over a 15/25 kilometer course at Beale Air Force Base, California, setting an FAI World Absolute Speed Record.

FAI Record File Num #8865 [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: 3 529.56 km/h
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Eldon W. Joersz (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #8879 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-Absolute (Absolute Record of classes C, H and M)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed
Performance: 3 529.56 km/h
Date: 1976-07-28
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Eldon W. Joersz (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

De La Vaulx Medal
De La Vaulx Medal

The previous day, the same airplane flown by Major Adolphus H. Bledsoe, Jr., pilot, and Major John T. Fuller, RSO , set the World Absolute Speed Record of 2,092.29 miles per hour (3,367.22 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer closed circuit. Captain Joersz and Major George Fuller’s record superseded the one set by Bledsoe and John Fuller.

All six airmen were awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the FAI.

Today, 61-7958 is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Warner-Robins, Georgia. 32 of these long range strategic reconnaissance aircraft were built by the Lockheed Skunk Works.

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958 at Beale AFB, 28 July 1976. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 January–8 February 1971

A Lockheed P-3C Orion (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)
Lockheed P-3C-225-LO Orion, Bu. No. 162775, of Patrol Squadron Four (VP-4), similar to the record-setting airplane flown by CDR Lilienthal and his crew, 22 January–8 February 1971. (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class John Herman, U.S. Navy)

22 January–8 February 1971: A Lockheed P-3C Orion antisubmarine warfare patrol bomber under the command of Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy, took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, and flew 11,036.47 kilometers (6,857.75 miles) non-stop to NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. The duration of the flight was 15 hours, 21 minutes.

This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for turboprop airplanes.¹ The Orion’s course deviated around foreign airspace so the actual distance flown was 7,010 miles (11,218.5 kilometers).

Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156521. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)
Photograph of CDR Lilienthal and LCDR Stoodley with their P-3C, 156512. (JAX AIR NEWS-LATWINGER, 19 February 1971, Page 15.)

The record-setting airplane was a Lockheed P-3C-110-LO Orion, Bu. No. 156512, c/n 5506, built in 1969 by the Lockheed California Company, at Burbank, California. It was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. The Orion was a standard production P-3C with no engine or fuel system modifications.

For the long distance flight the Orion carried a flight crew of seven: Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, Aircraft Commander; Captain R.H. Ross, Pilot; Lieutenant Commander F. Howard Stoodley, Pilot; Lieutenant R.T. Myers, Navigator; Commander J.E. Koehr, Meteorologist; Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate K.D. Frantz, Flight Engineer; and Chief Aviation Electrician’s Mate H.A. Statti, Flight Engineer.

A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (U.S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol bomber. (Lockheed Martin via Code One Magazine)

On 27 January 1971, the same airplane set both FAI and National Aeronautic Association records for Speed Over a Straight Course of 15/25 Kilometers of 806.10 kilometers per hour (500.89 miles per hour) at NAS Patuxent River.²

The U.S. National Record still stands:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 19.47.13

On February 4, at Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California, Commander Lilienthal flew 156512 to a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 13,721.5 meters (45,018.1 feet).³

On 8 February 1971, while till at Edwards AFB, Commander Lilienthal and 156512 set five more world records for heavy turboprop airplanes. The P-3C climbed to a height of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 2 minutes, 52 seconds ⁴ ; to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 5 minutes, 46 seconds ⁵ ; to 9,000 meters (29, 528 feet) in 10 minutes, 26 seconds ⁶ ; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 19 minutes, 42 seconds.⁷ The Orion continued climbing until it reached a world record altitude of 14,086.1 meters (46,214.2 feet). ⁸

For his record-setting flights, Commander Lilienthal was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Lockheed P-3 Orion was developed from the Model 188 Electra—a four-engine turboprop airliner which first flew in 1957—primarily as a long-range anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance aircraft. The P-3 has been adapted to many other missions. The P-3C variant in U.S. Navy service is usually operated by a crew of 11.

The bomber is 116 feet, 10 inches (35.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 99 feet, 8 inches (30.378 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 8 inches (11.786 meters). It has a zero-fuel weight of 77,200 pounds (35,017 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 142,000 pounds (64,410 kilograms).

The P-3C is powered by four Allison T56-A-14 turboprop engines which produce 4,591 shaft horsepower at 13,820 r.p.m., each. They drive four-bladed Hamilton-Standard 54H60-77 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 13 feet, 5¾ inches (4.109 meters) at 1,020 r.p.m. The T56-A-14 is a single-shaft axial-flow turboprop engine, with a 14-stage compressor section, six combustors, and a 4-stage turbine. The engine is 12 feet, 2.3 inches (3.716 meters) long, 4 feet, 1.0 inches (1.245 meters) in diameter and weighs 1,885 pounds (855 kilograms).

The P-3C can remain airborne for 16 hours.

There is a wide variety of sensors board the P-3. Sonobuoys can be dropped from the belly. A Magnetic Anomaly Detector, the “MAD boom” is mounted at the tail of the aircraft.

The Orion caries no defensive weapons. It can carry bombs, depth charges, torpedoes, mines, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles, and nuclear weapons.

Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion escorts a nuclear-powered Soviet Victor-III attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)
Hunter and prey. A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C-205-LO Orion, Bu. No. 161339, escorts a Soviet Victor-III nuclear-powered attack submarine. (U.S. Navy)

More than 750 P-3 Orions and its variants were built by Lockheed and licensee Kawasaki Heavy Industries between 1961 and 1996. In addition to the U.S. Navy and various Federal government agencies, the Lockheed P-3 Orion remains in service worldwide with more than twenty countries.

Lockheed P-3C-110-LO Orion Bu. No. 156512, served as a test aircraft at Patuxent River until 15 July 1974. It was then assigned to VP-31 where it remained for over nine years, carrying the squadron identification marking RP and the numeral 9. It later served with VP-9, VP-46, VP-65, VP-16 and finally, VP-45. 156512 was placed in long-term storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1995, and was scrapped in 2004.

Midshipman D. H. Lilienthal (The 1955 Lucky Bag)

Donald Herman Lilienthal was born 6 February 1931 at Pope, Minnesota. He was the fourth child of Frederick R. Lilienthal, a steam railway worker, and Bertha Camille Metlie Lilienthal. He attended Glenwood High School, Glenwood, Minnesota, graduating in 1949. He then studied mathematics at the University of Minnesota, before accepting an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1951.

Midshipman Lilienthal graduated from Annapolis and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 3 June 1955. He was then trained as a pilot. Later, he graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

In June 1958, Lieutenant (j.g.) Lilienthal married Miss Jeanne L. Murphy, in Duval County, Florida. They had three children, Karen, John and Donald, Jr. They divorced in March 1975.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Lilienthal was promoted to the rank of lieutenant 1 July 1959, and to lieutenant commander, 1 July 1964. He advanced to commander on 1 July 1969.

Commander Donald H. Lilienthal, United States Navy

Commander Lilenthal retired from the United States Navy in December 1975 after 20 years of service as an antisubmarine warfare pilot and test pilot. He later worked as a consultant to the aviation industry.

Commander Lilienthal married Mrs. Jimena Rosa Goich Recavrren, a widow, in Arlington, Virginia, 17 September 1982. They divorced 3 December 1993 in Fairfax, Virginia.

Commander Donald Herman Lilienthal, United States Navy (Retired) passed away at Loudon, Virginia, 21 August 2014 at the age of 83 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

A Lockheed P-3B Orion, Bu. No. 153451, Patrol Squadron 17, off Ohau, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)
A Lockheed P-3B-90-LO Orion, Bu. No. 153451, of Patrol Squadron 17, off Oahu, Hawaiian Islands, 1976. (PH2 (AC) Westhusing, U. S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8070

² FAI Record File Number 8582

³ FAI Record File Number 8476

⁴ FAI Record File Number 3400

⁵ FAI Record File Number 3401

⁶ FAI Record File Number 3402

⁷ FAI Record File Number 3403

⁸ FAI Record File Number 8055

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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