11 November 1937: At Augsburg, Germany, Dr.-Ing. Hermann Wurster set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course when he flew a prototype Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG Bf 109, D-IPKY, to an average speed of 610.95 kilometers per hour (379.63 miles per hour) in four passes over a 3-kilometer course.¹ This broke the speed record set two years earlier by Howard Hughes with his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, by 43.83 kilometers per hour (27.23 miles per hour).²
Versuchsflugzeug 13, the BFW Bf 109 V13, Werk-Nr. 1050 (FAI records describe it as a Messerchmitt BF113, and contemporary news reports referred to it as the Messerschmitt BF 113R), was one of four prototypes built from production Junkers Jumo 210-powered Bf 109B airframes to test the Daimler-Benz AG DB 600 engine. It was given a civil registration, D-IPKY. Along with two Bf 109B fighters, V13 was part of an aerial demonstration team which was sent to the International Flying Meeting at Dübendorf, Switzerland, during the last week of July 1937. It was equipped with a Daimler-Benz DB 600 rated at 960 horsepower.
On its return from Switzerland, V13 was prepared for a speed record attempt. It was given a standard drag reduction for racing airplanes, with all its seams filled and sanded smooth, and a coat of paint.
A modified version of the DB 601 engine was installed, reportedly capable of producing 1,660 horsepower for five minutes, with its maximum r.p.m increased from 2,500 to 2,800. It used special Bosch spark plugs. A three-bladed variable-pitch propeller was driven through gear reduction, although the gear ratio is unknown.
Like the Jumo 210, the Daimler-Benz 601 was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam, inverted 60° V-12, though with a much larger displacement. The DB 601 had a displacement of 33.929 liters (2,070.475 cubic inches). An improvement of the DB 600, the 601 series used direct fuel injection rather than a carburetor, and a hydraulically-driven two-speed supercharger.
A production Daimler-Benz DB 601 A had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and was rated at 1,050 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 5.2 inches of pounds per square inch (0.36 Bar) of boost, for take-off (1 minute limit). It could produce 970 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. with 2.4 pounds per square inch (0.17 Bar) of boost at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). Its propeller gear reduction ratio was 14:9. The DB 601 A was 67.5 inches (1.715 meters) long, 29.1 inches (0.739 meters) wide, and 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) high. It weighed 1,610 pounds (730.3 kilograms).
The Bf 109D production variant was developed from V13.
In 1938, BFW became Messerschmitt AG. The Bf 109 (also commonly called the Me 109) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the 109 during World War II. After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant, the Hispano Aviación HA-1112, remained in production until 1958.
Herman Wurster was born at Stuttgart, Germany, 25 September 1907. In 1926, he began studying aircraft at Königlich Bayerische Technische Hochschule München (TH Munich) and at TH Stuttgart (the Stuttgart Technology Institute of Applied Sciences). He earned a doctorate in engineering (Dr.-Ing.) in 1933. He then became the chief designer for the German Research Institute for Aviation (Deutschen Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt) in Berlin.
In 1935 and 1936, Dr.-Ing. Wurster was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe‘s testing site at Rechlin, Mecklenburg, Germany. From 1936 until 1943, he was the chief test pilot for Bayerische Flugzeugwerk and Messerschmitt at Augsburg. From 1943 until the end of the war, Wurster was responsible for the development of Messerschmitt’s rocket-powered surface-to-air guided missile, the Enzian E.1 and its variants.
After the war, Dr.-Ing. Wurster founded a building materials company at Nördlingen, Bavaria. He died in Augsburg 17 October 1985 at the age of 78 years.
10 November 1995: Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for distance flown by a commercial aircraft when she and a crew of 7 additional pilots flew a Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner, N6066Z, non-stop from Hong Kong (HKG) to London Heathrow (LHR), a distance of 21,601.33 kilometers (13422.44 miles), in 22 hours, 22 minutes.¹ During the flight, Captain Darcy-Henneman also set two speed records. The 777 averaged 981.57 kilometers per hour (609.92 miles per hour) from Los Angeles to New York,² and 910.54 kilometers per hour (565.78 miles per hour) from New York to London.³
Suzanna Darcy joined Boeing’s engineering department in 1974. She learned to fly with the Boeing Employees Flying Association. Darcy graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Aeronautical Engineering. She then became a ground school instructor for Boeing’s Model 757 and 767 airliners.
In 1985, Boeing assigned Darcy-Hanneman as a production test pilot, the first woman to hold that position with the company. She was also the first woman to earn a captain’s rating on the 747-400, and is also rated on the 737, 757, 767 and 777. She performed flight testing on the 737-300 and was the project test pilot for the 777-200LR.
In 2008, Captain Darcy-Hanneman became Chief Pilot, Boeing Commercial Airplane Services. She is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and was inducted into the Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2010.
7 November 1945: Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, Commandant of the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAF Cranfield, set the first world speed record with a jet-propelled airplane, and the first speed record by an airplane in excess of 600 miles per hour (965.606 kilometers per hour), when he flew the Gloster Meteor F Mk.IV, EE454, to 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.26 miles per hour)—0.80 Mach—at an altitude of 75 meters (246) above Sea Level.
The course was an 8 mile (12.9 kilometers) straight away from the Herne Bay Pier to Reculver Point, along the south coast of the Thames Estuary. This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for speed over a 3 kilometer course. ¹
Months of preparation by both the Royal Air Force, which formed a special “flight,” and Gloster Aviation Co., Ltd., went into the speed record effort. Two Meteor F Mk.III fighters, EE454 and EE455, were modified to the new Mk.IV version to attempt the speed record.
The standard B.37 Rolls-Royce Derwent Series I turbojet engines were replaced with Derwent Series V turbojets and lengthened jet nacelles. The wings were shortened, the tips reshaped and the canopy was cut down and strengthened. All trim tabs on flight control surfaces were disabled and their edges sealed. Landing gear and gear door up-latches were strengthened to prevent them from being sucked open at high speed. The airplanes were lightened and all armament deleted. The surfaces were smoothed and painted in a gloss finish. EE454 retained the standard camouflage pattern, while EE455 was painted in a distinctive yellow-gold color.
Many hours of flight testing were performed to ensure that the airplanes would be stable enough at high speeds while flying at the very low altitude required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s rules. The slightest deviation from smooth flight could have disastrous results.
EE454 was flown by Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars (three awards), and EE455 by Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley Greenwood. Each airplane was required to make four passes over the 3 kilometer (1.8641 statute miles) course, with two runs in each direction. The airplanes were required to remain at or below 75 meters (246 feet) during the runs over the course, and during the turns at the end of each run, below 400 meters (1,312 feet).
On the day of the speed runs, the weather was marginal. It was cold and overcast, and visibility varied from 7 to 12 miles 11–19 kilometers) along the course. The wind was 8–12 miles per hour (3.6–5.4 meters per second) from the northwest.
Wilson made four passes over the course. His speeds for each run were 604, 608, 602 and 611 miles per hour (972, 978, 969, and 983 kilometers per hour). Greenwood made his speed runs an hour later. His runs were 599, 608, 598 and 607 miles per hour (964, 978, 962 and 977 kilometers per hour).
Wilson’s average speed was the higher of the two. His official FAI-homologated record speed is 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.26 miles per hour).
Post-flight inspections revealed that the sheet metal of the Meteors’ engine intakes had significantly distorted by the intense pressure differentials experienced during the speed runs.
The B.37 Rolls-Royce Derwent Series V, interestingly, was not a direct development of the preceding Derwent Series I–IV engines. Instead, it was a scaled-down version of the RB.41 Nene, which was in turn, a scaled-up and improved Derwent I. The Derwent V had a single-stage, two-sided, centrifugal-flow compressor and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The compressor impeller and turbine rotor were mounted on a single shaft which was supported on each end by roller bearings, and in the center by a ball bearing. The Derwent V used nine combustion chambers, and burned aviation kerosene. Engine lubricating oil was added to the fuel at a 1:100 ratio, by volume. The Series V had a Normal Power rating of 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.345 kilonewtons) at 14,000 r.p.m., and a Take-off or Military Power rating of 3,500 pounds of thrust (15.569 kilonewtons) at 14,600 r.p.m. (There was no time limit for this power setting.) The engine produced a maximum 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.793 kilonewtons) at 15,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. During the speed runs, thrust was restricted to 3,600 pounds (16.014 kilonewtons) on both Meteors. The Derwent V engine was 7 feet, 4.5 inches (2.248 meters) long, 3 feet, 7 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,280 pounds (581 kilograms).
(Rolls-Royce named its piston aircraft engines after predatory birds, e.g., Kestrel, Merlin, but its turbine engines were named after rivers.)
British Pathé news film of the speed runs can be seen at:
Group Captain Wilson was born at Westminster, London, England, 28 May 1908, the only son of Alfred Wilson and Jessie Wood Young Wilson. He was educated at the University School, Hastings, and the Merchant Taylors’ School, London.
Wilson received a short service commission as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force, 13 September 1929 and was assigned to the No. 5 Flight Training School, at RAF Sealand, Flintshire, Wales. Pilot Officer Wilson was then assigned to 111 Squadron at Hornchurch, Essex, 1930–1932. He was promoted to Flying Officer, 13 March 1931. From 1932 to to 1934, “Willie” Wilson was assigned to the School of Naval Co-operation and Air Navigation at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire.
On the completion of his five-year short service, Wilson was transferred to the Reserve Air Force Officers list. He qualified in flying boats and acted as a flight instructor for the RAF Reserve School. Wilson was promoted to Flight Lieutenant 1 April 1937, with seniority retroactive to 1 April 1936.
While a reserve officer, Wilson was a test pilot for Blackburn Aircraft Ltd., and made the first flight of the Blackburn Roc. He then became a civil test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.
In 1939 Flight Lieutenant Wilson was recalled to active duty. He was assigned as Commanding Officer, Aerodynamic Flight, RAE Farnborough, and also flew with No. 74 Fighter Squadron at Biggin Hill. On 1 September 1940, Wilson was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader. In 1941, Wilson was appointed chief test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and was responsible for testing all captured enemy aircraft. He was promoted to Wing Commander, 20 August 1945.
Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, was named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 13 June 1946.
On 22 February 1947, Wing Commander Wilson married the former Thom Isobel Moira Sergeant (Mrs. Moira Garnham). They had one son. On 4 December 1959, he married Miss Patricia Frances Stanley Warren. They had two children.
Wing Commander Hugh J. Wilson retired from the Royal Air Force at his request 20 June 1948, with the rank of Group Captain. He died at Westminster, London 5 September 1990 at the age of 82 years.
Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley “Terry” Greenwood (29 November 1908–February 1979) was the first pilot to exceed 600 miles per hour, while test flying the Meteors. He was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 13 June 1946.
4 November 1927: At Venezia, Mario de Bernardi flew a Macchi M.52 seaplane to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 479.29 kilometers per hour (297.82 miles per hour).¹
Aeronautica Macchi built three M.52 seaplanes for the Regia Aeronautica (the Italian Air Force) for use in the 1927 Schneider Trophy Races. The M.52 was designed by Mario Castoldi. Like the earlier M.39, it was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal.
The three racers were each powered by a 2,116.14-cubic-inch-displacement (34.677 liter) liquid-cooled Fiat Aviazone AS.3 dual overhead camshaft, four-valve 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. The design of the AS.3 was based on the Curtiss D-12, although it used individual cylinders and water jackets instead of the American engine’s monoblock castings.
4 November 1927: Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, United States Army Air Corps, a balloon pilot since 1921, has carried out a series of ascents to study the effects of very high altitude on air crews.
Gray lifted off from Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois, at 2:13 p.m., in a helium-filled balloon with an open wicker gondola suspended below. The balloon, Air Corps serial number S 30-241, was constructed of rubberized silk and coated with aluminum paint. It had a volume of 70,000 cubic feet (1,982.2 cubic meters). In the gondola were instruments for measuring altitude and temperature, as well as two sealed recording barographs provided by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). Captain Gray was dressed in heavy leather clothing for protection against the cold. Three gas cylinders of oxygen were provided for breathing at altitude.
Early in the ascent, high winds carried him to the south, and though he was accompanied by four airplanes, their pilots quickly lost sight of Gray’s balloon. It disappeared into a heavy overcast 20 minutes after takeoff and rose to a peak altitude of 42,470 feet (12,944.9 meters) at 4:05 p.m.
Based on Captain Gray’s notes and data from the barographs, it was concluded that his ascent was at a much slower rate than his previous altitude flights. At 3:17 p.m., he wrote “Clock frozen.” Without the clock, Gray was unable to calculate his time aloft and the amount of breathing oxygen remaining. Estimates prior to lift off were that the supply would run out at 4:38 p.m. The balloon had only descended to 39,000 feet (11,887 meters) by 4:28 p.m. The barographs showed an increase in rate of descent at this time, indicating that Captain Gray was venting helium from the balloon to try to descend faster. The descent slowed, however, suggesting that Gray had lost consciousness.
The balloon and gondola were found near Sparta, Tennessee at 5:20 p.m., with Hawthorne Gray’s body curled in the bottom of the gondola. Captain Gray suffered a loss of oxygen which resulted in his death.
Captain Gray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.
His citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross (Posthumously) to Captain (Air Corps) Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, for heroism while participating in an aerial flight. On 9 March 1927, Capitan Gray attempted to establish the World’s altitude record for aircraft, but due to the faulty oxygen apparatus he fainted at an altitude of 27,000 feet recovering consciousness after 52 minute, when his balloon, having over shot its equilibrium point, descended to an atmosphere low enough to sustain life. Undaunted by this experience, Captain Gray on 4 May 1927, made a record attempt when he attained an altitude of 42,470 feet, higher than any other Earth creature has ever gone. On his descent, however, his balloon failed to parachute, and it was necessary for him to descend from 8,000 feet in a parachute. With faith unshaken, and still displaying great courage and self reliance, Capitan Gray, on 4 November 1927, made the third attempt, which resulted in his making the supreme sacrifice. Having attained an altitude of 42,000 feet he waited for ten minutes, testing his reactions, before making a last rapid climb to his ceiling and a more rapid descent to safe atmosphere. Undoubtedly his courage was greater than his supply of oxygen, which gave out at about 37,000 feet.
War Department, General Orders No. 5 (1928)
Hawthorne Charles Gray was born at Pasco, Washington, 16 February 1889. He was the fourth of six children of William Polk Gray, a river steamboat pilot, and Oceanna (“Ocia”) Falkland Gray.
In 1913, Gray was employed as a baggageman for the Northern Pacific Railway at the Pasco Station. Gray attended University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho, as a member of the Class of 1913. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, B.S.(E.E.)
Hawthorne C. Gray served as an enlisted soldier with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry, Idaho National Guard, 1911–1912, a second lieutenant, 25th Infantry, Idaho National Guard, from 7 March 1912 to 23 April 1913. He was qualified as an Expert Rifleman. Gray enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Hospital Corps and Quartermaster Corps from 19 January 1915 to 25 June 1917. He participated in the Mexican Expedition, under General John J. Pershing.
Sergeant Senior Grade Gray was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 32nd Infantry, 3 June 1917, and promoted to 1st lieutenant on the same day. Lieutenant Gray was promoted to captain (temporary), 34th Infantry, on 5 August. The rank of captain became permanent on 24 February 1920.
Captain Gray was assigned to duty with the Air Service from 9 August 1920, and was transferred to that branch was transferred on 29 August 1921. His date of rank was retroactive to 21 February 1920. Gray graduated from the Army’s Balloon School, Ross Field, in 1921. In 1923 graduated from the Air Service Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, in 1923, and from the Balloon and Airship School at Scott Field in 1924.
Captain Gray and Mrs. Gray traveled to Europe to participate in the 15th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the Gordon Bennett Cup balloon race), held 30 May 1926 at Wilrijck, a small city near Antwerp, Belgium. Gray and his team mate, Lieutenant Douglas Johnson, placed second out of eighteen competitors, and behind another American team. Gray and Johnson traveled 599 kilometers (964 statute miles) in 12:00 hours, landing in the Duchy of Meklenburgia, a free state of the Weimar Republic (northern Germany), at about 4:00 a.m., 31 May. The Grays returned to the United States, arriving aboard S.S. President Harding at New York City after an eight-day voyage from Cherbourg, on 23 July 1926.
Captain Gray reached an altitude of 8,690 meters (28,510.5 feet) over Scott Field on 9 March 1927. This ascent set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude. ¹ On 4 May 1927, Captain Gray reached approximately 42,240 feet (12,875 meters). Because of a high rate of descent, he parachuted from the gondola at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). Because he was not on board at the landing, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) did not recognize the flight as an official altitude record.
Captain Gray was married to the former Miss Miriam Lorette Maddux of Santa Rosa, California. They would have four children. Their first died at the age of 1 year, 3 months.
¹ FAI Record File Numbers: 10614, Ballooning, Subclass A-6th; 10615, Ballooning, Subclass A-7th; Ballooning, Subclass A-8th.