Tag Archives: FAI

14–18 September 1984

Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. (Joe Kittinger collection)
Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. His deflated Yost GB55 helium balloon lies on the ground. (Joseph W. Kittinger Collection)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)

14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.

Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.

This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.

During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.

Joseph William Kittinger II
Joseph William Kittinger II, 1999. (MSGT Dave Nolan, United States Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048

² FAI Record File Numbers 1013, 1014

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1961

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran with her record-setting Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1961. (U.S. Air Force)

18 September 1961: Jackie Cochran, acting as a test pilot and consultant for Northrop Corporation, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance when she flew the Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, from Palmdale, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a distance of 2,401.780 kilometers (1,492.397 miles).¹

Jacqueline Cochran's Diplôme de Record in teh San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jacqueline Cochran’s Diplôme de Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:

September 18: Jackie took off from Palmdale at 10:00 am for attempt to set records from points to points. I took off from Edwards with 275-gallon [1,041 liter] drop tanks. During climb Jackie reported rough engine and poor performance. Also the fuel flow was inoperative. Jackie returned to the field where I finally found her takeoff flaps were still down. Also her navigation lights and beacon were on. I was rather disappointed. She’s a little cocky in the airplane. She landed back there at Palmdale with 1500 pounds [680 kilograms] of fuel in each side and made a good heavy-weight landing. The aircraft refueled and another takeoff was made at 12:30 pm. Everything went smooth this flight. We ran into clouds at the edge of Utah which lasted until Cheyenne, Wyo. Clear the rest of the way. Jackie landed with 250 pounds of fuel in each side. Made a beautiful landing and turned off after a 4000 foot [1,220 meters] ground roll. Bob White returned the F-100 to Edwards.

—  Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted in Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force)
Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a flight in the record-setting Northrop T-38A Talon. (U.S. Air Force) 

The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).

In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)
Northrop T-38A Talon 60-0551, now twenty-one years old, sits on the ramp at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 1981. (Photograph by Gary Chambers, used with permission)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12383

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1919

Roland Rolffs after setting an FAI altitude record of 9214 meters at Garden City, 20 July 1919. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Roland Rohlfs after setting an FAI altitude record of 9,241 meters (30,318 feet) at Garden City, New York, 20 July 1919. The airplane is the Curtiss 18T-2 Wasp, Bu. No. A3325. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

18 September 1919: Curtiss Engineering Corporation test pilot Roland Rohlfs set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew a Curtiss 18T-2 Wasp triplane, U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A3325, to an altitude of 9,577 meters (31,421 feet) over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York.¹ Contemporary sources, however, reported that Rohlfs’ peak altitude was 34,610 feet (10,549 meters).

This record broke Rohlfs’ previous FAI World Record for Altitude of 9,241 meters (30,318 feet) set at Garden City, New York, 30 July 1918.²

aeronautics officials check altitude-recording barographs with Roland Rohlfs after a record-setting flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Aero Club of America officials check altitude-recording barographs with Roland Rohlfs after a record-setting flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Rohlfs took off at 12:06 p.m. and reached his peak altitude 1 hour, 15 minutes later. The air temperature was -43 °F. (-41.7  °C.). He touched down after 1 hour, 53 minutes.

The Curtiss 18T Wasp was a two-place single-engine triplane fighter designed and built for the United States Navy at the end of World War I. A3325 had been loaned to the U.S. Army to set an airspeed record of 163 miles per hour (262 kilometers per hour), before being returned to Curtiss for additional testing. It was fitted with a set of longer wings and redesignated 18T-2. The second 18T, A3326, retained the standard 32’–½” (9.766 meters) wings and was redesignated 18T-1.

The Curtiss 18T-2 was 23 feet (7.010 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 7½ inches (12.383 meters). It weighed 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms). The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,145.11-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss-Kirkham K-12 60° single-overhead-cam V-12 engine which produced 375 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., and 400 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The K-12 drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 0.6:1 gear reduction.

Roland Rohlfs takes off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York at 12:06 p.m., 18 September 1919. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Roland Rohlfs and the Curtiss 18T-2 take off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, at 12:06 p.m., 18 September 1919. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

A3325 later crashed during a test flight. Its sistership, A3326, suffered a crankshaft failure and was destroyed. The Curtiss 18T was never placed in series production.

¹ FAI Record File Number 15676

² FAI Record File Number 15674

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1918

Captain Rudolph William Schroeder with the Bristol fighter which he flew to a world record altitude, 18 September 1918. Note the gap between to bottom of the fuselage and the lower wing. (U.S. Air Force)

18 September 1918: Captain Rudolph William Schroeder, United States Army Air Service, the Chief Test Pilot of the Engineering Division at McCook Field, Fairfield, Ohio, flew a Bristol F.2B fighter to set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records.¹ ²

Aerial Age Weekly reported:

CAPTAIN SCHROEDER ESTABLISHES WORLD ALTITUDE RECORD

THE Contest Committee of the Aero Club of America has homologated the world’s altitude record made by Captain R. W. Schroeder, in a Bristol fighter equipped with a 300 H. P. Hispano-Suiza motor, of 28,900 feet above sea level, during a flight on September 18, 1918, at Wilbur Wright Field, Fairfield, Ohio, near Dayton.

      Nothing was more fitting. While the Allies’ aviators overseas are beating the Germans on the various fronts, an American aviator, Captain R. W. Schroeder, U.S. Air Service, beats the German aeroplane altitude record.

Captain Schroeder left the ground at 1:45 P. M., September 18, 1918. and reached his highest point if 105 minutes, which would have been at about 3:30 P. M. It took him about twenty minutes to descend, landing about 200 miles from where he started, at about 3:50 P. M.

     Captain Schroeder i sin charge of all Performance Tests at the Wilbur Wright Station and his duties require him to go to 21,000 and 22,000 feet quite often, and he generally goes without oxygen. In this record climb, he got well up to 25,000 feet without oxygen. He used no anti-freezing mixture and his maximum water temperature was 85 degrees centigrade at the start minimum and of 60 degrees centigrade at the highest altitude. The temperature of the air was 32 degrees centigrade below zero.

The reports, including the two barograph charts, duly calibrated and corrected: the performance curves, and the temperature record were certified to by Lieut. George B. Patterson, O. I. C. Performance Test Reports and the instruments were calibrated by the Bureau of Standards, and adjusted locally at the McCook Field Laboratory and personally installed on the aeroplane by Lieut. Patterson.

     The previous American altitude record was made by Caleb Bragg at Mineola, L. I., September 20, 1917, in a Wright Martin, Model V machine, when he reached an altitude of 20,250 feet, and the last world’s record of the International Aeronautic Federation made by G. Legagneux in France on the 28th of December, 1913, was 6,120 meters (20,258 feet). In July, 1914, a German aviator was reported as having flown to 26,200 feet, but the record was never submitted for homologation.

     This world’s record, made by Captain Ruddy W. Schroeder, is the first world’s aeroplane altitude record held by an American since the world’s altitude record made by Lincoln Beachey, at Chicago, Ill., during the International Meet, August 20, 1911, when he reached the height of 11,642 feet (3,548 meters).

     Under the rules of the International Aeronautic Federation, the international aeronautic body which controls all aeronautic sports and gives the necessary official records, a pilot must hold the International Aviator’s certificate to have his record recognized. This certificate is issued in the United State by the Aero Club of America, which is the federation’s sole representative in this country. Captain Schroeder held the the F. A. I. certificate at the time he made the record, therefore his record will be accepted by all the countries affiliated with the International Aeronautic Federation and the Pan-American Aeronautic Federation, which represents twenty Latin American republics.

Under the rules of the Federation to establish an altitude record it is necessary to best the old record by at lease 100 meters. Captain Schroeder, therefore, beat the record by a good margin and has gone higher the the highest mountain, with the exception of the highest peak in the Himalaya, which rises 29,002 feet.

     Captain Schroder is a veteran of the aeronautic movement. He is an old time member of the Aero Club of Illinois and well known for his ability as an aviator and aeronautic engineer.

AERIAL AGE WEEKLY, Vol. VIII, No. 5, 14 October 1918

Bristol F.2B C823. (BAE Systems)

The Bristol F.2B was a two-place single-engine two-bay biplane fighter, designed by Captain Frank Sowter Barnwell, O.B.E., A.F.C., and built by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Co., Ltd., Filton and Brislington, Bristol, England, and several other manufacturers. More than 3,800 were produced and some considered it to be the best two-place fighter of the First World War.

The F.2B was 25 feet, 9 inches (7.849 meters) long. Both upper and lower wings had a span of 39 feet, 3 inches (11.979 meters) and a chord of 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters). The total wing area was 405 square feet (37.63 square meters). Both wings had an angle of incidence of 1½°, and 3½° dihedral. There was no sweep. The lower wing was staggered 1 foot, 5 inches (0.432 meters) behind the upper wing. In order to give the gunner a better range of fire, the lower wing was not attached to the bottom of the fuselage. This had the effect of lowering the upper wing while maintaining a vertical gap of 5 foot, 5 inches (1.651 meters).

The gross weight of the F.2B was approximately 2,810 pounds (1,275 kilograms).

Bristol F.2A

The Bristol Fighters were powered by Rolls-Royce Falcon engines. The F.2B was equipped with the Falcon III. The Falcon was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 867.080-cubic-inch-displacement (14.209 liters) single-overhead camshaft 60° V-12 engine. The Falcon III had a compression ratio of 5.3:1 and had a Sea Level rating of 288 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. The propeller gear reduction ratio was 0.589:1.

The F.2B had a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour (201 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 113 miles per hour (182 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The fighter could climb to 10,000 feet in 11.5 minutes, and to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 21.5 minutes.

The United States was interested in producing its on version of the F.2B, to be powered by the American Liberty V-12 engine instead of the Rolls-Royce Falcon III V-12. The Royal Air Force sent two F.2Bs to McCook Field to be used as “pattern aircraft.” These were assigned project numbers P30 and P37.³

The Engineering Division at McCook Field found that the Liberty was too heavy to be practical when installed in the Bristol F.2, and other engine types were considered. One of the pattern aircraft was modified to accept a 300 horsepower Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine.

P37 was the project number assigned to the second of the two Bristol F.2B fighters evaluated at Wright Field in 1918.

When equipped with the Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine, the modified F.2B had an empty weight of 1,733 pounds ( kilograms), and maximum of 2,630 pounds ( kilograms). It had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers) per hour at Sea Level; 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet, 100½ miles per hour (162 kilometers per hour) at 13,000 feet, and 97½ miles per hour (157 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet. With the Hispano, the F.2B could climb to 1,000 feet in 1 minute, 10 seconds, 10,000 feet in 15 monutes, 5 seconds, 15,000 feet in 28 minutes and 50 seconds.

Three-view illustration for the Bristol F.2B. (Flight)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15463: 9,455 meters (31,020 feet)

² FAI Record File Number 15671: 9,455 meters (31,020 feet)

³ A source states that P30 carried the RAF identification number C949, and that P37, C4729.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 September 1948

Major Richard L. Johnson, United States Air Force.
Major Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force. (Unattributed)
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre.
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre. (Unattributed)

15 September 1948: Major Richard L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Air Materiel Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,¹ flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

The air temperature was 70° F. (21° C.) with very little wind. Making four consecutive passes at an altitude of 75–125 feet (23 to 38 meters), the Sabre averaged 1,079.84 kilometers per hour (670.98 miles per hour) — 0.889 Mach. The slowest pass was 669.830 miles per hour and the fastest was 672.762 miles per hour (1,077.987 and 1,082.705 kilometers per hour, respectively) — 0.8875–0.8914 Mach.

This was Major Lowe’s second attempt for the speed record. At the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, on 5 September, official timers clocked the wrong airplane, and then on a repeat pass, a timing camera jammed. During that attempt, Major Johnson flew under a light airplane which had wandered onto the course, missing it by about ten feet (3 meters).

Major Richard L Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 SABRE, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)
Major Richard L. Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 Sabre, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)
The De la Vaulx Medal.

Major Johnson was awarded the De la Vaulx Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

North American Aviation claimed that any F-86 coming off the assembly line could beat this world record speed. This record stood until 1952 when it was broken by an F-86D Sabre.

The Associated Press reported:

Air Force Tells Of New Speed

     NEW YORK(AP) — The Air Force announced Saturday a new world speed record of 670.981 miles an hour, made with a fully armed standard jet fighter, the North American F-86.

     The mark was set Wednesday. It is 20 miles an hour faster than the record set in August, 1947, by a Navy research plane, the Douglas D-558.

     It was the first world speed mark in history for a production model aircraft ready to fight.

     The pilot was Maj. Richard L. Johnson, slender quiet-spoken test flier for the Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Airbase near Dayton Ohio. He flew the course at Muroc Lake, Calif., where the record was raised three times last year.

     Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force chief of staff, announced the new mark at Mitchel Field, Long Island, where he participated in one of the numerous shows being held in observance of the first anniversary of the Air Force.

Eugene Register-Guard, Saturday, 18 September 1948, Page 1, Column 7.

Major Johnson had made a previous speed record attempt flying a different Sabre, but due to a technical problem with the timing equipment, that attempt was disqualified.

47-605 was the first production F-86A-1-NA Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)
F-86A-1-NA 47-605 was the first production Sabre. It first flew on 20 May 1948. (U.S. Air Force)

47-611 was from the first production block of thirty-three F-86A-1-NA Sabres (originally designated P-86A) and was built at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant. Its NAA serial number was 151-38438. The airplane was withdrawn from service 16 November 1955 and assigned as a ground trainer for the California Air National Guard at Van Nuys, California.

The F-86A was a single-seat, single-engine, swept-wing day fighter, powered by a turbojet engine. The airplane’s design team was headed by Edgar Schmued, who was also responsible for North American’s legendary P-51 Mustang of World War II.

The F-86A had the same dimensions as the prototype XP-86 which had first flown almost two years earlier. The F-86A was 37 feet, 6.6 inches (11.445 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.9 inches (4.493 meters). It had an empty weight of 10,093 pounds (4,578 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 15,876 pounds (7,201 kilograms).

North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86 wings’ leading edges were swept to 35° and included leading edge slats, which automatically extended at low speed to provide an increase in lift.

The F-86A was initially powered by a General Electric TG-190A (J47-GE-1) turbojet engine. This was a major improvement over the Chevrolet-built J35-C-3 that had powered the prototype, and it produced almost 25% greater thrust. The J47-GE-1 was rated at 4,850 pounds of thrust (21.57 kilonewtons), or 5,820 pounds (25.89 kilonewtons) with water injection. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor, eight combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,475 pounds (1,123 kilograms).

Early in F-86A production, the engine was standardized with the J47-GE-13, which was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.13 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) “wet.” The -13 had the same exterior dimensions as the -1 engine, but weighed 50 pounds (23 kilograms) more.

North American Aviation F-86-A-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc./Chicago Tribune)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The F-86A had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,093 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 601 miles per hour (967 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling as 48,000 feet (14,630 meters) and it could climb to 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in 10 minutes, 24 seconds. It had a range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre, a license-built F-86E, shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane's nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels' rifling. (Royal Canadian Air Force)
This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre (a license-built F-86E) test-firing its guns shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane’s nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels’ rifling. The total rate of fire is approximately 7,200 rounds per minute. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Designed as a day fighter, the F-86 Sabre was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 267 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. The F-86A-1-NA had electrically-actuated doors covering the gun ports to maintain the aerodynamically clean surface. Because of their complexity, these doors were deleted beginning with the F-86A-5-NA aircraft.

The fighter could also carry bombs or rockets.

In this photograph, the record-settining North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, 47-611, is seen suspended from a crane while it conducts armament tests. It has just launched a 5-inch High Velocity Aerial Rocket. (U.S. Air Force)

Richard Lowe Johnson ² was born at Cooperstown, North Dakota, 21 September 1917. He was the eighth of nine children of Swedish immigrants, John N. Johnson, a farmer, and Elna Kristina Helgesten Johnson, a seamstress.

Richard Johnson, 1940. (The Beaver)

Dick Johnson attended Oregon State College at Corvallis, Oregon, as a member of the Class of 1943. He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ) fraternity.

Dick Johnson was a pitcher for the college baseball team, and later, played for the Boston Red Sox “farm” (minor league) system.

On 18 June 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. On 5 November, he was appointed an aviation cadet and assigned to flight training.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Juanita Blanche Carter, 17 April 1943, at Ocala, Florida. The civil ceremony was officiated by Judge D. R. Smith.

After completing  flight training, on 1 October 1943, Richard L. Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Lieutenant Johnson was assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, Twelfth Air Force, in North Africa, Corsica, and Italy, flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 August 1944, and just over three months later, 26 November 1944, to the rank of captain, A.U.S. On 14 May 1945, Captain Johnson was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (Major Johnson was assigned a permanent rank of first lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, on 5 July 1946, with a date of rank retroactive to 21 September 1945.)

Republic P-47D-25-RE Thunderbolt 42-26421, assigned to the 66th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter group, Twelfth Air Force. This airplane was purchased by the employees of Republic Aviation. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 25505)

During World War II, Major Johnson flew 180 combat missions with the 66th Fighter Squadron. He is officially credited with one air-to-air victory, 1 July 1944. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (3 awards), and the Air Medal with twelve oak leaf clusters (thirteen awards).

In 1946, was assigned to the Air Materiel Command Engineering Test Pilot School at the Army Air Forces Technical Base, Dayton, Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.”

A few weeks after arriving at Dayton, Major Johnson met Miss Alvina Conway Huester, the daughter of an officer in the U.S. Navy. Dick Johnson and his wife Juanita were divorced 8 January 1947, and he married Miss Huester in a ceremony in Henry County, Indiana, 10 January 1947. They would have three children, Kristie, Lisa and Richard.

During the Korean War, Major Johnson was sent to the war zone to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86 Sabre. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for the Convair Division of General Dynamics. He made the first flights of the YF-102 on 24 October 1953, the F-106A Delta Dart, 26 December 1956. He made the first flight of the F-111 on 21 December 1964.

Chief Test Pilot Dick Johnson in the cockpit of a Convair B-58A Hustler, a Mach 2 strategic bomber. (Courtesy if Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

in 1955, Johnson was one of the six founding members of the Society of Experimental test Pilots.

Dick Johnson was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the General Dynamics F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1967, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded Johnson its Iven C. Kincheloe Award for his work on the F-111 program. In 1977, Dick Johnson, now the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired.

In 1998, Dick Johnson was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor at Lancaster, California. His commemorative monument is located in front of the Lancaster Public Library on W. Lancaster Boulevard, just West of Cedar Avenue. ³

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force, (Retired), died 9 November 2002 at Fort Worth, Texas. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, on 7 January 2003.

Richard L. Johnson waves from the cockpit of the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, 47-611.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9866

² Several sources spell Johnson’s middle name as “Loe.”

³ Various Internet sources repeat the statement that “Richard Johnson has been honored with. . . the Thompson Trophy, Mackay Trophy, Flying Tiger Trophy, Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal and Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. . . .” TDiA has checked the lists of awardees of each of the appropriate organizations and has not found any support for the statement.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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