18 August 1932: At 5:04 a.m., Professor Auguste Antoine Piccard and his assistant, Max Cosyns, used a hydrogen-filled balloon to lift their pressurized gondola from Dübendorf Airfield, Zürich, Switzerland, into the stratosphere on an expedition to investigate the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere and to study cosmic radiation. During the 12 hour flight, Piccard and Cosyns reached an altitude of 16,201 meters (53,153 feet), setting a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude.¹
The expedition was funded by Belgium’s Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS).
Piccard’s balloon was made of rubberized cotton fabric. It had a maximum volume of 500,000 cubic feet (14,158 cubic meters) and weighed, by itself, approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). When it expanded to its maximum size in the upper atmosphere, the diameter was 99 feet (30.2 meters). The gondola was constructed of aluminum and was 7 feet (2.14 meters) in diameter. There were to hatches for entry and exit, and seven port holes.
The outer surface of the spherical gondola was painted half white and half black. This was intended to control interior heat by turning the lighter side toward or away from the sun by means of a small propeller mounted to a horizontal stanchion. Unfortunately for the two aeronauts, this did not work. The hermetically sealed hatches allowed the gondola to maintain the surface atmospheric pressure as it rose into the stratosphere. The air contained inside the aluminum sphere was recycled through a Draeger system of the type used in submarines. This added oxygen to replace that consumed and extracted the carbon dioxide that was exhaled.
The balloon reached the peak altitude at 12:12 p.m. During the ascent, the temperature inside the gondola dropped to 5 °F. (-15 °C.). It landed near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, a little after 3:15 p.m.
This was Piccard’s second ascent into the stratosphere. On 27 May 1931 he and Paul Kipfer lifted off from Augsburg, Germany and rose to a record altitude of 15,781 meters (51,775 feet). (FAI Record File Number 10634) They landed at the Großer Gurgler Ferner galcier near Obergurgl in the Tyrolian Alps.
Professor Piccard was made Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold and Max Cosyns, Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold by Albert I, King of the Belgians. Professor made nearly 30 ascents into the upper atmosphere before turning to the exploration of the very deep oceans with his bathyscaphe, Trieste.
17 August 1951: In order to demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Colonel Fred J. Ascani, Vice Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, California, to the National Air Races at Detroit, Michigan. He was to attempt a new world speed record.
Colonel Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides.
Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Fred Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 1,023.04 kilometers per hour (635.69 miles per hour), and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers.¹
For his accomplishment, Colonel Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy.
The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.
The F-86E Sabre was an improved F-86A. The most significant change was the incorporation of an “all flying tailplane” in which the entire horizontal tail moved to control the airplane’s pitch. The tailplane pivoted around its rear spar, allowing the leading edge to move up or down 8°. The elevators were mechanically linked to the tailplane and their movement was proportional to the tailplane’s movement. Control was hydraulic, and this provided improved handling at high speeds where compressibility could “freeze” control surfaces. There were systems improvements as well, with “artificial feel” to the hydraulic controls to improve feedback to the pilot and prevent over-controlling. Beginning with Block 10 aircraft, the “V”-shaped windscreen of the earlier models was replaced with an optically flat laminated glass windshield.
The F-86E was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,555 pounds (4,787.7 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 16,436 pounds (7,455.2 kilograms).
The F-86E was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engine. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. The J47-GE-13 was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust and 6,000 pounds (“wet”). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds ( kilograms).
The F-86E Sabre had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,092.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 601 miles per hour (967.2 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet (14,386.7 meters).
The F-86E carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,022 miles (1,645 kilometers).
The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.
6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684. North American Aviation built 336 F-86Es and 60 more were built by Canadair (F-86E-6-CAN).
In order to emphasize that Colonel Ascani’s record-setting Sabre was a standard production airplane, it was immediately sent into combat with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, Korea. There, it was christened THIS’LL KILL YA. On 3 May 1953, 51-2721 was damaged during a landing accident at Kimpo Air Base, but it was repaired and returned to service.
14 August 1979: Air racer Steve Hinton set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record for piston engine, propeller-driven airplanes when he flew his highly-modified North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, Red Baron, to an average 803.138 kilometers per hour (499.047 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course at Tonapah, Nevada.¹
Steve Hinton’s Mustang was a Dallas, Texas-built North American Aviation P-51D-25-NT, serial number 44-84961. His company, Fighter Rebuilders, modified the airplane for racing. The most noticeable change is the substitution of the standard Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 engine and its four-bladed propeller with a larger, more powerful, 2,239.33-cubic-inch-displacement (36.695 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged Rolls-Royce Griffon 57 single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine and dual, three-bladed, counter-rotating propellers from an Avro Shackleton bomber. A revised engine cowling gave Red Baron an appearance similar to the Allison-powered XP-51.
Red Baron crashed 16 September 1979 when an oil pump failure caused the propeller blades to move to flat pitch, dramatically increasing aerodynamic drag. Hinton suffered serious injuries but survived.
11 August 1986: A modified factory demonstration Westland Lynx AH.1 helicopter, civil registration G-LYNX, piloted by Chief Test Pilot John Trevor Egginton and Flight Test Engineer Derek J. Clews, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Absolute Record for Speed for helicopters over a straight 15/25 km course with an average speed of 400.87 kilometers per hour (249.09 miles per hour) over a measured 15 kilometer (9.32 miles) course near Glastonbury on the Somerset Levels and Moors, Southwest England.¹ ²
The helicopter was equipped with experimental BERP main rotor blades and two Rolls Royce Gem 60 turboshaft engines with digital electronic fuel control and water-methanol injection, producing 1,345 shaft horsepower, each. The engines’ exhausts were modified to provide 600 pounds of thrust. The horizontal tail plane and vertical fins from a Westland WG.30 were used to increase longitudinal stability and unload the tail rotor. In an effort to reduce aerodynamic drag, items such as steps, antennas and windshield wipers were removed.
During the speed runs, the main rotor blade tips reached a speed of 0.97 Mach.
Four passes over the course were made at an altitude of 500 feet (150 meters). The results of the two best successive passes were averaged. This set both a record for helicopters in the 3,000 to 4,500 kilogram weight class, and the absolute record for helicopters in general. Thirty-one years later, these official speed records still stand.
Another Westland AH.1 Lynx, flown by then Westland Chief Pilot Leonard Roy Moxham and Michael Ball, had set two FAI World Records for Speed, 20 and 22 June 1972. Flying over a straight 15/25 kilometer course, the Lynx averaged 321.74 kilometers per hour (199.92 miles per hour).³ Two days later, the Lynx flew a closed 100 kilometer circuit at an average speed of 318.50 kilometers per hour (197.91 miles per hour).⁴ Both of these records were for helicopters in the 3,000–4,500 kilogram weight class.
Westland WG.13 c/n 102 made its first flight in May 1979. After setting the speed record, G-LYNX was used as a demonstrator and as a test platform, before finally being retired in 1992. Beginning in 2007, AgustaWestland restored the Lynx to its speed record configuration, withe more than 25,000 man hours expended on the project. G-LYNX was unveiled on 11 August 2011, the 25th anniversary of the world record flight. Today, it is on display at The Helicopter Museum, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, South West England.
¹ FAI Record File Number 1842 (Helicopters with takeoff weight 3,000–4,000 kg)
² FAI Record File Number 1843 (Helicopters, General) [Absolute Record]
10–11 August 1938: The first non-stop flight between Berlin and New York by a heavier-than-air aircraft was flown by a prototype four-engine airliner. Under the command of Deutsche Luft HansaKapitän Alfred Henke, Brandenburg, a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 S-1 Condor, D-ACON, departed Flugplatz Berlin-Staaken, 6 kilometers west of Spandau, at about 7:30 p.m., on Wednesday, 10 August 1938.
The other members of the crew were Hauptmann Rudolf Freiherr von Moreau, of the Luftwaffe, co-pilot; Paul Dierberg, flight engineer; and Walter Kober, radio operator. There were no passengers on board.
Brandenburg flew a Great Circle course across the North Atlantic Ocean and landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York at 1:50 p.m., local time, Thursday, 11 August. The distance flown was 6371.302 kilometers (3,958.944 miles). The total duration of the flight was 24 hours, 56 minutes, 12 seconds. The Condor averaged 255.499 kilometers per hour (158.760 miles per hour).
Although they encountered severe weather, the flight was relatively uneventful. Upon landing, it was discovered that the prototype airliner had suffered some damage to an engine cowling and that one engine lubricating oil tube had cracked, causing a leak.
The problems were repaired while Hauptman von Moreau made an unexplained trip to Washington, D.C. Brandenburg was ready for a return flight to Germany the following day.
Taking off from Floyd Bennett Field before 9:30 a.m., on Saturday, 13 August, Brandenburg was flown to Flughafen Berlin-Templehof. With more favorable winds on the eastbound flight, the 6,392 kilometer distance (3,972 miles) was covered in 19 hours, 56 minutes, with an average speed of 321 kilometers per hour (199 miles per hour).
Following their return to Germany, Captain Henke (who was also an Oberleutnant in the Luftwaffe) and Hauptman von Moreau were congratulated by Adolph Hitler. In photographs, Henke is easily identifiable by the prominent “dueling scar” on the left side of his face.
D-ACON was the prototype Condor, designated Fw 200 V1, Werk-Nr. 2000. It had first flown at Neulander Feld, site of the Focke-Wulf plant in Bremen, 27 July 1937. The test pilot was Kurt Waldemar Tank, an aeronautical engineer and the airplane’s designer.
Tank had proposed the airplane to Deutsche Luft Hansa as a long-range commercial transport for routes from Europe to South America. While British and American airlines were using large four-engine flying boats for transoceanic flight, their heavy weight and aerodynamic drag reduced the practical passenger and cargo loadings. A lighter-weight, streamlined land plane would be faster and could carry more passengers, increasing its desirability and practicality. Also, while the flying boats had to make an emergency water landing if one engine failed during the flight, the Focke-Wulf Condor was designed to be able to remain airborne with just two engines.
The Fw 200 V1 was an all-metal low-wing monoplane powered by four engines, with retractable landing gear. It had a flight crew of four, and was designed to carry a maximum of 26 passengers. It was 78 feet, 0 inches (27.774 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 0 inches (6.096 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 24,030 pounds (10,900 kilograms) and gross weight of 37,479 pounds (17,000 kilograms). This increased to 39,683 pounds (18,000 kilograms) after modification to the Fw 200 S-1 configuration.
As originally built, the prototype Condor was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G single-row 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1 and gear reduction ratio of 3:2. The S1E-G was rated at 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. to 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for takeoff. It was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) long, and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms).
Brandenburg‘s Pratt & Whitney engines were later replaced by Bayerische Motorenwerke AG BMW 132 L engines. BMW had been producing licensed variants of the Pratt & Whitney Hornet since 1933, and had incorporated their own developments during that time.
The Fw 200 V1 had a maximum speed of 233 miles per hour (375 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its cruising speed was 205 miles per hour (330 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airliner’s service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). It could maintain level flight at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) with 3 engines, and 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) with just two engines running. Its range at cruise speed with a 7,000 pound (3,175 kilogram) payload was 775 miles (1,247 kilometers).
For the Berlin-to-New York flight, the Fw 200’s fuel capacity was increased to 2,400 gallons (9,084 liters).
D-ACON made a series of long distance flights to demonstrate its potential. On 20 November 1938, Brandenburg flew from Berlin to Hanoi in French Indo-China (now, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). The crew was the same as the Berlin-New York flight, with the addition of G. Khone. This flight set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over Courses of 243.01 kilometers per hour (151.00 miles per hour).¹
On 6 December 1938, while on approach to Manila, capital city of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, all four of D-ACON’s engines stopped. Unable to reach the airfield, the Condor was ditched in Manila Bay. All aboard were quickly rescued. The cause of the engines failing was fuel starvation. One source states that the crew had selected the wrong tanks. Another source says that a fuel line had broken. A third cites a fuel pump failure.
The wreck of the first Condor was recovered, however, the airplane was damaged beyond repair.
While the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 had been designed as a civilian airliner, it soon found use as a long-range maritime patrol bomber. The Fw 200 V10 was a military variant requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. With the outbreak of World War II, Condors were produced as both bombers and transports. They saw extensive service searching for and attacking the Allies’ transatlantic convoys.