Tag Archives: FAI

18 May 1953

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, No. 19200, on Rogers Dry Lake after the 100-kilometer speed run, 18 May 1953. (J.R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine)

18 May 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline Cochran flew the 100th Canadair Sabre—a Sabre Mk.3, serial number 19200—over a 100 kilometer closed circuit and set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record at 1,050.18 kilometers per hour (652.55 miles per hour).¹

Jackie Cochran talked about it in her autobiography:

“. . . In those days you were clocked around pylons, with a judge and a timer at each pylon to clock you with special electronic devices and to make sure you stayed just outside the black smoke markers that rose into the sky. We’d throw a couple of tires on top of each other and then, when all was ready, start a smoky fire in the middle. Twelve towers of smoke marked the 100 kilometer for instance.

“The 100 kilometer course would take in about 63 miles. I’d have to fly only 300 feet off the ground in order for the photographic equipment to catch and record me. But there were hills to one side so I’d be skimming a little up and over them. I’d get two chances—just two—to set my record because that’s all the fuel the plane could carry. If all went well, I’d have a margin of two minutes of fuel after two complete passes. But could I hold that plane in a banked position of 30 degrees for a 63-mile circular flight and beat Colonel Ascani’s mark of 635 mph? Edwards pilots weren’t so sure. Opinions varied. And what about taking the ‘G’s I’d be experiencing in those sharp turns? One ‘G’ is the force of gravity, and the turns would offer me more than one.

Harmon Aviatrix Trophy
Harmon Aviatrix Trophy

“None of those record runs entail easy flying—100 kilometer, 15, or 3. They’re possible when you’ve been taught by the best.”

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, at Pages 274–275.

Part of the speed run was in excess of Mach 1. Jackie Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier.

Over the next two weeks, she would set three more world speed records ² and an altitude record ³ with the Canadair Sabre Mk.3. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy for 1953, her fourth.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, during her aviation career, Jackie Cochran set more speed and distance records than any other pilot.

Record-setting Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, s/n 19200.

The Canadair Sabre Mk.3 was a one-of-a-kind CL-13 Sabre (an F-86E Sabre manufactured by Canadair Ltd. under license from North American Aviation, Inc.) built to test the prototype Avro Canada Gas Turbine Division Orenda 3 engine. Modifications to the F-86 airframe were required to install the new, larger engine.

Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, May 1953. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Orenda 3 was an axial-flow turbojet engine with a 10-stage compressor, six combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. It produced 6,000 pounds of thrust (16.69 kilonewtons), a 15% improvement over the General Electric J47-GE-13 installed in the standard F-86E. The Orenda was 121.3 inches (3.081 meters) long, 42 inches (1.067 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,650 pounds (1,202 kilograms).

Canadair Ltd. was an aircraft manufacturer located at Cartierville, Montreal, Canada, owned by the American submarine builder, Electric Boat Company. Canadair also built licensed versions of the Douglas DC-4 (powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines) and the Lockheed T-33 two-place jet trainer. In 1954, the company became a part of General Dynamics.

After the speed records, No. 19200 was sent to North American Aviation for evaluation. Today, it is on static display outdoors at Wetaskiwin Regional General Airport (CEX3), Alberta, Canada.

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB. (LIFE Magazine)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of the Canadair Sabre Mk.3 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 13039, 13040

² FAI Record File Numbers 8870, 9075, 9076

³ FAI Record File Number 12858

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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13–15 May 1938

Gasuden Koken-ki by Shigeo Koike. (Image courtesy of Hobby Link Japan)
“Gasuden Koken-ki” by Shigeo Koike. (Image courtesy of HobbyLink Japan)

13–15 May 1938: The Gasuden Long Range Monoplane (Kōken-ki), flown by Yuso Fujita, Fukujiro Takahashi and Chikakichi Sekine, established three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for speed and distance, flying twenty-nine laps over a rectangular course from Kisarazu Airport, Chiba Prefecture; to Chōshi, a peninsula on the eastern shore of Honshu; Ōta, Gunma Prefecture; around the light house at Hiratsuka in Kanagawa Prefecture; and then back to Kisarazu.

(Left to right) Major Fujita Yuzo, Flight Engineer Sekine Chiaichi and Master Sergeant Takahashi Fukujiro with the Koken-ki. (Arawasi Publications)
(Left to right) Major Fujita Yuzo, Flight Engineer Sekine Chiaichi and Master Sergeant Takahashi Fukujiro with the Koken-ki. (Arawasi Publications)

The airplane and its crew took off from Kisarazu Airport at 4:55 a.m., 13 May, and landed at 7:21 p.m., 15 May. The duration of the flight was 2 days, 14 hours, 26 minutes.

The crew flew 11,651.01 kilometers (7,239.60 statute miles) without landing; ¹ Speed over 10,000 kilometers (6,213.712 statute miles), 186.20 kilometers per hour (115.70 miles per hour); ² Speed Over a Given Distance of 10,000 Kilometers (6,213.712 statute miles): 186.19 kilometers per hour (115.69 miles per hour). ³

The size of the airplane is apparent in this photograph.
The size of the airplane is apparent in this photograph.

The Gasuden Long Range Monoplane (Kōken-ki) was designed by the Tokyo University Aeronautical Research Institute and was built by Gasuden, the Tokyo Gas and Electric Industry (now, Hino Motors, Ltd.) It was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The airplane was built primarily of metal, though the wings were covered with Egyptian cotton fabric and painted with eleven coats of red paint. The airplane was called Crimson Wing.

Koken-ki (Arawasi Publications)
Gasuden Koken-ki (Arawasi Publications)

The airplane was 15.06 meters (49.41 feet) long with a wingspan of 27.93 meters (91.63 feet) and overall height 3.84 meters (12.60 feet). Its gross weight was 9,216 kilograms (20,318 pounds).

Koken-ki ((Hideo Kitagawa/Tokorozawa Aviation Museum Collection)
Gasuden Koken-ki (Hideo Kitagawa/Tokorozawa Aviation Museum Collection)

Crimson Wing was powered by a single Kawasaki-built version of a liquid-cooled Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 aircraft engine with two valves per cylinder. The Kawasaki engine produced 715 horsepower. The engine drove a two-bladed Sumitomo SW-4 fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 4.00 meters (13.12 feet).

This is the original Kawasaki-built V-12 engine which was installed on Gasuden Koken-ki. (Arawasi Blog)

The airplane had a maximum speed of 245 kilometers per hour (152 miles per hour) at Sea Level.

Chikaichi, Takahashi and Fujita awarded Yokosho for exceptional accomplishments, 25 May 1938 (Arawasi Publications)
Chikaichi, Takahashi and Fujita awarded Yokosho for exceptional accomplishments, 25 May 1938 (Arawasi Publications)

When Fujita, Takahashi and Chikaichi landed after 62 hours, 21 minutes, the airplane still had 500 liters (132 gallons) of fuel remaining.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9162: Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing

² FAI Record File Number 9163: Speed Over 10,000 Kilometers

³ FAI Record File Number 9552: Speed Over a Given Distance of 10,000 Kilometers

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 May 1964

Jackie Cochran and Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran and Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)

11 May 1964: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Jacqueline Cochran flew a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, 62-12222, to 2,300.23 kilometers per hour (1,429.30 miles per hour)—Mach 2.16—over a straight 15 to 25 kilometer course. She was the first woman to fly faster than Mach 2 and she set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record. ¹

Jackie Cochran taxiing Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran taxiing Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 62-12222 at Edwards AFB, 1964. (FAI)

Jackie Cochran wrote about flying the 15/25 kilometer straight course in her autobiography:

Picture in your mind a rectangular tunnel, 300 feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, and extending 20 miles long through the air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I had to fly through that tunnel at top speed without touching a side. There were no walls to see but radar and ground instruments let me know my mistakes immediately. Up there at 35,000 feet the temperature would be about 45 degrees below zero. Not pleasant but perfect for what I was doing. Inside the plane you are hot because of the friction of speeding through the air like that. The cockpit was air-conditioned, but when you descend, things happen so fast the plane’s air-cooling system can’t keep up with it. I was always hot and perspiring back on the ground.

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York 1987, Page 314.

Cochran set three speed records with this F-104G in May and June 1964. Under the Military Assistance Program, the U.S. Air Force transferred it to the Republic of China Air Force, where it was assigned number 4322. It crashed 17 July 1981.

The record-setting Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, USAF serial number 62-12222, in service with the Republic of China Air Force as 4322.
The record-setting Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, USAF serial number 62-12222, in service with the Republic of China Air Force as 4322.

The F-104G was the final production version of the Lockheed Starfighter. Rather than an interceptor, the G-model was a fighter bomber, with a strengthened fuselage and wings, and hardpoints for carrying bombs and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.

The F-104G was a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).

The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).

The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers) The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)
General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)

Armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition. Up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles can be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles, two wingtip fuel tanks and another two under wing tanks could be carried.

On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb mounted on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton.

Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)
Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13041

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 May 1929

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek waves from the cockpit of the Wright XF3W-1 Apache. (NASM)

8 May 1929: Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude when he flew the prototype Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, to 11,930 meters (39,140 feet) over NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C. ¹ The record was certified by the National Aeronautic Association.

Lieutenant Soucek was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement.

Flight reported:

New Altitude Record Claimed

     It is announced in Washington that Lieut. Apollo Soucek, U.S.N., claims to have created a new height record of 40,000 ft. on May 8. In the course of his flight he encountered a temperature of 60 deg. F. below zero. [-51 °C.]

FLIGHT The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1064. (No. 20. Vol. XXI.) May 16, 1929, Page 405 at Column 2

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy.

Lieutenant Soucek set two other World Records with the XF3W-1 Apache. On 4 June 1929, with the Apache configured as afloat plane, he flew it to an altitude of 11,753 meters (38,560 feet). ² The following year, 4 June 1930, he flew the Apache to 13,157 meters (43,166 feet). ³

Wright XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, at NACA Langley. (NASA)

Wright Aeronautical Division XF3W-1 Apache, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number A7223, was a prototype for a single-place, single-engine fighter for the U.S. Navy. The XF3W-1 was a single-bay biplane with a fuselage constructed of steel tubing, covered with doped fabric. The wings were constructed of wood. It was 22 feet, 1 inch (6.731 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 4 inches (8.331 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). It had an empty wight of 1,414 pounds (641 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,128 pounds (965 kilograms). Only one XF3W-1 was built.

The XF3W-1 was designed to use the new air-cooled, supercharged 1,176.036-cubic-inch-displacement (19.272 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1200 Simoon 9-cylinder radial engine, which was rated at 350 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. The R-1200 weighed 640 pounds (290 kilograms).

Pratt & Whitney Wasp A Serial Number 1, (R-1340), Radial 9 Engine at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

After taking delivery of the prototype, the Navy installed the number two Pratt & Whitney Wasp A engine. (The XF3W-1 was the first airplane to fly with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, 5 May 1926.) The Wasp A was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch displacement (22.021 liters) nine-cylinder radial direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 410 horsepower at 1,900 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline. The Wasp A was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) used the XF3W-1 for engine and cowling tests at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL), Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia. Which engine was installed at the time of Lieutenant Soucek’s record flight is uncertain.

The XF3W-1’s engine was supercharged by a NACA Model 2E Roots-type supercharger, built by the Allison Engineering Company. This supercharger, serial number 1, is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

The XF3W-1 was also configured as a float plane.

162 m.p.h., 38,560′

Wright Aeronautical XF3W-1 Apache, Bu. No. A7223, at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia, 28 August 1926. (NASA)

Apollo Soucek was born 24 February 1897, at Lamont, Oklahoma. He was a son of Bohemian immigrants, Johann Grothard Soucek, a blacksmith, and Ludmila Pishny Soucek. He had a brother, two years his junior, named Zeus.

Midshipman Apollo Soucek, U.S. Naval Academy, 1921. (The Lucky Bag)

Soucek received an appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland. He entered on 9 June 1917 as a member of the Class of 1921. While at Annapolis, “Soakem” Soucek played baseball and football. In The Lucky Bag it was written, “When you want a man you can rely on and trust ’till there’s skating in Hell, just page old Soakem—he’s there with the goods.”

Midshipman Soucek graduated and was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, with a date of precedence of 3 June 1921.

Ensign Soucek’s first assignment was aboard the New Mexico-class battleship, USS Mississippi (BB-41).

In February 1924, Ensign Soucek was transferred to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight instruction. He was designated a Naval Aviator in October 1924. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as assistant flight officer aboard the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1).

USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)

Soucek was next transferred to Observation Squadron 1 (VO-1), Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard USS Maryland (BB-46), a Colorado-class battleship. He had collateral duty as the ship’s assistant navigator.

In 1925, Lieutenant (j. g.) Souceck served aboard USS Aroostock (CM-3), a minesweeper which had been converted to an aircraft tender, and in 1926, was assigned to the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadephia, Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Soucek was promoted to lieutenant, 3 June 1927, and he began a tour of duty with the Bureau of Aeronautics, 29 June 1927. He specialized in engines in the Bureau’s Material Division.

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek married Miss Agnes Eleanor O’Connor at Washington, D.C., 27 May 1930.

In 1931, Lieutenant Soucek served with Fighting Squadron 1B (VF-1B). He returned to duty at the Naval Aircraft Factory in 1933.

Lieutenant Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, 16 March 1932. The airplane is a Boeing F4B-2, A8801, assigned to VF-1, USS Saratoga (CV- 3) (U.S. Navy via Davis-Monthan Airfield Register)

In 1936, Lieutenant Souceck served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4).

USS Ranger (CV-4). (U.S. Navy)

Souceck was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, 3 June 1937, and was assigned as commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 2 (VF-2). In 1938, he returned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, working in both the Flight Division and the Personnel Division.

In 1940, Lieutenant Commander Soucek served as navigator aboard USS Yorktown (CV-5).

Souceck was promoted to the rank of commander,  27 August 1941. He was assigned as Air Officer aboard the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8). When the carrier’s executive officer was promoted, Commander Soucek was assigned as Hornet‘s executive officer, serving under Captain Marc A. Mitscher. Hornet participated in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942; the Battle of Midway; and the Solomons Campaign.

Commander Soucek was promoted to the rank of captain (temporary), 20 August 1942, with date of rank 20 June 1942.

Hornet was sunk at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 27 October 1942. Captain Soucek was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the battle.

USS Hornet (CV-8) under attack during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942. (U.S. Navy)

Captain Soucek next was as assistant chief of staff for operations, U.S Pacific Fleet, then the Naval Air Training Command. He was promoted to the rank of rear admiral (temporary), 23 July 1944. After the war, reverted to the permanent rank of captain, with the 23 July 1944 date of rank.

On 27 October 1945, Captain Soucek became the first commanding officer of the Midway-class aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). He was appointed Commander, Carrier Division 14, in January 1946. He remained in command of Roosevelt until relieved, 2 March 1946.

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), (U.S. Navy)

After leaving Roosevelt, Soucek was assigned as Commander Fleet Air Wing 1.

From July 1947 through 1949, Rear Admiral Soucek was Commander, Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. In late 1949, he was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Aviation Plans, and then, in 1950, Director, Aviation Plans, in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

In 1951 Rear Admiral Soucek was appointed Naval Attaché for Air at the United States Embassy, London, England. His wife, Agnes, died that year.

Soucek returned to combat during the Korean War. In 1952, he commanded Carrier Division 3 and Task Force 77 from his flagship, USS Boxer (CV-21). He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Two Vought F4U-5N Corsairs fly past USS Boxer (CV-21), off Korea, 4 September 1951. (U.S. Navy)

Rear Admiral Soucek became Chief, Bureau of Aeronautics, 18 June 1953.

In 1954, Rear Admiral Soucek became a member of the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution National Air Museum, serving without compensation.

Soucek suffered a heart attack in February 1955. Unable to return to full duty, he was transferred to the Retired List on 1 July 1955.

Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy, died at his home in Washington, D.C., 19 July 1955. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek, United States Navy.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8257

² FAI Record File Number 11747

³ FAI Record File Number 8237

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 May 1958

MAJ Howard C. Johnson prepares for his record flight, with Lockheed test pilot Willam M. ("Bill") Park (center) and Jack Holliman. YF-104A Starfighter 55-2957 is in the background. (Lockheed)
Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, prepares for his record flight, with Lockheed test pilot Willam M. (“Bill”) Park (center) and Jack Holliman. F-104A Starfighter 55-2957 is in the background. (Lockheed Martin)

7 May 1958: Major Howard C. Johnson, United States Air Force, the operations officer of the 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, based at Hamilton Air Force Base, California, zoom-climbed a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2957, to an altitude of 91,243 feet (27,811 meters) over Edwards Air Force Base, establishing a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record. ¹

Major Howard C. Johnson seated in the cockpit of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (Johnson Family Collection)
Major Howard C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, after his record-setting flight. (U.S. Air Force)

Using techniques developed by Lockheed aerodynamicists, Major Johnson climbed to 41,000 feet (12,497 meters) and accelerated to the Starfighter’s maximum speed in level flight. He then started to climb, maintaining a steady 2.5 G load, until he reached the optimum climb angle. A piece of masking tape applied to the side of the cockpit canopy at the predetermined angle gave Johnson a visual reference during his climb. At approximately 77,000 feet (23,470 meters) the F-104’s J79 turbojet engine had to be shut down to prevent overheating in the thin high-altitude atmosphere. The interceptor continued from that point on a ballistic trajectory until it reached the peak altitude. On the descent, the engine was restarted and Johnson flew the Starfighter back to Edwards Air Force Base.

Major Johnson had broken the altitude record set just 17 days earlier by Lieutenant Commander George C. Watkins, U.S. Navy, flying an experimental Grumman F11F-1F Tiger. The Lockheed F-104 beat the Grumman F11F by 4,362 meters (14,311 feet). ²

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter 55-2957.

The Daily Independent Journal reported:

Hamilton Jet Pilot Sets World Altitude Record

     A 37-year-old Novato father of two today holds the world altitude record for flight in a powered aircraft.

     Maj. Howard C. Johnson of the 83rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base yesterday nosed a jet-powered F104 Starfighter to an altitude of 91,249 feet above the Mojave desert.

     His mark eclipsed by 2.1 miles an unofficial record of 80,190 feet claimed last Friday by a French Trident 06 at Istres, France.

     Major Johnson, operations officer of the 83rd FIS, first Starfighter-equipped unit of the Air Force, took off at 9:40 a.m. from the Palmdale (Los Angeles County) facility of the Lockheed Aircraft Corp., manufacturer of the plane.

     He sent the missile-like Starfighter upward on a 55-to-60 degree angle as it swept over the heavily instrumented range at Edwards Air Force Base. Then he pulled up sharply into a high angle climb, and zoomed out into the thin atmosphere over the desert—more than 17 miles above sea level.

     Just 27 minutes later, he touched down again at Palmdale.

     Describing the flight at a Los Angeles news conference today, the curly-haired major said he flew at 35,000 feet to Santa Barbara, went into a climbing turn at 40,000 feet and gave the jet full power about 10 miles from Mojave. Over Mojave, he went into his climb.

     He said he had no trouble controlling the plane. With colder air, he thought, he could have gone higher. The temperature outside the plane at the peak of his climb was minus 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside it was 70 degrees above zero.

In the past week he had made six practice flights prior to yesterday’s record breaker.

     What does the sky look like at such altitudes?”

     I was so busy on most of my flights I didn’t notice,” he said. “On one flight I did and it was sort of a dark purple.”

     Johnson estimated he was at his maximum altitude 10 to 15 seconds and was going 622 miles per hour at the top of his climb.

     Johnson said he didn’t “feel like I was in outer space.”

     “But this obviously is a transition from the atmosphere is a transition from the atmosphere we have known,” he said. “We are on the threshold of space—a step up the ladder.”

     Back in Novato, his wife, Doris Jean, was at home at 1260 Cambridge street. Their children, Theodore 10, and Carol, 4, were at school.

     Mrs. Johnson knew her husband was out after the record, but she wasn’t worrying, she said today.

     “We’ve been married for 16 years and all of that time he has been in the Air Force,” she said, “so I’ve learned not to worry too much.

     “He had oxygen and a suit to protect him. But I do wish he’d stay a little lower.”

     Mrs. Johnson’s telephone rang soon after 10 o’clock. It was her husband, calling to say he had been successful in setting a new altitude record.”

     That’s about all he said,” reported Mrs. Johnson.

     The record is subject to review by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale before it goes down in the books as official.

      Plane altitude records have been zooming since the adoption of the jet engine. The altitude record for a propeller-drive plane is 56,046 feet, set ‘way back in 1946 by Maj. F. F. Ross, pilot, and Lt. D. M. Davis, flying from Harmon Field on Guam.

     An experimental rocket plane has gone higher than Johnson’s Starfighter, but the feats are not comparable. The rocket craft was launched from a mother plane high in the air, while the Starfighter took off from the ground.

   A balloon piloted by Maj. David G. Simons ascended to approximately 100,000 feet last Aug. 19 and 20, according to the World Almanac.

     Major Johnson is a native of Knoxville, Tenn. He has been in the Air Force since April 1, 1942, and has logged 4,600 hours flying time, including 1,800 hours in jets. He has been stationed in California, at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, and then at Hamilton, for five years.

The Daily Independent Journal, Vol 98, No. 40   Page 1, Columns 5–8, and Page 12, Column 3

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson was part of a group of engineers and pilots awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association in 1958 for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics” because of their involvement in the Lockheed F-104 program.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon presents the Collier Trophy. Left to right, Major Walter W. Irwin and Lieutenant Colonel Howard C. Johnson; Nixon; Neil Burgess and Gerhard Neumann, designers of the General Electric J79 engine; and Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. 15 December 1959. (NASM-00142388)

Howard Carroll Johnson was born at Knoxville, Kentucky, 2 February 1920. He studied at the University of Louisville. Soon after the United States entered World War II, on 1 April 1942, Johnson enlisted as a private in the Air Corps, United States Army. He was accepted s an aviation cadet 7 April 1942.

Aviation Cadet Johnson married Miss Donna Jean Holder, a classmate at the University of Louisville, at the Presbyterian Church, McAllen, Texas, 4:30 p.m., February 20, 1943. They would have two children. Mrs. Johnson died in 1986.

Colonel Howard C. Johnson, United States Air Force.

After completing flight training, Cadet Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 20 March 1943. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant 27 June 1944.

Gunnery inst,

Capt air-res (inactive) 13 Nov 46

Rel’d active duty 12 Jan 47

1LT AC 19 June 47, dor 20 Mar 46

P-51 Korea 87 combat missions

1954-55 F-94B

1961 F-84F Germany

1966-67 F-105 SEA  DO 388th TFW, 117 combat missions

 

Republic F-105D Thunderchiefs, Southeast Asia, 1966.

Ret 1 Oct 1972

Cattle ranch, TX

live-aboard boat Palm Beach

Married Ms. Elena Rova O’Brien, a widow, April 1990. Mrs. Johnson died in 2016.

Colonel Johnson just celebrated his 100th Birthday in Palm Beach, Florida.

The landing gear are retracting as Major Howard C. Johnson takes off with the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, 55-2957, 7 May 1958. (U.S. Air Force)

The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single engine supersonic interceptor. It was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

The F-104A is 54.77 feet (16.694 meters) long with a wingspan of 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The total wing area is just 196.1 square feet (18.2 square meters). At 25% chord, the wings are swept aft 18° 6′. They have 0° angle of incidence and no twist. The airplane has a very pronounced -10° anhedral. An all-flying stabilator is placed at the top of the airplane’s vertical fin, creating a “T-tail” configuration.

The F-104A had an empty weight of 13,184 pounds (5,980.2 kilograms). The airplane’s gross weight varied from 19,600 pounds to 25,300 pounds, depending on the load of missiles and/or external fuel tanks.

Internal fuel capacity was 896 gallons (3,392 liters). With Sidewinder missiles, the F-104A could carry two external fuel tanks on underwing pylons, for an additional 400 gallons (1,514 liters). If no missiles were carried, two more tanks could be attached to the wing tips, adding another 330 gallons (1,249 liters) of fuel.

Lockheed F-104A Starfighter three-view illustration with dimensions.

The F-104A was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-3A engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-3A is rated at 9,600 pounds of thrust (42.70 kilonewtons), and 15,000 pounds (66.72 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 3.5 inches (5.271 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,325 pounds (1,508 kilograms).

The F-104A had a maximum speed of 1,037 miles per hour (1,669 kilometers per hour) at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). Its stall speed was 198 miles per hour (319 kilometers per hour). The Starfighter’s initial rate of climb was 60,395 feet per minute (306.8 meters per second) and its service ceiling was 64,795 feet (19,750 meters).

Armament was one General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled revolving cannon with 725 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. An AIM-9B Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile could be carried on each wing tip, or a jettisonable fuel tank with a capacity of 141.5 gallons (535.6 liters).

The Lockheed F-104 was armed with an electrically-powered General Electric T-171E-3 (later designated M61) Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon, or “Gatling Gun.” The technician has a belt of linked 20 mm cannon shells. (SDASM)

Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt,  Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the  Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.

55-2957 had been one of the first group of YF-104A pre-production aircraft. After the flight test program, it and the others were modified to the F-104A production standard.

The record-setting Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was later converted to a QF-104A high-speed drone. It was expended as a target 8 August 1967.

Lockheed QF-104A Starfighter 55-2957, after modification to a high-speed drone, in flight. There is no pilot aboard. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed QF-104A Starfighter 55-2957 in flight after modification to high-speed drone configuration. There is no pilot aboard. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 5056

² FAI Record File Number 8596

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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