Tag Archives: Fédération Aéronautique Internationale

19 January 1975

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC Streak Eagle 72-0119. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC Streak Eagle 72-0119. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Roger J. Smith, u.S. Air Force
Major Roger J. Smith, U.S. Air Force

19 January 1975: Major Roger J. Smith, United States Air Force, a test pilot assigned to the F-15 Joint Test Force at Edwards AFB, California, flew the  McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119, Streak Eagle, to its sixth Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and U.S. National Aeronautic Association time-to-altitude record.

From brake release at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, at 913 feet (278 meters) above Sea Level, the F-15 reached 20,000 meters (65,617 feet) in 122.94 seconds.

This was the sixth time-to-altitude record set by Streak Eagle in just three days.

FAI Record File Num #9066 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 20 000 m
Performance: 2 min 02.94s
Date: 1975-01-19
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant Roger J. Smith (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 19.58.24Roger Smith’s United States National Record still stands.

Streak Eagle is a very early production F-15A-6-MC Eagle, a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter. It is 63 feet, 9.0 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.7 inches (13.048 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5.4 inches (5.624 meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,870 pounds (11,734 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).

The F-15A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) afterburning turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.202 kilonewtons); 14,690 pounds (65.344 kilonewtons, 30-minute limit; and a maximum 23,840 pounds (106.046 kilonewtons), 5-minute limit. The F100-PW-100 is 191 inches (4.851 meters) long, 46.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,035 pounds (1,376.7 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 893 knots (1,028 miles per hour/1,654 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters). The ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters) at maximum power. It can climb at an initial 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second) from Sea Level, and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, The F-15 can climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182kilometers).

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

384 F-15A Eagles were built before production shifted to the improved F-15C version. As F-15Cs became operational, the F-15As were transferred to Air National Guard units assigned to defend continental U.S. airspace. The last F-15A was retired from service in 2009.

Streak Eagle was specially modified for the record attempts. Various equipment that would not be needed for these flights was eliminated: The flap and speed brake actuators, the M61 cannon and its ammunition handling equipment, the radar and fire control systems, unneeded cockpit displays and radios, and one generator.

Other equipment was added: An extended pitot boom was mounted at the nose with alpha and beta vanes; equipment for the pilot’s David Clark Company A/P-225-6 full pressure suit; extremely sensitive accelerometers and other instrumentation; extra batteries; an in-cockpit video camera aimed over the pilot’s shoulder; and perhaps most important, a special hold-back device was installed in place of the fighter’s standard arresting hook.

These changes resulted in an airplane that was approximately 1,800 pounds (817 kilograms) lighter than the standard production F-15A. This gave it a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.4:1.

Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)

The flight profiles for the record attempts were developed by McDonnell Douglas Chief Developmental Test Pilot, Charles P. “Pete” Garrison (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired).

Streak Eagle carried only enough fuel for each specific flight, and for the 20,000 meter climb, weighed 29,877 pounds (13,552 kilograms). It was secured to the hold-back device on the runway and the engines were run up to full afterburner. It was released from the hold-back and was airborne in just three seconds.

When the F-15 reached 428 knots (793.4 kilometers per hour), the pilot pulled up into an Immelman, holding 2.5 Gs. Streak Eagle arrived back over the air base, in level flight at about 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), but upside down. Rolling up right, Streak Eagle continued accelerating to Mach 1.5 when the pilot pulled the fighter up at 4.0 Gs until it reached a 55° climb angle until it reached 20,000 meters

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 15.55.50Because Streak Eagle was a very early production airplane, its internal structure was weaker than the final production F-15A standard. It was considered too expensive to modify it to the new standard. It was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in December 1980.

Streak Eagle, the record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, in "Compass Ghost" two-tone blue camouflage, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, in “Compass Ghost” two-tone blue camouflage, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 January 1975

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119 Streak Eagle record holder. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119, Streak Eagle, FAI world record holder. (U.S. Air Force)

16 January 1975: Three United States Air Force pilots, Majors Roger J. Smith, William R. MacFarlane and David W. Petersen, test pilots assigned to the F-15 Joint Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base, California, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude records in one day, flying this unpainted McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC Streak Eagle, serial number 72-0119, from Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The airfield’s elevation is 913 feet (278 meters) above Sea Level.

Smith took the first record: from brake release to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 27.571 seconds.

The next three belonged to MacFarlane: 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), 39.335 seconds; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet), 48.863 seconds; and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), 59.383 seconds.

The last record for the day went to Peterson, who reached 15,000 meters (49,213 feet) in 1 minute, 17.042 seconds.

Over the next two weeks they took the Streak Eagle even higher. On it’s left vertical fin is painted AQUILA MAXIMA. This airplane is in storage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

F-15A Streak Eagle record-setting pilots, Majors William MacFarlane, Roger Smith and Dave Peterson. (U.S. Air Force)
F-15A Streak Eagle record-setting pilots, Majors William MacFarlane, Roger Smith and Dave Peterson. (U.S. Air Force)

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 20.33.28FAI Record File Num #9077 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 3 000 m
Performance: 27.571s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant Roger J. Smith (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 20.37.34FAI Record File Num #8605 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 6 000 m
Performance: 39.335s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant William R. Macfarlane (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

FAI Record File Num #8600 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 9 000 m
Performance: 48.863s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant William R. Macfarlane (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

FAI Record File Num #8528 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 12 000 m
Performance: 59.383s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant William R. Macfarlane (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 14.43.07FAI Record File Num #8521 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 15 000 m
Performance: 1 min 17.042s
Date: 1975-01-16
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant David W. Peterson (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-8-MC Eagle 73-0090 at Luke Air Force Base. The two aircraft in this photograph are painted “Air Superiority Blue” (F.S. 35450). (U.S. Air Force)

Streak Eagle is a very early production F-15A-6-MC Eagle, a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter. It is 63 feet, 9.0 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.7 inches (13.048 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5.4 inches (5.624 meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,870 pounds (11,734 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).

The F-15A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) afterburning turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.202 kilonewtons); 14,690 pounds (65.344 kilonewtons, 30-minute limit; and a maximum 23,840 pounds (106.046 kilonewtons), 5-minute limit. The F100-PW-100 is 191 inches (4.851 meters) long, 46.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,035 pounds (1,376.7 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 893 knots (1,028 miles per hour/1,654 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters). The ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters) at maximum power. It can climb at an initial 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second) from Sea Level, and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, The F-15 can climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182kilometers).

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

384 F-15A Eagles were built before production shifted to the improved F-15C version. As F-15Cs became operation, the F-15As were transferred to Air National Guard units assigned to defend continental U.S. airspace. The last F-15A was retired from service in 2009.

Streak Eagle over St. Louis (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

Streak Eagle was specially modified by McDonnell Douglas for the record attempts. Various equipment that would not be needed for these flights was eliminated: The flap and speed brake actuators, the M61 cannon and its ammunition handling equipment, the radar and fire control systems, unneeded cockpit displays and radios, and one generator.

Other equipment was added: An extended pitot boom was mounted at the nose with alpha and beta vanes; equipment for the pilot’s David Clark Company A/P-225-6 full pressure suit; extremely sensitive accelerometers and other instrumentation; extra batteries; an in-cockpit video camera aimed over the pilot’s shoulder; and perhaps most important, a special hold-back device was installed in place of the fighter’s standard arresting hook.

These changes resulted in an airplane that was approximately 1,800 pounds (817 kilograms) lighter than the standard production F-15A. This gave it a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.4:1.

Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)

The flight profiles for the record attempts were developed by McDonnell Douglas Chief Developmental Test Pilot, Charles P. “Pete” Garrison (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired).

Streak Eagle carried only enough fuel for each specific flight, and weighed from 27,972  to 31,908 pounds (12,688 to 14,473 kilograms). It was secured to the hold-back device on the runway and the engines were run up to full afterburner. It was released from the hold-back and was airborne in just three seconds.

Streak Eagle, the FAI record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the FAI record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 January 1935

Jimmy Doolittle in the cockpit of American Airlines’ Vultee V-1A Special NC13770, January 1935. (NASM)

14–15 January 1935: James Harold Doolittle set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognised Course of 329.98 kilometers per hour (205.04 miles per hour).¹

Doolittle took off from Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 5:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, 14 January (8:27 p.m., Eastern Standard Time). Also on board were Mrs. Doolittle and Robert Adamson (1871–1935), an executive with the Shell Oil Company.

Robert Adomson, Mrs. Doolittle and James H. Doolittle ready to board the Vutee V-1A at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, 14 January 1935. (Getty Images/Bettman)

The airplane was an Airplane Development Corporation V-1A Special, NC13770, owned by American Airlines and leased to Shell.

Doolittle crossed overhead Floyd Bennett Field at 8:26 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, 15 January. He then landed at Newark Airport, New Jersey, at 8:34½ a.m. The flight from Burbank to Brooklyn had a duration of 11 hours, 59 minutes, and broke a record set two months earlier by Eddie Rickenbacker.

Vultee V-1A Special NC13770 at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, California. (NASM)

The Airplane Development Corporation Model V-1A (commonly known as the “Vultee V-1A”) was a large, all-metal, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The V-1A was designed as a high-speed airliner and was of full monocoque construction. It could be flown by one or two pilots and carry up to eight passengers.

The V-1A was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and Richard Palmer,² based on an earlier design by Vultee and Vance Breese, who were working for the Airplane Development Corporation, which they had founded in 1932, but which had been acquired by the Cord Corporation. The prototype made its first flight 19 February 1933 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls.

NC13770, serial number 24073, was the eighth V-1A built, and was one of the original ten ordered by American Airlines. The V-1A was 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, 0 inches (15.240 meters) and height of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters). The wings had root chord of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) and tip chord of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). Total wing area was 384.0 square feet (35.675 square meters). There was 3° dihedral. The V-1A had an empty weight of 5,212 pounds (2,364 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,500 pounds (3,856 kilograms).

Vultee V-1A Special NC13770 at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, California. (NASM)

The Vultee V-1A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129 cubic-inch displacement (29.785 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820-F2 (R-1820-20 or R-1820-102), a nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.4:1. This was a direct-drive engine with a Normal Power rating of 691 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., at Sea Level. It required 87-octane gasoline. The engine turned a three-blade propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters). The R-1820-F2 was 3 feet, 7-3/8 inches (1.102 meters) long, 4 feet, 5-3/4 inches (1.365 meters) in diameter, and weighed 937 pounds (425 kilograms).

The V-1A had a cruise speed of 215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 235 miles per hour (378 kilometers per hour). The airplane’s service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). In standard configuration, it had a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).

Vultee V-1A Special NR13770 taking off from Glendale, California, 17 August 1936. (Wide World Photos)

NC13770 was later sold to Harry Richman of Miami Beach, Florida, who christened the airplane Lady Peace. During the Spanish Civil War, the airplane was captured by the Nationalists. It was used as a transport for the Aviación Nacional Grupo 43, identified as 43-14, and named Capitán Haya. Its U.S. registration was cancelled 8 October 1937. It is believed that the airplane was scrapped in the early 1950s.

Vultee V-1A s/n 24703 (ex-NC13770), Lady Peace, was captured by the Nationalists and assigned the identification number 43-14. (AERONETGCE via Pedro Luz Cunha)
Vultee V-1A s/n 24703 (ex-NC13770) 43-14 in mottled camouflaged. (AERONETGCE via Pedro Luz Cunha)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13232

² Richard Palmer was the designer of Howard Hughes’ record setting H-1.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 January 1962

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner. (U.S. Air Force)

14 January 1961: Lt. Col. Harold E. Confer, Lt. Col. Richard Weir and Major Howard Bialas, flying Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Roadrunner, obliterated the FAI closed-course speed records established only two days earlier by another B-58 crew flying 59-2442. They averaged 2,067.58 kilometers per hour (1,284.73 miles per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer closed circuit, more than 200 miles per hour faster, and set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale records. They were awarded the Thompson Trophy.

59-2441 was sent to The Boneyard in 1970, and along with its sister, 59-2442, scrapped in 1977.

Colonel Harold E. Confer, U.S. Air Force
Colonel Harold E. Confer, U.S. Air Force

FAI Record File Num #4565 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 2 067.58 km/h
Date: 1961-01-14
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Harold E. Confer (USA)
Aeroplane: Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF 92-441)
Engines: 4 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #4566 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 1 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 067.58 km/h
Date: 1961-01-14
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Harold E. Confer (USA)
Aeroplane: Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF 92-441)
Engines: 4 G E J79

FAI Record File Num #4567 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 2 000 kg payload
Performance: 2 067.58 km/h
Date: 1961-01-14
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Harold E. Confer (USA)
Aeroplane: Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF 92-441)
Engines: 4 G E J79

Thompson Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Thompson Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

The B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator located in individual cockpits. The aircraft is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The wing’s leading edge is swept back at a 60° angle and the fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder, and there are no flaps. Four General Electric J79-GE-5 afterburning turbojet engines, producing 15,000 pounds of thrust, each, are suspended under the wings from pylons. The bomber had a cruise speed of 610 miles per hour (981.7 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,325 miles per hour (2,132.4 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 64,800 feet (19,751 meters). Unrefueled range is 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers). Maximum weight is 168,000 pounds (76,203.5 kilograms).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of W-39,  B43 or B61 nuclear bombs. The weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel. The smaller bombs could be carried on underwing hardpoints. There was a defensive 20 mm M61 rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of ammunition and controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner, at Davis-Monthan AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-58A-10-CF Hustler 59-2441, Thompson Trophy winner, at Davis-Monthan AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 January 1936

Hoard Hughes with his record-setting Northrop Gamma. (Unattributed)
Howard Hughes with the record-setting Northrop Gamma. (UNLV Special Collections)

14 January 1936: Flying a Northrop Gamma 2G, serial number 11, which he had leased from Jackie Cochran, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course (Los Angeles, California, to New York) in 9 hours, 26 minutes, 10 seconds, at an average speed of 417.0 kilometers per hour (259.1 miles per hour).¹ Most of the flight was made at altitudes of  15,000–18,000 feet (4,572–5,486 meters), and Hughes used supplemental breathing oxygen.

Howard Hughes climbs out of the Northrop Gamma at Newark, New Jersey. (UNLV Digital Collection)
Howard Hughes climbs out of the Northrop Gamma at Newark, New Jersey. (UNLV Digital Collection)

Jack Northrop had designed and built the Gamma as a long-range cargo and mail plane for Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. The contract was cancelled, though, and several airplanes became available to other customers. Jackie Cochran purchased s/n 11, which had been completed 15 August 1934, and had it modified by Northrop as a two-place long-distance racer for the 1934 MacRobertson London-to-Australia air race, which she planned to fly with her friend Ted Marshall.

The length of the Gamma varied from 29’10” to 31’0″, depending on engine and cockpit configuration. The wingspan was 48’0″.

The Northrop Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification to install a liquid-cooled Wright SGV1570F4 V-12 engine, 9 September 1934. (SDASM Archives)
The Northrop Corporation Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification for the MacRobertson Race, 29 September 1934. (The Northrop Corporation)
The Northrop Gamma 2G, NC13761, after modification to install a liquid-cooled Wright SGV1570F4 V-12 engine. (SDASM Archives)

The Gamma’s original engine was replaced with a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,570.381-cubic-inch-displacement (25.734 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Conqueror SGV1570F4 (also known as the Curtiss Conqueror), a DOHC 60° V-12 engine rated at 745 horsepower at Sea Level. The engine drove a two-bladed propeller. The Gamma had 7 fuel tanks: 3 in each wing and 1 in the fuselage. Total capacity was 486 gallons (1,840 liters) of gasoline and 29 gallons (110 liters)of lubricating oil. A second fuselage tank was later added, bring the total fuel capacity to 586 gallons (2,218 liters). The Gamma 2G had an empty weight of 4,727 pounds (2,144 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 8,037 pounds (3,646 kilograms). The modified airplane was inspected and a temporary commercial registration, NC13671, was approved 29 September 1934.

While being ferried to New York by Jackie and her new copilot, Royal Leonard, problems with the engine’s supercharger forced them to land in Arizona. Cochran continued east by airliner while Leonard and a Curtiss-Wright mechanic continued east in the Gamma. Flying on the night of 1 October 1934, a continuing problem with the supercharger forced them to make an off-field landing near Tucumcari, New Mexico, using light from dropped flares. The Gamma was seriously damaged and had to be returned to Northrop for repair.

Northrop Gamma 2G NX13761 after installation of the air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp, Jr. SA1-G 14-cylinder radial engine. (SDASM Archives)

The airplane’s temporary registration was suspended. A section of the wing and the forward lower half of the fuselage were replaced, provisions for installing a Pratt & Whitney radial engine were made, and the rear cockpit was removed. (Cochran’s plans for the MacRobertson Race had to be revised,² so she had the airplane modified for the Bendix Trophy Race.) The repairs and modifications were completed 30 November 1934.

Jackie Cochran’s Northrop Gamma NX13761 after radial engine installation, photographed at Clemenceau, near Cottonwood, Arizona, circa 1935. (Ruth Reinhold Aviation Collection, Arizona Memory Project RRA-AMP107)

The “re-modified” Gamma 2G was now powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liters) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr. SA1-G 14-cylinder radial engine with a three-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The SA1-G was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. at 6,500 feet (1,981 meters). The engine could be ordered with a 3:2 or 4:3 gear reduction ratio.

Jackie Cochran flew the Gamma in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, but, approaching severe weather over the Grand Canyon, landed the airplane and did not finish the race.

The official ownership history of the Gamma is murky. The original application for a Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch license specified the owner as The Northrop Corporation. On 4 January 1935, Northrop’s registration was cancelled by the Department of Commerce because, “Aircraft not inspected for relicensing.”

Jackie Cochran with the Northrop Gamma 2G, circa 1936. Photographed by Toni Frissell)

When Jackie Cochran requested registration in her name, she failed to submit a Bill of Sale with her application. After repeated written requests by the Bureau of Air Commerce to submit a bill of sale went unanswered, her application for a restricted registration for the airplane was cancelled, 9 January 1936. J Carroll Cone, Assistant Director of Air Commerce (Air Regulation) informed her in writing: “The status of this aircraft is unlicensed and unidentified, according to our records. Any operation thereof would be in violation of the Air Commerce Regulations and subject the offender to the civil penalty provided therefor.”

Finally, a Bill of Sale from The Northrop Corporation, dated 30 November 1935, was provided to the Aeronautics Bureau. It said that Northrop had sold the airplane to Cochran, “for and in consideration of ten dollars ($10.00)”.

Meanwhile, Howard Hughes had seen the Gamma and wanted to buy it. Jackie Cochran tells how Howard Hughes acquired the airplane:

One night about 11:30 I was exhausted in my hotel room and the telephone rang. . .

“Jackie,” the voice says, “this is Howard.”

“Howard who?” I say, still sleepy and getting frustrated.

“Howard Hughes,” the man says.

“Howard who?” I ask again.

“Howard Hughes,” he repeats.

. . . We argued about who he was a bit more. Finally, he says, “I want to buy your airplane.”

I’m thinking that this is an incredible conversation. “It’s not for sale, Howard,” I reply. “I’m going to fly it in the Bendix.”

“I don’t want to fly it in the Bendix,” he answers. “I want to fly it cross-continental.”

“So do I,” I say.

Howard Hughes and I negotiated over the Northrop Gamma for about four weeks. . . Howard wanted my Northrop so badly, but it would break my heart to consider handing over my rights to it. . . when he offered to rent it, with an option to buy, I caved in. . . .

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, at 152–153.

When Hughes took possession of the Gamma 2G, he had the Pratt & Whitney engine replaced with a 1,823.129 cubic-inch (29.785 liter) Wright Cyclone SGR-1820-G5 nine-cylinder radial engine, and a three bladed-Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters). The engine used a bell-shaped cowling similar to that of Hughes’ H-1 Racer. The engine had a Normal Power rating of 830 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m to 4,300 feet (1,311 meters), and 930 horsepower for Takeoff. This engine did not yet have government certification. Three additional fuselage tanks were installed, increasing the Gamma’s fuel capacity to 690 gallons. Hughes did not submit the Gamma for Department of Commerce inspection and licensing. It was not approved in the new configuration.

Jackie Cochran took the Gamma back from Hughes and had the Twin Wasp Jr. reinstalled, and submitted a new application for registration 31 March 1936. This was approved 28 April 1936, and the Gamma received a restricted registration, NR13761. It was damaged beyond repair after an emergency landing, 10 July 1936.

The Northrop Gamma 2G, NR13761, at Newark, New Jersey, 14 January 1936. (UNLV Libraries Digital Collection)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13237

² With Northrop unable to repair the airplane in time for the MacRobertson Race, at the last minute Jackie Cochran entered with a different airplane (a Granville Brothers Gee Bee R-6H).

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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