15 October 1955: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Lieutenant Gordon L. (“Gordo”) Gray, Jr., United States Navy, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record For Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers when he flew a pre-production Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk light attack bomber, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 137820, to an average speed of 1,118.7 kilometers per hour (695.128 miles per hour).¹
The Douglas A4D-1 Skyhawk is a single-place, single-engine, delta-winged light attack bomber designed for operation from aircraft carriers. It is 39 feet, 4 inches (11.989 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) and overall height of 15 feet (4.572 meters). Its empty weight is 8,400 pounds (3,810.2 kilograms). It was powered by a Curtiss-Wright J65-W-2, a licensed-production version of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire axial flow turbojet engine, which had a 13-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. It produced 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.03 kilonewtons).
The A4D was in production from 1956 to 1979. 2,960 one- and two-place aircraft were built. The Skyhawk remained in service with the United States Navy until 2003.
14–15 October 1927: Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew a Breguet XIX GR, serial number 1685, across the South Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Louis, Senegal, to Port Natal, Brazil.
This was the first non-stop South Atlantic crossing by an airplane. The 2,100-mile (3,380 kilometer) flight took just over 18 hours.
The two aviators were on an around-the-world flight that began 10 October 1927 at Paris, France, and would be completed 14 April 1928, after traveling 34,418 miles (57,000 kilometers).
Costes had been a test pilot for Breguet since 1925. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I and was credited with six aerial victories. He had been appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and the Médaille militaire.
Following the around-the-world flight, the Congress of the United States, by special act, awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1929, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded him its Gold Air Medal, and the International League of Aviators awarded him the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”
Capitain de Corvette Joseph Le Brix was a French naval officer. He had trained as a navigator, aerial observer and pilot. For his service in the Second Moroccan War, he was appointed to the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Like Costes, Le Brix was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress.
The Breguet XIX GR (“GR” stands for Grand Raid) had been named Nungesser-Coli in honor of the two pilots who disappeared while attempting a crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the White Bird, 8 May 1927. It was developed from the Type XIX light bomber and reconnaissance airplane, which entered production in 1924. A single-engine, two-place biplane with tandem controls, it was primarily constructed of aluminum tubing, covered with sheet aluminum and fabric. The biplane was a “sesquiplane,” meaning that the lower of the two wings was significantly smaller than the upper. Approximately 2,400 Breguet XIXs were built.
No. 1685 was a special long-distance variant, with a 2,900–3,000 liter fuel capacity (766–792 gallons). It was further modified to add 1 meter to the standard 14.83 meter (48 feet, 7.9 inches) wingspan, and the maximum fuel load was increased to 3,500 liters (925 gallons).
The original 590 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Hb engine was replaced with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Lb. This was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403-liter (1,916.33-cubic-inch-displacement) overhead valve 60° V-12 engine, with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The 12Lb produced 630 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., burning 85 octane gasoline. The engine was 1.850 meters (6 feet, 0.8 inches) long, 0.750 meters (2 feet, 5.5 inches) wide and 1.020 meters (3 feet, 4.2 inches) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).
The Breguet XIX had a speed of 214 kilometers per hour (133 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 7,200 meters (23,620 feet).
14 October 2012: At 12:08 p.m. MDT (1808 UTC) Felix Baumgartner jumped from the gondola of a helium-filled balloon at 127,852.4 feet (38,969.4 meters) over eastern New Mexico.
The free fall distance was 119,431.1 feet (36,402.6 meters). He fell for 4 minutes, 19 seconds before deploying his parachute and touched down after nine minutes, 3 seconds. During the free fall, he reached 843.6 miles per hour (1,357.6 kilometers per hour), Mach 1.25.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes three Sub-Class G-2 World Records set by Baumgartner with this jump:
16669: Vertical Speed Without Drogue: 1,357.6 kilometers per hour (843.6 miles per hour miles per hour)
Felix Baumgartner wore a custom-made full-pressure suit designed and manufactured by the David Clark Co., Worcester, Massachusetts, based on their S1034 Improved Common Suit.
The helium balloon, with a volume 29,470,000 cubic feet, was manufactured by Raven Aerostar, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Baumgartner’s pressure capsule was designed and built by Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Lancaster, California.
14 October 1922: Air races were an extremely popular event in the early days of aviation. An estimated 200,000 spectators watched the opening race at the National Air Races, held at Selfridge Field (now, Selfridge Air National Guard Base) near Mount Clemens, Michigan from 8 to 14 October.
The Pulitzer Trophy Race was Event No. 5 on the afternoon of Saturday, 14 October. It was a “Free-for-All Race for High-Speed Airplanes.” The course consisted of five laps around an approximate 50 kilometer course, starting at Selfridge Field, then south to Gaulkler Point on Lake St. Clair. From there, the course was eastward for ten miles, keeping to the right of a moored observation balloon. The airplanes would then circle an anchored steamship, Dubuque, and return to Selfridge Field.
Lieutenant Russell Lowell Maughan, Air Service, United States Army, flying a Curtiss R-6, Air Service serial number A.S. 68564, finished the race in first place with an average speed of 205.386 miles per hour (330.172 kilometers per hour). He also set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed during the race: 330.41 kilometers per hour (205.31 miles per hour) over a distance of 100 kilometers,¹ and 331.46 kilometers per hour (205.96 miles per hour) over a distance of 200 kilometers).²
In addition to the Pulitzer Trophy, the first place finisher was awarded a $1,200.00 prize. Second place was taken by another U.S. Army pilot, Lieutenant Lester James Maitland, who was also flying a Curtiss R-6, serial number A.S. 68563.
Russell Maughan had been a fighter pilot during World War I. He shot down four enemy airplanes with his Spad S.XIII C.I, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in action. He flew in several air races and set records. He went on to fly the Dawn-to-Dusk transcontinental flight in a Curtiss PW-8, 23 June 1924. In World War II he commanded the 51st Troop Carrier Wing during Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.
Lester Maitland along with Lieutenant Albert F. Hegenberger, made the first trans-Pacific flight from California to Hawaii in 1927. He was the oldest USAAF pilot to fly combat missions in World War II, flying a Martin B-26 Marauder, the Texas Tarantula, as the commanding officer of the 386th Bombardment Group. He was awarded a Silver Star and retired with the rank of brigadier general.
The Curtiss R-6 Racers were single-engine, single seat, fully-braced single-bay biplanes with fixed landing gear, developed from the U.S. Navy Curtiss CR. The airplane and its D-12 Conqueror engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., Garden City, New York. The fuselage was a stressed-skin monocoque, built with two layers of wood veneer covered by a layer of doped fabric. The wings were also built of wood, with plywood skins and fabric-covered ailerons. Surface radiators were used for engine cooling.
The two R-6 Racers were built of the U.S. Army at a cost of $71,000, plus $5,000 for spare parts.
The Curtiss R-6 was 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) long with a wing span of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,121 pounds (962 kilograms).
The R-6 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 1,145.111-cubic-inch-displacement (18.765 liter) Curtiss D-12 dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which was developed by Arthur Nutt, based on the earlier Curtiss K-12 which had been designed by Charles B. Kirkham. The D-12 had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.7:1, and was rated at 415 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and 460 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. During testing, it produced a 475 horsepower at 2,320 r.p.m. using a 50/50 mixture of 95-octane gasoline and benzol. The D-12 was a direct-drive engine and it turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, forged aluminum propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The Curtiss D-12 was 56¾ inches (1.441 meters) long, 28¼ inches (0.718 meters) wide and 34¾ inches (0.882 meters) high. It weighed 680 pounds (308 kilograms).
The R-6 racer had a maximum speed of 240 miles per hour (386 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 22,000 feet (6,706 meters), and it had a maximum range of 281 miles (452 kilometers).
A.S. 68564 disintegrated in flight at the Pulitzer Trophy Race, 4 October 1924, killing its pilot, Captain Burt E. Skeel.
12 October 1961: From August to October 1961, Jackie Cochran, a consultant to Northrop Corporation, set a series of speed, distance and altitude records while flying a Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon supersonic trainer, serial number 60-0551. On the final day of the record series, she set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records, taking the T-38 to altitudes of 16,841 meters (55,253 feet) in horizontal flight ¹ and reaching a peak altitude of 17,091 meters (56,073 feet). ²
Famed U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, a close friend of Jackie Cochran, kept notes during the record series:
“October 12 Jackie took off at 9 am in the T-38 using afterburner. Bud Anderson and I chased her in the F-100. It was an excellent flight with everything working perfect. Jackie entered the course at 55,800 feet at .93 Mach and accelerated to radar. At the end of the run Jackie pulled up to 56,800 and then pushed over. She cut the right afterburner at 52,000 feet and the left one at 50,000. At 12,000 feet she removed the face piece from her pressure suit and made a perfect landing on the lake bed.
“Northrop-Air (Norair) presented Miss Cochran with one dozen yellow roses.
“A very tender ending to a wonderful program and a fitting token to a wonderful lady—a pilot who gave Norair much more than they expected.”
— 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 307–308.
The T-38A is a two-seat, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is powered by two General Electric J85-5A turbojet engines producing 2,050 pounds of thrust (3,850 with afterburner). Jackie Cochran demonstrated its maximum speed, Mach 1.3. It has a service ceiling of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and a range of 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers). In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. It remains in service with the U.S. Air Force, 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.