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29 October 1953

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 during speed record attempt at the Salton Sea, 29 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 during a speed record attempt at the Salton Sea, 29 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

29 October 1953: Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, U.S. Air Force, flew a new prototype air superiority fighter, North American Aviation’s YF-100A Super Sabre, serial number 52-5754, over the 3 kilometer and 15 kilometer courses at the Salton Sea, California.

For four runs on the short course, Everest averaged 757.75 miles per hour. Although this was 4.80 miles per hour (7.725 kilometers per hour) faster than the record set three weeks earlier by Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, U.S. Navy, with a Douglas XA4D-1 Skyray,¹ it was not fast enough to set a new world record under FAI rules, which required that a new record exceed the previous record by 1%.

Next came four speed runs over the 15/25 kilometer course. All runs were made with the Super Sabre flying within 100 feet (30 meters) of the ground. The official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) average speed was 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour)—0.99 Mach.²

Lieutenant Colonel Frank K. Everest and the North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre, 52-5754, 29 October 1953. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The course at the Salton Sea was used because its surface lies 235 feet (72 meters) below Sea Level. The denser air causes undesired supersonic effects to occur at higher speeds, allowing the pilot a greater margin of control during the speed record runs.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 over Edwards Air Force Base during its first flight, 25 May 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 over Edwards Air Force Base, 25 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Pete Everest joined the United States Army Air Corps shortly before the United States entered World War II. He graduated from pilot training in 1942 and was assigned as a P-40 Warhawk pilot, flying combat missions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was credited with shooting down two German airplanes and damaging a third. Everest was returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor. He requested a return to combat and was then sent to the China-Burma-India theater of operations. He shot down four Japanese airplanes. He was himself shot down by ground fire in May 1945. He was captured by the Japanese and suffered torture and inhumane conditions before being freed at the end of the war.

After the war, Everest was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, before going west to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. At Edwards, he was involved in nearly every flight test program, flying the F-88, F-92, F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105 fighters, the XB-51, YB-52, B-57 and B-66 bombers. He also flew the pure research aircraft, the “X planes”: the X-1, X-1B, X-2, X-3, X-4 and X-5. Pete Everest flew the X-1B to Mach 2.3, and he set a world speed record with the X-2 at Mach 2.9 (1,957 miles per hour, 3,149.5 kilometers per hour) which earned him the title, “The Fastest Man Alive.”

Frank Everest returned to operational assignments and commanded a fighter squadron, two combat crew training wings, and was assigned staff positions at the Pentagon. In 1965, Everest was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was commander of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 33 years of service. General Everest died in 2004.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall Everest, U.S. Air Force.

The YF-100A prototype had flown faster than Mach 1 on its first flight, 25 May 1953, with North American test pilot George S. Welch. It was the first airplane capable of supersonic speed in level flight

The North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre was designed as a supersonic day fighter. Initially intended as an improved F-86D and F-86E, it soon developed into an almost completely new airplane. The fuselage incorporated the “area rule,” a narrowing in the fuselage width at the wings to increase transonic performance, similar to the Convair F-102A. The Super Sabre had a 49° 2′ sweep to the leading edges of the wings and horizontal stabilizer. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings and there were no flaps, resulting in a high stall speed in landing configuration. The horizontal stabilizer was moved to the bottom of the fuselage to keep it out of the turbulence created by the wings at high angles of attack. The F-100A had a distinctively shorter vertical fin than the YF-100A. The upper segment of the vertical fin was swept 49° 43′.

North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

There were two service test prototypes, designated YF-100A, followed by the production F-100A series. The first ten production aircraft (all of the Block 1 variants) were used in the flight testing program.

The F-100A Super Sabre was 47 feet, 1¼ inches (14.357 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters). With the shorter vertical fin, the initial F-100As had an overall height of 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters), 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) less than the YF-100A.

The F-100A had an empty weight of 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms), and gross weight of 28,899 pounds (13,108 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight was 35,600 pounds (16,148 kilograms). It had an internal fuel capacity of 755 gallons (2,858 liters) and could carry two 275 gallon (1,041 liter) external fuel tanks.

North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754, 19 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The early F-100As were powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 afterburning turbojet engine. It was rated at  9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) for takeoff, and 14,800 pounds (65.834 kilonewtons) with afterburner. Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor, and a 3-stage turbine. (Both had high- and low-pressure stages.) The engine was 15 feet, 3.5 inches (4.661 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.0 inches (1.041 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,390 pounds (1,991 kilograms).

North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The Super Sabre was the first U.S. Air Force fighter capable of supersonic speed in level flight. It could reach 760 miles per hour (1,223 kilometers) at Sea Level. (Mach 1 is 761.1 miles per hour, 1,224.9 kilometers per hour, under standard atmospheric conditions.) Its maximum speed was 852 miles per hour (1,371 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling was 44,900 feet (13,686 meters). Maximum range with external fuel was 1,489 miles (2,396 kilometers).

The F-100 was armed with four M39 20 mm autocannons, capable of firing at a rate of 1,500 rounds per minute. The ammunition capacity of the F-100 was 200 rounds per gun.

North American Aviation built 199 F-100A Super Sabres at its Inglewood, California, plant before production shifted to the F-100C fighter bomber variant. Approximately 25% of all F-100As were lost in accidents.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test. (The McMahon Photo Art Gallery & Archive)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test, 18 June 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9871

² FAI Record File Number 8868

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 September 1954

Major John L. Armstrong, U.S. Air Force, standing on the wing of his record-setting F-86H-1-NH  Sabre. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

3 September 1954: At the Dayton Air Show, being held for the first time at the James M. Cox Municipal Airport, Major John L. (“Jack”) Armstrong, U.S. Air Force, flew his North American Aviation F-86H-1-NH Sabre, 52-1998, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 1,045.206 kilometers per hour (649.461 miles per hour).¹

Similar to the F-86H-1-NA Sabre flown by Captain Armstrong, this is F-86H-10-NH 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)
Similar to the F-86H-1-NH Sabre flown by Captain Armstrong, this is F-86H-10-NH 53-1298. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86H was a fighter-bomber variant of the famous Sabre Jet day fighter. It was equipped with a much more powerful General Electric J73-GE-3 turbojet engine. The engine was larger that the J47 used in previous F-86 models, and this required a much larger air intake and airframe modifications. The fuselage was 6 inches deeper and two feet longer than the F-86F. This accommodated the new engine and an increase in fuel load. The tail surfaces were changed with an increase in the height of the vertical fin and the elevators were changed to an “all-flying” horizontal stabilizer. The first F-86Hs built retained the six Browning AN-M3 .50 caliber machine guns of the F-86F, but this was quickly changed to four Pontiac M39 20 millimeter revolver cannon.

Another view of North American Aviation F-86-10-NH Sabre 53-1298. This fighter bomber i similar to the airplane flown by Colonel Armstrong to set a world speed record. (U.S. Air Force)
Another view of North American Aviation F-86-10-NH Sabre 53-1298. This fighter bomber is similar to the airplane flown by Major Armstrong to set a world speed record. (U.S. Air Force)

The North American Aviation F-86H Sabre was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters). Empty weight was 13,836 pounds (6,276 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,296 pounds (11,021 kilograms).

The F-86H was powered by a General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, turbojet engine, which used a 12-stage compressor section with variable inlet vanes, 10 combustion chambers and 2-stage turbine section. It produced 8,920 pounds of thrust (39.68 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. The J73 was 16 feet, 8 inches (5.08 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.5 inches (1.03 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,650 pounds (1,656 kilograms).

The F-86H had a maximum speed of 692 miles per hour (1,114 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 617 miles per hour (993 kilometers) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The fighter bomber had an initial rate of climb of 12,900 feet per minute (65.53 meters per second) and it could reach 30,000 feet in 5.7 minutes. The service ceiling was 50,800 feet (15,484 meters). With bombs, the F-86H had a combat radius of 403 miles (649 kilometers) at 552 miles per hour (888 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range was 1,810 miles (2,913 kilometers).

F-86H Sabres (after the first ten production airplanes) were armed with four Pontiac M39 20 mm autocannon with 600 rounds of ammunition. In ground attack configuration, they could carry rockets and bombs or “Special Store” that would be delivered by “toss bombing.” 473 F-86H Sabres were built before production ended.

The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954, but by 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard. The last one was retired in 1972.

North American Aviation F-86H Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)

John L. Armstrong was born in Orange County, California, 19 July 1922. He was the fourth child of Milton Williams Armstrong, an engineer, and Olive M. Meyer Armstrong. As a child, he was called “Jake.”

Major Armstrong had been a fighter pilot during World War II, flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, initially with the 554 Fighter Training Squadron, 496th Fighter Training Group.

On 13 March 1944, Armstrong made a forced landing at North Killingholme when his fighter ran out of fuel.

2nd Lieutenant Armstrong was assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group based at RAF Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, England, 26 March 1944. He flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning.

Lt. John L. Armstrong, 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, with a Lockheed P-38 Lightning,1944. (The 20th Fighter Group Project)

The 79th transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. Armstrong was promoted to first lieutenant 26 June 1944. He was officially credited with having destroyed one enemy Focke-Wulf Fw 190. On 28 August 1944, while flying his 30th combat mission, his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13791, Guardian Angel,  was shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire while he was attacking a railway roundhouse at Bad Greuznach, Germany. Armstrong bailed out but was captured and held at Stalag Luft I at Barth, Western Pomerania. He was returned to U.S. military control in June 1945.

Major Armstrong had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.

Two days after setting the speed record, Jack Armstrong was attempting to increase it. His Sabre broke up in flight and Major Armstrong was killed. His remains were buried at the Loma Vista Memorial Park, Fullerton, California, 11 September 1954.

This exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, ohio, commemorates Major Armstrong's record-setting flight. His flight helmet is included in the display. (U.S. Air Force)
This exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, commemorates Major Armstrong’s record-setting flight. His flight helmet is included in the display. Visible behind the display case is North American Aviation F-86H-10-NH Sabre 53-1352.  (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8860

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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