17 November 1954: In a ceremony at The White House, Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States of America, presented the Harmon aviation trophies to Ms. Jacqueline Cochran and Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force.
Jackie Cochran won the Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for her record-breaking flight in the Orenda-powered Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk.3, 18 May 1953. She set two new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Records at 1,050.18 kilometers per hour (652.55 miles per hour) over a 100-kilometer closed circuit.¹
Flying at an altitude of just 300 feet (91 meters), Cochran had to hold the Sabre in a 30° bank around the 63-mile circular course.
Chuck Yeager had been selected for the Harmon International Trophy for his flight in the Bell X-1A rocketplane on 12 December 1953. He flew the X-1A to Mach 2.44 (1,621 miles per hour/2,609 kilometers per hour) at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters), faster than anyone had flown before.
After the rocket engine was shut down, the X-1A tumbled out of control—”divergent in three axes” in test pilot speak—and fell out of the sky. It dropped nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in 70 seconds. Yeager was exposed to accelerations of +8 to -1.5 g’s. The motion was so violent that Yeager cracked the rocketplane’s canopy with his flight helmet.
Yeager was finally able to recover by 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.
Yeager later remarked that if the X-1A had an ejection seat he would have used it.
Bell Aircraft Corporation engineers had warned Yeager not to exceed Mach 2.3.
2 Nov 1950: In a ceremony at The White House, Washington, D.C., President Harry S. Truman presented the Harmon International Trophies for the period 1940–1949. The Harmon aviator’s trophy was awarded to Lieutenant General James Harold (“Jimmy”) Doolittle, United States Air Force (Retired), the wartime commanding general of the Eighth Air Force. General Doolittle had previously been awarded the Harmon U.S. national aviator’s trophy in 1929, for his work on instrument flying.
The international aviatrix trophy went to Colonel Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Cochran, U.S. Air Force Reserve, for her service as Director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), 1942–1944. She would eventually win fourteen Harmon trophies.
The international aeronaut trophy was presented to Vice Admiral Charles E. Rosendahl, commanding the U.S. Navy’s lighter-than-aircraft during World War II. This was Admiral Rosendahl’s fourth Harmon Trophy.
21 September 1937: Jackie Cochran flew the Seversky Aircraft Corporation SEV-1XP, registered R18Y, over a 3 kilometer (1.864 statute miles) course at Detroit Wayne County Airport, Romulus, Michigan. The average speed for six passes was 470.40 kilometers per hour (292.29 miles per hour). This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed record.¹
The Lansing, Michigan, State Journal reported:
New York Aviatrix Smashes the Feminine World’s Speed Record at Detroit
BETTERS MARK SET BY FRENCH WOMAN
Jacqueline Cochran Averages Speed of 293.05 M.P.H. In 3-Kilometer Flight
DETROIT, Sept. 21 (AP)—Jacqueline Cochran, New York aviatrix, averaged 293.05 miles an hour in four flights over a three-kilometer course Tuesday, bettering the women’s land plane speed record of 276.527 miles an hour established in 1934 by the late Helene Boucher of France.
Miss Cochran made six flights, three east and three west, over the course, but only four of the flights were included in the official computation. She was timed at 304.62 miles an hour in her fastest dash, an eastward flight. Her speed on the slowest flight was 282.06 miles an hour.
All of the flights were at altitudes of between 100 and 150 feet, thus complying with a National Aeronautics association [sic] rule that flights for records must be made below 250 feet.
Miss Cochran flew a Seversky military pursuit demonstrator, with a 1,200 horsepower engine. The plane is of a type similar to a fleet soon to be put in use at Selfridge field, Mt. Clemens, Mich.
“Ever since I started flying, five years ago, I’ve dreamed of doing this,” Miss Cochran said when she was notified of her record speed.
Her record attempt, made at the Wayne county airport, was postponed four times by adverse winds. She had perfect weather conditions Tuesday.
Airport officials said Miss Cochran’s flights were the fastest ever flown at the airport, by either a man or a woman.
—The State Journal, Vol. 83, Tuesday, 21 September 1937, Page 8, Column 1
For this and her other accomplishments, Ms. Cochran was awarded the Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt in a ceremony in New York City, 4 April 1938.
The Seversky SEV-1XP (also called the “SEV-S1 Executive”) was the original prototype for a fly-off against the Curtiss-Wright Model 75 Hawk and Northrop 3A improved version of the P-35 fighter, which was designed by Alexander Kartveli. The P-35 was the first U.S. Army Air Corps single-engine airplane to feature all-metal construction, an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear.
The airplane had originally been built as a single-place, open cockpit monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was designated the Seversky II X, s/n 2, and given the experimental registration mark X18Y. In order to compete for the Army Air Corps pursuit contract of 1935, X18Y was modified into a two-place fighter with an enclosed canopy. It was armed with two machine guns mounted in the engine cowling, while a gunner sat behind the pilot with a third machine gun on a flexible mount. Still officially the Seversky II X, the company called it the SEV-2XP.
In this configuration, X18Y was powered by an experimental air-cooled, supercharged, Wright Aeronautical Division GR1670A1 Whirlwind. This was a two-row, 14-cylinder radial engine with a displacement of 1,666.860 cubic inches (27.315 liters). It had a compression ratio of 6.75:1 and required 87-octane gasoline. The GR1670A1 had a normal power rating of 775 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. It drove an experimental three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller through a 16:11 gear reduction. The GR1670A1 was 45 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter, 52-25/32 inches (1.341 meters) long, and weighed 1,160 pounds (526 kilograms).
In mid-May 1935, Major de Seversky flew the prototype from the factory at Farmingdale, New York, toward Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. The engine overheated, then seized, and Seversky made a forced landing on a small hilltop airfield near St. Clairsville, Ohio. X18Y suffered slight damage. A local pilot flew Seversky on to the meeting at Wright. Once there, he saw the Curtiss-Wright and Northrop competition, both single-place pursuits with retractable landing gear. The SEV-2XP was outclassed.
After repairs, on 20 June Seversky flew X18Y out of the small field and returned it to Farmingdale. It was extensively reconfigured as a single-place airplane. A new wing with retractable landing gear was installed, as were new tail surfaces. A Wright Cyclone R-1820G4 9-cylinder radial engine replaced the experimental GR1670A1. The G4 had a normal power rating of 810 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., using 87-octane gasoline. Seversky redesignated X18Y as the SEV-1XP. After a fly off with the modified prototype, the Air Corps placed an order for 100 Seversky P-35s.
Seversky continued to experiment with new engines, installing a GR-1820G5. In January 1937, a change was made to the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-13, the same engine being installed in production Curtiss-Wright P-36 Hawks. This was a two-row, supercharged 14-cylinder radial engine with a normal power rating of 900 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,050 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The airplane retained the same three-bladed constant -speed Hamilton Standard propeller which had been used with the Wright Cyclone engine. It was driven through a 3:2 gear reduction.
X18Y was reconfigured as a two-place civilian transport, with a small passenger cabin below and behind the cockpit. There were two fixed windows on the left side of the fuselage, and the passenger entered through a hatch on the right side, over the wing. A Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp SB-G was fitted. This engine was very slight smaller and weighed lest than the R-1830-13, and had a normal rating of 900 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m. to 6,500 feet (1,981 meters), and 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for takeoff.
In this new configuration the SEV-1XP was called the “SEV-S1 Executive.” The experimental registration was changed to restricted: R18Y.
On 4 September 1937, R18Y was flown by Seversky’s chief test pilot, Frank Sinclair, in the cross-country Bendix Trophy Race. It carried the race number 63 on the vertical fin. Sinclair finished in fourth place, 33 minutes behind Jackie Cochran in her green Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing. He then flew R18Y in the Thompson Trophy pylon race, again finishing fourth with an average of 252.360 miles per hour (406.134 kilometers per hour).
On 27 October the SEV-1XP reverted to its experimental license number, X18Y.
Ms. Cochran continued to fly the Seversky in speed record attempts. On 3 December she flew it from Floyd Bennett Field in New York to Miami, Florida, in an elapsed time of 4:12:27.2, averaging 278.13 miles per hour (447.61 kilometers per hour).
On 9 December Jackie flew X18Y to a new U.S. national record speed of 252.875 miles per hour (406.963 kilometers per hour) over a 100-kilometer course. She was attempting to increase the her speed on 13 December, reaching an average 255.973 miles per hour (411.949 kilometers per hour).
When she landed at Miami after the record runs, the Seversky’s tail wheel began rapidly swinging from side to side. This was something that the P-35s were experiencing and a number of the fighters had been wrecked. Jackie said, “One wing was pulled off altogether and the landing gear was torn off,” she said. “The tail [wheel] had jumped its lock throwing the plane to one side.”
The SEV-1XP was damaged beyond economical repair. In less than three years it had served its purpose. Seversky would build a new airplane. X18Y’s registration was suspended 4 January 1938 and the airplane was scrapped.
Amy Johnson was born 1 July 1903 at Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the first of two daughters of John William Johnson and Amy Hodge Johnson. She attended The Boulevard Municipal Secondary School in Kingston before going on to the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. There, she majored in Economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.
Miss Johnson worked as a secretary for a London law firm from 1925 to 1929. She joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane, where one of her flight instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, M.C., A.F.C., a World War I fighter pilot who would later co-found the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight.
Johnson was issued a Pilot’s Certificate and License by the Air Ministry of Great Britain, 6 July 1929. This was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and in December 1929, became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic).
With the financial assistance of her father and of Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, the founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (better known as Castrol), she purchased a one-year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had previously been owned by Air Taxis Ltd., of Stag Lane (a company formed by G.B.H. “Rex” Mundy and Captain W. Laurence Hope) and first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.
On 5 May 1929, Amy Johnson and Jason took off from Croyden Aerodrome on a 19-day, 11,000-mile (17,700 kilometer) journey to Australia. She arrived at Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May.
For her accomplishment, she won a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, a London newspaper. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.
In the King’s Birthday Honours, announced 3 June 1930, George V, King of the United Kingdom and British Dominions, appointed Amy Johnson a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD
St. James’s Palace, S.W.1
3rd June, 1930.
The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday, to give orders for the following promotions in, and appointments to, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire :—
To be Commanders of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order :—
Miss Amy Johnson, in recognition of her outstanding flight to Australia.
—Supplement to the London Gazette, Number 33611, Tuesday, 3 June, 1930, at Page 3481
Amy Johnson made a number of record setting long-distance flights, both solo and with other pilots, one of whom was James Allan Mollison. Mollison proposed marriage only a few hours after first meeting her. They married in July 1932. She soon after set a new record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”
The couple made a transatlantic flight, another flight from Britain to India, and competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. She was twice elected president of the Women’s Engineering Society.
In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, in the United States, where she studied advanced navigation under P. V. H. Weems, the acknowledged world authority in celestial navigation. (Among other devices, Weems invented the Weems Mark II Plotter, which every student pilot the world over would immediately recognize.)
Mr. and Mrs. Mollison divorced in 1938.
During World War II, Amy Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. (Fellow record-setter Jackie Cochran also flew for the ATA before returning to America to found the WASPs.) Johnson held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant.
On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.
The following morning, 5 January, although weather was very poor with falling snow limiting visibility, Johnson departed Squires Gate at approximately 10:30 a.m., to continue her assignment. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.
What took place thereafter is not known. There was speculation that she was unable to land at Kidlington due to poor weather and continued flying east, perhaps finally running out of fuel.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson bailed out of the Oxford and parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The airplane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.
Amy Johnson’s parachute was seen by the crew of HMS Haslemere, a barrage balloon tender assigned to the Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage in the Estuary. They attempted to rescue her and in the process, the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Edmund Fletcher, Royal Navy, dove into the water. In the cold temperatures and rough conditions, Fletcher died. For his effort to rescue Johnson, he was awarded the Albert Medal, posthumously.
Amy Johnson is presumed to have drowned. Her body was not recovered. Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found soon after.
In recent years, stories have emerged that the AS.10 was shot down after Johnson twice gave the incorrect response to a radio challenge. Tom Mitchell, an anti-aircraft gunner of the 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, at Iwade, a small village along the shore of the Thames Estuary, said in 1999 that he shot her down under orders, firing 16 shells at the Oxford. The men of the battery were ordered to never mention the incident. There were contemporary reports that a destroyer had also fired on Johnson, though the Admiralty denied this.
More recently, former crewmen of HMS Haslemere have said that, rather than having drowned, Amy Johnson was killed by the ship’s propellers as it maneuvered to pick her up.
What is known, however, is that Flight Officer, Amy Johnson, C.B.E., died in the service of her country.
Amy Johnson, C.B.E., B.A., A.R.Ae.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.E., M.W.E.S., was a legendary pioneering aviator. Her accomplishments are far greater, and her skills as a pilot superior, to those of others who may have achieved greater public acclaim (especially in the United States). She is one of the great individuals in the history of aviation.
NEW YORK, June 15. (AP)—Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt today presented the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy to Jacqueline Cochran for the second year in succession as “the world’s outstanding woman flyer.”
In addition, Miss Cochran, who in private life is Mrs. Floyd Odlum, was awarded a medal stamped in memory of the late King Albert of Belgium—the first American to receive it.
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. LVIII, Friday, 16 June 1939, Part I, Page 13, Column 1
Ms. Cochran was awarded the trophy by Mrs. Roosevelt at an Advertising Club luncheon in New York City. It was the second time she had won the Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy. The 1939 trophy was in honor of Cochran’s winning the Bendix Trophy Race, 1 September 1938.
Jackie Cochran departed the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 3:00 a.m., 1 September 1939, flying her Seversky AP-7, NX1384, c/n 145. Her destination was Cleveland, Ohio, the finish line for the Bendix Trophy Race, 2,042 miles (3,286 kilometers) away.
Ms. Cochran was the third pilot to leave Burbank, but the first to arrive at Cleveland. Her elapsed time for the flight from California to Ohio was 8 hours, 10 minutes, 31.4 seconds, for an average speed of 249.774 miles per hour (401.895 kilometers per hour). For her first place finish, Ms. Cochran won a prize of $12,500.