4 March 1957: At 6:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, a United States Navy non-rigid airship, Goodyear ZPG-2, Bu. No. 141561, departed NAS South Weymouth, Boston, Massachussetts, on a long-dstance flight to demonstrate the capabilities of a modern lighter-than-air military “blimp.” The airship had been involved in cold-weather testing and had been given the name, Snow Bird. During this flight, the blimp used the radio call sign “Planner 12.”
Snow Bird was under the command of Commander Jack Reed Hunt, U.S.N.R., a fifteen-year veteran of airship operations. There were two additional pilots, Commander Ronald W. Hoel, U.S.N., and Lieutenant Commander Robert S. Bowser, U.S.N. The crew also consisted of three navigators, Lieutenant Stanley W. Dunton, Lieutenant Charles J. Eadie, and Lieutenant John R. Fitzpatrick. The remainder of the crew were Chief Aviation Electronicsman (ALC) Lee N. Steffan, crew chief and radio; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class (AD1) Thomas L. Cox, flight mechanic; Aviation Electricians’s Mate 1st Class (AE1) Carl W. Meyer, electrician; Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class (AG1) William S.Dehn, Jr., aerologist and photographer; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class (AD2) James R. Burkett, Jr., flight mechanic; Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) George A. Locklear, rigger and cook; and Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AT2) Frank J. Maxymillian, radio. Also on board the air ship was a civilian flight engineer, Mr. Edgar L Moore, a Goodyear Aircraft Corporation Field Representative.
Snow Bird headed east across the Atlantic Ocean, passing north of the Azores on 7 March. At this point, the airship had burned off enough fuel that it was light enough to cruise on one engine. This allowed a much greater range. (A lateral rive shaft between engines allowed both propellers to continue turning.) Late in the third day the flight, the blimp reached the west coast of Portugal, having completed the first Atlantic crossing by a lighter-than-air craft in 12 years.
Snow Bird turned south, heading for Casablanca on the west coast of North Africa, which it reached the morning of 8 March. The airship continued south along the African coast before turning west to re-cross the ocean. The route took the blimp past the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, and then onward to the Virgin Islands. Arriving back in the United States, Snow Bird made landfall at Miami Beach on the afternoon of 14 March.
A radio message was sent to the crew of Planner 12 by Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations:
HEARTIEST CONGRATULATIONS ON ESTABLISHING A NEW WORLD ENDURANCE RECORD FOR AIRSHIPS X YOUR UNTIRING EFFORTS AND DEVOTION ARE MOST COMMENDABLE X THIS FLIGHT DEMONSTRATES AN INCREASED ASW AND AEW CAPABILITY AND OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS WHICH SERVE TO DEMONSTRATE A CONTINUING SEARCH FOR TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES BY THE U S NAVY X WELL DONE X ARLEIGH BURKE
Not finished with its voyage, the airship next headed to Dry Tortugas at the far western end of the Florida Keys, and then finally landed at NAS Key West, Florida, on 15 March.
Snow Bird had traveled 9,448 miles (15,205 kilometers) without landing or refueling. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) lists this as “the longest recorded airship flight.” This exceeded the distance record set by Graf Zeppelin, flying from Friedrichshaven, Germany, to Tokyo, Japan, (11,247 kilometers) 15–19 August 1929. From takeoff at NAS South Weymouth to landing at NAS Key West, the total duration of the flight was 264 hours, 14 minutes.
The crew was met by a large group of dignitaries. Commander Reed was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross by Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr., United States Navy, one of the greatest military leaders of World War II.
Commander Hunt was later presented the Harmon International Trophy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Goodyear ZPG-2 Bu. No. 141561 was built by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation at Akron, Ohio. It was the 11th of 12 “N-class” airships which were used for patrol, anti-submarine warfare ASW), and when equipped with radar, for airborne early warning (AEW).
The ZPG-2 is 343 feet (105 meters) long and the envelope has a maximum diameter of 76 feet (23 meters). A two-deck control car was suspended beneath the envelope. The airship had an overall height of 107 feet (33 meters). Bouyancy was provided by 1,011,000 cubic feet (28,628 cubic meters) of Helium.
There are four fins placed in a X-pattern at the tail of the ZPG-2, called ruddervators. (These were similar to the fins used on the experimental submarine USS Albacore (AGSS-569) several years later.) The ruddervators allowed the airship to be controlled by a single control column, a change from the two controls used previously. Also, the decreased vertical span of the fins allowed greater ground clearance, so that the blimp could takeoff at steeper angles than if it had been equipped with the standard cruciform fins.
The Goodyear ZPG-2 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,301.868 cubic inch displacement (21.334 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-1300-2 (Cyclone 7 865C7BA1) seven-cylinder radial engines mounted outside the control car. The R-1300-2 was a direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. It was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., for takeoff, using 91/96 octane aviation gasoline. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable pitch, reversible propellers. The R-1300-2 was 48.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 50.45 inches (1.281 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,067 pounds (484 kilograms).
The ZPG-2 had a cruise speed of 57 miles per hour (92 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). Its normal endurance was three days.
Bu. No. 141561’s cockpit, nose cone and a frame of a ruddervator are displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.
Jack Reed Hunt was born at Red Oak, Iowa, 18 May 1918. He was the second of seven children of Smith Reed Hunt, a baker, and Blanche Luise Seefeldt Hunt. The family moved to southern California, where Jack grew up.
Jack R. Hunt joint the United States Navy on 4 April 1942. He was trained as an airship pilot and flight instructor. Hunt was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, 1 October 1942, and promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade), 1 October 1943. Hunt remained in the Navy following World War II. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander 1 August 1951, and to Commander, 1 July 1956.
From 1963 until 1984, Jack Hunt was the president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a fully-accredited aerospace university.
Hunt was married three times (Bethel, Donna and Lynne) and had seven children. He died 7 January 1984, at the age of 65 years.
Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force, was born at Myra, Lincoln County, West Virginia, 13 February 1923. He was the second of five children of Albert Hal Yeager, a gas field driller, and Susan Florence Sizemore Yeager. He attended Hamlin High School, at Hamlin, West Virginia, graduating in 1940.
Chuck Yeager enlisted as a private, Air Corps, United States Army, 12 September 1941, at Fort Thomas, Newport, Kentucky. He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall (1.73 meters) and weighed 133 pounds (60 kilograms), with brown hair and blue eyes. He was assigned service number 15067845. Initially an aircraft mechanic, he soon applied for flight training. Private Yeager was accepted into the “flying sergeant” program.
Sergeant Yeager completed flight training at Yuma, Arizona, and on 10 March 1943, he was given a warrant as a Flight Officer, Air Corps, Army of the United States.
Assigned to the 363rd Fighter Squadron at Tonopah, Nevada, Flight Officer Yeager completed advanced training as a fighter pilot in the Bell P-39 Airacobra.
On 23 October 1943, while practicing tactics against a formation of Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers, the engine of Yeager’s P-39 exploded. He wrote,
I was indicating about 400 mph when there was a roaring explosion in he back. Fire came out from under my seat and the airplane flew apart in different directions. I jettisoned the door and stuck my head out, and the prop wash seemed to stretch my neck three feet. I jumped for it. When the chute opened, I was knocked unconscious. . . I was moaning and groaning in a damned hospital bed. My back was fractured and it hurt like hell.
—Yeager: An Autobiography, Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, Inc., New York, 1985, Chapter 3 at Page 21
When the 363rd deployed to England in November 1943, he transitioned to the North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. He named his P-51B-5-NA, 43-6762, Glamourus Glen, after his girlfriend. The airplane carried the squadron identification markings B6 Y on its fuselage. On 4 March 1945, he shot down an enemy Messerschmitt Bf-109G.
On his eighth combat mission, the following day, Yeager was himself shot down east of Bourdeaux, France, by Focke-Wulf Fw 190A 4 flown by Unteroffizier Irmfried Klotz.
. . . The world exploded and I ducked to protect my face with my hands, and when I looked a second later, my engine was on fire, and there was a gaping hole in my wingtip. The airplane began to spin. It happened so fast, there was no time to panic. I knew I was going down; I was barely able to unfasten my safety belt and crawl over the seat before my burning P-51 began to snap and roll, heading for the ground. I just fell out of the cockpit when the plane turned upside down—my canopy was shot away.
—Yeager: an Autobiography, by Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, Chapter 4 at Page 26.
Yeager was slightly wounded. His Mustang was destroyed. Over the next few months he evaded enemy soldiers and escaped through France and Spain, returning to England in May 1944. He returned to combat with a new P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, which he named Glamorous Glenn II.¹ He later flew Glamorous Glen III, P-51D-15-NA Mustang, 44-14888.²
Flight Officer Yeager was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States, 6 July 1944. A few months later, 24 October 1944, he was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. Between 4 March and 27 November 1944, Captain Yeager was officially credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed during 67 combat missions.
During World War II, Captain Yeager had been awarded the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star Medal with “V” (for valor); Air Medal with 6 oak leaf clusters (7 awards); and the Purple Heart.
With the end of the War in Europe approaching, Yeager was rotated back to the United States.
Captain Yeager married Miss Glennis Faye Dickhouse of Oroville, California, 26 February 1945, at at the Yeager family home in Hamlin, West Virginia. The double-ring ceremony was presided over by Rev. Mr. W. A. DeBar of the Trinity Methodist Church. “The pretty brunette was attired in a light aqua crepe dress of street length. Her accessories were black and her corsage was fashioned of yellow rosebuds.”
On 10 February 1947, Captain Yeager received a commission as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank retroactive to 6 July 1944 (the date of his A.U.S. commission). He was promoted to first lieutenant on 6 July 1947. (These were permanent Regular Army ranks. Yeager continued to serve in the temporary rank of captain.) When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service, 18 September 1947, Yeager became an Air Force officer.
Captain Yeager was assigned to the six-month test pilot school at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He took part in several test projects, including the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star and Republic P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. Captain Yeager was then selected by Colonel Albert Boyd to fly the experimental Bell XS-1 rocket plane at Muroc Field in the high desert of southern California.
After a series of gliding and powered flights, on 14 October 1957, Captain Yeager and the XS-1 were dropped from a modified B-29 Superfortress at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,048 meters). (Yeager had named his new rocket plane Glamorous Glennis.) Starting the 4-chambered Reaction Motors rocket engine, Yeager accelerated to Mach 1.06 at 42,000 feet. He had “broken” the Sound Barrier.
Yeager made more than 40 flights in the X-1 over the next two years, exceeding 1,000 miles per hour (1,610 kilometers per hour) and 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). He was awarded the Mackay and Collier Trophies in 1948. In 1949, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded its Gold Medal to Captain Yeager. General Yeager’s gold medal is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, along with the Bell X-1 rocket plane, Glamorous Glennis.
The X-1 was followed by the Bell X-1A. On 12 December 1953, Major Yeager flew the new rocket plane to 1,650 miles per hour (2,655 kilometers per hour), Mach 2.44, at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters).
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 rocket plane’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.
During the Korean War, Major Yeager test flew a captured North Korean Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter. Its pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, had flown it to Kimpo Air Base, Republic of South Korea, on 21 September 1953.
On 17 November 1954, in a ceremony at The White House, President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented the Harmon International Trophy to Major Yeager, for his Mach 2.44 flight. His friend, Jackie Cochran was awarded the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy at the same time.
In 1954, Major Yeager was assigned to command the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany. The 417th flew the North American Aviation F-86H Sabre.
In 1958, Lieutenant Colonel Yeager assumed command of the 1st Fighter Day Squadron at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, which was equipped with the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre.
Yeager attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama, graduating in June 1961.
On 23 July 1962, Colonel Yeager returned to Edwards Air Force Base to become commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School.
The Aerospace Research Pilots School trained all of the U.S. military’s astronaut candidates. One of the training aircraft was the Aerospace Trainer (AST), a highly-modifies Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter. The AST was equipped with a rocket engine and a reaction control system to provide pitch, roll and yaw control when at very high altitudes where the normal aircraft flight controls could not function.
On 10 December 1963, Colonel Yeager was flying an AST, 56-762, on a zoom climb profile, aimingg for an altitude record at approximately 120,000 feet ( meters). He reached only 108,000 feet (32,918 meters) however. On reentry, the AST’s pitch angle was incorrect and its engine would not restart. The airplane went into a spin.
Yeager rode the out-of-control airplane down 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before ejecting.
The data recorder would later indicate that the airplane made fourteen flat spins from 104,000 until impact on the desert floor. I stayed with it through thirteen of those spins before I punched out. I hated losing an expensive airplane, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. . . I went ahead and punched out. . . .
— Yeager, An Autobiography, by Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Pages 279–281.
Colonel Yeager commanded the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AFB, Philippine Islands, in July 1966. He flew 127 combat missions over Vietnam with the Martin B-57 Canberra light bomber.
Returning to the United States, in February 1968. Colonel Yeager took command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymore Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The 4th deployed to the Republic of Korea during the Pueblo Crisis.
Colonel Yeager was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, 1 August 1969 (date of rank 22 June 1969). He was appointed vice commander, Seventeenth Air Force, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Brigadier General Yeager served as a U.S. defense representative to Pakistan from 1971 to 1973. He was then assigned to the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, near Riverside, California. He took command of the center June 1973.
Brigadier General Yeager made his final flight as an active duty Air Force pilot in a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edward Air Force Base, 28 February 1975. During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours. He retired the following day, 1 March 1975, after 12,222 days of service.
Chuck Yeager’s popularity skyrocketed following the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff in 1979, and the release of The Ladd Company’s movie which was based on it. (Yeager had a “cameo” appearance in the film.) He became a spokesperson for AC Delco and the Northrop Corporation’s F-20 Tigershark lightweight fighter prototype. In 1986 and 1988, he drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Yeager co-wrote an autobiography, Yeager, with Leo Janos, published in 1985, and followed in 1988 with Press On!, co-authored by Charlres Leerhsen.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed General Yeager to the Rogers Commission investigating the Challenger Disaster.
Glennis Yeager passed away 22 December 1990 at Travis Air Force Base, Sacramento, California.
TDiA was present at Edwards Air Force Base, 14 October 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Yeager’s flight breaking the sound barrier. Flying in the forward cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-15D Eagle, with co-pilot Lieutenant Colonel Troy Fontaine and wingman Bob Hoover in a General Dynamics F-16 chase plane, Yeager again left a sonic boom in his path as he flew over the high desert.
On 22 August 2003, Chuck Yeager married Ms. Victoria Scott D’Angelo in a civil ceremony at Incline Village, Nevada.
Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired) died at a hospital in Los Angeles, California, 7 December 2020, at the age of 97 years.
¹ Glamorous Glenn II had initially been assigned to Captain K. Peters, who had named it Daddy Rabbit. The fighter crashed in bad weather 18 October 1944. 2nd Lieutenant Horace M. Roycroft was killed.
² Glamorous Glen III, renamed Melody’s Answer, was lost in combat 2 March 1945, south of Wittenburg, Germany. Its pilot, Flight Officer Patrick L. Mallione, was killed in action. (MACR 12869)
31 January 1951: Pan American World Airways Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., flew a modified North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, NX1202, named Excalibur III, from New York International Airport to London Airport in 7 hours, 48 minutes, with an average speed of 446 miles per hour (718 kilometers per hour). Captain Blair took advantage of the jet stream, flying as high as 37,000 feet (11,278 meters).
“At last, I was riding the jet stream, pushed by a tailwind exceeding 200 miles per hour. . . Above me, the sky was empty and blue; below the wings of my tiny aircraft a winter storm raged. Its upper canopy of white clouds gave it a look of complete innocence.”
—The Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday, 3 June 1951, Page 115
This was Blair’s 401st Atlantic crossing.
Blair’s flight did not set an official record. No arrangements had been made to have officials of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) available to observe the flight.
Interestingly, Excalibur III was impounded by HM Customs at the London Airport. Blair had not paid the £800 customs duty which would have allowed the Mustang to stay for six months. He would have had to fly the airplane back to the United States to avoid the aircraft being impounded.
The Chicago Daily Tribune reported the event:
LONE PILOT HOPS OCEAN IN LESS THAN 8 HOURS
LONDON, Jan. 31 (AP)— Air Line Capt. Charles Blair landed his scarlet Mustang fighter plane in a blaze of red flares tonight, chalking up a New York to London speed record of 7 hours 48 minutes. He clipped an hour and seven minutes off the old record.
Blair said his only troubles during the flight were some icing in the early stages and a painfully tight pair of boots.
As he climbed from the cockpit of the flying gas tank named Excalibur III and waved to a cheering crowd at London airport he winced and declared: “The first thing I do is get these boots off.”
Aided by Tail Winds
Blair left New York’s Idlewild airport at 3:50 a.m. Chicago time [09:50 UTC] and was clocked in here at 5:38 p.m. British time [11:38 a.m. Chicago time]. [17:38 UTC]
A Pan American Airways pilot, Blair took the time record from a Pan American Stratocruiser which made the eastward Nov. 22, 1949, with 24 passengers, in 8 hours and 55 minutes. Strong tail winds helped in both cases.
Blair, tall, dark, married, and 41, brought no luggage, but had a shaving kit and a tooth brush in a small leather bag.
His plane is powered by a Packard built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and was modified to hold 863 gallons of gasoline inside wings and fuselage without external tanks. He said the plane cost $25,000 to buy and revamp.
Averages 450 M. P. H.
Blair told newsmen at London airport: “It was a very good crossing. It wasn’t as fast as I expected, but after Gander, N.F., I had a tail wind of 130 miles an hour. But the weather wasn’t too good and there was some ice.”
Blair’s average speed was about 450 miles an hour and he made much of the jaunt at 37,000 feet.
He said the trip had a dual purpose, to break the record and to study the effect of high velocity winds on airliners in the lower stratosphere.
Blair will fly back to New York as a passenger in a Stratocruiser. He has to return by Saturday. On that day he will fly a planeload of passengers from New York to London.
—Chicago Daily Tribune, Volume CX—No. 28, Thursday, February 1, 1951, Part 1, at Page 6, Columns 4 and 5.
Blair was presented the Harmon International Trophy by President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony at the White House, 18 November 1952. The Harmon awards are for “the most outstanding international achievements in the art and/or science of aeronautics for the previous year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”
Charles Francis Blair, Jr., was born 19 July 1909 at Buffalo, New York, the second child of Charles F. Blair, an attorney, and Grace Ethelyn McGonegal Blair. He entered the University of Vermont, where is father was a member of the Board of Trustees, as a freshman in 1927. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta (ΦΔΘ) fraternity.
Blair was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, 16 August 1932.
On 6 September 1932, Ensign Blair married Miss Janice Evelyn Davis at Wallingford, Vermont. They would have two children, Suzanne, born in 1934, and Christopher Noel, born in 1950. The Blairs would later divorce.
He was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, 16 August 1937. During World War II, he served as a transport pilot in the U.S. Navy.
On 18 November 1952, Blair was one of three aviators to be awarded the Harmon Trophy. The presentation was made by President Harry Truman in a ceremony in The White House Rose Garden.
Blair resigned from the Naval Reserve in 1952 and the following year he accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel. In 1959, Blair was promoted to brigadier general.
While serving as a reserve officer, Charlie Blair continued his civilian career as an airline pilot for United Airlines, American Overseas Airlines, and then with Pan American.
On 12 March 1968, Captain Blair married to actress Maureen O’Hara, whom he had met during one of his 1,575 transatlantic crossings. It was the fourth marriage for both.
Captain Blair made his final flight with Pan American in July 1969. He had flown more than 45,000 hours and traveled more than 10,000,000 miles.
Blair was the author of Thunder Above (Henry Holt & Co., 1956), a novel co-written with A.J. Wallis and filmed as “Beyond the Curtain,” starring Richard Green and Eva Bartok, in 1960. He also wrote Red Ball in the Sky (Random House, 1969), an account of his career in aviation.
Brigadier General Charles Francis Blair, Jr., died 2 September 1978 in an airplane accident. His remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Excalibur III is a Dallas, Texas-built North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, one of a group of 400 fighters which had been contracted on 5 March 1943. Its North American Aviation serial number is 111-29080, and the U.S. Army Air Force assigned it serial number 44-10947.
After World War II, 44-10947 was transferred to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (a Depression-era agency of the United States government) at Searcy Field (SWO), Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was purchased by Paul Mantz, 19 February 1946, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration registered it as NX1202. Mantz had the Mustang painted red and named it Blaze of Noon. (Mantz was a movie pilot and aerial coordinator for the 1947 Paramount Pictures movie, “Blaze of Noon,” which was based on the Ernest K. Gann novel, Blaze of Noon, published in 1946.)
Paul Mantz flew NX1202 to win the 1946 and 1947 Bendix Trophy Races. Flown by Linton Carney and renamed The Houstonian, NX1202 placed second in the 1948 Bendix race, and with “Fish” salmon in the cockpit, it took third place in 1949.
Paul Mantz had set several speed records with the Mustang before selling it to Pan American World Airways, Inc., Blair’s employer. Blair named the Mustang Stormy Petrel, but later changed it to Excalibur III.
To increase the Mustang’s range for these long-distance flights, Mantz had removed the standard 90-gallon pressure-molded Firestone self-sealing tanks from each wing and converted the entire wing to a fuel tank (what is known as a “wet wing”).
The P-51B and P-51C Mustang are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc, at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).
P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.
The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), slightly faster than the more numerous P-51D Mustang. The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).
In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.
1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.
Though the P-51D with its bubble canopy was built in far greater numbers during World War II, the earlier P-51B and P-51C Mustangs were actually faster, so many surplus airplanes were used for racing and record attempts after the war.
In 1952, Pan American World Airways donated Excalibur III to the Smithsonian Institution. The airplane’s registration was cancelled 4 June 1952. Today, completely restored, it is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
A British PATHÉ news film of Blair’s arrival at London can be seen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdRbIQdnyQo
16 January 1929: After a 10-month, 18,000-mile (29,000-kilometer) solo flight from Croydon Aerodrome, London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, Mary, Lady Bailey, arrived back at the Stag Lane Aerodrome at Edgeware, London, flying a de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG.
A contemporary newspaper reported the event:
LADY BAILEY’S FLIGHT.
(British Official Wireless.)
LONDON, Jan. 16.
Lady Bailey landed at Croydon this afternoon in her De Havilland Moth aeroplane, thus completing a flight from London to Capetown and back. She was greeted at Croydon by a large and cheering crowd.
Lady Bailey is the first woman to fly from London to Capetown and back. She has made the longest flight ever accomplished by a woman, and her 18,000 miles journey is the longest solo flight by either a man or a woman. She is the first woman to have flown over the Congo and the Sahara.
The Royal Aeronautical Society, in congratulating Lady Bailey, pays tribute to her as one of the gallant pioneers of Aeronautics.
— The Sydney Morning Herald, No. 28,405. Friday, 18 January 1929, Page 13, Column 1.
Flight offered the following commentary:
A Great Little Lady
Exactly how many miles she has covered during her long flight is difficult to estimate; nor is this necessary for a full appreciation of the merits of Lady Bailey’s flight from London through Africa to the Cape, around Africa and home again. The general press has made much of the fact that Lady Bailey’s flight is the longest ever accomplished by a woman, and the longest solo flight ever undertaken, thus establishing two “records.” To us that is of very minor importance. What matters is that an Englishwoman should have chosen to see Africa from the air, and should have been prepared to rely entirely on her own resourcefulness in making the tour. Everyone who knows Lady Bailey at all well realises that personal “advertisement” is the last thing she would desire; she is the most modest and unassuming of women. But her great achievement must unavoidably bring her into the “limelight.” From her point of view the whole thing resolved itself into this: She wanted to tour Africa; she was already a private owner-pilot. What more natural, then, than that she should make the tour by air? Only those who have a fairly good knowledge of Africa, with its variety of country and climate, can realise the sort of task Lady Bailey set herself. That she should have completed the tour, as far as Paris, there to be held up by fogs, is but the irony of fate, and is an experience which has befallen many air travelers. Her great flight was in any case a tour and not a spectacular “stunt” flight intended to break records, so we should not let the delay on the final stage be regarded as other than one of many incidents on a tour that must have been full of surprises and disappointments. Through tropical heat, in rain or snow, across mountains, deserts and seas, Lady Bailey carried on with a quiet determination which is, we like to think, a characteristic of our race, and her de Havilland “Moth” and “Cirrus” engine did not let her down. England is proud of the trio and its achievements.
— FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1046. (No. 2. Vol. XXI.) 10 January 1929, at Page 20.
The Royal Aero Club (R.Ae.C.) awarded its Britannia Trophy for 1929 to Lady Bailey for the “most meritorious flight of the year.”
Lady Bailey was born The Hon. Mary Westenra, 1 December 1890, the daughter of the 5th Baron Rossmore. She married Colonel Sir Abe Bailey, 1st Bt., 5 September 1911 at the age of 20.
Soon after becoming a licensed pilot in early 1927 (Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate 8067), she flew across the Irish Sea, the first woman to do so. She set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude, 5,268 meters (17,283 feet), 5 July 1927.¹ She set several long distance solo flight records, including an 8,000-mile flight from Croydon, South London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, with her DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBSF, and an 10,000-mile return flight made with another DH.60 (after G-EBSF was damaged). These were the longest solo flight and the longest flight by a woman to that time.
Lady Bailey was twice awarded the Harmon Trophy (1927, 1928). In 1930, she was invested Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. During World War II, The Hon. Dame Mary Bailey, D.B.E., served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force with the rank Section Officer, equivalent to a Royal Air Force sergeant.
Lady Mary died 29 July 1960 at the age of 70.
G-EBTG (s/n 469) was a de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth which had been sold to Lady Bailey by Commander Lionel Mansfield Robinson of Nairobi, Kenya, as a replacement for her own Moth, G-EBSF (s/n 415), which had been damaged at Tabora, Tanganyika, 4 October 1928.
G-EBTG was reconditioned by de Havilland’s and a more powerful engine was installed. The airplane changed ownership several times, and was finally written off as damaged beyond repair after a collision with a furniture van in 1938.
The de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth was a two-place, single-engine light biplane with a wooden airframe which was covered with plywood, with sheet metal panels around the engine. The wings and tail surfaces were fabric-covered, and the wings could be folded to fit inside a small hangar. The “X” in the type designation indicates that the airplane has a split-axle main landing gear, which forms an X when seen from the front of the airplane.
The DH.60X Cirrus II Moth (also referred to as the Moth Type X) was 23 feet, 8½ inches (7.226 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters). Its height was 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded parallel to the fuselage, giving it a width of 9 feet, 10 inches (2.997 meters). The wings had a chord of 4 feet, 4⅜ inches (1.330 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 4 feet, 10 inches (1.473 meters) and lower wing was staggered 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) behind the upper. Both wings had 3.5° angle of incidence and 3.5° dihedral. There was no sweep. The airplane had an empty weight of 885 pounds (401 kilograms) and gross weight of 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms).
The Cirrus II Moth was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 4.942 liter (301.563-cubic-inch-displacement) A.D.C. (Aircraft Disposal Corporation, Ltd.) Cirrus Mark II four-cylinder vertical inline engine. This was a right-hand tractor, direct-drive, overhead-valve engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.9:1. It had a normal power rating of 78.5 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. and a maximum power rating of 84 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. The Cirrus Mk.II was 1.165 meters (3 feet, 9.87 inches) long, 0.482 meters (1 foot, 6.98 inches) wide and 0.904 meters (2 feet, 11.59 inches) high. It weighed 268 pounds (121.56 kilograms).
The DH.60X Cirrus II Moth had a cruise speed of 80–85 miles per hour (129–137 kilometers per hour) at 1,000 feet (305 meters). Its maximum speed at Sea Level was 102 miles per hour (164 kilometers per hour), and 97 miles per hour (156 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). It could climb to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in 14 minutes, and to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 37 minutes. Its absolute ceiling was 14,000–15,000 feet (4,267–4,572 meters). The airplane’s maximum range was 410 miles (660 kilometers).
In 1929, de Havilland offered the Moth Type X at a price of £650 (approximately £41,000, or $52,100, in 2019). The de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., built 32 of the DH.60 Cirrus II Moth variant. Nearly 900 of all DH.60 Moth models were built at the company’s factory at Stag Lane, and another 90 were built under license in Australia, France, and the United States.
14 December 1959: Air Force test pilot Captain Joe Bailey Jordan, United States Air Force, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in a Turbojet Aircraft, breaking a record set only 8 days before by Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., U.S. Navy, flying the number two prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260.¹
Flying a slightly modified Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter, 56-885, (the aft fuselage had been replaced by one from a two-place F-104B, which had larger tail surfaces), Jordan released the brakes at Edwards Air Force Base, and 15 minutes, 4.92 seconds later he reached 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) establishing an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for time-to-altitude.² The Starfighter continued the zoom climb profile, peaking at 103,389 feet (31,513 meters) ³ and going over the top at 455 knots (843 kilometers per hour). While accelerating for the zoom maneuver, Jordan’s F-104 reached Mach 2.36.
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules required that a new record must exceed the previous record by 3%. The Starfighter beat the Phantom II’s peak altitude by 4.95%. Captain Jordan was credited for his very precise flying and energy efficiency. For this flight, Captain Jordan was awarded the Harmon International Trophy.
Joe Bailey Jordan was born at Huntsville, Texas, 12 June 1929, the son of James Broughtan Jordan, a track foreman, and Mattie Lee Simms Jordan. He entered the Air Force in 1949, trained as a pilot and received his pilot’s wings 15 September 1950. He flew the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star during the Korean War, and served as a flight instructor after his return to the United States. He was a graduate of both the Air Force Test Pilot School and the Air Force Fighter Weapons School. He became a project test pilot on the F-104 in 1956.
Jordan married Dolores Ann Craig of Spokane, Washington, 8 February 1958, at Santa Monica, California. They had two children, Carrie and Ken.
Colonel Jordan was the first Western pilot to fly the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 interceptor and his evaluations allowed U.S. pilots to exploit the MiG’s weaknesses during the Vietnam War.
While testing General Dynamics F-111A 65-5701, Jordan and his co-pilot were forced to eject in the fighter’s escape capsule when the aircraft caught fire during a gunnery exercise at Edwards AFB, 2 January 1968. His back was injured in the ejection.
After Jordan retired from the Air Force in 1972, he became an engineering test pilot for the Northrop Corporation’s YF-17 flight test program.
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bailey Jordan died at Oceanside, California, 22 April 1990, at the age of 60 years. His ashes were spread at Edwards Air Force Base. Jordan Street on the air base is named in his honor.
The Lockheed F-104C Starfighter was a tactical strike variant of the F-104A interceptor. The F-104C shared the external dimensions of the F-104A, but weighed slightly less.
The F-104C was powered by a single General Electric J79-GE-7 engine, a single-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-7 is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.482 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.282 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,575 pounds (1,622 kilograms).
The F-104C could carry a 2,000 pound weapon on a centerline hardpoint. It could carry up to four AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles.
On 9 May 1961, near Moron AFB, Spain, Starfighter 56-885 had a flight control failure with stick moving full aft. The pilot was unable to move it forward, resulting in an initial zoom climb followed by unrecoverable tumble. The pilot safely ejected but the airplane crashed and was destroyed.
A short Air Force film of Joe Jordan’s record flight can be seen at: